The Chintamani of the Roerichs: Tales of an extraterrestrial talisman: 1

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A talisman of many powers
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Chintamani, the wish-fulfilling jewel mentioned in Tibetan religious tradition and Hindu legend, was one of the names Nicholas and Helena Roerich used for a possession which had two manifestations: firstly as a ‘spiritual treasure’, by which was meant the psychic faculty or ‘instrument’ each of them utilised; and secondly as the symbolic counterpart of the ‘treasure’ in material reality, which was a talisman of mineral nature. This is said to have been a ‘chip’ or piece from the main mass of a large meteoritic stone located at a place known by a legendary name – Shambhala.
    In the Buddhist Kalachakra scriptures, Shambhala is the sacred kingdom where the Buddha’s teachings are preserved. In Buddhist tradition generally, Shambhala is believed to have been a hidden realm somewhere in Central Asia including Tibet, while many adherents have spoken of ‘Northern Shambhala’ as a real location to the north of Tibet – by which Mongolia is indicated. When certain Buddhist teachings were re-interpreted and absorbed into western Theosophy, Shambhala became a place imagined as a focus through which the ‘Brotherhood’ or ‘Ascended Masters’ – members of the spiritual heirarchy who had reached the highest states of consciousness – guided the spiritual evolution of humanity. The idea of Shambhala was particularly important to the Roerichs because it was identified with a Buddhist prophecy, originating in the Kalachakra teachings, which predicted the eventual triumph of Buddhist enlightenment over non-belief, and this played a part in inspiring a contemporary Buddhist theocratic movement and the Roerichs’ own mission in the East.
    The scarcity of evidential material about the Roerichs’ talisman, often simply referred to as ‘the Stone’, but sometimes as ‘the Treasure of the World’, has resulted in the accumulation of legend, hearsay and mythologising about it, much of which has become accepted as fact. For example, in an often-repeated assertion, we are told that although it was understood to be meteoritic, the Chintamani stone was not a conventional type of meteorite because allegedly it had originated in the constellation of Orion. The reason for this idea seems to lie in another name for the Stone used by Mme Roerich, who sometimes called it the ‘Gift of Orion’. Some elucidation of the origin of the name is found in a passage in her book On Eastern Crossroads, published in 1931, where in the important chapter entitled Legend of the Stone she states that it was ‘…the sign of three stars [of the constellation of Orion] which sent the Stone to the world.’ By interpreting this information literally, and taking it together with other passages in the Roerichs’ books indicating a meteoritic stone, many of the Roerichs’ followers arrive at an explanation of its actual origin in Orion – and Mme Roerich herself evidently insisted this was the correct one. Certainly in ancient times Orion was a source of awe and wonder, and provided an impetus for storytelling – now treated as myth – which played its part in transforming human consciousness, but here we are supposedly dealing not only with a spiritual message but with a mineral object. The legend has been elaborated upon by Constantin Ivanenko, a Russian researcher in metaphysics and parapsychology, whose involvement in the continuation of the Roerichs’ work in St Petersburg means that his information about the Stone needs to be taken seriously and looked at in conjunction with other elements of the story which are known about. According to Constantin, we are apparently expected to believe the nature of the Chintamani stone, or ‘Crystal’ as he also calls it, was real, but can only be understood as a product of theoretical astrophysical processes in one of the stars of Orion.
    Notwithstanding this, the Roerichs are said to have received their talisman while visiting Paris in 1923, but it seems not to have been the first piece of the Chintamani stone known about. Constantin informs us that in 1912, the high Buddhist lama Agvan Dorjiev, a native of Buryatia, is said to have obtained a piece of it in Tibet from the ninth Panchen Lama, Chos-kyi Ni-ma. In 1909 Dorjiev had initiated a project to build a Buddhist Temple in St Petersburg, and soon after his return to Russia he is said to have installed this stone in the Temple foundations. As Constantin wrote, ‘Inside the Temple foundation is said to be hidden a piece of the sacred Chintamani Crystal brought from Shamballah by Holy Lama Agvan Dorjieff, preceptor of Dalai Lama XIII’. Constantin has not disclosed, if indeed it is known to him, where the Panchen Lama had himself obtained the stone. However it is known that Dorjiev visited Lhasa in 1912 to obtain additional funds from the Dalai Lama to continue the construction, although whether he met with the Panchen at this time is an open question. It is significant in relation to the possible sources of this stone that immediately following the Tibetan visit, in January 1913, Dorjiev is reported to have travelled to Mongolia, and to have signed a Tibetan-Mongolian Treaty in Urga (Ulan Bator). Regarding the application of the term ‘Chintamani’ to the stone, the assumption must be from Constantin’s information, that it originated with Dorjiev.
