Theos Casimir Bernard

Average: 2.7 (15 votes)
Fast Facts
Other Names and Nicknames: 
White Lama
Yoga , Tibetan Buddhism
Main Countries of Activity: 
Date of Birth: 
December 10, 1908
Place of Birth: 
Los Angeles, California
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Date Left His/Her Body: 


Theos Casimir Bernard (December 10, 1908 – death date unknown, probably mid-September, 1947) was an accomplished American practitioner of Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, a scholar of religion and explorer.

Theos Bernard pioneered Indian and Tibetan studies at Columbia University. He was the third American to ever set foot in Lhasa, Tibet, and the first American to be initiated into the rites of Tibetan Buddhism. He published several accounts of the theory and practice of the religions of India and Tibet, including his PhD dissertation on Hatha Yoga. He was the founder of the first Tibetan Buddhist research institute in United States, he compiled a Tibetan grammar and planned for the systematic translation of Indian and Tibetan literature into English.


Theos Bernard graduated from University of Arizona first in 1931 with a LLB degree and again in 1934 with a BA.
From Columbia University he received an MA in philosophy in 1936, and in 1942 he entered Columbia University for a second time to pursue his PhD. Completed in 1943, 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.

His MA thesis was:

* Bernard, Theos C. (1936), Introduction to Tantrik Ritual, Columbia University .

After considering other names like Tantrik Yoga: A Clinical Report , he seems to have chosen the following title for his PhD dissertation:

* Bernard, Theos C. (1943), Hatha Yoga, Columbia University


Although Theos Bernard claimed that his hometown was Tombstone, Arizona, Paul G. Hackett states that he was born in Los Angeles, California.

Theos Bernard had hoped to become an athlete while being a young man, but he suddenly suffered a serious attack of infectious rheumatism that almost killed him and made him suffer from ill-health for many months. While convalescing in the Dragoon Mountains, Arizona, he dedicated plenty of time to read books about oriental philosophy belonging to his mother. After reading that "There is infinite energy available to anyone, if you know how to obtain it. And this is part of the science of Yoga" in Lily Adams Beck's The Story of Oriental Philosophy , he became convinced that Yoga was the only discipline that could give him a solution for his health. He then started reading about Yoga eagerly and talked to everyone that knew about it or who had been in India. Some time later, "a person that has just arrived from India" met him for just one night, in which he opened to Theos Bernard a whole world of Yoga philosophy and practices, becoming his first Guru. Through the years that followed, Theos Bernard perfected his Yoga practice under the guidance by mail of that Guru.

After finishing his studies in University of Arizona he traveled to India to perfect his studies. He arrived to Calcutta around September 1936, at the end of the Monsoon season, only to find that his Guru had recently passed away. Then, a friend of his former Guru introduced him to a teacher, called Tantrik friend by Theos Bernard, who took him under his guidance. He was a man of strong theoretical knowledge, much versed in Yoga, but not a practitioner himself. After two weeks, pleased with the knowledge that Theos Bernard demonstrated, the Tantrik teacher introduced him to another teacher with actual practicing knowledge, called Swamaji by Theos Bernard. This last teacher was in charge of initiating him into Yoga in preparation for the final goal of the Yoga practice: to awaken his Kundalini. When the initiation was completed it was decided that he should travel throughout India to familiarize himself with the people and beliefs of the country. After visiting many cities and places he finally found a great teacher whom Theos Bernard references only by his title, Maharishi, who was a former student of the first Guru that Theos Bernard had met for just one night in the USA, and that for that reason knew about Theos Bernard beforehand. It was this Maharishi that after a complete training of around three months guided Theos Bernard to awaken his Kundalini.

In order to get important Tibetan manuscripts, mainly the Kangyur and the Tengyur , Theos Bernard traveled to Tibet. At the holy city of Lhasa he was accepted as a reincarnation of Padma Sambhava, a saint of the Tibetan Buddhism, a fact that enabled him to take part in many special religious ceremonies and to discuss Tibetan teachings with some of the leading lamas at famous Tibetan monasteries. He was then able to get the manuscripts he wanted and many other important books, documents and testimonies of the Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture, who presently are part of a few collections in universities of the USA (see section 'External links'). Documenting his experiences in pictures, Bernard left a historical record of an age-old civilization on the brink of political upheaval, recording Tibetan civilization at the height of its development and before the Chinese invasion of 1949 and subsequent Cultural Revolution had destroyed it.

