In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala (also spelled Shambala or Shamballa; Tibetan: bde byung, pron. De-jung) is a mythical kingdom hidden somewhere beyond the snowpeaks of the Himalayas. It is mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalachakra Tantra and the ancient texts of the Zhang Zhung culture which pre-dated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet. The Bön scriptures speak of a closely-related land called Olmolungring.
Shambhala is ruled over by a line of Kings of Shambhala known as Kulika or Kalki Kings (Tib. Rigden), a monarch who upholds the integrity of the Kalachakra tantra. The Kalachakra prophesizes that when the world declines into war and greed, and all is lost, the twenty-fifth Kalki king will emerge from Shambhala with a huge army to vanquish "Dark Forces" and usher in a worldwide Golden Age. Using calculations from the Kalachakra Tantra, scholars such as Alex Berzin (see his website) put this date at 2424 AD.
Rigdan Tagpa or Manjushrí Kírti is said to have been born in 159 BCE and ruled over a kingdom of 300,510 followers of the Mlechha (Yavana or "western") religion, some of whom worshiped the sun. He is said to have expelled all the heretics from his dominions but later, after hearing their petitions, allowed them to return. For their benefit, and the benefit of all living beings, he explained the Kalachakra teachings. In 59 BCE he abdicated his throne to his son, Puṇdaŕika, and died soon afterwards, entering the Sambhoga-káya of Buddhahood.
As with many concepts in the Kalachakra Tantra, the idea of Shambhala is said to have an "outer," "inner,' and "alternative" 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. As His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama noted during the 1985 Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya, Shambhala is not an ordinary country:
There are various ideas about where this society is located, but it is often placed in central Asia, north or west of Tibet. Ancient Zhang Zhung texts identify Shambhala with the Sutlej Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Mongolians identify Shambala with certain valleys of southern Siberia.
The inner and alternative meanings refer to more subtle understandings of what Shambhala represents in terms of one's own body and mind (inner), and the meditation practice (alternative). These two types of symbolic explanations are generally passed on orally from teacher to student.
Serious modern scholarship has now thrown new light on the Kingdom of Shambhala as depicted in the Kalachakra Tantra, such as that of Helmut Hoffman, that says clearly that "The first masters of the tradition disguised themselves with pseudonyms, so the Indian oral traditions recorded by the Tibetans contain a mass of contradictions." The historical chronologies thus also are contradictory and imprecise.
Trungpa's Shambhala teachings have inspired numerous educational, artistic, and spiritual institutions, including Naropa University, Shambhala Training, Shambhala Sun, Miksang photography, The Shambhala School, Shambhala Institute, Shambhala Buddhism, Shambhala Prison Community, Peacemaker Institute, and many others.
The Western fascination with Shambhala has often been based upon fragmented accounts of the Kalachakra tradition, or outright fabrications. Tibet was largely closed to outsiders until very recently, and so what information was available about the tradition of Shambhala was haphazard at best.
The first information that reached western civilization about Shambhala came from the Portuguese Catholic missionaire Estêvão Cacella who had heard about Shambala (which they transcribed as "Xembala"), and thought it was another name for Cathay or China. In 1627 they headed to Tashilhunpo, the seat of the Panchen Lama and, discovering their mistake, returned to India.
The Hungarian scholar Sàndor Körösi Csoma, writing in 1833, provided the first geographic account of "a fabulous country in the north...situated between 45' and 50' north latitude".
During the 19th century, Theosophical Society founder HP 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 mystic Nicholas Roerich and the Soviet agent Yakov Blumkin led two Tibetan expeditions to discover Shambhala, in 1926 and 1928. Apparently inspired by Theosophical lore, Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess sent German expeditions to Tibet in 1930, 1934-35, and 1938-39. .
The myths of Shambhala were part of the inspiration for the story of Shangri-La told in the popular novel Lost Horizon published in 1933, possibly influenced by the accounts of Nicholas Roerich published under the title Shambhala three years earlier.
Later esoteric writers like Alice Bailey (the Arcane School) and the Agni Yoga of Nicholas and Helena Roerich do emphasize Shambhala. Bailey transformed it into a kind of extradimensional or spiritual reality on the etheric plane, a gigantic castle in which the governing deity of Earth, Sanat Kumara, is said to dwell. 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 (especially those associated with Nazi or Neo-Nazi occultism, i.e. Nazi mysticism) to view Shambhala as a source of 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.
In 1973, American rock band Three Dog Night released a single entitled "Shambala" from their album "Cyan." The song reached #3 on the Billboard Chart.