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Bernard, Pierre (Arnold) (1875-1955)

Bernard, Pierre (Arnold) (1875-1955)

A pioneer teacher of hatha and tantric yoga in the United States. He was born in Leon, Iowa, in 1875 as Peter Coons. As a young man, he moved to California and worked at various seasonal jobs like fruit picking and salmon packing. In 1905 he teamed up with Mortimer K. Hargis to found the Bacchante Academy to teach hypnotism and "soul charming" (concerned with sex mysteries), but the organization disappeared a year later in the wake of the San Francisco earthquake.

Coons changed his name to Pierre Arnold Bernard after founding his Sanskrit College in New York in 1909. The venture was not altogether successful, and Bernard moved to New Jersey where he married a Miss de Vries, a professional dancer. Together they launched a highly successful "health system of Tantrism," embodying hatha yoga, dancing, and psychophysical education.

In 1919 Bernard's organization, the Brae Burn Club, was situated in a mansion and estate at Nyack on the Hudson river. The club was well conducted and supported by wealthy followers and socialites, although the practice of hatha yoga was sufficiently novel at that date to attract criticism and scandal-mongering from outside. However, it was Bernard's policy never to give interviews or contradict false stories. He was something of a showman as well as an occultist, and he delighted in staging bizarre publicity stunts, such as his own specialty dance with a baby elephant.

The tantric side of his activities seemed confined to a sensible scheme of sex education allied with psychophysical health, and he said he wanted "to teach men and women to love, and make women feel like queens." His enlightened work in bodybuilding and character-training attracted the interest of Dr. Charles Francis Potter, a liberal New York City minister and one of the founders of Humanism. Potter said that Bernard had "all the ear-marks of genius" and "combined knowledge of age-old Indian methods of curing disease of mind and body with the best of Western methods, plus a refreshing amount of common sense." By all reports, the club members, mostly professional and business men and women from New York, were healthy and happy.

There was an inner circle of the club called "The Secret Order of Tantriks," to which a number of wealthy people belonged. Bernard was their guru, known as "Oom the Omnipotent," and his initiates would chant their version of the Tibetan prayer-wheel mantra"Oom ma na padma oom." Bernard had a special talent for explaining abstruse Hindu Vedanta and yoga teachings in crisp, simple language. Affectionately known as "P.A." to club members, he was no ascetic and was known to enjoy a cigar or a game of billiards.

Many well-known and talented people visited the club or became members, including Francis Yeats-Brown and Sir Paul Dukes, both pioneer writers on yoga; composer Cyril Scott; and conductor Leopold Stokowski. There were some later criticisms that Bernard was influenced unfavorably by his own material and business success, but in general he seems to have been a pioneer of hatha yoga and sane occultism in the United States.

During his period at Nyack, Bernard became director and later treasurer of the local chamber of commerce. He owned controlling stock in the bank at Pearl River, served as its president in 1931, and owned $12 million worth of property in Rockland County. He closed his yoga center during World War II and turned over his estate to the Wertheim family, who usedspan class="textStyle1">it to house refugees from Nazi Gemany.

Bernard died in Nyack on September 28, 1955, in his eightieth year. His nephew Theos Bernard, who had been a member of the Nyack Community, wrote an authoritative thesis on hatha yoga while at Columbia University. It was first published in 1944 under the title Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience and has been frequently reprinted.

Sources:

Bernard, Pierre. In Re Fifth Veda. International Journal of the Tantrik Order. New York: Tantrik Order in America, [1909].

Boswell, Charles. "The Great Fume and Fuss over the Omnipotent Oom." True (January 1965): 31-33, 86-91.

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Coons, Peter (1875-1955)

Coons, Peter (1875-1955)

American pioneer of the study of hatha yoga under the name Pierre Arnold Bernard. His nephew Theos Bernard was responsible for an authoritative treatise on hatha yoga.

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"Coons, Peter (1875-1955)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Coons, Peter (1875-1955)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/coons-peter-1875-1955

"Coons, Peter (1875-1955)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/coons-peter-1875-1955