By JASON JEFFREY
I believe the idea of Shambhala has not yet come to full flower,
but that when it does it will have enormous power to reshape
civilisation. It is the sign of the future. The search for a new
unifying principle that our civilisation must now undertake
will, I am convinced, lead it to this source of higher energies,
and Shambhala will become the great icon of the new millennium.
— Victoria LePage, Shambhala
For thousands of years rumours and reports have circulated that
somewhere beyond Tibet, among the icy peaks and secluded valleys
of Eurasia, there lies an inaccessible paradise, a place of
universal wisdom and ineffable peace called Shambhala – although
it is also known by other names.
James Hilton wrote about it in the 1933 book Lost Horizon,
Hollywood portrayed it in the 1960s film ‘Shangri-la’, and recent
films such as ‘Kundun’, ‘Little Buddha’ and ‘Seven Years in Tibet’
allude to the magical utopia. Even author James Redfield, noted
for his New Age best seller The Celestine Prophecy, has
written a book called The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the
Shambhala, which in Sanskrit means “place of peace, of
tranquillity,” is thought of in Tibet as a community where perfect
and semi-perfect beings live and are guiding the evolution of
humanity. Shambhala is considered to be the source of the
Kalachakra, which is the highest and most esoteric branch of
Legends say that only the pure of heart can live in Shambhala,
enjoying perfect ease and happiness and never knowing suffering,
want or old age. Love and wisdom reign and injustice is unknown.
The inhabitants are long-lived, wear beautiful and perfect bodies
and possess supernatural powers; their spiritual knowledge is
deep, their technological level highly advanced, their laws mild
and their study of the arts and sciences covers the full spectrum
of cultural achievement, but on a far higher level than anything
the outside world has attained.
By definition Shambhala is hidden. Of the numerous explorers and
seekers of spiritual wisdom who attempt to locate Shambhala, none
can pinpoint its physical location on a map, although all say it
exists in the mountainous regions of Eurasia. Many have also
returned believing that Shambhala lies on the very edge of
physical reality, as a bridge connecting this world to one beyond
The Sanskrit and Tibetan Shambhala has also been identified by no
less an authority than Alexandra David-Neel, who spent years in
Tibet, with Balkh – in the far north of Afghanistan – the ancient
settlement known as "the mother of cities". Present day folklore
in Afghanistan asserts that after the Muslim conquest, Balkh was
known as the "Elevated Candle" ("Sham-i-Bala"), a Persianisation
of the Sanskrit Shambhala.
Tibetan lamas spend a great deal of their lives in spiritual
development before attempting the journey to Shambhala. Perhaps
deliberately, the guidebooks to Shambhala describe the route in
terms so vague that only those already initiated into the
teachings of the Kalachakra can understand them.
As Edwin Bernbaum says in The Way to Shambhala:
As the traveller draws near the kingdom, their directions become
increasingly mystical and difficult to correlate with the
physical world. At least one lama has written that the vagueness
of these books is deliberate and intended to keep Shambhala
concealed from the barbarians who will take over the world.1
The lama’s reference to the barbarians “who will take over the
world” is directly connected to the prophecy of Shambhala. This
prophecy tells of the gradual deterioration of mankind as the
ideology of materialism spreads over the earth. When the
“barbarians” who follow this ideology are united under an evil
king and think there is nothing left to conquer, the mists will
lift to reveal the snowy mountains of Shambhala. The barbarians
will attack Shambhala with a huge army equipped with terrible
weapons. Then the 32nd king of Shambhala, Rudra Cakrin, will lead
a mighty host against the invaders. In a last great battle, the
evil king and his followers will be destroyed.
As the cultures of the East and West collide, the myth of
Shambhala rises out of the mists of time. We now have access to
numerous Buddhist texts on the subject, along with reports by
Western explorers who set out on the arduous journey in search of
Shambhala. There is much we can learn for our own individual
journey of spiritual understanding.
The Lost World of Agharta
The idea of a hidden world beneath the surface of the planet is a
very ancient one indeed. There are innumerable folk tales and oral
traditions found throughout many countries speaking of
subterranean people who have created a kingdom of harmony,
contentment and spiritual power.
The early European travellers to Tibet consistently told the same
tale of a hidden spiritual centre of power. Adventurers recounted
fantastic tales of a hidden kingdom near Tibet. This special place
is known by numerous local and regional names, which no doubt
caused much confusion among early travellers as to the kingdom’s
true identity. These early travellers knew it as Agharta
(sometimes spelt Agharti, Asgartha or Agarttha), although it is
now commonly known as Shambhala.
