Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong – A Vietnamese prelude to Spalding’s Life and Teachings?
A recent comment on the blog by commenter Jean Luc highlighted that there is a Vietnamese book that claims to be a previously unknown prelude to Spalding’s Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East.
Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong is listed in Google Books, and can be found in libraries via Worldcat. Jean Luc reports it was translated in Vietnamese in 1975 from a 1924 Indian book titled Journey to the East. The first publication date shown online is 1987, with Spalding listed as author and Nguyên Phong as the translator into Vietnamese. According to Google Books, Nguyên Phong has translated similar books in the mystic and occult genre, including works by Lobsang Rampa, Myodo Satomi and Mika Waltari.
Most of this book is available online, and despite the imperfect translation of Google Translate it is quite fascinating. All of the facts point to this book being a derivative fictional work written by Phong, rather than a translation of Spalding.
As visitors to this blog may have guessed, the key item that indicates this is a work of fiction is that my research has established beyond a doubt that Spalding never visited India in 1894 as he claimed in Life and Teaching. I’ll be publishing more on this topic later, including evidence which shows where Spalding spent most of the 1890’s. Logic would suggest that any prelude or sequel to the fictional 1894 visit is also fictional.
There are no references to Spalding ever having written a book titled Journey to the East published in India. The four volumes of Life and Teaching were Spalding’s only books published prior to his death in 1953. Life and Teaching volume one was first published in San Francisco in serial form in 1922, then as a book in 1924 by the California Press.
The translation of Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong contains no mention of dates on which this journey occurred. As a reasonably detailed timeline exists for Spalding’s life from 1898 onwards, as Jean Luc suggested and the text hints, we must assume that Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong took place prior to the 1894 India mission described in Life and Teaching. Given that Spalding was born in 1872, he would have been barely 21 years old at best. It is unlikely a 21 year old would be a University professor leading a mission to India.
Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong states that Spalding was born in 1857 in England, and indicates that the mission to India departed from England. As outlined in previous posts on Spalding’s biography, this was simply a story propagated by Spalding and DeVorss, and not factual. Spalding was born in 1872 in upstate New York, but an author working in 1975 is unlikely to have known this fact, and would have assumed the 1857 date was correct.
Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong mentions many universities and professors. There are many similar claims in promotional material surrounding Spalding but these are simply not accurate. Spalding was not a professor or a doctor and according to University registrars there is no record of Spalding studying at Cornell, Stanford or Berkeley. Regardless, granting a 21 year old Spalding the title of Professor is clearly a literary invention. If there had been a mission to India funded by these universities as described in Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong, records of it would still exist today.
There are a number of errors and anachronisms in Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong which confirm that it is fictional. The most obvious error is that at least two of the people mentioned in the text either could not have accompanied Spalding on this trip, or were not alive at the time indicated.
Paul Brunton, author of A Search in Secret India, is mentioned in the book. Brunton did travel to India, but not with Spalding, and he dismissed Spalding in his notebooks which are widely available today. Most importantly, Brunton was born in 1898, and did not meet Spalding until early 1936 during Spalding’s India tour.
Another person that appears repeatedly in Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong is Professor Walter Evans-Wentz, a Stanford professor world famous for his expertise on Buddhism. According to his biography, Evans-Wentz was born in 1878 in New Jersey, and completed elementary school in June, 1892. He worked as a journalist before enrolling at Stanford in 1901. The earliest record of Evans-Wentz visiting India is 1910. Evans-Wentz’s papers are available at Oxford, Stanford and there is a published biography (Pilgrim of the clear light, by Ken Winkler). There are no references to Spalding in Evans-Wentz’s biography at Google Books and no record of the claimed trip described in Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong.
Finally, Chapter 1 of Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong makes reference to an infamous Time magazine cover proclaiming God is Dead, which was published in April 1966. This would be impossible for a book written in 1924, or indeed any book written by Spalding, who died in 1953.
The 1970’s was a time of broad excitement in the New Age and a renewal of interest in Baird T Spalding. Several other mystics claimed a connection with Spalding around this time, and many of their claims have since proven to be inspired more by the desire for publicity rather than accuracy. Since Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong was published in Vietnamese only, it probably flew under the radar of Spalding’s publisher DeVorss & Co. A long article in a Vietnamese online forum gives some background to the book, and claims that Nguyên Phong is the alias of a Boeing software engineer who wrote the book after emigrating from Vietnam to the US. It would be interesting to find out from Nguyên Phong what inspired him to write this book and expand on the Spalding mythos.
Readers with more information on Hanh Trinh Ve Phuong Dong are invited to comment below.