Ossendowski and Agharti
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.
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.
Nikolai Roerich (1874 – 1947), a Russian painter and ardent student of Theosophy, had been on the building committee for the St. Petersburg Kalachakra 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 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.
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. The concept of “Kalachakra for World Peace,” associated with the Kalachakra initiations given by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in the West since 1981, is probably also a legacy of Roerich’s ideas.
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.