Mistaken Foreign Myths about Shambhala
November 1996, revised May and December 2003
[This article is also available in Slovenian translation.]
Many foreign myths have grown around the legend of Shambhala found in the Kalachakra literature. Some were spread to win military or political support, such as the identification of Russia, Mongolia, or Japan as Shambhala. Others appeared within occult movements and mixed Buddhist ideas with concepts from other systems of belief. Several even spawned expeditions to find the fabled land.
Two camps arose among the occult versions. One side regarded Shambhala as a utopian paradise whose people will save the world. The British novelist, James Hilton, fits into this camp. His 1933 work, Lost Horizon, describes Shangrila as a spiritual paradise found in an inaccessible, hidden valley in Tibet. Shangrila is undoubtedly a romantic corruption of Shambhala. The other side depicted Shambhala as a land of malevolent power. Several postwar accounts of the connection between Nazism and the Occult present this interpretation. It is important not to confuse either of these distortions with Buddhism itself. Let us trace the phenomenon.
Madame Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) was born in the Ukraine to Russian nobility. Endowed with extrasensory powers, she traveled the world in search of occult, secret teachings and spent many years on the Indian subcontinent. From 1867 to 1870, she studied Tibetan Buddhism with Indian masters, most likely from the Tibetan cultural regions of the Indian Himalayas, during her purported stay at Tashilhunpo Monastery in Tibet.
Blavatsky encountered Tibetan Buddhism at a time when European Oriental scholarship was still in its infancy and few translations or accounts were available. Further, she was able to learn only disjointed fragments of its vast teachings. In her private letters, she wrote that because the Western public at that time had little acquaintance with Tibetan Buddhism, she decided to translate and explain the basic terms with more popularly known concepts from Hinduism and the Occult. For example, she translated three of the four island-worlds (four continents) around Mount Meru as the sunken lost islands of Hyperborea, Lemuria, and Atlantis. Likewise, she presented the four humanoid races mentioned in the abhidharma and Kalachakra teachings (born from transformation, moisture and heat, eggs, and wombs) as the races of these island-worlds. Her belief that the esoteric teachings of all the world’s religions form one body of occult knowledge reinforced her decision to translate in this manner and she set out to demonstrate that in her writings.
Together with the American spiritualist Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, Madame Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in 1875 in New York. Its international headquarters moved to Madras, India, shortly thereafter. When her colleague Alfred Percy Sinnett identified Theosophy with esoteric Buddhism in Esoteric Buddhism (1883), Blavatsky refuted his claim. According to her posthumously published Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, Blavatsky’s position was that Theosophy transmitted the “secret occult teachings of trans-Himalaya,” not the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Nevertheless, through her writings, the West first came to associate Shambhala with the Occult and many subsequently confused this connection with the actual teachings of Buddhism.
In 1888, Blavatsky mentioned Shambhala in her main work, The Secret Doctrine, the teachings for which she said she received telepathically from her teachers in Tibet. She wrote in a letter that although her teachers were reincarnate “byang-tzyoobs” or “tchang-chubs” (Tib. byang-chub, Skt. bodhisattva), she had called them “mahatmas” since that term was more familiar to the British in India.
The Tibetan source of the teachings in The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky claimed, is The Stanzas of Dzyan, the first volume of commentaries to the seven secret folios of Kiu-te. “Kiu-te” transcribes the Tibetan “rgyud-sde,” meaning “tantra division,” which is the title of the first section of the Kangyur, the Tibetan translations of Buddha’s words. “Dzyan” transcribes the Sanskrit “dhyana” (Jap. zen), meaning mental stability. Blavatsky was aware that The Kalachakra Tantra was the first item in the tantra division of the Kangyur, since she mentioned that fact in one of her notes. She explained, however, that the seven secret folios were not actually part of the published Kiu-te, and thus we do not find anything similar to The Stanzas of Dzyan in that collection.
It is unclear to what extent Blavatsky actually studied the Kalachakra texts directly. The earliest Western material on the topic was an 1833 article entitled “Note on the Origins of the Kalachakra and Adi-Buddha Systems” by the Hungarian pioneer scholar Alexander Csomo de Körös (Körösi Csoma Sandor). De Körös compiled the first dictionary and grammar of Tibetan in a Western language, English, in 1834. Jakov Schmidt’s Tibetan-Russian Dictionary and Grammar soon followed in 1839. Most of Blavatsky’s familiarity with Kalachakra, however, came from the chapter entitled “The Kalachakra System” in Emil Schlagintweit’s Buddhism in Tibet (1863), as evidenced by her borrowing many passages from that book in her works. Following her translation principle, however, she rendered Shambhala in terms of similar concepts in Hinduism and the Occult.
The first English translation of The Vishnu Purana, by Horace Hayman Wallace, had appeared in 1864, three years before Blavatsky’s purported visit to Tibet. Accordingly, she explained Shambhala in terms of the Hindu presentation in this text: it is the village where the future messiah, Kalki Avatar, will appear. The Kalki, Blavatsky wrote, is “Vishnu, the Messiah on the White Horse of the Brahmins; Maitreya Buddha of the Buddhists; Sosiosh of the Parsis; and Jesus of the Christians.” She also claimed that Shankaracharya, the early ninth-century founder of Advaitya Vedanta, “still lives among the Brotherhood of Shamballa, beyond the Himalayas.”
Elsewhere, she wrote that when Lemuria sank, part of its people survived in Atlantis, while part of its elect migrated to the sacred island of “Shamballah” in the Gobi Desert. Neither the Kalachakra literature nor The Vishnu Purana, however, has any mention of Atlantis, Lemuria, Maitreya, or Sosiosh. The association of Shambhala with them, however, continued among Blavatsky’s followers.
Blavatsky’s placement of Shambhala in the Gobi Desert is not surprising since the Mongols, including the Buryat population of Siberia and the Kalmyks of the lower Volga region, were strong followers of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly its Kalachakra teachings. For centuries, Mongols everywhere have believed that Mongolia is the Northern Land of Shambhala and Blavatsky was undoubtedly acquainted with the Buryat and Kalmyk beliefs in Russia.
Blavatsky might also have received confirmation of her placement of Shambhala in the Gobi Desert from the writings of Csoma de Körös. In an 1825 letter, he wrote that Shambhala is like a Buddhist Jerusalem and lay between 45 and 50 degrees longitude. Although he felt that Shambhala would probably be found in the Kizilkum Desert in Kazakhstan, the Gobi also fell within the two longitudes. Others later would also locate it within these parameters, but either in East Turkistan (Xinjiang, Sinkiang) or the Altai Mountains.
Although Blavatsky herself never asserted that Shambhala was the source of The Secret Doctrine, several later Theosophists made this connection. Foremost among them was Alice Bailey in Letters on Occult Meditation (1922). Helena Roerich, in her Collected Letters (1935-1936), also wrote that Blavatsky was a messenger of the White Brotherhood from Shambhala. Moreover, she reported that in 1934 the Ruler of Shambhala had recalled to Tibet the mahatmas who had transmitted to Blavatsky the secret teachings.
