Alexandra David-Néel

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Alexandra David-Néel
Alexandra David-Neels.jpg
Alexandra David-Neel in Tibet, 1933
Born Louise Eugénie Alexandrine Marie David
(1868-10-24)24 October 1868
Died 8 September 1969(1969-09-08) (aged 100)
Nationality Belgian-French
Known for Writing on Tibet


Alexandra David-Néel born Louise Eugénie Alexandrine Marie David (24 October 1868 – 8 September 1969) was a Belgian-French explorer, spiritualist, Buddhist, anarchist,[1][2][3] and writer, most known for her visit to Lhasa, Tibet, in 1924, when it was forbidden to foreigners. David-Néel wrote over 30 books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her travels. Her teachings influenced beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, philosopher Alan Watts, and esotericist Benjamin Creme.

Early life and background[edit]

Alexandra David-Néel as a teenager, 1886

She was born in Saint-Mandé, Val-de-Marne, and moved to Ixelles (Brussels) with her family at the age of six. During her childhood she had a very strong desire for freedom and spirituality. At the age of 18, she had already visited England, Switzerland and Spain on her own, and she was studying in Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Society. "She joined various secret societies – she would reach the thirtieth degree in the mixed Scottish Rite of Freemasonry – while feminist and anarchist groups greeted her with enthusiasm...In 1899, Alexandra composed an anarchist treatise with a preface by the French geographer and anarchist Elisée Reclus (1820–1905). Publishers were, however, too terrified to publish the book, though her friend Jean Haustont printed copies himself and it was eventually translated into five languages."[4]

Travel to India in 1890[edit]

In 1890 and 1891, she traveled through India, returning only when she was running out of money.

Opera singer in Vietnam[edit]

From 1895 to 1897 she was prima donna with a touring French opera company in Indochina, appearing at the Hanoi Opera House and elsewhere as La Traviata and Carmen.[5]

In Tunis in 1900 she met and lived with the railroad engineer Philippe Néel, marrying him in 1904.

Travel to Sikkim in 1911[edit]

In 1911 Alexandra left Néel and traveled for the second time to India, to further her study of Buddhism. She was invited to the royal monastery of Sikkim, where she met Maharaj Kumar (crown prince) Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal. She became Sidkeong's "confidante and spiritual sister" (according to Ruth Middleton), perhaps his lover (Foster & Foster). She also met the 13th Dalai Lama twice in 1912, and had the opportunity to ask him many questions about Buddhism – a feat unprecedented for a European woman at that time.

In the period 1914–1916 she lived in a cave in Sikkim, near the Tibetan border, learning spirituality, together with the young (born 1899) Sikkimese monk Aphur Yongden, who became her lifelong traveling companion, and whom she would later adopt. From there they trespassed into Tibetan territory, meeting the Panchen Lama in Shigatse (August 1916). Sikkim was then a British protectorate and when the British authorities became aware of their presence Alexandra and Aphur were forced to leave the country.

Travel to Japan in 1916[edit]

Unable to return to Europe in the middle of World War I, Alexandra and Yongden traveled to Japan.

Travel to Tibet in 1924[edit]

In Lhasa in 1924

In Japan Alexandra met Ekai Kawaguchi, who had visited Lhasa in 1901 disguised as a Chinese doctor, and this inspired them to visit Lhasa disguised as pilgrims. After traversing China from east to west, they reached Lhasa in 1924, and spent two months there.

Return to France in 1928[edit]

In 1928 Alexandra legally separated from Philippe, but they continued to exchange letters and he kept supporting her till his death in 1941. Alexandra settled in Digne (Provence), and during the next nine years she wrote books. In 1929, she published her most famous and beloved work, Mystiques et Magiciens du Tibet (Magic and Mystery in Tibet).

Travel to east Tibetan highlands in Tibet 1937[edit]

In 1937, Yongden and Alexandra went to Tibet through the then Soviet Union, traveling there during the second World War. They eventually ended up in Tachienlu, where she continued her investigations of Tibetan sacred literature.

One minor mystery relating to Alexandra David-Neel has a solution. In Forbidden Journey, p. 284, the authors wonder how Mme. David-Neel's secretary, Violet Sydney, made her way back to the West in 1939 after Sous des nuées d'orage (Storm Clouds) was completed in Tachienlu. Peter Goullart's Land of the Lamas (not in Forbidden Journey's bibliography), on pp. 110–113 gives an account of his accompanying Ms. Sydney partway back, then putting her under the care of Lolo bandits to continue the journey to Chengdu. Mme. David-Neel evidently remained in Tachienlu for the duration of the war.

While in Eastern Tibet Alexandra and Yongden completed circumambulation of the holy mountain Amnye Machen.[6]

Return to France in 1946[edit]

The pair returned to France in 1946. Alexandra was then 78 years old. In 1955 Yongden died at age 56.

Death in France in 1969[edit]

Road named Alexandra David Neel in Massy, Essonne, suburb of Paris.

Alexandra continued to study and write at Digne-les-Bains, till her death there at the age of nearly 101. According to her last will and testament, her ashes and those of Yongden were mixed together and dispersed in the Ganges in 1973 at Varanasi, by her friend Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet.

