The Genesis of the Five Tibetan Rites:
Part 1 - The Bon Tradition of Tibet
Jerry Watt - 12/3/08 (updated 12/4/08)
Learning more about the origins of the Five Tibet Rites may be critical to learning more
about the Five Rites themselves. If we knew more about the history of the Rites, we may
then be able to learn even more about Tibetan health traditions and apply them to our
lives with beneficial results.
As I pointed out in my reprint edition of the 1946 Eye of Revelation, a deliberate effort was
made to withhold information about Peter Kelder, Colonel Bradford and the Tibetan
lamasery where the Five Rites were taught. Consequently, we were left few clues about
the origins of the Five Rites; but we were given one good one: the Rites are 2,500 years
old. The only place this information was given was in the foreword of the 1939 edition --
no where else. It was deleted from the 1946 edition's foreword and this deletion is likely a
further attempt to sanitize identifying information about Kelder, Bradford and the Tibetan
From the 1939 foreword:
"THE EYE OF REVELATION" is truly a revelation. It reveals to you information which What clues do we have for finding the original "Five Rites" system? Only the following:
has been known and used by men in far-distant lands for more than 25 centuries ...
MOST IMPORTANT: The information given in "THE EYE OF REVELATION" was, for
twenty-five centuries, confined strictly to men. Now, to the surprise and delight of all
concerned, it has been found that women, too, get equally beneficial and amazing
- The system must be at least 2,500 years old.
- It must still have been taught in the 1930's.
- It must be part of the Tibetan culture.
- It must have definite similarities to yoga (as do the Five Rites).
- And, it must have been taught in a Tibetan monastery (probably along the Indo-
Tibetan border) for that is where Colonel Bradford studied.
Now, I submit that this is a pretty demanding set of clues to satisfy. The question
becomes: is there a Tibetan health tradition that is at least 2,500 years old that has
similarities to yoga, was taught in a Tibetan monastery and was still being taught in the
1930's? At this point, we are facing long odds in our effort to find the origins of the Five
Rites. However. . . .
Before Buddhism and yoga entered Tibet from India in the 7th Century A.D., the native
Tibetan "religion" was Bon (pronounced "bun"). Bon originally was not an established
religion with more or less uniform tenets, rather it was a conglomeration of animistic beliefs
and shamanic practices; hence Bon of antiquity is often referred to as the Bon tradition.
After the infusion of Buddhism into Tibet, and probably because of that infusion, Bon
became more of an established religion. (However, modern practitioners of Bon make it
clear that they believe Bon was an organized religion 18,000 years ago, long before the
advent of Buddhism.)
Bon is still practiced today, but with a strong Buddhist influence. Here's the interesting
thing about Bon: there are still Bon monasteries along the Indo-Tibetan border. And,
associated with the practice of Bon you find the ancient practice of Kum Nye (pronounced
"Koom Nyay" by some authorities; others spell it Ku Nye and pronounce it "ku-nay").
From the Wikipedia entry for Kum Nye:
Kum Nye (Tibetan: sKu-mNyé) is [today] a Tibetan Buddhist movement practice,
somewhat in the tradition of Yoga or Tai Chi . . . Some forms of Kum Nye belong to
the "Medical Tantras": the body of knowledge which describes Tibetan medical
practices and medicines, where it is used to promote health and healing, much like Qi
Gong. Another example of Kum Nye used for energy throughout the day can be
found in the book "Kum Nye - Waking up for beginners" which takes the reader
through 8 poses to each be held for up to 2 minutes . . . Different forms of Kum Nye
can also vary greatly between teachers/transmissions, and are used to develop
energy channels and increase sensitivities . . . Some forms of Kum Nye are very slow
moving, similar to Tai Chi. Others seem to resemble various forms of Yoga. Still
others are intensely aerobic and resemble "fire traditions" of Yoga or Qi Gong . . .
Kum Nye is related to the Nyingma and Bön traditions. See: http://en.wikipedia.
Please note that when the author states that Kum Nye is a "Tibetan Buddhist practice," he
or she is referring to modern day Kum Nye. Kum Nye predates Buddhist influence and it is
the early Kum Nye we are interested in. That said, the following points can be taken from
the above quote:
- Kum Nye is "related" to the Bon tradition.
- Some forms of Kum Nye resemble "various forms of Yoga."
- Some forms of Kum Nye "belong to the Tibetan 'Medical Tantras.'"
Tibetan medical knowledge is ancient. In fact, it dates back 2,500 years, the same
reported age for the Five Rites:
- "The Tibetan medical system is one of the world's oldest known medical traditions,
with a history going back approximately 2500 years." http://www.tibetmed.
