In August this year I had the good fortune to partake in a pilgrimage across the beautiful land of Mongolia - one of the most pristine and sparsely populated places on the planet and home to the breathtaking Gobi Desert.
The most precious and sacred experience I have come home with was spending time near a very special place in the desert which is renowned as being a portal to the sacred mystical realm of Shambhala. This 'realm' is not something you can see with your physical eyes, but you may feel it in your heart or catch a glimpse of it with your 'inner eyes'.
So, where is this Shambhala portal and how did it come to be?
The two photos above depict the incredible fact that this sacred site is literally in the middle of the desert. It took hours and hours of driving through this flat, vast terrain to get here, and apart from a monastery erected some 3 km's away, there was not a breath of civilization for many kilometers in every direction.
This site was discovered around 1820 by the then teen Danzanravjaa (1803-1856), and at this same time Khamar Monastery was founded. Danzanravjaa was a child progidy who became a revered Mongolian writer, composer, poet, painter, Buddhist scholar, physician, educator and highly accomplished meditation master.
When our group trekked through the rocky dunes from Khamar Monastery to the Shambhala Portal, even before we arrived I experienced a kind of electricity course through my body - an aliveness, even a sense of devotion and surrender, knowing there was something deeply mystical about this place. It is said that when a great meditator or yogi finds such a place, their usual perception of reality can completely dissolve as though hallucinating... literally revealing a different, hidden dimension.
This portal was linked to the hidden dimension called Shambhala - a mythical realm said to have existed as a small kingdom on this planet about 2.500 years ago according to ancient Buddhist teachings. Yet once this kingdom was introduced to a spiritual teaching known Kalachakra, it is said that its inhabitants reached such a refined state of awareness that even their physical bodies became more subtle and they coalesced together in a utopian realm which other humans didn't have access to with their ordinary coarse five senses.
In this realm, legends say, there is no conflict, poverty or discrimination, no need for money or taxes, no corrupt leaders and no need to work hard to cultivate food - which is accessible in extreme abundance. And there is a palpable sense of pure love and belonging which naturally emerges as community devoted to everyone's highest good - creating a 'field' in which holding onto trauma is simply not possible. So the focus is not on meeting survival or connection needs, or even healing trauma, but in supporting each other's spiritual growth in loving community.
A great Tibetan meditator known as Kalachakrapada is said to have made contact with Shambhala through dreams and visions in the 11th century, and he founded a spiritual lineage in Tibet to keep alive the teachings and practices he received from Shambhala on this planet. Many others such as Danzanravjaa have reported similar experiences. The Tibetan Lama leading our tour group, Khentrul Rinpoche, has openly shared about some of his dreams and visions of this mystical realm, which was recently captured by an artist on the painting below.
Khentrul Rinpoche often says that unlike other notions of pure realms or heavenly realms, Shambhala is unique in its connection with our planet earth*. It is said that the strength and purity of this connection has the potential to steer the future of humanity into a utopian reality known as a Golden Age, emulating the perfect peace and harmony of Shambhala. He also shares that there may be many portals to this hidden realm - places revered for their spiritual power such as Mt Kailesh in western Tibet, Mt Shasta in the USA or Uluru in the Australian red centre.
Towards the end of my time in Mongolia, we shifted more from outer exploration to inner exploration as we received empowerments and entered into retreat for several days - staying in a beautiful, ancient place called Erdene Zuu and sleeping in traditional cosy huts known as Gers - shown in the picture below. We turned inward and dove deeply into retreat, practicing a powerful form of meditation with eyes wide open gazing into darkness while wearing special blindfold goggles.
As I sat in meditation, my experience was anything but the peaceful utopian dream of Shambhala. Gazing into the darkness hooked me in to a spacious still point, yet dancing in the stillness were torrents of turbulent emotions, wild thoughts and incessant struggle to hold the special posture. I was so grateful for my trauma training, knowing the skills to stay grounded, stable, solid, present and connected amidst what sometimes felt like bombs going off in quick succession.
Yet what a release! Riding these waves of energy learning to let things come and go in the raw immediacy of each sacred moment - to clearly see, feel and release layer upon layer of what I never even knew I had been holding onto. As the torrents died down, I caught glimpses of a deeper reality within myself, as if leaving the matrix of conditioned existence that we are all so accustomed to.
I realized that these glimpses were actually the key to discovering the deepest meaning of Shambhala - the utopian potential within our own lived experience. And it also became clear that in this life, on this planet, right here and right now, that the sacred medicine of healing trauma is utterly essential to really know this deepest meaning without spiritual bypassing and to embody it in our lives. Then the Golden Age vision foretold by the Shambhala legend may in fact take root in our reality.
* If this introduction to Shambhala captures your curiosity, here is a link to a book published in 2021: