The Shambhala Warriors

Tibetan Buddhism


My best friend, Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche, gave me this teaching. It’s from the Kâlachakra Tantra and it’s about the emergence of the Kingdom of Shambhala.

In this particular interpretation, by my friend from Tashi Jeong, the term ‘Shambhala Warriors’ arises. It is obvious that is a metaphor for the Bodhisattva. So, as we are looking to how we become Bodhisattvas, this has been a big help to me.

Okay. I’ll start …

‘There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. In this time great powers have arisen, barbarian powers. And, although they waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate each other, they have much in common. Among the things they have in common are weapons of unfathomable death and devastation and technologies that lay waste the world.

‘It is just in this time, when the future of all beings seem to hang by the frailest of threads, that the Kingdom of Shambhala emerges.

‘Now you can’t go there, because it is not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala Warriors. And, actually, you can’t tell a Shambhala Warrior by looking at her or him, because there are no uniforms, no insignia, no banners to declare what side you are on. There are no barricades behind which you can rest and regroup, or stand to threaten the enemy; not even any home turf, because always and ever you just have the terrain of the barbarian powers to move across.

‘Now the time has come –he said– when great courage is required of the Shambhala Warriors, moral courage and physical courage. Because they are going to go into the very centre of the barbarian powers to dismantle their weapons. And they’re weapons in every sense of the word. They are going to go into the pits where the armaments are made and where they are deployed, also going into the corridors of power where the decisions are made to also dismantle mental weapons.’

Then he said:

‘Joanna, mark this: The Shambhala Warriors know they can dismantle these weapons, because the weapons are manomaya –that means “mind-made”. They are made by the human mind, so they can be unmade by the human mind! This is because these instruments of death are not coming from an extraterrestrial force, or some satanic deity, or some unalterable predestined fate. But they arise from our choices, from our lifestyles … actually he didn’t say the word “lifestyle” … our choices, our habits, our relationships. So these dangers arise from our manomaya, “mind made”, so they can be unmade by the human mind.’

And so he said, ‘Now is the time when the Shambhala Warriors go into training.’

‘How do they train?’ I asked.

And he said, ‘They train in the use of two weapons’ –and actually he did say the word ‘weapons’– ‘though I think you may prefer to say “tools”, “instruments” or “resources”’. That’s what he said.

‘What are they?’ I asked.

And he held up his hands, in the way the lamas use them to hold the ritual objects, and in the great dances of his people. And he said:

‘One is compassion and the other is insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena, and you need both. One is not enough. You need the compassion because that provides the fuel to move you out to where you need to go to do what you need to do. And what it boils down to is not being afraid of the suffering of our world. If you are not afraid of the pain, then nothing can stop you, you know?

‘But, by itself, that is too hot to handle. It can burn you out. So you need the other, you need that insight into the radical inter-existence of all things. With that you know that this is not a battle between the good guys and the bad guys, because the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. We are so interwoven in the web of existence that even the smallest act with clear intention has repercussions through the web. That you can’t begin to see, let alone measure.

‘But that, while essential, is a little cool –he said– a little cool … a little abstract, and so you need the heat of the compassion.’

And, as he said that, my mind flashed to the … the Puja Hall, where the monks are chanting and, often as not, they’re chanting, with moving hand gestures … You’ve seen them, probably, in person or on film, and often they are dancing the interplay between compassion and wisdom.


Adapted by Joanna Macy (2014).

Under license Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA.



Joanna Macy, a doctor from Syracuse University in New York, scholar in general systems theory and deep ecology, researcher in Buddhism, author and environmental activist, has been spreading this Tibetan tradition almost by heart, for years. The tradition was handed down to her by the Lama Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche, the eighth reincarnation of an important master of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage. It belongs to the initiatory tantric system of Kâlachakra, belonging to Tibetan Buddhism.

According to tradition, the Kâlachakra Tantra is the main system of Shambhala teachings, which was kept secret in the mythical city until its dissemination in India in the 10th Century c.e. In theory, the Kâlachakra Tantra would contain ‘sermons delivered by the Buddha in which he describes Shambhala and the role it will play in history’ (Bernbaum, 1980, p. 28; cited by Dmitrieva, 1997, p. 3).