Taking the legend in its most basic form, Agharta is said to be a
mysterious underground kingdom situated somewhere beneath Asia and
linked to the other continents of the world by a gigantic network
of tunnels. These passageways, partly natural formations and
partly the handiwork of the race which created the subterranean
nation, provide a means of communication between all points, and
have done so since time immemorial. According to the legend, vast
lengths of the tunnels still exist today; the rest have been
destroyed by cataclysms. The exact location of these passages, and
the means of entry, are said to be known only to certain high
initiates, and the details are most carefully guarded because the
kingdom itself is a vast storehouse of secret knowledge. Some
claim that the stored knowledge is derived from the lost Atlantean
civilisation and of even earlier people who were the first
intelligent beings to inhabit the earth.
The first Westerner to popularise the legend of Agharta was a
gifted French writer named Joseph-Alexandre Saint-Yves
(1842-1910). Saint-Yves was a self-educated occultist and
political philosopher who promoted in his books the establishment
of a form of government called ‘Synarchy’. He taught that the body
politic should be treated like a living creature, with a ruling
spiritual and intellectual elite as its brain.
In his quest for universal understanding, he decided in 1885 to
take lessons in Sanskrit, the classical and philosophical language
of India. He learnt far more than he expected. Saint-Yves’s tutor
was a certain Haji Sharif, who was believed to be an Afghan
prince. Through this mysterious personage, Saint-Yves learnt a
good deal about Oriental traditions including Agharta.
The manuscripts of Saint-Yves’ Sanskrit lessons are preserved in
the library of the Sorbonne, written in exquisite script by Haji.
According to Joscelyn Godwin, writing in Arktos:
Haji signed his name with a cryptic symbol and styled himself
“Guru Pandit of the Great Agarthian School.” Elsewhere he refers
to the “Holy Land of Agarttha”… In due course he informed
Saint-Yves that this school preserves the original language of
mankind and its 22-lettered alphabet: it is called Vattan, or
Saint-Yves soon discovered his training enabled him to receive
telepathic messages from the Dalai Lama in Tibet, as well as make
astral journeys to Agharta. The detailed reports of what he found
there became the crowning volume of his series of
Mission des Souverains, Mission des Ouvriers, Mission de Juifs,
Mission de l’Inde
(The Mission of India).
In The Mission of India we learn that Agharta is a hidden
land somewhere in the East, below the surface of the earth, where
a population of millions is ruled by a “Sovereign Pontiff”, who is
assisted by two colleagues, the “Mahatma” and the “Mahanga”. His
realm, Saint-Yves explains, was transferred underground and
concealed from the surface-dwellers at the start of the Kali Yuga,
which he dates around 3200 BCE. According to Saint-Yves, the
“mages of Agarttha” had to descend into the infernal regions below
them in order to work at bringing the earth’s chaos and negative
energy to an end. “Each of these sages,” Saint-Yves wrote,
“accomplishes his work in solitude, far from any light, under the
cities, under deserts, under plains or under mountains.”3 Now
and then Agharta sends emissaries to the upper world, of which it
has perfect knowledge.
Agharta also enjoys the benefits of a technology advanced far
beyond our own. Not only the latest discoveries of modern man, but
the whole wisdom of the ages is enshrined in its libraries. Among
its many secrets are those of the relationship of soul to body,
and of the means to keep departed souls in communication with
To Saint-Yves, these superior beings were the true authors of
Synarchy, and for thousands of years Agharta had “radiated”
Synarchy to the rest of the world, which in modern times has
chosen foolishly to ignore it. When the world adopts Synarchical
government the time will be ripe for Agharta to reveal itself.
Much of what Saint-Yves reveals in his books about Agharta, to the
modern reader, appears of a bizarre nature. His writings are in a
similar vein to the reports of strange worlds visited by numerous
out-of-body explorers over the ages. After his own investigation
of Saint-Yves, the respected historian of esotericism Joscelyn
I believe Saint-Yves did ‘see’ what he described, and that he
did not consider himself, to the slightest degree, to be writing
fiction or deriving anything from anyone else. The proof is in
his utter seriousness of character, and in the publications and
correspondence of the rest of his life, which take Agartha… for
unquestionable realities. But it is quite another matter to
accept his Agartha in all the actuality and physicality that he
attributed to it.4
Until the start of the twentieth century, the legend of Agharta
remained very much… a legend. Stories of Agharta had widely spread
in Europe since the publication of Saint-Yves’s books, but
evidence to support the claims remained as elusive as ever.
Indeed, it might well have been expected that in the rational and
materialistic new century, such stories would finally be confined
to the realms of fantasy: a colourful tradition to be ranked
alongside other ancient mysteries such as the lost continents of
Atlantis and Mu.
