Mystery of Shambhala By Jason Jeffrey
- I believe the idea of Shambhala has not yet come to full flower, but that when it does it will have enormous power to reshape civilisation. It is the sign of the future. The search for a new unifying principle that our civilisation must now undertake will, I am convinced, lead it to this source of higher energies, and Shambhala will become the great icon of the new millennium.
- — Victoria LePage, Shambhala
For thousands of years rumours and reports have circulated that somewhere beyond Tibet, among the icy peaks and secluded valleys of Eurasia, there lies an inaccessible paradise, a place of universal wisdom and ineffable peace called Shambhala – although it is also known by other names.
James Hilton wrote about it in the 1933 book Lost Horizon, Hollywood portrayed it in the 1960s film ‘Shangri-la’, and recent films such as ‘Kundun’, ‘Little Buddha’ and ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ allude to the magical utopia. Even author James Redfield, noted for his New Age best seller The Celestine Prophecy, has written a book called The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight.
Shambhala, which in Sanskrit means “place of peace, of tranquillity,” is thought of in Tibet as a community where perfect and semi-perfect beings live and are guiding the evolution of humanity. Shambhala is considered to be the source of the Kalachakra, which is the highest and most esoteric branch of Tibetan mysticism.
Legends say that only the pure of heart can live in Shambhala, enjoying perfect ease and happiness and never knowing suffering, want or old age. Love and wisdom reign and injustice is unknown. The inhabitants are long-lived, wear beautiful and perfect bodies and possess supernatural powers; their spiritual knowledge is deep, their technological level highly advanced, their laws mild and their study of the arts and sciences covers the full spectrum of cultural achievement, but on a far higher level than anything the outside world has attained.
By definition Shambhala is hidden. Of the numerous explorers and seekers of spiritual wisdom who attempt to locate Shambhala, none can pinpoint its physical location on a map, although all say it exists in the mountainous regions of Eurasia. Many have also returned believing that Shambhala lies on the very edge of physical reality, as a bridge connecting this world to one beyond it.
The Sanskrit and Tibetan Shambhala has also been identified by no less an authority than Alexandra David-Neel, who spent years in Tibet, with Balkh – in the far north of Afghanistan – the ancient settlement known as "the mother of cities". Present day folklore in Afghanistan asserts that after the Muslim conquest, Balkh was known as the "Elevated Candle" ("Sham-i-Bala"), a Persianisation of the Sanskrit Shambhala.
Tibetan lamas spend a great deal of their lives in spiritual development before attempting the journey to Shambhala. Perhaps deliberately, the guidebooks to Shambhala describe the route in terms so vague that only those already initiated into the teachings of the Kalachakra can understand them.
As Edwin Bernbaum says in The Way to Shambhala:
- As the traveller draws near the kingdom, their directions become increasingly mystical and difficult to correlate with the physical world. At least one lama has written that the vagueness of these books is deliberate and intended to keep Shambhala concealed from the barbarians who will take over the world.1
The lama’s reference to the barbarians “who will take over the world” is directly connected to the prophecy of Shambhala. This prophecy tells of the gradual deterioration of mankind as the ideology of materialism spreads over the earth. When the “barbarians” who follow this ideology are united under an evil king and think there is nothing left to conquer, the mists will lift to reveal the snowy mountains of Shambhala. The barbarians will attack Shambhala with a huge army equipped with terrible weapons. Then the 32nd king of Shambhala, Rudra Cakrin, will lead a mighty host against the invaders. In a last great battle, the evil king and his followers will be destroyed.
As the cultures of the East and West collide, the myth of Shambhala rises out of the mists of time. We now have access to numerous Buddhist texts on the subject, along with reports by Western explorers who set out on the arduous journey in search of Shambhala. There is much we can learn for our own individual journey of spiritual understanding.
The Lost World of Agharta
The idea of a hidden world beneath the surface of the planet is a very ancient one indeed. There are innumerable folk tales and oral traditions found throughout many countries speaking of subterranean people who have created a kingdom of harmony, contentment and spiritual power.
The early European travellers to Tibet consistently told the same tale of a hidden spiritual centre of power. Adventurers recounted fantastic tales of a hidden kingdom near Tibet. This special place is known by numerous local and regional names, which no doubt caused much confusion among early travellers as to the kingdom’s true identity. These early travellers knew it as Agharta (sometimes spelt Agharti, Asgartha or Agarttha), although it is now commonly known as Shambhala.
