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Kalachakra thangka[1] from Sera Monastery (private collection).

In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala (also spelled Shambala or Shamballa; Tibetan: bde 'byung, pron. De-jung) is a mythical kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia. It is mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalachakra Tantra[2] and the ancient texts of the Zhang Zhung culture which predated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet. The Bön[3] scriptures speak of a closely related land called Olmolungring.

Whatever its historical basis, Shambhala gradually came to be seen as a Buddhist Pure Land, a fabulous kingdom whose reality is visionary or spiritual as much as physical or geographic. It was in this form that the Shambhala myth reached the West, where it influenced non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist spiritual seekers — and, to some extent, popular culture in general.

In the Buddhist Kalachakra teachings

Rigden Takpa or Manjushríkírti, King of Shambhala

Shambhala (Tib. bde 'byung) is a Sanskrit term meaning swayam + bhala meaning self benefited or swayam + bala meaning self powered. Commonly it is understood to be a "place of peace/tranquility/happiness". Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have taught the Kalachakra tantra on request of King Suchandra of Shambhala; the teachings are also said to be preserved there. Shambhala is believed to be a society where all the inhabitants are enlightened, actually a Buddhist Pure Land, centered by a capital city called Kalapa. An alternative view associates Shambhala with the real empire of Sriwijaya where Buddhist master Atisha studied under Dharmakirti from whom he received the Kalachakra initiation.

Another interpretation postulates that Shambhala is an actual kingdom whose geographical location can be found in the precolonial Philippines.[4]

Shambhala is ruled over by a line of Kings of Shambhala known as Kulika or Kalki Kings (Tib. Rigden), a monarch who upholds the integrity of the Kalachakra tantra. The Kalachakra prophesizes that when the world declines into war and greed, and all is lost, the 25th Kalki king will emerge from Shambhala with a huge army to vanquish "Dark Forces" and usher in a worldwide Golden Age. Using calculations from the Kalachakra Tantra, scholars such as Alex Berzin put this date at 2424 AD.[5]

Rigdan Tagpa or Manjushrí Kírti is said to have been born in 159 BCE and ruled over a kingdom of 300,510 followers of the Mlechha (Yavana or "western") religion, some of whom worshiped the sun. He is said to have expelled all the heretics from his dominions but later, after hearing their petitions, allowed them to return. For their benefit, and the benefit of all living beings, he explained the Kalachakra teachings. In 59 BCE he abdicated his throne to his son, Puṇdaŕika, and died soon afterwards, entering the Sambhoga-káya of Buddhahood.[6]

As with many concepts in the Kalachakra Tantra, the idea of Shambhala is said to have "outer", "inner", and "alternative" meanings. 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. As the 14th Dalai Lama noted during the 1985 Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya, Shambhala is not an ordinary country:

Although those with special affiliation may actually be able to go there through their karmic connection, nevertheless it is not a physical place that we can actually find. We can only say that it is a pure land, a pure land in the human realm. And unless one has the merit and the actual karmic association, one cannot actually arrive there.

There are various ideas about where this society is located, but it is often placed in central Asia, north or west of Tibet. Ancient Zhang Zhung texts identify Shambhala with the Sutlej Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Mongolians identify Shambala with certain valleys of southern Siberia.

The inner and alternative meanings refer to more subtle understandings of what Shambhala represents in terms of one's own body and mind (inner), and the meditation practice (alternative). These two types of symbolic explanations are generally passed on orally from teacher to student.

The first Kalachakra masters of the tradition disguised themselves with pseudonyms, so the Indian oral traditions recorded by the Tibetans contain a mass of contradictions with regard to chronology.

Western receptions

Nicholas Roerich, Song of Shambhala: Thang-La (1943).

The Western fascination with Shambhala has often been based upon fragmented accounts of the Kalachakra tradition, or outright fabrications. Tibet was largely closed to Westerners until the twentieth century, and so what information was available about the tradition of Shambhala was haphazard at best.[7]

The first information that reached western civilization about Shambhala came from the Portuguese Catholic missionary Estêvão Cacella, who had heard about Shambala (which they transcribed as "Xembala"), and thought it was another name for Cathay or China. In 1627 they headed to Tashilhunpo, the seat of the Panchen Lama and, discovering their mistake, returned to India.[8]

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".

During the 19th century, Theosophical Society founder HP Blavatsky alluded to the Shambhala myth, giving it currency for Western occult enthusiasts. 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 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 has Shamballa (her spelling) to be 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.[9] Nicholas and Helena Roerich led a 1924-1928 expedition aimed at Shambhala.[10]

Apparently inspired by Theosophical lore, Soviet agent Yakov Blumkin led two Tibetan expeditions to discover Shambhala, in 1926 and 1928.[11] Similarly, Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess sent a German expedition to Tibet in 1930, and then again in 1934-35, and in 1938-39.[12] Some later occultists, noting the Nazi link, view Shambhala (or the closely-related underground realm of Aghartha) as a source of negative manipulation by an evil (or amoral) conspiracy.

The "Shangri-La" of James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon may have been inspired by the Shambhala myth (as well as then-current National Geographic articles on Eastern Tibet).

Many New Age writers, notably James Redfield, have written about Shambhala.

