The Kingdom of Shambhala takes a central place in the Kalachakra teachings. Shambhala (Tib. bde ’byung) is a Sanskrit term meaning place of peace/tranquillity/happiness. Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have taught the Kalachakra tantra on request of King Suchandra, also the teachings are said to be preserved there. Shambhala is said to be a society where all the inhabitants are enlightened, cantered around a capital city called Kalapa. War and injustice are said to be unknown there, and it is said to be peopled by beautiful women and men dwelling in magnificent abodes.
Shambhala is ruled over by the Kulika or Kalki (Tib. Ridgen) King, 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 fifty Kalika king will emerge from Shambhala with a huge army to vanquish the corrupt world rulers and usher in a worldwide Golden Age. Some scholars put this date at 2424 AD.
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 of Tibet.
The inner and secret meanings refer to more subtle understandings of what Shambhala represents, and are generally passed on orally.
Western Fascination with Shambhala
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.
The myths of Shambhala were part of the inspiration for the tale of Shangri-La told in the popular book Lost Horizon, and thus some people even refer to Shambhala improperly as if it were a Shangri-La. Shambhala’s location and nature remains a subject of much dispute, and several traditions have arisen as to where it is, or will be, including those that emphasize it as a non-physical realm that one can approach only through the mind.
Ancient Zhang Zhung texts identify Shambhala with the Sutlej Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Mongolians identify Shambala with certain valleys of southern Siberia. 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.
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 Roerich 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.
Shambhala in Nazism
In Neo-Nazi mysticism, Shambhala is sometimes supposed to be the place to which Adolf 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.