With all the action and suspense of a bestselling mystery novel, Red Shambhala takes you on a thrilling journey into the underground occult agenda of the 1920’s Soviet Secret Police. Using historical archives and primary documents, former Library of Congress historian and Professor Andrei Znamenski reveals the strange accounts of the Bolsheviks’ clandestine quest for ultimate power. Red Shambhala details the zealous Bolshevik commissar Gleb Bokii’s and renowned occult writer Alexander Barchenko’s attempts to use Tibetan Buddhist wisdom to conjure a divine era of Communism by tapping into a power of mysterious Shambhala, a prophecy about a land of pure mystical bliss where inhabitants enjoyed god-like capabilities .
This romantic dream also caught the attention of other die-hard revolutionaries, staunch nationalists and Theosophical occultists, forging a most unlikely 20th century enterprise. Bolshevik secret police, Tibetan lamas, the famed occult couple Nicholas and Helena Roerich, and the right-wing fanatic baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg known as "Bloody White" embarked in unison on dangerous quests through Mongolia, Tibet and farther to the Himalayas. Despite their different agendas, they pursued the same goal: to use the potent power of Tibetan-Buddhist prophecies. For all these impassioned crusaders victory meant bringing the dawn of perfect man and obtaining the keys to a benevolent all-powerful ideal society that would serve as the beacon for all humankind. For all those interested in the secret machinations that often occur behind political movements, Red Shambhala proves impossible to put down! Blackmail, ritualistic blood sacrifice, Tantric "avenging" lamas, fiery psychic visions from masters of a Great White Brotherhood and a magical black stone that fell from heaven, Red Shambhala reveals that real-life history is at times far stranger than fiction.
The above [Alexander Barchenko, Ja-Lama and Nicholas Roerich]are only three out of the eleven figures historian Andrei Znamenski introduces at the beginning of Red Shambhala, and in their oddness and ambition —and the oddness of their ambitions — they are representative of the eccentric would-be messiahs (sincere and otherwise) who populate Znamenski's lively account of the ways traditional beliefs common in Tibet, Mongolia, and surrounding areas came into play in the competition between Russia and England for dominance in that region.
—David Cozy, Japan Times
I’ve been waiting for a good excuse to bring up Andrei Znamenski’s Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophesy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia. The coming exhibition of Buddhist art at New York’s Asia Society has provided one. Published by Quest Books (the publishing house of the Theosophical Society), Red Shambhala is a serious work of scholarship, that explores attempts to co-opt and manipulate Buddhism in Tibet and Mongolia by Russian Bolsheviks after the October Revolution, as well as other curious characters.
—European Son blog
Znamenski describes the myths and prophecies in some detail, but the story itself starts in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution. The Bolshevik secret police, and none other than Gleb Bokii, the chief cryptographer, had become interested in mysticism, telepathy and in the “ancient science” of Shambhala, whose existence they did not entirely discount...Znamenski tells a good story, balancing research with storytelling.
—Asian Review of Books
Those lacking specialized knowledge of arcana have not learned much of this story, for until the fall of the Soviet empire, many records have been sequestered or linger in Russian-language academic journals. A few very minor slips in English usage reflect the author’s Russian origins, but these occasions are far outweighed by the valuable contributions he provides so the rest of us can learn about these events and their scholarly sources. The transcripts forced out of doomed prisoners about their role in this Red Shambhala project make for poignant reading.
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!
Znameski provides 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.
This book vividly demonstrates the power of the irrational in politics, and the subterranean forces which can operate below the surface rationality of the world. It makes one wonder who may still be playing some version of the great game with dreams and visions. Nor can we assume that the vision of the Shambhala jihad is forever now safely spiritualised. Who knows what some post-Dalai Lama Tibetan resistance movement might evoke in their liberation struggle against China.
—Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, The Magonia Review of Books
Andrei Znamenski explains the assorted legends, myths, and religious tales of Shambhala and its association with those living in Mongolia, Tibet, and surrounding lands. Shambhala is a legendary kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia. It’s considered a land of purity and enlightenment and home for a more spiritually advanced and possibly technologically advanced civilization. Znamenski carefully outlines a period of time when Shambhala was considered an actual location that those of pure intention could find.
After reading Red Shambhala you’ll come away with new insights into the history of Communism, Tibetan Buddhism, and the use of propaganda. They say real life can be stranger than fiction, and Andrei Znamenski’s research proves that phrase to be very, very true.