But such a supposition did not allow for the remarkable
discoveries of two intrepid explorers who in the 1920s went into
the vastness of Asia and there unearthed evidence about Agharta
which far exceeded that of any previous reports. Their accounts,
indeed, became the cornerstone of our present knowledge of the
Strangely, neither man knew each other, yet both were of Russian
extraction. One made his discoveries about Agharta while fleeing
for his life from the Bolsheviks in Russia; the other came shortly
after from self-imposed exile in America, seeking to penetrate the
mysteries of Tibet. Their names were Ferdinand Ossendowski and
The King of the World
Writing in the early part of last century, Russian traveller
Ferdinand Ossendowski said he noticed there were times in his
Mongolian travels when men and beasts paused, silent and immobile,
as though listening. The herds of horses, the sheep and cattle,
stood fixed to attention or crouched close to the ground. The
birds did not fly, and marmots did not run and the dogs did not
bark. “Earth and sky ceased breathing. The wind did not blow and
the sun did not move…. All living beings in fear were
involuntarily thrown into prayer and waiting for their fate.”5
“Thus it has always been,” explained an old Mongol shepherd and
hunter, “whenever the King of the World in his subterranean palace
prays and searches out the destiny of all peoples on the earth.”6 For
in Agharta, he said, “live the invisible rulers of all pious
people, the King of the World or Brahatma, who can speak with God
as I speak with you, and his two assistants: Mahatma, knowing the
purposes of future events, and Mahinga, ruling the causes of those
events…. He knows all the forces of the world and reads all the
souls of mankind and the great book of their destiny.”7
Ferdinand Ossendowski (1876-1945), a polish scientist who spent
most of his life in Russia, was as intrigued with legends and with
the occult as he was with politics. As he fled through “Mysterious
Mongolia… the Land of Demons,” he paused frequently to speak with
Buddhist monks and lamas about the traditions associated with
lakes, caves and monasteries. There was one story he said he
encountered everywhere in Eurasia: he called it the “Kingdom of
Agharti”, regarding it as nothing less than “the mystery of
Ossendowski’s knowledge of the hidden kingdom came about after he
fell into the company of a remarkable fellow Russian speaker, a
priest named Tushegoun Lama, who had also fled the Russian
Revolution, and could claim personal friendship with the Dalai
Lama, then the supreme ruler of Tibet.
It was from Tushegoun Lama that Ossendowski heard the first hints
about Agharta and be inspired to investigate the stories and
ultimately produce the first detailed modern report on the
subterranean kingdom. He called this report, Beasts, Men and
Gods (1922), and it is now a rare and much sought-after book.
During their journeying, Tushegoun Lama told Ossendowski of the
miraculous powers of the Tibetan monks, and the Dalai Lama in
particular – powers, he said, that foreigners could scarcely begin
to appreciate. Then, he went on: “But there also exists a still
more powerful and more holy man… The King of the World in Agharti.”9
At that point, according to Ossendowski’s account, the Lama did
not wait around to answer questions, but rode off on his horse.
The poor Russian was left standing in the settling dust with a
series of whirling questions rushing through his head. He had to
wait several months before he began to get any answers to these
Later, another Tibetan called Prince Chultun Beyli told
Ossendowski that sixty thousand years ago a holy man had led a
tribe of his followers deep into the earth. They settled there,
beneath Central Asia, and through the use of the holy man’s
incredible wisdom and power, and the labours of his people,
Agharta became a paradise. Its population now numbered in the
millions, and all were happy and prosperous.
The Prince also added the following details:
The kingdom is called Agharti. It extends throughout all the
subterranean passages of the whole world…. These subterranean
peoples and spaces are governed by rulers owing allegiance to
the ‘King of the World’… You know that in the two greatest
oceans of the east and the west there were formerly two
continents. They disappeared under the water but their people
went into the subterranean kingdom. In underground caves there
exists a peculiar light which affords growth to the grains and
vegetables and long life without disease to the people.10
Ossendowski, understandably, found much that was puzzling as well
as confusing in these accounts. Nonetheless he was convinced that
he had come across something more than just a legend – or even an
example of hypnosis or mass vision – but more likely a powerful
‘force’ of some kind, evidently capable of influencing the course
of life on planet earth.
Interestingly, Ossendowski reports that the enormous powers the
people of Agharta were believed to control could be used to
destroy whole areas of the planet, but equally could be harnessed
as the means of propulsion of the most amazing vehicles of
transport. It has been suggested that this could be a prediction
of nuclear energy and flying saucers! (Beasts, Men and Gods
was, of course, published in 1922, long before such topics were
even being discussed).
