A hidden holy place in Buddhist mythology, associated with a future Messiah.
The name means “quietude.” Shambhala figures in the Lamaistic Buddhism of Tibet and
A Jesuit missionary, Father Stephen Casella, who died in
Despite the name’s peaceful connotations, lamas have prophesied a future War of Shambhala in which good forces will conquer evil and bring in a golden age. The messianic figure who will then step forth from the holy place is conceived in different ways. He may be a king of Shambhala called Rigden Jye-po. He may be Gesar, a Mongolian legendary hero. He may be Maitreya, the next Buddha, or a forerunner. There seems to be a remote connection with Hindu beliefs about a future world regeneration by a forthcoming avatar of Vishnu.
During the late nineteenth century, Shambhala began attracting the notice of Western esotericists and inspiring fantastic theories. Madame Blavatsky “HPB,” the founder of Theosophy, mentions it in her writings and spells it with variations such as “Shambalah” and “Shamballah.” She makes one assertion that has left an enduring and misleading mark—that Shambhala is in the
Alice Bailey, a latecomer to Theosophy who broke away and started her own esoteric movement, echoes Annie Besant, with elaborations. “Shamballa” was founded by superior beings who came from Venus 18 million years ago. It is built of “etheric physical matter” and, as Theosophists say correctly, is the earthly home of the great spiritual Hierarchy. Bailey gives it several locations, but the
Nearly all of this is Theosophical fancy evolved from a few bits of Lamaistic legend. The
The Shambhala-Agharti mythos became influential for a while after World War I and the revolution in
Ungern-Sternberg told Mongols that he was a reincarnation of Genghis Khan and would revive their past glories. He also pretended to have an understanding with the King of the World in Agharti. Those who knew him best regarded him as a megalomaniac, almost literally insane. His career was brief—he was killed in 1921 in one of the last flickers of anti-Soviet military action. Yet he had an impact. At Urga in
As recorded by Ossendowski, the prophecy runs through a succession of horrors more or less fitting World War I, though not closely enough to be impressive. It refers to the Crescent growing dim, a possible allusion to the decline of Turkey; to the fall of kings (as happened in Germany, Austria, and Russia); to roads covered with wandering crowds—refugees, perhaps. But the fairly good predictions are almost swamped by long, vague outpourings about slaughter and earthquakes and fires and depopulation.
After these, the last part of the prophecy is more interesting, not as a forecast but as a just-possible influence in a surprising quarter. Its assessment requires a glance at the context of the early 1920s. Thanks partly to Ungern-Sternberg, the hope of a Shambhalic Messiah grew more specific and even political. The Panchen Lama, at the great monastery of Shigatse, claimed that a predecessor had received a message from the King of the World, written on golden tablets. Expelled in 1923 through a dispute with the more powerful Dalai Lama, he traveled north in the direction of
Alexandra David-Neel, a student of Lamaism who translated the Gesar epic, saw a shrine with an image of the hero, before which a woman prayed for a son who could fight for him. She was assured several times that he was already in the world and would be manifested in fifteen years. According to her own account, the bard who dictated the epic to her gave her a flower that was a present from Gesar himself—a blue flower of a species that bloomed in July, though it was winter at the time. Another Western inquirer was the distinguished Russian artist and anthropologist Nicholas Roerich, remembered especially as Stravinsky’s collaborator in devising rituals for his ballet The Rite of Spring. Hearing of the ferment in
Communist progress in
Hardly any of this is well attested, though prominent Nazis such as Himmler held bizarre beliefs, and at least one expedition did go to
Hitler might have seen himself and his movement in this passage. Purification of the earth “by the death of nations” could apply to the extermination of Jews and other condemned breeds: the word genocide was coined to define this aspect of the Führer’s policy when in power. The King concludes: “In the fiftieth year only three great kingdoms will appear, which shall exist happily for seventy-one years. Afterwards there will be eighteen years of war and destruction. Then the peoples of Agharti will come up from their subterranean caves to the surface of the earth.”
This carries the story as far as 2029. Here, it is only the first of the time periods that is interesting. The fiftieth year from the prophetic pronouncement was 1940. In that year,
There is a strange sequel. While Communist rule in
Ashe, Geoffrey. Avalonian Quest.
———. Dawn behind the Dawn.
Ossendowski, Ferdinand. Beasts, Men and Gods.
Roerich, Nicholas. Altai-Himalaya.