Returned from his 1936/37 trip to India and Tibet, he studied at Columbia University and earned a doctorate in philosophy. His treatise on Hatha Yoga was first published in 1944 by Columbia University Press and has since been frequently reprinted. It covers all the traditional aspects of Hatha Yoga and correlates his personal training with the major Indian texts: the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Gheranda Samhita, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Circumstances of his probable death

Together with his third wife, Helen Graham Park, he returned to India in 1947, this time seeking "rare manuscripts" in the hills of Spiti near Ladakh. Entering the Punjab en route to his destination, his party of Muslim porters was rumored to have been attacked by Lahouli tribesman. Conflicting reports about his whereabouts circulated for several months, and though his wife waited for him in Calcutta, he never returned.

The New York Times reported the news in the following way:
“ U.S. Tibetan Scholar Is Missing In Punjab After a Tribal Attack

Theos Bernard, Author, Feared Dead by Wife Who Reports Incident in New Delhi

NEW DELHI. Oct. 30 (AP) - An American student of Tibetan culture has been missing since mid-September on a trip to a Tibetan monastery and may be dead, his wife said today.

He is Theos Bernard, 40, of New York and Santa Barbara, Calif., son of G. A. Bernard of North-Ridge, Calif. Interviewed here, Mrs. Bernard said shepherds had told of seeing Lahouli tribesmen attack her husband's party and kill his Moslem servants. That was in the Himalaya Mountains of northern India, she said, between Sept. 12 and Sept. 14. Mrs. Bernard said she had learned that her husband then was short of food and she feared that he might also have lost his heavy clothing to the raiders.

Mr. Bernard set out Aug. 20 from the out-of-the-way Kulu Valley of the northern Punjab. Six days after that, Hindu-Moslem rioting broke out in the valley and she herself had to flee 124 miles on foot southward to Simla. She passed through New Delhi today in his way to Calcutta, where she said she would await word of her husband.

In the preface of posthumously editions of one of his books there is the following note:
“ The publishers regret to announce the death of the author in the following circumstances, as reported to Mr. G. A. Bernard, the author's father:

"In 1947, Theos Bernard was on a mission to the KI monastery in western Tibet in search of some special manuscripts. While on his way, rioting broke out among the Hindus and the Moslems in that section of the hills; all Moslems including women and children in the little village from which Theos departed were killed.

"The Hindus then proceeded into the mountains in pursuit of the Moslems who had accompanied Theos as guides and muleteers. These Moslems, it is reported, learning of the killings, escaped, leaving Theos and his Tibetan boy alone on the trail. It is further reported that both were shot and their bodies thrown into the river.

"To date we have not been able to get any authentic information on the entire circumstances of his death, nor have we any line on the effects Theos had with him. That region of Tibet is so very remote that it is unlikely we shall ever learn the full details."

Ki Monastery (also called Kye), destination of Theos Bernard's last known trip.

It must be noted that the Ki monastery never was in western Tibet but in the Spiti Valley, fully included at that moment in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, in the Punjab region of the then new India. A few weeks before the events mentioned in the news it was still part of the British Punjab.

The riots were probably inscribed in the great killings that took place at the time of the partition of the British Punjab that followed the Partition of India along religious lines, in mid-August, 1947. The predominantly Hindu and Sikh areas were assigned to the new India and predominantly Muslim areas to the new nation of Pakistan. The plan included a partition of the Muslim-majority provinces of British Punjab and British Bengal. In such a way, the Punjab province was split into East and West Punjab. East Punjab became part of India, while West Punjab became part of Pakistan. The Punjab region bore the brunt of the civil unrest following the end of British India, with casualties estimated in the hundreds of thousands or even higher.

It can be reasonably assumed that the events mentioned in the news about Theos Bernard's fate happened in the state of Himachal Pradesh, in the then new India, given that both the Kulu Valley, the origin of his last known trip, and the Spiti Valley, his destination, are in that northern state. Those events happened less than a month after the Partition of India.


His father was Glen Agazia Bernard (1884-1976).
Theos Bernard was a nephew of Pierre Bernard, one of the pioneer teachers of Yoga in the United States, who perhaps introduced him to the subject. Through Pierre Bernard, he was also a distant relative of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, a Sufi teacher.
He married Viola Wertheim (1934-1938), Ganna Walska, and Helen Graham Park.
He had no children.

His Yoga practice

This is what Theos Bernard writes about his initial instructions for physical practice given to him (in person and subsequently under the mail) by his first Guru:
“ Then, one day, out of a clear sky, I was summoned by one who had just arrived from India. He proved to be my first spiritual teacher or Guru.