The first major exploitation of the Shambhala legend for political purposes also involved Russia. Agvan Dorjiev (1854-1938) was a Buryat Mongol monk who studied in Lhasa and became the Master Debate Partner (Assistant Tutor) of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. In the face of British and Chinese machinations for control of Tibet, he convinced the Dalai Lama to turn to Russia for military support. According to Ekai Kawaguchi, Three Years in Tibet, he did this by telling him that Russia was Shambhala and Czar Nicholas II was the reincarnation of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug tradition. Dorjiev went on several missions to the Russian Imperial Court, but was never able to secure any help. He was able, however, to convince the Czar to build a Buddhist Temple in St. Petersburg.
The first public ceremony in the temple took place in 1913. It was a ritual for the long-life of the Romanov Dynasty on its 300th anniversary. According to Albert Grünwedel, the German explorer of Central Asia, in Der Weg nach Shambhala (The Way to Shambhala) (1915), Dorjiev spoke of the Romanov Dynasty as the descendants of the rulers of Shambhala.
[For more detail, see: Russian and Japanese Involvement with Pre-Communist Tibet: The Role of the Shambhala Legend.]
The next political exploitation of the Shambhala legend occurred in Mongolia. Baron von Ungern-Sternberg, a German who lived in Russia, was an avid anti-Bolshevik. During the Civil War that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917, he fought in Siberia with the White Russian (Czarist) forces. He successfully invaded Outer Mongolia in 1920 to free it from the Chinese. Notorious for his cruelty, Ungern slaughtered thousands of Chinese, collaborator Mongols, Russian Bolsheviks, and Jews, earning himself the nickname “Mad Baron.” Ungern believed that all Jews were Bolsheviks.
Sukhe Batur established the Mongolian Communist Provisional Government in Buryatia and led a Mongol army against Ungern. He rallied his troops by telling them that by fighting to free Mongolia from oppression, they would be reborn in the army of Shambhala. With the help of the Soviet Red Army, Sukhe Batur took Urga (Ulaan Baatar), the Mongolian capital, in late 1921. The People’s Republic of Mongolia was founded in 1924.
After the Japanese takeover of Inner Mongolia in 1937, Japan too exploited the Shambhala legend for political gain. To try to win the allegiance of the Mongols, it spread the propaganda that Japan was Shambhala.
[For more detail, see: Exploitation of the Shambhala Legend for Control of Mongolia.]
In the 1922 book Beasts, Men and Gods, Ferdinand Ossendowski (1876 – 1945), a Polish scientist who spent most of his life in Russia, wrote of his recent travels in Outer Mongolia during the campaigns of Baron von Ungern-Sternberg. Ossendowski related that several Mongol lamas had told him of Agharti, an underground kingdom beneath Mongolia, ruled by the King of the World. In the future, when materialism will ruin the world, a terrible war will break out. At that time, the people of Agharti will come to the surface and help end the violence. Ossendowski reported that he convinced Ungern of his story and that, subsequently, Ungern twice sent missions to seek Agharti, led by Prince Poulzig. The missions were unsuccessful and the Prince never returned from the second expedition.
Kamil Gizycky was a Polish army engineer who also fought against the Bolsheviks in Siberia and then joined Ungern’s forces in Mongolia. He made no mention of Agharti in his account of the events of the time, Poprzez Urjanchej i Mongolie (Across Urankhai and Mongolia) (1929). Interestingly, he did relate that Ossendowski helped the Mad Baron by offering him the formula for making poison gas.
Although the Kalachakra texts never described Shambhala as an underground kingdom, Ossendowski’s report clearly parallels the Kalachakra account of the Kalki ruler of Shambhala coming to the aid of the world to end an apocalyptic war. The appearance here of Agharti, however, is noteworthy. The name does not appear in either the Kalachakra literature or the works of Madame Blavatsky.
The first appearance of Agarthi (Agharta, Asgartha, Agarthi, Agardhi) was in the French novel Les Fils de Dieu (The Sons of God), written in 1873 by Louis Jacolliot. Another French author, Joseph-Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveidre, popularized the Agharti legend in his 1886 novel Mission de l’Inde en Europe (Mission of India in Europe). There, he described it as an underground kingdom with a university that is a repository of secret knowledge. Originally located at Ayodhya India, it was moved to a secret location beneath the Himalayas 1800 years before the Common Era. Its king, a “mahatma,” guards its secrets and has not revealed them, since they would enable Antichrist forces to build powerful weapons. Once the evil forces have been destroyed, the mahatmas will reveal their secrets for the benefit of mankind.
Saint-Yves d’Alveidre may have in fact borrowed several elements of his story from the Kalachakra discussion of Shambhala. The number 1800 appears repeatedly as a motif in the Kalachakra literature and the classical texts do report that the leaders of Shambhala did possess the knowledge for building weapons to defeat the invader forces. Nevertheless, the two Frenchmen clearly wrote works of fiction.
In Ossendowski und die Wahrheit (Ossendowski and the Truth) (1925), the Swedish explorer of Tibet, Sven Hedin, dismissed Ossendowski’s claims of hearing of Agharti from Mongolian lamas. He wrote that the Polish scientist had taken the myth of Agharti from Saint-Yves d’Alveidre and molded it to his story in order to appeal to a German reading public familiar to a certain degree with the Occult. Hedin acknowledged, however, that Tibet and the Dalai Lama were the protectors of secret knowledge.
An additional explanation, however, could be that Ossendowski used the Agharti myth to gain Ungern’s favor. Ungern would undoubtedly have identified the materialistic Antichrist forces, which Agharti would help to defeat, as the Bolsheviks, against whom he was fighting. Since Sukhe Batur was rallying his troops with the promise of Shambhala, Ungern could similarly use the Agharti story for his own gain. If this were the case, we could trace from here the version of the Shambhala legend that described Shambhala in an unfavorable light.
Nikolai Roerich (1874 – 1947), a Russian painter and ardent student of Theosophy, had been on the building committee for the St. Petersburg Buddhist Temple and had designed its stained glass windows. His wife, Helena, was the translator of Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine into Russian. Between 1925 and 1928, he led an expedition from India, through Tibet, to Outer Mongolia and the Altai Mountain region in Siberia, north of East Turkistan. The purported aim was to study plants, ethnology, and languages, and to paint. His primary purpose, however, was to find Shambhala.
According to several Theosophical accounts, Roerich’s mission was to return to Shambhala a chintamani (wish-granting gem) entrusted to him by the League of Nations. His group claimed to have located Shambhala in the Altai region. Even nowadays, Roerich’s followers continue his conviction that the Altai Mountains are a great spiritual center, connected in some way with Shambhala.
Roerich’s search for Shambhala was perhaps partly inspired by Grünwedel’s Der Weg nach Shambhala, which contained a translation of The Guidebook to Shambhala (Tib. Sham-bha-la’i lam-yig), written in the mid-eighteenth century by the Third Panchen Lama (1738-1780). The Panchen Lama, however, explained that the physical journey to Shambhala could only take one so far. To reach the fabled land, one needed to perform an enormous amount of spiritual practices. In other words, the journey to Shambhala was actually an inner quest. This explanation, however, did not seem to deter intrepid adventurers such as the Roerichs from trying to reach Shambhala by merely trekking there.
