Are the Five Tibetan Rites as old as the publisher of The Eye of Revelation claims, or are they a more modern invention? Many people have carried out a vast amount of research, including myself, but no definitive source can be found to prove their authenticity, age, or origins.
The Eye of Revelation’s publishers claim the Rites are"25 centuries" (478) BC) old. This places them during the lifetime of Buddha (around the 5th to 4th century BC), who traveled throughout the fertile Indus-Ganga Plains teaching meditation practices and guidelines for attaining enlightenment—in other words, similar to the yoga practices as we understand them today: The cross-legged posture (asana) for meditation, contemplation of the breath (pranayama), meditation (dhyana), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), and the ethical guidelines (restraints and observances) of the yamas and niyamas with the goal of attaining samadhi (bliss).
I am not an expert on Tibetan Buddhism, but in broad terms, Tibetan Buddhism evolved from the later stages of Indian Buddhism and incorporated various indigenous Tibetan practices. Bön, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, is similar to Tibetan Buddhism, although technical terms and viewpoints are explained differently. Controversy about which religion influenced the other remains uncertain, but what is unique to early Bon is a strong belief in the afterlife, particularly the in-between state and the use of animal sacrifice. (1)
Records from this period are scarce but well documented, and there is no mention of the Rites. The primary method of sharing knowledge was oral—traditionally passed from master to student, which means we have little chance of discovering the Rites’ elusive history. This is further compounded by the Chinese Communist regime’s invasion of Tibet in 1950, when they ransacked and destroyed 97 percent of Tibet’s monasteries.(2) Sadly, so many ancient religious texts have been lost forever.
Perhaps the source of the Rites is more recent?
From the scans of a rare copy of the 1939 Eye of Revelation and the equally rare 1946 updated edition—I have literally picked both versions apart, looking for clues. I took into account four perspectives: The publisher’s, the author’s, the story as told by the protagonist, and the lamas’ teachings as relayed by the protagonist, Colonel Bradford.
Let’s start with the author, Peter Kelder. Is this his real name, or is it made up? So far, the only thing we know about Kelder is that he registered the copyright for his 1939 and 1946 versions of his book and that his publisher was based in Burbank, California. Some people believe Peter Kelder was a pseudonym for James Hilton, the author of Lost Horizon, published in 1933 and made into a film by Frank Capra in 1937. Hilton’s book is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian lamasery located high in the mountains of Tibet. But why would Hilton need to write a second book linked to his fictional account in someone else’s name? Why not simply use his own? Fortunately, we have Hilton's own accounts as well as interviews where he describes his sources for writing Lost Horizon. He is not Peter Kelder.
I believe the skepticism over Kelder’s name is due to the story’s protagonist using a pseudonym, Colonel Bradford. This and Bradford’s incorrect statement that the dervishes spin clockwise when in fact, they spin counter-clockwise. Bradford refers to the dervishes as the Mawlawiyah [sic], a 13th-century fraternity of Sufis (Muslim mystics) founded by the Persian Sufi poet Rūmī (d. 1273). (3) Could their spinning have been the inspiration for Rite No 1 – The Spin or is it from somewhere else entirely? If the Rites are from a later period than the publishers stated in The Eye of Revelation, then the search continues.
Are the benefits claimed for practicing the Rites real?
Some extraordinary claims have been made about practicing the Rites, and some of them are genuine. However, some highly exaggerated claims made by some unscrupulous internet marketers and a few people seeking to build a mystical reputation for themselves exist: ‘Throw your glasses away; your wrinkles will all disappear, and so on. Unfortunately, this has tarnished the Rites’ reputation, led to unrealistic expectations of improvements in health and physical appearance, and the inevitable disappointments. Written in the glowing language of the time, The Eye of Revelation has contributed to this skepticism by making statements like, “even his hair, which had grown back, held no trace of grey.” In all of my 21 years of teaching, I have never seen people’s hair turn dark again, and neither have any of my students reported it.
I believe this statement about hair darkening and the suggestion to rub fresh unsalted butter onto the scalp to make it grow is not part of the Lamas’ instructions to Colonel Bradford and was added by the publisher— Tibetan monks remove all the hair from their heads and are intentionally bald.
Yes, there are genuine benefits from practicing the Rites; they include an increase in energy, strength, flexibility, vitality, mental clarity, and well-being. I compiled this list of benefits from students’ workshop feedback forms and from people who have written in and shared their experiences, so I know they are real. There are also some minor detox effects that people can experience temporarily. These include headaches, runny noses, slight nausea, initial fatigue, and so on. Most people view these as proof that the Rites are working.
To sum up: I believe the movements themselves produce similar benefits for most people. However, the degree to which they experience these benefits is very different. Some experience a great deal of change, others less so, and some don’t notice much at all, except a ‘knowing’ or a feeling that the Rites are good for them. These benefits won’t change even if we do find out where the Rites come from (or not).
Is it OK to modify the Rites to suit your individual needs?
The instructions on how to perform the Rites in The Eye of Revelation are minimal. That’s part of their charm, but most beginners will require more in-depth instruction and perhaps modifications. We are much more sedentary than the monks who gave us the Rites, and the truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all body.
All movement, including the Rites, evolves over time as new research and experience find new and better ways of avoiding injury and enhancing performance. The Rites are repetitive movements, and a solid foundation in technique is essential.
If you need to bend your knees when doing the 2nd Rite or avoid leaning back as far in the 3rd Rite, or use a prop for your hands in the 4th & 5th Rite – go ahead and do it! You will still get the same benefits from the Rites as everyone else does.
Happy spinning, and remember to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
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