The Prophets of the Non-Indic Invaders in Kalachakra

The Kalachakra Verse and Its Indian Commentary

Verse I.154 from The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra (Tib. bsDus-rgyud, Skt. Laghu Kalacakra Tantra) reads:

Adam, Noah, Abraham, and five others – Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad One, Muhammad, and Mahdi – with tamas, are in the asura-naga caste. The eighth will be the blinded one. The seventh will manifestly come to the city of Baghdad in the land of Mecca, (the place) in this world where a portion of the asura (caste) will have the form of the powerful, merciless mlecchas.

According to A Commentary on Difficult Points Called “Padmani” (Tib. Padma-can zhes-bya-bai dka’-‘grel, Skt. Padmani-nama-panjika):

If you ask who propagated the Dharma of the mlecchas, it says, "Adam, Noah, and Abraham of the asura (caste) and, from the naga caste, the five others with tamas: Moses, this one, and The White-Clad One, Muhammad, and The Emanation. That eighth one will be the blinded one. The seventh will manifestly come to the cities of Baghdad and so on in the land of Mecca." Those with these names of non-Buddhists, and so on, will propagate the Dharma of the asuras. Among these, the one called "The White-Clad One" is Mahamayin. That one will propagate the Dharma of the asuras and so on in the cities of the land of Mecca and so on. If you ask what kind of land is that, it says, "(It is the place) in this world where the asura caste will have the form of the powerful, merciless mlecchas."

This verse and its Indian commentary have many difficult points. I cannot pretend to be able to resolve the problems in them. Here, I shall merely present the cultural and historical contexts and offer some arguments for and against the varied interpretations that can be made concerning debatable points.

The traditional Buddhist view is that Buddha himself taught The Root Kalachakra Tantra in the ninth century BCE and that the First Kalki King of Shambhala compiled The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra seven centuries later. Only the latter text has survived. Here, we shall follow a Western scholarly analysis that postulates the composition of The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra between the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth centuries CE, as a composite of different portions compiled in perhaps several areas in the region spanning eastern Afghanistan, Oddiyana (present-day northwestern Pakistan, including western Punjab and Swat), and Kashmir. According to this theory, the list of non-Buddhist teachers cited above reflects the world situation in which Buddhists of that period in those regions lived.

Historical Analysis

The Term for the Non-Indic Invaders

The Sanskrit term mleccha (Tib. kla-klo), most frequently translated as “barbarians,” originally meant those who spoke indistinctly in a non-Sanskrit language. Specifically, the term referred to non-Sanskrit speaking groups that invaded and then ruled northwestern India, starting around a millennium after the Aryan invasion that initially established the Sanskrit-related languages there.

Before its appearance in the Kalachakra texts, “mleccha” was used in early Hindu literature to refer to the Macedonian Greek invaders, led by Alexander the Great in the third century BCE. Hindu literature also applied the term to subsequent foreign invaders, such as the Shakas, Kushans, and White Huns (Hephthalites).

An early appearance of the term in Buddhist literature prior to Kalachakra is in Nagarjuna’s Friendly Letter (Tib. bShes-pa’i spring-yig, Skt. Suhrllekha), written, in the second century of the common era, to King Udayana, a Shatavahana ruler of Andhra, South India. One of the four defective human rebirths with no chance to study or practice the Dharma is among the mleccha in a region beyond the four mountain ranges surrounding central India.

In Buddhism, then, the main connotation of the term is a non-Indic people, among whom there is no chance to study and practice Buddhism. The Hindu usage adds that such people will be invaders of northwestern India.

Although the Sanskrit term undeniably has these derogatory connotations, the more neutral translation non-Indic-speaking invaders, shortened to non-Indic invaders, is less confrontational than “barbarians.”

The List of Prophets

Some Western scholars translate the list of the invaders’ prophets as “Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad One, Muhammad, and Mathani.” A rendering of the list as “Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mani, Muhammad, and Mahdi” seems to make more sense.

Both Enoch and Noah appear in the list of twenty-five prophets mentioned in The Quran. Enoch was the inventor of writing and taught sciences such as astrology. Moreover, among The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, The First Book of Enoch is one of the earliest sources of the prediction of an apocalypse. An argument for choosing Enoch as the reference is that Kalachakra also predicts an apocalyptic battle and that the invaders against whom it will be waged will be knowledgeable of astronomy and astrology.

The Arabic name for Enoch, however, is “Idris,” while the Arabic for Noah is “Nuh” (pronounced “Nuch”). When the Arabic demonstrative particle “al,” normally prefixed to proper names, is added to the latter, forming “an-Nuh,” it closely resembles “Anogha,” the Sanskrit transliteration of the name of this prophet. Therefore, it makes more sense linguistically that the second prophet in the Kalachakra list is Noah.

“Isha” (Tib. dBang-po), “The Powerful Lord,” is the Sanskrit phonetic transcription of “Issa,” the Arabic form of Jesus. Interestingly, “Isha,” in Sanskrit, is also a shortened form of “Ishvara,” an alternative name for Shiva, one of the main Hindu gods.

“Shvetavastri” (Tib. Gos-gar-can), “The White-Clad One,” is the Sanskrit translation of a common name for Mani, the third-century CE founder of the Manichaean religion, followed in Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia. The argument that since the Kalachakra description of the invaders’ beliefs and practices does not include any elements of Manichaeism is insufficient to disprove that the White-Clad One refers to Mani. Mani could be present in the list for historical reasons that will be explored below.

“Madhumati” (Tib. sBrang-rtsi'i blo-gros), “The Honey-minded One,” is the Sanskrit phonetic transcription of Muhammad. It also appears in Hindu literature, such as the Pratisarga Parvana section of The Bhavishya Purana, which mentions Madhumati (Muhammad) as a mleccha teacher.

“Mathani” (Tib. ‘Joms-byed), “The Destroyer,” is the Sanskrit phonetic transcription of Mahdi, the Islamic messiah. The choice of Sanskrit names probably also has a second significance.

The earliest source of Kalachakra teachings is A Concert of Names of Manjushri (Tib. ‘Jam-dpal mtshan-brjod, Skt. Manjushri-nama-samgiti), in which Manjushri, the embodiment of the deep awareness (Tib. ye-shes, Skt. jnana, wisdom) of all the Buddhas, is identified with the Kalachakra Buddha-figure. It can be dated no later than the mid-eighth century CE, since its first Sanskrit commentary, by Manjushrimitra, and its first Tibetan translation both date near the end of that century.

The text praises Manjushri as “the upholder of the line of Buddha’s emanations, he who radiates various emanations to benefit beings accordingly.” Among the emanations then listed is Pramatha (Tib. ‘Joms-byed), “The Destroyer.” As the Tibetan translation attests, “Pramatha” and “Mathani” come from the same Sanskrit root math, “to destroy.” “Pramatha” is the Sanskrit name of the leader of the asuras, the jealous “anti-gods.” The association of the invaders and their teachings with asuras, specified in the verse from The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, will be discussed below.

