The Genesis of the Five Tibetan Rites:
Part 2 - The Non-Connection
Jerry Watt - 12/31/08
In Part 1 we learned that the Five Tibetan Rites almost certainly have come down to us
through a system of Kum Nye dating back 2,500 years. We learned that this tradition was
probably preserved in a Bon monastery hidden in the high Himalayas. 1 The clues we
followed were scant and were unusually restrictive. We had to find (1) a Tibetan health
tradition that was (2) at least 2,500 years old that was taught (3) in the Himalayas in a (4)
monastery and could still have been taught there as recently as (5) the 1930's. A very tall
order. It was unlikely that we could ever have found anything to satisfy these requirements
-- unless the “back story” of the Five Rites was true. That we made any progress at all is
telling. Peter Kelder didn’t just make this stuff up.
It is in our best interests to learn more about the Five Rites and the ancient traditions that
developed them. Where do we turn to learn more? Students of Hatha yoga assure us that
we should turn to Hatha Yoga, and have even give us advice on finding instructors.
Students of Tibetan yoga assure us that we should turn to Tibetan yoga. However, if the
Five Rites did not descend from any form of yoga, then yoga probably would be a poor
choice for further studies.
My main concern is to preserve the Five Rites as they were handed to us. If they get
inappropriately “absorbed” into some form of yoga, then the original teachings could become
obscured or even lost within a generation or two. That very scenario has almost happened
Even a casual glance at the Five Rites convinces most people that the Rites must be a form
of yoga. And there is no lack of “experts” out there reinforcing that idea. The interesting
thing about experts is that they are so often wrong . Experts often have a “hardened”
point of view which blinds them to the obvious; they often become less objective than
laymen. Also, I believe “experts” sometimes see a way to profit from Five Rites current
popularity. By linking their area of expertise to the Rites, they can make themselves instant
authorities. No need to actually research the Five Rites; what they already know about
something else is really quite enough.
Now, the term “yoga” can be confusing. In truth, it covers many aspects of spiritual study
and practice, not just physical exercises as we often use the term today. It is possible to
claim that yoga dates back 3,000 years and be correct. However, when people claim that
the Five Rites come from yoga, they are using the word “yoga” to mean physical exercises
and postures that originated on the Indian subcontinent. This includes Tibetan yoga which
is basically Hatha yoga with a Buddhist influence. When someone says that the Five Rites
are a form of yoga, they are generally referring to Hatha yoga or, by extension, Tibetan
yoga. And that is how we use the term here.
How can we be sure that the Five Rites are not descended from yoga, either Tibetan or
Indian? Very simply: the Five Rites are older by at least 700 years and probably more than
a thousand years. At the time that the Five Rites were developed, yoga as we know it today
(and as we use the term today) did not exist.
Scholars do not agree as to exactly when yoga was first developed. However, Patanjali is
commonly considered the founder of “modern” yoga thought. He founded the Raja school
of yoga from which Hatha yoga developed much later. Patanjali lived in the 2nd Century A.
D. and this would mark the earliest we can date any yoga postures or movements with any
degree of certainty. Subsequently, yoga was carried into Tibet from India, along with
Buddhist teachings, beginning in the 7th Century. However, Hatha yoga (the yoga to which
the Five Rites are often compared) was not fully developed until the 15th Century A.D.
If the Five Rites date back to the Sixth Century B.C., and if yoga as we know it only dates
back to (at the very earliest) the Second Century A.D., then guess which one predates the
other. As it is somewhat awkward for a child to be older than his or her parents, this pretty
much closes the case: the Five Rites predate yoga. They simply cannot be an offshoot of
either Hatha yoga or Tibetan yoga (trul khor) as is sometimes argued today.
The question of lineage becomes even more certain when you consider that the forms of
yoga practiced today (Indian or Tibetan) are not the forms of yoga practiced a thousand or
more years ago. They have been continually revised and adapted to suit the theories and
personalities of those who taught them. You see, it is not just a matter of when yoga may
or may not have been introduced into India or Tibet. The forms of yoga practiced today are
modern by comparison and may date back only a few hundred years, at most.
