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  Columnist: William B Stoecker

Image credit: Nicholas Roerich


Posted on Tuesday, 3 May, 2011 | 7 comments
Columnist: William B Stoecker

Contemporary occult literature contains references to a mysterious realm called “Shamballah.” It is usually said to be located in a remote corner of Tibet or Mongolia, perhaps underground, or in a parallel universe reached through tunnels or caverns. Some writers have suggested that it might be located in southern Siberia or in the Sutlej Valley in the Himachal Pradesh and it is usually portrayed as a land of virtue and happiness. Madame Blavatsky, the nineteenth century Russian woman who helped to start the New Age movement (the Fox sisters and spiritualism also played a role, as, arguably, did Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon) wrote of Shamballah, as did her evil disciple Alice Bailey. The mysterious Russian-American artist and adventurer Nicholas Roerich journeyed to Tibet and Mongolia on two expeditions between 1924 and 1928 primarily to search for Shamballah.

The Nazis sent expeditions to Tibet to find what they imagined to be the homeland of the “Aryan” race, and they were influenced by Theosophy, the cult founded by Madame Blavatsky. Sometimes identified with Shamballah is the underground realm of Agarthi, usually said to be ruled by evil demons called “asuras.” William Michael Mott, in his Caverns, Caldrons, and Concealed Creatures, cites legends claiming that evil reptilians called “Nagas” dwell in the underground realms of Patah and Bhogavati and wage war on virtuous people living in the (also underground) lands of Shamballah and Agarthi. Actually, in Hindu myth, Nagas (from the Sanskrit word “nag,” for serpent) are serpent people who live on land, underground, and under the sea. The word “naga” can refer to any snake or to dragons, and, oddly, there is a tribe of apparently ordinary people in northeastern India who are called Nagas. Some modern writers suggest that Agarthi is home to the remnants of a lost civilization that existed long ago in what is now the Gobi Desert.

There are certain regions of the Earth that seem (at least to non-natives) inherently remote, mysterious, and mystical. South America comes to mind, particularly the Amazon Basin and the Matto Grosso region, and the incredible flat topped mountains of Venezuela. Patagonia, with its arid, windswept plains rising in the west to the high Andes Mountains, is remote and sparsely populated. The high altiplano of Bolivia, a valley so wide that it resembles a plateau, is located between one Andean range to the east, and another, mostly volcanic, to the west. Within it are Lake Titicaca, and numerous ancient and mysterious ruins, such as Tiahuanaco. The strangeness continues in the mountains north of Bolivia, especially in Peru, with ruins like Sacsahuaman, and an underground tunnel system blocked to the public.

But perhaps no place is as strange as Central Asia, especially Tibet and Mongolia. Tibet, with an average altitude of sixteen thousand feet, is a dry region in the rain shadow of the Himalayas to the south, Earth’s highest range, believed to have been formed when the Indian subcontinent slammed into Asia, propelled by the mysterious forces of plate tectonics. Mongolia has steppes, mountains in the north and west, and the Gobi Desert in the south. The Karakorum Mountains of Pakistan are almost as high as the Himalayas, and Asia’s Tien Shan, Altai, and Pamir Mountains are also impressive. People have lived in Central Asia for a very long time; Homo Erectus remains found in Mongolia date to some 800,000 years B.P. (before the present), and human remains in Tibet have been tentatively dated at 500,000 B.P., and others more surely dated at 21,000 B.P. There seem to have been successive waves of migration out of Central Asia, perhaps caused in part by cycles of prolonged drought and cold weather, including the migrations of the warlike Huns, and, later, the Mongols. Much, much earlier the ancestors of at least some Amerindians seem to have migrated from Siberia into the Americas. But migrations also went the other way, as East met West when Europeans moved into the region. Mummies of tall people with long skulls and noses and deep set eyes (like Europeans) and brown, red, and blonde hair have been found in the arid Xinjiang Province in western China since the early nineteen hundreds…over a hundred bodies so far. Many are dressed in plaid clothing resembling that worn by Celts in more recent times. The oldest of these mummies date to 4,000 B.P. Their DNA is also European, and their wagons and metal artifacts resemble those found far to the west. Presently many of the inhabitants of the region are the Turkic Uighurs, who have lived there since perhaps 800 A.D. and once mixed with a Buddhist tribe called the Tocharians, who also appeared European. And the Scythians, known to the ancient Greeks, also had European features, and lived as far east as western Mongolia as far back as 2,500 B.P. So the region was probably not the homeland of the “Aryans,” as the Nazis imagined, but Europeans certainly migrated there to live.

