Bo Yin Ra (Bô Yin Râ, Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken) was born on November 25, 1876, in Aschaffenburg, near Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His ancestors were peasants, foresters, and rural craftsmen. The father, Joseph S., was a native of Burgstadt, Franconia. The mother, Maria Anna, née Albert, came from Hosbach, near Aschaffenburg.
In 1880 the family moved to Frankfurt am Main, where later the boy also went to school. While he was a pupil at the Merian School, which he attended from the spring of 1886 to that of 1890, his parents were affected by events that caused them to remove the boy from school before his years had been completed; and now, though nearly still a child, he learned a craft and worked with lathe and vise in order to assist them.
After a very difficult time during which a great deal was demanded of him, the not yet sixteen-year-old craftsman saw his fondest hope fulfilled when he was formally accepted as a student at the Städelsche Art Institute in Frankfurt. Here then he completed three semesters: one in the summer of 1892, two more in the winters of 1892-1893 and 1894-1895. Thereafter, from October 1896 to April 1898, he worked in the art studios of the Municipal Theater in Frankfurt. At this period an older relative arranged for him to meet one of the leading German artists of the time, Hans Thoma (1839-1924), who, much to the young man's surprise, at once showed so much interest in his first landscape studies that he accepted the young painter as his pupil. For a year and a half Hans Thoma then gave personal instruction, free of tuition, to the gifted student.
Later, the young artist also came to benefit from the suggestions and advice that he received from two of the outstanding painters, etchers, and sculptors of the time: Fritz Boehle (1873-1916), and especially Max Klinger (1857-1920), whose spontaneous appreciation of the kind of works that Bô Yin Râ was later to entitle Spiritual Perspectives, i.e., pictorial renditions of nonphysical reality painted years before the age of modern abstract art—he always gratefully remembered as a precious gift.
Schneiderfranken was graduated from the Städelsche Art Institute at the conclusion of the summer semester 1899, in the master class of Prof. W.A. Beer (1837-1907). From September 1900 to the end of June 1901 his studies were continued at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, under Prof. Ch. Griepenkerl (1839-1916). In the fall of 1901 he briefly lived in Munich, where he later made his residence for longer periods. Here a fellow painter, Gino Parin (1876-1944), was his studio neighbor and became a friend whose skill and expertise he counted very valuable.
In the early summer of 1902 he attended the Académie Julian in Paris, where his teachers were Tony Robert-Fleury (1837-1911) and Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1912). The following year he returned once more to work at the Academy in Vienna. From 1904 to 1908 his studios were in Berlin and Karlshorst (East Berlin). In 1906 a collection of his pen-and-ink and pencil drawings was exhibited at the Kunstverein at Leipzig. That year he traveled for six weeks in Italy. In 1908 he also visited the south of Sweden. During the next few years, 1909-1912, his studio was in Munich.
A period of profound and lasting influence, both for the
artist and the author, was the year that
Bô Yin Râ spent traveling in Greece, between 1912 and 1913. Here he sketched numerous landscapes in oil and prepared the manuscripts of several books that were later published, in quick succession, as the first works in the cycle Hortus Conclusus. From Athens, in 1913, he sent his first text, a small brochure entitled The Light from Himavat, to Leipzig, where it was published the following year. This text he signed with only his initials B.Y.R.
From 1913 to 1915 he worked again in Munich. In 1915 the E. Schulte Gallery in Berlin exhibited a collection of his Greek landscapes. During 1916 he worked in Berlin; that year he published two more texts, Words of the Masters and From the Lands of the Luminaries; a third, The Will to Joy, followed in 1917; all three appeared at Leipzig and again bore only the initials B.Y.R.
Drafted into military service in November 1916, Bô Yin Râ was stationed first in Königsberg, East Prussia, and then transferred, in the spring of the following year, to Görlitz, Silesia. Here he served until the end of World War I as an interpreter for interned Greek-born nationals, and prepared the medical reports on patients in the infirmary.
