Alexandra David-Neel (Explorer/Anarchist)

louise_eugenie_alexandrine_marie_david_19th_century.jpgAlexandra David-Néel was born Louise Eugénie Alexandrine Marie David in Saint-Mandé on 24 October 1868; she died in Digne-les-Bains, on 8 September 1969 at the age of 100.

David-Neel was a Belgian-French explorer, anarchist, spiritualist, Buddhist and writer, most known for her visit to Lhasa, Tibet, in 1924, when it was forbidden to foreigners. She wrote over 30 books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her travels. 

Her teachings influenced beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and philosopher Alan Watts.

Born in Paris, she moved to Elsene at the age of six. During her childhood she had a very strong desire for freedom and spirituality. At the age of 18, she had already visited England, Switzerland and Spain on her own.

In 1890 and 1891, she traveled through India, returning only when she ran out of money.From 1895-1897 she was prima donna with a touring French opera company in Indochina, appearing at the Hanoi Opera House and elsewhere as La Traviata and Carmen. In Tunis she met the railroad engineer Philippe Néel, whom she married in 1904.

In 1911 Alexandra left Néel and traveled for the second time to India, to further her study of Buddhism. She was invited to the royal monastery of Sikkim, where she met Maharaj Kumar (crown prince) Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal. She became Sidkeong's "confidante and spiritual sister" (according to Ruth Middleton), perhaps her lover (Foster & Foster). She also met the 13th Dalai Lama twice in 1912, and had the opportunity to ask him many questions about Buddhism—a feat unprecedented for a European woman at that time.

In the period 1914-1916 she lived in a cave in Sikkim, near the Tibetan border, learning spirituality, together with the young (born 1899) Sikkimese monk Aphur Yongden, who became her lifelong traveling companion, and whom she would adopt later. From there they trespassed into Tibetan territory, meeting the Panchen Lama in Shigatse (August 1916). When the British authorities learned of this—Sikkim was then a British protectorate—Alexandra and Aphur were forced to leave the country.

Unable to return to Europe in the middle of World War I, Alexandra and Yongden traveled to Japan. In Japan Alexandra met Ekai Kawaguchi, who had visited Lhasa in 1901 disguised as a Chinese doctor, and this inspired them to visit Lhasa disguised as pilgrims. After traversing China from east to west, they reached Lhasa in 1924, and spent 2 months there.

In 1928 Alexandra legally separated from Philippe, but they continued to exchange letters and he kept supporting her till his death in 1941. Alexandra settled in Digne (Provence), and during the next nine years she wrote books. In 1929, she published her most famous and beloved work, Mystiques et Magiciens du Tibet (Magic and Mystery in Tibet).

Died in 1969.

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