The White Lama: The Improbable Legacy of Theos Bernard

Conceived by Nikki Appino and created in collaboration with Philip Glass, Tenzin Choegyal and Kevin Joyce.

The White Lama is a new experimental work about the quest for the sacred, framed by the adventurous life and disappearance of Theos Bernard. Both biography and invocation, the piece is a blend of imagery, prose and music performed by Kevin Joyce, with a live score by Tenzin Choeygal and Philip Glass.

In 1947, American Theos Bernard set out on a rugged mountain trail for the monasteries of Tibet. He was never seen nor heard from again. It would be the tragic, final chapter of a life whose exploits continue to ripple through America’s cultural landscape to this day.

Mostly unknown to Americans now, Bernard was, at the height of his fame, regarded as a national celebrity. As the first westerner to study with yogis in the secretive monasteries of Tibet, tales of his exploits graced the pages of leading publications across the nation from Family Circle Magazine to the New York Times. In some circles he became known as the White Lama, a reincarnated spirit destined to bring Tibetan teachings to the west.

He would go on to give lectures across the country, teach and author books about the practices of Tibet and Hatha yoga that inspired generations of seekers to follow in his footsteps in the ’50s,’60s and beyond.

Bernard grew up at a time when eastern spirituality was shrouded in mystery and exploited by charlatans and con men. As an explorer, yoga teacher and showman he played a surprising role in the growth of America’s religious counterculture – and stories of his life once captured the imagination before he faded into obscurity. In the spring of 2020, The White Lama revives the essence of his quest and explores the remarkable impact of the legacy he left behind.

Major support for The White Lama has been provided to Nikki Appino by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

The White Lama -The Improbably Legacy of Theos Bernard