Thursday, June 7, 2007

Alexandra in the Himalayas

[Alexandra David-Neel to her husband Philippe Neel]

7 December 1913 Sikkim

Dear Philippe,

I love you very much for what you have done to support me. I know you make sacrifices to provide me with a life that displeases you. This journey to Sikkim has restored my spirits. I visited villages and monasteries with the Prince, travelling much in the manner of a medieval court, like a dream of a very old world. The Prince encouraged me to exhort the monks to practice a purer Buddhism. I took to the task with zeal, lecturing at the monasteries on the pure doctrine. I have been given a lama's red robe to wear and the designation of 'lamina'.

I have found a tutor to instruct me in Tibetan. At my age [forty-four] I must not delay learning the language. I am in a singular position as a woman, and a militant practising Buddhist. Orientalists in the West would be severely critical of my writing. What I want above all is to be completely accurate and document my findings so thoroughly that I'll be able to return home a person of some importance in the world of Orientalists. All I need is a bit more time and experience. Don't you think, given our situation and our characters, we can make the sacrifice to be separated a little longer? My hope is to spend time in Tibet if the authorities will let me. Then I'll leave India, and travel home via Japan, with my cycle of studies on Buddhism in northern Asia completed.

-from The Inmost Heart: 800 Years of Women's Letters edited by Olga Kenyon; Foreword by P. D. James (New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1992.) p. 219-220.

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