Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Turkey | Byzantium | Shambhala

For years I have heard rumors in Mongolia that Istanbul, or Turkey in general, was somehow connected with Shambhala. It’s difficult to say exactly when and how this variant of the Shambhala Mythologem arose. The Third Panchen Lama of Lama (1738-1780), who wrote what is perhaps the most famous guidebook to Shambhala, reportedly stated that the final battle between Buddhism and the infidel unbelievers will take place in Rum, the old name for ancient Byzantium and modern Turkey; he does not seem to equate “Rum” with Shambhala itself. In any case his guidebook was widely distributed in Mongolia and readers may have assumed from his references to Rum—Byzantium—that it was somehow connected with Shambhala. The Mongolian lama and teacher Ishbajor (1704–1788), wrote in a work entitled Zaxidal Xariltsaa that the realm of Shambhala was to the west of “Küngküri,” by which he meant Anatolian Turkey. Istanbul of course lies to the west of Anatolian Turkey. Then the nineteenth-century chronicle Erdeni-yin Erike stated that the fourth son of Chagatai, himself one of Chingis’s sons, “was made King of Rum, and so dwelt in the great city of Shambhala.” This is obviously an historical inaccuracy; no son of Chagatai’s ever ruled as the King of Rum, i.e, Byzantium. This statement does show, however, the persistent identification of Turkey and more particularly Istanbul with Shambhala.

Also, the Mongolian historian Damdinsüren (1908-1986) intimated “that Küngker may have, at one time, been thought of as both Shambhala and Istanbul, thus identifying Shambhala and the Turkish city.” Küngker is a common term for Turkey and/or Istanbul: it frequently pops up on old texts and older lamas in Mongolia use it in conversation to this day. In the Bolor Toli, or Crystal Mirror, a encyclopedic account of Buddhism by the ethnically Mongolian but Tibetan-named lama Nyima Chokyi Thuken (1737–1802), we read that “Going ten day’s journey in the direction of the setting sun from the River Volga, there is the city of the King of Küngker.” But the text does not seem to imply that Küngker is synonymous with Shambhala. It does state that to the west of Küngker “is a great lake called Tinggis [the Mediterranean],” and to the south of Küngker “is a blue stone known as Meka (Mecca), the shrine of the Tirteki [Moslems].” This Mecca is identified as the homeland of the infidel enemies of Shambhala. West of Mecca the Mongolian chroniclers were entering terra incognita, the realms of people with horses heads, antlers, and sexual organs on the soles of their feet.

Despite all these references to Istanbul and Turkey the connection of these places with Shambhala remains nebulous at best. Yet where there is smoke there may indeed be fire. I decided I better continue my researches on the ground. Between the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, both of which I had already visited, is the so-called Miliarium Aureum (Golden Milestone), erected by Byzantine emperor Constantine the Great in the 4th century AD. This stele served as the geographic center of Byzantium, the point from which the distances to all other cities and towns in the far-flung Byzantine Empire were measured. Basically it served the function of those posts we see at popular tourist locations with signs pointing to distance cities, as in “London: 5427 miles.”

It has occurred to me that we pay far too little attention to the Byzantines. Go ahead, admit it—you probably don't think of Byzantium more than two or three times a day. The word itself has become synonymous with mystifyingly intricate bureaucracies and devious, underhanded intrigue, but beyond that what do we really know about the Byzantines? Yet the Byzantium Empire lasted over 1000 years, much longer than the 400 or 500 year-duration of the Roman Empire that Edward Gibbon had such Wet Dreams about.

Recently there has been a spate of books about Byzantium and its capital Constantinople. Why, you ask? Since most of these books are by Americans I can only surmise that consciously or unconsciously Americans are questioning their own Empire-building endeavors and looking for pointers from the past. Debate rages about when America became an empire rather than a republic, but for the sake of argument let’s say that the late 1940s marks the turning point. America had emerged from World War II dominate on the world stage while at the same time the English Empire disintegrated with the loss of India and other Asian possessions. So maybe America has been an empire for sixty years at best. Compare this with the 1000-year span of the Byzantine Empire. Does anyone seriously think America will still be an empire 1000 years hence? Already we are witnessing the classic symptoms of decline: foreign wars sucking off vast amounts of money, a rapidly devaluing currency, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of tiny elite whose actual contribution to the common weal is by no means clear. And as the future becomes more and more uncertain we see the proliferation of fundamentalist religions and the rise of Wild-Eyed Cults which attract those who formerly would have been the bedrock of society. But I digress . . .

It may or may not be significant that just a hundred yards or so from the Golden Milestone is a restaurant which back in the 1960s and 70s served as the western terminus of the Hippie Hegira, also known in some circles as the Hash Highway, through Central Asia, Afghanistan and on to Kathmandu, where as Janis Joplin noted, the road ended for some, or still farther on to Goa and other notorious hangouts in India. Gunj, my host here in Istanbul, apparently made this trip herself. As usual, she is being very coy, but she has hinted that she herself may have located a Portal in Kashmir.

But what about Istanbul? What is Istanbul’s connection with Shambhala? Was there a Portal here in the past and if so does it still exists? It is important to remember that when Mongolians refer to a place in the four dimensional world as Shambhala they are generally referring to a location where a portal to Shambhala can be found, not Shambhala itself. At these places a warp in the time-space continuum may provide access to the Kingdom of Shambhala. Needless to say, opinions vary on this matter, but some knowledgeable Mongolians maintain that Shambhala exists in a seven-dimensional universe which intersects with the four-dimensional world that we all know and love only at very special places known as Portals. One such place is Khamariin Khiid in Mongolia. There are a few others. The location of this portals is not fixed, but can open or close due to various factors. Thus there may have been a Portal in Istanbul previously but now it could be closed. One factor in the location of a Portal may well be the number of people at a given location who are actually attempting enter it. Through the focusing of their energies they may indeed be able create a Portal. Istanbul has been the focus of vast amounts of energy for two millennia; whether it is the kind of energy which results in the creation of a Portal is still uncertain.

Just a stone’s throw from the Million Stone is the entrance to the underground Basilica Cistern. Could this opening into the physical earth also mark the location of a multidimensional Portal? In any case, I remember the Cistern well from its use as a location in the 1963 James Bond flick From Russia with Love and was anxious to see it.

This immense man-made underground cistern, 410 feet long by 210 feet wide, was built by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Great in the Fourth Century AD and later enlarged by Emperor Justinian in the 450s. It provided water for the Great Palace of Constantinople—during Byzantine times located near the site of the current Blue Mosque—and to the nearby Topkapi Palace during the Ottoman Era. Its ceiling is held up by 336 thirty-foot high marble pillars in twelve rows of twenty-eight columns each. Water was piped into the cistern via an aqueduct built during the reign of Emperor Justinian from the Belgrade Forest some twelve miles away. When full the cistern could hold up to 27 million gallons of water.

I received no vibration indicating that the Cistern was a Portal to Shambhala. It did occur to me, however, that there may be some out there who view the Cistern as an entrance to Agharta, the underground Kingdom described by Marquis Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre and Ferdinand Ossendowski. But despite the best attempts of Nicholas Roerich and the host of New Age Nut Bars who followed in his wake to conflate Agharta and Shambhala there is no real connection between the two. So I retired from the Cistern and had tea at the nearby Kervan Guesthouse, where I had quite an interesting, to say nothing of animated, discussion about carpets with its owner, the estimable Turgut Baturay. But the subjects of Turkish Tea and Carpets deserve posts of their own . . .