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Shambhala and Shangri-La


Title:Shambhala and Shangri-La
Credit:Compiled from multiple sources by Pragya

Tibetan legends speak of a hidden kingdom called Shambhala located somewhere beyond the Himalayas. Several ancient religious texts including the Kalachakra Tantra mention this kingdom. Some scholars claim that Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Kalachakra Tantra on the request of King Suchandra of Shambhala. Kalachakra Tantra, which means “Wheel of Time Thread”, is a collection of religious teachings, which include meditation practices that enable the followers of these practices to attain salvation in years rather than the usual lifetimes. The teachings are believed to have been brought to India by a young man named Tsi-lu-pa who claimed to come from a kingdom called Shambhala in the north. In the year 966, Tsi-lu-pa arrived at the gates of the Buddhist monastic centre of Nalanda in Bihar, defeated the abbot in a debate, and initiated the dissemination of the Kalachakra teachings in India. About sixty years after its introduction in India, the teachings were introduced into Tibet.
Shambhala is believed to be a Buddhist “pure land” where all the residents have traveled so far along the path towards enlightenment that Shambhala has vanished from human sight and reached a parallel spiritual plane. It is believed that there are hidden openings to Shambhala but only those with pure souls can find these and enter the kingdom.
According to the legend, the hidden kingdom of Shambhala lies within eight snow-capped mountain ranges, resembling the eight-fold petals of a lotus. Within it, lies a vast mountain in the shape of a four-sided pyramid. To its east lies the “near lake”, and to its west, two “white lotus lakes”, all filled with various precious jewels. To the south lie a park and the majestic palace of the kings of Shambhala. The palace is square-shaped and nine stories high, with four entrances in each directions. The outer walls of the palace are decorated with all kinds of metal and precious jewels. The Kings of Shambhala are called the Kalki Kings, and they uphold the teachings of the Kalachakra. Each king rules for a century. The people under their governance enjoy wealth, perfect health and happiness. The Kalachakra Tantra prophesies that as the present cycle of Dark Age, the “kali yuga”, draws to an end, mankind will get incresingly materialistic and the world will be enveloped in a vicious cycle of war and greed. All the forces of evil will unite under one banner and this malignant army will conquer the entire world. At such a time, the mist will rise from over Shambhala and the hidden kingdom will be revealed to this army. Confident of their invincibility, they will start marching towards Shambhala. Then the twenty-fifth King of Shambhala will come out with his army and vanquish this evil army in an apocalyptic battle. All the lands will come under the rule of the king of Shambhala. Thus a golden age will dawn in the history of mankind. The time of this coming apocalyptic battle has been identified as 2327 A.D in some texts.
Some believe Shambhala to be one of the twenty-one hidden refuges or beyuls that were rendered invisible by the tantric master Guru Rinpoche, to be hiding places for the faithful in times of dire need and danger. Half a dozen of these beyuls have already been discovered, one in Bhutan, one in Sikkim, and about four in Nepal. But Shambhala continues to elude discovery. However, the popular belief is that Shambhala is not a beyul, but an earthly paradise that exists on three levels: as an actual geographic entity on earth, as a symbol of the successful attainment of the Kalachakra values, and as a “pure land” that can be reached only by the enlightened few. Thus, Shambhala exists on the physical, mental and spiritual plane.

Shangri-La is the fictional place where James Hilton’s novel “Lost Horizon” is set. It is believed to be inspired from the legendary kingdom of Shambhala. The book describes Shangri-La, which means “snowy mountain pass”, as a hidden valley in Tibet somewhere beyond the Himalayas, ruled by all-wise monks who have traveled far along the road to enlightenment. Today the term “Shangri-La’” has become synonymous with earthly paradise, particularly a mythical utopia hidden in the Himalaya.