In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala (Sanskrit: शम्भल Śambhala, also spelled Shambala or Shamballa; Tibetan: བདེ་འབྱུང, Wylie: Bde'byung; Chinese: 香巴拉; pinyin: Xiāngbālā) is a mythical kingdom. Shambhala is mentioned in the Kalachakra Tantra. The Bon scriptures speak of a closely related land called Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring.
The Sanskrit name is taken from the name of a city mentioned in the Hindu Puranas, probably in reference to Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh. The mythological relevance of the place originates with a prophecy in Vishnu Purana (4.24) according to which Shambhala will be the birthplace of Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu, who will usher in a new Age (Satya Yuga).
Shambhala will be ruled by the future Buddha Maitreya. The Shambhala narrative is found in the Kalachakra tantra, a text of the group of the Anuttarayoga Tantras. Kalachakra Buddhism was presumably introduced to Tibet still in the 11th century, the epoch of the Tibetan Kalachakra calendar. The oldest known teachers of Kalachakra are Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (d. 1361) and Buton Rinchen Drub (d. 1364).
In the narrative, king Manjuśrīkīrti is said to have been born in 159 BC and ruled over a kingdom of 300,510 followers of the Mlechha religion, some of whom worshipped the Sun. He is said to have expelled 20,000 people from his domain who clung to 'Surya Samadhi' (solar worship) rather than convert to Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) Buddhism. After realizing these were the wisest and best of his people and how much he was in need of them, he later asked them to return, and some did. Those who did not return are said to have set up the city of Shambhala. Manjuśrīkīrti initiated the preaching of the Kalachakra teachings in order to try to convert those who returned and were still under his rule. In 59 BC he abdicated his throne to his son, Puṇḍārika, and died soon afterward, entering the Sambhogakaya of Buddhahood.
The Kalachakra tantra prophesies that when the world declines into war and greed, and all is lost, the 25th Kalki king Maitreya will emerge from Shambhala, with a huge army to vanquish Dark Forces and usher in a worldwide Golden Age. This final battle is prophesied for the year 2424 or 2425 (in the 5,104th year after the death of Buddha).
Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism were largely unknown in the West prior to the beginning of the 20th century. The name itself, however, was reported as early as the 17th century, by way of Estêvão Cacella, the Portuguese missionary who had heard about Shambhala (transcribed as Xembala), and thought it was another name for Cathay or China. Cacella in 1627 headed to Tashilhunpo, the seat of the Panchen Lama and, discovering his mistake, returned to India.
During the late 19th century, Theosophical Society co-founder Helena Blavatsky alluded to the Shambhala myth. Blavatsky, who claimed to be in contact with a Great White Lodge of Himalayan Adepts, mentions Shambhala in several places, but without giving it especially great emphasis.
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. Alice A. Bailey claims Shamballa (her spelling) is an extra-dimensional or spiritual reality on the etheric plane, a spiritual centre where the governing deity of Earth, Sanat Kumara, dwells as the highest Avatar of the Planetary Logos of Earth, and is said to be an expression of the Will of God.
Expeditions and location hypotheses
Inspired by Theosophical lore and several visiting Mongol lamas, Gleb Bokii, the chief Bolshevik cryptographer and one of the bosses of the Soviet secret police, along with his writer friend Alexander Barchenko, embarked on a quest for Shambhala, in an attempt to merge Kalachakra-tantra and ideas of Communism in the 1920s. Among other things, in a secret laboratory affiliated with the secret police, Bokii and Barchenko experimented with Buddhist spiritual techniques to try to find a key for engineering perfect communist human beings. They contemplated a special expedition to Inner Asia to retrieve the wisdom of Shambhala – the project fell through as a result of intrigues within the Soviet intelligence service, as well as rival efforts of the Soviet Foreign Commissariat that sent its own expedition to Tibet in 1924.
French Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel associated Shambhala with Balkh in present-day Afghanistan, also offering the Persian Sham-i-Bala, "elevated candle" as an etymology of its name. In a similar vein, the Gurdjieffian J. G. Bennett published speculation that Shambalha was Shams-i-Balkh, a Bactrian sun temple.
In popular culture
In 2009, the mythical city was depicted in the critically-acclaimed action-adventure video game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The linear story game follows treasure hunter Nathan Drake (whom the player controls) in search of the lost city.
"Shambala" is a song written by Daniel Moore and made famous by two near-simultaneous releases in 1973: the better-known recording by Three Dog Night and a version by B. W. Stevenson.
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- Media related to Shambhala at Wikimedia Commons