Taking the legend in its most basic form, Agharta is said to be a mysterious underground kingdom situated somewhere beneath Asia and linked to the other continents of the world by a gigantic network of tunnels. These passageways, partly natural formations and partly the handiwork of the race which created the subterranean nation, provide a means of communication between all points, and have done so since time immemorial. According to the legend, vast lengths of the tunnels still exist today; the rest have been destroyed by cataclysms. The exact location of these passages, and the means of entry, are said to be known only to certain high initiates, and the details are most carefully guarded because the kingdom itself is a vast storehouse of secret knowledge. Some claim that the stored knowledge is derived from the lost Atlantean civilisation and of even earlier people who were the first intelligent beings to inhabit the earth.
The first Westerner to popularise the legend of Agharta was a gifted French writer named Joseph-Alexandre Saint-Yves (1842-1910). Saint-Yves was a self-educated occultist and political philosopher who promoted in his books the establishment of a form of government called ‘Synarchy’. He taught that the body politic should be treated like a living creature, with a ruling spiritual and intellectual elite as its brain.
In his quest for universal understanding, he decided in 1885 to take lessons in Sanskrit, the classical and philosophical language of India. He learnt far more than he expected. Saint-Yves’s tutor was a certain Haji Sharif, who was believed to be an Afghan prince. Through this mysterious personage, Saint-Yves learnt a good deal about Oriental traditions including Agharta.
The manuscripts of Saint-Yves’ Sanskrit lessons are preserved in the library of the Sorbonne, written in exquisite script by Haji. According to Joscelyn Godwin, writing in Arktos:
- Haji signed his name with a cryptic symbol and styled himself “Guru Pandit of the Great Agarthian School.” Elsewhere he refers to the “Holy Land of Agarttha”… In due course he informed Saint-Yves that this school preserves the original language of mankind and its 22-lettered alphabet: it is called Vattan, or Vattanian.2
Saint-Yves soon discovered his training enabled him to receive telepathic messages from the Dalai Lama in Tibet, as well as make astral journeys to Agharta. The detailed reports of what he found there became the crowning volume of his series of politico-hermetic “Missions”: Mission des Souverains, Mission des Ouvriers, Mission de Juifs, and finally Mission de l’Inde (The Mission of India).
In The Mission of India we learn that Agharta is a hidden land somewhere in the East, below the surface of the earth, where a population of millions is ruled by a “Sovereign Pontiff”, who is assisted by two colleagues, the “Mahatma” and the “Mahanga”. His realm, Saint-Yves explains, was transferred underground and concealed from the surface-dwellers at the start of the Kali Yuga, which he dates around 3200 BCE. According to Saint-Yves, the “mages of Agarttha” had to descend into the infernal regions below them in order to work at bringing the earth’s chaos and negative energy to an end. “Each of these sages,” Saint-Yves wrote, “accomplishes his work in solitude, far from any light, under the cities, under deserts, under plains or under mountains.”3 Now and then Agharta sends emissaries to the upper world, of which it has perfect knowledge.
Agharta also enjoys the benefits of a technology advanced far beyond our own. Not only the latest discoveries of modern man, but the whole wisdom of the ages is enshrined in its libraries. Among its many secrets are those of the relationship of soul to body, and of the means to keep departed souls in communication with incarnate ones.
To Saint-Yves, these superior beings were the true authors of Synarchy, and for thousands of years Agharta had “radiated” Synarchy to the rest of the world, which in modern times has chosen foolishly to ignore it. When the world adopts Synarchical government the time will be ripe for Agharta to reveal itself.
Much of what Saint-Yves reveals in his books about Agharta, to the modern reader, appears of a bizarre nature. His writings are in a similar vein to the reports of strange worlds visited by numerous out-of-body explorers over the ages. After his own investigation of Saint-Yves, the respected historian of esotericism Joscelyn Godwin wrote:
- I believe Saint-Yves did ‘see’ what he described, and that he did not consider himself, to the slightest degree, to be writing fiction or deriving anything from anyone else. The proof is in his utter seriousness of character, and in the publications and correspondence of the rest of his life, which take Agartha… for unquestionable realities. But it is quite another matter to accept his Agartha in all the actuality and physicality that he attributed to it.4
Until the start of the twentieth century, the legend of Agharta remained very much… a legend. Stories of Agharta had widely spread in Europe since the publication of Saint-Yves’s books, but evidence to support the claims remained as elusive as ever. Indeed, it might well have been expected that in the rational and materialistic new century, such stories would finally be confined to the realms of fantasy: a colourful tradition to be ranked alongside other ancient mysteries such as the lost continents of Atlantis and Mu.
