Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia

Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia

by Andrei Znamenski


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Many know of Shambhala, the Tibetan Buddhist legendary land of spiritual bliss popularized by the film, Shangri-La. But few may know of the role Shambhala played in Russian geopolitics in the early twentieth century. Perhaps the only one on the subject, Andrei Znamenski's book presents a wholly different glimpse of early Soviet history both erudite and fascinating. Using archival sources and memoirs, he explores how spiritual adventurers, revolutionaries, and nationalists West and East exploited Shambhala to promote their fanatical schemes, focusing on the Bolshevik attempt to use Mongol-Tibetan prophecies to railroad Communism into inner Asia. We meet such characters as Gleb Bokii, the Bolshevik secret police commissar who tried to use Buddhist techniques to conjure the ideal human; and Nicholas Roerich, the Russian painter who, driven by his otherworldly Master and blackmailed by the Bolshevik secret police, posed as a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to unleash religious war in Tibet. We also learn of clandestine activities of the Bolsheviks from the Mongol-Tibetan Section of the Communist International who took over Mongolia and then, dressed as lama pilgrims, tried to set Tibet ablaze; and of their opponent, Ja-Lama, an "avenging lama" fond of spilling blood during his tantra rituals.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780835608916
Publisher: Quest Books
Publication date: 07/01/2011
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Andrei Znamenski studied history and anthropology both in Russia and the United States. Formerly a resident scholar at the Library of Congress, then a foreign visiting professor at Hokkaido University, Japan, he has taught at The University of Memphis and Alabama State University. His fields of interests include religions of indigenous people of Siberia and North America, shamanism, and esotericism. Znamenski is the author of Shamanism and Christianity (1999), Through Orthodox Eyes (2003), Shamanism in Siberia (2003), The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination (2007), and the editor of the three-volume anthology Shamanism: Critical Concepts (2004).

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Red Shambhala

Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia

By Andrei Znamenski

Theosophical Publishing House

Copyright © 2011 Andrei Znamenski
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8356-3028-3


Shambhala, Kalachakra Tantra, and Avenging Gods of Tibetan Buddhism

Somewhere far in the north, goes a Tibetan legend, is the kingdom of Shambhala, shielded from the outside world by mountain peaks as high as the heavens and sharp as the teeth of a tiger. This land has the shape of a giant lotus with eight petals. Those fortunate enough to reach this wonderful place are awed by its beautiful and plentiful lakes, ponds, meadows, forests, and groves. In the middle of Shambhala stands its capital, Kalapa, whose palaces are all made of pure gold, silver, turquoise, coral, pearl, emerald, moon crystal, and other precious stones. Instead of ceilings, these palaces have special circular magnifying crystal spheres through which people can gaze at the gods, the sun, the moon, and the stars, so close that they appear within reach. Window screens are made of sandalwood, and the thrones are all of pure gold. South of Kalapa the seeker will find a special pleasure grove, and in the west one catches a glimpse of the beautiful lake where humans and gods enjoy boat rides together.

The kings who rule Shambhala indulge themselves in sensual pleasures and enjoy their wealth. Despite their pursuit of wealth and pleasure, they strive to be nice to other people and to help them to reach enlightenment and liberation, so the virtues of the royalty never decrease. The people of Shambhala never become sick or old, and they are blessed with handsome and beautiful bodies. The laws of the land are mild and gentle, and beatings along with imprisonments are totally unknown. Last but not least, Shambhala inhabitants never go hungry. All in all, residents of the kingdom are good, virtuous, and intelligent, and capable of reaching Nirvana in their lifetimes. Shambhala's priests are very faithful and humble. They reject material possessions and go barefoot and bareheaded, dressed only in white robes. And, most important, Shambhala is the place where Buddhism exists in its purest and most authentic form.

The way to this land of spiritual bliss and plenty lies through special Kalachakra-tantra practices and virtuous behavior. An old Buddhist parable conveys this idea well: "Where are you going across these wastes of snow," a lama hermit asked a youth who embarked on a long journey to find the wondrous Shambhala land. "To find Shambhala," answered the boy. "Ah, well then, you need not travel far. The kingdom of Shambhala is in your own heart."

