The Shambhala Journey: Part Three
You stand up, feeling a little stiff. You see that your guide is already standing and waiting for you, and she gestures you toward the mountain. Taking a deep breath, you place your hand on the first boulder. The stone is cool and uneven beneath your hand as you pull yourself up and begin to climb. After all your challenges you had hoped for the path to become easy again, like it was in the beginning. But no, you are going to have to climb, there are no roads or stairs here. The climb requires all your strength and your muscles strain with the effort as you climb higher and higher. Every hand and foothold is slightly different; you constantly have to adjust your balance.
But you realize that the attention you have developed allows you to make those adjustments, and that the adjustments allow you to maintain that attention. You will be able to use this concentration on your journey, without becoming lost, separated or discouraged. Your guide leads you higher and higher, scrambling over snowy rocks and squeezing through narrow tracks. The climb is difficult, but doesn’t feel impossible. You continue to breathe deeply and pay attention to the path and your guide, following, climbing, and finally your effort is rewarded. You reach the summit of the mountain.
Surrounded by a sky the color of turquoise, as you stand at the top a strong breeze blows past you, and the height almost makes you dizzy.
Looking down, stretching far off into the distance you can see a pleasant landscape of rolling, grassy hills where horses and sheep are grazing. Plentiful crops grow in large fields bordered by rows of beautiful flowers, carts pulled by horses move along wide smooth roads and paths, and you can see people moving between the houses and fields. The houses are small but lovely, and look warm, inviting and comfortable. In the very far distance you can see another giant mountain range with great clouds billowing above it. A smooth, gradual path zigzags down the mountain you are on. You follow your guide down, relieved that you seem to have finally arrived at your destination. Reaching the valley floor the path is flat and wide, and you are surrounded by serene beauty in every direction. You begin to relax, breathing deeply of the clean air.
You path takes you past the houses, and also small, colorful well-tended temples and community halls. People invite you to sit down and eat with them, and to join them for ceremonies and prayer. Time passes, and you become part of the community. You have your own house and garden, and neighbors you love. Each day is peaceful, filled with meditation training and joyful practice with friends in your new home. You never imagined things could be this way, and you have never felt this happy, calm and balanced in your life. You want to stay in this sweet place forever.
One bright, sunny morning you’re approaching the meditation hall and see ahead of you two familiar figures. It is your former guide and the raven – they are watching you as you approach; the raven perched on the old woman’s walking stick.
You slow down. You aren’t sure what why they’re here, but you have a feeling you aren’t going to like it- the walking stick is not encouraging. The raven caws at you impatiently. Once you’re there facing the old woman, you cross your arms and wait for her to explain why she’s here. She smiles, raises her eyebrows and gestures down the path through the valley. “Ready to go?” she asks. You are stunned, and you have absolutely no intention of going anywhere.
“No,” you say, “No, I’m not. I’m happy here, I’ve found what I was looking for and I’m not leaving.” Spinning around, you begin to briskly walk away. The woman calls to you “No, this isn’t what you were really looking for.” You stop.
Turning back, defiantly you ask, “Oh, really? Then exactly what is it? Where is it, if it isn’t here??” The woman gestures toward the faraway mountains. “There? Seriously?” you demand. “Why should I keep going? Why follow you away from everything I love?” The woman takes your hand in hers and asks, “Do you remember the light in the dark?” Suddenly you are startled as the raven flies over your shoulder and drops something on the ground in front of you. Puzzled, you see it’s the box your mala was in. You bend to pick it up, lifting the lid as you do. Inside is another note – this one simply says “Awaken”. The box seems empty, but underneath the note is a single long, golden thread from the brocade that had protected your mala.
Your angry response dissolves as you take a moment to think. You remember feeling so lost and desperate, wishing for help. You can visualize the beautiful pulsating golden light, the glowing thread stretching toward you in the dark, how it gave you the tiniest bit of courage and hope to begin.
You look all around you at everything you’ve loved all this time. Being here has made you feel whole and healed, and you’ve learned so much, it’s been like a beautiful dream. But lifting the shining thread from the box, you think that maybe people just as lost as you once were may need your help. Now that you aren’t so confused, maybe you can use the things you’ve learned here to help them on their path the way you were helped. Your spirit lifts as confidence begins to fill you.
Tying the golden thread around your wrist as a reminder, you turn to the old woman. “I remember the light. You’re right; let’s go.”
As you set off together down the road, the warm sun on your shoulders you feel happy – now you’re eager to see what is ahead. This feels right. The light is clear and clean.
The snow-covered mountains you had seen in the distance before now loom over you, towering even higher than the last ones. There is obviously no way around this ring of peaks, the only way to go forward is up. Cold air pours down at you from the snowy mountaintops, and shivering, you look over at the old woman. Raising her eyebrows, she gestures you expectantly up the mountain. You can’t believe you’re supposed to do this again, but what else can you do? Go back?