But such a supposition did not allow for the remarkable discoveries of two intrepid explorers who in the 1920s went into the vastness of Asia and there unearthed evidence about Agharta which far exceeded that of any previous reports. Their accounts, indeed, became the cornerstone of our present knowledge of the secret kingdom.
Strangely, neither man knew each other, yet both were of Russian extraction. One made his discoveries about Agharta while fleeing for his life from the Bolsheviks in Russia; the other came shortly after from self-imposed exile in America, seeking to penetrate the mysteries of Tibet. Their names were Ferdinand Ossendowski and Nicholas Roerich.
The King of the World
Writing in the early part of last century, Russian traveller Ferdinand Ossendowski said he noticed there were times in his Mongolian travels when men and beasts paused, silent and immobile, as though listening. The herds of horses, the sheep and cattle, stood fixed to attention or crouched close to the ground. The birds did not fly, and marmots did not run and the dogs did not bark. “Earth and sky ceased breathing. The wind did not blow and the sun did not move…. All living beings in fear were involuntarily thrown into prayer and waiting for their fate.”5
“Thus it has always been,” explained an old Mongol shepherd and hunter, “whenever the King of the World in his subterranean palace prays and searches out the destiny of all peoples on the earth.”6 For in Agharta, he said, “live the invisible rulers of all pious people, the King of the World or Brahatma, who can speak with God as I speak with you, and his two assistants: Mahatma, knowing the purposes of future events, and Mahinga, ruling the causes of those events…. He knows all the forces of the world and reads all the souls of mankind and the great book of their destiny.”7
Ferdinand Ossendowski (1876-1945), a polish scientist who spent most of his life in Russia, was as intrigued with legends and with the occult as he was with politics. As he fled through “Mysterious Mongolia… the Land of Demons,” he paused frequently to speak with Buddhist monks and lamas about the traditions associated with lakes, caves and monasteries. There was one story he said he encountered everywhere in Eurasia: he called it the “Kingdom of Agharti”, regarding it as nothing less than “the mystery of mysteries.”8
Ossendowski’s knowledge of the hidden kingdom came about after he fell into the company of a remarkable fellow Russian speaker, a priest named Tushegoun Lama, who had also fled the Russian Revolution, and could claim personal friendship with the Dalai Lama, then the supreme ruler of Tibet.
It was from Tushegoun Lama that Ossendowski heard the first hints about Agharta and be inspired to investigate the stories and ultimately produce the first detailed modern report on the subterranean kingdom. He called this report, Beasts, Men and Gods (1922), and it is now a rare and much sought-after book.
During their journeying, Tushegoun Lama told Ossendowski of the miraculous powers of the Tibetan monks, and the Dalai Lama in particular – powers, he said, that foreigners could scarcely begin to appreciate. Then, he went on: “But there also exists a still more powerful and more holy man… The King of the World in Agharti.”9
At that point, according to Ossendowski’s account, the Lama did not wait around to answer questions, but rode off on his horse. The poor Russian was left standing in the settling dust with a series of whirling questions rushing through his head. He had to wait several months before he began to get any answers to these questions.
Later, another Tibetan called Prince Chultun Beyli told Ossendowski that sixty thousand years ago a holy man had led a tribe of his followers deep into the earth. They settled there, beneath Central Asia, and through the use of the holy man’s incredible wisdom and power, and the labours of his people, Agharta became a paradise. Its population now numbered in the millions, and all were happy and prosperous.
The Prince also added the following details:
- The kingdom is called Agharti. It extends throughout all the subterranean passages of the whole world…. These subterranean peoples and spaces are governed by rulers owing allegiance to the ‘King of the World’… You know that in the two greatest oceans of the east and the west there were formerly two continents. They disappeared under the water but their people went into the subterranean kingdom. In underground caves there exists a peculiar light which affords growth to the grains and vegetables and long life without disease to the people.10
Ossendowski, understandably, found much that was puzzling as well as confusing in these accounts. Nonetheless he was convinced that he had come across something more than just a legend – or even an example of hypnosis or mass vision – but more likely a powerful ‘force’ of some kind, evidently capable of influencing the course of life on planet earth.
Interestingly, Ossendowski reports that the enormous powers the people of Agharta were believed to control could be used to destroy whole areas of the planet, but equally could be harnessed as the means of propulsion of the most amazing vehicles of transport. It has been suggested that this could be a prediction of nuclear energy and flying saucers! (Beasts, Men and Gods was, of course, published in 1922, long before such topics were even being discussed).