The Shambhala legend is the description of the famous Buddhist paradise—the land of spiritual enlightenment and simultaneously the land of plenty that people of the Mongol-Tibetan world dreamed about since the early Middle Ages. The concept of this paradise was absent in early Buddhism; it was introduced later to cater to the sentiments of common folk who could not comprehend some of the abstract principles of the Buddhist faith and needed something "real" to latch onto. Current practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism move back to the original roots of the faith, in some sense, by downplaying the material side of the utopia and putting more stress on its spiritual aspects.

The first to introduce this legend into Western spiritual culture was the famous Western seeker Helena Blavatsky, founding mother of Theosophy, who most likely learned about Shambhala by reading accounts of European travelers to Tibet and hearing about this wondrous land during her brief sojourn to the Tibetan-Indian border. Adjusting the Buddhist legend to the theory of evolution, which was becoming popular at the end of the nineteenth century, Blavatsky argued that Shambhala was the center of evolving superior wisdom—the abode of the so-called Great White Brotherhood located somewhere in the Himalayas. The hidden masters (whom she also referred to as mahatmas) from this brotherhood guided humankind in its evolution away from materialism toward the highest spirituality, which would eventually give rise to the superior sixth race that would replace contemporary imperfect human beings. Such politically incorrect generalizations, especially after what happened during World War II, might offend the sensibilities of current spiritual seekers, yet during Blavatsky's lifetime and well into the 1930s, this kind of evolutionary talk was quite popular among all educated folk who considered themselves advanced and progressive, including Theosophists.

Buddhist Holy War: Shambhala as Spiritual Resistance

Spiritual bliss and plenty were not the only sides of the Shambhala legend. There was another side, which is usually downplayed in current Tibetan Buddhism—spiritual resistance against people who infringed on the Buddhist faith. The story about this aspect of Shambhala, which is an inseparable part of the legend, is not so benevolent and tranquil, but it is no less valid.

The entire Shambhala legend sprang up in northern India in the early Middle Ages, between the 900s and 1200s. Along with the description of Shambhala as the land of enlightenment and plenty, it mentioned that at some point barbarian demons coming from the west would inflict devastating damage on the Buddhist faith. In Sanskrit texts these alien infidels were called mlecca people. Tibetan sources referred to them as lalo. The invaders, the legend said, would bring misery and chaos, and the whole world would enter Kaliyuga (the Age of Disputes), when the true Buddhist faith would decline. The northern Shambhala kingdom would remain the only stronghold of the true faith and would eventually redeem people from this misery.

To deliver Tibetan Buddhist people from the danger, the last Shambhala king, Rudra Chakrin (the Wrathful One with the Wheel, Rigden Djapo in Tibetan), would enter a trance so that he could see the coming events. Then he would gather a mighty army and launch a merciless attack against the barbarians. In the ensuing horrible, Armageddon-like battle, the infidels would be totally crushed, and the Age of Disputes would be over. After this successful Shambhala war, the true faith (Tibetan Buddhism) would triumph all over the earth. Lobsan Palden Yeshe, the third Panchen Lama, who was considered the spiritual leader of Tibet and who composed a 1775 guidebook to Shambhala, prophesized this final battle as follows:

Thee, great lama, who lives in this paradise land and who is constantly in prayer, shall adopt the title of Rigden Djapo and shall defeat the armies of lalo. Thy army shall include people of many nations. Thee shall have 40,000 large wild elephants, four millions of mad elephants, many warriors, and Thee shall pierce the heart of the king of lalo. Thy twelve powerful gods shall completely destroy all evil gods of the lalo. Thy elephants shall kill their elephants. Thy horses shall smash lalo's horses, and Thy golden chariots shall crash their chariots. Thy people shall tame the lalo's protectors, and lalo's influence shall be totally gone. And then the time shall come when the true faith spreads all over. After many years of preaching the faith, on the 22nd of the middle spring moon in the year of the horse, Thee shall take the seat of the great god and shall be surrounded by mighty warriors and medicine women.

The references to the Age of Disputes and to the king redeemer most likely originated from Hinduism, which had a legend that Vishnu was born in the village of Shambhala. Like Rudra Chakrin, Vishnu was destined to defeat those who stepped on the wrong spiritual path and then to reawaken the minds of hesitant people. Scholars also believe that the apocalyptic notions of the final battle and the idea of the forces of good and evil fighting each other might have penetrated Tibetan Buddhism from Manichaeism and, especially, from Islam. It is well known that in the early Middle Ages, the mlecca people, or people of Mecca, at first mingled with Buddhist communities in eastern Afghanistan and northern India and then mercilessly drove them out.

