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The Kalachakra (Sanskrit Kālacakra, Tibetan: དུས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ།, Wylie: dus kyi 'khor lo ; Mongolian: Цогт Цагийн Хүрдэн Tsogt Tsagiin Hurden; Chinese: 時輪) is a term used in Vajrayana Buddhism that means wheel of time or "time-cycles".
"Kālacakra" is usually used to refer to a very complex teaching and practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Although the teaching is very advanced and esoteric, there is a tradition of offering it to large public audiences.
Kālacakra refers both to a patron Tantric deity or iṣṭadevatā, (Wylie: yi dam ) of Vajrayana Buddhism and to the philosophies and meditation practices contained within the Kālacakra Tantra and its many commentaries. The Kālacakra Tantra is more properly called the Kālacakra Laghutantra, and is said to be an abridged form of an original text, the Kālacakra Mūlatantra which is no longer extant. Some Buddhist masters assert that Kālacakra is the most advanced form of Vajrayana practice; it certainly is one of the most complex systems within tantric Buddhism.
The Kālacakra tradition revolves around the concept of time (kāla) and cycles (chakra): from the cycles of the planets, to the cycles of human breathing, it teaches the practice of working with the most subtle energies within one's body on the path to enlightenment.
The Kālacakra deity represents a buddhahood and thus omniscience. Since Kālacakra is time and everything is under the influence of time, Kālacakra knows all. Kālacakri, his spiritual consort and complement, is aware of everything that is timeless, not time-bound or out of the realm of time. In Yab-Yum, they are temporality and atemporality conjoined. Similarly, the wheel is without beginning or end. The term "wheel" evoked herewith is a principal polyvalent sign, teaching tool, organising metaphor and iconographic device within Indian religions. Some "wheel" cognates are the aṣṭamaṅgala symbol of the dharmacakra, Vishnu's Sudarshana Chakra and the theory of saṃsāra.
Kālacakra refers to many different traditions: for example, it is related to Hindu Shaiva, Samkhya, Vaishnava, Vedic, Upanishadic and Puranic traditions and also to Jainism. The Kālacakra mandala includes deities which are equally accepted by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.
The Kālacakra deity resides in the center of the mandala in his palace consisting of four mandalas, one within the other: the mandalas of body, speech, and mind, and in the very center, wisdom and great bliss. The Kālacakra sand mandala is dedicated to both individual and world peace and physical balance. The Dalai Lama explains: “It is a way of planting a seed, and the seed will have karmic effect. One doesn’t need to be present at the Kalachakra ceremony in order to receive its benefits.”
Text of the Kālacakra Tantra
The first two chapters are considered the "ground Kālacakra." The first chapter deals with what is called the "outer Kālacakra"—the physical world– and in particular the calculation system for the Kālacakra calendar, the birth and death of universes, our solar system and the workings of the elements.
The second chapter deals with the "inner Kālacakra," and concerns processes of human gestation and birth, the classification of the functions within the human body and experience, and the vajra-kaya; the expression of human physical existence in terms of channels, winds, drops and so forth. Human experience is by some described in terms of four mind states: waking, dream, deep sleep, and a fourth state which is available through the energies of sexual orgasm. The potentials (drops) which give rise to these states are described, together with the processes that flow from them.
Path and fruition
The last three chapters describe the "other" or "alternative Kālacakra," and deal with the path and fruition. The third chapter deals with the preparation for the meditation practices of the system: the initiations of Kālacakra. The fourth chapter explains the actual meditation practices themselves, both the meditation on the mandala and its deities in the generation stage practices, and the perfection or completion stage practices of the Six Yogas. The fifth and final chapter describes the state of enlightenment (Relijin) that results from the practice.
The phrase "as it is outside, so it is within the body" is often found in the Kālacakra tantra to emphasize the similarities and correspondence between human beings and the cosmos; this concept is the basis for Kālacakra astrology, but also for more profound connections and interdependence as taught in the Kālacakra literature.
In Tibet, the Kālacakra astrological system is one of the main building blocks in the composition of Tibetan astrological calendars. The astrology in the Kālacakra is not like the Western system, in that it employs complicated astronomical calculations to determine, for example, the exact location of the planets.