There was one posture, said my Guru, which I should try to develop at this time. This was Padmasana, or the Lotus pose. This is considered to be the foremost of all Asanas, and it had to be learned if I expected to make any progress in the practice of Yoga. The Guru further advised me not to hurry, but to develop this Asana by slow degrees, until I could maintain it with comfort. It was of the greatest importance for future work that I should not attempt to maintain the position for more than an hour's duration without expert advice. At the time I could not see how I ever could do it for an hour, let along longer.

My first exercise was to learn how to do the practice known as Uddiyana, or Inter-abdominal control. I was advised to practice it every morning and every evening, and that the minimum number of times to do the exercise so as to derive benefit was 750, and the maximum 1500. My ultimate goals was to do this 1500 times daily for a continuous period of six months.

This was to bring me to the ultimate development of Uddiyana, and then Nauli, which consists of gaining complete control over all abdominal muscles, so that it will be possible to isolate the recti and roll them in any direction. My Guru would not go into the benefits to be gained by this exercise other than the purely physical ones. He insisted, however, that I should develop it to the same point of efficiency as Uddiyana.

I was to supplement these exercises with the posture known as Sirshasana, otherwise known as the head stand. Indeed, it would be necessary, at some future time during my preparatory training, to develop it to the point of being able to remain on my head for three hours, and that I should maintain this practice for a period of at least a month, and preferably three months.

I immediately made a note of the time-consuming aspect of Yoga practice, but an inner determination told me that I would find the way.

This is how Theos Bernard describes his advanced practice under the Maharishi:
“ The Maharishi said that many of my letters had been read to him and that he was certain I was prepared and that he would choose an auspicious day for my initiation. In the meantime I was to prepare myself for this day. He said no more, but I could see what he meant. This was going to be his way of discovering what I really did know.

I had scarcely sunk into sleep when four o'clock came and I had to be up. I set to work on Dhauti . I followed this with Neti. I devoted some fifteen minutes to [stretching the tongue for Khecari].

I had been keeping up the practice of Uddiyana for some years ; so I found no difficulty in doing the excercise 1500 times. This would usually occupy me for about half an hour. Then I would devote fifteen minutes to Nauli.

A quarter for six I set as the time to begin standing on my head for half an hour.

On finishing the head stand, I began my Pranayama practice. Eventually, I would devote most of the time to this practice [... at six-thirty sharp, after practising a few of the simple cleansing breaths to prepare me for it, and after having assumed Padmasana ...] I began the practice with Bhastrika this exercise at the rate of sixty strokes a minute was easy. I found I could do it at the top speed of 120 but limited myself to the lower speed and did it for one minute only. I inhaled slowly and as deeply and fully as possible, then suspended for one minute, then exhaled as slowly as possible. This in the beginning consumed two and one half minutes. My second round began at three minutes, so I did ten rounds in thirty minutes. After one week I lifted the suspension to two minutes. It was my plan to increase my Kumbhaka at the rate of one minute a week until I reached the first degree of perfection. All practices were aimed at that goal.

I finished that morning at seven o'clock, after three hours of practice. This was to be my daily minimum for the next few months.

At ten-thirty I resumed my practices, beginning with Khecari which I worked at for fifteen minutes. At a quarter before eleven I stood on my head for thirty minutes. After finishing the head stand, I took my seat in the Padmasana position and spent thirty minutes on Pranayama. I always began this exercise with Bhastrika as prescribed.

By this time my body was warm enough to practice the Asanas. It is customary to practice these after everything else has been done, making rather a side issue of them. This is a little trick to overcome the monotony. There were sixteen Asanas which it was necessary for me to develop ; some of them, however, were, more or less, combinations of the others. This list of Asanas is common knowledge to all who are familiar with the published literature of Yoga . It would be sufficient for me to hold Padmasana for a period of three hours, but it was essential that I learn the technique of the others.

Lunch was brought in about one o'clock. This was my only real meal my diet was eventually reduced to nothing but liquids: two glasses of clarified butter and several glasses of milk per day. This seemed ample and never have I been in better health. After lunch I reclined for the next hour or so. This period, when the heat was most intense, was usually devoted to reading. It is frequently the practice of Yogi to set aside this time for visitors.

The Maharishi said I was ready to learn Basti, which is a method for internal cleansing. With my capacity, he said it would be only a matter of a day or so before I could do the exercise.

At four o'clock I began my practices in accordance with the schedule I had set for myself. At this time I was putting the emphasis on Uddiyana and Nauli, devoting an hour to them, and doing each 1500 times. By the end I was in a good sweat, and I thought it was high time I tried Basti.

