Tibetan Texts > Specific Tibetan Text Studies > Deb Ther Sngon Po (blue Annals) > Reference Resources - The Blue Annals > Place Names Cited in Blue Annals > Place Names ra-la-sha-sa-ha-a > Śambhala

Śambhala (ཤམྦྷ་ལ་)

by Christopher Bell

General information

NameŚambhala (ཤམྦྷ་ལ་)
Transliteration formsham+b+ha la
EtymologyNamed after a minister of a previous Buddha, whose name was Śambhaka, and who captured this country.
Source of informationDung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las. 2002. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo. Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang.
Newman, John R. 1991. "A Brief History of the Kalachakra." In The Wheel of Time: The Kalachakra in Context. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, pp. 51-90.
Tucci, Giuseppe. [1949] 1999. Tibetan Painted Scrolls, 3 vols. Bangkok: SDI Publications.
Wylie, Turrell. 1962. The Geography of Tibet According to the ’Dzam-Gling-Rgyas-Bshad. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.
external link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shambhala
Spatial LocationN/A
ProvinceTibetan Autonomous Region (Tib. བོད་རང་སྐྱོང་ལྗོངས་; Ch. 西藏自治区)
DistrictNgari (Tib. མངའ་རིས་; Ch. 阿里)
Cultural locationWestern Tibet
Location's languageWest Tibetan Dialect (nga' ris skad [?])
Blue Annals References(516, 699, 753, 756, 757, 761, 783, 814, 825, 1045). In the Blue Annals, Śambhala is primarily referred to in connection with the Kālacakra Tantra, as being the realm where it flourishes and from where it and its commentarial traditions are propagated. Many tantrists are instructed to go to Śambhala to be instructed in this tantric tradition.

Historical Summary

In Tibetan religious history, Śambhala is an important land to discuss because it resides in a very ambiguous category between real and mythical lands, both of which are important to Tibetan cosmology. While there appears to be a degree of historicity to Śambhala as a geographic location―something alluded to once in the Blue Annals (p.516)―this fact has been successfully superceded by a strong mythological narrative surrounding Śambhala as a divine land of spiritual attainment, not wholly accessible on Earth. This ties in with the Tibetan penchant for hidden realms revealed or accessed by great tantric masters and bodhisattvas. The divine nature of this land is particularly important in relation to the system of the Kālacakra Tantra, which is the focus of chapter 10 in The Blue Annals. Indeed, the Kālacakra Tantra actually introduces Śambhala, which is called the "paradise of the Kālacakra" (Wylie 1962, p.xviii). Various attempts at placing Śambhala have put it in the Sutlej Valley in Himachal Pradesh, in southern Siberia (Wikipedia), in northwest China (Tucci 1999, p.617 n.289), as the capital of Bactria, and in Russia (Wylie 1962, p.xviii). Tucci states the likeliest scenario being that "although [Śambhala] originally had a geographical reality, [it] has become…a mythical country" (Tucci 1999, p.617 n.289). In the summary below, Dungkar places Śambhala near Mount Kailash, so the location details provided above reflect that. That this land cannot be confidently located is a common attribute of divine lands and hidden realms. For a detailed exposition on Śambhala as it is described in the Kālacakra tantric tradition, see Newman 1991, pp. 54-65.

Translation from the Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo

The reason the name of this country is called “Śambhala” is because the minister of a previous Buddha, whose name was Śambhaka, captured that country, and because of this it was tied to a name like that. When “Śambhala” is translated into Tibetan, it means “That which Grasps the Source of Happiness” (bde ’byung ’dzin pa), as shown on page 954 of the twelfth chapter of The Indication of the Source and Manner of Asserting All Tenets, the Crystal Mirror of Eloquent Explanations [grub mtha’ thams cad kyi khungs dang ’dod tshul ston pa legs bshad shel gyi me long] by the third Tukwan, Lozang Chökyi Nyima [thu’u bkwan gsum pa blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma; 1737-1802]. Where is this country? In the eighth volume of the collected works of the Sixth Penchen Lama, Penden Yeshé [dpal ldan ye shes; 1738-1780], on page 42 of [the work] called A Detailed Exposition of Śambhala, the Great Place of Accomplishment [grub pa’i gnas chen po shambha la’i rnam bshad] it says, “Of the six countries of India, Tibet, Khotan, [East] China, Great China, and Kailaśa, [Śambhala] is in the right half of the area of Kailaśa―once it’s divided into halves―visible behind Mount Kailaśa and in front of the Tsangpo River.” Furthermore, even though [places] such as Mount Potāla, Uddiyana, and Wutaishan are identifiable according to modern maps, a country conforming to the landscape and such of the land called “Śambhala” does not appear to be identifiable based on modern maps. (Dung dkar 2002, p.1989)