Chögyam Trungpa used the "Shambhala" name for certain of his teachings, practices, and organizations (e.g. Shambhala Training, Shambhala International, Shambhala Publications) aimed at American Vajrayana practitioners. In Trungpa's view, Shambhala has its own independent basis in human wisdom that does not belong to East or West, or to any one culture or religion.[13]

Shambhala has been appropriated in a variety of modern comic books including The Shadow, Prometheus, 2000 AD, Gargoyles #6, and Warlord.

The American rock band Three Dog Night recorded the song spelled 'Shambala' in 1973 track 5 on the album cyan. Partial lyrics include "Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain with the rain in Shambala." Written by Daniel Moore.

Thomas Pynchon includes Shambhala in his 2006 novel Against the Day. In his portrayal, Shambhala is an underground city and the subject of intense searches by European powers in the early part of the 20th century, which include underground desert ships.

  • Spoiler Alert*

In the 2009 game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, developed by Naughty Dog, Shambala is referred to in the songs on the soundtrack and it is portrayed that an attempt to reach it was the reason for Marco Polo's ill-fated journey home from China in 1292. The final chapter of the game takes place in Shambala, which is portrayed as a largely ruined city that houses the Tree of Life.

See also

  • Kalachakra
  • Kings of Shambhala
  • Hyperborea - A mythical Greek land.
  • Sanat Kumara - The deity believed by Theosophists to be the god of our planet is said to be a Nordic alien from Venus who lives in a palace in a city called Shamballa (Theosophical spelling) on the etheric plane above the Gobi desert.
  • White Magic (Alice A. Bailey) - White Magic adepts are said to be able to spiritually travel to the etheric city of Shamballa.
  • Patala as connected with Atlantis and Hindu Mythology
  • Conqueror of Shamballa - movie connected to the Fullmetal Alchemist series
  • Xanadu - The summer capital of Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty, became fabled as a metaphor for opulence.


  1. Crossman, Sylvie and Jean-Pierre Barou, eds. Tibetan Mandala, Art and Practice (The Wheel of Time). New York: Konecky & Konecky, 2004. ISBN 1568524730. pp.20-26
  2. The Tantra by Victor M. Fic, Abhinav Publications, 2003, p.49.
  3. The Bon Religion of Tibet by Per Kavǣrne, Shambhala, 1996
  5. [|Berzin, Alexander] (1997). "Taking the Kalachakra Initiation" (html). Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  6. Das, Sarat Chandra (1882). Contributions on the Religion and History of Tibet. First published in: Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. LI. Reprint: Manjushri Publishing House, Delhi. 1970, pp. 81-82.
  7. Lopez, Donald S. Jr. Prisoners of Shangri~La, Tibetan Buddhism and the West, The University of Chicago Press, 1998
  8. Bernbaum, Edwin. (1980). The Way to Shambhala, pp. 18-19. Reprint: (1989). Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles. ISBN 0-87477-518-3.
  9. Bailey, Alice A, A Treatise on Cosmic Fire 1932 Lucis Trust. 1925, p 753
  10. Archer, Kenneth. Roerich East & West. Parkstone Press 1999, p.94
  11. Meyer and Brysac (2006) p. 454
  12. Hale, Christopher. Himmler's Crusade, John Wiley & Sons., Inc., 2003
  13. Trungpa, Chogyam. Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Shambhala, 1988


  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for the PS3 features Shambhala as one of the central points of the game's storyline.
  • Berzin, Alexander (2003). The Berzin Archives. Mistaken Foreign Myths about Shambhala.
  • Martin, Dean. (1999). "'Ol-mo-lung-ring, the Original Holy Place." In: Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places In Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays. (1999) Edited by Toni Huber, pp. 125-153. The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, H.P., India. ISBN 81-86470-22-0.
  • Meyer, Karl Ernest and Brysac, Shareen Blair (2006) Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game And the Race for Empire in Central Asia ISBN 0-46504-576-6
  • Bernbaum, Edwin. (1980). The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom Beyond the Himalayas. Reprint: (1989) St. Martin's Press, New York. ISBN 0-87477-518-3.
  • Jeffrey, Jason. Mystery of Shambhala in New Dawn, No. 72 (May-June 2002).
  • Trungpa, Chogyam. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-264-7
  • Le Page, Victoria. [1] Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth behind the Myth of Shangri-La. Quest ISBN 0-8356-0750-X
  • Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa
  • Three Dog Night (a rock and roll band from the 1970s) had a song on their 1973 album 'Cyan' called Shambala.

Further reading

  • Allen, Charles. (1999). The Search for Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History. Little, Brown and Company. Reprint: Abacus, London. 2000. ISBN 0-349-111421.
  • Martin, Dean. (1999). "'Ol-mo-lung-ring, the Original Holy Place." In: Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places In Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays. (1999) Edited by Toni Huber, pp. 125-153. The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, H.P., India. ISBN 81-86470-22-0.
  • Symmes, Patrick. (2007). "The Kingdom of the Lotus" in "Outside", 30th Anniversary Special Edition, pp. 148-187. Mariah Media, Inc., Red Oak, Iowa.
  • Jongbloed, Dominique. (2009) "Civilisations antédiluviennes" ed. Cap Aventures, France

External links

bs:Shambhala bg:Шамбала hr:Shambala ka:შამბალა no:Shamballa pt:Shambhala ru:Шамбала fi:Shambhala sv:Shambhala uk:Шамбала (міфологія) zh:香巴拉