Where and what is it?

Lake Baikal Mountains

The following is an early draft of Searching for Shambhala, an article that was later published in Search: Journey on the Inner Path. James George sent this draft to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1976. It is included here in its original unedited form with his kind permission.

Tehran, January 13, 1976

Since the time of the Renaissance, Western culture has been on the way out, in the sense of being centrifugal. Its thrust has been outward in conquest, commerce and conversion: until today its outreach has brought man to the moon. But man’s awareness of the cosmos continues to expand. Ten billion light years do not bring us to the end of the universe but only to the limits of our present probes.

Curiously enough, the fantastic successes of outer space exploration seem to have unveiled more mysteries than they have solved. As we look outward today at the world of quarks and black holes and anti-matter, we are beginning to acknowledge (with more modesty than was fashionable a few generations ago) that we have barely begun to understand our cosmic surroundings and our place in the universe.

This awareness – now for modern man – of the limits of our science, of our understanding and of our consciousness, has encouraged what I consider a very healthy re-awakening of interest in that other quest which so fascinated our ancestors – the exploration of man’s inner space. The search for man’s inner axis and for the centre of his own being had its expression in many of the metaphysical myths that have come down to us from each of the major traditions in periods of man’s history that were relatively more inward looking and centripetal. Now that the pendulum of attention is beginning to swing back from the outer towards the inner, from science to experience, it is time to take a fresh look at what some of these myths and traditions had to say about the idea of a centre at those times in human history when it was taken for granted that everything important had to be centred and oriented – not only the temple, but the kingdom, palace, village, down to the most modest of nomadic dwellings, and including, of course, one’s self. That we have lost so completely this attitude to building and to life is perhaps one of the surest indicators that our Western civilization has become quite literally “eccentric.”

Wherever we look in ancient times and places, it was very different. Legends and allegories about the centre of the world abound. In every culture there were cosmic mountains representing the axis of the world, capped by a sacred peak from which there were (typically) four rivers flowing off in the cardinal directions, watering four gardens and a whole mandala which was seen by that particular civilization as its ideal or archetype. There are many examples: for the Hindus, Mount Meru (Sumeru) or Kailash; for the Zoroastrian Iranians, Hara Barzaiti, and for their Islamic descendants, Mount Qaf; Mount Zinnalo for the Laotian Buddhists; Himinbjorg for the Norsemen and for the ancient Greeks, Delphi, which they thought of as the omphalos or navel of the world.

In more strictly religious terms, other world “centres” have been rocks or meteorites such as the Muslim Ka’ba in Mecca. For the Jews, according to the Kabbala, the secret heart of the world was the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle of the Temple of the Most High set on Zion’s Hill in the centre of Jerusalem. For the Christians it was Golgotha which, as Mircea Eliade puts it, “was situated at the centre of the world, since it was the summit of the cosmic mountain and at the same time the place where Adam had been created and buried. Thus the blood of the Saviour falls upon Adam’s skull, buried precisely at the foot of the Cross, and redeems him.”

Even Columbus believed that the world had a huge mountain at its centre, binding heaven and earth. Sailing off South America on his third voyage and noting the quantity of fresh water flowing into the ocean (from the Orinoco), he speculated that it might be from one of the rivers of Paradise pouring off the base of the world mountain.

These sacred mountains have their esoteric counterparts in another kind of tradition often linked with the first – that of the hidden community of those who have realized man’s potential for higher states of being and who have perhaps from time to time exerted an influence on the course of human history. This is the tradition of Shambhala, the sacred city in the mountains of central Asia which, according to Tibetan Bon and Buddhist, and to some Indian Hindu sources, represents the spiritual centre of the world.

As with the cosmic mountain, there are many other examples which could be cited from other traditions but all point to the same hypothesis –that there is somewhere a community of men and women who have succeeded in finding and transmitting the knowledge of how to achieve the kind of psychic breakthrough to a higher consciousness that even the scientific world is beginning to acknowledge as possible for man. At this time and on this planet, has there been and is there perhaps still a brotherhood or a community or a monastery, or some kind of esoteric centre, belonging to one of the great traditions of mankind – or having surpassed the limitations of such particular labels – which has, in a concrete way, found what so many people who are not more than half asleep begin to look for today?

To say that such a centre has existed does not mean that it still exists. Nor does it follow, even if it exists, that it could be located by satellite photography or tracked down by systematic ground expeditions. But so long as there is the remote possibility that such a place is real somewhere in our world, here and now, there will be those who will look for it. We can take Shambhala as the prototype of the object of this search.