It was five-thirty by the time I finished my experiment for the day, and I spent the next fifteen minutes in doing Khecari, which does not offer any physical exertion. At a quarter to six I went up on my head for half an hour. I followed this with thirty minutes of Pranayama, after which I had a couple of glasses of warm milk.
This was the discipline I was to follow for the next three months, gradually increasing my head stand and breathing exercises. At the same time I was to reduce my diet, until it was to be nothing but liquids, and to diminish my sleep until it was no longer than four hours each day. The Maharishi himself never slept more than two hours a day ; so I had a high standard to meet. I had the feeling of never having been so busy in my entire life ; yet here I was living in a jungle retreat, so far removed from the hurry and scurry of Western civilization. Indeed, there was not a spare minute. I had to be working constantly, never relaxing, in order to keep up. Yet as later I looked back upon this early discipline, I often asked myself how I could have been so lazy ; for after the first month I added to my regular schedule the practice of Pranayama from midnight to 1 a.m. I was forced to pick up enough sleep between my practice periods. During the last month of my training I practiced at each of the four intervals of twenty-four hours.

In British India he visited, in the following order: Calcutta where he arrived to India, Allahabad, Benares, Agra, New Delhi, Lahore, Srinagar in Kashmir, Peshwar, Kyber, Uddipur, Bombay, Hyderabad, Mysore, Bangalore, Madras, Madurai, Trichinopoly, and Ceylon.

As he specifies, some of the cities are on the Ganges basin. See the main cities along the Ganges plains visited by Theos Bernard:
Calcutta, Allahabad, Benares, Agra, New Delhi.

He visited, in the following order:
In the NE (and East) of British India: Kalimpong, Tista river, Gangtok, Karponang, Changu lake, Nathu La (Nathu pass).
Also mentioned by him in India, but not visited: Darjeeling, Sri-Dhanya-Kataka monastery, to be found at Kalinga and identified with the Kalachakra doctrine.
In Western Tibet: Chumbi Tang (Chumbi valley), Yatung, Gautsa, Phari, Dochen lake, Kangmar, and just north of it, the Red Idol gorge with the Nyang river, the Gyantsé plains and Gyantsé valley, Gyantsé, mount Nöjin, Karo La (Karo pass), Ta-t'ang ("The Horses' Plain"), Nargatsé, on the banks of the Yam-dok-tso (aka Scorpion Lake or Yamdok Lake or Turqoise Lake, or Palte Lake, after the Palte village), Yarsi, Padee, Tamalung.
In Central Tibet: Kambu La (Kambu pass), Tsangpo-chu, "the famous Chaksam Cho-ri" ("The Holy Hill of the Iron Bridge") monastery, Chu-shu in the Chu-shu County, Lhasa River, and finally Lhasa.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa

In Lhasa and neighborhoods: Drepung monastery, Potala Palace, Chak-po-ri (Medical College), Dalai Lama's Norbu Lingha ("The Jewelled Park"), Tsug-lag-Khang or Jo-Khang (the chief temple in Tibet, aka "the House of the Master", or the "Cathedral"), Rammoche (reputed to be the second most holy temple of Tibet), the banks of the beautiful Kyi-chu (Lhasa River), Nechung monastery, Sera monastery, Ganden monastery.
Other places in Tibet mentioned or seen by him, but not visited: mount Chumolhari, Palte, Sam-ding ("Restful Meditation") monastery, Shigatsé, Jelup La (Jelup pass), and two places famous for having copies of the Tengyur: Derge in Eastern Tibet, and Narthang near Shigatsé, Re-ting Monastery, Saskya (in Sa'gya County, Western Tibet, "the original centre of Tibetan culture"), Kham, the great Chang-Tang (Northern Plain) of Tibet, Tashi Lunpo monastery.
Places in China mentioned by him: Pekin, Nanking.


The relevant places mentioned in section 'Circumstances of his probable death' are: Spiti near Ladakh, Punjab, Himalaya Mountains, Kulu Valley, Simla, New Delhi, Calcutta.

The Ki monastery, in the Spiti Valley, that a few weeks before the events mentioned in the news, it was still part of the British Punjab.

Los Angeles, California, Tombstone, Arizona, Dragoon Mountains, Arizona, New York. He also mentions having visited the following cities for their public and private libraries: San Francisco and Chicago.

London, where touring after his 1936/37 trip to British India, Nepal and Tibet, he gave lectures that gained to him the nickname of "White Lama".



-- No teachings were entered yet for this guru. Please help by clicking the Edit tab and adding teachings, theories, points of view, techniques and other messages related to the guru. --