Kalachakra, meaning cycles of time, has many levels of symbolism, as all tantra practices do. The symbolism reveals itself in the world picture Kalachakra presents in the form of a mandala palace and 722 Buddha-figures dwelling within and around it. Traditional texts explain the symbolism in terms of realizations of various aspects of the Kalachakra path to enlightenment. Nevertheless, since the Kalachakra empowerment is associated with promoting world peace, we may also reflect on the symbols as suggestive of themes that are relevant to accomplishing this aim.
The Union of Opposites
A prominent feature in Kalachakra is the joining of aspects from opposite sides of the mandala palace. Consequently, the two sides live in harmony and happiness as complements, rather than as opposites.
Each direction in the Kalachakra mandala has a color, element, symbol, disturbing emotion, and deep awareness (wisdom) associated with it. Each also has a Buddha-figure (Dhyani-Buddha) representing it. In the case of east, west, north, and south, each also has associated with it one of the four aspects of an individual (body, speech, mind, and blissful deep awareness) and one of the four occasions in which the winds of our karma give rise to appearances.
The union of opposites is represented by couples embracing in union. The union is not an image for illustrating pornographic sex. It is also not an image representing the union of the masculine and feminine principles. In Tibetan, the terms for the couple are yab-yum, meaning "father" and "mother." The union of father and mother as complementary forces give birth to peace and enlightenment as their child. On the level common to all Buddhist practices, the father and mother represent method and wisdom.
The East-West Axis
The East is:
- wind (motion),
- a sword,
- jealousy and envy,
- the deep awareness to accomplish things,
- deep sleep without dreams,
The East is embraced by and embraces the West. The West is:
- earth (rest),
- a wheel of Dharma (religion),
- mirror-like deep awareness,
- blissful deep awareness,
- occasions of peak pleasure,
Black wind goes together with yellow earth. Wind and earth are often mutual enemies. Wind can be stopped by an earthen wall, and loose earth can be blown away by wind. They also represent the poles of motion and rest. However, the energy symbolized by wind, together with physical matter symbolized by earth, can work together to bring technological benefits to the world.
The black sword goes together with the yellow Dharma wheel of religion. A black sword moves through the black wind and can destroy things. A yellow wheel of Dharma rolls along the yellow earth and can spread religious fanaticism trying to force everyone to follow its doctrines, as in a crusade or inquisition. The destructive aspects of the sword and of the wheel of religion can feed on each other. However, a sword can also cut away ignorance, and a wheel of religion can reaffirm ethical values. In harmony with each other, they can bring peace.
Jealousy and naivety (about situations, about cause and effect, and about how to do things) often feed on each other. If the East is envious of what the West has accomplished materially, and if the West is naïve about the situation in the East and what are the effects of its own policies toward the people there, conflicts may arise. However, if both sides gain the wisdom to be open and to mirror the actual situations and the effects of their attitudes and policies on themselves and each other, both sides will gain the wisdom of how to accomplish what is best for everyone.
The pursuit of the mind and intellect and the pursuit of pleasure can be in conflict. However, if intellect and pleasurable leisure are balanced in harmony, a peaceful state of mind and society will result.
If deep sleep is regarded as supreme pleasure, one remains in ignorance and naivety, never accomplishing anything. If, on the other hand, the total absorption of the mind, similar to that which occurs in dreamless sleep, is focused in meditation on a blissful realization of voidness, one cuts through ignorance, the root of all suffering and problems. This brings a peaceful state of liberation and enlightenment.
The North-South Axis
The North is:
- water (cold),
- a lotus,
- greed and desire,
- individualizing deep awareness,
- the awake state,
The North is embraced by and embraces the South. The South is:
- fire (hot),
- a jewel,
- stinginess, miserliness, and arrogance,
- equalizing deep awareness,
- the dream state,
White water (like snow) goes together with red fire. Water and fire can be enemies. Water puts out fire; fire boils away water. They also represent the poles of cold and hot. However, the two can work together to make steam energy, for example, to bring progress in technology.
The white lotus goes together with the red jewel. A white lotus grows from white water, and can symbolize economic growth and progress. A red jewel reflecting and shining like red fire can represent the wealth and splendor of the environment and its energy resources. If desire and greed to exploit the South's natural resources fuels the North's drive for economic growth, such attitudes may lead to depletion of the resources and destruction of the environment. If the South is proud of its resources and, rather than sharing them fairly to fulfill industrial needs, uses them instead as a bargaining chip to gain its own political purposes, it can ruin the economy.
However, warmth and sunshine in the proper balance can make the lotus grow fuller. When the environment is ecologically healthy and sustainable, it can provide the raw materials in a proper balance for economic growth to satisfy everyone's needs. This brings peace. Moreover, if both North and South gain the wisdom to see the equality of everyone and the individual needs of each person and society, both will benefit and share in a way that is fair to everyone.
If what one says with speech differs from what one does with body, conflicts can arise among people and among nations. If words and actions are in harmony, there is a better chance for peace.
If, while awake, one is lost in dreams, one is out of touch with reality and creates problems for everyone. If, on the other hand, one realizes that the appearances experienced while awake are like an illusion, as in dreams, one sees through the seeming solidity of what appears as insurmountable problems and conflicts. Like an illusion, they arise from causes and conditions and last only so long as conditions support them. This insight leads to finding peaceful solutions.
The Above-Below Axis
- space or the sky (outside),
- a vajra (diamond-strong scepter) (thunderbolt),
- deep awareness of reality,
Above is embraced by and embraces Below. Below is
- deep and vast awareness (inside), like the ocean,
- a bell with a vajra handle,
- limited awareness,
- clear-light awareness of everything,
Green space goes together with blue ocean-like deep awareness. Space (the sky) and the ocean seem to pull in opposite directions, but the sky and the ocean can meet harmoniously together at the horizon. As one goes outward externally into space, one may forget to go internally into the deep awareness of the ocean-like depths of the mind. When one goes too far exploring inside, one may forget to explore the world outside. Both above and below, outside and inside, are needed for peace and harmony.
The green vajra (diamond-strong scepter) represents method – compassion. The blue bell with a vajra handle represents wisdom. If one has just love and compassion alone with no wisdom or just wisdom alone with no compassion, this can cause problems. One needs the two together, in harmonious balance.
The diamond-strong scepter is like a green thunderbolt in the green sky. The thunderbolt is decisive and sharp, like the compassion that needs to be decisive and sharp to work to eliminate others' suffering. The bell rings deeply and its sound spreads widely, like the wisdom of the deep and vast blue ocean. Like the ocean, wisdom needs to be deep and vast to take everything into consideration. Taking everything into consideration and being decisive and strong may conflict with each other in stressful situations. Peaceful problem-solving, however, requires the two together in harmonious balance.
Anger on the side of one party and limited awareness on the side of the other can feed on each other and cause conflict. If those on the top of society are hostile, angry, and aggressive, and those on the bottom of society have limited awareness and limited education, there can be great problems. If both sides gain the wisdom of reality and the clear-light awareness of everything, then people everywhere have a better chance of living in peace.