Utopian Society Thinkers James Hilton Part 2

About the famous utopian thinker and writer James Hilton and history of his planned utopia Shangri-La.


JAMES HILTON (1900-1954)

His Utopia: SHANGRI-LA

Shangri-La is a Buddhist lamasery on a high Tibetan plateau surrounded by mountains. It has central heating, plumbing, a grand piano, a file of the London Times, and a library--all brought by European members of the lamasery. It also has a superb collection of Chinese art, a lotus pool, and Oriental gardens.

The High Lama was once a Capuchin friar named Father Perrault. More than 200 years before the story opens, he found the monastery, became enchanted with it, and decided to stay. Many of the other lamas are also from outside Tibet, travelers who have lost their way in the mountains and have been made welcome by the High Lama. He welcomes newcomers because he believes that a catastrophic war is coming, and hopes to preserve the fragile achievements of civilization--physical and mental--in isolated Shangri-La.

Once arrived, the lamas-to-be spend five years leading a regular life in order to become accustomed to the altitude and to lose their regrets for past lives and loves. Then they begin the ageretarding process by ingesting the tangatse berry (a native herb), doing yoga, and deep-breathing the air. The results of all this last 40 years or more, so a 70-year-old might look 35, providing he or she does not leave the area. (If the oldster does leave, wrinkles and aches and pains will appear within weeks.) At the age of 100 or there-abouts, the inhabitants become old in appearance--but not in mind--and enter the real lamahood, thereafter devoting themselves to contemplation, research, and the pursuit of wisdom.

In a tropical valley below the lamasery live 1,000 people of Tibetan-Chinese ancestry, who are under the control of the lamas. Since the lamas' main philosophy is the avoidance of excess, they rule with moderate strictness and expect only moderate obedience from the people. Crime is rare because all the people have enough of the necessities of life; and because good manners prevail. The people are relatively chaste, honest, and sober--and very happy.

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