When we hear the word Shambhala it conjures up all sorts of romantic images and associations for many people. It originally comes from both Hindu and Buddhist sources. We first find it in an early Hindu text, The Vishnu Purana, from the fourth century CE. And there it speaks about the different ages, the four ages of the world system, ending with the kaliyuga (“age of disputes”). And it says that the eighth avatar, or incarnation, of Vishnu will be born in a city called Shambhala. He’s called Kalki and he will destroy an invading group that are bent on destruction. And after he destroys them, then there will be a new golden age; that will be the end of the kaliyuga.
Then a number of centuries later we find Shambhala again, in Buddhist literature, specifically in a group of material known as the Kalachakra texts. Kalachakra means the “wheel of time” or “cycles of time.” And there we find a variation of what we had in the Hindu source. So there Shambhala is a whole land, not just a village, and there will be a king that comes to India from there and gets the Kalachakra teachings from the Buddha and brings it back to Shambhala. And after seven generations of kings there will be a new king who’s going to unify all the castes – the Indian system of castes – he’s going to unify all the castes, and he’s going to take the title Kalki, this name of the Vishnu avatar. And he predicts that there will be an invasion in the future, a number of centuries later, and that everybody has to get together in order to be able to fight off this invasion. And then there’s a succession of these Kalki rulers, and the twenty-fifth – it’s at his time when this invasion occurs from the forces that are bent on destroying all spiritual practice; and the forces of Shambhala, under the leadership of this Kalki, are going to defeat these invaders and again there’ll be a new golden age. So, similar; just a variant of the theme.
Shambhala in the Teachings of the Theosophical Society
So we’ll look a little more deeply, a little bit later in our talk, about further levels of meaning of Shambhala in the Buddhist teachings. But now we have to start thinking what was it like for the early Europeans who came to India and met little pieces, or were introduced to little pieces, of Hindu literature and Buddhist literature. And how did they possibly understand this? They didn’t have the advantage that we have nowadays of so much of that literature being available in translation. In fact, these are the people that made the first dictionaries of Sanskrit, of Tibetan. So it’s really the great pioneers. And they tried to make sense out of the little pieces that they learned about and they were finally able to translate, but they didn’t have the whole picture.
So the first time that we have anything written in a European language about Shambhala was in 1833. This was by the great Hungarian scholar Csoma de Körös. (he’s the one that put together the first Tibetan-English dictionary). And he wrote an article about Kalachakra, and in it he mentions Shambhala. So that’s the first time that anybody in Europe hears anything about Shambhala. And over the following decades we find that a little bit more becomes available. In the 1860s we have a book written by a German, Schlagintweit, called Buddhism in Tibet, that also speaks about Shambhala. And this Vishnu Purana – the one that has the Hindu version – that also gets translated into English.
And it’s at this time that Madame Blavatsky goes to India, and this was the only source of information that she had about Shambhala from European sources. And one has to again try to understand or appreciate the situation that Blavatsky found herself in in India: There’s the problem of languages; and it wasn’t very clear – the division between what was Hinduism, what was Buddhism. But she was a great pioneer, and what she tried to do was to explain some of these things that she learned about in terms and concepts that were more familiar to European audiences at that time. At that time, there was a great interest in various occult things, and so she translated things that she found in the Buddhist and Hindu literature using these occult features. So this was actually a very intelligent way of introducing this material into Europe: you try to introduce it in ways andconcepts that people are a little bit familiar with already.
Now in terms of the development of these European ideas about Shambhala, we find that there are two main streams that develop. One is to emphasize Shambhala as a type of paradise, a spiritual paradise. And the other one derives from this idea that the forces of Shambhala destroyed or got rid of the harmful invaders that were trying to do away with all spiritual practice. So you get a more destructive aspect of Shambhala. In other words, very forcefully purifying the world of a so-called evil.
Well, Blavatsky emphasized the first aspect here, of Shambhala being a great spiritual land. And the way that she introduced it was in terms of the common geography that you find in Buddhism and Hinduism – with Mount Meru in the center and the four continents around – and she put this together with the description of four different types of birth that you have in Buddhism: born from a womb, born from an egg, born from heat and moisture, and born by sort of an emanation. And she took this idea – it wasn’t very clear in the literature that she had exposure to – put it together with these four continents, and gave them the names of various places that were more familiar in the occult literature in the West. And she said when one of these continents – Lemuria, it was called – sank, then the inhabitants of that moved to another one of the continents, which she called Atlantis; but the spiritually developed ones went to another place, called Shambhala. So this is where she put Shambhala. And she said that it was a sacred island and it was found in the Gobi, the Gobi desert. She didn’t claim that Shambhala was the source of her teachings, The Secret Doctrine, but followers of her, specifically Alice Bailey and Helena Roerich, said that the secret doctrines did come from the masters in Shambhala. So please bear in mind that they didn’t have any other information at that time from the Buddhist or Hindu sources, so naturally they developed the idea of Shambhala further within the context of their own backgrounds. So, fine.