History and origin
Original Teaching in India and Later Teachings in Kingdom of Shambhala
In response to his request, the Buddha taught the first Kālacakra root tantra in Dharanikota (near modern Amaravathi) in 5th century B.C. of southeastern India, supposedly bilocating (appearing in two places at once) at the same time as he was also delivering the Prajñāpāramitā sutras at Griddhraj Parvat in Bihar. Along with King Suchandra, ninety-six minor kings and emissaries from Shambhala were also said to have received the teachings. The Kālacakra thus passed directly to Shambhala, where it was held exclusively for hundreds of years. Later Kings of Shambhala, Mañjushrīkīrti and Pundarika, are said to have condensed and simplified the teachings into the Śri Kālacakra or Laghutantra and its main commentary, the Vimalaprabha, which remain extant today as the heart of the Kālacakra literature. Fragments of the original tantra have survived; the most significant fragment, the Sekkodesha, was commented upon by Naropa.
Mañjushrīkīrti (Tibetan: འཇམ་དཔལ་གྲགས་པ , THL Jampel Drakpa) is said to have been born in 159 BCE and ruled over Shambhala, which had 300,510 followers of the Mleccha religion living in it, some of whom worshiped the sun. He is said to have expelled all the heretics from his dominions but later, after hearing their petitions, allowed them to return. For their benefit, and the benefit of all living beings, he explained the Kālacakra teachings. In 59 BCE he abdicated his throne to his son, Puṇḍārika, and died soon afterwards, entering the sambhogakāya of Buddhahood.
There are currently two main traditions of Kālacakra, the Ra lineage (Wylie: rva lugs ) and the Dro lineage (Wylie: bro lugs ). Although there were many translations of the Kālacakra texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan, the Ra and Dro translations are considered to be the most reliable (more about the two lineages below). The two lineages offer slightly differing accounts of how the Kālacakra teachings returned to India from Shambhala.
In both traditions, the Kālacakra and its related commentaries (sometimes referred to as the Bodhisattvas Corpus) were returned to India in 966CE by an Indian pandit. In the Ra tradition this figure is known as Chilupa, and in the Dro tradition as Kālacakrapada the Greater. Scholars such as Helmut Hoffman have suggested they are the same person. The first masters of the tradition disguised themselves with pseudonyms, so the Indian oral traditions recorded by the Tibetans contain a mass of contradictions.
Chilupa/Kālacakrapada is said to have set out to receive the Kālacakra teachings in Shambhala, along the journey to which he encountered the Kulika (Shambhala) king Durjaya manifesting as Manjusri, who conferred the Kālacakra initiation on him, based on his pure motivation.
Upon returning to India, Chilupa/Kālacakrapada is said to have defeated in debate Nadapada (Tib. Naropa), abbot of Nalanda, a great center of Buddhist thought at that time. Chilupa/Kālacakrapada then initiated Nadapada (who became known as Kālacakrapada the Lesser) into the Kālacakra, and the tradition thereafter in India and Tibet stems from these two. Nadapada established the teachings as legitimate in the eyes of the Nalanda community, and initiated into the Kālacakra such masters as Atiśa (who, in turn, initiated the Kālacakra master Pindo Acharya (Tib. Pitopa)).
A Tibetan history, the Dpag bsam ljon bzang, as well as architectural evidence, indicates that the Ratnagiri, Odisha mahavihara was an important center for the dissemination of the Kālacakratantra in India.
Spread to Tibet
The Dro lineage was established in Tibet by a Kashmiri disciple of Nalandapa named Pandita Somanatha, who traveled to Tibet in 1027 (or 1064CE, depending on the calendar used), and his translator Dro Lotsawa Shérap Drak Wylie: 'bro lo tsa ba shes rab grags , from which it takes its name. The Ra lineage was brought to Tibet by another Kashmiri disciple of Nadapada named Samantashri, and translated by Ra Lotsawa Chörap Wylie: rwa lo tsa ba chos rab .
The Ra lineage became particularly important in the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism, where it was held by such prominent masters as Sakya Pandita (1182–1251), Drogön Chögyal Phagpa (1235–1280), Butön Rinchen Drup (1290–1364), and Dölpopa Shérap Gyeltsen (1292–1361). The latter two, both of whom also held the Dro lineage, are particularly well known expositors of the Kālacakra in Tibet, the practice of which is said to have greatly informed Dölpopa's exposition of shentong. A strong emphasis on Kālacakra practice and exposition of the zhentong view were the principal distinguishing characteristics of the Jonang school that traces its roots to Dölpopa Shérap Gyeltsen.
