Vincent Bridges Jan 5, 2007
Shambalah and the Wheel of Time
The legends of a hidden civilization somewhere in central Asia have along history, and, as recently as the last century, this history could still influence world politics. The invasion of Tibet by British troops in 1904 was caused by a mistaken opinion on the part of some Tibetans that the Tsar of Russia was the King of Shambalah. In the1930s, the idea of a lost valley in the Himalayas exploded on the mass consciousness with James Hilton’s bestseller, The Lost Horizon, based in part on the experiences of a real Christian monk who converted to Buddhism in the seventeenth century. Shangri-la, the name of the hidden monastery in Hilton’s book, became a kind of synonym for all hidden valleys and places of refuge. FDR, when asked where the planes came from that bombed Tokyo in the spring of 1942, replied simply “Shangri-la.” Roosevelt had his own “Shangri-la,” a hide-away in the Maryland Hills now called Camp David.
While most westerners think of Tibet itself as the hidden kingdom, the Tibetans look to another even more hidden land as the source of wisdom and inspiration. There, a line of enlightened Dharma Kings guard the most secret teachings of the Buddha, the Kalachakra Tantra. At the end of time, when the Dharma is in danger of being totally destroyed by the barbarians of the age of darkness, the Kali Yuga, the King of Shambalah will emerge from the hidden land, defeat the forces of evil, and usher in a millennium of peace and prosperity.
The legends and ancient texts also say that it is possible, though very difficult and dangerous, to travel to the hidden kingdom and there learn the Kalachakra first hand. Curiously, all versions of the route to the hidden kingdom begin with the planetary omphalos, Mt.Kalias.
Our earliest glimpse of a hidden paradise to the north populated by sages comes from the Mahabharata, the vast epic of Vedic India. Themain character, Arjuna, a cousin of the King of Nepal, Yalambar, who founded the Kirati dynasty, travels to border of the mysterious land of Uttarakuru, but fails to enter. His route takes him to Mt. Kalias, and then northwest, along the galactic axis, to the hidden paradise.To the Bon-po, Uttarakuru was known as Olmolungring, and it also layto the northwest of Mt. Kalias. One of the many Tibetan guides to Shambalah also suggests that the route is northwest from Mt. Kalias to the region of Kashmir, and then further north.
It is possible that this hidden kingdom was once a real country, somewhere in the region of the Tarim basin, north of Kashmir.Certainly, many ancient kingdoms, some of them Buddhist, flourished and died along the ancient Silk Route from China to the west, and the legend of Shambalah may have such a kingdom as its inner kernel of truth. But the idea of the hidden kingdom of enlightened sages goes deeper than just an ancient city-state, no matter how well organized and progressive it may have been. Like Atlantis, the myth of Shambalah points to an ancient cosmic unity of earth and sky.
This becomes apparent when we examine the principle symbolic feature of Shambalah, its eight-petal lotus-shape design. The lotus as a symbol of completeness and attainment goes all the back to Atum and the cosmic ocean. Shambalah is a version of the vihara, or cosmic pattern, the Dharma chakra displayed at Samya chokor – and also the union of the St. Andrews solstice crosses and the St. George equinox cross, which represents the complete alignment of the Cube of Space.The eight-petal lotus, according to some Tibetan teachers, symbolizes the eight nerve channels that radiate out from the heart center.
In physical terms, Shambalah is depicted as a ring of 108 snow-capped mountains. Within it are 96 principalities or local regions divided into eight countries of twelve principalities each. The center region consists of a central five-tiered mountain or stupa, surrounded by four smaller hills marking the inter-cardinal directions. Each of these locations are said to have 72 devas, or god-like sages, within them. At the very center is the throne of the King of Shambalah. All of these numbers are related to precession: 96 x 270 = 108 x 240 = (5x 72) x 72 = 25,920, the classical length of the Great Year. As with the Greek legends of Atlantis, this mandala design echoes both internal and external systems, and unites them with a sense of cosmology that is little short of remarkable for any era.
Also, like Atlantis, Shambalah is connected with the last catastrophe. The older non-Buddhist versions of the legend point to the founding of Shambalah around 13,000 years ago. The Bon-po claim that Olmolung ring was founded after the last catastrophe and that once every 13,000 years, another Bon-po exemplar enters the world to renewand revitalize the ancient teachings. The remaining Bon-po sect seagerly await such an exemplar. The Mahabharata also places the founding of Uttarakuru at the turn of the last golden age, roughly 13,000 years ago.
To the Buddhists, the history of Shambalah began when King Sucandra learned the Kalachakra from the Buddha in the late sixth century B. C. E. He took this ultimate wisdom back to Shambalah, where it flourished and grew until the middle of the tenth century. A young Indian yogi Tsilupa travelled, like Arjuna, to the edges of the northern paradise, where he met Manjusri, who taught him the Kalachakra and sent him back to India.
Whether or not Tsilupa actually met Manjusri on the road to Shambalah, scholars have determined that it was practiced and taught in Kashmir by 960 C. E. This brings us to an interesting point. Both Kashmir, and points further north on the Silk Road, had prominent Jewish communities in the ninth and tenth centuries. Could the legend of Shambalah have been grafted on to an early form of the kabalistic Bahir? And so produced the unusual complexity and astronomical involvement found in the outer teachings of the Kalachakra? Could the Kalachakra be a Buddhist version of the ancient Hebrew illuminated astronomy?
In the 1020s, another Indian yogi, Somanatha, brought the Kalachakra to Tibet, and created the official chronology of Tibetan history. The astronomical calendar of the Kalachakra would spread across China, becoming eventually the elemental animals of Chinese restaurant menus. In Tibet, it would have many applications, including the prophecy that 960 (10 for each principality in Shambalah) years after the introduction of the Kalachakra, the keys to Shambalah, or the clues to its re-appearance, would be found. A teaching of the first Sharmapa, one of the founders of the Karma Kagyu school, relates that after the 960 years have past, comes a period of twenty-five years, five times through the five elements, in which the cycle of time comes to an end, and the wisdom king of Shambalah will return to this world in the form of the female water dragon. By this measure – 960 + 1027 = 1987 + 25 = 2012 – we are in the period of turmoil at the moment.
Even the orthodox Tibetan sects, such as the Gelugpa, whose leader is the Dalai Lama, consider that 2,500 years after the Dharma reached Shambalah, around the sixth century B. C. E., the 25th King, Rudra Kalkin, would emerge and defeat the barbarians, ushering in the new golden age. Even with some looseness, it is very close to 2,500 years since the time of the Buddha. And, though this is not openly expressed, it may be considered the driving force behind the Dalai Lama’s campaign to initiate as many people as possible, in the time remaining, into the Kalachakra Tantra.