In 1929, the Roerichs created Agni Yoga, incorporating the Theosophical teachings as its basis. Perhaps they also followed Blavatsky’s model of translating Buddhist terminology with images and terms that were more familiar from Hinduism and the Occult. The Roerichs, after all, asserted that Shambhala was the source of all Indian teachings. They also called its rulers “the Lords of Fire who will fight the Lords of Darkness.”
Agni is the Sanskrit word for fire – specifically, the sacred purificatory fire of the Vedas. Accordingly, Roerich explained that the masters of Shambhala harness its powers for purification. Practitioners of Agni Yoga choose Buddha, Jesus, or Muhammad as a guide for spiritual practice. Concentrating on their chosen guides, they pray for peace while performing simple visualizations of the purification of obstacles.
In Buddhist tantra practice, meditators conclude intensive retreats with so-called “fire pujas.” In these rituals, they offer several grains and butter into a fire to purge and pacify any obstacles that might arise from mistakes made during their meditation. In the flames, they visualize the fire-deity Agni, a figure clearly borrowed from Hinduism. Roerich may have witnessed such pujas either at the Buddhist Temple in St. Petersburg or during his travels in the Mongol regions and derived his idea of Agni Yoga from it.
Thus, the primary association that Roerich made for Shambhala was as a place of peace. In Shambhala: In Search of a New Era (1930), Roerich described Shambhala as a holy city north of India. Its ruler reveals the teachings of Maitreya Buddha for universal peace. Each tradition describes Shambhala according to its own understanding and thus the legend of the Holy Grail, for example, is a version of the Shambhala story. Constantine the Great, Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan), and Prester John are among those who have received messages of teachings from “the Mysterious Spiritual Abode and Brotherhood in the heart of Asia.”
Roerich even coined the term “Shambhala Warriors,” later adopted in the 1980s by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Incarnate Lama of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages who adapted and expressed Buddhist ideas in a modern American vernacular. Trungpa wrote, however, that his idea of the Shambhala warrior had nothing to do with the Kalachakra teachings or with Shambhala itself. It was a metaphor for someone striving for self-improvement for the benefit of others. Roerich, on the other hand, used the term for “the Brothers of Humanity,” who will bring world peace from Shambhala.
After returning from Asia, Roerich traveled to New York where, in 1929, he was instrumental in promulgating the Roerich Pact, an international treaty for the protection of world cultural monuments. The banner of peace Roerich proposed had three circles, which, he explained, are found in all spiritual traditions, including that of the “Rigden Jyelpos,” the Kings of Shambhala. Nothing like this, however, is found in the Kalachakra texts. Numerous countries around the world signed the pact, including the United Sates in 1935. The symbol of three circles was later adopted as an insignia worn on armbands by physically disabled persons indicating their need for gentle treatment.
In Shambhala: In Search of a New Era, Roerich also hinted at a similarity between Shambhala and Thule, the hidden land at the North Pole, which, as we shall see below, inspired the Germans in their quest for a secret land. He also mentioned the association of Shambhala with the underground city of Agharti (Agarthi), reached through tunnels under the Himalayas. Its inhabitants will emerge at the “time of purification.” In her Collected Letters (1935 – 1936), Helena Roerich pointed out that Saint-Yves d’Alveidre had mistakenly identified Shambhala with Agharti, but they are not the same place.
Jocelyn Godwin, in Arktos, The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism and Nazi Survival (1993), identified agni power with vril. Vril is the psychokinetic power protected by the inhabitants of Thule, which the Nazis tried to obtain for helping to strengthen their Aryan superrace. Roerich, however, never made this association.
As a counterpoint to Blavatsky and Roerich’s presentations of Shambhala as a benevolent land that will help establish world peace, alternative versions emphasized the apocalyptic aspect of the legend. They associated Shambhala primarily with the destructive forces of regeneration that will do away with old outmoded ways of thinking and will establish a new world order of peace. Thus, the destructive force of Shambhala is ultimately benevolent. These versions also had their roots in Theosophy.
In 1884, Dr. Wilhelm Hübbe-Schleiden founded the German Theosophical Society. After an initial failure, Annie Besant invited Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian spiritualist, to reestablish it in 1902. Steiner left the society in 1909 primarily because he could not agree with Besant and C. W. Leadbetter’s declaration of the sixteen-year-old Krishnamurti as the messiah. In a series of lectures given in Berlin and Munich in 1910 and 1911, Steiner taught what some have labeled “a Christianized version of Theosophy.” Steiner, however, claimed that his teachings derived from his clairvoyant reading of “the akashic records,” not from Theosophy.
Akasha is the Sanskrit word for space, and these occult records purportedly contain all the wisdom of mankind. The Kalachakra texts refer to the fully purified subtlest level of mental activity that is the basis for a Buddha’s omniscient awareness as “the space vajra pervasive with space.” They do not present it, however, as a record of all knowledge that can be tapped by psychic means.
According to Steiner, Christ the true prophet will reveal the Land of Shamballa (Shambhala) with his Second Coming. Shambhala, which disappeared long ago, is the seat of Maitreya. In a lecture entitled “Maitreya – Christ oder Antichrist (Maitreya – Christ or Antichrist),” Steiner explained that “whatever will come from the lips of Maitreya will come through the power of Christ.”
Steiner emphasized the conflict between good and evil, as personified by Lucifer and Ahriman. Blavatsky had already differentiated Lucifer from Satan. According to The Secret Doctrine, Lucifer is the “Light-Bearer,” the “Astral Light” within each of our minds that is both our tempter and liberator from pure animalism. It serves to both create and destroy, and manifests in sexual passion. Although Lucifer can uplift humanity to a higher plane, the Latin scholastics had transformed him into the purely evil Satan.
Blavatsky also wrote about the Zoroastrian dualism and struggle between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, as the forces of light and darkness. Steiner, however, went a step further than Blavatsky and transformed the dualism into an antagonism between Lucifer and Ahriman. In Occult Science, An Outline, Steiner characterized Lucifer as a being of light, the bridge between Man and God, bringing us closer to Christ. The “Children of Lucifer,” then, are all those who strive for knowledge and wisdom. Ahriman, in contrast, leads mankind downward to its lower, material, carnal, animalistic nature.
Steiner called himself a Luciferian and, by his logic, Maitreya is the Antichrist. Since people have perverted Christ’s actual teachings, Maitreya, as the Antichrist, will come from Shambhala and purge the world of their blemish and teach the true message of Christ. In 1913, Steiner’s followers founded the Anthroposophical Society, although Steiner himself did not join until he reestablished it in 1923.
According to The Kalachakra Tantra, Raudrachakrin, the twenty-fifth Kalki ruler of Shambhala, will defeat the non-Indic invaders who will try to conquer the world. These invaders will follow the teachings of a line of eight prophets: Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Mani, Muhammad, and Mahdi. Historical analysis suggests that the model for these invaders were the late tenth-century Ismaili Shiite forces of Multan (present-day Pakistan), an ally of the Egyptian Fatimid Empire. The Fatimids, with their Mahdi messiah, sought to conquer the Islamic world before the predicted apocalypse and the end of the world five hundred years after Muhammad. People throughout the region lived in great fear of an invasion, including the Buddhist-Hindu-Muslim region of Afghanistan where the Kalachakra historical teachings likely developed. The predicted conflict and defeat of the invaders, however, was a spiritual metaphor for the internal battle against fear and ignorance. It presented an effective method for the terrorized people at that time to overcome their strongly felt anxieties.