Shambhala Identified with Russia?
Now on the Tibetan side, of course, they were familiar with Shambhala from the Kalachakra literature. And in the Kalachakra literature, it speaks about where Shambhala is, and it’s a land in the north. So the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had a Buryat adviser – his name was Agvan Dorjiev – and this was at the time (in the beginning of the twentieth century) when the Russians and the British and the Chinese were all fighting for control of Central Asia including Tibet. And Dorjiev tried to convince the Thirteenth Dalai Lama that his best source of protection would be Russia, so he told the former Dalai Lama – I mean the present one is the Fourteenth, this was the Thirteenth – he told him that actually Russia was Shambhala and that Czar Nicholas II was the reincarnation of Tsongkhapa, who was the great Tibetan Buddhist master, and that the Romanov dynasty were the descendants of the rulers of Shambhala. And although the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had great hopes that Russia would protect them, the Czar never actually agreed. But nevertheless, as a result of all of Dorjiev’s efforts, there was a temple built in St. Petersburg.
Shambhala and Agharti
Now we go a little bit further in the history to the period between the two world wars, and now another occult feature gets added into the story. We had, in two nineteenth century French novels, a discussion of a place called Agharti. This was an underground kingdom that preserved occult knowledge, and they’re going to come from under the ground and help the world in a war to overcome materialism and destructiveness. And he [Ossendowski (see answer below)] convinced this Baron (he was called Baron von Ungern-Sternberg) who was in Mongolia trying to cause all sorts of difficulties there – but anyway, he convinced him to look in Mongolia for Agharti. Remember Madame Blavatsky had said that Shambhala was in Mongolia, in the Gobi.
Question: But who were the other nobles?
Alex: I’m sorry, I left out that. There was a Polish Captain called Ossendowski, and he was in Mongolia and he convinced the baron to look for Agharti in Mongolia.
So this was the start of these expeditions to try to find either Shambhala or Agharti – somehow the two got mixed together – in Mongolia or somewhere in Central Asia.
The Roerichs, Shambhala, and Agni Yoga
And so the next one who sets out on an expedition was a Russian, Nikolai Roerich (his wife, Helena Roerich, was the translator ofThe Secret Doctrine of Blavatsky into Russian). And between 1925-28 he led an expedition to the Altai Mountains to find Shambhala. And he created a spiritual system called agni yoga(agni is the Sanskrit word for fire). And he said that Shambhala was the source of all the Indian teachings, the Indian spiritual teachings, and particularly he focused on, in the Vedas – the earliest Hindu spiritual tradition, Indian tradition – the power of fire (agni) to purify. So he founded this spiritual system and emphasized prayer for purification and peace – in which one chooses either Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha as a spiritual guide. And within all of this, Shambhala represents the perfect embodiment of a land of peace and spiritual practice.
Alice Bailey and the “Shamballa Force”
Then next we get Alice Bailey. Alice Bailey had been one of the people that tried to become the leader of the Theosophical movement, but she lost out to Annie Besant, and she founded what she called the Lucifer Trust in America. Remember now, from Steiner, Lucifer was associated with Shamballa (Shambhala). So she had the Lucifer Trust, and she said Shamballa was the source of cosmic fire, and she spoke of it as the Shamballa force, and she associated it with Lucifer, and she said it was the source of destructive power to be able to overcome and destroy degenerated teachings and establish the New Age. And so it is from her that we get the whole idea of New Age (she called it the Age of Aquarius), and the whole New Age movement had its birth in her ideas. What’s quite interesting is she said that the Shamballa force could be used for either good or evil, and so one starts to think of our movie Star Wars, with theForce and the dark side: the Force can be used for good or it can be turned to the dark side. So this idea we have originating with Alice Bailey. After World War II, Alice Bailey said that Hitler took the Shamballa force as a tool of darkness and used it for the dark side.