Bibliography[edit]

  • 1898 Pour la vie
  • 1911 Le modernisme bouddhiste et le bouddhisme du Bouddha
  • 1927 Voyage d'une Parisienne à Lhassa (1927, My Journey to Lhasa)
  • 1929 Mystiques et Magiciens du Tibet (1929, Magic and Mystery in Tibet)
  • 1930 Initiations Lamaïques (Initiations and Initiates in Tibet)
  • 1931 La vie Surhumaine de Guésar de Ling le Héros Thibétain (The Superhuman Life of Gesar of Ling)
  • 1933 Grand Tibet; Au pays des brigands-gentilshommes
  • 1935 Le lama au cinq sagesses
  • 1938 Magie d'amour et magic noire; Scènes du Tibet inconnu (Tibetan Tale of Love and Magic)
  • 1939 Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Its Methods
  • 1940 Sous des nuées d'orage; Recit de voyage
  • 1949 Au coeur des Himalayas; Le Nepal
  • 1951 Ashtavakra Gita; Discours sur le Vedanta Advaita
  • 1951 Les Enseignements Secrets des Bouddhistes Tibétains (The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects)
  • 1951 L'Inde hier, aujourd'hui, demain
  • 1952 Textes tibétains inédits
  • 1953 Le vieux Tibet face à la Chine nouvelle
  • 1954 La puissance de néant, by Lama Yongden (The Power of Nothingness)
  • Grammaire de la langue tibetaine parlée
  • 1958 Avadhuta Gita
  • 1958 La connaissance transcendente
  • 1961 Immortalite et reincarnation: Doctrines et pratiques en Chine, au Tibet, dans l'Inde
  • L'Inde où j'ai vecu; Avant et après l'independence
  • 1964 Quarante siècles d'expansion chinoise
  • 1970 En Chine: L'amour universe! et l'individualisme integral: les maitres Mo Tse et Yang Tchou
  • 1972 Le sortilège du mystère; Faits étranges et gens bizarre rencontrés au long de mes routes d'orient et d'occident
  • 1975 Vivre au Tibet; Cuisine, traditions et images
  • 1975 Journal de voyage; Lettres à son Mari, 11 août 1904 – 27 decembre 1917. Vol. 1. Ed. Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet
  • 1976 Journal de voyage; Lettres à son Mari, 14 janvier 1918 – 31 decembre 1940. Vol. 2. Ed. Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet
  • 1979 Le Tibet d'Alexandra David-Neel
  • 1981 Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects
  • 1986 La lampe de sagesse

Many of Alexandra David-Neel's books were published more or less simultaneously both in French and English.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "At the same time, she joined various secret societies – she would reach the thirtieth degree in the mixed Scottish Rite of Freemasonry – while feminist and anarchist groups greeted her with enthusiasm...In 1899, she wrote an anarchist treatise prefaced by the anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus. Frightened publishers refused, however, to publish this book written by a woman so proud she could not accept any abuses by the State, army, Church or high finance." Biography of Alexandra David-Néel at alexandra-david-neel.org
  2. ^ "Mystic, anarchist, occultist and traveller, Louise Eugenie Alexandrine Marie David was born in Paris on the 24th of October 1868...In 1899, Alexandra composed an anarchist treatise with a preface by the French geographer and anarchist Elisée Reclus (1820–1905). Publishers were, however, too terrified to publish the book, though her friend Jean Haustont printed copies himself and it was eventually translated into five languages.""A Mystic in Tibet – Alexandra David-Neel" by Brian Haughton.
  3. ^ "ALEXANDRA DAVID-NEEL, Daily Bleed Saint 2001–2008 First woman explorer of Tibet & its mysteries. Successively & simultaneously anarchist, singer, feminist, explorer, writer, lecturer, photographer, buddhist, architect, mail artist, sanskrit grammarian & Centenarian.""1868 – France: Alexandra David-Neel lives, Paris."
  4. ^ "A Mystic in Tibet – Alexandra David-Neel" by Brian Haughton.
  5. ^ Alexandra David-Neel: Explorer at the Roof of the World – Page 24 Earle Rice – 2004 "At last, in the autumn of 1895, Alexandra landed a ... 31 She spent the next two years touring French Indochina, now Vietnam, appearing in Hanoi, Haiphong, and elsewhere, while performing lead roles in such operas as La Traviata and Carmen"
  6. ^ The Anye Machin peaks are considered to be the abode of the protector god Machin Pomri

References[edit]

  • Foster, Barbara and Michael. The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel – A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and Its Forbidden Practices. ISBN 1-58567-329-3; American edition under the title Forbidden Journey – The Life of Alexandra David-Neel, ISBN 0-06-250345-6. This book is based on extensive interviews with David Neel's secretary at Digne and reading her letters to her husband, now published as "Journal de voyage: lettres a son mari."
  • Middleton, Ruth (1989). Alexandra David-Neel. Boston, Shambhala. ISBN 1-57062-600-6.
  • Norwick, Braham. (1976). "Alexandra David-Neel's Adventures in Tibet: Fact or Fiction?". The Tibet Journal. Vol. 1, Nos. 3 & 4. Autumn 1976, pp. 70–74.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]