History of the Search for Shambhala Part 4

About the history of the search for the hidden kingdom of Shambhala, a place of perfection in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.


Roerich made another expedition in 1934, backed by Henry Wallace, the U.S. secretary of agriculture. Roerich ostensibly was sent to look for "drought-resistant grasses," although Newsweek magazine reported that "around the Department of Agriculture the Secretary's assistants freely admitted that he also wanted Roerich to look for the signs of the Second Coming." From Roerich's writings it is clear that he discovered signs of Shambhala all over central Asia, along with the widespread belief that its golden age was on the way. But whether or not he actually ever made it to that land is unknown.


Tibetan texts containing what appear to be historical facts about Shambhala, such as the names and dates of its kings and records of corresponding events occurring in the outside world, give Tibetans additional reason for believing that the kingdom exists. Recent events that seem to correspond to the predictions of the mythic kingdom add strength to their belief. The disintegration of Buddhism in Tibet and the growth of materialism throughout the world, coupled with the wars and turmoil of the 20th century, all fit in with the prophecy of Shambhala.

Edwin Bernbaum, the Western scholar who has published the most recent and thorough work on the subject, feels that of all the regions of central Asia the Tarim Basin southwest of Turfan in China comes closest in size and shape to Tibetan descriptions of Shambhala. For nearly 800 years before the Kalacakra had reached India and Tibet, Buddhism had been flourishing in this basin. Bernbaum also points out that some scholars have singled out Khotan, the largest and most fertile oasis on the southern rim of the basin, as the most likely location of Shambhala. (This is the area where Roerich and his expedition spent four months before returning to Russia.) But Bernbaum also points out, in detail, the many ways in which the guidebooks to Shambhala may be taken as directions for an inner journey, the arrival point--Shambhala--being the equivalent of enlightenment. Of the Tibetan lamas Bernbaum interviewed, many think that the only way to reach Shambhala is via death and rebirth in that country, that it is no longer possible to develop the superhuman powers necessary to get there via the guidebooks. Other lamas believe that although Shambhala is invisible to most people, it is still possible to attain the heightened awareness necessary to perceive it. Bernbaum points out that Shambhala could exist on another planet or at the outer edge of our physical reality, but he believes that the most likely explanation is that Shambhala was once a real kingdom which has now faded into the realm of myth.

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