Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia (Paperback)

Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia

By Andrei A. Znamenski

Quest Books (IL), 9780835608916, 268pp.

Publication Date: July 1, 2011



Many know of Shambhala, the Tibetan Buddhist legendary land of spiritual bliss popularized by the film, "Shangri-La." But few may know of the role Shambhala played in Russian geopolitics in the early twentieth century. Perhaps the only one on the subject, Andrei Znamenski's book presents a wholly different glimpse of early Soviet history both erudite and fascinating. Using archival sources and memoirs, he explores how spiritual adventurers, revolutionaries, and nationalists West and East exploited Shambhala to promote their fanatical schemes, focusing on the Bolshevik attempt to use Mongol-Tibetan prophecies to railroad Communism into inner Asia. We meet such characters as Gleb Bokii, the Bolshevik secret police commissar who tried to use Buddhist techniques to conjure the ideal human; and Nicholas Roerich, the Russian painter who, driven by his otherworldly Master and blackmailed by the Bolshevik secret police, posed as a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to unleash religious war in Tibet. We also learn of clandestine activities of the Bolsheviks from the Mongol-Tibetan Section of the Communist International who took over Mongolia and then, dressed as lama pilgrims, tried to set Tibet ablaze; and of their opponent, Ja-Lama, an "avenging lama" fond of spilling blood during his tantra rituals.

About the Author

Andrei Znamenski: Andrei Znamenski studied history and anthropology both in Russia and the United States. Formerly a resident scholar at the Library of Congress, then a foreign visiting professor at Hokkaido University, Japan, he has taught at The University of Memphis and Alabama State University. His fields of interests include religions of indigenous people of Siberia and North America, shamanism, and esotericism. Znamenski is the author of Shamanism and Christianity (1999), Through Orthodox Eyes (2003), Shamanism in Siberia (2003), The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination (2007), and the editor of the three-volume anthology Shamanism: Critical Concepts (2004).

Praise For Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia

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.

Red Shamballah 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 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

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

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

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

Professor Znamenski pursues the improbable merging of two prophesies after the Russian Revolution, the future Commmunist 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
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