Where on Earth do I begin? “Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia” by Andrei Znamenski was totally alien to me. Knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism? Minimal. Familiarity with the politics of Eurasia in the 1920′s and 1930′s? Nonexistent. An understanding of the variety of interpretations of Shambhala and its associated prophecies? Nope. Are you now frightened of this daunting book? Well don’t be.
Author Andrei Znamenski breaks everything down to its most basic parts to help bring order to this chaos. He begins by explaining the assorted legends, myths, and religious tales of Shambhala and its association with those living in Mongolia, Tibet, and surrounding lands. To sum up, Shambhala is a legendary kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia. It’s considered a land of purity and enlightenment and home for a more spiritually advanced and possibly technologically advanced civilization. Of course most modern Buddhists consider Shambhala a spiritual place to be found within oneself, but Znamenski carefully outlines a period of time when Shambhala was considered an actual location that those of pure intention could find.
The next layer to be added to “Red Shambhala” is an explanation of the Bolshevik revolution that took place in 1917. This was when the Bolsheviks, a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, came to power during the October Revolution phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Bolsheviks were an organization consisting primarily of workers who considered themselves the leaders of the revolutionary working class of Russia. This is where Znamenski starts to introduce you to some of the future players in the quest for Shambhala.
What comes next is the unbelievable true life story of how the idea of Shambhala was a tool used in assorted political and megalomaniacal schemes all focused on the conquest of Mongolia and Tibet. Alexander Barchenko wants to find Shambhala to learn the sacred wisdom there and believes by introducing the elite of Red Russia to the knowledge of Shambhala he will be able to make the Communist project in Russia less violent. The elite see Barchenko’s theological journey to Inner Asia as a chance to plant the seeds of Communism in other lands. Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg travels to the east, and uses the legend of Shambhala as a tool to unite the nomads of Mongolia in an effort to restore monarchies. The Roerichs, Nicholas, his wife Helena, and their son George, attempt to establish a Buddhist-Communist theocracy. Nicholas poses as the reincarnation of the fifth Dalai Lama, obviously not counting on the politically shrewd living Dalai Lama of the time. And those are just a taste of the eccentric, larger than life characters that really truly lived, and very much tried their hand at king making and empire building.
After reading “Red Shambhala” you’ll come away with new insights into the history of Communism, Tibetan Buddhism, and the use of propaganda. They say real life can be stranger than fiction, and Andrei Znamenski’s research proves that phrase to be very, very true.
“Red Shambhala” releases in June 2011.
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