Sunday, December 28, 2014

Marvelous Man-Lifting Kites (& Giants in Caves)

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Several years ago I joined a Yahoo discussion group devoted to the teachings of Tuesday Lobsang Rampa (1910‑1981). It was not just a whim, I was more than a little curious and thought it would be a learning experience for me. Once again, I heeded that irritating impulse of mine to dig into things a little further, or to do, in a word, research. These are people who have heard all the evidence that Rampa was himself a faker, yet go on insisting that his teachings are none the less true and very effective for them, regardless of all those misrepresentations they are couched in. I am a little perplexed when I see this, thinking that genuinely useful teachings ought to come from a genuine source. I could be wrong about this. People want to grow, that’s for sure, and usually it happens while they are preoccupied with other things. But they don’t have much patience or perseverence, and meanwhile they would really rather just be entertained. I guess we are all familiar with the Barnum effect, the dictum — not Barnum’s own — that a ‘sucker is born every minute’ so why not serve their needs? Excuse me, I’ll be right back. I just remembered I have a giant petrified hominid in my back yard begging for me to dig it up.

If Rampa told something not true about the man-lifting kites to make the story more entertaining, what’s to say he wouldn’t also add non-truths to his instructions on telepathy, astral traveling and so on? People are in some ways and at some times so trusting, so likely to get hooked in. How do you know when you’re real enough to be teaching other people in an honest way (I don’t mean specially religious or spiritual teaching, but any kind of teaching). I think about it and then go on to think some more, and in the end I just don’t know. If every person has to work out her or his own salvation anyway, then the search for the ‘perfect’ teacher could be a distraction. True no doubt, but what would that perfection look like if you found it? If there is no complete fraud, there is no completely genuine article, both are idealizing extremes that ought to be recognized as such.

“They shall have mysteries-- ay precious stuff For knaves to thrive by-- mysteries enough; Dark, tangled doctrines, dark as fraud can weave, Which simple votaries shall on trust receive, While craftier feign belief till they believe.”
— Thomas Moore (1779-1852),
The Veiled Prophet of Khorrasan 

What he says is true enough, but for all we know Moore could have been talking about psychoanalysis... Well, if the word had even been coined yet. The poster above Fox Mulder’s desk in the X-Files, if I remember right, reads “I want to believe.”* Indeed. What are we to believe? Just because something is unbelievable does it mean we have to make an all-out special effort to believe it? Amusing to consider the consequences of applying this axiom in a number of areas!
(*Imagine a man who everyday tries to walk out on a branch, reassuring himself by repeating to himself ‘The branch is strong.  The branch is very strong, very very strong...’ and each day his faith becomes stronger and stronger while he walks out further and further on the branch until one fine day the tree breaks a limb and so does he.)

Rampa was in reality a cranky old opinionated paranoiac, sour and sickly for most of his life, who didn’t mind telling people how he was against women’s rights (for example)  and how everybody — Tibetans, Tibetologists, the press, the governments — had been plotting against him all along...  Sound like somebody you know? And since he didn’t have all that many visitors up in cold Calgary, most of his socializing seems to have taken place through the postal system. 

Okay, more than enough of that sad contemplation, and on to something really interesting, those man-lifting kites!

The Rampa Kite Illustration

Can you make out the human figure standing there in the pilot’s seat? Is that ballast hanging at the ends of the wings?  Do you think they flapped?  Flight worthy you think?

But do notice this:  Man-lifting kites were employed by Chinese generals in warfare in quite early times, or at least the idea that they did is very firmly in place in the Chinese sources.

“Kung-shu* himself made an ascent riding on a wooden kite in order to spy on a city which he desired to capture.”

 ——Berthold Laufer, "The Pre-History of Aviation," Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago 1928), p. 23.
(*This Kung-shu was a contemporary of Confucius.)

And military uses of kites, even for lifting up humans for surveillance purposes, were well known to other nations well before Rampa’s time. Notice the date on the source that follows, six years before the birth of Cyril Hoskins.