   The ‘chips’ or pieces of the Chintamani stone were believed by the Roerichs to have a special property, which was to enhance psychic communication, and in particular to open channels to receive instruction and guidance from the ‘Ascended Masters’ of Shambhala. Pieces of the Chintamani stone were said to maintain a ‘magnetic connection’ with a main stone located at Shambhala – which, for the Roerichs, was likely to have had an identifiable location. The idea is found most clearly in Nicholas Roerich’s book Himalayas – Abode of Light, published in 1947, and the passage in which it occurs is perhaps the most informative statement about the Stone in any of the Roerichs’ writings: ‘Many… wonderful things have been told by educated Buriats and Mongols… of the miraculous stone coming from a far star, which is appearing in different places before great events… The chief body of this stone is lying in Shambhala, and a small piece of it is given out and wanders all over the earth, keeping magnetic connection with the main stone’. It seems reasonable to hypothesise that both the Roerichs’ talisman, the Stone, and Dorjiev’s ‘piece of the Chintamani Crystal’, have a common origin in the same main stone said to be located ‘in Shambhala’.
   Mme Roerich, who professed herself a psychic medium, is understood to have used the Stone given to them to enhance her powers. Ample evidence can be cited from her writings expressing her belief in the special properties she attributed to meteorites; for example in Illumination we read that meteorites could ‘transmute into action the ideas of space’, and in Supermundane that they act as ‘a focus for concentrating thought’ and serve ‘to accumulate energy [and]… to multiply energy’. She describes how ‘the Stone… helps to preserve the vibrational communications with the far-off worlds. Likewise, a small particle of the stone serves as a link with the Brotherhood’. She accounted for these properties by the presence of certain constituents in their composition, stating in Supermundane that meteorites ‘contain particles of remarkable metals’ which enhance mental and clairvoyant powers. Frances Grant, one of the Roerichs’ closest co-workers, alludes to the wish-fulfilling powers attributed to their ‘treasure’ in her book Oriental Philosophy, published in 1936, as being specifically linked to the promise of the future Buddha, Miatreya, who was hoped for by all adherents of northern Buddhism who looked upon the Panchen Lama as their religious leader: ‘Nor does Asia regard this blessed hour as remote – already, Chintamani, the Treasure of the World and token of his Coming, has appeared’. Alla Shustova, author of a study of the Stone published in Russia in 2005 and entitled Treasure of the World, confirms that the Roerichs’ Stone was ‘a piece of a meteorite’, and states that the special substance in the Stone which enhanced clairvoyant powers was called ‘Moriy’. Although of great interest, however, a discussion of Mme Roerich’s mediumship and the nature of her subjective experience is beyond the scope of this essay.
   In Roerich’s case, the Stone also acted as a propitiatory talisman on his Shambhala-inspired mission to Central Asia. [Note: ‘propitiatory’ meaning ‘bringing or invoking favourable influences’ derived from ‘propitious’ is not accepted dictionary usage but gives the required meaning. The word ‘auspicatory’ has the same meaning but is an archaic usage.] In addition to the stated purposes of his Central Asian Expedition, this ambitious and lengthy enterprise had two underlying and confidential aims. One of them, mentioned earlier, which the Roerichs alluded to using the expression the ‘New Country’, was to help bring about the contemporary interpretation of the idea of Shambhala in the form of a pan-Buddhist, pan-Mongol theocracy which included Buryatia, Mongolia, parts of western China, and Tibet. This was not a new idea, but had previously been put forward in 1907 by Dorjiev, and before him by another Buryat, Pyotr Badmaiev. Roerich’s other underlying aim involved a completely secret set of objectives in the Soviet Union. The nature of the Stone as a propitiatory talisman linked to these confidential activities may partly account for the non-disclosure of facts about it at the time, and the present difficulties in reaching a full understanding about it. Undoubtedly to satisfy the curiosity of those who knew of the Stone, while needing to maintain discretion about the actual circumstances surrounding it, the Roerichs embellished its story through the legends familiar from their books, and often clothed it in codified language.
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