The New Old Shangri-La

buddha-fire-3

In the PBS series, In Search of Myths and Legends, historian Michael Wood seeks to discover if the legend of Shambhala ever had a basis in physical reality.  Did Shambhala–the Shangri-La of the novel and movie Lost Horizon–actually exist?

As the story goes…

…Shambhala can be found somewhere over the Himalayas–a place of peace and plenty, where the knowledge of mankind is kept and preserved.  After war and greed have ruined our world, we will seek out this hidden wisdom and use it to rebuild civilization.

In his search, Wood travels to Nepal and then into Tibet, witnessing grand vistas and stopping in villages that seem to be from another time, if not another world.

In a sense, he does find the Shambhala of legend–he comes upon a poor mountain village where numerous Tibetan Buddhist texts were transferred during the Chinese invasion of Tibet.  The wisdom has been tucked away and only waits for the madness to cease.

But unlike some who seek physical, geographical proof for legends and myths, Wood seems to understand that the imagined Shambhala can not actually be found out there, in the exterior world.

Such legends present us with a tantalizing paradox: Shambhala does not exist and yet it does.  To imagine Shambhala gives us a sense of peace and harmony.  Shambhala is hope.  Shambhala promises that humankind can survive its own violence and craziness.  The legend tells us, that though we may nearly destroy civilization, in the aftermath of such destruction, we may actually arrive at a better world.

But on a deeper level, I believe we understand that the apocalypse must occur on an inner level.  Mythology and religion tell us, again and again, that we must die to our old self to be born anew.  Myth tells us that any journey back to Shangri-La, back to that place of wisdom, back to paradise, must be harrowing, must be filled with tests that demand our greatest courage.

But if it was easy, wouldn’t that be disappointingly dull?

© 2009, Michael R. Patton
sky rope (subterranean rappel)
dream steps

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About Michael Patton

I am a poet, novelist, essayist, cartoonist, graphic artist, peace miller, new mythologist, and fledgling world citizen.... I grew up in Northwest Arkansas and have lived and worked all over the United States.... I'm self-taught, for the most part--which is like searching for the right door in the dark. It's an on-going process.... I don't want to write MY story, I want OUR story, so that's what I'm studying: the human story: past, present, future, in its many aspects--including the spiritual. I'm proceeding at a slow crawl.... I don't see the inner world and outer world as separate. By learning about myself, I learn about others, I learn about my world.... Conversely, as I struggle to understand what I see OUT THERE, I learn about myself.... But to be clear: I don't claim any special understanding. I'm still purblind, still only half-awake.... After frustrating experience with the publisher of my first novel, I've published on my own, beginning with e-books, with plans to move into print and audio. Even video.... Along with a second novel, I've now published eight books of poetry. Each poetry book focuses on a theme. For instance, the collection GLORIOUS TEDIOUS TRANSFORMATION is about the slow difficult wonderful process of change.... In that book, as with all my work, I try to be accessible to a general audience, while also striving to achieve a certain literary quality.
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