Ossendowski closes off his book with the prophecy of the King of the World (see “A Prophecy From the Inner Earth!”, page 33), in which it is stated materialism will devastate the earth, terrible battles will engulf the nations of the world, and at the climax of the bloodshed in 2029, the people of Agharta will rise out of their cavern world.
Emissary of Shambhala
It would be easy to dismiss Agharta/Shambhala as pure fantasy, were it not for a very credible explorer who searched for, found and returned to tell us something about his experiences.
Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), a Russian born artist, poet, writer, mystic and distinguished member of the Theosophical Society, led an expedition across the Gobi Desert to the Altai mountain range from 1923 to 1928, a journey which covered 15,500 miles across thirty-five of the world’s highest mountain passes.
As Victoria LePage puts it in her book Shambhala:
- Roerich was a man of unimpeachable credentials: a famous collaborator in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a colleague of the impresario Diaghilev and a highly talented and respected member of the League of Nations.11
He was also influential in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt United States administration, and was the pivotal force behind placing the Great Seal of the United States on the dollar bill.
Nicholas Roerich was first exposed to Buddhism and heard of Shambhala in St. Petersburg, Russia during his involvement with the construction of the Buddhist temple under the guidance of Lama Agvan Dordgiev.12
One of the reasons for Roerich’s expedition may have been to return a stone said to be part of a much larger meteorite possessing occult properties called the Chintamani Stone, alleged to have come from a solar system in the constellation of Orion. The stone, says LePage, “was capable of giving telepathic inner guidance and effecting a transformation of consciousness to those in contact with it.”13
According to Lamaist legend, a fragment of this Chintamani Stone is sent forth to help establish spiritual missions vital to humanity, and is returned, when missions are completed, to its rightful home in the King’s Tower in the centre of Shambhala.14 Such a stone was said to be in the possession of the failed League of Nations, its return being entrusted to Roerich. Though it is not known whether he was able to return the fragment or not, his expedition helped those who believed that Shambhala was more than a myth.
Roerich believed in the transcendental unity of religions – in the notion that one day the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Christian would realise their separate dogmas were husks obscuring the kernel of truth within. All his works embraced the belief that all faiths awaited a new age in which this chaff of dogma would be stripped away, humanity would toss aside its discords, and all would come together in a paradise of universal brotherhood. His symbol for the coming paradise was Shambhala.
Roerich kept a diary during the trip (published as Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary)15 and, while in Mongolia, noted that, “belief in the imminence of the era of Shambhala was very strong.” In his book, Heart of Asia, Roerich describes both his scientific observations and his personal spiritual quest. Although he was ready to listen to tales of underground cities as part of the adventure, his main interest centred on the spiritual dynamics of Shambhala and its importance as a symbol of the coming age of peace and enlightenment. This blending of the scientific and the spiritual is also present in the hundreds of paintings Roerich made throughout the expedition.
- “His eye captured the shapes and colours of the mountains, monasteries, rock carvings, stupas, cities and peoples of Asia,” writes Jaqueline Decter in Nicholas Roerich. “His soul understood their spirit; and his brush forged a synthesis of beauty.” Throughout his life, Roerich strove to link all scientific and creative disciplines to advance true culture and international peace, citing the power of art and beauty to accomplish such a feat.
The Roerich Peace Pact, which obligated nations to respect museums, cathedrals, universities and libraries as they did hospitals, was established in 1935 and became part of the United Nations organisational charter. The connection between Shambhala and the Peace Pact is clearly evident in the following speech given at the Third International Roerich Peace Banner Convention in 1933:
The East has said that when the Banner of Shambhala would encircle the world, verily the New Dawn would follow. Borrowing this Legend of Asia, let us determine that the Banner of Peace shall encircle the world, carrying its word of Light, and presaging a New Morning of human brotherhood.16
“Today,” notes LePage, “every major Russian city has a Roerich organisation that expresses his ideas for a new type of enlightened civilisation based on the utopian principles of Shambhala.”17
The Sign of Shambhala
- Shambhala itself is the Holy Place, where the earthly world links with the highest states of consciousness. In the East they know that there exists two Shambhalas – an earthly and an invisible one.