Where and what is it?

I shall never forget an evening in our house in New Delhi, in 1968, when we had the now well-known Tibetan teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, staying with us. We had been asking him about the Tibetan tradition of Shambhala. To our astonishment he replied very quietly that, although he had never been there, he believed in its existence and could see it in his mirror whenever he went into deep meditation. That evening in our study he produced a small circular metal mirror of the Chinese type and after looking into it intently for some time began to describe what he saw. Within a circular range of high snow-peaked mountains there was a green valley with a beautiful city where extraordinary people lived, cut off from the outside world by their own volition. In the middle of the city there was a little palace or temple on the top of a hill composed of terraces. Around this hill there was a square walled enclosure, and around this again other enclosures where people lived and where there were temples and gardens, chortens and other sacred monuments. It sounded “out of this world.” But there was Trungpa in our study describing what he saw as if he were looking out of the window.

Four years later, in 1972, when we were visiting Bhutan, we were invited to the house of one of the senior officials and nobles of Paro, Mr. Paljor Dorji, where my memory of Trungpa Rinpoche’s description was refreshed by seeing a painting which Mr. Dorji told us was several centuries old, on a wood panel in his living room. It was a painting of Shambhala. A few months earlier we had been given a Tibetan map of Shambhala by Mr. Tenzing Namdak, the Tibetan Bon scholar and priest who had collaborated with D.N. Snellgrove in writing The Nine Ways of Bon. Photos of Paljor Dorji’s painting and of Tenzing Namdak’s map of Shambhala are reproduced as Figures 1 and 2 so that the reader can have a concrete visual impression of what Shambhala meant to a Bon artist in Tibet five or six centuries ago and to a Bhutanese or Tibetan Buddhist about 200 years ago. Though the Bon version is much more stylized, both versions agree on essentials. It should be noted that the Bon version specifically places Shambhala on a cosmic mountain, whose nine stories represent for that tradition the nine ways of Bon. Moreover, the text which Tanzing Namdak translated for us from the Shangzhung language (pre-Buddhist Tibetan for the vicinity of Mount Kailash) indicates by name the tribes and peoples living north, south, east and west of Shambhala. From this evidence we can infer that the artist believed Shambhala to be located somewhere northwest of Tibet, perhaps in the general area of Khotan. This is consistent with the Bon tradition that their teachings came from the west and included both Iranian and central Asian shaman elements which have more recently been overlaid by adaptations of tantric Buddhist teachings.

Other Tibetan sources, principally Buddhist, tend to place Shambhala in the mountains of northern Tibet, though there are some sources that suggest an eastern or southern border location, but always in the mountains. The one I feel rings truest, because it accords with the Bon tradition in linking Shambhala with both the cosmic mountain and the spiritual centre or community, is described by Stein as being in Yarlung, in eastern Tibet at the mountain Shampo, where the first king of Tibet, Nyathi, descended from above on a kind of mystical beanstalk or robe called a Mu-tak –a term which also appears in Chinese literature. Mu – even in Japanese today – means emptiness and is the equivalent of the Sanskrit shunyata, the void. After seven generations of kings had been able to maintain contact with their spiritual sources and go up and down the Mu-tak, King Digum by accident (inattention) cut his sacred connection with his sword while fighting his enemies and was promptly killed. Having no Mu-tak, his successors were confined to the earth. We already have in capsule form the story of the fall of man – because the king or shaman lost his ability to fulfill his traditional role of being able to communicate with the heavenly powers and transmit their vision to the people at large.

As described by Stein, the descent of the first Tibetan King Nyathi from Mount Shampo:

“took place on a plain called Tsenthan Goshi, ‘King’s Plain with Four Gateways’, essentially square, therefore, like a fortified camp or a mandala. Twelve chieftains who had come there to pay religious homage to the mountain met this being from on high and took him as their king. They are described as herdsmen, hunters, local inhabitants, twelve petty kings or twelve Bonpo priests, holy men or chieftains. Their number fits in with the square lay-out.

The earliest history we have (probably ninth century) says of this spot:

‘It was the centre of the sky, the middle of the earth and the heart of the country. An enclosure of glaciers; the head of all rivers. High mountain, pure earth, an excellent country. A place where wise men are born heroes, where custom is perfected, where horses grow swift.'”

