Sacred Charlatan

Created by Philip Glass and Nikki Appino with Music by Philip Glass and Tenzin Chogyal.

In 1937 after years of forcibly stopping foreigners at the border, the Tibetan government welcomes in a young American from Arizona and initiates him into their secret world.
He’s greeted as a reincarnation of their most beloved saint.
He returns to America to great acclaim and carrying hundreds of photographs and sacred texts. He travels the country as a celebrity speaker and spiritual teacher.
In 1947 he set out again for Tibet…
…and never returns.

Sacred Charlatan is in its first stage of development for the stage .


Before he even set foot on his home soil in fall of 1937, Theo Bernard declared to a reporter from the London Daily Mail, “I am the first White Lama – the first Westerner ever to live as a priest in a Tibetan Monastery, the first man from the outside world to be initiated into the great Buddhist’s mysteries”.

By March of the following year he arranged an alumnus lecture at the University of Arizona. When the curtains opened before a packed house, all in attendance saw Theos Bernard, religious scholar, explorer, mystic, in full Tibetan garb, seated in a chair, next to a movie projector. “Come with me, “ he invited the audience, “in a flight on the clipper ship of imagination from San Francisco across the vast pacific…into the heart of Asia – the land of the Lama – Tibet!”

As the evening progressed, Theos provided even more dramatic details of his “recognition” by the Tibetans as the 8th century master, Padmasambhava – and of the prophesy of the coming of a white man who would herald and bring about the spread of Buddhism to the western world. Whatever actually transpired, Tibet opened the doors of their kingdom for Theos and he was sent home with fifty mule loads of priceless, essential tibetan scriptures.

The evening was a success, and he received endorsements sufficient enough to secure a contract for a lecture tour from a public relations firm in New York. Appearing four times on the cover of the largest-circulation magazine of the day, befriending the rich and famous, this charismatic and controversial “White Lama” introduced yoga and a spiritual path to American culture.

Bernard’s accounts were picked up by the British tabloid press at the time, and, though their sensationalistic reports concerning his identity as “a white Lama” garnered some positive public feedback, it also earned him the scorn and private dismissal as a fraud and imposter.

In 1947, Bernard launched a second expedition into the Himalayas and was never seen again. What actually happened to Theos can only be pieced together from the fragments of his life that he left in his wake when he disappeared.

The Sacred Charlatan
-The Life and Death of Theos Bernard