In eastern Afghanistan under the Abbasid dynasty in the first half of the 800s, Buddhists and Hindus lived side by side with Muslims in relative peace. The Buddhists were even allowed to keep their faith, which opened the door to an exchange of religious ideas. In fact, during this period of peaceful coexistence, to the dismay of the Buddhist clergy, many faithful switched to Islam. Simple and straightforward, the religion of the mlecca people was more alluring to some common folk than Buddhism with its complex and vague principles. In the 900s this multicultural paradise came to an end. The warlike Sunni Turks, new converts to Islam, did not tolerate anyone who did not fit the "true" faith, so they wiped out the Buddhist communities and monasteries in eastern Afghanistan and then advanced farther, taking over Punjab in northern India. When the Muslim hordes tried to seize Kashmir, the Buddhists were able to unite and defeat the intruders, between 1015 and 1021. A legend said that the mlecca armies were subdued by the force of mantras, so the Shambhala prophecy predicting the mlecca invasion and its subsequent defeat could be a legendary reference to the actual events in Kashmir.

The Buddhists did not enjoy their success for long. Another and more powerful tide of Allah's warriors dislodged the followers of Buddha from northern India and forced them to escape northward to the safety of the Himalayas and farther to Tibet. From there, Buddhism was later reintroduced into India. It is highly likely that these runaway Buddhist communities searching for sanctuary in the north created the legend about the mysterious oasis of the true faith, bliss, and plenty shielded from the outside world by high, snowcapped mountain peaks. Unable to stop the advancing Muslims, these escapees might have also found spiritual consolation in the prophecy that a legendary redeemer would reappear and inflict a horrible revenge on the enemies of Buddha's teaching. Whatever events contributed to the rise of the Shambhala myth, it is obvious that the prophecy was directed against Islam. The old texts containing the Shambhala legend repeatedly mentioned "the barbarian deity Rahmana," a reference to al-Rahman (the Merciful in Arabic). One of the texts directly pointed out that the lord of the barbarians was "Muhamman, the incarnation of al-Rahman, the teacher of the barbarian Dharma, the guru and swami of the barbarian Tajiks."

Those who shaped the Shambhala prophecy were clearly preoccupied not only with the spiritual resistance against the "barbarian Dharma" but also with military logistics of the coming battle. Besides the millions of wild and mad elephants and thousands of warriors and horses that Rudra Chakrin would gather for his final battle, the legend mentioned the variety of weapons to be used against the "people of Mecca." There were not only chariots, spears, and other conventional hardware of ancient combat, but also sophisticated wheel-shaped machines of mass destruction. There would also be a special flying wind machine for use against mountain forts. According to the Shambhala prophecy, this prototype of a modern-day napalm bomber would spill burning oil on the enemies. Moreover, the protectors of the faith would use a harpoon machine, an analogy of a modern-day machine gun, designed to simultaneously shoot many arrows that would easily pierce the bodies of armored elephants. The defeat of the mlecca barbarians would launch the Age of Perfection (Kritayuga), when the true faith would triumph and the Shambhala kingdom would expand over the entire world. People would stop doing evil and manifest only virtuous behavior. At the same time, they would enjoy their riches, freely indulge in sensual pleasures, and live long lives, up to nine hundred years. Cereals in the fields and fruit trees would grow on their own, bringing plentiful crops and fruits. At this new age, not only a selected few, but everyone would be able to reach spiritual enlightenment.

Modern seekers, including practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, either downplay the militaristic aspects of the Shambhala myth or do not talk about them at all. Instead, they focus on the spiritual inner aspects of the prophecy. Whenever they mention the Shambhala war, current books on Tibetan Buddhism usually explain it as a metaphor for the battle against internal demons that create obstacles for spiritual seekers on their path and that the victory of Rudra Chakrin over his enemies means spiritual enlightenment. The deans of modern Tibetan Buddhism remind us that elimination of the enemies of Shambhala does not mean actual annihilation of the infidels but overcoming one's own ignorance and sins. Even particular details of the Shambhala war have been reinterpreted according to modern religious ethics. One of Rudra Chakrin's major generals, usually depicted riding nearby and holding a banner, became a symbol of deep awareness. The four divisions of the Shambhala king's army now stand for four major feelings: love, compassion, joy, and equality. In the modern version of Shambhala, even Muhammad, the actual prophet of Islam, evolved into a metaphor of destructive behavior.