Anonymous, Science, New Series vol. 20, no. 497 (July 8, 1904), p. 64:

“IT is stated in the London Times that the man-lifting kite, as invented by Mr. Cody, has during the last few days been subjected to further trials at Aldershot with the view of testing its feasibility and usefulness for observation purposes in war time. The main features claimed for the kite are, first, its extreme simplicity and the ease with which the various component parts required to work it can be transported from place to place; and, secondly, that it can be flown in heavy wind such as would render the use of the war balloon almost impossible. A number of Royal Engineers are now under instruction in the working of the kite in order that it may be thoroughly tested.”

It isn’t exactly the question here whether man-lifting kites were known in China or England at any particular time. The question is ‘Did Tibetans in the first half of the 20th century fly inside kites for recreational (or any other) purposes?’  The answer to that question is by all accounts of Tibetans themselves an unequivocal “No!”

•  •  •

For background on what follows, try looking at L. Fitzpatrick, "L. Rampa: Sacrophagus with Giants of the Past and Machinery in the Caves of Tibet."  Click here.  

The western idea that there was a kind of giant Golem or the like in the Bietala* has a bit of history behind it, going as far back as the 18th century. My position is that it emerged out of a misunderstanding of descriptions of what the tomb-chortens of the Dalai Lamas were built to contain (along with a confusion between container and contents). That Rampa continues this earlier western misconception fits into a larger pattern that extends to his teachings, including practical instructions for astral travel, presented as Tibetan when in fact they are entirely taken from western occultism (Proclus, Blavatskian Theosophy etc.).
(*i.e., Potala; as long ago as 1683 in a book by M.A. Mallet, De L'Asie, some imagined they could hear the Italian word bietola for ‘beet’, the red vegetable source of all borscht.  For the illustration, go here.)

Q: What was gold-covered, in fact?  A: The chortens.  But the mummies could also be gilded.

Q: What was giant in fact?  A: The chortens.

Q: What do the chortens contain?  A: Mummified bodily remains of the Dalai Lamas, mummified in cross-legged seating position, of ordinary human size or smaller.

Q: How ancient are the times we are talking about here?  A: The first in the series of tomb chortens built within the Potala was the one for the Fifth Dalai Lama after His death in 1682.

§  §  §


I noticed an interesting thing in a bibliography, something I haven’t seen yet, that may have a bearing on a future discussion of Rampa kites:  J.E. Nowers, “The Man Lifting Kite: A Forgotten Invention?” Royal Engineers Journal, vol. 109 (1995), p. 96.

If you are deeply into kites, man-lifting or not, you must read Laufer’s little book we mentioned above, but also this:  Joseph Needham, et al., Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 4: Physics and Physical Technology; Part 2: Mechanical Engineering, University Press (Cambridge 1965), pp. 568-602.

If you need some introducing to Rampa, here is something short and to the point from Tricycle magazine: Lobsang Rampa: The Mystery of the Three-Eyed Lama by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

For Tibeto-logic blogs on the "Three Eyes," see this one and this one from way back in 2007, with some of the more essential Rampa bibliography not mentioned here today. Those old blogs provoked some animated and entertaining discussion, informative, too.

There is, of course, a website devoted to Rampa's teachings, but at this very moment, it is "under construction."  Try your luck and look here.  And yes, there is a Wiki page about him.

Ancient Indian Aircraft on Agenda of Major Science Conference.  Huh? 
(See now the postscript, below.)

§  §  §

After a talk that was then published in 1961, the late Hugh Richardson fielded questions from the audience, including this one:

 Q: Is there any truth in the story of an operation to open the "third eye"? 
 A: None whatsoever. The book which describes it is an utter fraud. It was written by somebody who had never been out of England.

"Utter fraud?"

There are those fascinating figures from long ago who had the vision to believe the moon was a reachable goal.  Were they believed much?

