on 9 August 2012
This is a scholarly treatment of Bernard that is nevertheless immensley readable. This is the Bernhard of his times. Hackett presents him in context and in sometimes painful detail often using Bernhard's own personal writings to expose his mixture of motivations. If you want Bernhard constructed as the founding father of American Tantra then read 'White Lama' by Veenhof (whose book is more in line with Bernhard's originals).
In postmodern form Hackett doesn't offer a conclusive judgement on Bernhard but leaves the reader to view the evidence he has amassed and presents it here compellingly. This includes evidence from fieldwork in Ladhk of what happened in Bernhard's final moments which (ironicaly given the books subject) we have to take Hackett's word for! His trips to the field and extensive interviews show the depth of his research and his evident committment to his subject and his academic discipline. The book is clearly the culmination of many years hard work.
It is a little inconsistant in parts. His expertise is in Berhard's trips to Asia which he covers meticulously these contrast with the thin treatment of Bernhard's time 'with' Ganna Walska. Oddly he appears to take her autobiographical account at face value - an unusal lack of rigour - which makes me wonder if (like many Phd students) he too had fallen out of love with Bernhard by the end of his research? The chunks of source material used are interesting but could have been edited and the general Asian history lessons maybe unecessary additions to the 400+ pages.
While he exposes Bernhard's 'Lama' claims Hackett doesn't address the issues of 'White-ness' even though it seems that America's nascent neo-colonial attitudes underpin Bernhard's contradictory assessment and treatment of Tibetans and their culture. His excusing of Bernhard's occasional overt racism closes off an area of deeper understanding. That said even with such considerations Bernhard would still be an enigma at the end of the book, although the paradoxes of his personal and public writings and his complexities of character are clearly presented.
This is a fascinating book of a fascinating figure by a dedicated researcher. Work which shows the scope for more research and suggests that Bernhard may yet prove a richer source for academics seeking truths about the religious and cultural life of America.