I do not mean to downgrade the current interpretation of the Shambhala legend as an inward path to spiritual enlightenment. Nor am I saying that this Shambhala does not fully match traditional and indigenous versions of the legend. If all versions of the Shambhala legend, past and present, were put into a time context, they would all appear as sound and valid. After all, religions do not stay frozen in time and space. People constantly shape and reshape them according to their contemporary social and spiritual needs, and Tibetan Buddhism is certainly not an exception. In fact, such modern-day revisions of aspects of this faith should be commended as an attempt to bring Tibetan Buddhism closer to modern humanistic values. Hopefully, these efforts will set a good example for present-day mlecca people, some of whom are still frozen in the medieval time tunnel and do not want to part with aggressive notions.

Kalachakra Tantra: Shortcut to Spiritual Perfection

The legend about the Shambhala kingdom and its subsequent war against Muslim intruders did not exist as a separate story. From the very beginning, the myth was an inseparable part of the Kalachakra teaching—a set of meditative and astrological techniques (tantras) first written down in Sanskrit in the 800s and then translated into Tibetan in the 1200s. Kalachakra (Dus'khor in Tibetan), translated from Sanskrit as "the Wheel of Time," describes esoteric techniques (meditations, mantras, and visualization of deities) that help the faithful achieve enlightenment in their lifetimes. These techniques sprang up in northern India around the 600s as a challenge to Hinduism, which expected people to undergo a chain of reincarnations before reaching enlightenment. As always happens with alternative movements, a few centuries later this Buddhist counterculture itself evolved into canonized practices taught by lamas, "experts" in Kalachakra who knew the "correct" path.

In Buddhism, there are three ways of doing tantras. In "father" tantra, by reciting appropriate mantras, adepts think themselves intensely into merging with a particular deity and absorbing its spiritual power. In "mother" tantra, adepts seek to create a state of emptiness and bliss by controlling and transforming sexual desire—the gateway to birth and rebirth. This is the reason some tantras are so focused on sexuality. Finally, in "dual" tantras, an adept combines both father and mother techniques. As a result, the adept appears as a powerful deity and simultaneously reaches eternal bliss through mastering bodily fluids. Kalachakra belongs to this third type of tantras.

Original Kalachakra texts did not survive. What is available now are their renditions called Sri Kalacakra and Vimalaprabha, translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan by the famous writer Bu-ston in the mid 1300s. These texts reveal that the glorious Gautama Buddha introduced Kalachakra to Suchandra, the first king of Shambhala, who began to teach these sacred techniques to the people of his kingdom. The Kalachakra teaching is divided into "outer," "inner," and "other" segments. The first part deals with the outside world and describes the universe, astrology, geography, and various prophecies. For example, here astrological formulas can be found explaining how natural rhythms affect an individual's existence. The Shambhala legend, including the description of the glorious kingdom and its war against the mlecca, is a part of this outer section, which was open to everyone.

The other two segments are reserved only for the initiated. The inner Kalachakra deals with the anatomy of the mystic body; adepts of Kalachakra and other tantras believe the body is a collection of energy centers linked through channels. Various bodily fluids (the most important being semen and menstrual blood) flow through these channels. The task of adepts is to empower themselves by "controlling" these fluids. The third, or "other," Kalachakra details how to spread, balance, and manipulate these energy flows and how to attune them to the movement of the sun, planets, and stars; Tibetan Buddhism views a human body and the outside world as intertwined projections of each other. The same section contains a list of hundreds of deities and mandalas and explains how to practice chanting and how to visualize and merge with various deities.


Excerpted from Red Shambhala by Andrei Znamenski. Copyright © 2011 Andrei Znamenski. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations viii

Preface xi

List of Major Characters xxi

1 Shambhala, Kalachakra Tantra, and Avenging Gods of Tibetan Buddhism 1

2 Power for the Powerless: The Mongol-Tibetan World and Its Prophecies 19

3 Alexander Barchenko: Budding Red Merlin and His Ancient Science 43

4 Engineer of Human Souls: Bolshevik Cryptographer Gleb Bokii 69

5 Prophecies Draped in Red: Blood and Soil in the Heart of Asia 101

6 Red Prophecy on the March: Mongolia to Tibet 127

7 The Great Plan: Nicholas and Helena Roerich 155

8 Shambhala Warrior in a Western Body: Nicholas Roerich's Asian Ventures 181

Epilogue: The End of Red Shambhala 217

Notes 237

Illustration Credits 257

Index 258

About the Author 268

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