This account taken from Chinese historical sources (the documents of Touen-houang) gives us several important clues as to how the early Tibetans thought about Shambhala. Like any place where there was order, it was laid out as a mandala or rather three mandalas arranged on a central axis, one above another. Tibetan though, like that of the Chinese, has always been moulded by the idea that man was a kind of link or ladder joining the worlds of heaven and earth. Here we find Shambhala described as being the “”centre of the sky, the middle of the earth, and the heart of the country,” i.e., inside or under the earth as the heart is in the body. As we know from other Tibetan writings and paintings, the mandalas of the world above and of the world below man were similarly constructed as if the lower reflected or mirrored the higher. The typical Tibetan Buddhist scheme shows the sky as an eight-spoked wheel and the earth as an eight-petalled lotus. It was the upper centre that was called Shambhala; the lower one hidden in the heart of the earth was called (at least according to Rene Guenon quoting Saint Yves d’Alveydre) Agarttha, which in Sanskrit means “ungraspable.” As we shall see below, this scheme of the wheel is the mandala of the Kalachakra Tantra which is traditionally believed to have been revealed by the Buddha in Shambhala.

The Kalachakra Tantra is one of the most esoteric Tibetan teachings, associated both with successive Dalai Lamas and with the Panchen Lamas. The version of the Tantra as we have it is usually ascribed to Lobsang Palden Yeshe (1738-1780) who is called by Europeans the third Panchen Lama and by Tibetans the sixth. He was so fascinated by the search for Shambhala himself that he asked George Bogle, the British envoy who visited him from India on behalf of the British Governor, Warren Hastings, to find out on his return to Bengal what the pandits there knew about Shambhala. However the Kalachakra Tantra is much older than the 18th Century. That remarkable Hungarian scholar, Alexander Csoma de Koros, who travelled from Hungary on foot to Tibet early in the 19th century to study the origins of his people, reports that he was told the Kalachakra Tantra had been transmitted from Shambhala to Tibet and to India about 965 A.D.

The message of the Kalachakra Tantra cannot, however, be dated. It is in essence time-less and the whole teaching is about how to use a knowledge of the wheel of time (chakra means “wheel” and kala “time”) to get out of time, and thus escape decay and death which are the inevitable lots of all creatures caught in time. The way out lies through the centre, in the timeless hub which is totally empty and still, and around which everything in manifestation and time moves. It moves more and more violently as we leave the centre and are thrown to the circumference of the wheel of life, just as the wheel of the cart moves, the axle alone remaining still. All beings and all life can be placed somewhere on the wheel. All traditions are its converging spokes. At the centre there are no more labels, no more words, only stillness and silence; but this is not emptiness as those on the rim imagine the void to be. At the centre (and only there) is the plenitude of being and joy we can call life.

Shambhala then can be seen from the Kalachakra Tantra teaching as the abode of those who have found their way to the centre. It is quite literally a time-less place and, since space-time is a continuum, must therefore also be a place-less place. It stands above history because it stands out of time. We have already seen that it is associated with the beginnings of Tibetan history so we should not be surprised to find that it also has a role at the end of history – alpha and omega. For at the end of this cycle of time the great Tibetan warrior-hero King Gesar (Kaiser, Caesar) of Ling is due to ride forth again with all his troops from Kalapa, the capital of Shambhala, to re-establish, in all its original purity and force, the reign of Dharma, that is, of the Buddha’s primal teaching which has through the course of history become tarnished and distorted.

The capital city of the country called Shambhala is here given as Kalapa. This is an interesting Sanskrit term meaning “that which holds single parts together,” like a “bundle or quiver of arrows,” or “the bells strung around a woman’s waist.” Yes, indeed; that is what it means to have a centre, a point of reference to which everything is related, the glue without which all the little fragments of understanding we have gathered remain fragmentary, not a hole, not holy. Therein lies the difference between information and knowledge, between a string of facts and the understanding to hold them together.

I have long thought that if we could understand the meaning of the word Shambhala it would help to clarify both the origin and the significance of the idea. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any serious study of the etymology of the word and so, although I do not have the qualifications myself, I am forced to offer a few suggestions to those better able to evaluate and pursue them to a satisfactory conclusion. I am, however, in complete agreement with my friend Professor Elemire Zolla, the great Italian metaphysician, that “metaphysics is concealed in words like pith in stalks, marrow in bones.” I am indebted to him for the derivation of the Indo-European root bha as meaning “vision” or “light” with the secondary meanings of “sound” or “magic utterance.”