The teaching of the Kālacakra was further advanced by the great Jonang scholar Taranatha (1575–1634). In the 17th century, the government of the 5th Dalai Lama outlawed the Jonang school, closing down or forcibly converting most of its monasteries. The writings of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, Taranatha, and other prominent zhentong scholars were banned. Ironically, it was also at this time that the Gelug school absorbed much of the Jonang Kālacakra tradition.
Today, Kālacakra is practiced by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, although it appears most prominently in the Gelug lineage. It is the main tantric practice for the Jonangpa, whose school persists to this day with a small number of monasteries in Kham, Qinghai and Sichuan. Efforts are under way to have the Jonang tradition be recognized officially as a fifth tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Ancient mask from the kalachakra dances, where ten monks dress as the ten world deities and perform a dance of consecrating the location of the mandala in preparation for the initiation ritual, after asking the earth goddess for permission to erect it at a particular site.
As in all vajryana practices, the Kālacakra initiations empower the disciple to practice the Kālacakra tantra in the service of attaining Buddhahood. There are two main sets of initiations in Kālacakra, eleven in all. The first of these two sets concerns preparation for the generation stage meditations of Kālacakra. The second concerns preparation for the completion stage meditations known as the Six Yogas of Kālacakra. Attendees who don't intend to carry out the practice are often only given the lower seven initiations.
The Kālacakra sand Mandala is dedicated to both individual and world peace and physical balance. The Dalai Lama explains: "It is a way of planting a seed, and the seed will have karmic effect. One doesn't need to be present at the Kālacakra ceremony in order to receive its benefits."
Kālacakra practice today in the Tibetan Buddhist schools
Butön Rinchen Drup had considerable influence on the later development of the Gelug and Sakya traditions of Kālacakra and Dölpopa on the development of the Jonang tradition on which the Kagyu, Nyingma, and the Tsarpa branch of the Sakya draw. The Nyingma and Kagyu rely heavily on the extensive, Jonang-influenced Kālacakra commentaries of Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso and Jamgon Kongtrul, both of whom took a strong interest in the tradition. The Tsarpa branch of the Sakya maintain the practice lineage for the six branch yoga of Kālacakra in the Jonang tradition.
There were many other influences and much cross-fertilization between the different traditions, and indeed the Dalai Lama asserted that it is acceptable for those initiated in one Kālacakra tradition to practice in others.
The Dalai Lamas have had specific interest in the Kālacakra practice, particularly the First, Second, Seventh, Eighth, and the current (Fourteenth) Dalai Lamas. The present Dalai Lama has given over thirty Kālacakra initiations all over the world, and is the most prominent Kālacakra lineage holder alive today. Billed as the "Kālacakra for World Peace," they draw tens of thousands of people. Generally, it is unusual for tantric initiations to be given to large public assemblages, but the Kālacakra has always been an exception.
The Dalai Lama, Kalu Rinpoche, and others have stated that the public exposition of this tantra is necessary in the current degenerate age. The initiation may be received simply as a blessing for the majority of those attending, however, many of the more qualified attendees do take the commitments and subsequently engage in the practice.
- 1. Norbu Lingka, Lhasa, Tibet, in May 1954
- 2. Norbu Lingka, Lhasa, Tibet, in April 1956
- 3. Dharamsala, India, in March 1970
- 4. Bylakuppe, South India, in May 1971
- 5. Bodh Gaya, India, in January 1974
- 6. Leh, Ladakh, India, in September 1976
- 7. Deer Park Buddhist Center, Madison, Wisconsin, USA, in July 1981
- 8. Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh, India, in April 1983
- 9. Lahaul & Spiti, India, in August 1983
- 10. Rikon, Switzerland, in July 1985
- 11. Bodh Gaya, India, in December 1985
- 12. Zanskar, Ladakh, India, in July 1988
- 13. Los Angeles, USA, in July 1989
- 14. Sarnath, India, in December 1990
- 15. New York, USA, in October 1991
- 16. Kalpa, Himachal Pradesh, India, in August 1992
- 17. Gangtok, Sikkim, India, in April 1993
- 18. Jispa, HP, India, in August 1994
- 19. Barcelona, Spain, in December 1994
- 20. Mundgod, South India, in January 1995
- 21. Ulanbaator, Mongolia, in August 1995
- 22. Tabo, HP, India, in June 1996
- 23. Sydney, Australia, in September 1996
- 24. Salugara, West Bengal, India, in December 1996.
- 25. Bloomington, Indiana, USA, in August 1999.
- 26. Key Monastery, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India, in August 2000.
- 27. Graz, Austria, in October 2002.
- 28. Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, in January 2003.
- 29. Toronto, Canada, in April 2004.