Another name for Pramatha is “Vemacitra” (“Bright Loom”), for which the possible variant “Vimacitta” (“The Destruction-minded One”) seems more significant. In the Kalachakra prediction, Krinmati, the King of Delhi, will declare himself Mahdi. “Krinmati” in Sanskrit also means “The Destruction-minded One.”

The Main Sects of Islam

There are two main sects of Islam: Sunni and Shia. They split over the succession of imams (political leaders of the Muslims) following Muhammad’s death in 632 CE.

  • The Sunnis follow the succession from Muhammad’s brother-in-law, Muawaiya, who established the Umayyad Caliphate in 661. The Umayyad Empire included Iran.
  • The Shiites follow the succession from Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, whose son Husayn was martyred in 670, trying to overthrow the Umayyads. The Shiites consider the line of imams to be not only the political leaders of the Muslims, but also the religious authorities.

Although formal Islamic sects arose only in the eleventh century CE, these two rival factions divided from each other from early Umayyad times. For ease of discussion, we shall use the names Sunni and Shia anachronistically to refer to the two factions. Eventually, most Arabs followed Sunni Islam, while most Iranians followed Shia and opposed the Sunni Arab rule.

With the help of Iranian and Central Asian Shiites – led by Abu Muslim – the Arab Abbasids overthrew the Arab Umayyads in 750 CE. Although the new Abbasid rulers first supported Shia Islam, they very quickly renounced it, assassinated Abu Muslim, and returned to Sunni. The Arab Abbasids continued to maintain a deep distrust of the Iranian and Central Asian Shiites, many of whom declared the martyred Abu Muslim as the Mahdi, and now fought to overthrow the Sunni Arab rule.

In 762 CE, the Abbasids built Baghdad as their new capital. They engaged Indian architects and engineers to design the city. “Baghdad” is actually a Sanskrit name, “Bhaga + dada,” meaning “Gift of God.” Thus, the specification of Baghdad in the tantra is not surprising, since the city would have been widely known among the educated classes of Indians. Moreover, its mention indicates that the reference to the non-Indic invaders must be to groups that existed after 762. The first groups to consider, then, are the Sunnis and the mainstream Shiites of that period.

The List of Prophets Does Not Correspond to Sunni or Mainstream Shia Beliefs

Both Sunni and mainstream Shia (which later became known as Ithna Ashari or “Twelver” Shia) accept the list of twenty-five prophets found in The Quran. Both also accept that Muhammad will be the last prophet. Although the Sunnis accept Mahdi as a messiah and imam who will reinstate the purity of Islam, they put little emphasis on him. The Shiites, on the other hand, strongly emphasize Mahdi and say that he will avenge the injustice of Husayn’s martyrdom. Neither the Sunnis nor the mainstream Shiites, however, assert Mahdi as a prophet.

Thus, based on the evidence of the list of prophets mentioned in the tantra verse, the non-Indic invaders do not refer to either the Sunni Abbasids or the mainstream Shiites who opposed them.

A counterargument to this hypothesis could be made based on a quotation from The Stainless Light (Tib. Dri-med ‘od, Skt. Vimalaprabha) commentary to The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra. According to tradition, both texts were compiled in Shambhala, the tantra by the First Kalki (Tib. Rigs-ldan) ruler Manjushri Yashas (Tib. ‘Jam-dpal grags-pa) and the commentary by his son, the Second Kalki ruler Pundarika (Tib. Padma dkar-po).

The commentary refers to Muhammad as “a teacher of the Dharma of the non-Indic invaders, a guru and master of the mleccha Tayis.” The Sanskrit tayi is a phonetic transcription of either the Arabic and Aramaic term tayy (plural: tayayah, tayyaye) or the Persian form of it, tazi. The Tayyayah were the strongest of the pre-Muslim Arab tribes, the Tayy’id, and, consequently, “tayayah” was used in Syriac and Hebrew as a generalized name for the Arabs from the first century CE. The Syriac Christians, in turn, used the term for the first Muslims, while the Modern Persian form tazi was the term used in reference to the Arab invaders of Iran, for example, by the last Sassanid ruler, Yazdgird III (r. 632 – 651). The Chinese phonetically represented the same Persian word as “dashi” (ta-shih) and also used it for the Arabs. Thus, based on the term tayi, one could argue that the non-Indic invaders would be Arabs, specifically Abbasid Sunni Arabs.

The appearance, in the Kalachakra literature, of the term tayi for the non-Indic invaders, however, does not necessarily establish the invaders as the Arab Sunni Abbasids, let alone as Arabs. It can also indicate that the invaders will be from an Iranian or another non-Arab cultural area where the Arab Abbasids ruled, and not necessarily a Sunni Islamic one. The Tibetans, for example, translated “tayi” as “stag-gzig” (pronounced “tazig”), undoubtedly deriving from the Middle Persian “tazig” or the Parthian “tazhig.” This suggests that the Tibetans were already familiar with the term tazig before its appearance as “tayi” in the Kalachakra literature. This is because Tibetans also use “stag-gzig” for the original homeland of its native pre-Buddhist religion Bon – namely, the pre-Islamic Iranian cultural area of Central Asia to the west of Zhang-zhung (western Tibet). Note that the present-day Tajiks speak an Iranian language and are unrelated to the Arabs.

Alternatively, the term tayi could indicate that the compilers of the Kalachakra literature did not clearly differentiate the ethnic backgrounds of the various religious groups of their times. Supporting evidence for this conclusion derives from the fact that Tibetan commentators to The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, such as Buton (Bu-ston Rin-chen grub, 1290 – 1364) and Kedrub Je (mKhas-grub rJe dGe-legs dpal-bzang, 1385 – 1438), glossed “tayi” as “sog-po” and “the land of Mecca” as “sog-yul” (the land of the “sog-po”) in their commentaries to the Kalachakra texts.

At the time of these two Tibetan commentators, “sog-po” referred primarily to various Mongol groups. During the time of Buton, although the Mongols rulers of Mongolia and China followed Tibetan Buddhism, many of the Mongol rulers of other divisions of the Mongol world had already converted to Islam. The Kipchik Khans in modern-day Kazakhstan and central Russia accepted Islam around 1260 CE, the Il Khans in Iran in roughly 1300 CE, and the Western Chagatai Khans in modern-day Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in 1321 CE. By the time of Kedrub Je, the Mongols who followed Tibetan Buddhism no longer ruled China; however, the primary Tibetan contact with Mongols during the lifetimes of both these Kalachakra commentators would have been with the Buddhist ones, not the Muslim Mongols.

In any case, the Mongols became a major force in Central Asia, only at the beginning of the thirteenth century CE, while the Sanskrit Kalachakra texts themselves predated this event by several centuries. Thus, the use of the terms sog-po and sog-yul in the context of Kalachakra commentaries could not have been in reference to the Mongols themselves. We therefore need to examine pre-Mongol ethnic and religious groups to which the name sog-po was applied by the Tibetans.