Until the spring of 1923 the author lived and worked in Görlitz. Here, in 1920, he founded the Jakob Böhme Society, whose members included professional artists from various fields. (The German mystic and philosopher Jakob Böhme, born in nearby Alt-Seidenberg in 1575, had lived in Görlitz from 1599 until his death in 1624). In Görlitz Bô Yin Râ completed a cycle of twenty spiritual perspectives; shown at an exhibition by the Jakob Böhme Society in 1921, they were subsequently published in the volume Worlds of Spirit. At that time he also was elected president of the Kunstverein (Artists' Association) of Upper Lusatia.
In 1919 he exhibited landscapes and floral compositions at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Görlitz. During that year also appeared the first edition of the central volume in the cycle Hortus Conclusus, i.e., The Book on the Living God. The work was published by Kurt Wolff at Leipzig, in his "Verlag der Weissen Bücher." This edition, the first to show the author's name as Bô Yin Râ contained a preface by the German novelist Gustav Meyrink (1868-1932), whose work Der Golem (Leipzig: Kurt Wolff Verlag,1915) had become a publishing sensation and brought its author wide acclaim.
In 1920 Bô Yin Râ published, again with Kurt Wolff, a number of further works in the cycle; some of these had been complete already for some years, others had been nearly finished. These works include The Book on The Royal Art, The Book on Life Beyond, The Book on Human Nature, The Book on Happiness, and The Book of Dialogues.
In 1921 appeared More Light and, outside the cycle, Reflections on the Realm of Art. In the spring of the following year the author spent two weeks on the isle of Capri, a visit whose impressions are reflected in the later work The Secret. That year were also published The Mystery of Golgotha, The Book on Love, and Worlds of Spirit, which contains a cycle of twenty spiritual perspectives. Also in 1921 appeared Scintillas (German Mantras), which already had been printed as a prepublication in the journal Magische Blätter, Leipzig, 1920.
1923 marked a decisive turning point in Bô Yin Râ's external life, as in that year he and his family left Germany to take up residence in Switzerland, at first in Horgen, at the Lake of Zurich. That same year he became acquainted with the Swiss publisher Dr. Alfred Kober-Staehelin (1885-1963), who was later also well known as a journalist and political commentator. Dr. Kober recognized the value and significance of Bô Yin Râ's unprecedented expositions and began, from 1927 on, to publish all the author's works. In 1923 appeared the titles Words of Life, The Secret and, outside the cycle, Enigmas of the Occult.
1924 brought the publication of six more titles of the Hortus Conclusus, i.e., The Path to God, The Book on Solace, The Wisdom of St. John (the first work published in English translation by The Kober Press, Berkeley), Cult and Ceremonial Magic, Psalms, and Spirit and Form.
In 1925 Bô Yin Râ moved with his family from Horgen to Massagno/Lugano, Tessin, where they made their permanent residence; they formally became citizens of Massagno in 1938. In 1925 appeared The Highest Goal of Life and On Marriage.
During the next fourteen years Bô Yin Râ published the following works: in 1926, Resurrection, On Prayer; 1927, The Meaning of this Life, The Book on the Living God (final form), "Concerning My Name"; 1928, Signs Along the Way, The Book on Human Nature (final form), "The Use of Mantras"; 1929, The Book on Life Beyond (final form); 1930, The Mirage of Earthly Freedom, The Mystery of Golgotha (final form), "About My Books"; 1931, The Book on Love (final form); 1932, The Way of My Pupils, The Book on the Royal Art (final form), Views From My Studio; 1933, Reflections on the Realm of Art (final form); 1934, From Above the Everyday, Reality in the Eternal, Living in the Spirit's Light; 1935, Letters to One and to Many, "In My Own Behalf"; 1936, Hortus Conclusus, More Light (final form); 1937, Codicil to the Hortus Conclusus; 1938, Marginalia; 1939, On Godlessness, Spiritual Relationships, Miscellanea.
Bô Yin Râ died at Massagno on February 14,1943. His legacy
comprises forty books and close to two hundred paintings.
Excerpt from the book: Bô Yin Râ: An Introduction to His Works, second (revised) edition, Berkeley (CA) 2004.
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Today, there are two Bô Yin Râ Foundations (Bô Yin Râ Stiftung, in German); one is situated in Basel, Switzerland, its president is Dr. Otto Lienert. The other Foundation is located in the town of Giessen (Hessen - Germany).
The copyright of the English books is managed by Kober Press, situaded in Berkeley, USA.Sources: Kober Press and others.