Over the course of our journey through time, we have come to believe in many legends. The most thrilling ones, are those surrounding lost Utopian civilizations and cities. Their influence can be felt in the social commentary of authors like Thomas More. Some of them even led to conquest and colonization (think Spanish Conquistadors). To mention a few examples; the submerged city of Atlantis, personifying Plato’s ideal republic; the mystic island of Avalon, where Excalibur was forged for King Arthur; the hidden city of El Dorado, full of gold and precious treasure and the ancient Thule, an Aryan island located far north and bathed in perpetual daylight.
My favorite one however, is that of Shambhala, a mythical Tibetan kingdom, said to be located either in the Himalayas or in the Altai mountains. Kalachakra Tantra, a Buddhist text, prophesies that Shambhala will be ruled by Maitreya, a future Buddha or enlightened being. Interestingly, there is a similar belief in Hinduism. Vishnu Purana mentions that, when all is lost the great god Kalki shall emerge from Shambhala to vanquish evil and restore order to the world.
Shambhalan folklore probably predates both religions. The story goes like this. King Manjusrikirthi of Shambhala expelled sun worshipers from his kingdom for not embracing Buddhism as their religion. When he realized his folly, they were invited back. Some of them chose to go back, but some wise men and women went on to establish the magical realm of Shambhala, another kingdom, hidden from all. Legends say that it can only be found by the pure of heart. The people of Shambhala, know no suffering. They enjoy constant youth and long lives. The law is just. The land is rich in its abundance and the air is pure. Men have no need for privacy as they have nothing to hide. Their spiritual wells are deep and their understanding of the universe perfect. Their science is so advanced that to lesser beings it seems magical. On the whole, it is the domain of happily ever afters.
Thrill of exploration and spiritual promise of Shambhala have fueled many expeditions to discover its location, including more sinister ones engineered by Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess. The Nazis sought to retrieve the wisdom of Shambhala and its closely related underground neighbor, Agartha (said to be inhabited by demons) and use it for their usual world destroying purposes. No surprises there. As far as we know, none of these explorations yielded any concrete results. Authors like Victoria Le Page, argue that Shambhala exists on another plane of reality, while those like Edwin Bernbaum, explore its symbolic meaning. James Hilton, describes a Shambhala inspired fictional place called Shangri-La in his novel, Lost Horizon. Even Fullmetal Alchemist, the best anime ever (If you disagree, we can argue all day), has a story arc devoted to Shambhala.
Our collective history is a saga of war, carnage and inexplicable cruelty. In such a world it makes sense to believe in a promised land full of wise men and women who have overcome materialism.Even if these lost cities have no basis in fact, they are appealing and they fuel our imagination. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, is a spectacular piece of fiction and illustrates my point splendidly. I remember losing myself in tales of adventure and discovery as a child. Palpitations, goosebumps and shivers down your spine. What could possibly be better than that?