Bernard, Theos (1908–1947)
Early writer and teacher on hatha yoga, who drew from his
own experience in undertaking a traditional training course.
Little has been recorded about the life of Theos Bernard, a
nephew of Pierre Bernard, one of the pioneer yoga teachers
in the United States, who undoubtably introduced him to the
subject.
Bernard was born in Tombstone, Arizona. As a child he had
hoped to become an athlete, but he suffered from ill health for
many years. While at university, he read books on yoga, and
one day was visited by a guru from India (possibly Shri Yogendra)
who taught Bernard a graduated system of hatha yoga asanas
and hygiene practices, combined with traditional yoga
philosophy of duty and self-purification. Bernard was already
practicing yoga while still at law school and arranged to travel
to India to perfect his studies. In India Bernard undertook traditional
training under a guru, after first traveling throughout
India to familiarize himself with the people and beliefs of the
country. He spent several months visiting colleges, libraries,
museums, temples, shrines, and ashrams from Calcutta to
Bombay, from Kashmir to Ceylon. In Bombay he met Dr. Kovoor
T. Behanan, author of the important study Yoga A Scientific
Evaluation (1937), and he visited Swami Kuvalayananda, a
noted yoga teacher, at his ashram in Lonavala. Bernard studied
hatha yoga under various teachers, especially in Bombay, which
had become the center from which hatha yoga had been revived
in India in the late 1800s.
After he obtained his degree in law (M.A., LL.B.), 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.
Hatha yoga 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. Bernard achieved the classic requirement
of being able to maintain steadiness in performance of
the main asanas for a period of three hours each. He went on
to practice the traditional forms of mental concentration and
meditation.
In order to further his studies, Bernard traveled through
Tibet, and at the holy city of Lhasa he was accepted as an incarnation
of the Tibetan saint Padma Sambhava. This 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 described his experiences in his
book Land of a Thousand Buddhas (1939).
Bernard died in 1947 while on a mission to a monastery in
western Tibet in search of special manuscripts. While en route
in a remote area, rioting broke out among Hindus and Moslems,
and after the dissident Hindus killed Moslem men,
women, and children, they pursued the Moslems who accompanied
Bernard as guides and muleteers. These Moslems fled,
leaving Bernard and a Tibetan boy alone on the trail. It is believed
that both were shot and their bodies thrown into the
river.
Sources
Bernard, Theos. Hatha Yoga. New York Columbia University
Press, 1944.
———. Heaven Lies Within Us. New York Scribner’s Sons,
Ltd., 1939.
———. Hindu Philosophy. New York Philosophical Library,
1947.
———. Land of a Thousand Buddhas. London Rider, 1952.
———. Philosophical Foundations of India. London Rider,
1945.
———. A Simplified Grammar of the Literary Tibetan Language.
Santa Barbara, Calif. Tibetan Text Society, 1946.