Monday, December 25, 2006

China | Xinjiang Province | Gaochang | Shambhala

From Turpan I proceeded about 20 miles east to the ruins of the city of Gaochang, the southern capital of the ancient kingdom of Khocho. Shambhalists have long considered Khocho one of the main candidates for the historical kingdom of Shambhala where the Kalachakra was first composed and taught. Scholar of Indic religions Sir Charles Eliot opined as early as 1921 that, “This country [Shambhala] is seen only through a haze of myth: it may have been in India or it may have been somewhere in Central Asia, where Buddhism mingled with Turkish ideas.” In 1949 Tibetologist-Shambhalist Giuseppe Tucci (Tibetan Painted Scrolls) noted:
It is evidently a pious tale, without the least historical foundation, that the Kalacakra “the wheel of time”, was revealed by the Buddha twelve months after his enlightenment in the mc’od rten at Dhanyakataka, which for the occasion, became dilated until it assumed the proportions of the universe, symbolized by every stupa. The scholar who is said to have given a literary form of this revelation was Zla ba bzan po [Suchandra, First King of Shambhala], an incarnation of P'yag na rdo rje, who put the Buddha's words into writing, and having gone back to his country, Sambhala, and built there a stupa in honour of the Kalacakra, taught his people its secrets. But everything leads us to think that there is much truth in the rest of the narrative; according to it in Sambhala, placed by tradition near the river Sita, (viz. Tarim) many generations of kings succeeded one another and ruled wisely, handing down the secret teaching of the Kalacakra, until their power was weakened by a raid of the Kla klo, coming from Me k'a (Mecca), i.e. the Moslem invasion.
The eminent Shambhalist John Newman also weights in on this issue:
The primary texts of the Kalachakra system came into around the beginning of the 11th century . . . so Shambhala must have existed at that time. The Vimalaprabha (See Ornament of Stainless Light: An Exposition of the Kalachakra Tantra and Kalacakratantra: The Chapter On The Individual Together With The Vimalaprabha) tells us that Shambhala is on a latitude north of Tibet, Khotan, and China, Furthermore, the Vimalaprabha says again and again that Shambhala is north of Sita River. The descriptions of the Chinese traveler, Hsuan tsang [Xuanzang] (7th century) and the Tibetan traveler, Man lungs Guru (13th century), both clearly identify the Sita as the Tarim River in Eastern Turkestan. Thus, “Sambhala” [sic] must be a special name for the Uighur kingdom centered at Khocho that flourished circa 850-1250.
The Uighurs of course originated in Mongolia, where they had their capital at Khar Balgas, in what is now Övörkhangai Aimag. When they migrated en masse to Xinjiang circa 840 a.d. they set up a northern capital at Beshbaliq, on the northern side of the Tian Shan Mountains, and a southern capital on the southern side at Gaochang.

Ur-Shambhalist Edwin Bernbaum (1980) elaborates:
. . . by these criteria, the Uighur Kingdom of Khocho in the Turfan [sic] Depression beneath the Tien Shan Mountains stands out as one most likely places to have been Shambhala. In accordance with the Tibetan guidebooks to Shambhala, Turfan lies north of the Sita, which most Western scholars have identified as the Tarim River. Established by the Uighurs, a Turkish people, around A.D. 850, the kingdom of Khocho flourished for four hundred years as a remarkable oasis of culture and learning. A predominately Buddhist country with numerous monasteries, it also had active centers of Manicheism and Nestorian Christianity—two of the three religions with the greatest influence on the Kalachakra. Although few Muslims lived in the Kingdom itself, Islam was certainly familiar as a new and aggressive religion that was supplanting Buddhism elsewhere in Central Asia.

At the time the Kalachakra appeared in India, the kingdom of Khocho probably possessed the most advanced civilization and the highest standard of living of any country in Central Asia. Well-irrigated fields and orchards produced enough surplus food to allow the Uighurs to run welfare programs for the poor. Living together in peaceful harmony, people of different races, religions and languages stimulated each other”s thoughts and culture. Paintings found in the ruins of Turfan show houses built in the Chinese style, men and women dressed in embroidered silk, and a chamber emsemble complete with harps, guitar, and flutes. Even the Chinese, the most fastidious connoisseurs of culture, were impressed the grace of Uighur society. In Turfan we [see] how a number of religions coexisted in an enlightened kingdom that survived for several hundred years; perhaps a group of dedicated mystics founded a similar, but smaller, community where they went on to extract the underlying wisdom of these religious traditions.
In his 2001 edition of The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom Beyond the Himalayas Bernbaum writes that he finally visited Khocho in 1984: “. . . I managed to travel to the heart of Central Asia, to the region most likely to have inspired the myth of Shambhala. There, in the Turfan Depression of western China, at the foot of the Tien Shan mountains, I visited the ruins of the ancient kingdom of Khocho or Gaochang, the most likely prototype for the hidden city itself. Gazing at the extensive walls spreading around me toward the distant mountains, I felt as thought I had come to a place of particular significance on my own journey exploring the many facets of the myth of Shambhala.”

The Indefatigably Peripatetic Pilgrim Xuanzang visited pre-Uighur Gaochang in 629 or 630, at the beginning of his sixteen-year sojourn from China to India and back, when the city was ruled by the half-Chinese king Qu Wentai. The powerful potentate and the pious pilgrim fast became bosom buddies, so much so that Qu Wentai eventually insisted that Xuanzang give up his wandering ways and remain in Gaochang. After Xuanzang staged a three-day hunger strike he was finally allowed to continue on to India, where among other places he visited Bodhgaya and Nalanda.
The Inner City Wall at GaochangMain Temple at Gaochang. Zuanzang gave teachings in the courtyard in front of this temple.
Xuanzang also reportedly gave teachings in this hall.
Ruins of building where Xuanzang supposedly lived while at Gaochang
The famous Flaming Mountains just north of Gaochang, mentioned in the Journey to the West, a fictionalized account of Xuanzang’s life.

See More Photos of Gaochang