The Story behind the Yoga Zapper
In 1933 James Hilton, in his novel Lost Horizon, wrote about the myth of Shangri-La (a variant of the original Shambala,) a place hidden deep in the Himalayas, whose inhabitants lead extremely long lives. The book was instrumental in introducing the mysticism of the East to Western readers; yet Hilton had knowledge of only a small part of the entire legend.
Several years ago I came across a book titled On the Way to Shambala, composed by Dr. Edwin Bernbaum, who holds a doctorate in Asian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, where he is currently a research associate. He wrote about visiting a Buddhist temple in Nepal where he came across a scripture which described a passage to the mythical valley of Shambala, a place where ancient yogis and rishis meditate for enormous lengths of time. Intrigued, he requested a couple of the monks from the shrine to accompany him on a journey of discovery. They followed the instructions contained in the text and, after a month-long trek, after crossing seven ranges of mountains, came across a perfectly hidden valley.
He describes descending into this beautiful valley, with its pristine forests and a small river running through it. His guides confirmed that this was indeed Shambala. He enquired as to why he didn’t see any sages mediating under its trees and was informed by the monks that they were there, but that he didn’t have the spiritual vision to see them.
In my studies as a Hindu Vaishnava priest, I had previously learnt of this legend in a scripture named the Srimad Bhagavatam (also known as the Bhagavat purana,) which mentions Shambala in connection with a much larger story: that of the future degradation of humanity where an evil ruler controls the entire planet and the appearance of the tenth Avatar of Vishnu named Kalki and his role in defeating this great dictator when Shambala and its inhabitants are attacked.
The narrative has all the elements of a gripping fantasy – a dystopian future, deep spirituality, yogis meditating for uncountable years, mystical weapons, flying vimanas (ancient flying objects) and a great world war between the forces of good and evil at the end of time.
The idea of presenting this engaging story to the everyday reader, especially to those in the yoga community, immediately came to mind. The key was not just to recite the ancient legend, but to let it be seen through the eyes of modern protagonists who would not only have their own engaging stories to tell, but also act as the eyes and ears for the western audience. I dabbled with the idea for several years, letting it ruminate in my brain, waiting for the characters to manifest, the plot to germinate, and finally, five years ago, I put fingers to the keyboard and started typing.
The result is "The Yoga Zapper." I have tried to be as authentic to the original texts as possible. The Srimad Bhagavatam describes the end of Kali yuga (the final age) as a cannibalistic society with a wicked world ruler, environmental degradation and oppressive taxation. In addition, I imagined the society to be divided into three classes: a genetically pure elite, a larger group called the Functionals who perform many societal tasks and thirdly, a vast underclass of deformed humans called Rakshashas (Raks,) all of them controlled by the great dictator by means of DNA implants.
The characters (except for those taken from the original narratives such as Kalki Avatar and Hanuman) and the plot are my invention, but rest is not: they are the product of many years of study of the original sources.
In the Buddhist tradition, Shambala is described as a kingdom in the Himalayas and instead of Kalki Avatar, it is a future Bodhisattva, the Maitreya Buddha, who arises to lead the battle against the invading tyrant. In fact, the belief in Shamabala has been an important one in the East, especially in China, where it gave birth to a significant medieval movement called the Pure Land school of Buddhism.
Is there really a scripture like the Yoga Zapper that allows one to travel through time? In the yoga tradition, eighteen major yogic siddhis as well as numerous minor ones are mentioned, of which one, namely manaḥ-javah, the power of moving the body wherever thought goes, could be construed as the ability to travel through time.
In my conversations with yoga practitioners, I sensed a deep curiosity about the traditional narratives of yoga. Yoga is not just a grounded physical practise (though it can be taken as just that,) or a deep, spiritual philosophy (which adds depth to the practise,) but also has its own legends and mythic origin stories - a view of humanity's future (and past), of society’s moral evolution and a history of yoga's own rise, diminution, demise and eventual rebirth - all wrapped up in an exciting and engrossing tale.
So is there really a Shambala? All indications are that there really is such a valley. Are there really yogis and rishis, in an invisible state, meditating there? And will Kalki Avatar visit us in the distant future? One may accept them or not. But the ultimate goal of this book is to entertain and educate. If you, my reader, found yourself gripped by this tale, moved by the characters, intrigued by the concepts and at the end, had your curiosity piqued and maybe considered more questions than when you started, then my goal has been reached.