- "Tibetan medicine is a traditional system of medicine which has been practiced for
over 2500 years and is still practiced today although Tibetans are now in exile." http:
- "The Tibetan medical system is one of the world's oldest known medical traditions. It
is an integral part of Tibetan culture and has been developed through many
centuries. We believe that the origin of the Tibetan medical tradition is as old as
civilization itself." http://www.men-tsee-khang.org/medicine/mhistory.htm
- "Tibetan medicine is over 2,000 years old and said to originate from medical teaching
given by the Buddha around 500 BC. It is based on the religious and medical
traditions of Bon and Tibetan Buddhism but also incorporated medical ideas from
Greece, Persia, India and China." http://www.tibet-foundation.org/ac/med/medback.
As shown above, some forms of Kum Nye were based on Tibetan medical traditions and
had movements similar to yoga. And we now see that Tibetan medical traditions date back
2,500 years, the exact figure given in the 1939 Eye of Revelation for the Five Rites. We
also know that Kum Nye is related to the Bon religion and that the Bon religion is still
practiced today. Bon monasteries still exist in the Himalayan Mountains.
As sort of a side note, in researching this article, I uncovered an interesting fact about
Tibetan medicine of old which applies to Colonel Bradford's teachings. The Tibetans used
melted butter in many of their treatments. This is interesting because Colonel Bradford
also recommended butter to help regrow hair.
So, it is not only possible, but appears quite likely that the Five Rites come from a form of
Kum Nye with yoga-like movements based on Tibetan medical practices dating back 2,500
years, and it would have been possible for Colonel Bradford to have learned the Five Rites
from a Bon lamasery hidden high in the Himalayas which had been keeping the Kum Nye
The Bon connection to the Five Rites also provides a possible explanation as to why the
"2500 year old" reference had to be eliminated from the 1946 edition of the Eye of
Revelation; namely, it gave away too much information. Just as the reported age of 2,500
years has led us to the Bon tradition, it could also have led others -- with devastating
results. After Buddhism was introduced into Tibet in the 7th Century A. D., the Bon
religion was suppressed. Adherents were forced to renounce Bon or leave Tibet, else be
put to death. At the time of Colonel Bradford's visit to Tibet, Bon was still a repressed
religion, even though it was practiced in remote areas.
It would appear that one reason why the Eye of Revelation kept the identity of Colonel
Bradford's monastery a secret could well have been the necessity of not alerting Tibetan
authorities to its existence. To report that the Five Rites are 2,500 years old might point
Tibetan authorities to the fact that there was a Bon lamasery they knew nothing about, a
monastery they could then begin looking for. But because the reported age of the Five
Rites is such an obscure reference to the Bon tradition, neither Kelder nor Bradford
thought to eliminate that reference from the 1939 edition -- but upon reflection they did in
the 1946 edition.
One of my favorite ways of convincing doubters about the efficacy of the Five Rites is to
direct them to Amazon.com where they can read more than a hundred comments about
the Doubleday edition of The Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth. The comments are
not so much about the book as they are about the Five Rites, and the comments are
fulsome. In fact, it is doubtful you will ever find another book about yoga or some other
system of exercise that elicits such high praise . . . but there is one that comes close. It's
about Kum Nye.
Stephanie Wright's Kum Nye: Waking Up for Beginners is the book in question. As with
the Five Rites, simple exercises taking just a few minutes greatly energize those who
practice them. The above link is for the Amazon.com.uk site where you will find the
glowing comments (one of which mentions the Five Rites but -- oh, the horror! -- prefers
Kum Nye). The Amazon.com USA site for this book can be found here. Unfortunately,
this book appears to be out of print. 3 (If I can find a seller for this book, I will post it on
the "links" page.)
Our research into the Kum Nye/Bon connection continues and we will provide updates as
we learn new information. Please understand that at this stage of our work, we have not
identified the specific form of Kum Nye that gave birth to the Five Rites and we are not
recommending any particular form for further study. 4 Years of work probably lie ahead of
us; but we did want to present what we have learned so far.
"But what about all those people who claim that the Five Rites are a form of yoga?" you
ask. It is true that most people assume that the Five Rites are really just another form of
yoga. This is such a widespread misconception that we need to examine just why we can
be sure that the Five Rites have not come to us via any system of yoga known today. In
Part 2 of this article, we take up this issue.
1 Peter Kelder, The Eye of Revelation; The New Era Press, Burbank, CA, 1939, p. 2.
2 Anyone who doubts the importance of preserving the original editions of the Five Rites should
consider this: the only place where the age of the Rites was recorded was in the foreword of the
1939 Eye of Revelation; and, as it turns out, this is a very critical piece of information, without which I
doubt that the origins of the Five Rites could have been determined.
3 Stephanie Wright, Kum Nye: Waking Up For Beginners, Century (4 Mar 2004), ISBN: 1844130118.
4 In particular, we are not recommending Stephanie Wright's book as there appear to be substantial
questions about the character and truthfulness of her teacher, Christopher Hansard. While we note
these problems, we also note that many people are reporting benefits from Ms. Wright's book. We
hold ourselves to be capable of distinguishing between the message and the messenger, so we are
keeping an open mind.
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