Coming to us across twelve centuries, the prophecy of the coming of the Shambhala warriors illustrates the stakes we face in the Great Turning from an industrial growth mindset to a life sustaining world. Joanna first learned of this prophecy in 1980 from Tibetan friends in India who were coming to believe that this ancient prophecy referred to this very time of our people and planet. She often shares this prophecy in workshops and lectures, for it foretells signs that are increasingly recognizable in our world today.
This prophecy can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Some portray the coming of the kingdom of Shambhala as an internal event, a metaphor for one’s inner spiritual journey independent of the world around us. Others present it as an entirely external event that will unfold independently from what we may choose to cultivate within ourselves or what our participation may be in the world around us. A third interpretation of the prophecy was given to Joanna by her friend and teacher Choegyal Rinpoche of the Tashi Jong community in northern India, which speaks to the need to integrate our inner and outer worlds at this time of material and spiritual crisis and opportunity:
There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Great barbarian powers have arisen. Although these powers waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate one another, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable death and devastation, and technologies that lay waste our world. And it is just at this point, when the future of sentient life hangs by the frailest of threads, that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges.
You cannot go there, for it is not a place; it is not a geopolitical entity. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. Nor can you recognize a Shambhala warrior when you see her or him, for they wear no uniforms or insignia, and they carry no banners. They have no barricades on which to climb to threaten the enemy, or behind which they can hide to rest or regroup. They do not even have any home turf. Forever and always they must move on the terrain of the barbarian powers.
And Choegyal Rinpoche said to me, now the time when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors. Moral courage and physical courage, for they are going to into the very heart of the barbarian power, into the pits and pockets and citadels where the weapons are kept, to dismantle them. To dismantle weapons, in every sense of the word, they must go into the corridors of power where decisions are made.
The Shambhala warriors have the courage to do this because they know that these weapons are manomaya. They are “mind-made.” They are made by the human mind, so they can be unmade by the human mind. The Shambhala warriors know that the dangers threatening life on Earth are not visited upon us by some extraterrestrial power, satanic deities, or pre-ordained evil fate. They arise from our own relationships and decisions, our own lifestyles and habits. They are made by the human mind, so they can be unmade by the human mind.
So the time is upon us when the Shambhala warriors go into training. So you can imagine that when he said this, I asked, “How do they train?” They train, he said, in the use of two weapons. That was the term he used, “weapon.” “What weapons?” I asked. And he held up his hands in the way the lamas hold up the ritual objects of the dorje and bell in the lama dance. One is compassion, he said, and the other is insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena. And you need both; one is not enough. You need compassion because that is what provides you with the fuel, the mode of force to get you out there to be where you need to be to do what you need to do. And what it consists of, essentially, is not being afraid of the suffering of your world. And when you’re not afraid of the pain of your world, then nothing can stop you. Then you can open to it, step forward, act.
But that weapon by itself is not enough. It is too hot. It can burn you out, so you need the other – you need that wisdom, that insight, into the mutual belonging of everything that is. Interwoven as it is in the web of life. With that wisdom you know that it is not a war between the “good guys” and “bad guys.” But that the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. And we are so interwoven throughout the web of life that the smallest act, with clear intentions, has clear repercussions throughout that web that we can barely see. But that insight of profound interconnection is by itself a little cool, a little too conceptual, to sustain and keep you moving, so you need the heat of compassion.
And if you’ve looked at the Tibetan monks chanting, often you will see their hands doing moving mudras. And often as not, they are dancing the interplay between this compassion and wisdom. Well this is the prophecy. Together these two can sustain us as agents of wholesome change. They are gifts for us to claim now in the healing of our world.
To find out more about Joanna Macy and The Work that Reconnects