As for sham, it could either be connected (for reasons given below) with the Indian God Shiva, if the term is ascribed an Indian origin, or with the word Shamash of Sumerian origin meaning “sun”, which comes into modern Arabic as shams. Thus, apart from the Sumerian sun god, Shambash, whose temple was near Babylon, there are known to have been other famous temples dedicated to the sun called shams or shamba (a) in Balkh, the ancient capital of the Bactrian kingdom in northern Afghanistan, and (b) in Multan which according to Alberuni used to be called Shambha-pura (City of the Vision of the Sun) in the pre-Islamic period. In Multan, the great annual festival of the year was celebrated in honour of the sun and there are descriptions of the golden idol representing the sun to support this identification. Though the temple was destroyed after Alberuni saw it, the sun god Surya in Multan (as in many other Indian temples) is described as wearing “northern” (central Asian) nomadic dress, including in this case red leather boots, though leather is anathema in Hindu temples. Trade routes to Tibet ran through both Multan and Balkh, so the name shams or shambha could as easily have been carried to Tibet as the dress from north of the Himalayas to Multan.

If then we see a Middle Eastern derivation in the name Shambhala, it would mean “light of the sun” or “vision of the sun.” Alternatively, if we spell the word Shambala (as it was spelled in most of the early European references to it), this would mean “the sun above” (from the Persian bala “above”; as in Bala Missar, the fort above Kabul, and many other similar names). Shambhala would then mean “the supernal sun”, not merely the ordinary visible sun but the principle of light itself, as coming from the transcendent sun, the source of all light.

In Sanskrit literature there are remarkably few references to Shambhala. The Kalachakra Tantra and its traditional origin in Shambhala is referred to in Indian tantric literature, where Shambhala tends to be located in the Himalayas and usually in the Swat-Kashmir region according to D.C. Sircar. As Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary gives the meaning of shamkara as “relating to or belonging to Shiva” and as bala in Sanskrit means “child”, Shambhala would mean “child of Shiva.” However, Danielou gives three attributes of Shiva as translations of the word shambhu; Shiva as “the changeless state”, as “the giver of peace”, and (with Kali) as “the abode of joy.”

The only part of the word which seems to be of Tibetan origin is the suffix -la, which means a high mountain pass or high place among the peaks.

When we are dealing with sacred places or sacred symbols we are not under the obligation (as we would be in the every-day world) to choose one meaning and reject the others. In Shambhala, we are at the centre of the world of creative imagination where all divergent thoughts can blend in peace, retaining elements of meaning that might have come from Sanskrit, Middle Eastern or shamanistic sources. Here nothing that speaks truly of the primordial tradition need be rejected. We can keep in our spectrum of meaning the sun, the light, the vision, transcendent amid the mountains; for the Buddhists, the epitome of voidness; for the Hindus, the mountain retreat of the supreme Shiva.

We have already written of one mountain, Shampo, in Yarlung in eastern Tibet where the first kings descended, but there are other references in Tibetan literature. For example, in the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa (11th century A.D.), Jetsun (Milarepa) sends Rechungpa, his disciple, to the Shambo snow mountain in the southern Tibetan region beyond Doh for his meditation retreat. The passes in the vicinity of either of these (Mount Shambo or Shampo) could have been called in Tibetan Shambo-la. But we need not bewilder ourselves with multiple references to place names when in all probability the particular mountain, whether in the north, south, east or west of Tibet, was called after the traditional prototype mentioned as the origin of the Kalachakra Tantra and as the home of the sages, secure beyond place and time. For as Ch’uang-tzu says: “The Principle cannot be attained by the eye nor the ear… The Principle cannot be heard, what is heard is not It. The Principle cannot be seen; what is seen is not It. The Principle cannot be stated; what is stated is not It… The Principle, being unimaginable, cannot be described either.”

Perhaps the neatest expression of this idea comes from Persian literature, from the Sufi writings of the great Persian mystic Suhravardi. As he puts it, the doors of heaven at the top of Mount Qaf (the cosmic mountain) open on to Na Koja Abad, which literally means “no where place” – a place beyond all places, a place that is nowhere because it cannot be pinned down to a spatial limitation. It belongs to what the Persian Sufis would have called the Malakut – or their Zoroastrian forebears would have called Hurqalya – the world of pure angelic intelligences. So is this the world that Trungpa Rinpoche’s consciousness penetrated when he looked into his mirror in deep meditation and told us he saw Shambhala? Is this the land of which Milarepa sang, and which Tibetan artists, who are able to see in a way we do not, have painted?