In some non-Kalachakra texts, the term sog-po, in conjunction with stag-gzig, did refer to the Sunni Arabs, but not necessarily to the Sunni Arabs of the Abbasid period. For example, in his History of Buddhism in India (rGya-gar chos-‘byung), the early seventeenth-century CE Tibetan historian Taranatha referred to Hajjaj bin Yusuf Sakafi, the early eighth-century CE governor of the easternmost provinces of the Umayyad Caliphate, as the “stag-gzig sog-po Ha-la-lu, a follower of the mleccha religion.” Hajjaj’s rule originally encompassed modern-day eastern Iran, Baluchistan (Makran), and southern Afghanistan. But, in 717 CE, his nephew and son-in-law, General Muhammad bin-Qasim, extended it to Sindh and Saurashtra. Taranatha mentioned Hajjaj’s rule as the period in which the mlecchas first arrived in India. The Umayyads were Sunni Arabs. Taranatha’s historical confusion shows clearly, however, when he also stated that Halalu came from the city of Ba-ga-da (Baghdad) in the land of Mol-ta-na (Multan), present-day northern Sindh, Pakistan. Baghdad was only built in 762 CE by the Abbasids, after the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate. We may recall that the Kalachakra verse listing the mleccha prophets said that Muhammad came to Baghdad in the land of Mecca.

Historically, the Tibetans have applied the name sog-po, derived from “Sogdia” (modern-day Uzbekistan), to all Central Asians, not simply to either Mongols or Sunni Arabs. During the eighth and first half of the ninth centuries CE, an assortment of Arab, Chinese, Turkic, and Tibetan dynasties repeatedly fought each other over control of Sogdia and adjacent areas of Central Asia. The name sog-po would not necessarily have applied only to the Sunni Arabs of those times and regions; it could also have included Sogdians and other Central Asians conscripted into the Arab army as well. Moreover, although many Sogdians converted to Islam during the Abbasid period, many also retained their earlier Manichaean and Buddhist religions. Thus, as in the case of “tayi,” the term sog-po could indicate either the Central Asian cultural area or an imprecise differentiation of ethnic and religious groups.

For example, earlier in the same above-mentioned text, Taranatha also speaks of the “stag-gzig sog-po” and their mleccha religion in the area of Multan (Tib. Maultan, Skt. Maulasthana). But in this case, the reference is not to Sunni Arabs in the vicinity of Multan, but more obviously to the White Huns. The discussion is in reference to the Gupta Emperor Harsha, a great patron of Buddhism, who conquered the territory ruled by the White Huns. Harsha ruled from 606 to 647 CE, and thus the mleccha religion Taranatha was referring to cannot possibly have been Islam. The Buddhist monasteries in the area around Multan had been destroyed in 515 CE by the White Hun ruler, Mihirakula, and the Hephthalites had continued to rule in the region until conquered by Harsha. Although most earlier Hephthalite rulers were patrons of Buddhism, Mihirakula was anti-Buddhist and his attacks on the monasteries were supposedly fomented by Manichaean and Nestorian Christian ministers. It is unclear what the policy of post-Mihirakula Hephthlatie rulers was toward Buddhism, but we may postulate that the mleccha religion in Taranatha’s reference was most likely Manichaeism, one of the main religions of the Sogdians.

To add to the imprecision of terms, in the same text, Taranatha also used the name tu-ru-shka, meaning “Turks,” interchangeably with “stag-gzig.” This usage, however, was in reference to the destruction of Odantapuri and Vikramashila Monasteries in India by the Ghurid Turks in 1200 CE. The Sanskrit word turushka, used in transliteration in Tibetan, has been traditionally applied in Sanskrit works to various earlier Turkic peoples, such as the Kushans, the White Huns, and the Turki Shahis. Taranatha, however, did not even mention the invasion of India by the Ghaznavid Turks in the early eleventh century CE – which would have been closer to when the Kalachakra teachings appeared in India – let alone refer to the Ghaznavids as “tu-ru-shka.” Thus, Taranatha’s usage of ethnic names in his history offers no basis for validly inferring that the Tayi mentioned in the Kalachakra literature were the Turkic Ghaznavids.

Taranatha’s lack of precision in using ethnic terms and his confusion regarding foreign religions is even more pronounced in his description of the founding of the mleccha religion, in this case Islam. He reported that the founder was originally a Sautrantika Buddhist monk, named Kumarasena, who disrobed and resolved to found a religion that would rival Buddhism. He took the name Ma-ma-thar (Muhammad?) and composed the mleccha scriptures. He concealed these texts in a place called Bi-sli-mli (Bismillah?). They were discovered by Bai-kham-pa (?), who then studied their meaning with Mamathar and became a sage of the mlecchas. Bai-kham-pa then went to the city of Ma-kha (Mecca) and, as a consequence of his teaching there, the royal dynasties of Sai-da (Abbasid?) and Tu-ru-shka arose. Bai-kham-pa then came to be known as Ar-dho (Adam).

In short, the general terms mleccha, tayi, sog-po, and tu-ru-shka are too vague to serve as conclusive proof of the identity of the non-Indic invaders, for whom Muhammad was a teacher, mentioned in the Kalachakra texts. The evidence offered by the list of prophets specifies the invaders more precisely, and is therefore more reliable in identifying this group.

Early Abbasid Shia Sects

Within the Shia division of Islam, a faction split in 765 CE, forming the Ismaili sect. The Ismailis asserted that the seventh imam, Ismail, who disappeared as a child in 762, will return in the future as the Mahdi. Consequently, the Ismailis placed a great emphasis on the number seven. Their list of prophets has seven members: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and Mahdi. Except for the omission of Mani, this is the same list as the invaders’ list mentioned in Kalachakra. The Abbasids branded them a heresy and persecuted them.

Another subgroup within Shia Islam that emerged at this time was Manichaean Islam. It combined Mani’s teachings with Shia Islam and was followed by many Iranian intellectuals in the Abbasid court in the late eighth century CE. It appealed to these intellectuals because it offered wider and deeper philosophical teachings than those found in Sunni Islam at the time.

Seeing Manichaean ideas as a threat to their authority, the Sunni Abbasid rulers also branded Manichaean Shia a heresy. They persecuted not only them, but also mainstream Manichaeans. In contrast, the Abbasids tolerated all other religious groups in their domain – Nestorian Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and Hindus alike, provided they paid a poll tax.

An additional contributing factor for the Abbasid intolerance of the Manichaean Shiites and Manichaeans could have been a connection they alleged between them and certain rebel factions. Two main dissident groups fought against the Abbasids in Iran and Central Asia – Iranian Shiites, such as the followers of the martyred Abu Muslim, and Turkic tribes, such as the Orkhon Turks. Both wore white robes to show their opposition to the Abbasids, who wore black. Manichaeans also wore white robes. Thus, the Manichaean Shiite Muslims might have been identified with the dissidents and considered a dangerous threat not only intellectually, but politically as well. This could have been the case simply because of their association with the Manichaeans, regardless of what color clothing the Manichaean Shiites themselves wore.