Steiner was probably unaware of the historical context and metaphoric meaning of the Shambhala legend. Thus, he and several others in the following decades took Shambhala as the seat of spiritual power from which the reform of Christianity will arise. Steiner’s emphasis on Maitreya and Shambhala as the real sources of Christian reform in the future probably also reflects his dismay at the Theosophist promotion of Krishnamurti as the new savior.
The Kalachakra texts do not even mention the teachings of Christianity. However, they do indicate methods for Hindus and Muslims to find alternative meanings of doctrines in their own religions that would allow them to form a united spiritual front with Buddhists to face the terrors of an invasion. They even point out teachings that Buddha gave which parallel some of the Hindu and Muslim assertions. If followers of those religions were interested, they could use their own beliefs as stepping-stones for reaching the Buddhist path. Nevertheless, the Kalachakra texts do not assert that the Buddhist teachings contain the true meanings of Hinduism or Islam. Nor do they in any way assert that Shambhala will be the source of reform that will bring people back to the true doctrines of the founders of those two religions, let alone back to the pure teachings of Christ.
The British Theosophist Alice Bailey (1880-1949) was a medium who claimed to channel and receive occult letters from a Tibetan master. After losing her battle with Annie Besant for leadership of the Theosophical movement, she founded the Lucifer Trust in 1920 in the United States. Originally calling her trust the Tibetan Lodge, she changed its name once more in 1922 to the Lucis Trust. Her lectures and writings spawned the New Age movement. She called the New Age both the Aquarian Age and the Age of Maitreya.
In Initiations, Human and Solar (1922), Letters on Occult Meditation (1922), A Treatise on Cosmic Fire (1925), and A Treatise on White Magic (1934), Bailey wrote extensively about “the Shambhalla Force.” Reminiscent of Roerich, she took Shambhala to be “the seat of Cosmic Fire,” which is a force for purification. Rather than conceiving of this force as benevolent agni, however, she followed Steiner’s lead and associated it with Lucifer. Thus, she spoke of it as a source of destructive power to eject degenerate forms of teachings and to establish a pure New Age.
The Shambhala Force, Bailey explained, is the highly volatile energy of self-will. In itself, it is extremely destructive and can be the source of “Evil.” When seen as the Divine Will, however, initiates can harness it for the ultimate “Good.” A “Hierarchy” in Shambhala, headed by Maitreya, protects the Force and, at the proper time, will initiate the ripe into “the Mysteries of the Ages,” “the Plan.” One wonders if her ideas inspired the Star Wars vision of “the Force,” as a power that can be harnessed for good or evil, and which is guarded by a brotherhood of Jedi Warriors.
Like Steiner, Bailey adapted the concept not only of Lucifer, but also of the Antichrist, and this time associated it with the Shambhala Force. Borrowing Theosophical concepts, she said that the Shambhala Force had made its presence known twice before in history. The first time was during the Lemurian Age, heralding the individualization of mankind. The second was “during the Atlantean days of struggle between the Lords of Light and the Lords of Material Form, the Dark Forces.” Nowadays, she continued – referring to the period between the two World Wars – it is manifesting as the force to destroy what is undesirable and obstructive in present world forms of government, religion, and society.
Bailey’s teachings spawned several further occult movements that associated Shambhala with even more esoteric ideas. One example is the Brotherhood of the White Temple, founded in 1930 by the American spiritualist Morris Doreal (1902-1963). In Maitreya, Lord of the World, Doreal wrote that Shamballa (Shambhala) is the Great White Temple of Tibet, located 75 miles beneath the Himalayas. Its entrance is underground, with space around it bent into a warp that leads into another universe. He described Shambhala as having two halves. The southern half is the section where adepts and great gurus live. The northern half is the land where the avatar or world teacher Maitreya lives. In the future, Maitreya will come with the warriors of Shambhala, who are the “light bearers of the Aquarian Age,” to conquer the dark forces of evil in the world.
Doreal’s main work was The Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean, which he claimed to have recovered from beneath the Great Pyramid in Egypt and to have translated from the Atlantean language. He also claimed to have received secret initiations from Tibetan monks.
After the Second World War, Bailey accounted for the Nazi policies by asserting that Hitler had appropriated the Shambhala Force and as a “tool of the Dark Forces,” had misused it to fight the "Energy of Light."
Similar to Bailey’s claims of the connection between Hitler and the Shambhala Force, several postwar studies on Nazism and the Occult have asserted that the Nazis sent expeditions to Tibet to seek the help of the forces of Shambhala and Agharti to carry out their Master Plan. Bailey, however, only mentioned Shambhala in this connection and said nothing about Agharti. These accounts, on the other hand, purport that the masters of Shambhala refused to assist the Nazi expeditions, but the adepts of Agharti agreed and returned with them to Germany. Moreover, they attribute the Nazi search for occult support in Tibet to the beliefs of Karl Haushofer and the Thule Society. Haushofer was the founder of the Vril Society in association with the Thule Society and was a major influence on Hitler’s occult thinking. The Thule and Vril Societies combined beliefs from various sources. Let us trace some of these beliefs briefly, in chronological order, before we examine these postwar studies.
The Ancient Greeks wrote not only of the sunken island of Atlantis, but also of Hyperborea, a northern land whose people migrated south before ice destroyed it. The late seventeenth-century Swedish author Olaf Rudbeck located it at the North Pole and several other accounts related that before its destruction, it broke into the islands of Thule and Ultima Thule.
The British astronomer Sir Edmund Halley, also in the late seventeenth century, forwarded the theory that the earth is hollow. The French novelist Jules Verne popularized the idea in Voyage to the Center of the Earth (1864). In 1871, the British novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in The Coming Race, described a superior race, the Vril-ya, who lived beneath the earth and planned to conquer the world with vril, a psychokinetic energy. In Les Fils de Dieu (The Sons of God) (1873), the French author Louis Jacolliot linked vril with the subterranean people of Thule. The Indian freedom advocate, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, in The Arctic Home of the Vedas (1903), identified the southern migration of the Thuleans with the origin of the Aryan race. In 1908, the American author Willis George Emerson published the novel The Smokey God, or A Voyage to the Inner World, which described the journey of a Norwegian sailor through an opening at the North Pole to a hidden world inside the Earth.
The Thule Society was founded in 1910 by Felix Niedner, the German translator of the Old Norse Eddas. It identified the Germanic people as the Aryan race, the descendants from Thule, and sought its transformation into a superrace through harnessing the power of vril. As part of its emblem, it took the swastika, a traditional symbol for Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. In doing so, the Thule Society followed the precedent of Guido von List who, in the late nineteenth century, had made the swastika an emblem for the neo-Pagan movement in Germany.
Together with Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels and Phillip Stauff, von List had been prominent in founding the Ariosophy movement, popular before and during the First World War. Ariosophy blended the concept of races from Theosophy with German nationalism to assert the superiority of the Aryan race as a rationale for Germany to conquer the global colonial empires of the British and the French as the rightful ruler of the inferior races. The Thule Society embraced the Ariosophy beliefs. It must be pointed out, however, that the Theosophical movement never intended its teachings on races as a justification for asserting the superiority of one race over another, or the destined right of one race to rule the others.