A few like Wm. Blake thought it would be wanting far too much (as we tend to do).

Speedy Gonsalez? Far ahead of his time.
I want!  I want!

There are genuinely people (6% of the population of the U.S.) who believe humans have never set foot on the moon, viewing NASA as an utter fraud. But even if these people are as deeply deluded as I believe they are, isn’t it also the case that the moon landing was "staged" to appear in a particular light, to make a particular type of impression on we the earthlings? Do you think everything about it was utterly spontaneous and unrehearsed? I guess you get my general drift.

One of Cody's Man-lifting Kites

I’ll end by giving Rampa the final word. These are practically his final words, since they come from the end of his final book, written not long before his death. I want to underline the words true, absolutely true, but perhaps it isn’t necessary:

“These books, my books, are true, absolutely true, and if you think that this particular book smacks of science fiction you are wrong. The science in it could have been many times increased had the scientists been at all interested, but the fiction—there just isn't any, not even “artists' license.” ”


Postscript (May 16, 2015):

What tales of ancient Vedic aircraft tell us about India’s place in the modern world.
By Siddhartha Deb
Illustration by Jessica Fortner

Here we can find a fascinating account of how contemporary neo-Hindu politics are naively making use of [A] a ‘rediscovered’ text from about a century ago as proof for [B] ancient aeroplane technology going all the way back to Vedic times (and of course 100% made in India by the original Indians). One noticeable (not fatal) flaw in the essay is this:  You don’t get the least hint that there are accounts of flying machines in India prior to the 20th century. These accounts are indeed plentiful, including texts like the first chapter of the Kalachakra Tantra, that came to light in India in the 10th century, but probably goes back to the 9th (I’ll spare you a list of more sources for now). The author seems to fear that it would dampen his anti-neo cause to mention these sources, but they very surely must be part of the contemporary debates. My own position is that Byzantium and India were both hotbeds of mechanical invention during the 1st millennium CE — we mentioned China already — and that there were interchanges taking place between them. Ideas about flying machines, not actual flights in them, were a very significant topic for discussion in those days. Doubters can just go and read Berthold Laufer's Prehistory of Aviation before firing off comments about what an idiot I am (but if you still think I’m an idiot, be my guest). Narrow self-serving nationalistic interpretations of the past are something we will all grow out of eventually, I have hope.  I very truly do.

§  §  §

In other news, I recently ran across this extract from a book published in 1973 entitled Cults of Unreason:

Christopher Evans, The Real Tuesday Lobsang Rampa?   

That’s where I found this fascinating paragraph concerning T.L.R.'s commercial interests. Bear in mind that a dollar back them was worth a whole lot more than it is today:

“Advertisements regularly appearing in the magazine Fate give one an interesting glimpse into the lama’s recent non-literary activities. ‘Let Dr Rampa instruct you in the art of meditation’, one reads, ‘gain the inestimable benefits… Peace, Tranquillity, Inner Harmony, Knowledge… that can be yours so easily’. To assist the seeker in his quest for Peace, Tranquillity, etc., one is urged to buy one or more of the following aids: long-playing record on meditation, featuring the voice of Dr Rampa himself ($4.95); meditating figure ($5.00); a meditation robe (made personally for you; indicate small, medium, large—$25.00); Rampa meditation incense, tube of assorted ($3.00); incense burner ($1.00); and Lobsang Rampa original prayers, a set of two ($1.00). Two original prayers for a dollar sounds pretty reasonable, but an even better bargain would seem to be the COMPLETE HOME MEDITATION KIT (includes all of above in handy storage and carrying case) for just $37.50, or two dollars off list price. Lest the above advertisement should give readers the impression that the saintly Dr Rampa is seeking earthly profits from his spiritual gifts, one should point out that a foreword to My Visit to Venus makes it absolutely clear that all royalties from sales are to be donated to the Save a Cat League of 245 West 25th Street, New York City.”

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