The Connection with the Destruction of Jain Temples and Buddhist Monasteries in Valabhi

In the early 780s CE, the Abbasid generals ruling in Sindh (southern Pakistan) attacked and destroyed the Jain temples and Buddhist monasteries in Valabhi, Saurashtra (southern Gujarat, India). This was during their campaign to gain control of the Saurashtran ports, as they previously had of the Sindhi ports at the mouth of the Indus River. Their main aim was to control and tax the maritime trade with Byzantium and Europe that passed through there.

Valabhi was the spiritual center of the Shvetambara (White-Clad) sect of the Jains. The Abbasids probably mistook the white-clad Jains for the white-clad dissidents and for the Manichaeans and Manichaean Shiites. It is hardly likely that the Abbasid generals bothered to learn of the religious differences among these groups.

Thus, the White-Clad Jains were probably the main target in Valabhi, not the Buddhists. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the Abbasids left the Buddhist monasteries alone in Sindh, from where they launched their attack, preferring to tax them heavily instead. Buddhist monasteries continued to function in Sindh under Abbasid rule for several centuries after the destruction of Valabhi.

None of the above-mentioned white-clad groups, however – the Abu Muslim and Orkhon Turkic rebels, the Manichaeans, or the Jains – could have been the non-Indic invaders predicted in Kalachakra. The Abu Muslim rebel leaders started the Musalemiyya sect of Islam, the customs of which did not include praying five times a day facing Mecca. The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra specifies such prayer as a characteristic of the invaders’ Dharma. The religious practices of the Orkhon Turkic rebels are not clear, but they were not Muslims. The first Turkic tribe officially to adopt the Muslim faith was the Western Qarakhanids of Kashgar, in the late 930s. The Manichaean and Jain beliefs also do not conform to the specified parameters mentioned in the text.

Moreover, although Stainless Light refers in several passages to the non-Indic invaders as “those who wear white” (Tib. kla-klo gos-dkar-can, Skt. mleccha svetavastri), this epithet does not imply a logical pervasion. Not all the invaders will necessarily wear white, and not all who wear white will necessarily be the invaders.

In comment to a passage in The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra that mentions “those that wear red and those that wear white,” Stainless Light explains:

Buddhists wear red and the non-Indic invaders wear white. (This is in reference to) the ascetics. Householders (among both) have no certainty (about the color of the clothes that they wear).

The acceptance of Muhammad and Mahdi as prophets places the non-Indic invaders as an Islamic sect. Muslim pilgrims of all sects wear white during the hajj in Mecca. Therefore, invader pilgrims (ascetics) wear white during the hajj, but not all who wear white at the hajj are invader pilgrims. Thus, the statement that invader householders do not necessarily wear white is further evidence to exclude the white-clad groups of Abu Muslim householder rebels as the non-Indic invaders.

Let us explore further the case of the Manichaean Shiites and Ismailis.

Afghan and Indian Buddhist Scholars in Baghdad in the Service of the Abbasids

The Abbasid ruler who ordered the attack against Valabhi was Caliph al-Mahdi (ruled 775-785 CE). Although the caliph had the same name as the last prophet in the Kalachakra list, he never declared himself a prophet or the Islamic messiah. His father, Caliph al-Mansur, had given him this name to help rally Arabs on his side in a rivalry with another political leader in Mecca, who also had named his son al-Mahdi.

Caliph al-Mahdi invited Buddhist scholars from India and from the huge Nava Vihara monastery in Balkh, Afghanistan to Baghdad to work at the newly constructed House of Knowledge to translate texts into Arabic – further evidence of his lack of intolerance of Buddhism. They worked there from the late eighth to the early ninth centuries CE. The Buddhist scholars probably knew of the Manichaean Shiites and the Abbasid prejudice against them as being dangerous to society.

After their persecution by the Abbasids, many Manichaean Shia followers turned to Ismaili Shia Islam, which was a longer lasting opponent to the Abbasid Arab rule.

Although I have not found any record of the Manichaean Shia list of prophets, the inclusion of Mani in the Ismaili list could imply several possible conclusions:

  • The Manichaean Shiites originally had the same list of prophets as the Ismailis, except for the addition of Mani.
  • After joining the Ismailis, the Manichaean Shiites adopted the Ismaili list, but maintained their identity by adding Mani to it.
  • In accord with the Ismaili conversion custom that allowed adhesion and syncretism as intermediary steps, the Ismailis initially allowed the Manichaeans and Manichaean Shiites who converted to add Mani to the standard Ismaili list of seven prophets. Adhesion is the addition of elements of two belief systems without change in either of them, while syncretism is the blending of two systems into a new synthesis. This would have been a precursor to the tactic the Ismailis later followed in the conversion of Hindus, which identified Ali, the first imam according to Shia and Ismaili, with Kalki, the tenth avatar of Vishnu.

In any case, the orthodox Ismailis themselves never included Mani in their list of prophets. To include an eighth prophet would transgress their emphasis on “seven” as a holy number.

Two possible conclusions may follow from this:

  • The non-Indic invaders would be the descendants of the Manichaean and Manichaean-Shiite converts within the Ismaili community. Considering that this minority never gained political or military power, this conclusion is highly unlikely.
  • The Afghan and Indian Buddhists lacked continuing contact with the Ismailis once they ceased their translation activitiesin Baghdad and, consequently, merged their picture of Manichaean Shia with that of Ismaili Shia.

This second conclusion seems more likely, especially in light of

  • the conversion of the ruler of Multan (northern Sindh, Pakistan) to Ismaili Shia in 959 CE,
  • the presence of Manichaeans in the area, especially in the mountainous regions to the north,
  • the Ismaili conversion policy of adhesion.

Two passages in Taranatha’s History of Buddhism in India that were cited above add further weight to this hypothesis of the Kalachakra list of prophets being a confused merging of Ismaili Shia with Manichaeism. In the context of the founding of Islam, Taranatha wrote that Baghdad was in the land of Multan; while in the context of Emperor Harsha’s conquest of the White Huns, who were most probably followers of Manichaeism, he wrote that these White Huns also lived in the area of Multan.

Contact with Nestorian Christianity

The most prevalent form of Christianity in the Abbasid Empire, from Syria to Central Asia, was the Nestorian branch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, started in the early fifth century CE by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople. It taught that Jesus was born with a human nature and that his divine nature entered him afterwards. The Council of Chalcedon declared it a heresy in 431 CE. It was the form of Christianity with which Muhammad was acquainted. Consequently, Islam also asserted Jesus as a human prophet, and added that his teachings were a forerunner of those revealed by Muhammad.