The oldest references to Shambhala are found in the Kanjur and Tanjur, where the ‘words of the Buddha’ and commentaries respectively are grouped. All this is found within the Tibetan Buddhist Canon. Of these texts, (and through Edwin Bernbaum and Garje K’am-trul Rinpoche), Victoria Dmitrieva (1997), in her excellent Master’s thesis for McGill University in Canada, wrote the following:

As their [kings of Shambhala] succession will be taking place, corruption and dilapidation will be taking over humanity. Religions will no longer be duly respected, an aggressive materialism will rule the planet and spiritual attainments will be of no value. The barbarians (KlaKlo), fighting each other for power, will be finally united under an evil King. After the whole world has submitted to him, the hidden land of Shambhala will reveal itself and the King, overwhelmed with rage that he is not the only ruler of the world, will lead a war against Shambhala. Garje K’am-trul Rinpoche maintains that ‘by the force of previous prayers and the infallible truth of cause and effect, the goddess Re-rna-te, (Ri ma ti) in accordance with her wishes, will come ta be the queen of this La-la [Kla-Klo] king’ (K’amn-trul Rinpoche, 1978, p. 11). She will point to Shambhala as yet unconquered. The Kla-klo king will have all kinds of mighty terrible weapons at his disposal. This final battle of Shambhala with the Kla-klo army will be held in 2425 e.c. Then the thirty-second Shambhala King, Rudra Cakrin (The Wrathful One with the Wheel), will lead his army against the barbarians and will destroy them, thus bestowing the ‘perfect age’ for at least a thousand years. At that time the whole world will turn into Shambhala with no sickness or poverty, and no need to work to earn a living. Even ‘great saints and sages of the past will return to life to teach true wisdom, and many will attain enlightenment through the practice of the Kalacakra’ (Bernbaurn, 1980, p. 23). (Dmitrieva, 1997, pp. 11-12)

Although it is suggested the year 2425 C.E. as the date of the great confrontation between the barbarian armies and the Shambhala forces, Dmitrieva (1997, p. 3) points out that there is great controversy regarding the dates. This is because the calculations are made on the year of the Buddha’s death, and some place it shortly before 2000 b.c.e., while others place it around 500 b.c.e.

As is evident from the texts offered here, and as is the case with the Legend of the Rainbow Warriors from the original peoples of North America (also in this Collection), these stories must be understood in a metaphorical sense, as Joanna Macy suggests in her narrative. Thus, the ‘warriors’ spoken of in these traditions are obviously non-violent. As Gandhi stated, this type of ‘warrior’ will require much more courage than violent warriors in order to confront the ‘barbarian forces’ with only the ‘weapons’ of compassion, and insight into the radical interdependence of all that exists or, in other words, a very established complex-systems worldview.

The proof that these Shambhala Warriors are non-violent is found in the initiation of the Kâlachakra, which links its recipients with the Shambhala army. This is considered the greatest Buddhist ritual for world peace. It is a ritual that the Dalai Lama performs regularly and is attended by many Westerners.

The legend of Shambhala reached the West at the beginning of the 20th Century, and immediately connected with the collective imagery of Westerners. This is probably due to the West’s connection to myths and legends of their own. All offer symbols and archetypes so similar that they would all seem to be extracted from the same materials of the collective unconscious of humanity. We discuss this in more depth in the second book in our collection, The Earth Stories Collection: The Myths of the Future (Vol. 1).



  • Dmitrieva, V. (1997). The Legend of Shambhala in Eastern and Western Interpretations. (Master’s thesis). McGill Universtity, Montreal, Canada.
  • Macy, J. [Spirit Rock Meditation Center] (2015, February 24). The Kingdom of Shambhala Joanna Macy) [Video]. YouTube.


Associated text of the Earth Charter

The Way Forward: Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace…


Other passages that this story illustrates

Preamble.- Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.