In Tibetan Buddhist
tradition, Shambhala (or Shambala) is a mystical
kingdom hidden somewhere beyond the snowpeaks of the
Himalayas. It is mentioned in various ancient texts
including the Kalachakra and the ancient texts of
the Zhang Zhung culture which pre-dated Tibetan
Buddhism in western Tibet. The Bon scriptures
speak of a closely-related land called Olmolungring.
Shambhala in the Buddhist Kalachakra Teachings
The Kingdom of Shambhala takes a central place in the
Kalachakra teachings. Shambhala (Tib. bde ’byung) is a Sanskrit
term meaning place of peace/tranquility/happiness. Shakyamuni
Buddha is said to have taught the Kalachakra tantra on request
of King Suchandra, also the teachings are said to be
preserved there. Shambhala is said to be a society where all the
inhabitants are enlightened, centered around a capital city called
Kalapa. War and injustice are said to be unknown there, and
it is said to be peopled by beautiful women and men dwelling in
Shambhala is ruled over by the Kulika or Kalki
(Tib. Ridgen) King, a benevolent monarch who upholds the
integrity of the Kalachakra tantra. Religious scholars believe that
this figure developed out of the myth of the Hindu conqueror
Kalki, a similar personage. The Kalachakra prophesizes
that when the world declines into war and greed, and all is lost,
the twenty fifty Kalika king will emerge from Shambhala with
a huge army to vanquish the corrupt world rulers and usher in a
worldwide Golden Age. Some scholars put this date at 2424 AD.
As with many concepts in Vajrayana Buddhism, the idea of
Shambhala is said to have an “outer,” “inner,” and “secret”
The outer meaning understands
Shambhala to exist as a physical place, although only
individuals with the appropriate karma can reach it and
experience it as such. There are various ideas about where this
society is located, but it is often placed in central Asia,
north of Tibet.
The inner and secret meanings
refer to more subtle understandings of what Shambhala
represents, and are generally passed on orally.
Fascination with Shambhala
During the nineteenth century, Theosophical Society founder H.P.
Blavatsky alluded to the Shambhala myth, giving it
currency for Western occult enthusiasts. Later esoteric writers
further emphasized and elaborated on the concept of a hidden land
inhabited by a hidden mystic brotherhood whose members labor for the
good of humanity.
The myths of Shambhala were part of the inspiration for the
tale of Shangri-La told in the popular book Lost Horizon,
and thus some people even refer to Shambhala improperly as if
it were a Shangri-La. Shambhala’s location and nature remains
a subject of much dispute, and several traditions have arisen as to
where it is, or will be, including those that emphasize it as a
non-physical realm that one can approach only through the mind.
Ancient Zhang Zhung texts identify Shambhala with
the Sutlej Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Mongolians identify
Shambala with certain valleys of southern Siberia.
Beginning in the 1960s, various occult writers have sought to
explain the evil of Nazism by suggesting Adolf Hitler tapped
into the malevolent forces of Shambhala when he sent
Ahnenerbe researchers to Tibet to measure Tibetan skulls
as part of his master race justifications.
It is also believed that Josef Stalin organized an expedition
to find Shambala.
Madame Blavatsky, who claimed to be in contact with a
Great White Lodge of Himalayan Adepts, mentions Shambhala
in several places without giving it especially great emphasis. (The
Mahatmas, we are told, are also active around Shigatse and
Luxor.) Blavatsky’s Shambhala, like the headquarters of the
Great White Lodge, is a physical location on our earth,
albeit one which can only be penetrated by a worthy aspirant.
Later esoteric writers like
Alice Bailey (the Arcane School)
and the Agni Yoga of Nicholas Roerich and Helena
Roerich do emphasize Shambhala. Bailey transformed it into a
kind of extradimensional or spiritual reality. The Roerichs see its
existence as both spiritual and physical.
Related "hidden land" speculations surrounding the underground
kingdom of Agartha led some early twentieth-century
occultists to view Shambhala as a source of rather
negative manipulation by an evil (or amoral) conspiracy.
Nevertheless, the predominant theme is one of light and hope, as
evidenced by James Redfield’s and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s
respective books by that name.
Shambhala in Nazism
In Neo-Nazi mysticism, Shambhala is sometimes supposed
to be the place to which Adolf Hitler fled after the fall of
the Third Reich. Hitler was known to have an interest in the
myth of Shambhala and in "eastern mysticism" generally, from
which he appropriated the swastika.