The author, Lama Anagarika Govinda, was born in Germany as 'Ernst Hoffmann' (1896-1985). He studied the Philosophy of Architecture at the University of Freburg, before travelling to Sri Lanka in early January, 1929, and was ordained into the Theravada School of Buddhism as a 'novice' monk. He never received full ordination, but for many years lived a life of austerity and celibacy. He initially believed that Tibetan Buddhism - as a different and distinct school of Buddhism - was tainted by demonism and shamanism, thus deviating from the original and pure teachings of the Lord Buddha. Govinda always saw a deep meaning in coincidences and the unfolding of casual circumstance. One such happening occured in the late 1920's, where he was invited to Darjeeling, India, to lecture on Theravada Buddhism and its scriptures. Govinda says in the book that he saw this opportunity as a means of preserving the 'pure' tradition of Sri Lanka, against what he termed the 'weird' practices that had infiltrated it. However, it was because of this trip that Govinda eventually met with his Tibetan guru - Tomo Geshe Rimpoche (1866-1936) - a meeting that changed Govinda's attitude toward the Vajrayana School that is Tibetan Buddhism, and of course, his life. During World War Two, as a German citizen living within the British colony of India, he was imprisoned for the duration of the war.
This book is about his travels in Tibet in the early to mid 1930's, and again in 1947, just prior to the Chinese invasion of 1950. After the invasion, Govinda and his partner, Li Gotami, left Tibet and settled in Almora, Utter Predesh, India. With Indian Independence, Lama Govinda acquired Indian citizenship and pursued a successful life as a university lecturer. This book is a spectacular journal of the travels of a spiritual pilgrim through a mystical land. Make no mistake about it, the climate and the terrain of Tibet can be unforgiving and harsh, but somehow, the presence of Govinda as a sincere being brings a spiritual glow to circumstances that others might find daunting and debilitating.
The hardback (2009) edition carries a new Introduction, written by the American academic and Tibetan Buddhist - Professor Robert Thurman - who offers an over-view of Govinda's life, and an assessment of his importance to Tibetan Buddhism, and authentic Budddhism in the West. He also recounts the time he personally spent with Lama Govinda in the 1970's in India, and again in the USA toward the twilight of his life. This edition not only contains this Introduction, but also has different photographs to those included in earlier editions. This book has five sections, an Epilogue and two Appendices:
Part One - Three Visions.
Part Two - Pilgrim Life.
Part Three - Death and Rebirth.
Part Four - Southern and Central Tibet.
Part Five - Return to Western Tibet.
Epilogue - Guru and Chela and the Journey into the Light.
1) The Kings of Lhasa.
2) The Rise and Fall of the Kings of Guge.
The hardback (2009) edition contains 400 numbered pages, whilst the paperback (1977) edition contains 305 numbered pages. At a time when Chinese Communist oppression is currently colonising and corrupting Tibet, this book presents the memory of how Tibet use to be, before its modern distortion and degradation. It is a remarkable achievement, and probably one of the best spiritual travelogues ever written. A timeless classic.