In 726 CE, during the Umayyad period, the Nestorian theologian John of Damascus wrote that Muhammad was a forerunner of the Antichrist. The Nestorian position – and consequently the Muslim response – changed, however, during the Abbasid period when Buddhists would have had contact with both religions. In the early 780s, Caliph al-Mahdi invited the Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I to Baghdad to discuss the doctrinal differences between Christianity and Islam. The dialogue was polite and friendly, with both sides praising both Jesus and Muhammad.

Just as the Buddhist scholars working in Baghdad at the time witnessed the anti-Manichaean Shia sentiment of the Abbasids, they likewise witnessed the Abbasids’ friendly attitude toward Nestorian Christianity. Whether or not they adapted these attitudes is difficult to say. However, the fact that Nestorianism lacks any mention of Muhammad or Mahdi as prophets further disqualifies the Christians from being the non-Indic invaders warned against in the Kalachakra teachings.

Abbasid Interaction with the Afghan Buddhists

Invaders damaged Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan only twice during the next two centuries. Both times, the monasteries quickly recovered. Buddhist monasteries in the Indian subcontinent itself, including Kashmir, were not attacked during this period.

The first attack (815 – 819 CE) was made by the Abbasids themselves, when the Turki Shahi (Buddhist) rulers of Kabul, with their Tibetan allies, joined other dissident groups from Central Asia to try to overthrow the Abbasids and lost. The damage was minor and the Turki Shahis soon regained control.

In the second half of the ninth century, the Abbasid rule of their empire weakened and various portions became autonomous states with only nominal allegiance to the Abbasids. The second oppression (870 – 879 CE) was inflicted by the ruler of one of these autonomous states, the Saffarids based in Iran. They caused greater damage than the previous attack had inflicted. The Saffarids overthrew the Turki Shahis; while Kallar, the brahmin minister of the last Turki Shah, fled to Gandhara (present-day Pakistani Punjab) and established there and in Oddiyana (Swat Valley) the Hindu Shahi Dynasty. The Hindu Shahis ruled Gandhara and Oddiyana from 870 to 1015 CE. The Saffarids did not rule eastern Afghanistan for long. Soon, the Hindu Shahis wrested it from them and ruled there from 879 to 976 CE. The Hindu Shahi rulers supported both Hinduism and Buddhism.

The Rise of Ismaili Rivals to the Abbasids

The rulers of the Fatimid Dynasty (910 – 1171 CE), centered in Egypt from 969, were followers of Ismaili Shia. They ruled a vast empire and, as the main rivals of the Sunni Abbasids, sought to unite the entire Muslim world under the banner of their Ismaili sect and their promise of the messiah Mahdi. They sent many missionaries and diplomats to the east to try to win converts to their cause.

Ismaili Shia was already present in Sijistan (present-day southwestern Iran and southern Afghanistan) and Khurasan (present-day northwestern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, and northern Afghanistan) by the beginning of the tenth century CE. By 959 the ruler of Multan (northern Sindh, Pakistan) had converted to this branch of Islam, and, by 968, Multan became a vassal state of the Fatimids.

In 976 CE, the Ghaznavid Turks conquered eastern Afghanistan from the Hindu Shahis and established an autonomous state under the Abbasids. The Hindu Shahis withdrew to the Gandhara and Oddiyana portions of their domain, on the Pakistani side of the Khyber Pass, to the north of Multan. At this point, the Abbasids, joined by their Ghaznavid vassals, were surrounded to the east and west by their Fatimid rivals. They feared an impending two-front invasion. To attack the Ghaznavids, the Ismailis of Multan would merely need to pass through the territory of the Ghaznavid enemies, the Hindu Shahis.

The Ghaznavid ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni (ruled 997 – 1030 CE), was a strong upholder of Sunni Islam. Although he was tolerant of the Buddhists under his rule in Afghanistan, demonstrated by the fact that he taxed them and their monasteries rather than impose any persecution, he was intolerant of other forms of Islam, especially Ismaili Shia. One of his top priorities was to counter the Ismaili Fatimid political threat and prove himself the main upholder of his Abbasid overlords.

In 1001 CE, Mahmud attacked the Hindu Shahis in Gandhara and Oddiyana. Although Oddiyana was still a main center of Buddhist tantra, it lacked any flourishing Buddhist monasteries. Its Hindu temples, on the other hand, abounded with wealth. Consequently, Mahmud looted and destroyed them. The Hindu Shahis withdrew further east and formed an alliance with Multan.

Over the next two decades, Mahmud not only attacked and annexed Multan, but also went on to defeat another Hindu Shahi alliance, this time with the Indian Rajput rulers of present-day Indian Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Over the next years, Mahmud plundered and destroyed the wealthy Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries in the Rajput areas.

In either 1015 or 1021 CE (depending on which source one accepts), Mahmud pursued the remaining Hindu Shahis, who were consolidating their forces at Lohara fort in the western foothills leading to Kashmir. Mahmud was never able, however, to take the fort or to invade Kashmir. According to traditional Buddhist accounts, the Ghaznavid ruler was stopped by Buddhist mantras.

In summary, Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasion of Gandhara, Oddiyana, and northwestern India seems to have been primarily motivated by the wish to counter the threat, posed by the Fatimid Ismailis, to Abbasid Sunni supremacy as upholders of Islam, and to complete the destruction of his father’s enemies, the Hindu Shahis, who supported Multan. In the process of accomplishing these two aims, Mahmud established as large a financial and power base as he could, by looting and destroying the wealthy Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries in the area. Given the political climate within the Islamic world at that juncture in history, it seems unlikely that Mahmud’s main motivation was religious fanaticism to eliminate all Indian faiths and convert the Indians to Sunni Islam.

The Compilation of The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra

From the point of view of Western scholarship, The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra and its main commentary, Stainless Light, are probably combinations of portions written in different places at different times. It is difficult, however, to date their compilation, in Sanskrit, in their present full form.

The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra (I.27) states that 403 years before the establishment of the sixty-year prabhava (Tib. rab-‘byung) calendar cycle was the year of the lord of the mlecchas, namely Muhammad. Accordingly, the first sixty-year Kalachakra cycle began in 1027 CE. The Tibetan astrological tradition considers this the year that the Kalachakra teachings were introduced to Tibet from India. This assertion refers to the Kalachakra calendar and the calculations for preparing it.

Other Tibetan scholars have taken 1027 CE to be the year when the Kalachakra teachings entered India. Kedrub Je, however, after citing this opinion and analyzing the texts, concluded that it was difficult to say with any certainty that this was the year that Kalachakra entered India. The Kalachakra texts simply state that the first 60-year cycle starts then.

At least one place where the Kalachakra teachings would have been available by 1027 would have been Kashmir. At the end of the tenth and beginning of the eleventh centuries CE, Kashmir was a center for both Buddhist and Hindu Shaivite tantra. Evidence that the Kalachakra teachings were present there at this time comes from the appearance of a Hindu critique of the Buddhist Kalachakra meditation system in the sixteenth chapter of the Kashmiri Shaivite tantra text Illuminating the Tantras (Skt. Tantraloka), written by the Kashmiri pandit Abhinavagupta. According to some scholars, Abhinavagupta wrote his text between 990 and 1014 CE and died in 1025.

