Saturday, August 12, 2006

China | Xinjiang Province | Khotan | Shambhala

The Tarim Basin as Shambhala. See Enlargement of Map

Edwin Bernbaum, in his book The Way to Shambhala, states:
Of all the regions of Central Asia, the Tarim Basin southwest of Turpan . . . comes closest in size and shape to Tibetan descriptions of Shambhala. A huge oval-shaped area enclosed by the Kunlun, Pamir, and Tien Shan ranges, it could be viewed as an enormous lotus blossom surrounded by a ring of snow mountains. The small kingdoms that have existed side by side in the numerous oases sprinkled around the fringes of the basin may well have provided the model for the ninety-six principalities of the outer region of Shambhala. Until shortly before the Kalachakra reached India and Tibet, Buddhism had been flourishing in the Tarim Basin for nearly eight hundred years. During part of that time, caravans following the silk route to China had brought the outside influences of Manicheism and Nestorian Christianity to bear on the development of Buddhist art thought in the area.

Shambhala may have corresponded historically to the Tarim Basin as a whole or to one the major oases such as Yarkand, Kashgar, or Khotan. Some scholars have singled out Khotan the largest and most fertile oasis on the southern rim of the basin. Watered by melting snows of the Kunlun Mountains, it supported a thriving center of Buddhist learning, a people who loved music and culture, and a school of painting that impressed the Chinese and influenced Tibetan art. According to an old Khotanese tradition, an Indian prince of the third century B.C., who was blinded by rivals, fled his homeland to cross the intervening mountains and found a local dynasty in Khotan. Archeological finds show that Indians did, in fact, colonize the oasis around that time. According to a Tibetan legend about the founding of Shambhala, a member of Buddha’s clan, called Shakya Shambha, was forced by enemies to flee north from India. After crossing many mountains, he came to a land that the conquered and that later became known after him as “Shambhala.” Because of its similarity, the Tibetan legend may have come from the Khotanese tradition, suggesting a possible link between the hidden kingdom and Khotan.
Read more of Edwin Bernbaum’s The Way to Shambhala:


According to another legend Buddhism reached Khotan during the reign of Indian emperor Ashoka (r. ca. 268¬239 B.C.). Historical and archeological evidence would seem to indicate the first century A.D., however. In any case, Khotan may well be the first place that Buddhism was introduced into what is now the country of China. The first Buddhists probably reached Khotan by two different routes; eastward across the Hindu Kush and Pamirs mountains from what is now Afghanistan, and the more direct route northward from Kashmir in India across the Karakorum and Kun Lun Mountains. At first the Sarvastivadin school of Buddhism took hold here; by the fourth Mahayana Buddhism was prevalent. The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hien, who arrived here in the early fifth century, noted:
Yu-teen [Yutian, the old Chinese name for Khotan] is a pleasant and prosperous kingdom, with a numerous and flourishing population. The inhabitants all profess our Law [Buddhism], and join together in its religious music for their enjoyment. The monks amount to several myriads, most of whom are students of the Mahayana. They all receive their food from the common store . . . They make (in the monasteries) rooms for monks from all quarters, the use of which is given to traveling monks who may arrive, and who are provided with whatever else they may require.
Fa-Hien stayed at Gomati Monastery, which was home to 3000 monks. He also says:
Seven or eight li to the west of the city there is what is called the King’s New Monastery, the building of which took eighty years, and extended over three reigns. It may be 250 cubits in height, rich in elegant carving and inlaid work covered with gold and silver, and finished throughout with a combination of all the precious substances. Behind the tope there has been built a Hall of Buddha, doors, and windows being overlaid with gold-leaf. Besides this, the apartments for the monks are imposingly and elegantly decorated, beyond the power of words to express. Of whatever things of highest value and preciousness the kings of the six countries on the east of the (Ts’ung) range of mountains are possessed, they contribute the greater portion (to this monastery), using but a small portion of them themselves.
As already noted, Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang also visited Khotan in 644.

Vajrayana Buddhism was introduced into Khotan in the seventh century. The use of Sanskrit was also prevalent in Khotan. Thus Khotan has been posited by some commentators as the possible source of the Kalachakra Tantra, which was originally written in Sanskit. According to tradition the Kalachakra was brought to India from Shambhala in 966 A.D. In the 980s and 990s Khotan was overran by Turkish Moslem armies who destroyed the Buddhist temples and converted the area to Islam. According to one scenario the Kalachakra Tantra was brought to India by monks from who were escaping the Moslem onslaught on Khotan. Thus Khotan was synonymous with Shambhala, the realm were the Kalachakra was originally practiced.

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