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In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala (Sanskrit: शम्भल, IAST: Śambhala),[1] also spelled Shambala or Shamballa (Tibetan: བདེ་འབྱུང, Wylie: Bde'byung; Chinese: 香巴拉; pinyin: Xiāngbālā), is a spiritual kingdom. Shambhala is mentioned in the Kalachakra Tantra.[2][3] The Bon scriptures speak of a closely related land called Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring.[4]

The Sanskrit name is taken from the name of a city mentioned in the Hindu Puranas, probably in reference to Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh.[1] 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 next incarnation of Vishnu, who will usher in a new age (Satya Yuga);[1][5] and the prophesied ruling Kingdom of Maitreya, the future Buddha.[6]

Kalachakra tantra[edit]

Manjuśrīkīrti, King of Shambhala

Shambhala is ruled by the future Buddha Maitreya.[6][7] 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 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 worshiped 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.[8][9]

Portrait of an Alti Himalian Shaman. Detail from "A Sorceress from Tungusy" 1812–1813 by: E. Karnejeff

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,[6][7] 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 3304th year after the death of the Buddha). Thereafter, Buddhism would survive another 1,800 years.[10]

Western reception[edit]

Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism were largely unknown in the West prior to the beginning of the 20th century.[11] 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.[12]

The Hungarian scholar Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, writing in 1833, provided the first geographic account of "a fabulous country in the north...situated between 45' and 50' north latitude".[citation needed]


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.[citation needed]

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 astral 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.[13][better source needed]

Expeditions and location hypotheses[edit]

Nicholas and Helena Roerich led a 1924–1928 expedition aimed at Shambhala. They also believed that Belukha Mountain in the Altai Mountains was an entrance to Shambhala, a common belief in that region.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] In a similar vein, the Gurdjieffian J. G. Bennett published speculation that Shambalha was Shams-i-Balkh, a Bactrian sun temple.[17]

Hitler sent several expeditions to Tibet in the 1930s "to contact the Agartha and Shambala", supposedly part of Nazi esotericism.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

Shambhala may have been the inspiration for Shangri-La, a paradise on Earth hidden in a Tibetan valley, which features in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton.[19]

In 1969, Shambhala Publications, a book publishing company, was founded by Samuel Bercholz[20] and Michael Fagan, in Berkeley, California.

Daniel Moore wrote the song "Shambala" that in 1973 was recorded by both B. W. Stevenson and Three Dog Night.

Shambhala appears as a mini-dungeon in the PC-98 game E.V.O.: The Theory of Evolution. The dungeon is a network of tunnels that act as the entrance to both Atlantis and Mu.

Much of the plot of Thomas Pynchon's 2006 novel, Against the Day, revolves around Shambhala, with some characters seeking an actual city by that name, a site of unique and exploitable power, and others treating it as a great figure for the transcendent.

In 2009, the mythical city was depicted in the video game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The game follows treasure hunter Nathan Drake in search of the lost city.

Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa mainly takes place in an alternate version of Earth in 1923, specifically Germany. The parallel world that serves as the main setting in the Fullmetal Alchemist series is a secondary setting. Said parallel world is believed to be Shamballa by the movie's villains, a group of Nazis led by Dietlinde Eckhart (based on the historical Dietrich Eckart), who desire to open an inter-dimensional portal between the two worlds so as to harness Shamballa's technology to help Hitler take control of Germany.

Shambala also features in the 1996 Scrooge McDuck comic "The Treasure of the Ten Avatars" by Keno Don Rosa. In this comic, Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, and his nephews discover Shambala and try to find its treasures.

In 2012, a trilogy named 'Sambhala' was published by a Bangladeshi writer.

In the 2016 movie Doctor Strange by Marvel Studios, 'shamballa' is used as the wifi password at Kamar-Taj, the place where Stephen Strange first learns to do magic.

The 2019 Indian animated film Little Singham Aur Shambhala Jhambhala features a villain named Shambhala who wants to become an Asura.

