Kālacakra (Sanskrit: कालचक्र; IAST: Kālacakra; Telugu: కాలచక్ర Tibetan: དུས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ།; Wylie: dus-kyi 'khor-lo) is a term used in Tantric Buddhism that means "wheel of time" or "time-cycles." It refers both to a Tantric deity (Tib. yidam) of Vajrayana Buddhism and to the philosophies and meditation practices contained within the Kalachakra Tantra and its many commentaries. The Kalachakra Tantra is more properly called the Kalachakra Laghutantra, and is said to be an abridged form of an original text, the Kalachakra Mulatantra which is no longer extant. Some Buddhist masters assert that Kalachakra is the most advanced form of Vajrayana practice; it certainly is one of the most complex systems within tantric Buddhism.
The Kalachakra 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 Kalachakra Tantra is divided into five chapters, the first two of which are considered the "ground Kalachakra." The first chapter deals with what is called the "outer Kalachakra"—the physical world—and in particular the calculation system for the Kalachakra calendar, the birth and death of universes, our solar system and the workings of the elements or Mahabhuta.
The second chapter deals with the "inner Kalachakra," 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 described as consisting of four mind states: waking, dream, deep sleep, and a fourth state which is sexual orgasm. The potentials (drops) which give rise to these states are described, together with the processes that flow from them.
The last three chapters describe the "other" or "alternative Kalachakra," and deal with the path and fruition. The third chapter deals with the preparation for the meditation practices of the system: the initiations of Kalachakra. 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 (fruition) that results from the practice.
The Kalachakra initiations empower the disciple to practice the Kalachakra tantra in the service of attaining Buddhahood. There are two main sets of initiations in Kalachakra, eleven in all. The first of these two sets concerns preparation for the generation stage meditations of Kalachakra. The second concerns preparation for the completion stage meditations known as the Six Yogas of Kalachakra. Attendees who do not intend to carry out the practice are generally only given the lower seven initiations.
The phrase "as it is outside, so it is within the body" is often found in the Kalachakra tantra to emphasize the similarities and correspondence between human beings and the cosmos; this concept is the basis for Kalachakra astrology, but also for more profound connections and interdependence as taught in the Kalachakra literature.
In Tibet, the Kalachakra astrological system is one of the main building blocks in the composition of Tibetan astrological calendars. The astrology in the Kalachakra is not unlike the Western system, in that it employs complicated (and surprisingly accurate) astronomical calculations to determine, for example, the exact location of the planets.
According to the Kalachakra Tantra, King Suchandra (Tib. Dawa Sangpo) of the Kingdom of Shambhala requested teaching from the Buddha that would allow him to practice the Dharma without renouncing his worldly enjoyments and responsibilities.
In response to his request, the Buddha taught the first Kālachakra root tantra in Dhanyakataka (Palden Drepung in Tibetan) (near present day Amaravati), a small town in Andhra Pradesh in southeastern India, supposedly bilocating (appearing in two places at once) at the same time as he was also delivering the Prajnaparamita sutras at Vulture Peak Mountain in Bihar. Along with King Suchandra, ninety-six minor kings and emissaries from Shambhala were also said to have received the teachings. The Kalachakra thus passed directly to Shambhala, where it was held exclusively for hundreds of years. Later Shambhalian kings, Manjushrikirti and Pundarika, are said to have condensed and simplified the teachings into the "Sri Kalachakra" or "Laghutantra" and its main commentary the "Vimalaprabha," which remain extant today as the heart of the Kalachakra literature.
Rigdan Tagpa or Manjushrí Kírti is said to have been born in 159 B.C.E. and ruled over Shambhala which had 300,510 followers of the Mlechha (Yavana or "western") 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 Kalachakra teachings. In 59 B.C.E., he abdicated his throne to his son, Puṇdaŕika, and died soon afterwards, entering the Sambhoga-káya of Buddhahood.
There are presently two main traditions of Kalachakra, the Ra lineage (Tib. Rva-lugs) and the Dro lineage (Tib.'Bro-lugs). Although there were many translations of the Kalachakra texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan, the Ra and Dro translations are considered to be the most reliable. The two lineages offer slightly differing accounts of how the Kalachakra teachings returned to India from Shambhala.