Ossendowski closes off his book with the prophecy of the King of
the World (see “A Prophecy From the Inner Earth!”, page 33), in
which it is stated materialism will devastate the earth, terrible
battles will engulf the nations of the world, and at the climax of
the bloodshed in 2029, the people of Agharta will rise out of
their cavern world.
Emissary of Shambhala
It would be easy to dismiss Agharta/Shambhala as pure fantasy,
were it not for a very credible explorer who searched for, found
and returned to tell us something about his experiences.
Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), a Russian born artist, poet, writer,
mystic and distinguished member of the Theosophical Society, led
an expedition across the Gobi Desert to the Altai mountain range
from 1923 to 1928, a journey which covered 15,500 miles across
thirty-five of the world’s highest mountain passes.
As Victoria LePage puts it in her book Shambhala:
Roerich was a man of unimpeachable credentials: a famous
collaborator in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a colleague of the
impresario Diaghilev and a highly talented and respected member
of the League of Nations.11
He was also influential in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt United
States administration, and was the pivotal force behind placing
the Great Seal of the United States on the dollar bill.
Nicholas Roerich was first exposed to Buddhism and heard of
Shambhala in St. Petersburg, Russia during his involvement with
the construction of the Buddhist temple under the guidance of Lama
One of the reasons for Roerich’s expedition may have been to
return a stone said to be part of a much larger meteorite
possessing occult properties called the Chintamani Stone, alleged
to have come from a solar system in the constellation of Orion.
The stone, says LePage, “was capable of giving telepathic inner
guidance and effecting a transformation of consciousness to those
in contact with it.”13
According to Lamaist legend, a fragment of this Chintamani Stone
is sent forth to help establish spiritual missions vital to
humanity, and is returned, when missions are completed, to its
rightful home in the King’s Tower in the centre of Shambhala.14 Such
a stone was said to be in the possession of the failed League of
Nations, its return being entrusted to Roerich. Though it is not
known whether he was able to return the fragment or not, his
expedition helped those who believed that Shambhala was more than
Roerich believed in the transcendental unity of religions – in the
notion that one day the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Christian
would realise their separate dogmas were husks obscuring the
kernel of truth within. All his works embraced the belief that all
faiths awaited a new age in which this chaff of dogma would be
stripped away, humanity would toss aside its discords, and all
would come together in a paradise of universal brotherhood. His
symbol for the coming paradise was Shambhala.
Roerich kept a diary during the trip (published as
Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary)15 and,
while in Mongolia, noted that, “belief in the imminence of the era
of Shambhala was very strong.” In his book, Heart of Asia,
Roerich describes both his scientific observations and his
personal spiritual quest. Although he was ready to listen to tales
of underground cities as part of the adventure, his main interest
centred on the spiritual dynamics of Shambhala and its importance
as a symbol of the coming age of peace and enlightenment. This
blending of the scientific and the spiritual is also present in
the hundreds of paintings Roerich made throughout the expedition.
“His eye captured the shapes and colours of the mountains,
monasteries, rock carvings, stupas, cities and peoples of Asia,”
writes Jaqueline Decter in Nicholas Roerich. “His soul
understood their spirit; and his brush forged a synthesis of
beauty.” Throughout his life, Roerich strove to link all
scientific and creative disciplines to advance true culture and
international peace, citing the power of art and beauty to
accomplish such a feat.
The Roerich Peace Pact, which obligated nations to respect
museums, cathedrals, universities and libraries as they did
hospitals, was established in 1935 and became part of the United
Nations organisational charter. The connection between Shambhala
and the Peace Pact is clearly evident in the following speech
given at the Third International Roerich Peace Banner Convention
The East has said that when the Banner of Shambhala would
encircle the world, verily the New Dawn would follow. Borrowing
this Legend of Asia, let us determine that the Banner of Peace
shall encircle the world, carrying its word of Light, and
presaging a New Morning of human brotherhood.16
“Today,” notes LePage, “every major Russian city has a Roerich
organisation that expresses his ideas for a new type of
enlightened civilisation based on the utopian principles of
The Sign of Shambhala
Shambhala itself is the Holy Place, where the earthly world
links with the highest states of consciousness. In the East they
know that there exists two Shambhalas – an earthly and an
– Nicholas Roerich, The Heart of
Nicholas Roerich and party set out in 1924 to explore India,
Mongolia and Tibet. Like Ossendowski before him, Roerich soon
encountered stories about a secret underground kingdom. He jotted
down his thoughts on this hidden kingdom and these notes were
later published in a remarkable record of the expedition entitled
Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary.18
In the summer of 1926, Roerich reported a strange event in his
travel diary. He was encamped with his son, Dr. George Roerich,
and a retinue of Mongolian guides in the Sharagol valley near the
Humboldt mountain chain between Mongolia and Tibet. At the time of
the event in question, Roerich had returned from a trip to Altai
and built a stupa, “a stately white structure,” dedicated
In August the shrine was consecrated in a solemn ceremony by a
number of notable lamas invited to the site for the purpose, and
after the event, writes Roerich, the Buriat guides forecast
something auspicious impending. A day or two later, a large black
bird was observed flying over the party. Beyond it, moving high in
the cloudless sky, a huge, golden, spheroid body, whirling and
shining brilliantly in the sun, was suddenly espied. Through three
pairs of binoculars the travellers saw it fly rapidly from the
north, from the direction of Altai, then veer sharply and vanish
towards the southwest, behind the Humboldt mountains.