- 30. Amaravathi, India in January 2006.
- 31. Washington, DC, USA, in July 2011.
- 32. Bodh Gaya, India, in January 2012.
- 33. Leh Ladakh, India July 2014
Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche (1926–2006), the 9th Jebtsundamba Khutughtu, Jhado Rinpoche and the late Gen Lamrimpa (d. 2003) were also among prominent Gelugpa Kālacakra masters.
The Kālacakra tradition practiced in the Karma and Shangpa Kagyu schools is derived from the Jonang tradition and was largely systematized by Jamgön Kongtrül, who wrote the text that is now used for empowerment. The 2nd and 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul (1954–1992) were also prominent Kālacakra lineage holders, with the 3rd Jamgon Kontrul giving the initiation publicly in North America on at least one occasion (Toronto 1990).
The chief Kālacakra lineage holder for the Kagyu lineage was Kalu Rinpoche (1905–1990), who gave the initiation several times in Tibet, India, Europe and North America (e.g., New York 1982). Upon his death, this mantle was assumed by his heart son, Bokar Tulku Rinpoche (1940–2004), who in turn passed it on to Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche. Bokar Monastery, of which Donyo Rinpoche is now the head, features a Kālacakra stupa and is a prominent retreat center for Kālacakra practice in the Kagyu lineage.
Tenga Rinpoche was also a prominent Kagyu holder of the Kālacakra; he gave the initiation in Grabnik, Poland in August, 2005.
Chögyam Trungpa, while not a noted Kālacakra master, became increasingly involved later in his life with what he termed Shambhala teachings, derived in part from the Kālacakra tradition, in particular, the mind terma which he received from the Kalki.
Sakya Trizin, the present head of the Sakya lineage, has given the Kālacakra initiation many times and is a recognized master of the practice.
The Sakya master H.E. Chogye Trichen Rinpoche is one of the main holders of the Kālacakra teachings. Chogye Rinpoche is the head of the Tsharpa School, one of the three main schools of the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
One of the previous Chogye Trichen Rinpoches, Khyenrab Choje (1436–97), beheld the sustained vision of the female tantric deity Vajrayogini at Drak Yewa in central Tibet, and received extensive teachings and initiations directly from her. Two forms of Vajrayogini appeared out of the face of the rocks at Drak Yewa, one red in color and the other white, and they bestowed the Kālacakra initiation on Khyenrab Choje. When he asked if there was any proof of this, his attendant showed the master the kusha grass that Khyenrab Choje brought back with him from the initiation. It was unlike any kusha grass found in this world, with rainbow lights sparkling up and down the length of the dried blades of grass. This direct lineage from Vajrayogini is the 'shortest', the most recent and direct, lineage of the Kālacakra empowerment and teachings that exists in this world. In addition to being known as the emanation of Manjushri, Khyenrab Choje had previously been born as many of the Kings of Shambhala as well as numerous Buddhist masters of India. These are some indications of his unique relationship to the Kālacakra tradition.
Chogye Trichen Rinpoche is the holder of six different Kālacakra initiations, four of which, the Bulug, Jonang, Maitri-gyatsha, and Domjung, are contained within the Gyude Kuntu, the Collection of Tantras compiled by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and his disciple Loter Wangpo. Rinpoche has offered all six of these empowerments to Sakya Trizin, the head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism.
Rinpoche has given the Kālacakra initiation in Tibet, Mustang, Kathmandu, Malaysia, the United States, Taiwan, and Spain, and is widely regarded as a definitive authority on Kālacakra. In 1988 he traveled to the United States, giving the initiation and complete instructions in the practice of the six-branch Vajrayoga of Kālacakra according to the Jonangpa tradition in Boston.
Chogye Rinpoche has completed extensive retreat in the practice of Kālacakra, particularly of the six-branch yoga (sadangayoga) in the tradition of the Jonangpa school according to Jetsun Taranatha. In this way, Chogye Rinpoche has carried on the tradition of his predecessor Khyenrab Choje, the incarnation of the Shambhala kings who received the Kālacakra initiation from Vajrayogini herself. When Chogye Rinpoche was young, one of his teachers dreamed that Rinpoche was the son of the King of Shambhala, the pure land that upholds the tradition of Kālacakra. (See biography of Chogye Trichen Rinpoche in "Parting from the Four Attachments", Snow Lion Publications, 2003.)