In both traditions, the Kalachakra and its related commentaries (sometimes referred to as the Bodhisattvas Corpus) were returned to India in 966 C.E. by an Indian pandit. In the Ra tradition this figure is known as Chilupa, and in the Dro tradition as Kalachakrapada the Greater.
These respective figures are said to have set out to receive the Kalachakra teachings in Shambhala, along the journey to which he encountered the Kulika (Shambhala) king Durjaya manifesting as Manjushri, who conferred the Kalachakra initiation on him, based on his pure motivation.
Upon returning to India, Chilupa/Kalachakrapada allegedly defeated in debate Nadapada (Tib. Naropa), the abbot of Nalanda University, a great center of Buddhist thought at that time. Chilupa/Kalachakrapada then initiated Nadapada (who became known as Kalachakrapada the Lesser) into the Kalachakra, 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 Kālachakra such masters as Atisha (who, in turn, initiated the Kālachakra master Pindo Acharya (Tib. Pitopa)).
A Tibetan history, the Pag Sam Jon Zang, as well as architectural evidence, indicates that the Ratnagiri mahavihara in Orissa was an important center for the dissemination of the Kalachakratantra in India.
The Kalachakra tradition, along with all Vajrayana Buddhism, vanished from India in the wake of the Muslim invasions.
The Dro lineage was established in Tibet by a Kashmiri disciple of Nalandapa named Pandita Somanatha, who traveled to Tibet in 1027 (or 1064 C.E., depending on the calendar used), and his translator Droton Sherab Drak Lotsawa, 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 Choerab Lotsawa (or Ra Dorje Drakpa).
The Ra lineage became particularly important in the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism, where it was held by such prominent masters as Sakya Pandita (1182-1251), Drogon Chogyal Pagpa (1235-1280), Budon Rinchendrup (1290-1364), and Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361). The latter two, both of whom also held the Dro lineage, are particularly well known expositors of the Kalachakra in Tibet, the practice of which is said to have greatly informed Dolpopa's exposition of the Shentong view. A strong emphasis on Kalachakra practice and exposition of the Shentong view were the principal distinguishing characteristics of the Jonang school that traces its roots to Dolpopa.
The teaching of the Kalachakra was further advanced by the great Jonang scholar Taranatha (1575-1634). In the seventeenth century, the Gelug-led government of Tibet outlawed the Jonang school, closing down or forcibly converting most of its monasteries. The writings of Dolpopa, Taranatha, and other prominent Shentong scholars were banned. Ironically, it was also at this time that the Gelug lineage absorbed much of the Jonang Kalachakra tradition.
Today, Kalachakra is practiced by all four Tibetan schools of Buddhism, although it appears most prominently in the Gelug lineage. It is the main tantric practice for the Jonang school, which persists to this day with a small number of monasteries in eastern Tibet. Efforts are under way to have the Jonang tradition be recognized officially as a fifth tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Buton Rinchen had considerable influence on the later development of the Gelug and Sakya traditions of Kalachakra, and Dolpopa on the development of the Jonang tradition on which the Kagyu, Nyingma, and the Tsarpa branch of the Sakya draw. The Kagyu and Nyingma rely heavily on the extensive, Jonang-influenced Kalachakra commentaries of Ju Mipham and Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, 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 Kalachakra in the Jonang tradition.
It should be noted, however, that there were many other influences and much cross-fertilization between the different traditions, and indeed His Holiness the Dalai Lama has asserted that it is acceptable for those initiated in one Kalachakra tradition to practice in others.
The Dalai Lamas have had specific interest in the Kālachakra practice, particularly the First, Second, Seventh, Eighth, and the current (Fourteenth) Dalai Lamas. The present Dalai Lama has given thirty Kalachakra initiations all over the world, and is the most prominent Kalachakra lineage holder alive today. Billed as the "Kalachakra 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 Kalachakra 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 as a blessing for the majority of those attending, although many attendees do take the commitments and subsequently engage in the practice.