One of the lamas told Roerich that what he had seen was “the sign
of Shambhala,” signifying that his mission had been blessed by the
Great Ones of Altai, the lords of Shambhala. They had also been
witness to a classic UFO, twenty years before the “official”
beginning of the phenomenon with Kenneth Arnold’s sighting in
Roerich’s account of such a sighting aroused great interest in
Europe and, corroborated as it was by George Roerich, brought to
the West the first concrete evidence that there might be something
present in Eurasia that defied understanding. Victoria LePage
describes its significance as such:
In its vivid colour and factuality, its bizarre but unarguable
reference to an unknown golden aircraft that behaved as no
ordinary airplane could, the Roerich story could rightly be
called the first reliable intimation that the kingdom of Chang
Shambhala was perhaps knowable as more than an intellectual
curiosity, a popular Asian fable… and from about 1927 onward the
world centre in the northern mountains exerted on Western occult
circles the fascination of an idea whose time has come.19
Which brings us to the very nature of reality. Paranormal
experiences, including UFO sightings, are always indicative of an
altered state of consciousness that allows the witness to see
other realities. Often the experience is similar to a lucid dream,
where ordinary space-time physics no longer applies.
The Eastern mystical view of the world can be quite different from
the Western scientific view of it. It maybe that the guidebooks to
Shambhala are describing a landscape transformed by the visions of
a yogi taking the journey there: Where we would see a mountaintop
gleaming with snow, he would see a golden temple with a shining
god. In that case, we might be able to travel the same path, but
with a different view of reality.
To travel to Shambhala, as Nicholas Roerich journeyed, is to
undertake at one and the same time an inner mystical journey and
an outer physical one through desolate and mountainous territory
to a cosmic powerhouse.
An old Tibetan story tells of a young man who set off on the quest
for Shambhala. After crossing many mountains, he came to the cave
of an old hermit, who asked him, “Where are you going across these
wastes of snow?”
“To find Shambhala,” the youth replied.
“Ah, well then, you need not travel far,” the hermit said. “The
kingdom of Shambhala is in your own heart.”20
The second part of this article looks at the Buddhist conception
of Shambhala and its esoteric meaning.
1. Edwin Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the
Mythical Kingdom Beyond the Himalayas, 2001, p.25.
2. Joscelyn Godwin, Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science,
Symbolism and Nazi Survival, 1993, p.83.
3. Subterranean Worlds: 100,000 Years of Dragons, Dwarfs, the
Dead, Lost Races & UFOs from Inside the Earth, Walter
Kafton-Minkel, 1989, p.188.
4. Joscelyn Godwin, Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science,
Symbolism and Nazi Survival, 1993, p.85.
5. Ferdinand Ossendowski, Beast, Men and Gods, 1922, p.300.
6. Ibid, p.300.
7. Ibid, p.303.
8. Ibid, p.300.
9. Ibid, p.118.
10. Alec Maclellan, The Lost World of Agharti, The Mystery of
Vril Power, 1982, p. 66.
11. Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind
the Myth of Shangri-la, 1996, p.11.
12. See New Dawn No. 68, p. 85.
13. Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind
the Myth of Shangri-la, 1996, p.10.
14. Andrew Tomas, Shambhala: Oasis of Light, 1976, p.32.
15. Nicholas Roerich, Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary
(1929); Other books by Roerich: The Heart of Asia (1930);
16. Speech by Francis Grant in The Roerich Pact and Banner of
17. Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind
the Myth of Shangri-la, 1996, p.12.
18. Nicholas Roerich, Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary
19. Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind
the Myth of Shangri-la, 1996, p.12.
20. As quoted in Edwin Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala:
Jacques Bacot, Introduction a l’histoire du