In the light of the political upheavals and mass rebellions taking place almost everywhere in the world – in the north African and Near Eastern Muslim states, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Europe and America – all the international talk at present is on the clash of global geopolitical forces and how to resolve them. Can we ever expect world peace to materialise out of what amounts to a worldwide battlefield?
Some observers believe not. They contend that competitive and warlike tensions are endemic to the geopolitical/economic level of the human enterprise, and that the resolution of the present state of chronic international conflict can come about only from above, from the cultural/religious sphere. Commenting on the great natural catastrophes of 2011, as well as the escalating rebel activities in north Africa, Wilhelm Augustat, Austrian president of the European office of the Peace Through Spiritual Culture Association International, said: “It has once again become obvious that solutions for problems of this size and type cannot be derived from the technical and sociopolitical levels of our civilisation, by excluding the spiritual-cultural sphere of human life.”1
Those who hold to Augustat’s view and see the building of a peaceful worldwide commonwealth of nations as a possibility that must begin at the highest cultural and spiritual level, are turning their attention to Kazakhstan in Central Asia, whose new capital, Astana, hosted the above-mentioned World Forum of Peace through Spiritual Culture in October, 2010. In Kazakhstan they glimpse something immensely hopeful for the rest of the world taking place: the rebirth of principles of civilisation once considered essential for peace and mutual understanding between nations, but now long lost to the world, their very existence forgotten.
Central Asia ceased to be a part of the Soviet Union in 1991, a large part of it becoming instead the independent nation of Kazakhstan. Now one of the largest countries in the world, this vast new state spreads across the heart of the Eurasian landmass from the shores of the Caspian sea to the Tien Shan mountains and the Altai, uniting East to West. Crisscrossed by ancient trade routes and revealing to archaeologists the ruins of long-buried civilisations, the whole region is now striving to reconstitute its shattered identity as guardian of the world’s oldest traditions of sacred knowledge.
Tiberio Graziahni, president of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences, refers to the region that traverses central Asia from the Gobi to the Mediterranean basin as “the hinge of the whole Afro-Eurasian landmass” and as critical to its integration – and to world peace. Widely regarded as the crucible of civilisation, Central Asia is even more than that: it is the generative heart of the planet, a place of evolutionary birthing that has become active again and again throughout history, spawning religions, sciences and civilisations that have fanned out across the world. Here where the ancient Silk Road ran and invading hordes and new religious movements swept to and fro remaking civilisations, history reveals that the influence of a single powerful spiritual source has been radiating out under various names, promoting peace and righteousness to the ends of the Earth for countless millennia.
From the Karakorum mountains at the western end of the Trans-Himalayas this same spiritual hierarchy gave birth to the Sun religion around five thousand years ago. It sent forth the Sons of the Sun or Sons of Heaven, sometimes known as the Sons of Light, to build a network of temples around the globe that brought knowledge both scientific and spiritual to the people and civilisation to the whole planet. Supplanting Ice age shamanism and the earlier worship of the Pole star in the constellation Draco for that of the Sun, the new faith nevertheless preserved a great deal of reverence for the lofty principles of its predecessor, as indeed is testified by the totemic masks of birds, animals and fish still worn by the neter gods in ancient Egyptian art. This mysterious hierarchy also lay behind the Sun religion of the Shang dynasty in China and the Kibieri of the Celts, and behind the Solar religion of the Egyptian kings of Heliopolis who, as Sons of the Sun, were closely allied to the original Asiatic order.
Although still culturally devastated by the destructive materialism imposed on them by communist Russia, Kazakhstan’s people preserve the memory of their illustrious past and long for its return. Travellers say that the whole of Central Asia still rings with stories of Shambhala, a place of enlightenment and peace hidden among the most remote mountain valleys, and once known also as the Land of the Living Gods, the Forbidden Land and the Land of White Waters where the culture-bearing Sons of the Sun originated. Faced by the devastation of their ancient culture, the hopes of many of the Central Asian peoples are still high that soon this will be rectified; the king of Shambhala will lead his great band of warriors out to destroy his enemies and reclaim the kingdom as his own, as a Buddhist prophecy has long declared.
