The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra warns against a future invasion by a non-Indic people who will follow the line of prophets: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mani (the founder of the primarily Iranian religion Manichaeism), Muhammad, and Mahdi (the Islamic messiah). To meet the threat, the king of Shambhala united the Hindus and Buddhists into one caste with the Kalachakra initiation. As a united society, the people of Shambhala would then be able in the future to follow a Buddhist messiah-king in defeating the invading forces and establishing a new golden age.
The Essential Points
One of the main themes in the Kalachakra teachings is the parallel between the physical world, the human body, and Buddhist tantra practice. Accordingly, the invaders that Kalachakra warns against, and which the forces of Shambhala will defeat, have historical, physiological, and meditative levels of meaning. Here, we shall focus only on the first and the last of the three.
Externally, the non-Indic-speaking invaders refer to followers of late 10th-century CE messianic forms of Islam – specifically, Ismaili Shia – who will claim to have the messiah Mahdi as their political and spiritual leader. Mahdi will unite and rule the Islamic world, restore Islamic purity, and convert the entire world to Islam before the coming of Dajjal (the Muslim version of the Antichrist), the Second Coming of Christ (who is a Muslim prophet), the apocalypse, and the end of the world.
In the late 10th century, the Sunni Arab Abbasid rulers of Baghdad and their vassals feared invasions from Islamic empires having such ambitions. Specifically, they feared an invasion from their main rivals, the Ismaili Fatimid Empire of Egypt and their vassals in Multan (northern Sindh, Pakistan). Such fear was the predominant mood of the times, due to the widespread belief that the world would end 500 years after Muhammad – in the beginning of the 12th century CE.
Thus, the picture that the Kalachakra literature paints of the non-Indic invaders most likely derives from the experience of the Buddhists of eastern Afghanistan and Oddiyana (Swat Valley, northwestern Pakistan) during the latter part of the 10th century. Living under Hindu Shahi rule and lying between Multan and Baghdad, these Buddhists would have shared their Muslim neighbors’ fear of this invasion. That fear would have been further heightened when eastern Afghanistan came under the rule of the Sunni Ghaznavid allies of the Abbasids in 976 CE.
Although the portrait of the invaders’ beliefs point to the Multanese Ismailis of this period, the inclusion of Mani as one of the non-Indic prophets perhaps indicates a confused melding of Ismaili Shia with Manichaean Shia. The latter was a heretical form of Islam that Afghan and Indian Buddhist translators would have encountered while working for the Sunni Abbasids in Baghdad in the late 8th century CE.
According to the Kalachakra verse, the invaders will be from the asura caste, which means that they will be followers of jealous gods, who will rival and threaten the gods of the brahmans of Shambhala. After conquering the region of India around Delhi, this non-Indic group will be the invaders of Shambhala. This aspect of the Kalachakra prophesy perhaps indicates a later stratum of the textual account, in which the experience of the thwarted Ghaznavid invasion of Kashmir in 1015 or 1021 CE was conflated with an earlier version.
Although Oddiyana was one of the main centers of Buddhist tantra, Kashmir was the home of both Buddhist and Hindu Shaivite tantra. The two forms of tantra vied with each other. Thus, to make the danger of an invasion more intelligible to a Hindu audience, Kalachakra made use of the Hindu analysis of the material world as consisting of three primal material constituents or features – sattva (mental strength), rajas (speck of passion), and tamas (darkness). The sagely authors of the Vedas have the constituent feature of sattva, while the avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu have the feature of rajas. The prophets of the non-Indic invaders have the primal constituent feature of tamas, meaning that they will be destructive of Indian culture.
To meet the threat, the different castes in Shambhala need to stop avoiding social contact with each other. They need to form a harmonious united front, by becoming one vajra caste in the Kalachakra mandala. Only when all members of society cooperate with each other will the pan-Indic messiah Kalki be able to stop an invasion led by the threatening non-Indic messiah Mahdi.
This was not a call for mass conversion to Buddhism. In the Kalachakra call for unity, Buddhism was merely responding in kind to the established Hindu and Muslim policy of including followers of other religions under its umbrella. The Hindus already asserted Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu, thus rendering all Buddhists good Hindus. Kalachakra, in turn, now identified the first eight avatars as emanations of the Buddha, thus rendering all Hindus good Buddhists.
Both Hindus and Buddhists accepted Kalki as the messiah predicted to defeat a group of non-Indic invaders and to usher in a new golden age. Therefore, the Buddhist king of Shambhala argued that the Hindus could also join the Buddhists in accepting his successor, 25 generations in the future, as the Kalki predicted in their own scriptures to be born in Shambhala as Vishnu’s tenth and final avatar.
Orthodox Muslims, also fearing an invasion by the army of a “deceiver messiah” who would claim to be the true messiah Mahdi, would also be welcome to rally with the united front of Buddhists and Hindus. Muslim law at the time accepted both Buddhists and Hindus as “people of the Book,” and thus included under its jurisprudence followers of the two religions who lived among them. Similarly, Buddhism could include Muslims in their vision of unity, since their teachings contained themes held in common by both.
On the alternative level of Buddhist tantra practice, the invaders represent the forces of unawareness (ignorance), disturbing emotions, destructive behavior, and the negative karmic forces coming from them. The conflicting castes needing to join together as a vajra caste represents the conflicting energy-winds of the subtle body needing to dissolve into the “clear light” subtlest level of energy and mind. The forces of Shambhala represent the resulting blissful realization of the true nature of reality (voidness) with the clear light mind, which then has the power to overcome the ignorance that threatens to bring suffering to everyone.
Buddhism as portrayed in the Kalachakra literature was not anti-Hindu, anti-Muslim, or anti-Christian. It was merely responding to the spirit of the times in the Middle East and parts of South Asia at the end of the 10th century CE. In the face of widespread fear of an invasion, an apocalyptic battle and the end of the world, and the popular preoccupation with the coming of a messiah, Kalachakra presented its own version of the prediction. To face the threat, it recommended a policy already followed by Hinduism and the ruling Abbasid Muslims. The policy was to show that Buddhism too had open doctrinal doors for including other religions within its sphere. An essential foundation on which a multicultural society needs to stand in order to face a threatened invasion is religious harmony among its people. Joining others in a Kalachakra mandala symbolizes this commitment to cooperation.
The Kalachakra depiction of the non-Indic prophets and its prophecies of a future war with their followers must be understood in this historical and cultural context. Despite the recommended policy, neither Buddhist leaders nor masters at the time actually launched a campaign to bring Hindus and Muslims into its fold. No one held a Kalachakra initiation with such an aim in mind. Nevertheless, certain Hindu and Muslim groups resented the Kalachakra call for unity and identified the future Buddhist King of Shambhala as the false messiah predicted in their own texts.
When several religions share a belief in a true messiah overcoming a false messiah in an apocalyptic battle, and members of these religions live in close proximity to each other, two possible outcomes may follow. Several of the religions may try to unite in facing a common false messiah by declaring that they share the same true messiah. Alternatively, they may identify each other’s true messiahs as their own predicted false messiahs. History shows that both policies can lead to distrust and conflict.
In short, the primary purpose of the Kalachakra teachings on history was to describe future events in a manner that paralleled advanced stages of Kalachakra meditation practice. They neither reflect nor shape the current Buddhist view of the present world situation. The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra clearly states, “The battle with the lord of the non-Indic invaders is definitely inside the body of embodied beings. On the other hand, the external (level of the battle) is, in fact, an illusory form. (Thus,) the battle with the non-Indic invaders in the case of Mecca is not (actually) a battle.”