Resigned, you begin to climb into the thinning air, trying to catch your breath. There is no path, not even a dirt track. You are scrambling over gravel and slippery shale and it feels like you are climbing almost straight up, it takes all of your strength. For every step you take it seems like you slip back one, or sometimes more. You often lose your balance and stumble, scraping your hands on the sharp stones. Once or twice you fall and struggle to get back up, but your guide is always there with a hand to help you. The falling leaves you bruised and sore. Over time it begins to snow, and the gravel is mixed with ice, making it even slipperier. Pulling yourself up hand over freezing hand, you develop a fierce determination to not give up, to persist until you are at your real destination, to follow your guide no matter how difficult the way becomes. After coming all this way, nothing else makes sense.
You carefully place all of your attention on climbing up and up, on each hand and foothold, and as you do the snowstorm gradually abates. Eventually your guide makes it to the top of the peak and with one last mighty effort you pull yourself up next to her. She takes your hand as you stand there on the mountaintop; a strong breeze blows past you, and the height almost makes you dizzy.
From the peak, you gaze out onto an unimaginably beautiful landscape. There is a great valley shaped like an eight-petaled lotus encircled by majestic snow-covered mountains, the ones you just climbed, and in it you can look out on hills, forests, lakes and rivers. It is even more exquisite than the valley you just came from, like the most beautiful dream. In the distance you can notice charming houses and well-tended fields, elegant community buildings and temples – you’ve never seen anything like them. What is this place?
Your guide leads you into the valley on a smooth pathway at a slow, steady pace; you are grateful for the break after your hard climb. You see people walking past clothed in the finest colorful garments and adorned with marvelous jewelry; everyone seems to be living and working together in peace and harmony. They smile and greet you as you walk. You pass by great meditation halls filled with monks and laypeople in shared training and ceremony; you can hear their murmured prayers drifting to you in the air. You’re dazzled by the beauty that surrounds you, almost overwhelmed with sights and smells.
Brimming with joy and wonder, deep in your heart you recognize this place. This is your secret dream, your ideal, your vision of an enlightened society made real. You have arrived in Shambhala.
“Maybe” you think, “My journey is finally over.”
As you continue your way through the valley, you see rising in the distance a vast city, more than eighty miles across. Drawing nearer, you can begin to distinguish hundreds of buildings and thousands of temples even more grand than anything you’ve seen so far. Prayer flags ripple everywhere, and your eyes catch the glistening of gold and jewels adorning every surface, making them glitter and shine in the bright, clear sunlight. Inside of the temples you can glimpse rich, colorful brocades hanging and altars overflowing with offerings of flowers and food. Fragrant smoke fills the air as you pass by.
You ask your guide what this city is, and she tells you that this is Kalapa, home of the Kalki Kings and the capitol of the Kingdom of Shambhala. You’re eager to go explore and discover more of this incredible place, so imagine your surprise when instead of taking you there your guide continues to follow the path to the South. Unsure where you are going and a little confused, you follow. The walk is long, much longer than it looked at first, but the path is even and you can feel the warm sun shining on your skin, so it’s pleasant, and interesting.
You begin to make your way through a gorgeous, enormous park that is the same size as Kalapa, vast in its scope.
It’s so large you can’t even see where it ends. Despite its size, it feels peaceful and serene, comforting, calm and safe. Scattered throughout its gently rolling green hills are spacious groves of fragrant sandalwood trees which the old woman tells you give this place its name – Sandalwood Park, also known as Malaya or ‘cool grove’. You can smell the fragrant sandalwood and the earth beneath the trees as they warm in the sun, and you can hear their leaves rustling.
You can see dozens of deer strolling unafraid through the woodlands, and birds fly past you, filling the air with color and song. To the East and West there are two immense lakes that are the dark blue of lapis lazuli, and they are the same size as the park itself, their dark placid waters reflecting the sunlight. In the center of the park, far, far away, you can see a massive mandala and temple, more magnificent that any you have ever seen. As you steadily cross the miles, even from a great distance the scent of clouds of incense fills the air, and you can hear the sounds of chanting and prayer rising up from inside the temple, growing louder and louder as you approach. The deep voices seem to be beckoning you forward. The temple is large, square and raised on a high platform with smooth marble stairs leading up each side, towering over you. The outer walls are completely transparent but luminous with color. It is utterly magnificent and dazzles all of your senses with its beauty.
Bright golden statues of lions, deer and garudas gaze out from the upper walls, which are adorned with gold and silver and studded with thousands of glittering jewels of coral, turquoise, moonstone and pearls. Approaching the temple you hesitate at the base of the stairs, and look at your guide with amazement and wonder. Fascinated, awestruck, you ask once again, where you are and why you are here?
Your precious, unwavering guide declares, “This magnificent mandala and temple was built by the great King Suchandra, the first King of Shambala. Dear child, this is the home of the great and glorious Buddha Kalachakra.”
Imagine hearing the ringing of hundreds of bells and the sounds of chanting coming from within. You feel the sun warming your neck as you tilt your head back so you can take in the entire temple. You can hear thousands of prayer flags fluttering in the breeze, and the smell of clouds of burning incense fills the air. The temple is vibrant with the colors of the prayer flags and thousands of jewels and other precious adornments, statues and wall hangings, dazzling your eyes. You pause for a moment to appreciate its inconceivable beauty and serenity. You look at the old lady, asking the question without speaking. She nods and gestures you forward. You breathe deeply a few times and then take your first few steps up the stairs.