An insightful and wonderful review of Andrei Znamenski’s Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia appears in the July 2011 issue of Living Traditions magazine!

 

The review reads:

 

Red Shambhala is truly riveting study of the underbelly of occultism and politics with a focus on Bolshevik interest in esotericism and especially Tibet. The legend of Shambhala went through many stages from a Buddhist crusader myth about a coming leader who would crush the unenlightened to the Great White Brotherhood of Theosophy. Znamenski discusses how the myth of Shambhala is closely linked to the Mongol shamanic traditions and developed as an idealization of the Tibetan Mongol culture. He also considers these myths in terms of how they were used within varying spiritual systems and manipulated by political regimes from the left to the right. His research is highly original and I have seen little considering such a subject in English. While there are many volumes on the right wing use of occultism, it is not often discussed how the left distorted with Tibetan Buddhism to achieve its goals.

The book opens with a biography of the major characters whicharesome of the most eccentric visionaries you will ever read of !This is followed by a history of the myth of Shambhala from a utopian world approached through simple faith to the legend ofRudra Chakrin who will appear at the end of the age to vanquish the unfaithful and bring about a global age of Buddhism ! The vision of a dark age or Kali Yuga with corruption spreading from the West has much in common with Hindu, Manichean and Islamic traditions. While modern Tibetan Buddhists spiritualize the Shambhala prophecies in its original form it clearly had a strong militaristic focus and was just as much influenced by the Buddhist clashes with Islam of the period as any future prophecy.

Intricately connected to the Shambhala tradition is the Kalachakra, a series of tantric methods which includes various levels of teachings. The outer is a military war against outsiders while the inner competes with Hindu Tantra using sex mysticism and advanced esoteric techniques. Many of the techniques resonate with Left Hand Path Hinduism and the teachings of theAghori and include all manner of forbidden practices, these practises have been totally rewritten and watered down by modern Buddhism. Of course the wrathful deities connected to such practices are not the new age repackaged forms of modern Tibetan Buddhism but truly fierce and terrifying deities.

The Shambhala prophecies were remarkably flexible and as circumstances changed the focus could move from Moslems to unbelievers and the Chinese. Later they would rationalized as symbolic psychospiritual processes. In the 1900s as Chinese attacked the intensity of the prophecy increased. This also resonated with the Oirot prophecies which were used to stir resistance in western Mongolia as a form of revolution against the Russians and Chinese. A unique form of Buddhism developed among the Oirot people called Ak-Jang or pure Buddhism based on similiar prophecies. As radical change hit china and Russia a wild group of visionaries, nationalists and dreamers used the prophecies to further their own idealistic ends, most with truly disastrous results.

This is only the beginning of the tale; one of the strangest alliances is between aspects of communism and Tibetan Buddhism. Gleb Bokii of the soviet secret police was horrified by the constant flow of bloodshed the revolution was causing and contemplated how both scientific materialism and the Buddhist vision of Shambhala could be used to create a new form of Marxism. Occultism was popular in Russia especially during the silver age of the 1880s-1918 when positivist occultism, a vision of occultism and spirituality which was given a scientific explanation, came into vogue. A strange amalgam of ideas began to develop uniting traditionalism, occultism and the communist utopian vision. One of the major areas for this was in the field of parapsychology coordinated by the Institute for the Brain and Psychic activities.  There were also communist esoteric communes which combined spirituality with the new Marxist worldview, one being the United Labor brotherhood. These organizations as well as individuals offering a communist Buddhist wisdom proved a heady mix for the new state.

Gleb Bokii was a strange mixture of agent of Red Terror, occultist and utopian visionary Znamenski explores his life in detail as it mirrors the unique conditions of the time. His unit explored everything from breaking codes to telepathy and the Kalachakra all from the perspective of an expanded view of scientific materialism.  The religious and utopian vision of Marxism was well suited to the process of adapting theShambhala prophecy to Bolshevik political ends including the red conversion of Mongolia, creating a sort of communist Buddhist liberation theology.

It was, however not all to the left, Baron Von Ungern-Sternberg was a right ring leader in Mongolia during 1920-21 with an occult vision and a reactionary zeal, he was a thorn in the side of the communists and only his excessive violence brought his reign to an end.

Znameski explores the life of Nicholas and Helena Roerich who were not only involved in all manner of political intrigue but developed their own spiritual system known as Agni yoga. Adapting theosophy, Tibetan Buddhism and a political vision focused on Shambhala they hoped to create a new Tibetan empire under the exiled Panchen Lama and themselves. The masters of the Great White Brotherhood seemed to change their minds regularly in tune with the Roerich’s untrammelled political ambitions and in the end they aligned themselves with the new Bolshevik regime and attempted, unsuccessfully, to bring Tibet into their vision.

This is a fascinating volume documenting unknown byways through which occultism, esotericism and Marxism somehow ended up combined in a utopian belief system which was certainly not Buddhist but hardly Marxist either ! Most of the players within the Soviet system ended up losing their lives while all seem to have lost their integrity as egos ran riot. Znameskiprovides lots of details but writes in an engaging manner and Red Shambhala at times reads like an adventure or spy novel even though it is all true. Znameski details a period of esoteric history which has been little studied and this is an exceptionally interesting read.

 

 

Click here to read the review as it appears online.

 

Red Shambhala is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

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