The Five Tibetan Rites is a system of exercises reported to be more than 2,500 years old which were first publicized by Peter Kelder in a 1939 publication titled The Eye of Revelation. The Rites are said to be a form of Tibetan yoga similar to the yoga series that originated in India. However, the Five Rites and traditional Tibetan yoga both emphasize “a continuous sequence of movement” (Sanskrit: vinyasa), whereas Indian forms focus on “static positions”. Although the Rites have circulated amongst yogis for decades, skeptics say that Tibetans have never recognized them as being authentic Tibetan practices. The Five Tibetan Rites are also referred to as “The Five Rites”, “The Five Tibetans” and “The Five Rites of Rejuvenation”.
Although practically nothing is known about Kelder, one source reports that he was raised as an adopted child in the mid-western United States and left home while in his teens in search of adventure. In the 1930s, Kelder claims to have met, in southern California, a retired British army colonel who shared with him stories of travel and the subsequent discovery of the Rites. Originally written as a 32-page booklet, the publication is the result of Kelder’s conversations with the colonel.
In his booklet, Kelder claims that while stationed in India, British army officer Colonel Bradford (a pseudonym) heard a story about a group of lamas who had apparently discovered a “Fountain of Youth”. The “wandering natives”, as he called them, told him of old men who inexplicably became healthy, strong, and full of “vigor and virility” after entering a particular lamasery. After retiring, Kelder’s Colonel Bradford went on to discover the lamasery and lived with the lamas, where they taught him five exercises, which they called “rites”. According to the booklet, the lamas describe seven spinning, “psychic vortexes” within the body: two of these are in the brain, one at the base of the throat, one on the right side of the body in the vicinity of the liver, one in the reproductive anatomy, and one in each knee. As we grow older, the spin rate of the “vortexes” diminishes, resulting in “ill-health”. However, the spin rate of these “vortexes” can be restored by performing the Five Rites daily, resulting in improved health. Bradford was also instructed in how to perform a sixth rite, which the lamas recommended only for those willing to “lead a more or less continent (celibate) life”. Additionally, Bradford reveals information on the importance of what foods one should eat, proper food combinations, and the correct method of eating.
Although the origin of the Five Rites before the publication of The Eye of Revelation is disputed between practitioners and skeptics, a comparison of illustrations of the postures shows a remarkable similarity between the Rites and authentic Tibetan ”’phrul ‘khor” exercises from a system rendered into English as Vajra Body Magical Wheel Sun and Moon Union (). It has been noted, however, that even though these comparisons are compelling, a closer examination reveals that these similarities are misleading. Chris Kilham, whose 1994 book The Five Tibetans helped respark the Rites’ popularity, says, “As the story has it, they were shared by Tibetan lamas; beyond that I know nothing of their history.” Even though the historic lineage of the Rites before the publication of Kelder’s booklet remains to be ascertained, the Rites have nevertheless been affirmed by a lama and scholar of the Sa skya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism as being “a genuine form of yoga and were originally taken from an authentic Indo-Tibetan tantric lineage, namely a cycle of yantra-yoga associated with the Sadnadapadadharma.” However, it has been argued that the Five Rites predate yoga as we know it today by as much as seven hundred years or more and, therefore, could not have derived from either Tibetan or Indian forms of yoga. Moreover, it has been suggested that the Rites are more likely to have originated from a system of Kum Nye which, like the Rites, date back 2,500 years. Nevertheless, Kilham states that “[t]he issue at hand, though, is not the lineage of the Five Tibetans. The point is their immense potential value for those who will clear 10 minutes a day to practice.”