Once deemed heretical by the 5th Dalai Lama and successors, and even thought to be extinct, the Jonang tradition has in fact survived and is now officially recognized by the Tibetan Government in exile as a fifth school of Tibetan Buddhism. Jonang is particularly important in that it has preserved the Kālacakra practice lineage, especially of the completion stage practices. In fact, the Kālacakra is the main tantric practice in the Jonang tradition. Khenpo Kunga Sherab Rinpoche is one contemporary Jonangpa master of Kālacakra.
Prophesies on Holy War
The Kālacakra Tantra has occasionally been a source of controversy in the west because the text contains passages which may be interpreted as demonizing Islam. This is principally because it contains the prophecy of a holy war between Buddhists and so-called "barbarians" (Skt. mleccha). One passage of the Kālacakra (Śri Kālacakra I. 161) reads, "The Chakravartin shall come out at the end of the age, from the city the gods fashioned on Mount Kailasa. He shall smite the barbarians in battle with his own four-division army, on the entire surface of the earth."
This prophecy could also be understood to refer in part to the Islamic incursions into central Asia and India which destroyed the Buddhist religion in those regions. The prophecy includes detailed descriptions of the future invaders as well as suggested violent ways for the Buddhist teachings to survive these onslaughts.
Though the Kālacakra prophesies a future religious war, this appears in conflict with the vows of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist teachings that prohibit violence. According to Alexander Berzin, the Kālacakra is not advocating violence against people but rather against inner mental and emotional aggression that results in intolerance, hatred, violence and war. Fifteenth century Gelug commentor Kaydrubjey interprets "holy war" symbolically, teaching that it mainly refers to the inner battle of the religious practitioner against inner demonic and barbarian tendencies. This is the solution to violence, since according to the Kālacakra the outer conditions depend on the inner condition of the mindstreams of beings. Viewed that way, the prophesied war takes place in the mind and emotions. It depicts the transformation of the archaic mentality of violence in the name of religion and ideology into sublime moral power, insight and spiritual wisdom.
One interpretation of Buddhist teachings that portray military conflict - such as elements of the Kālacakra Tantra and the Gesar Epic - is that they may be taught for the sake of those who possess a karmic tendency towards militancy, for the purpose of taming their minds. The passages of the Kālacakra that address religious warfare can be viewed as teachings to turn away from any religious justification of war and violence, and to embrace the precepts of love and compassion.
The controversial passages about the holy war, which most probably had been incorporated into the Kālacakra tradition during the time of massive advances of Islam into northern India when Buddhism had been on retreat, were later in modern time hijacked and used by several adventurous schemers both on the Left and on the Right to justify their political agendas. These questionable activities as well as the above-mentioned passages from old Kālacakra texts about the holy war and the ritual use of sexuality, prompted Victor and Victoria Trimondi, two German writers and philosophers, to launch a radical critique of the entire Kālacakra tradition. In contrast, Alexander Berzin, another prominent student of Tibetan Buddhism, seeks to provide a balanced and nuanced account of the same tradition.
Tantric iconography including sharp weapons, shields, and corpses similarly appears in conflict with those tenets of non-violence but instead represent the transmutation of aggression into a method for overcoming illusion and ego. Both Kālacakra and his dharmapala protector Vajravega hold a sword and shield in their paired second right and left hands. This is an expression of the Buddha's triumph over the attack of Mara and his protection of all sentient beings. Symbolism researcher Robert Beer writes the following about tantric iconography of weapons and mentions the charnel ground:
Many of these weapons and implements have their origins in the wrathful arena of the battlefield and the funereal realm of the charnel grounds. As primal images of destruction, slaughter, sacrifice, and necromancy these weapons were wrested from the hands of the evil and turned - as symbols - against the ultimate root of evil, the self-cherishing conceptual identity that gives rise to the five poisons of ignorance, desire, hatred, pride, and jealousy. In the hands of siddhas, dakinis, wrathful and semi-wrathful yidam deities, protective deities or dharmapalas these implements became pure symbols, weapons of transformation, and an expression of the deities' wrathful compassion which mercilessly destroys the manifold illusions of the inflated human ego.
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The external Kālacakra refers to all of the environment - the mountains, fences, homes, planets, constellations of stars, solar systems, and so forth.
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- A Resource Guide to the works in English on the Kalachakra
- Kalachakra Mandala
- Kalachakra For World Peace Graz 2002
- Toronto 2004
- Extensive Kālacakra section by Alexander Berzin on Study Buddhism
- International Kalachakra Network
- The Jonang Foundation
- Critical Forum Kalachakra