When Rudolf Freiherr von Sebottendorf established a Munich branch of the Thule Society in 1918, he added anti-Semitism and the sanctioned use of assassination to the Society’s creeds. He had picked up these elements during his years in Turkey and his acquaintance there with the Order of Assassins. This secret order traced back to the Nazari sect of Ismaili Islam, against whom the Crusaders had fought.
Later in 1918, after the Bavarian Communist Revolution, anti-Communism also joined the Thule Society’s set of aims. In 1919, the Munich Thule Society gave rise to the German Workers Party. Hitler joined it that same year and, becoming its head in 1920, renamed it the Nazi Party and adopted the swastika for its flag.
Karl Haushofer was a German military advisor to Japan after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. He was extremely impressed by Japanese culture, studied the language, and later became instrumental in forging the alliance between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. He also learned Sanskrit and purportedly studied for a year in Tibet. He founded the Vril Society in Berlin in 1918, which in addition to the Thule Society creeds, also advocated searching for vril among supernatural beings beneath the earth. The most likely location would be in Tibet, which he saw as the homeland of the Aryan migrants from Thule.
Haushofer also developed Geopolitics, according to which a race gains power by expanding its living space (Germ. Lebensraum) through the conquest of its neighboring lands. In the early 1920s, Haushofer headed the Institute for Geopolitics in Munich and, starting in 1923, began to teach Hitler his views. Haushofer was instrumental in convincing Hitler to establish the Ahnenerbe (Bureau for the Study of Ancestral Heritage) in 1935. Its main charge was to locate the origins of the Aryan race, especially in Central Asia. In 1937, Himmler incorporated this bureau into the SS (Germ. Schutzstaffel, Protection Squad).
In 1938-1939, the Ahnenerbe sponsored the Third Expedition of Ernst Schäffer to Tibet. During its brief stay, the anthropologist Bruno Beger measured the skulls of numerous Tibetans and concluded that they were an intermediary race between the Aryans and Mongolians and could serve as a link for the German-Japanese alliance.
[For more detail, see: The Nazi Connection with Shambhala and Tibet.]
A number of scholars have questioned the accuracy of the postwar studies on Nazism and the Occult. Whether or not they accurately represent Nazi thought during the Third Reich, still they represent a further popularized distortion of the Shambhala legend. Let us examine two slightly different versions from among them.
According to the version found in Le Matin des Magiciens (The Morning of the Magicians) (1962) by the French researchers Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier and in Nazisme et Sociétés Secrètes (Nazism and Secret Societies) (1974) by Jean-Claude Frére, Haushofer believed that two groups of Aryans migrated south from Hyperborea-Thule. One went to Atlantis, where they intermarried with the Lemurians who had also migrated there. Recall that Blavatsky had associated the Lemurians with Atlantis and Shambhala, and Bailey had associated both the Lemurians and Atlanteans with the Shambhala Force. The descendents of these impure Aryans turned to black magic and conquest. The other branch of Aryans migrated south, passing through North America and northern Eurasia, eventually reaching the Gobi Desert. There, they founded Agharti, the myth of which had become popular through the writings of Saint-Yves d’Alveidre.
According to Frére, the Thule Society equated Agharti with its cognate Asgaard, the home of the gods in Norse mythology. Others assert, less convincingly, that Agharti is cognate with Ariana, an Old Persian name known by the ancient Greeks for the region extending from Eastern Iran through Afghanistan to Uzbekistan – the homeland of the Aryans.
After a world cataclysm, Agharti sank beneath the earth. This accords with Ossendowski’s account. The Aryans then split into two groups. One went south and founded a secret center of learning beneath the Himalayas, also called Agharti. There, they preserved the teachings of virtue and of vril. The other Aryan group tried to return to Hyperborea-Thule, but founded instead Shambhala, a city of violence, evil, and materialism. Agharti was the holder of the right-hand path and positive vril, while Shambhala was the keeper of the degenerate left-hand path and negative energy.
The division of right-hand and left-hand paths had appeared already in Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine. There, she wrote that at the time of the Atlanteans, humanity branched into right- and left-hand paths of knowledge, which became the germs of white and black magic. She did not associate the two paths, however, with Agharti and Shambhala. In fact, she did not mention Agharti at all in her writings. The terms right- and left-hand paths derive from a division within Hindu tantra. Early Western writers often characterized left-hand tantra as a degenerate form and misidentified it with Tibetan Buddhism and its teachings of anuttarayoga tantra.
According to Pauwels and Bergier, the Thule Society sought to contact and make a pact with Shambhala, but only Agharti agreed to offer help. By 1926, the French authors explained, there were already colonies of Hindus and Tibetans in Munich and Berlin, called the Society of Green Men, in astral connection with the Green Dragon Society in Japan. Membership in the latter society required ritual Japanese suicide (Jap. hara-kiri, seppuku) if one lost one’s honor. Haushofer had purportedly joined the society during his early years in Japan. The leader of the Society of Green Men was a Tibetan monk, known as “the man with green gloves,” who supposedly visited Hitler frequently and held the keys of Agharti. Expeditions to Tibet followed annually, from 1926 to 1943. When the Russians entered Berlin at the end of the war, they found nearly a thousand corpses of soldiers of the Himalayan race, dressed in Nazi uniforms but without identification papers, who had committed suicide. Haushofer himself committed hara-kiri before he could be tried at Nürenberg in 1946.
A slightly different account of the Nazi search for Shambhala and Agharti appeared in The Spear of Destiny (1973) by the British researcher Trevor Ravenscroft. According to this version, the Thule Society believed that two sections of Aryans turned to worship of two evil forces. Their turning to evil brought about the decline of Atlantis and, subsequently, the two groups established cave communities in mountains submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean near Iceland. The legend of Thule arose from them. One group of Aryans followed the Luciferic Oracle, called Agarthi (Agharti), and practiced the left-hand path. The other group followed the Ahrimanic Oracle, called Schamballah (Shambhala), and practiced the right-hand path. Note that Ravenscroft reported the reverse of Pauwels, Bergier, and Frére’s assertions that Agharti followed the right-hand path and Shambhala the left.
Ravenscroft went on to explain that according to the “Secret Doctrine” – alluding to Blavatsky’s book by the same name – which appeared in Tibet ten thousand years ago, Lucifer and Ahriman are the two forces of Evil, the two great adversaries of human evolution. Lucifer leads people to set themselves up as gods and is associated with the lust for power. Following Lucifer can lead to egotism, false pride, and the misuse of magic powers. Ahriman strives to establish a purely material realm on the earth and uses the perverse sexual craving of people in black magic rites.
Recall that although Blavatsky had written about Lucifer and Ahriman, she did not make the two a pair and did not associate either of the two with Shambhala or Agharti. Moreover, Blavatsky explained that although Latin scholastics had transformed Lucifer into a purely evil Satan, Lucifer had the power both to destroy and to create. He represented the light-bearing presence in everyone’s minds that could uplift people from animalism and bring about a positive transformation to a higher plane of existence.
