While growing up I used to devour any and every strange and weird book I could lay my hands on. This included not only UFO books (think Eric Von Daniken and others), mystical shamanism (think Carlos Castaneda), but also a whole series by T Lobsang Rampa.
His most famous book, “the third eye”, (published in 1956) claimed that it related his experiences in a monastery in Tibet from about the age of seven. It was all riveting stuff (for a 14 year old) and included encounters with yetis, and also finding a mummified body of his earlier incarnation. Oh and lets not forget his discovery of the early history of planet earth and how an impact by another planet caused the uplift of Tibet. Now hopefully all that should be enough to set your “bullshit” detector clanging away at its maximum setting.
The book was just a start, he went on to write a total of about 19 other books, but none were as successful as his initial offering, “the third eye”. Actually, its quite hard to pin down exactly how many more he wrote, because two were apparently written by his cat, or to be more precise, he claimed that his cat had used telepathy to dictate them to him. Yes OK, just in case you had not quite clicked from my previous outlay of the third eye, we are well and truly into kook territory here.
Alas, when I read all this I was at that time a rather naive young teen, so I lapped it all up and believed every word. I was not alone, it became a global bestseller, but of course money had nothing to do with his motivation here, I’m sure he was only interested in spiritual enlightenment for us all.
OK, its time for the reveal, so who exactly was T Lobsang Rampa, was he truly a Tibetian monk?
Quite a few were truly curious to find out. The most notable enquirer was the explorer and tibetologist Heinrich Harrer. Since he knew quite a bit about Tibet, he was rather skeptical about all these claims, so he hired a private detective from Liverpool named Clifford Burgess to investigate. The results were well worth the cost. His detective soon discovered that Rampa was really a plumber from Devon called Cyril Henry Hoskin.
Had he ever actually traveled to Tibet?
Nope, I think the closest he ever came would have been the end of Brighton pier. As for his linguistic skills, did he speak Tibetan?
I strongly suspect by now that you can see where this is going and can guess the answer without calling upon any supernatural powers.
When it all came out, the press hunted him down to Howth in Ireland and challenged him to his face about all this. That is of personal interest to me, because at about the same time my parents used to hang on in a coffee shop in Howth on Saturday mornings with me, so I wonder if I ever passed him on the street at that time.
How did he react when challenged?
It was exactly as you might expect. He remained true to his obvious skills at spinning a great yarn, and so quickly claimed that while it was indeed Cyril’s body, it was now occupied by the spirit of Lobsang Rampa. He explained that he had fallen out of a fir tree in his garden in Thames Ditton, Surrey while attempting to photograph an owl. When he recovered from the fall, he saw a monk in saffron robes who spoke to him about taking over his body. Hoskin agreed, saying that he was dissatisfied with his current life.
There are no surprises here. His books were proving to be a real source of revenue, so it was vital to keep the show on the road.
He maintained for the rest of his life that The Third Eye was a true story, but with the press persistently hounding him, he moved to Canada where he carried on churning out more books.
In many ways this charlatan and con artist was a bit of a new age trail blazer. The first of many since then.
If interested in finding out more, here are a couple of links:
- The skeptics dictionary entry on him is here
- Here is the JREF page on him
- The Wikipedia Page on him is here
What do I now think of him now after all these years?
I suspect you can guess.
With an abundance of huge factual blunders he is quite obviously a fraud. Tragically, even though he died in 1981, he still has a following of those that sincerely believe every word he wrote. They will not be the first to have found meaning and enlightenment within fictitious writings, we have lots of far more popular examples of that all around us.