Legend foretold the day when Rigden Jyepo, the king of Shambhala, would come with a great army to destroy the forces of evil and usher in a golden age: the Age of Maitreya. Shambhala, therefore, symbolised the great future, when the Panchen Lama would be reborn as Rigden Jyepo and the reign of Maitreya, the Coming One, would begin.2
Provocatively, however, the former Library Congress historian and Professor Andrei Znamensky has a somewhat different and less spiritual take on the prophesied Buddhist war of Shambhala. Obviously, he says in his book Red Shambhala, the prophesy is actually directed against Islam and the mlecca – the Mecca people – who have invaded the land.3 However that may be, today there are signs in Kazakhstan of the birth of a Muslim reforming programme that owes nothing to the more combative Buddhist scenario, yet fulfils in every essential way the Shambhala prophecy, promising to usher in a new era and a new sacred society based on culturally enlightened principles.
The young oil- and gas-rich nation of Kazakhstan, whose geography takes in a majestic panorama of seas, alpine forests, steppes, deserts and snowfields, is home to something like 140 ethnic groups of every possible cultural background and religious persuasion. As well as the indigenous Kazakhs, here are established Nestorian Christian and Sufi communities, indigenous Buddhist groups and shamanic nomads still roaming the steppes, as well as a large population of Jews who fled here after the Romans sacked Jerusalem in the second century CE; besides which there are Jewish converts known as Khazars who have migrated eastward and settled in their thousands in this foreign land.
An ex-Communist with visionary ideals, the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev seems determined to democratise Islam, although not perhaps in the western style. Breaking the traditional Muslim mould of power-driven dynastic autocracy that featured until very recently in all the Muslim caliphates, he recently rejected a referendum that would give him a further ten years in office, and showed readiness to actually shorten the term of presidential office. He has initiated the People’s Assembly of Kazakhstan, which gives every ethnic group the right to take part in the decision-making congresses associated with the political, cultural and social activities of the country. And his attitude to women is also modern. Schools for girls are a priority, with attention given to getting girls into science and technology.
The main thrust of Nazarbayev’s initiatives is clearly to bring into international dialogue the various divisive issues that press most heavily on the global community at present. Astana hosts a number of world congresses, including the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies and a World Conference on Disarmament, while the First Almaty Economic Business Forum may be held in Astana in 2012. But the President’s chief initiative remains one that first materialised in 1992, soon after Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union. In 2003 the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was held with great success in Astana, and again in 2006 and 2009. Emphasis was laid on the principles that bind religions together rather than those that separate them.
In October 2010 the World Forum for Spiritual Culture, intended for a more general interdisciplinary gathering, was held in Astana, again chaired by the Kazakhstan President and imbued with the religious tolerance for which the ancient shamanic races of this region, such as the Mongols and also the Sufi orders, have long been famous.4 As the British scholar and philosopher Peter Kingsley notes, “It was no small practical achievement for the Mongol Khans to transform into a major institution the long-standing Central Asian custom of convening formal gatherings made up of representatives from different religions so they could openly discuss their beliefs on an equal footing instead of just killing each other.”5
According to the same open principle, high-level representatives from about seventy-five countries, “from all cultures, ‘cults’ and worldviews,” attended the historic gathering in Astana. In his Conference report on the International Forum for Peace through Culture, Augustat stated that the world initiative launched by Kazakhstan’s President is based on non-violence, harmony and cooperation between nations. “The core problem of our present time is formed of lethargy, extreme egoism, greed, corruption, purely materialist thinking and so forth – all of which have to be exchanged for real human values.”6
Similar world gatherings to those in Kazakhstan are of course being held elsewhere, for example in Turkey and Australia very recently. But the key objective of the Executive Committee of Spiritual Culture as proposed by President Nazarbayev strikes another new and even more revolutionary note. It aims at nothing less than the furtherance of an integration of science, socio-politics and religion in one overarching transcendental order. As Kingsley notes, from the very earliest times but now long lost, this idea of a comprehensive divine whole uniting all that exists was also a core principle of the philosophy of central Asian shamanism from which the Sun religion directly emerged, and in which there was a constant overlapping of “spirituality and science, mechanical ingenuity and philosophy, mysticism and military expertise,”7 as well as poetry, gnosis and politics.
Consequently, one of the most important highlights that came out of the Kazakhstan World Forum, notes Augustat, is the awareness of the necessity of a synthesis of the political and spiritual-cultural as well as scientific spheres in society, and the gradual overcoming of their present entrenched separation. This very postmodern approach, which even today is entertained by only a minority of western thinkers as the necessary basis for a more enlightened world civilisation, characterises the Kazakhstan Executive and raises the interesting question: where is this intellectual initiative coming from? What hidden metaphysical influence is at work here?