It was Steiner who had emphasized Lucifer and Ahriman as representing the two poles of destructive power. However, Steiner described Lucifer as the ultimately benevolent destructive force for regeneration and Ahriman as purely malevolent. Moreover, Steiner associated Lucifer with Shambhala, not Agharti and, in fact, like Blavatsky and Bailey, did not mention Agharti at all. In addition, none of the three occult authors described Shambhala as located underground. Only the Roerichs had associated Shambhala with the underground city of Agharti, but had clarified that the two were different and never asserted that Shambhala was underground.
Ravenscroft, like Pauwels, Bergier, and Frére, also asserted that through the initiative of Haushofer and other Thule Society members, exploratory teams were sent to Tibet annually from 1926 to 1942 to establish contact with underground cave communities. They were supposed to convince the masters there to enlist the aid of Luciferic and Ahrimanic powers to further the Nazi cause, especially for creating an Aryan superrace. The adepts of Shambhala refused to help. As followers of the Ahrimanic Oracle, they were concerned only with furthering materialism. Moreover, Shambhala had already affiliated itself with certain lodges in Britain and the United States. This was perhaps a reference to Doreal, whose Brotherhood of the White Temple in America was the first major occult movement to assert Shambhala as an underground city. Moreover, this account also fits well with Haushofer’s disdain for Western materialistic science, which he called “Jewish-Marxist-Liberal Science,” in favor of “Nordic-Nationalistic Science.”
Ravenscroft continued that the masters of Agharti agreed to help the Nazi cause and, from 1929, groups of Tibetans came to Germany, where they became known as the Society of Green Men. Joined by members of the Green Dragon Society of Japan, they set up occult schools in Berlin and elsewhere. Note that Pauwels and Bergier asserted that colonies of not only Tibetans, but also Hindus were present in Berlin and Munich from 1926, not 1929.
Himmler was attracted to these groups of Tibetan-Agharti adepts and, from their influence, established the Ahnenerbe in 1935. Recall that Himmler did not establish the Ahnenerbe, but rather incorporated it into the SS in 1937.
A Theory to Explain the Anti-Shambhala Sentiment and Pro-Agharti Bias of the German Occult Movements
It is difficult to ascertain whether Haushofer and the Thule Society actually asserted any of the above points, which mix occult descriptions of Shambhala with both Ossendowski’s depiction of Agharti and the legends of Thule and vril. It is also difficult to ascertain whether Haushofer tried and succeeded in influencing Hitler and official Nazi institutions, such as the Ahnenerbe, to send expeditions to Tibet to secure aid from the two supposedly subterranean lands – or even if the Thule Society itself sent such expeditions. The only mission to Tibet officially sanctioned by the Ahnenerbe – the Third Tibetan Expedition (1938-1939) of Ernst Schäffer – clearly had a different, though equally occult agenda. Its primary purpose was to measure the skulls of Tibetans to determine if they were the source of the Aryans and an intermediary race between the Aryans and the Japanese.
Aside from certain factual inaccuracies and contradictions between the above two accounts of Haushofer and the Thule Society’s beliefs, two points of agreement seem significant. Firstly, Steiner and Bailey associated with Shambhala the regenerative power to destroy outmoded orders and to establish new reformed ones. They represented this ultimately benevolent power with Lucifer. Haushofer and the Thule Society, on the other hand, purportedly associated Lucifer and this benevolent power with Agharti. For them, Shambhala became a land of purely malevolent destructive power, represented by Ahriman and unbridled materialism. Secondly, although the Thule Society and the Nazis first sought the help of Shambhala, representing the evil path of materialism, they were refused. Instead, they received the support of Agharti, representing the ultimately positive path of destruction of the weak and creation of the Master Race as the next step forward in human evolution.
Let us leave aside, for the moment, the question of whether the Thule Society and the Ahnenerbe actually sent missions to Tibet seeking aid from Shambhala and Agharti. However, let us assume, also for the moment, that Haushofer actually did combine the legends of Shambhala and Agharti with the Thule Society’s beliefs and that the resulting melange did represent the Nazi occult position. If this were the case, then a possible theory to explain the claim that Shambhala rejected the Nazi’s approach, while Agharti accepted it would be as follows.
Through Dorjiev, Shambhala was associated with Russia and later also with Communism, while through Ossendowski, Agharti was associated with the anti-Communist anti-Semitic forces of the German Baron von Ungern-Sternberg. Since the Bavarian Communist Revolution of 1918, the Thule Society and Hitler were avidly anti-Communist. Before this, they were both already anti-Semitic. Thus, in their eyes, Shambhala was a dark, negative force that supported purely materialistic “Jewish-Marxist-Liberal Science.” With his anti-Communist bias, Hitler signed the Anti-Commintern Pact with Japan in November 1936, in which both countries declared their mutual hostility toward the spread of international Communism. Both agreed that they would not sign any political treaties with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, to avoid a European war on two fronts, Hitler signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Stalin in August 1939. He broke this pact, however, in June 1941, when the Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union.
An occult explanation and justification of Hitler’s about-face might have been through an allegory. Shambhala (the Soviet Union, Communism, and the Jews) was basically evil (acknowledged by the Anti-Commintern Pact). Nevertheless, Hitler first sought an alliance with it (the Soviet-Nazi Pact). Shambhala refused (Hitler placed the blame on the Soviet Union for why he broke the pact). Hitler then turned to and received support from Agharti. (Ungern, an earlier anti-Semitic anti-Bolshevik German, had also sought help from Agharti, but had failed to locate the fabled land. Thus, Ungern had failed in his mission. Since Hitler’s expeditions had found Agharti-Asgaard and received its help, the Nazis would surely succeed.)
The following facts would support the above theory explaining the German Occult depiction of Shambhala as a land of malevolent forces. In Der Weg nach Shambhala (The Way to Shambhala) (1915), the German explorer of Central Asia, Albert Grünwedel, reported that Dorjiev had identified the Romanov Dynasty as the descendants of the rulers of Shambhala.
In Sturm über Asien (Storm over Asia) (1924), the German spy Wilhelm Filchner connected the Soviet drive to take over Central Asia with the Romanov interest in Tibet from the beginning of the century. In 1926, the Roerichs delivered soil purportedly from the mahatmas of Tibet to Soviet Foreign Minister Chicherin to place on Lenin’s grave. Helena Roerich referred to both Marx and Lenin as mahatmas and claimed that emissaries of the Himalayan mahatmas had even met with Marx in England and Lenin in Switzerland. The mahatmas supported the Communist ideals of universal brotherhood.
In “Aus den letzten Jahrzehnten des Lamaismus in Russland (Concerning the Last Decades of Lamaism in Russia)” (1926), the German scholar W. A. Unkrig cited Filchner’s book and repeated Grünwedel’s report concerning Dorjiev, the Romanovs, and Shambhala. He also reported the ceremony at the Buddhist temple in Saint Petersburg to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Empire. Warning against the influence of this temple and an alliance of the Soviet Union, Mongolia, and Tibet, Unkrig ended his article with the Latin quote, “Domine, libera nos a Tartaris (God save us from the Tartars).” This fit in well with Haushofer’s Geopolitics and his recommendation for Germany to conquer living space in Central Asia, the homeland of the Aryan race.