And let us not forget the importance of climatic change. Much of the region, particularly Tibet and the Gobi desert, is dry and often cold today, unable to support a large population. But this was not always the case. During the Holocene Optimum that came after the last Ice Age and lasted from about 10,000 B.P. to about 6,000 B.P. the world was actually much warmer than today, and the increased warmth led to more evaporation of sea water, causing more clouds and rain, and making certain areas (including Tibet and Mongolia) more fertile and attractive than today, and able to support more people. There is archaeological evidence that people in the area were farming at least as far back as 7,500 B.P., so perhaps there is some truth to the persistent legends of lost civilizations. Not all the ruins in Central Asia have been properly excavated, let alone accurately dated.

The original, mostly Buddhist, legends of Shamballah differ somewhat from accounts in contemporary occult literature. It is mentioned in the Kalachakra Tantra, a sacred scripture of Tantric Buddhism. The pre-Buddhist Bon religion of Tibet included elements of shamanism and a belief in a divine king, and included a legend of a mysterious realm called Olmolungring. The ancient Hindus had a legend of a land called Sambhala, mentioned in the Puranas and the Mahabharata. They also wrote of a land, possibly just Tibet, called Uttarakuru.

In Taoism, the Bon religion, and in Mahayana Buddhism there is a tradition of “pure lands,” regions sometimes seen as physical, but often as spiritual realms, which can be accessed via trance states and meditation. Almost anything anyone says about Buddhism will prove, at best, to be a gross oversimplification, but the term “Buddha” means “awakened one” or “enlightened one,” someone who has achieved a higher state of consciousness by meditating and living a pure life. Siddartha Gautama, founder of the religion, is seen as the ultimate Buddha. Buddhism is one of the Dharmic religions which originated in India, and all of which include a belief in karma and practice one form or another of yoga, a term referring to a variety of practices intended to bring enlightenment. The pure lands, including Shamballah, do not precisely equate with the Christian concept of Heaven, but are somehow created and sustained by bodhisattvas, people who have achieved a higher spiritual state…usually, they are not considered to be full-fledged buddhas. In some traditions Shamballah sounds more like a physical realm, and ancient texts speak of its twenty fifth kalki king, or Rigden, who will supposedly issue forth with an army to save the world from evil.

The legends of Shamballah may refer to a real place or they may just be legends, but the story of Agarthi lacks even a clear lineage as a legend. The earliest report of it came from a Russian-Polish soldier, science teacher, and adventurer named Antoni Ferdynand Ossendewski (5/27/1876-1/3/1945) a figure even more mysterious than the better known Nicholas Roerich. He travelled extensively in Central Asia and claimed to have heard the legend from the locals. There is no way to be sure that he (or the people who told him the story) was telling the truth.

So the reality (if it is more than just a legend) differs considerably from most modern versions. In the original accounts Shamballah was not located underground and may not even have been a physical place in this world, but a kind of alternate universe, perhaps created and maintained by the will of holy men. Agarthi may not have existed even as a legend, and had no real connection to Shamballah. But does that mean that Shamballah does not exist? It is rather difficult to prove a negative proposition, like proving that there is no Loch Ness monster, for example. To a materialist, the idea of a world created and sustained by the power of the mind sounds absurd. But to a philosophical idealist, who believes that mind/thought/soul/consciousness is the prime reality and that the physical universe of mass/energy/space/time is a secondary manifestation, the idea makes a weird kind of sense.

Article Copyright© William B Stoecker - reproduced with permission.

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