The Sacred Union of the East
As we shall shortly see, President Nazarbayev’s is not the first attempt in modern times to reestablish in the Eurasian heartland a nation based on enlightened spiritual principles. Seventy years before the birth of the Kazakhstan nation a similar Buddhist attempt was essayed in the Altai in southern Siberia. Nazarbayev’s has been guided, it would seem, by a different star, a gnostic vision from a far more distant time; but nevertheless, the earlier attempt to establish a Buddhist New Country of New Russia in the Altai may well be seen as a rehearsal for Kazakhstan’s more ambitious Muslim experiment.
After the 1917 Revolution in Russia, says Znamensky, Communism took on a religious quality “typical of religious revitalisation movements in tribal societies.”8 In his book Red Shambhala, he reveals the underground occult agenda of a visionary Russian clique working within the very core of the new Bolshevik State to bring about a political condition impregnated with the Buddhist wisdom of Shambhala. Inspired by Buddhist prophesies, this clandestine group active within the Soviet Secret Police believed that the social ideals of Communism were compatible with those foretold of the Buddha Maitreya, the One to Come, and that with the amalgamation of the two a glorious mystical era of Communism would result that would benefit the whole world. So persuasive was this vision that for a while the movement gathered many Communist adherents, and indeed was to be destroyed only by the later Stalinist purges. But not before a number of expeditions were either planned or actually sent forth from Russia and elsewhere in eastern Europe, with the intention of finding the fabled kingdom and embracing its immortal teachings.
One of these expeditions – and the most celebrated – was launched from New York by the painter Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena, White Russian emigres to America and passionate converts to the new Theosophical teachings promulgated by another Russian, Helena Blavatsky. Nicholas established a Master art school in New York and Helena, a mystical clairvoyant, channelled guidance from Masters Morya and Koot Hoomi, the same Mahatmas whom Blavatsky had claimed as her unseen Adepts and spiritual mentors a few decades earlier. (According to recent research, these two Masters were most probably Hindu and Sikh Indians, presumably high initiates in their respective religions.)9 The Roerichs were also strongly influenced by the shamanic teachings and legends of Shambhala that had been trickling into Russia from Russian expatriates in southern Siberia for the past hundred or so years; and in 1923, at the behest of the Master Morya and under his continual guidance, the Roerichs set out for central Asia on an arduous odyssey to find the wondrous kingdom.
Behind the ostensible reason for the expedition was a hidden agenda of the greatest import, which Master Morya impressed on them was the additional meaning of the prophesy of Shambhala. Shambhala, he said, was “not only the abode of mystical Buddhist learning, it was the guiding principle of the coming cosmic age.”10 Its further meaning would unfold in the establishment of a sacred New Country, a New Russia in the Altai, a mountainous country in southern Siberia lying at the intersection of Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Tibet. There the Roerichs were to found the New Country on the highest Buddhist principles. It was to be governed at a spiritual level by the exiled Tibetan Panchen Lama – whom they were commissioned to find somewhere in Mongolia and bring back to the Altai – and on an administrative level by Nicholas himself, who sometimes wore the robes of the Tibetan Dalai Lama.
According to Znamensky, the Roerichs envisaged in the Altai a utopian theocracy composed of “a commonwealth of people who would live a highly spiritual life and work as a cooperative – the economic foundation of this new state.”11 In fact the New Country was to be nothing less than a unification of all Inner Asian peoples into a spiritual kingdom. Thus would be established the Sacred Union of the East.
The project failed. It was naïve, ill-conceived and geopolitically ignorant. The Panchen lama, at that time enjoying a profligate lifestyle in Mongolia, was not interested in the New Country. And visiting Soviet Russia to elicit support for their Great Plan, the Roerichs received only a cautious and limited response from the government while antagonising all the other great powers – Japan, America, Britain and China – at that time mutually competing to gain access to the riches of central Asia. Nicholas and his son George made a further attempt to materialise the Masters’ plans in 1937, but this attempt too failed, and having earned the fury of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the then president of the US who saw their endeavours as a betrayal of US interests, the Roerichs were obliged to retire to India for the rest of their lives.