Kalachakra Initiations given by H.H. XIV Dalai Lama
Ven. Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche (1926-2006), The Ninth Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche, Ven. Jhado Rinpoche, and late Ven. Gen Lamrimpa (?-2003) are also among the prominent Kalachakra masters of the Gelug school.
The Kalachakra tradition practiced in the Karma and Shangpa Kagyu schools is derived from the Jonang tradition, and was largely systematized by Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, who wrote the text that is now used for empowerment. The Second and The Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche (1954-1992) were also prominent Kalachakra lineage holders, with the Jamgon Kontrul III giving the initiation publicly in North America on at least one occasion (Toronto 1990).
The chief Kalachakra lineage holder for the Kagyu lineage was H.E. 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 the Ven. Bokar Rinpoche (1940 - 2004), who in turn passed it on to Ven. Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche. Bokar Monastery, of which Donyo Rinpoche is now the head, features a Kalachakra stupa and is a prominent retreat center for Kalachakra practice in the Kagyu lineage. Ven. Tenga Rinpoche is also a prominent Kagyu holder of the Kālachakra; he gave the initiation in Grabnik, Poland in August, 2005. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, while not a noted Kalachakra master, became increasingly involved later in his life with what he termed Shambhala teachings, derived from the Kalachakra tradition, in particular, the mind terma which he received from the Kulika.
Among the prominent recent and contemporary Nyingma Kalachakra masters are H.H. Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1894-1959), H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991), and H.H. Penor Rinpoche.
His Holiness Sakya Trizin, the present head of the Sakya lineage, has given the Kalachakra 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 Kalachakra 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 Kalachakra initiation on Khyenrab Choje. When asked if there was any proof of this, his attendant showed various masters the kusha grass Khyenrab Choje had 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 Kalachakra 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 Rigden kings of Shambhala as well as numerous Buddhist masters of India. These are some indications of his unique relationship to the Kalachakra tradition.
Chogye Trichen Rinpoche is the holder of six different Kalachakra 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 H.H. Sakya Trizin, the head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. Rinpoche has given the Kalachakra initiation in Tibet, Mustang, Kathmandu, Malaysia, the United States, Taiwan, and Spain, and is widely regarded as a definitive authority on Kalachakra. In 1988, he traveled to the United States, giving the initiation and complete instructions in the practice of the six-branch Vajrayoga of Kalachakra according to the Jonangpa tradition in Boston.
Chogye Rinpoche has completed extensive retreat in the practice of Kalachakra, 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 Kalachakra 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 Kalachakra.
Though not (yet) officially recognized as the fifth school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Jonang tradition is very important in that it has preserved the Kalachakra practice lineage, especially of the completion stage practices. In fact, the Kalachakra is the main tantric practice in the Jonang tradition. Khenpo Kunga Sherab Rinpoche is one contemporary Jonangpa master of Kalachakra.
The Kalachakra 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."
The Kalachakra Tantra has occasionally been a source of controversy in the west because the text contains passages which may be interpreted as demonizing the Abrahamic religions, particularly Islam. This is principally because it contains the prophecy of a holy war between Buddhists and so-called "barbarians" (Sanskrit: mleccha). One passage of the Kalachakra (Shri Kalachakra 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."
Though the Kalachakra 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 Kalachakra is not advocating violence 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 Kalachakra 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.
Tantric iconography including sharp weapons, shields, and corpses similarly appears in conflict with those tenants of non-violence but instead represent the transmutation of aggression into a method for overcoming illusion and ego. Both Kalachakra 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 Beers writes the following about tantric iconography of weapons:
Many of these weapons and implements have their origins in the wrathful arena of the battlefield and the funereal realm of the charnal 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.
This prophecy could also be understood to refer in part to the Islamic incursions into central Asia and India which deliberately destroyed the Buddhist religion in those regions. The prophecy includes detailed descriptions of the future invaders as well as suggested (non-violent) ways for the Buddhist teachings to survive these onslaughts.
One interpretation of Buddhist teachings that portray military conflict—such as elements of the Kalachakra 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 Kalachakra 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.
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