The presence of Kalachakra teachings in Kashmir prior to 1027 could indicate that some details about the battle against the non-Indic invaders were later added to an earlier stratum. Thus, despite the Kalachakra texts predicting the non-Indic invasion to take place in 2424 CE, the texts might have been basing their description of the future battle on the past invasion of Kashmir by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1015 or 1021 and his defeat purportedly by the tantric means of Buddhist mantras. Since the Ghaznavids had already taken Multan by this time, the Kalachakra compilers could have been confusing Ismaili beliefs with those of Sunni Islam. Based on such confusion, they would have ascribed a modified Ismaili list of prophets to the Sunni invaders and incorrectly believed that Mahmud of Ghazni had declared himself Mahdi, which he never did.

Moreover, according to the Kalachakra texts, the non-Indic invasion will be launched from Delhi (Skt. Dili). Delhi, here, cannot refer to the actual city with that name, which was built only in the twelfth century CE, long after the Kalachakra literature appeared in India. The name appears in Indian literature, however, as early as the first century BCE, to refer to a larger area around what later became the city of Delhi, probably eastern Punjab. Mahmud’s attack on the Lohara fort and Kashmir, then, was, in fact, launched from Delhi.

Further, Kashmir seems to have been the likely model for the geographical description of Shambhala. Like Shambhala, the Srinagar valley of Kashmir is surrounded by a ring of snow mountains and has in its center the two-sectioned Dal Lake.


Regardless of the significance of 1027 CE and the exact date of the compilation of the Kalachakra texts, it is clear that the list of the non-Indic invaders’ prophets found in them is an adaptation of the Ismaili list. In addition, it seems quite likely that the historical reference of the invasion of Shambhala is a conflation of the Multan Fatimid Ismaili threat to the Sunni Ghaznavids in eastern Afghanistan and the attacks of Mahmud of Ghazni against the Hindu Shahis in Gandhara, Oddiyana, and the Indian Punjabi vicinity of Kashmir.

Several further points support this hypothesis:

  • During the latter part of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh centuries CE, communication was quite common between the Buddhists of Oddiyana and Kashmir. A Buddhist pilgrimage route from western Tibet to Oddiyana passed through Kangra and Kashmir.
  • Although Buddhist tantra does not seem to have been practiced in eastern Afghanistan, certain features in the Kalachakra teachings were found there. Specifically, the twelve astrological signs of the zodiac were painted around the walls of the main halls of the Buddhist monasteries in Kabul. This motif was found both in Iranian royal palaces and in the Kalachakra mandala, where deities representing the twelve signs surround the palace. Mahmud of Ghazni did not destroy these monasteries.
  • Eastern Afghanistan, Gandhara, and Oddiyana were all under Hindu Shahi rule before Mahmud’s campaigns. Thus, although travel between them would have been restricted during the times of those campaigns, the Oddiyana Buddhists would have still been aware of features found in the Buddhist monasteries of Kabul.
  • Both Oddiyana and Kashmir at this time had Hindu and Buddhist populations under Hindu rulers, as did Shambhala. Moreover, Manichaeans were still present at this time in both of them.
  • The Buddhists in both eastern Afghanistan and Oddiyana would have been aware of the Fatimid Ismaili threat from Multan.
  • The Buddhists in Oddiyana would probably have been worried about the alliance between their Hindu Shahi rulers and Multan. The warning that the Shambhala ruler Manjushri Yashas gave to the Hindu sages about their descendents adopting the invaders’ Dharma could possibly be a reflection of this worry.
  • The final Ghaznavid attacks against the Hindu Shahis and Kashmir were both launched from Multan.

One point, however – if not more – still seems strange about this conflation of the threatened attack by the Ismaili Fatimids of Multan, which never occurred, with the invasions by Mahmud of Ghazni, which did occur. According to the Kalachakra texts, the prediction of the non-Indic invasion was given by Manjushri Yashas in the second century BCE. The prediction was that the invasion would be launched in 2424 CE, 1800 years after the founding of the invaders’ Dharma. The year 1027 CE, 403 years after the founding of the invaders’ Dharma, was just a few years after the time of the Ghaznavid invasions. However, the prediction concerning that year had nothing to do with a future invasion. The prediction concerned merely the year in which the first prabhava 60-year cycle of the Kalachakra calendar would begin.

Analysis of the Prophesy

The Coming of Mahdi, the Battle with Dajjal, and the Last Judgment

To appreciate the urgency of the threat that the Sunnis felt the Ismailis posed requires understanding the Islamic concept of the coming of Mahdi as a messiah.

The prediction of a messiah leading an apocalyptic battle of good against evil, followed by a golden age, the end of time, and a Last Judgment, first appeared in Zoroastrianism in ancient Iran. This occurred in approximately the fourth century BCE. Various versions of the prediction spread to the civilizations around Iran. To the west, it passed into Judaism, from there to Christianity, and from Nestorian Christianity to Islam. In Iran, Iraq, and Central Asia, it spread to Manichaeism. To the east of Iran, it passed into Hinduism.

Within Islam, the earliest forms of the prophesy followed the Nestorian Christian versions in first asserting the coming of the deceiver prophet Dajjal, then the true messiah Mahdi, and an apocalyptic battle in which Mahdi will defeat Dajjal. Then, a golden age of Islam will ensue, followed by the end of the world and the Final Judgment.

The later, full Shiite form, which first appeared in its Ismaili version early in the Abbasid period, added several elements. Most Muslims at this time believed that the world was 5500 years old during the life of Muhammad and would last only 6000 years. Thus, the end of the world was imminent; it would occur in the beginning of the twelfth century.

According to the Ismaili prophecy, the seventh imam, who had disappeared from the earth in 762 CE, will arise once more as the Mahdi shortly before the end of the world. Thus, another name for Mahdi will be “al-Qaim,” “The Arisen One.” When he returns, Islam will have divided into rival sects; Sharia (Islamic) law will be ignored; and Muslims will act like savage barbarians, fighting each other. Mahdi, who will be born in the family of Muhammad, will come as a political and spiritual leader (imam). He will proclaim himself the messiah in Mecca and will lead an army to Jerusalem, where he will establish himself as ruler of the world. He will restore Sharia law, order, and peace.

Mahdi’s rule from Jerusalem will last less than a decade. People will desert him for an impostor messiah, Dajjal, the one-eyed Islamic counterpart of the Antichrist, who will also claim to have arisen once more after having vanished in the past. Dajjal will legalize negative ways forbidden by Sharia law, will give the people material wealth, and will heal the sick. Consequently, people will feel they have no need for Allah.