Nevertheless, we can glimpse in the Roerichs’ Altaic project a foreshadowing, a rehearsal or preliminary model of what is presently happening in neighbouring Kazakhstan. But there are significant differences. For one thing, and an important one, in the Buddhist venture Nicholas Roerich laid no discernible emphasis on interdisciplinary unification, a reform of the utmost importance to Kazakhstan’s President. Nor is there any indication that Nazarbayev draws to any degree on the mythology of Shambhala. Indeed the warlike outlook that lurks behind the Altaic venture and plays such a large part in the Buddhist prophecies of Shambhala – leading Nicholas and Helena to regard themselves as “Shambhala warriors” – is entirely absent from Nazarbayev’s idealistic programme. To trace the bond that does undoubtedly seem to exist between these two regional ventures seventy years apart, we must delve more deeply into the nature of the ancient spiritual hierarchy that lies at an even more hidden level beneath Shambhala’s folk mythology.
The Rising Sun in Asian History
What then is the source of Kazakhstan’s unusual and potentially revolutionary geopolitical objectives? To find a precedent for them we have only to turn back to the great days of the Sun religion that peaked during the third millennium BCE.
As the Solar impulse spread globally into a honeycomb of separate national cults, each with its own sacerdotal hierarchy, the priesthoods of low rank, concerned mainly with ritual and dogma, separated out, everywhere dissolving into polycentric and insular attitudes towards each other, very much in the modern divisive manner. But in the higher prophetic ranks we find a counterbalancing trend of a quasi-clandestine nature that preserved the original unicentric Solar policy, even to maintaining an overseeing brotherhood with its headquarters remaining in Central Asia.
In this way, by preserving their cohesion the prophets contributed an underlying unity and strength to society that universally balanced the equally divisive tendencies of popular religion. A hierarchic philosophy in the higher Solar echelons balanced a democratic one in the lower, leading to a spirit of accord and international harmony unprecedented to this day, yet at the same time allowing ideological differences to flourish creatively in the lower levels of the religion.
Furthermore, these higher-ranking adepts were men and women of learning as well as spirituality; sages, but also astronomers, engineers, scientists, doctors and architects, who combined the various secular disciplines at all times with their metaphysical interests. Even as the Earth and the stars of the firmament were seen as related elements of one transcendental order, so that divine Whole was believed to be inclusive of, and to bring into relationship all areas of human knowledge, whether they be religious, psychosocial or physical. Two famous historical figures who fall into this category are Visvakarma of the Arunachala temple in India, a renowned expert in geometry and number, and Imhotep, ancient high priest of Heliopolis in Egypt, an engineer and architect who famously built the step pyramid at Saqqara. By means of this policy of multidisciplinary integration which brought together at all levels the opposite poles of human knowledge, those of the spiritual and natural orders, societies were unified at a high overall level, but without stifling the creative potential that lies in the challenges of diversity and opposition.
Thus it was the operation of the two key principles of religious tolerance and multidisciplinary unity maintained in a high state of ideological tension that, while they lasted, rendered the Sun religion the greatest civilising force the world has ever known. But in time, as the initial impulse spread ever more widely throughout the Old and the New Worlds and discord inevitably increased, the religion increasingly found expression in various more esoteric orders bearing different names but inherently the same liberal principles. One of these orders was the international Order of Melchizedek, widely believed to be involved in the beginning of all three Semitic religions, Judaism and Christianity as well as Islam.
Melchizedek, king of Righteousness, is a mysterious figure who threads his way through the Hebrew Bible as high priest in perpetuity of the Canaanite Sun God El-Elion. He is said within occult circles to head a Righteousness Order whose secret headquarters, even to the present day, preserve in the mountains of central Asia an organisation of great antiquity and influence in religious affairs with branches in many countries and throughout many epochs. Superior to any local cult or priesthood and steeped in the wisdom of shamanic gnosis, the order claims to be, like the Sun religion, an underground spiritual stream, itself invisible and timeless, from which all our disparate belief systems ultimately stem.
In Genesis (14-18) Melchizedek initiates the prophet Abraham, the ancient ancestor of all the Semitic tribes, into the Solar worship of God Most High after Abraham had defeated a coalition of kings. “And Melchizedek, king of Salem, caused bread and wine to be brought; and he was priest of God Most High (El Elion). And he blessed Abram, saying: ‘Blessed be Abram, he of God Most High, possessor of Heaven and Earth; and blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hands’. And Abram gave him the tithe of all he had taken.” As the esotericist René Guénon notes, “the whole episode enacts a true ‘investiture’, almost in the feudal sense of the word, but with the difference that it is a spiritual investiture, wherein is found the exact point of union between the Hebraic and the great primordial tradition.”12 As a consequence of the rite Abram acquired the new name of Abraham.
