Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Theos Casimir Bernard
Theos Casimir Bernard "It should be thought very strange if one's hands and feet refused to behave, or behaved in a manner which showed that their owner had no control over them. Yet that is how too often human beings allow their most delicate instrument, the mind, to behave."

Theos Casimir Bernard (1908–47)
Explorer and Scholar of Religion
MA 1936, PhD 1943

Prior to the existence of a religion department, Theos Bernard pioneered Indian and Tibetan studies at Columbia University. As an explorer, Bernard was only the third American to ever set foot in Lhasa, Tibet, returning from his first expedition in 1937 with hundreds of volumes of books, film footage, and still photographs. The first American to be initiated into the rites of Tibetan Buddhism, Bernard published several accounts of the theory and practice of the religions of India and Tibet, including his PhD dissertation on hatha yoga. The founder of the first Tibetan Buddhist research institute in America, Bernard compiled a Tibetan grammar and plan for the systematic translation of Indian and Tibetan literature into English.

Born on December 10, 1908, in Los Angeles, Theos Bernard graduated from the University of Arizona first in 1931 with a LLB (Bachelor of Law) degree and again in 1934 with a BA degree prior to entering Columbia University in that same year. Receiving an MA in philosophy in 1936, Bernard embarked on an expedition first to India and then to Tibet. Over the course of 16 months Bernard studied and learned both literary and spoken Tibetan, negotiated the acquisition of a complete set of the Tibetan Buddhist canon and other books, participated in some of the highest religious rituals in Tibet, and met with senior Tibetan lamas and officials, all the while documenting his experiences on paper, in photographs, and on film. Upon returning to New York in 1937, Bernard wrote and published several books both chronicling his experiences and setting forth the fundamental principles of Indian and Tibetan philosophies. In 1942, he entered Columbia University for a second time to pursue his PhD. Completed less than a year later, his dissertation Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience, was subsequently published and served to introduce the practices of yoga to an American audience. He went on to found the short-lived Tibetan Text Society in Santa Barbara, California, prior to returning to the Indian subcontinent in search of additional resources. In 1947, Bernard launched a second expedition into the Himalayas, this time to Spiti, and entered the Punjab in 1947. He was never seen again.

Submitted by Paul G. Hackett


Bernard met with the Regent of Tibet, Reting Rinpoche, and was a house guest of the Tibetan Cabinet Minister, Tsarong Shapé.


On the life and works of Theos Bernard.

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