In Nintendo's 2019 tactical strategy game Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Shambhala exists as an extremely technologically advanced subterranean city of an ancient people called the Agarthans looking to overthrow and reclaim the surface. The player can visit and fight through Shambhala in chapters 20 and 21 in the Silver Snow and Verdant Wind routes, respectively.

In 2021, Canadian Experimental Soundscape artist "MU Simulacra" released a 12-minute track entitled "Shambhala" for his 24-hour acoustic epic Art as an Expression of Rta. The song sonically explores the inward journey of finding Shambhala as a non-spatial destination or dimension. Repetitive tones, melodies and loops that are purposely familiar yet ambiguous are utilized in order to demonstrate the effect of state of mind on interpretive processes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Śambhala also Sambhala, is the name of a town between the Rathaprā and Ganges rivers, identified by some with Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh. In the Puranas, it is named as the place where Kalki, the last incarnation of Vishnu, is to appear (Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1899).
  2. ^ Hiltebeitel, Alf (1999). Rethinking India's Oral and Classical Epics. University of Chicago Press. pp. 217–218. ISBN 978-0-226-34050-0.
  3. ^ The Tantra by Victor M. Fic, Abhinav Publications, 2003, p.49.
  4. ^ The Bon Religion of Tibet by Per Kavǣrne, Shambhala, 1996
  5. ^ LePage, Victoria (1996). Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-La. Quest Books. pp. 125–126. ISBN 978-0835607506.
  6. ^ a b c Arch. orient. Nakl. Ceskoslovenské akademie věd. 2003. pp. 254, 261. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  7. ^ a b Roerich, Nicholas (2003). Shambhala. Vedams eBooks (P) Ltd. p. 65. ISBN 978-81-7936-012-5. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  8. ^ Das, Sarat Chandra (1882). Contributions to the Religion and History of Tibet, in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. LI. Reprint: Manjushri Publishing House, Delhi. 1970, pp. 81–2.
  9. ^ Edwin Bernbaum "The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom Beyond the Himalayas" 1980 & Albert Grünwedel "Der Weg nach Shambhala" 1915
  10. ^ Alexander Berzin, Taking the Kalachakra Initiation (1997), p. 33. Lubosh Belka, "The Shambhala Myth in Buryatia and Mongolia", in: Tomasz Gacek, Jadwiga Pstrusińska (eds.), Proceedings of the Ninth Conference of the European Society for Central Asian Studies, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2009), pp. 19-30 (p. 20f).
  11. ^ Lopez, Donald S. Jr. Prisoners of Shangri~La, Tibetan Buddhism and the West, The University of Chicago Press, 1998
  12. ^ Bernbaum, Edwin. (1980). The Way to Shambhala, pp. 18-19. Reprint: (1989). Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles. ISBN 0-87477-518-3.
  13. ^ Bailey, Alice A, A Treatise on Cosmic Fire 1932 Lucis Trust. 1925, p 753
  14. ^ Archer, Kenneth. Roerich East & West. Parkstone Press 1999, p.94
  15. ^ Znamenski (2011)
  16. ^ David-Néel, A. Les Nouvelles littéraires ;1954, p.1
  17. ^ Bennett, J.G: "Gurdjieff: Making a New World". Bennett notes Idries Shah as the source of the suggestion.
  18. ^ Childress, David Hatcher (1985). Lost Cities of China, Central Asia, and India: A Traveler's Guide. Lost cities series. Adventures Unlimited Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0932813008. Hitler sent several expeditions to Tibet in the thirties, to contact the Agartha and Shambala, and apparently created quite strong ties with the Shambala [...].
  19. ^ Wood, Michael (17 February 2011). "BBC - History - Ancient History in depth: Shangri-La". BBC. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  20. ^ Midal, Fabrice, ed., Recalling Chögyam Trungpa (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2005), ISBN 1-59030-207-9, p. 475

General references[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Shambhala at Wikimedia Commons