Andrew Welburn, a Fellow of New College, Oxford, suggests a continuity throughout history of the rites of the Israelite kings and the older Mystery practices connected with the ancestral king and high priest of the Sun God El.13 Thus, Welburn says, since Judaism was primarily a lunar religion, these Solar initiations would have been strictly esoteric Mystery events. The Letter to the Hebrews (5-6) in the New Testament implies a similar distinction in Christianity, for the writer, Apollonius of Alexandria, declares that Jesus Christ too has been given the office of high priest of God Most High. Here, says Welburn, we meet again the old Canaanite priest-king Melchizedek, who was so central to Essene and Gnostic teachings and whose name is linked to the hidden Solar symbolism that runs through the lunar religion of Judaism.14
In the case of Islam, although Muhammad’s Arabic Qraiysh clan was the only one to have abstained from polytheism and remain loyal to El, the traditional High God of the Arabs whom Muhammad called Allah,15 the connection with the Melchizedek Order is not as direct as in Judaism and Christianity: yet it is there. Although nowhere stated in the Koran, not only would Muhammad therefore have come automatically under the tutelage of El’s high priest Melchizedek, but also it is an Arabic tradition that Abraham, as the first of Islam’s prophetic lineage passed the wisdom he had received from Melchizedek down the line to the prophet Muhammad and his Islamic reformation. And there in Islam it was preserved by the Sufis, a spiritual order that had existed long before Islam.
In The People of the Secret, the Sufi author Ernest Scott elaborates the idea that Sufism, which he says originated in northern Afghanistan, shares a common origin with other ancient religious forms.16 Like the Sons of the Sun and the Righteousness adepts, the Sufis were direct heirs of neolithic shamanism and more than any other religious system of the day carried forward the two key principles of the Sun religion. For a time Sufism became a powerful democratic influence wherever Islam spread, constellating especially along the Afro-Eurasian “hinge” referred to by Tiberio Grazianhi.
As a consequence, by the eleventh century CE the Sufis had welded Islam into the greatest force for civilisation at that time known. Active behind the various national caliphates, they resurrected Greek knowledge at a time of calamitous cultural decline in the West and extended to western powers friendship and learning in equal measure. For centuries the Sufis ensured that Jews, Christians and Muslims lived at peace with each other, extending the boundaries of knowledge and together rebuilding the cultural wealth that had been lost after the demise of the Roman empire. And Sufism also ensured that in the Fatimid caliphate of the eleventh century a mosque became the first university in Islam in which theological expertise united with that of chemistry, astronomy and medicine, mathematics and geometry in an overall metaphysic of great intellectual force.
There can be no doubt whatever that this underground Sufi input, even in a time of greatest Muslim intolerance towards it, still operates clandestinely along the Afro-Eurasian “hinge.” But it is in Kazakhstan that it is arguably causing what may well become a fully flowering Muslim cultural renaissance of the highest order, a rising of the Sun of gnosis which will affect the whole of Islam.
In President Nazarbayev’s gatherings of eminent representatives of all the religions on Earth, and in his insistence on bringing together the various spiritual and scientific disciplines in one comprehensive embrace, something quite unique may be happening in Central Asia that will have important consequences for the peace and harmony not only of Islam but of the rest of the world.. This is a time of critical challenges and perhaps only time will tell.
1. From Wilhelm Augustat’s Report on Astana World Forum of Spiritual Culture International for New Dawn 126, May-June 2011, 4.
2. Ruth A. Drayer, Nicholas and Helena Roerich, Quest Books, Illinois, 2005, 84.
3. A. Znamensky, Red Shambhala, Quest Books, Illinois, 2011, xii.
4. Peter Kingsley, A Story Waiting to Pierce You, The Golden Sufi Center, California, 2010, Note 29, 162.; also J.G. Bennett, The Masters of Wisdom, London, 1977, 145, 150.
5. Ibid., 163.
6. Wilhelm Augustat, op. cit., 4.
7. Kingsley, op. cit., 155.
8. Ibid., 104.
9. K. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed, State University of New York Press, 1994, 5-6.
10. Drayer, op.cit., 84.
11. Znamensky, op. cit., 166.
12. René Guénon, The Lord of the World, Coombe Springs Press, London, 1983, 33.
13. Ibid., 127.
14. Ibid., 124.
15. Jay Weidner & Vincent Bridges, The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye, Destiny Books, Vermont, USA, 2003, 102.
16. Ernest Scott, The People of the Secret, Octogon Press, London, 1983, 191.
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