- – Nicholas Roerich, The Heart of Asia
Nicholas Roerich and party set out in 1924 to explore India, Mongolia and Tibet. Like Ossendowski before him, Roerich soon encountered stories about a secret underground kingdom. He jotted down his thoughts on this hidden kingdom and these notes were later published in a remarkable record of the expedition entitled Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary.18
In the summer of 1926, Roerich reported a strange event in his travel diary. He was encamped with his son, Dr. George Roerich, and a retinue of Mongolian guides in the Sharagol valley near the Humboldt mountain chain between Mongolia and Tibet. At the time of the event in question, Roerich had returned from a trip to Altai and built a stupa, “a stately white structure,” dedicated to Shambhala.
In August the shrine was consecrated in a solemn ceremony by a number of notable lamas invited to the site for the purpose, and after the event, writes Roerich, the Buriat guides forecast something auspicious impending. A day or two later, a large black bird was observed flying over the party. Beyond it, moving high in the cloudless sky, a huge, golden, spheroid body, whirling and shining brilliantly in the sun, was suddenly espied. Through three pairs of binoculars the travellers saw it fly rapidly from the north, from the direction of Altai, then veer sharply and vanish towards the southwest, behind the Humboldt mountains.
One of the lamas told Roerich that what he had seen was “the sign of Shambhala,” signifying that his mission had been blessed by the Great Ones of Altai, the lords of Shambhala. They had also been witness to a classic UFO, twenty years before the “official” beginning of the phenomenon with Kenneth Arnold’s sighting in 1947.
Roerich’s account of such a sighting aroused great interest in Europe and, corroborated as it was by George Roerich, brought to the West the first concrete evidence that there might be something present in Eurasia that defied understanding. Victoria LePage describes its significance as such: In its vivid colour and factuality, its bizarre but unarguable reference to an unknown golden aircraft that behaved as no ordinary airplane could, the Roerich story could rightly be called the first reliable intimation that the kingdom of Chang Shambhala was perhaps knowable as more than an intellectual curiosity, a popular Asian fable… and from about 1927 onward the world centre in the northern mountains exerted on Western occult circles the fascination of an idea whose time has come.19
Which brings us to the very nature of reality. Paranormal experiences, including UFO sightings, are always indicative of an altered state of consciousness that allows the witness to see other realities. Often the experience is similar to a lucid dream, where ordinary space-time physics no longer applies.
The Eastern mystical view of the world can be quite different from the Western scientific view of it. It maybe that the guidebooks to Shambhala are describing a landscape transformed by the visions of a yogi taking the journey there: Where we would see a mountaintop gleaming with snow, he would see a golden temple with a shining god. In that case, we might be able to travel the same path, but with a different view of reality.
To travel to Shambhala, as Nicholas Roerich journeyed, is to undertake at one and the same time an inner mystical journey and an outer physical one through desolate and mountainous territory to a cosmic powerhouse.
An old Tibetan story tells of a young man who set off on the quest for Shambhala. After crossing many mountains, he came to the cave of an old hermit, who asked him, “Where are you going across these wastes of snow?”
“To find Shambhala,” the youth replied.
“Ah, well then, you need not travel far,” the hermit said. “The kingdom of Shambhala is in your own heart.”20
The second part of this article looks at the Buddhist conception of Shambhala and its esoteric meaning.
1. Edwin Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom Beyond the Himalayas, 2001, p.25.
2. Joscelyn Godwin, Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism and Nazi Survival, 1993, p.83.
3. Subterranean Worlds: 100,000 Years of Dragons, Dwarfs, the Dead, Lost Races & UFOs from Inside the Earth, Walter Kafton-Minkel, 1989, p.188.
4. Joscelyn Godwin, Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism and Nazi Survival, 1993, p.85.
5. Ferdinand Ossendowski, Beast, Men and Gods, 1922, p.300.
6. Ibid, p.300.
7. Ibid, p.303.
8. Ibid, p.300.
9. Ibid, p.118.
10. Alec Maclellan, The Lost World of Agharti, The Mystery of Vril Power, 1982, p. 66.
11. Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-la, 1996, p.11.
12. See New Dawn No. 68, p. 85.
13. Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-la, 1996, p.10.
14. Andrew Tomas, Shambhala: Oasis of Light, 1976, p.32.
15. Nicholas Roerich, Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary (1929); Other books by Roerich: The Heart of Asia (1930); Shambhala (1930)
16. Speech by Francis Grant in The Roerich Pact and Banner of Peace, 1947
17. Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-la, 1996, p.12.
18. Nicholas Roerich, Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary (1929).
19. Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-la, 1996, p.12.
20. As quoted in Edwin Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala: Jacques Bacot, Introduction a l’histoire du Tibet, 1962, p.92N.