Before all believers are lost, the Second Coming of Christ will occur. Parallel to the disappearing of the imam and his reappearance as Mahdi, Jesus (considered an Islamic prophet) will similarly return to the earth after having disappeared. He will come to Damascus and pray at the side of Mahdi. Wearing armor, Jesus, rather than Mahdi, will then defeat Dajjal. This battle, known as the apocalypse, will occur at Armageddon in Palestine.

After his victory, Jesus will break all crosses since they were being worshipped like idols, kill all pigs, and abolish the poll tax on non-Muslim “people of the Book,” because they will all have converted to Islam. Jesus will then rule the earth in an Islamic golden age. The period of peace that will follow will last for forty years, after which Allah will destroy the earth, raise the dead, and enact the Last Judgment. The good shall go eternally to Heaven and the bad shall burn eternally in Hell.

The Muslim versions derive primarily from the revised Nestorian Christian Syriac Bible of 508 CE, which added the apocalyptic vision to the earlier Syriac Peshitta version. The main differences are the addition of Mahdi and Jesus being a Muslim prophet.

Since the predicted end of the world was around 1100 CE, many rival Islamic leaders, wishing to rule the entire Muslim world, claimed to be Mahdi in the immediately preceding century and a half. Such claims could help them win political and religious support from the masses. This phenomenon was especially prominent among the Shiites. Not only were the Ismailis actively expecting the imminent arrival of Mahdi, but now so were the mainstream Ithna Ashari Shiites. Their twelfth imam, al-Askari, disappeared as a child in 873 CE, and was also expected to return as the Mahdi.

Since the Shiites saw Mahdi as the avenger of Husayn’s martyrdom at the hands of the faction that became the Arab Sunnis, the Abbasids and their vassals felt especially threatened by a Shiite attack. Since the Ithna Asharis within the Abbasid Empire were politically weak, the Ismaili Fatimids were the most likely candidates for an invasion.

The Kalachakra warning of an invasion by non-Indic forces led by Mahdi, then, echoes the Abbasids’ fear of such an invasion. It reflects the predominant ethos of the times.

The Prediction of a Messiah in Hinduism

The prediction of a messiah spread to Hinduism through Indian contact with Iranian culture during the Kushan Dynasty in the first two centuries CE. It appeared first in an abbreviated form in the interpolated Markandeya Parvan section of The Mahabharata. Its fullest form, however, appeared in The Vishnu Purana, which scholars date to the fourth century CE.

The Vishnu Purana describes the periodic birth and passage of each universe through cycles of four ages and, in this context, discusses astronomy and astrology. The current kaliyuga (Tib. rtsod-pa'i dus, age of disputes) will end with the coming of Kalki (Tib. Rigs-ldan), the eighth and final avatar (Tib. ‘jug-pa, descent, incarnation) of Vishnu. He will be born in Shambhala in the family of the brahman Vishnu Yashas. He will destroy the mlecchas, thieves, and all others who act destructively.

The text specifies the mlecchas as the Yavanas (Macedonian Greeks), Shakas, Huns, and Turushkas (Kushans) – all of whom were non-Indic groups that had previously invaded and ruled northwestern India.

The Kalachakra Response with Its Messiah Prediction

With Kalachakra, the Buddhists responded to the general fear of an invasion by asserting its own messiah prediction and by following the policies already employed by the Hindus and Muslims of the time. The policy was to find similarities, whether actual or stretched, that would allow followers of other religions to fit under the umbrella of a ruling faction’s religion. From a sociopolitical viewpoint, such a policy allowed for an integrated multicultural society, an essential prerequisite for successfully meeting the challenge of an invasion. From a religious point of view, it laid the foundation for receptive followers of other faiths to see the rulers’ religion as the deeper truth of their own beliefs. Thus, in a subtle, nonaggressive manner, it opened the door to conversion.

This methodology also appeared in other aspects of Buddhism. In Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (sPyod-‘jug, Skt. Bodhicaryavatara), the eighth-century Indian master Shantideva explained that to lead an opponent in a debate to a deeper understanding, one needs to use examples shared in common.

Accordingly, in wishing to form a united front with the Hindus, the Buddhists used, in Kalachakra, motifs and names already familiar to the Hindu public from The Vishnu Purana. In the Kalachakra version of the messiah prediction, universes periodically go through cycles of four ages, following the laws of astronomy and astrology. Seven centuries before the end of the current fourth age (the kaliyuga), the king of Shambhala will unify all his Hindu and Buddhist subjects into one caste to face the future invasion that will end the age. The unifying king will be Manjushri Yashas, who will take the title Kalki and be the first of a line of twenty-five Kalki rulers of Shambhala.

In The Vishnu Purana, the name Kalki, derived from the Sanskirt word kalka meaning “dirt” or “something foul,” is glossed as “Kalka-vinasana,” “The Destroyer of What Is Foul.” Kalachakra uses the same Sanskrit name Kalki, but takes it as a variant of “Kulika” (from “kula,” caste), to mean “Holder of the Castes,” to signify that Manjushri Yashas will unify and hold together all the castes. Hence, the Tibetan translation Rigs-ldan for both “Kalki” and “Kulika” (which is also the name of a naga).

Seven centuries later, the actual Buddhist messiah will be Raudrachakrin (Tib. Drag-pa'i ‘khor-lo), the twenty-fifth Kalki ruler who, like the first Kalki, will be an emanation of Manjushri. During his reign, Krinmati, the King of Delhi, will declare himself Mahdi, the messiah of the mlecchas – the non-Indic invaders.

From Delhi, the non-Indic forces will attempt an invasion of Shambhala, but Raudrachakrin will defeat Mahdi before he reaches that land to the north. This will mark the end of the kaliyuga and the start of a new golden age.

Parallels between the Hindu and Buddhist Predictions

The parallels between the Hindu and Buddhist versions of the prediction are clear. Both have the messiah coming from Shambhala (the “Land of Bliss”), defeating the mlecchas, ending the kaliyuga, and bringing about a new golden age. In the Hindu presentation, Kalki is both the final avatar of Vishnu and the son of Vishnu Yashas. In the Buddhist presentation, the first Kalki is Manjushri Yashas and both he and the final Kalki Raudrachakrin are emanations of Manjushri. Manjushri is closely associated with Kalachakra through A Concert of Names of Manjushri.

In indicating to the Hindus of Shambhala that the Buddhist Kalki – understood on both the historical and spiritual levels – is actually the deepest meaning of the Hindu Kalki, the Buddhists were following the same methods as the Hindus had previously used. Early lists of the avatars of Vishnu had only eight members. For example, The Vishnu Purana omits from the list of ten Vamana the Dwarf Avatar and Buddha. Buddha was a later addition, when depiction of the ten first appeared at the beginning of the fifth century CE. With Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu, Buddhists could fit harmoniously into Hindu society without renouncing Buddhism.

Similarly, Hindus could fit harmoniously into a Buddhist society by joining in one vajra caste, without renouncing Hinduism. After all, according to the Padmani commentary, the first eight avatars mentioned in the immediately preceding verse of The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, were actually emanations of the Buddha. The Kalachakra list of eight, revealingly, includes Vamana the Dwarf Avatar, but omits Kalki. Therefore, since Hindus felt no conflict in accepting Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu, they need not feel uncomfortable in following the future Kalki king of Shambhala as the tenth avatar.