Having begun with the search for Shambhala in concrete terms and having raised the possibility of there being such a place on our planet in the past, and perhaps still today, I cannot simply dispose of Shambhala by saying that it is only an idea that has haunted the imagination of central Asia and of Indian tantrics. One of the surest signs of how far we have deviated from a true understanding of the creative imagination in our own day is that we automatically suppose that if something belongs to the world of myth it has no reality – it is just (as we say) “imaginary”, by which we mean fantastic. It is time we grew out of this simple-minded dualistic way of looking at everything, as either “body” or “mind” when the best doctors are convinced that such a distinction is almost impossible to sustain scientifically. So too with the distinction between myth and history. Today we should be able to see that some myths may be nothing more than folklore or distant echoes of the historical events, but others are an expression of metaphysical truths in popular concrete form. Only today’s myths are totally false because they contain neither literal nor symbolic truth.

So if we are serious, let us search for Shambhala, not only “from the top”, so to speak, but also more modestly and practically from where we are in our mundane three-dimensional world. Maybe it will not be given to us to find Shambhala but if we feel drawn by the idea of it there is nothing to stop us from looking for people or places that might have a connection. So many today are looking for teachers and teachings which have an Eastern or traditional origin. From the point of view which I am exploring, I would say that any authentic teacher or teaching must have, directly or indirectly a “Shambhala connection.” Whether this is admitted or kept secret, it is a remarkable fact that many of the teachings that can be considered esoteric seem to have come from the East and often to have been connected with the high places of the Himalayas or of the central Asian mountains beyond. This area has been so remote and inaccessible for so many centuries that it has served as a kind of deep-freeze in which beliefs and practices have been preserved intact over long periods of time. Since Chairman Mao made China’s claim to sovereignty over Tibet effective, from about 1959, Tibetan lamas have as refugees suddenly become more accessible to the rest of the world and interest in their teachings has spread. Their loss has been the world’s gain, for it has brought Shambhala closer to us.

Long before the last twenty years, however, there were those in the West who had been touched by the Shambhala idea. So far as I know, Swedenborg in the 18th century was the first specifically to refer to Shambhala in European literature, if earlier references to Prester John’s Kingdom are disregarded as being too vague to be linked to Shambhala. In the next century Madame Helena Blavatsky wrote of her Masters from Shambhala, and then the Theosophists took it up. In the early years of this century Roerich’s translation into German of the third Panchen Lama’s book was published under the title of The Way to Shambhala. This was followed by what I can only call the Western escapist literature in which people like James Hilton and Lowell Thomas popularized the Shambhala idea as “Shangri-la”, the happy kingdom hidden somewhere in the most remote Himalayas where people remained eternally young.

Meanwhile, around the turn of the century more serious and more practical research was going on in central Asia, including Afghanistan and Tibet, by a group of Europeans who called themselves “the seekers of truth.” Their quest has been most interestingly described in the writings of G.I. Gurdjieff, especially in his more or less autobiographical book Meetings with Remarkable Men. Now that his work, twenty-seven years after his death, is becoming well known in the West (at least among those interested in seeking for ways other than drugs to expand and transform consciousness), there is inevitably a lively interest in his presumed sources in the East. No doubt anticipating the fruitlessness of trying to retrace his steps through central Asia seventy or eighty years too late, Gurdjieff had been careful to throw dust in the eyes of anybody tempted to engage in this kind of exercise, but the few hints he has given suggest that the brotherhoods, communities, monasteries and great teachers whom he describes may have been located in this part of the world. He mentions specifically the Pamirs, Kafiristan, the Afridis and the Hindu Kush, as well as Tibet and the Gobi Desert. He never mentions the word Shambhala but some of his pointers indicate contacts with Tibetan and Sufi masters and with monasteries or brotherhoods in Central Asia combining people chosen from all traditions. Wherever they may have been, the places he describes were exceedingly remote and difficult to access, cut off from the world in high mountain valleys which (from the few clues he has scattered in his writings) could well have been those of this part of the world, stretching through the mountain ranges of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. It is suggestive, moreover, that he comes back time and again in the first series of his writings, All and Everything, to the solar language of Shambhala in referring to the Supreme as residing on “the Most Holy Sun Absolute.”

