Note: This brief reflection first appeared in the August 12th edition of the Nelson Star.
It has come and gone. Shambhala, a music festival that drew thousands of revelers to our neck of the woods has been dismantled for another year. In its wake, our city experienced an influx of post-Shambhala pilgrims recuperating from four days of sensory overload.
Shambhala is a Sanskrit term meaning “place of peace/tranquility/happiness.” In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala is a mystical kingdom hidden within the Himalayas, accessible only to those with sufficiently good karma. Many fusions of New Age and Buddhist spirituality also view Shambhala as a spiritual reality that can be taken hold of through a combination of proper meditation, mindfulness, and right living.
The Shambhala festival’s popularity reveals a longing every human has for “bliss”; a state of harmony, inner coherence, and joy. In naming this music festival Shambhala, a not-so-subtle invitation was voiced by the festival’s founders: we are providing a place of peace, happiness, and bliss. What we observe in the yearly pilgrimage to Shambhala is the quest to secure peace and life in a world of violence and death.
And yet each year that sought after peace and security slips through the fingers of every attendee. The weekend is euphoric, but it is also fleeting. Life eventually returns to normalcy. As it does, I wonder how many of those who clamoured to gain access to the festival are haunted by the question of whether or not they are chasing shadows?
In the Bible Jesus is titled “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The gospels (the historical records of Jesus’ life and ministry) present Jesus as a kind of embodied Shambhala. In Jesus peace, tranquility, and happiness (“blessedness”) is offered and found. Jesus said, “’Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus offers peace and life in a world of violence and death.
To further that good news, in Jesus the “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) is available–not just to those with sufficiently good karma–but even to sinners; spiritual “losers” who don’t have any self-righteousness to stand on.
And the peace Jesus gives isn’t fleeting. It is established in the heart now and continues forever. Jesus is the true and greater Shambhala. There’s no need to chase shadows and substitutes.