A Brief Biography of Bô Yin Râ


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.

In 1880 the family moved to Frankfurt am Main, where the boy went to school. In 1890, due to financial hardship, his parents took him out of school; though still very young, he learned a craft and worked with lathe and vise in order to assist them.

BĂ´ Yin Râ’s Training as an Artist

At age 16, the young craftsman’s fondest hope was fulfilled when he was accepted as a student at the Städelsche Art Institute in Frankfurt. He completed three semesters and then found work in the art studios of the Municipal Theater in Frankfurt from October 1896 to April 1898. During this period, an older relative arranged for him to meet one of the leading German artists of the time, Hans Thoma (1839-1924). Thoma was so impressed by Schneiderfranken's first landscape studies that he accepted the young painter as his pupil. For a year and a half Thoma gave him personal instruction, free of tuition.    

Schneiderfranken graduated from the Städelsche Art Institute in 1899, in the master class of Professor W.A. Beer (1837-1907). From 1900 to 1901, he continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, under Professor Christian Griepenkerl (1839-1912). In the fall of 1901 he briefly lived in Munich, where a fellow painter, Gino Parin (1876-1944), was his studio neighbor and became a friend whose skill and expertise he came to value greatly.

In the summer of 1902 Schneiderfranken attended the Académie Julian in Paris, where his teachers were Tony Robert-Fleury (1837-1911) and Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911). The following year he returned to work at the Academy in Vienna. In 1906 a collection of his pen-and-ink and pencil drawings was exhibited at the Kunstverein (Artists Association) in Leipzig.

In his development as an artist, Schneiderfranken 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 Max Klinger (1857-1920). Klinger especially appreciated Schneiderfranken’s pictorial renditions of nonphysical reality (painted years before the age of modern abstract art), a genre BĂ´ Yin Râ later entitled Spiritual Perspectives.

Travel  in Greece and the Start of the Writings
Schneiderfranken spent the years 1912-13 traveling in Greece, a time that had a profound and lasting influence on his art and his writings. There he sketched numerous landscapes and prepared the manuscripts of several books that were later published, in quick succession, as the first works in the teaching cycle that he later titled 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 by the publishing company of Kurt Wolff, Verlag der Weissen BĂĽcher, the following year. This text he signed with only the initials B.Y.R. In 1915 the E. Schulte Gallery in Berlin exhibited a collection of his Greek landscapes. In 1916 he published two more texts, Words of the Masters and From the Lands of the Luminaries and a third, The Will to Joy, followed in 1917. All three were published in Leipzig by Kurt Wolff and again bore only the initials B.Y.R.

Drafted into military service in November 1916, Schneiderfranken 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.

In 1919 Schneiderfranken exhibited landscapes and floral compositions at the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Görlitz. During that year the first edition of The Book on the Living God, the central volume in the teaching cycle Hortus Conclusus, was published. It included 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. This edition marked the first time the author's name was shown as Bô Yin Râ.

From this point on, this biography will use the name BĂ´ Yin Râ instead of Schneiderfranken. For a fuller explanation of the name, see “Why I Use My Name.” — the Editors

In 1920, while living in  Görlitz, Bô Yin Râ 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 paintings that he called Spiritual Perspectives; they were exhibited by the Jakob Böhme Society in 1921 and 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 1920 Bô Yin Râ published, all with Kurt Wolff, several other works in the Hortus Conclusus cycle. 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 More Light, another book in the teaching cycle, and The Realm of Art, not part of the cycle, were published. In the spring of the following year the author spent two weeks on the isle of Capri; his impressions of that visit are reflected in a later work, The Secret. That same year The Mystery of Golgotha, The Book on Love, and Worlds of Spirit (which contains the painting cycle of twenty Spiritual Perspectives), were also published, as well as Scintillas (a book of mantras), which already had been printed as a prepublication in the journal Magische Blätter, Leipzig, 1920.

Personal Life and Further Writings

Bô Yin Râ was married twice: In 1903 he married Irma Schönfeld; she died in 1915 from diabetes. In 1918 he married Helena Hoffmann. Together they raised Helene's two daughters from her earlier marriage, Illi and Ria, and their daughter Devadatti, born in 1919. 

1923 marked a decisive turning point in BĂ´ Yin Râ's external life. He and his family left Germany, at a time marked by German economic distress and the early rise of Nazism. They took up residence in Switzerland, at first in Horgen, at the Lake of Zurich. That same year BĂ´ Yin Râ 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 unique value and significance of BĂ´ Yin Râ’s writings and began, from 1927 on, to take over the publication of all the author's works.

In 1923 Words of Life, The Secret (both part of the teaching cycle) and Enigmas of Nature’s Invisible Realm (not part of the teaching cycle) were published. 1924 brought the publication of six more titles of the Hortus Conclusus: 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), Ceremonial Magic and Myth, Psalms, and Spirit and Form.

In 1925 Bô Yin Râ moved with his family from Horgen to Massagno/Lugano, Tessin. They formally became citizens of Massagno in 1938 and made it their permanent residence. Life's Highest Goal and On Marriage were published in that year.

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 version), "Concerning My Name"; 1928, Signs Along the Way, The Book on Human Nature (final version), "The Use of Mantras"; 1929, The Book on Life Beyond (final version); 1930, The Mirage of Freedom, The Mystery of Golgotha (final version), "About My Books"; 1931, The Book on Love (final version); 1932, The Path of My Pupils, The Book on the Royal Art (final version), My Work as a Painter; 1933, The Realm of Art (final version); 1934, Beyond the Everyday, Reality Eternal, Life in Eternal Light; 1935, Letters to One and to Many, "In My Own Behalf"; 1936, Hortus Conclusus, More Light (final version); 1937, Codicil to the Hortus Conclusus; 1938, Marginalia; 1939, On Godlessness, Spiritual Relationships, Miscellanea.

Bô Yin Râ died in Massagno on February 14, 1943. His legacy of forty books and close to two hundred paintings continues to inspire and instruct.