My wife and I reached this part of the world in 1960, just too late to have attempted to penetrate Tibet itself, but our postings in Ceylon (1960-64), India (1967-72) and since then in Iran, have given us many opportunities to spend our holidays driving our Landrover, or simply trekking on foot, through many of the mountain regions south of Tibet and the USSR from Afghanistan to Assam, including specifically Balkh, Bamiyan, Nuristan (Kafiristan), Chitral, Swat, Kashmir, Ladakh, Kulu, the Kali-Gandaki Valley (as far as the District of Mustang) in Nepal, the Solo-Kumbu region near Mount Everest, Sikkim, Bhutan and Assam. Our travels took us to many valleys and high places in the mountains, places of exceptional beauty and power, where there are still today individual teachers and even a few communities – Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim – but there is nothing which I have seen or heard about that would suggest a real Shambhala existing in any of these areas, based on our very incomplete survey. We had of course no illusions that we were in any of these travels “on the way to Shambhala.” We were just exploring some of the most beautiful areas of our planet which have always been regarded as a source of inspiration and refreshment by those who have lived in this part of the world. But being especially interested in the traditions which have made these mountains holy, and also in retracing if possible some of the steps of G.I. Gurdjieff, we kept our eyes and ears open for any traces of teachings or teachers that might still be found. Teachers we were lucky enough to find over the years we have lived in the East, but I cannot say that we discovered any trace of existing monasteries or communities that could be considered modelled on Shambhala, or that made any claim to be connected with it.

At the same time, the fact remains that according to every metaphysical tradition, whether Chinese or Tibetan, Buddhist, Christian or Hindu, or Islamic Sufi, something exists in the innermost recesses of our being that is free of the limitations of time and place because it is here and now. On that central axis the world turns microcosmically in man and macrocosmically too. In this sense the axis of Shambhala runs through every heart.

Which is not to deny that there may be a Shambhala “out there” too. The absence of specific “proof” proves nothing but that those who might have found such a centre would not speak or write about it. Sacred is secret. But if a Mafia of crime can hide itself underground in our big cities, it would be surprising if a spiritually liberated few could not hide themselves even today somewhere in those same cities or in the mountains of Central Asia. “Schools” on various levels have always existed and we can think of Shambhala as the “School of Schools.” We may not have been looking for it in Chitral and the Himalayas in the proper way but the fact we did not find it does not mean we were wasting our time. The search goes on. Already it has brought us some of our most beautiful and alive moments, especially when we had no prefabricated ideas about what we might find standing between us and our direct impressions. The ultimate goal of man’s existence here (in the sense in which we have been describing the search for truth) is perhaps never attained; but something does sometimes happen to pilgrims on the way. They may change. They may become more centred.

If Shambhala exists on our planet, I am convinced we cannot simply go and find it – it will have to find us. Only by that act of grace capping our own wish and our own efforts can we be brought to such a centre.

In the climax of Attar’s Conference of the Birds, when the last weary and tattered three birds (all that are left of the thirty who started on the great search) finally arrive and find themselves in the divine presence of the Simourg, there is a moment almost of anti-climax. The birds had expected to see God: they find themselves in front of a mirror — they see…themselves. The shock throws them to the centre. They understand at last. But without the whole pilgrimage they would only have seen three birds in a mirror!

On the day on which I finished writing this article, an Iranian friend in the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me the following story of the famous Mullah Nasser Eddin. Once the Mullah was visiting a village in Anatolia where there lived a rival teacher who wanted to show up the Mullah by asking him a question that could not be answered. Accordingly he approached the Mullah when there were many people around him and suddenly asked him “Tell me, learned Master, where is the centre of the world?” To which the Mullah replied without a moment’s hesitation, pointing at the spot on which he stood, “The centre of the world is exactly here where I now am.” The rival protested that there was no proof and the Mullah answered, “If you think you know better, go and measure the world yourself and find the centre.”

© 1976, 2003 by James George, by arrangement with James George.


The Passing of James George: tributes to a remarkable man

Interview: Chronicles 2003

Chronology: a partial timeline of James George’s accomplishments

Photo by Marvin Moore
James George (September 14, 1918 - February 7, 2020) was a Canadian diplomat, political and environmental activist, author, and "spiritual seeker." A founder of the Threshold Foundation and president of the Sadat Peace Foundation, he led the Friends of the Earth international mission[2] to Kuwait and the Persian Gulf to assess post-war environmental damage. He was also an important person in Trungpa Rinpoche's life. <a href=""See tribute page.