details from the cover of the Balantine paperback edition of the bestselling The Third Eye.
details from the cover of the Balantine paperback edition of the bestselling The Third Eye.

A one-“L” Lama, he’s a priest,
A two-“L” Llama, he’s a beast
And I will bet a silk pajama
There isn’t any three-“L” Lllama
– Ogden Nash, 1945

In 1956, the British firm Secker & Warburg published The Third Eye: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Lama. It remains in print to this day, the best-selling book about Tibetan Buddhism.

The Third Eye introduced Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism to hundreds of thousands of readers in Europe and America in the 1950s and ’60s. Over the last four decades, readers around the world have discovered the book in sidewalk kiosks, airport newsstands, and university bookstores. It is a work that has evoked sympathy for the plight of Tibet under Communist occupation and even inspired some to become Tibetologists, professional scholars of Tibet. Its author was Lobsang Rampa, the son of one of the leading members of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s government.

Rampa had spent his earliest years as a schoolboy in Lhasa. He studied Tibetan, Chinese, and the art of carving wood for printing blocks. He enjoyed kite-flying, the national sport of Tibet, whose season began on the first day of autumn, signaled when a single kite rose from the Potala, the great palace of the Dalai Lama. On Rampa’s birthday, astrologers had predicted an eventful future for the child: “A boy of seven to enter a lamasery, after a hard feat of endurance, and there to be trained as a priest-surgeon. To suffer great hardships, to leave the homeland, and go among strange people. To lose all and have to start again, and eventually to succeed.”

Young Lobsang was admitted to the Temple of Tibetan Medicine, where he underwent a rigorous course of study that emphasized mathematics and memorization of the Buddhist scriptures. Proving himself an excellent student, he was chosen to receive the esoteric teachings and serve as a repository of knowledge against the prophesied day when Tibet would fall under an alien cloud. Under the tutelage of the great Lama Mingyar Dondup, he began a period of intensive training designed to impart in a few years what a lama would normally learn over the course of a lifetime. In order to further his instruction by hypnotic methods, Mingyar Dondup prescribed a surgical procedure to channel the power of clairvoyance.

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