Already in 1910, Steiner was lecturing in Berlin and Munich about Shambhala as the seat of Maitreya, the Antichrist who will rid the world of perverted spiritual teachings. Tiere, Menschen und Götter (Beasts, Men, and Gods), the popular German translation of Ossendowski’s book, appeared in 1923. It introduced Agharti as a source of power that Baron von Ungern-Sternberg sought for support in his battle against the Mongolian Communist leader Sukhe Batur, who was rallying his troops with stories of Shambhala. Recall that the Thule Society identified Agharti with Asgaard, the home of the Aryan Norse gods.
During the first half of the 1920s, a so-called “occult war” took place among the Occult Societies and Secret Lodges in Germany. For example, in an article in the newspaper Völkischer Beobachter (Nationalist Observer), Hitler accused Steiner of being a Jew; and other right-wing extremists called for a “war against Steiner.” Many suspected that the Thule Society was responsible for these attacks. In later years, Hitler continued the persecution of Anthroposophists, Theosophists, Freemasons, and Rosicrucians. Various scholars ascribe this policy to Hitler’s wish to eliminate any occult rivals to his rule. Steiner, for example, had commissioned the German translation of Bulwer-Lytton’s novel on vril, The Coming Race, under the more explicit German title Vril, oder eine Menschheit der Zukunft (Vril, or the Race of the Future). Moreover, since Steiner and Anthroposophy spoke of Shambhala as the land of the future messiah and benevolence, it makes sense that the Thule Society and Hitler would describe it in the opposite manner, as a land of malevolence.
Between 1929 and 1935, five books by the French adventurer Alexandra David-Neel appeared in German translation, such as Heilige und Hexen (Mystiques et Magiciens du Thibet, With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet). David-Neel had spent many years studying and traveling in Tibet and she reported that adepts there had extraphysical powers that allowed them to defy gravity and run at superhuman speed. Consequently, fantasy about Tibet as the land of mysterious magical powers grew wildly.
In 1936, Theodor Illion, a German explorer who traveled in Tibet in the early 1930s, published Rätselhaftes Tibet (In Secret Tibet) under the pseudonym Theodor Burang. In it, he too described supernatural powers that Tibetan adepts possessed. In his second book, Finsternis über Tibet (Darkness over Tibet) (1937), he described his being led to an underground city in the “Valley of Mystery,” where an “Occult Fraternity” channeled spiritual energy to gain power. Its ruler was the sorcerer Prince Mani Rimpotsche. Although this “Prince of Light” pretended to be a benevolent ruler, he actually was the head of a malevolent cult, a “Prince of Darkness.” Illion never mentioned Shambhala, but his popular works would also have added weight to the Nazi occult assertion of Shambhala as a land of malevolent magic.
Evidence Countering the Assertion of Official Nazi Support of the German Occult Beliefs about Shambhala
Let us suppose that the Nazi occult movement, as represented by the Thule Society, used the Shambhala-Agharti allegory to justify Hitler’s changing policy toward the Soviet Union. Still, it seems highly unlikely that official Nazi institutions, such as the Ahnenerbe, had Shambhala and Agharti on their agendas, even on their hidden agendas. Let us examine the evidence that would support that conclusion.
Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. In the same year, Sebottendorf, the founder of the Munich branch of the Thule Society, published Bevor Hitler kam (Before Hitler Came), in which he outlined Hitler’s debt to “Thulism.” Hitler quickly banned the book and forced Sebottendorf to retire. Although Hitler clearly advocated the Thule Society’s beliefs, he disavowed any connection with established occult movements. He did not want to leave open the possibility for rivalry to come from any quarter.
Haushofer and the Thule Society, however, were not the only behind-the-scenes influences on the Ahnenerbe. Sven Hedin, the Swedish explorer of Tibet and favorite of the Nazis, also played a significant role. Between 1922 and 1944, he wrote several popular books in German on his travels in Tibet, such as Tsangpo Lamas Wallfahrt (The Pilgrimage of the Tsangpo Lamas) (1922). Several others were translated into German from English, such as My Life as an Explorer (1926) (Germ. Mein Leben als Entdecker, 1928) and A Conquest of Tibet (1934) (Germ. Eroberungszüge in Tibet, 1941). Moreover, in Ossendowski und die Wahrheit (Ossendowski and the Truth) (1925), Hedin debunked Ossendowski’s claim that Mongolian lamas had told him about Agharti. In it, he exposed Agharti as a fantasy appropriated from Saint-Yves d’Alveidre’s 1886 novel.
Frederick Hielscher, whom Hitler authorized to establish the Ahnenerbe in 1935, was a friend of Sven Hedin. Moreover, Hitler invited Hedin to give the opening address at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and in 1937, Hedin published Germany and World Peace. From 1939 to 1943, Hedin made several diplomatic missions to Germany and continued his pro-Nazi publishing activities. The clearest evidence of his influence on the Ahnenerbe is the fact that, in 1943, its Tibet Institut (Tibet Institute) was renamed the Sven Hedin Institut für Innerasien und Expeditionen (Sven Hedin Institute for Inner Asia and Expeditions).
Haushofer was indeed instrumental in starting the Ahnenerbe and in its agenda being based on many of the Thule Society’s beliefs. Nevertheless, because of Hedin, it is unlikely that the Ahnenerbe sought and received support from Agharti in Tibet. Hedin acknowledged that Tibet was a repository of ancient hidden knowledge, but did not attribute occult significance to it. Nor did he associate this knowledge with Shambhala or Agharti.
Moreover, it seems highly improbable that groups of Tibetans were present in Berlin and Munich from 1926 or 1929, under the auspices of the Thule Society. If that were the case, then since the Ahnenerbe unofficially was associated with the Thule Society, there would have been no need for it to send an expedition to Tibet to measure the skulls of Tibetans. They could have made these measurements in Germany. Thus, the assertion that the Thule Society sponsored annual journeys to Tibet from 1926 to 1942 also seems highly questionable.
The report by Pauwels and Berger that at the end of the war, the Russians found in Berlin a large number of corpses of soldiers of the Himalayan race, dressed in Nazi uniforms, who had committed suicide, also needs scrutiny. The unspoken implication is that the Russians found the corpses of the Tibetan-Agharti adepts who were assisting the Nazi cause and that, like Haushofer, they committed ritual suicide.
Firstly, hara-kiri was a Japanese samurai custom, which many Japanese soldiers in the Second World War enacted to avoid capture. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism, however, consider suicide an extremely negative act with dire consequences in future lives. It is never justifiable. The report inappropriately attributes Japanese customs to Tibetans. Secondly, any soldiers of Himalayan origin found in Nazi uniform would most likely have been Kalmyk Mongols, not Tibetans. Further, the Kalmyks’ fighting in the German army does not prove their support of Nazi ideology or the support of it by their Tibetan Buddhist beliefs. Let us examine the historical facts, supplementing them with information gained from interviews with Kalmyks living in Munich Germany who had participated in many of the events described below.
The Kalmyk Mongols are practitioners of the Tibetan form of Buddhism and have a long history of association with Germans. A large group of them migrated west from the Dzungaria region of East Turkistan between 1609 and 1632. They settled in Russia along the lower Volga, where it empties into the Caspian Sea. There, they continued their nomadic herder way of life.
