In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala (also spelled Shambala or Shamballa) is a mystical kingdom hidden somewhere beyond the snowpeaks of the Himalayas. It is mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalachakra and the ancient texts of the Zhang Zhung culture which pre-dated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet. The Bön scriptures speak of a closely-related land called Olmolungring.
Shambhala in the Buddhist Kalachakra Teachings
Shambhala (Tib. bde 'byung) is a Sanskrit term meaning "place of peace/tranquility/happiness". Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have taught the Kalachakra tantra on request of King Suchandra of Shambala; the teachings are also said to be preserved there. Shambhala is believed to be a society where all the inhabitants are enlightened, centered on a capital city called Kalapa.
Shambhala is ruled over by the Kulika King (Tib. Rigden), a benevolent monarch who upholds the integrity of the Kalachakra tantra. Religious scholars believe that this figure developed out of the myth of the Hindu conqueror Kalki, a similar personage. The Kalachakra prophesizes that when the world declines into war and greed, and all is lost, the twenty-fifth Kalika king will emerge from Shambhala with a huge army to vanquish the corrupt and usher in a worldwide Golden Age.
As with many concepts in Vajrayana Buddhism, the idea of Shambhala is said to have an "outer," "inner,' and "secret" meaning. 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. There are various ideas about where this society is located, but it is often placed in central Asia, north or west of Tibet. The inner and secret meanings refer to more subtle understandings of what Shambhala represents, and are generally passed on orally.
The Shambhala of Chogyam Trungpa
Although Chogyam Trungpa came out of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in his teachings Shambhala vision has its own independent basis in human wisdom that does not belong to East or West or any one culture or religion. Shambhala kingdom is seen as enlightened society that people of all faiths can aspire to and actually realize. The path to this is provocatively described as the practice of warriorship — meeting fear and transcending aggression, and of secular sacredness — joining the wisdom of the past and one's own culture with the present in nowness.
The Shambhalas of the Zhang Zhung and the Mongols
Western Fascination with Shambhala
The Western fascination with Shambhala has often been based upon fragmented accounts of the Kalachakra tradition, or outright fabrications. Tibet was largely closed to outsiders until very recently, and so what information was available about the tradition of Shambhala was haphazard at best.
During the nineteenth century, Theosophical Society founder H.P. Blavatsky alluded to the Shambhala myth, giving it currency for Western occult enthusiasts. 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.
Shambhala in Nazism
Beginning in the 1960s, various occult writers have sought to explain the evil of Nazism by suggesting Adolf Hitler tapped into the malevolent forces of Shambhala when he sent Ahnenerbe researchers to Tibet to measure Tibetan skulls as part of his master race justifications.
In Neo-Nazi mysticism, Shambhala is sometimes supposed to be the place to which Hitler fled after the fall of the Third Reich. Hitler was known to have an interest in the myth of Shambhala and in "eastern mysticism" generally, from which he appropriated the swastika.
It is also believed that Josef Stalin organized an expedition to find Shambala.
Western Esoteric Traditions
Madame 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 like Alice Bailey (the Arcane School) and the Agni Yoga of Nicholas and Helena Roerich do emphasize Shambhala. Bailey transformed it into a kind of extradimensional or spiritual reality. The Roerichs see its existence as both spiritual and physical.
Related "hidden land" speculations surrounding the underground kingdom of Agartha led some early twentieth-century occultists to view Shambhala as a source of rather negative manipulation by an evil (or amoral) conspiracy. Nevertheless, the predominant theme is one of light and hope, as evidenced by James Redfield's and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's respective books by that name.
Shambala in popular culture
In the 2004 adventure movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the two main characters make a journey in the city of Shamabala, hidden deep into the Himalayans.
The series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues includes a visit to Shambhala, and Kwai-Chan Kane, one of the lead characters, is a "Shambhala master".
In the computer game "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" Shambala is an old and nearly empty monastery in Kazakhstan.
The Fullmetal Alchemist movie is titled Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa, and touches upon the Nazis' fascination with the mythical place.
- The myths of Shambhala were part of the inspiration for the story of Shangri-La told in the popular novel Lost Horizon, and thus some people incorrectly assume that Shambhala is synonymous with Shangri-La.
- "The Secret of Shambhala: The Search for the Eleventh Insight" by James Redfield. In this non-fiction work Redfield describes his search for Shangri-La or Shambala and also details the significance of prayers and positive thoughts in our life.
- Three Dog Night has a song called "Shambala", on their Cyan album. "Shambala" was written and originally recorded by songwriter B.W. Stevenson.
- The Rockapella musical group performed a cover of the above song, on their Smilin and Primer albums.
- The Beastie Boys have a song called "Shambala", on their Ill Communication album.
- The The Tibetan Song and Dance Troupe of Diqing has an album titled "Shambala is not far away."
- The Black Metal band Alpha Drone have a song called Shambala Serrano.
- The horror-rap group Insane Clown Posse makes several references to Shambala in their "Joker's Cards" albums.
- The rap groups Jedi Mind Tricks and The Lost Children of Babylon often referenced Shambala in their early recordings.
- Kalachakra - The Buddhist body of scripture which introduced Shambhala.
- Kings of Shambhala - A summary of the seven Dharmarajas and twenty-five Kulika Kings.
- Hyperborea - A mythical Greek land.