DAVID-NÉEL, Alexandra

DAVID-NÉEL, Alexandra (née Louise Eugènie Alexandrine Marie David). St.Mandé (Seine) 24.10.1868 — Digne (Basses-Alpes) 8.9.1969. French Bauddha and Traveller. The only child of Louis Pierre David, a huguenot freemason and ardent republican, also journalist and teacher , and Alexandra Borleman, a Catholic Belgian. From 1873 grew up in Belgium. At an early age she developed a passion of travel and, running out from home in her teens, saw much of Europe. For a while studied music in Brussels.  In her youth she was both theosophist, feminist and anarchist, in 1889 adopted Buddhism. In Paris she also studied some Sanskrit (Lévi), Chinese and Tibetan (Foucaux). Using a small inheritance she spent 18 months in India 1891-92 and became pupil of Swami Bashkarānanda, then returned to Brussels and attended the Royal Conservatory there. In 1895-1904 worked as opera singer (as Alexandra Myrial), performed in Vietnam, Greece and Tunisia. Married 1904 Philippe Néel (d. 1941), a railway engineer and her distant cousin, but the marriage ended in practice in 1911, without children, although they continued correspondence. After having studied Tibetan and Sanskrit in Paris (Faculté des lettres) from 1887, she spent long periods in Asia in 1911-25 and 1936-46. She lived long time in Sikkim, studying Tibetan under Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup, staying at different monasteries and trying to go to Tibet. Herself she claimed to have succeeded and visited Tashilhunpo in 1916 and Lhasa in 1924. She quarreled with British authorities and Christian missionaries in Sikkim. In 1925-36 she lived in Digne-les-Bains, Provence. In 1937 she used the Siberian route to China, reached Tibet in 1939 and claimed to have stayed there all the war years. At least she was in China, 1945 she came to India and 1946 to France.  Her last years she lived in Digne (Basses-Alpes), in the house she had bought in 1928.

Her many books have been very popular and brought her great fame. However, they are no scholarly studies and numerous points have been found controversial, even suspect. Also the extent of her travels has been questioned. In any case she knew well Tibetan culture and religion, although some of her claims are far from convincing. In 1929 she adopted the young Sikkimese Lama Aphur Yongden (d. 1955 when 56), who had been her servant from 1914.

Publications: La philosophe Meh-Ti et l’idée de solidarité. 185 p. P. 1907; Les theories individualistes dans la philosophie chinoise. 150 p. P. 1909; writings unrelated to Asia.

Le modernisme bouddhiste et le Bouddhisme du Bouddha. 280 p. P. 1911.

A pied et en mendiant de la Chine à l’Inde à travers le Thibet. Voyage d’une Parisienne à Lhassa. 332 p. P. 1927, translations: English, My Journey to Lhasa. 310 p. L. 1927; German, Arjopa. Die erste Pilgerfahrt einer weissen Frau nach der verbotenen Stadt des Dalai Lama. Lp. 1928; Czech 1934.

Mystiques et Magiciens du Tibet. 306 p. P. 1929, translations: English, Magic And Mystery in Tibet. 285 p. L. 1932; German by A. Dissen, Heilige und Hexer. Glaube und Aberglaube im Lande des Lamaismus. Lp. 1931; Czech 1934; Dutch 1941; Spanish, Buenos Aires 1942.

Initiations lamaïques; des théories, des pratiques, des hommes. 244 p. P. 1930, rev. ed. 1957; translations: English, Initiations and Initiates in Tibet. 224 p. L. 1931; German, Meister und Schüler; die Geheimnisse der lamaistischen Weihen. Lp. 1934.

With Lama Yongden: La vie surhumaine de Gesar de Ling. P. 1931; translations: English, The Superhuman Life of Gesar of Ling. 271 p. 1959; The secret oral teachings in Tibetan Buddhist sects. 128 p. Calcutta n.d..

Grand-Tibet. Au pays des Brigands Gentilshommes. 357 p. P. 1933; translations: English, Tibetan Journey. 1936; German, Mönche und Strauchritter; eine Tibetfahrt auf Schleifwegen. Lp. 1933; Czech 1937.

Le Lama aux cinq sagesses. 351 p. 1935, translations: Czech 1947.

Le bouddhisme, ses doctrines et ses méthodes. 257 p. P. 1936, rev. ed. Le bouddhisme du Bouddha. 316 p. 1960; translations: English, Buddhism, its doctrines and methods. L. 1939; German, Vom Leiden zur Erlösung. 196 p. Lp. 1937.

Magie d’amour et magie noire, scenes du Tibet inconnu. 246 p. P. 1938; transl.: English, Tibetan Tale of Love and Magic. 1983; German, Munich 1952, Italian, Milano 1945.

Sous des nuées d’orage. 279 p. P. 1940; A l’ouest barbare de la vaste Chine. 301 p. P. 1947; transl.: German, Vienna 1952.

Au cœur des Himalayas. Le Népal. 227 p. P. 1949; translations: German, Im Schatten des Himalaja. Zauber und Wunder in Nepal. Wb. 1953.

L’Inde. Hier–aujourd’hui–demain. 311 p. P. 1951, new ed. 1969; translations: German, Zwischen Göttern und Politik. Indien – gestern, heute, morgen. Wb. 1952.

Les enseignements secrets dans les sectes bouddhiques tibétaines. 148 p. P. 1951; translations: English, The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects. 1967.

Textes tibétains, inédits. 199 p. P. 1952; translations: German, Unbekannte tibetische Texte. 173 p. Munich 1955, 2nd ed. as Ralopa. Bern 1980.

Le vieux Tibét face à la Chine nouvelle. 244 p. P. 1953; translations: German, Altes Tibet, neues China. 203 p. Wb. 1955.

Le sortilège du mystère. 314 p. P. 1972.

M. M. Peyronnet (ed.), Journal de voyage: lettres à son mari. 1-2. P. 1975-76.

Sources: *J. Brosse, A. D.-N.: L’aventure et la spiritualité. 287 p. P. 1978; R. Champion, D.O.L.F. 262f.; Anna Ghosh, JASB 4:12, 1970, Year-Book for 1969, 193-195; *Ph. van Heurck, A.D.-N., Mythos und Wirklichkeit 1868–1969. Ulm 1995; Hopkirk 1987, 220-229; M.E. McColley, Literature of Travel and Explor. 1, 2003, 320-322 with photo; Who Was Who in France 1967-1968; tititudorancea.com with three photos (accepting all Tibetan travels); works in the N.U.C.; Wikipedia with three photos (see also the French version); *alexandra-david-neel.org; A. Payer, Materialien zum Neobuddhismus 9 (www.payer.de/neobuddhismus/neobud0901.htm).

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