In 1763, Czarina Catherine II the Great invited almost thirty thousand Germans to settle in the Volga region to the north of the Kalmyks. She wanted them to farm the fertile land and secure it against the “Tartars.” She tried to force Christianity and agriculture on the Kalmyks, causing many to flee back to Dzungaria in 1771. Eventually, however, those who remained in Russia were accepted, especially since they were excellent soldiers. During the Napoleanic Wars (1812-1815), for example, the Russian Army had a Kalmyk regiment. Over the next century, Kalmyk soldiers were prominent in divisions throughout the Czarist Army.
Although the life styles and customs of the agrarian Volga Germans and nomadic Kalmyk herdsmen differed greatly, the neighbors gradually came to respect each other. The Germans, in fact, took interest in the Kalmyks. As early as 1804, Benjamin Bergmann published a four volume work on their language and religion, entitled Nomadische Streifereien unter der Kalmüken in den Jahren 1802 und 1804 (Nomadic Migrations among the Kalmyks in the Year 1802 and 1804). Sven Hedin passed through Kalmykia on one of his early expeditions to Dzungaria and expressed great admiration for its people.
After the Communist Revolution in 1917, many Kalmyks remained loyal to the Czarist forces and continued to fight on the White Russian side, especially under Generals Vrangel and Deniken. Before the Red Army broke through to the Crimean Peninsula at the end of 1920, about twenty Kalmyk families fled across the Black Sea with Vrangel and relocated in Warsaw Poland and Prague Czechoslovakia. A much larger number left with Deniken, with the majority settling in Belgrade Serbia and smaller numbers in Sofia Bulgaria and in Paris and Lyon France. The Kalmyk refugees in Belgrade built a Buddhist temple there in 1929. The Communists severely punished the Kalmyks who remained behind, beheading ten thousand.
In 1931, Stalin collectivized the Kalmyks, closed the Buddhist monasteries, and burned the religious texts. He deported to Siberia all herdsmen owning more than five hundred sheep and all monks. Partially due to Stalin’s collectivization policies, a great famine struck from 1932 to 1933. Approximately sixty thousand Kalmyks died.
After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in September 1941, Goebbels invited to Berlin several prominent Kalmyks from Belgrade, Paris, and Prague to help with a propaganda campaign. The Nazis wished to win the Kalmyks to the German side against the Russians and never sent any of those under their rule to concentration camps. Thus, Goebbels organized this nucleus into a committee to free the Kalmyks from the Communist regime. In this connection, he helped them print a Kalmyk language newspaper and used them to broadcast radio news in Kalmyk directed toward Kalmykia.
When the Nazi Sixteenth Panzer Division under Field Marshal Mannstein took Kalmykia early in 1942, three members of this committee accompanied them. A number of Belgrade Kalmyks also participated in the invasion, having joined the German army after the Nazi occupation of Serbia in April 1941. The people of Kalmykia greeted the German army with butter and milk, the traditional offering to welcome guests, as liberators from Stalin’s oppressive rule. The Germans said they would dismantle the collectives and would divide and privatize the land. They allowed the Kalmyks to practice Buddhism once more. In response, the Kalmyks exhumed the religious texts they had buried for safekeeping and built a makeshift temporary temple. In November and December 1942, however, the Red Army retook Kalmykia and destroyed everything the people had rebuilt.
The German troops invited the Kalmyks to retreat and continue the fight with them. About five thousand joined the Nazi military, forming the Kalmykian Voluntary Cavalry Corps. Only a few woman and children accompanied them. The Kalmyk troops fought with the Nazi army behind the lines, especially around the Azov Sea. The majority of the Kalmyk population, however, remained in Kalmykia. In December 1943, Stalin declared them all German collaborators and deported the lot to Siberia. They returned only during the Khruschev era, between 1957 and 1960.
In the early autumn of 1944, in the face of the imminent Russian invasion of Serbia, many Belgrade Kalmyks fled to Munich Germany to avoid Communist persecution. A learned Buddhist teacher and several monks accompanied them. At the end of 1944, the Kalmyk cavalry troops that survived in Russia, together with their families, retreated with the German army. About two thousand went to Selesia Poland and fifteen hundred to Zagreb Croatia, where they were reorganized to fight against the partisans.
Thus, although a number of Kalmyks were in Germany and Nazi-held territory in the final months of the war, only a few were in the Berlin area, still engaged in propaganda work. The Kalmyk soldiers in Nazi uniform were in Poland and Croatia, not in Germany. Although several Kalmyk monks performed Tibetan Buddhist rituals in the Kalmyk barracks and homes in Nazi-held territory, they prayed for peace and the welfare of all beings. No Tibetans were among them and they did not conduct “occult” ceremonies for a Nazi victory, as some postwar occult accounts report.
After the war, the Kalmyks left in Western European countries were intered in displaced persons camps in Austria and Germany, especially in the Munich area. Released in 1951, they settled first in Munich. Later that year, the Anna Tolstoy Foundation resettled the majority of them in New Jersey, USA. Tito handed those left in Serbia over to the Soviets, who promptly deported them to Siberia.
Occult interpretations of other Nazi activities, associating them with Shambhala, also appeared after the war. For example, a 1939 German expedition to Antarctica, led by Captain Alfred Ritscher, mapped one-fifth of the continent, claimed it for Germany, and named it Neu-Schwabenland. Further Nazi expeditions to Antarctica and naval activity in the South Atlantic continued until the end of the war.
In the late 1950s, separately from this, Henrique Jose de Souza, the president of the Brazilian Theosophical Society at that time, proposed a new hollow earth theory. Inside the earth lies Agharti, with its capital Shambhala, as the source of flying saucers that emerge to the surface through tunnels at the North and South Poles. Accordingly, the Brazilian Theosophical Society built as its headquarters in São Lourenço, Minas Gerais, a Greek-style temple dedicated to Agharti. De Souza’s student, O. C. Hugenin, popularized his mentor’s theory in From the Subterranean World to the Sky: Flying Saucers (1957). R. W. Bernard, in his 1964 book The Hollow Earth, had the flying saucers from Shambhala in Agharti under the Earth come out through secret tunnels under the Himalayas in Tibet.
Based on the Nazi Antarctic expeditions and the above accounts, the German Occultist Ernst Zündel wrote several books in the 1970s, including UFO’s: Nazi Secret Weapons?, claiming that the Nazis had a secret base in an area of warm water lakes they had found in Antarctica. There they hid their secret weapon, UFOs. Zündel is also infamous as the most outspoken proponent of the view that the Holocaust never happened.
The association of flying saucers with Shambhala derives from the account of the allegorical future apocalyptic war found The Stainless Light commentary to The Abbreviated Kalachakra Tantra. In this account, Raudrachakrin, the twenty-fifth Kalki ruler of Shambhala, will come from his land mounted on a stone horse with the power of the wind and defeat Mahdi, the leader of the non-Indic hordes. Although Raudrachakrin represents the deep awareness of voidness with the subtlest level of mental activity and the stone horse represents the subtlest level of energy-wind on which this awareness rides, some have interpreted the image as a flying saucer coming from Shambhala.
The Kalachakra account of Shambhala has sparked the imaginations of many foreign political figures and occult authors. Distorting the original legend and interpolating ideas of fancy, they have incorporated the myth into their writings to serve their own agendas. It is an injustice to Buddhism to attribute these distortions to the original intent of the Kalachakra teachings. Continuing research will disentangle more of the truth.
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