As Christopher S. Kilham wrote in his book, the Five Tibetans: “Like any other practice, yoga
is not static. It evolves and changes over time according to who is practicing and teaching
it. Everyone who goes beyond a cursory exploration of yoga will put their own spin on it.” 2
And, along this same vein, Lama Norbu wrote in Yantra Yoga: “In the Tibetan Buddhist
tradition there are several Yantra systems, each connected with a particular tantric cycle . . .
[o]riginally, these systems consisted of a few exercises, which were subsequently expanded
and developed on the basis of these masters' experiences.” 3 [Emphasis added.]
To claim kinship between a practice 2,500 years old and yogic practices which may be no
older than 500 years is not terribly compelling. My point is, however, that even if you grant
the greatest possible leeway for the age of yogic practices today, it is impossible for the Five
Rites to have descended from them.
Not only is it impossible for the Rites to be any form of yoga, there is compelling evidence
from the Eye of Revelation and the Five Rites themselves that strongly decry any yoga
- The word “yoga” is not used in the Eye of Revelation. Neither Colonel Bradford nor
Peter Kelder made the claim that the Five Rites are in anyway related to yoga. Yoga is
neither mentioned nor alluded to. This would be a surprising omission if in fact the
Five Rites are part of a system of yoga, especially when Colonel Bradford
demonstrated more than a little knowledge of Indian culture in referring to the
“Whirling Dervishes” by their correct name of “Maulawiyah.”
- Breath control, an important facet of both Indian and Tibetan yoga, is not mentioned
at all. Yoga emphasizes breath control. This appears to be virtually universal, even
during meditation. Christopher S. Kilham in his book, The Five Tibetans, wrote: “In my
extensive study of yoga methods, I have never encountered any techniques involving
movement that did not also involve regulated breathing.” Yet, neither Kelder nor
Colonel Bradford mention breath control at all. There may be any number of valid
reasons for this omission (more about this at a later date); however, at the very least
this omission does not support claims that the Five Rites descended from either Indian
or Tibetan yoga.
- The vortices mentioned in the Five Rites do not correspond at all well with the Indian or
Tibetan chakras. For example, two of the Five Rites vortices are located in the knees.
Indeed, Colonel Bradford apparently chose not to even use the word “chakras” to
describe the vortices, even though he almost certainly was well familiar with the term.
- The Five Rites are vastly more simple than any system of yoga known. As with
anything else, practices handed down over generations evolve according to the
predilections of the various teachers. They become more complex. See the above
quotes from Christopher S. Kilham and Lama Norbu, especially the Norbu quote in
which he describes early forms of trul khor as consisting “of a few exercises, which
were subsequently expanded and developed. . . .” The very simplicity of the Rites
argues for their antiquity.
Historical evidence, along with internal evidence from the Eye of Revelation and the Five Rites
themselves shows fairly conclusively that the Rites come to us, not from yoga, but from a
Kum Nye/Bon tradition from ancient Tibet. By following up on the Kum Nye/Bon evidence,
further research may bring us additional knowledge to complement the Five Rites. It is
unlikely that further study of yoga can do the same.
1. It is also possible that the “Five Rites Monastery” might be a Buddhist monastery of the Nyingma tradition. This is
the oldest Buddhist tradition in Tibet and its adherents helped preserve the Kum Nye/Bon teachings. We are
presently surveying Bon monasteries in the Himalayas to see if we can locate Colonel Bradford’s monastery. If this
proves fruitless, we will expand our search to Nyingma monasteries.
2. Christopher S. Kilham, The Five Tibetans: Five Dynamic Exercises for Health, Energy, and Personal Power; Healing Arts
Press, Rochester, Vermont (1994), p. 7.
3. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, Yantra Yoga: The Tibetan Yoga of Movement; Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York
(2008), p. 9.
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