—Rebeca Elson, The Magical Buffet
Znamenski provides a valuable historical analysis of the concept of Shambhala from its Tibetan Buddhist origins through its analogues with Mongol and Buryat legends to the uses, both spiritual and political, made of it by a bizarre group of twentieth-century Russian and Soviet Central Asians.
In Znamenski’s analysis, based in part on such testimony, the main thing about Shambhala is its role in the twentieth century continuation of the “Great Game” for political domination over inner Asia. His approach is in part a worthy attempt to correct a previous overemphasis on the unworldly dimensions of Shambhala. Red Shambhala is a valuable book.
—George M. Young, Quest Magazine
Red Shambhala is a lively historical account of Soviet geopolitics in Central Asia in the first decade of the Communist government. Znamenski tells the story through portraits of key protagonists, drawing on newly opened archives in Russia and new Russian publications.
—Rene Wadlow, Theosophical Society
Professor Znamenski pursues the improbable merging of two prophesies after the Russian Revolution, the future Communist utopia with the ancient Buddhist myth of Shambhala, the return of a redeemer who would lead suffering people into a golden age of spiritual and sensual bliss. Combining Victorian parlour mysticism, a cast of eccentrics, the rise of modern nationalism, the intrigues of the Bolshevik secret police and a Comintern bent on world revolution, and an arena as big as all Asia -- this is high drama indeed.”
—Max J. Okenfuss, American Editor, Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas.
Red Shambalah enters a maze of intrigue with a colourful cast of Bolshevik secret police officers, spies, occultists, Mongolian warlords and Buddhist monks. Andrei Znamenski shows how Soviet Communists in the 1920s sought geopolitical influence over Mongolia and Tibet, projecting their world revolution onto ancient messianic prophecies amongst Inner Asian tribesmen. Inspired by the myth of hidden sages directing the world's destiny, the Roerichs add visionary adventure amid the great game of competing powers, England, Russia, China, for mastery of the East. A first-rate espionage story, all from recently opened Soviet archives.”
—Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author of The Occult Roots of Nazism and Black Sun.
Red Shambhala is a fascinating, and at times astounding, story about the interplay of mysticism and politics in the shadow of Stalin's Russia. The lines between mystical seekers, secret policemen, spies and charlatans constantly cross and blur and the story, not surprisingly, ends tragically for almost everyone.
— Richard Spence, Professor of History, University of Idaho.
Andrei Znamenski’s Red Shamabala draws on wide-ranging research but reads like the best of thrillers. Anyone interested in the complicated history of Russia’s relationship with the worlds of Tibet and Mongolia should read this fascinating and engaging book.
—Willard Sunderland, Professor of History, University of Cincinnati.
An amazing story, told by a fine scholar, but writing accessibly rather than just for other scholars. Larger-than-life characters against the background of a myth of Shambhala that haunted the Russian imagination as it did the Western, but with rather different consequences. Sometimes worrying, sometimes entertaining, and always informative.
— Mark Sedgwick, Associate Professor, Aarhus University and author of Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century.
Znameski’s new book is a challenge for everyone who refuses to accept connections between legend and politics. Red Shambhala gives a solid piece of evidence that the atheist communist ideology of the 20th century did not disdain to use a Tibetan Buddhist myth as a sort of instrumentum regni, actually a political tool for propaganda; Russian left and right thinkers, and spiritual seekers as well, were united in an old-fashioned idea of rebirth, dreaming of an egalitarian Land – a Red Shambhala –, where a changed humankind could live in a New Era of peace. Prof. Andrei Znamenski provides a ground-breaking investigation, through which we are aware that the Sacred and Profane can share the same mythical milieu: a must-read book for people interested in that fuzzy area between Mystique, Esotericism and Politics.
— Marcello De Martino, PhD, Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente, Rome, Italy and author of Mircea Eliade esoteric.
Red Shambhala is a rare, rigorous exploration of a landscape where occult drama and political intrigue meet, and where human hopes and ideological schemes inevitability, and tragically, collide. Andrei Znamenski handles all of this delicate material with depth, poignancy, and the drama of great historical writing.
— Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America.
Fascinating, compelling and erudite, Red Shambhala, utterly readable yet a work of impressively pioneering scholarship, is a history of Western mysticism, Mongolian/Tibetan Buddhism and imperial geopolitics, filled with stories of derrring-do and a cast of unforgettable mystics, monsters and adventurers. A wonderful read.
— Simon Sebag-Montefiore, author of Young Stalin and Jerusalem: The Biography.