Shangri-La search

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By XIN­HUA in Bei­jing

Search­ing of Shangri-La leads to philo­soph­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies.

Its mys­tic ap­peal has long en­dured, but what and where is Shangri-La Lau­rence Brahm asked such ques­tions dur­ing his first search for the lost mythical king­dom in 2002, but the an­swers he re­ceived were con­fused. A grand ho­tel,” says one. “Par­adise,” says another. “A hid­den coun­try,” tries a third. Some peo­ple even gave Brahm, a lawyer-turned-ex­plorer, a ques­tion of their own, “Does it re­ally exist?”

In search of an an­swer, 41-yearold Brahm and his team set off from Lhasa, cap­i­tal of South­west China’s Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, and headed north to Qing­hai prov­ince be­fore fi­nally trekking south through Yun­nan prov­ince. But the an­swers he wanted were nowhere to be found.

Shangri-La was first men­tioned in Bri­tish author James Hil­ton’s 1933 clas­sic novel LostHori­zon. The al­lure of a mys­te­ri­ous and iso­lated place of per­ma­nent beauty, har­mony, and spir­i­tual res­o­nance, en­closed deep in the Hi­malayas, as de­picted in the book, has for decades in­spired many around the world to search and ex­plore, to find if such a place re­ally ex­ists, and where it could be dis­cov­ered.

Brahm is one of these searchers. He put aside his job as a lawyer, or­ga­nized a team and launched three ex­pe­di­tions be­tween2002 and 2004, each last­ing about nine months from spring to au­tumn, to look for clues about Shangri-La.

“I can say no search has ever been as in-depth as ours. We went to places that no for­eigner had ever been to be­fore and con­ducted count­less field in­ter­views with liv­ing Bud­dhas, monks, no­mads, artists and tourists,” Brahm says.

Based on the ex­pe­di­tions, Brahm has writ­ten a tril­ogy of trav­el­ogues and made sev­eral doc­u­men­taries. More re­cently, he put on a mul­ti­me­dia art ex­hi­bi­tion, “Search­ing for Shangri-La”, in Bei­jing to share his stories, find­ings, thoughts and in­spi­ra­tions.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is sched­uled to last two months from Sept 15 to Nov 15 in the Three Shad­ows Pho­tog­ra­phy Art Cen­ter in Caochangdi, a Bei­jing art dis­trict.

Con­tin­u­ous quest

In their sec­ond ex­pe­di­tion, Brahm and his team dug deep into the ori­gin of the Shangri-Lamyth.

Af­ter de­tailed re­search and anal­y­sis of Lost Hori­zon, they found that James Hil­ton had never vis­ited Asia and largely based his writ­ing on botanist and ex­plorer Joseph Rock’s re­ports on west­ern China for the Na­tional Ge­o­graphic.

So in 2003, the team fol­lowed the foot­steps of Joseph Rock along the an­cient Tea Horse Road, which for cen­turies had served as a trade link be­tween China’s Yun­nan and Ti­bet, and sev­eral Asian coun­tries, as well as pro­vid­ing a vi­tal route for Bud­dhism to en­ter China.

They wanted to find the pro­to­type that had in­spired Hil­ton’s ShangriLa, only to dis­cover that Shangri-La was most likely a mis­spelling of “Shamb­hala,” anide­al­realmin Ti­betan Bud­dhism, Brahm says. So the teamem­barke­do­nathird ex­pe­di­tion in 2004— look­ing for Shamb­hala.

Dur­ing their quest, they heard of the existence of a rare su­tra that con­tained de­scrip­tions and prophe­cies re­gard­ing Shamb­hala and was pre­served at Zhaxi Lhunbo La­masery in Xigaze, Ti­bet.

Fol­low­ing clues in the su­tra, the ex­plor­ers fi­nally ar­rived at the ru­ins of Guge, a pow­er­ful an­cient king­dom founded around the 9th cen­tury that dis­ap­peared mys­te­ri­ously in the 17th cen­tury, in Ngari Pre­fec­ture, the most iso­lated part of west­ern Ti­bet.

Re­gret­fully, Guge was no Shamb­hala ei­ther. But they learned that in a re­mote part of cen­tral Ti­bet, five to twenty five monks of­ten gather to rep­re­sent the kings of Shamb­hala and col­lec­tively med­i­tate, vi­su­al­iz­ing Shamb­hala.

The prac­tice helped Brahm re­al­ize that the search for Shangri-La or Shamb­hala’s ac­tual lo­ca­tion was not im­por­tant. Shamb­hala was not some­thing to be found; it was some­thing to be cre­ated.

Shangri-La to be cre­ated

Ac­cord­ing to a prophecy in the su­tra, about 2,500 years af­ter the Nir­vana of Sakya­muni, founder of Bud­dhism, the world is des­tined to en­ter the Age of Kali, or self-de­struc­tion, a time when short­sighted hu­man greed re­sults in vi­cious cy­cles of war, poverty and en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion.

Ul­ti­mately, the last king of Shamb­hala dis­patches war­riors to rid the world of the forces of greed, anger and ig­no­rance, es­tab­lish­ing the or­der of Sham­bahla on earth.

“Shamb­ha­lais ba­si­cally a bal­anced and sus­tain­able world that shows re­spect for na­ture and for oth­ers,” Brahm says. “By pro­ject­ing pos­i­tive in­ten­tion to change the cir­cum­stances around us, we cre­ate Shamb­hala. It be­gins with each in­di­vid­ual’s in­ten­tion and in the end, it will be our col­lec­tive in­ten­tion as in­di­vid­u­als that will make a dif­fer­ence.”

Though hav­ing failed to find the phys­i­cal place of Shangri-La or Shamb­hala, it seems that Brahm learned­some­thin­gun­ex­pecte­donhis ex­pe­di­tions, some­thing more mean­ing­ful per­haps: that par­adise is not some mythical place that does not exist, but Shamb­hala-like fu­ture can be cre­ated by hu­man­ity through change of per­cep­tion­san­dits ac­tions.

We went to places that no for­eigner had ever been to be­fore and con­ducted count­less field in­ter­views.” Lau­rence Brahm, 41-year-old lawyer-turned-ex­plorer

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