The Hindu Response to the Kalachakra Prediction

The Kalki Purana retells the Hindu prophecy of Kalki. The additional elements not found in The Vishnu Purana suggest a composition date in the eleventh or twelfth century CE, after the appearance in India of the Kalachakra texts and before the assimilation of Buddhism into Hinduism in northern India with the destruction of the main Buddhist monasteries.

In this version, the leader of the mlecchas will be Kali (“The Disputer”), the personification of the kaliyuga (the age of disputes), the son of Krodha (“Anger”) and Himsa (“Violence”). Kali will befoul the pure Hindu Dharma by teaching doctrines contradictory to it, such as the uniting of the castes, intercaste marriage, and the lifting of the status of the lower castes. Kalki as “The Destroyer of What Is Foul,” will defeat Kali and the Buddhists and Jains who follow his teachings. His victory will reestablish pure Dharma with its unadulterated caste system, end the kaliyuga, and herald a new golden age.

Perhaps many Hindus felt offended by the Kalachakra teaching of a Kalki mixing and uniting the castes. Thus, they would feel the need to reject this false Buddhist Kalki and to reaffirm the true Hindu Kalki – the destroyer of the fouling of the pure caste system and the teachers who befouled it. Thus, the change of Kalki’s father’s name from “Vishnu Yashas” to “Vishnu Vyasa” was perhaps a conscience move to distance the Hindu Kalki from the Buddhist one. “Vyasa” was the name of the composer of The Mahabharata.

Although The Bhavishya Purana, contemporaneous with The Kalki Purana, mentions Muhammad as a mleccha teacher, it is noteworthy that the latter specifies only the Buddhists and Jains as belonging to the side of Kali, and makes no mention of Islam. Nevertheless, the revised Hindu prediction parallels an element of the Muslim version. After his victory over Dajjal, Jesus will bring all non-Muslim “people of the Book” back to pure Islam. Similarly, after his victory over Kali, the Hindu Kalki will bring all non-Hindu followers of Indian religions (namely, the Buddhists and Jains) back to pure Hinduism.

Despite the strong anti-Buddhist and anti-Jain words of The Kalki Purana, Hindus never launched a pogrom against either group, or severely persecuted them under their rule. In fact, the kings of the Pala Dynasty (750 – late twelfth century CE), which ruled Bihar and Bengal in northern India during this period, were patrons of Buddhism.

Parallels between the Kalachakra and Islamic Versions

In order also to lead the non-Indic invaders to a deeper understanding, the Kalachakra version of the messiah prophesy similarly uses certain features that either it attributes to the Muslim version or which are actually there. For example, in Stainless Light, Muhammad is called an “avatar of Rahman.” “Rahman” (“The Merciful”) is a common Arabic epithet of Allah. Mahdi, in turn, is called “The Emanation,” at the end of a line of imam successors from the family of Muhammad. This parallels the First Kalki being an emanation of Manjushri, and after a line of Kalki successors, the Twenty-fifth and final Kalki also being an emanation of Manjushri. Similarly, it parallels the Hindu Kalki being the last of a line of successive avatars of Vishnu.

The line of Kalkis being rulers of Shambhala, the land entrusted by Buddha to preserve the Kalachakra teachings, parallels the line of imams, succeeding Muhammad, entrusted with political power to preserve the purity of Islam. Moreover, the line of Kalkis having twenty-five members parallels the prophets mentioned in The Quran also constituting a line of twenty-five.

Further, A Concert of Names of Manjushri identifies Manjushri as the Adibuddha (Tib. Dang-po'i sangs-rgyas), a term that can be understood in several ways. The earliest appearance in Buddhist literature is in A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras (Tib. Theg-pa chen-po'i mdo-sde rgyan, Skt.Mahayanasutralamkara) by Maitreya as transmitted to the third-century CE Indian Buddhist master, Asanga. There, Maitreya refutes the possibility of an Adibuddha, which he takes to mean a “Buddha from the First” – in other words, someone who from the start was a Buddha, without having to accumulate the causes for it.

In the Kalachakra literature, Adibuddha takes on the deeper meaning of “Primordial Buddha,” as with the parallel epithet in A Concert of Names of Manjushri, “The Supreme Primordial One” (Tib. mchog-gi dang-po, Skt. paramadya). Manjushri (Kalachakra) represents the subtlest level of each individual’s mental continuum, the clear light level, which has no beginning and no end. Its Buddha-nature qualities that allow it to become the omniscient mind of a Buddha include its innate purity from all fleeting stains and its innate quality or potential of unimpeded deep awareness. Thus, it is primordially a Buddha. Moreover, clear light mind is the creator of all appearances. This parallels Allah being the supreme omniscient creator. Kalachakra, however, never asserted Adibuddha as a specific being who was the First Buddha, despite the word Adibuddha also having that possible meaning.

As was the case in response to Hinduism, Buddhism in Kalachakra was following the Muslim lead in finding parallels. Islam tolerates other religions, so long as its followers are “people of the Book.” It defines such people as those who accept both a creator God and prophets who reveal the primordial wisdom of such a God. Islamic rulers accepted into their society followers of religions that met these criteria, without their needing to renounce their faiths, so long as they paid a poll tax.

Buddhists Accepted under Islamic Law as "People of the Book"

Islamic law, specifically during the Arab rule of Sindh from the eighth to the tenth century CE, accepted Buddhists as “people of the Book” and thus peacefully included Buddhists under its protection. It is hardly likely that the Muslim rulers were aware of the term Adibuddha in A Concert of Names of Manjushri. They probably based their identification of Buddhists as “people of the Book” based on other factors.

The Sogdians began to translate Buddhist texts into Old Turk at the end of the sixth century CE, and then into their own language at the beginning of the seventh century. In both languages, they translated the term dharma with the Greek loan word nom, originally meaning “law.” In fact, they were translating the Chinese term for Dharma, fa (法), which also meant law. Thus Buddhists, as the people of Dharma, became known in Central Asia as people who follow a higher system of ethical laws. This connotation of nom/dharma perhaps made it easier for Muslims to relate to the Buddhists.

The Sogdians were the first people with a Buddhist population that the Muslims met in their eighth-century expansion into Central Asia. Moreover, the Old Turk and Sogdian translations of Buddhist texts were prevalent in modern-day Uzbekistan and northern Afghanistan, when the Muslims first came to these regions. Thus, although Buddhists were not strictly “people of the Book” in the same sense as were Christians and Jews, nevertheless the Muslims granted the Buddhists under their rule the same status and rights as Christians and Jews. Perhaps helped by the receptivity that the word nom instilled, the Kalachakra teachings established a firmer doctrinal basis that provided shared points between Buddhism and Islam.

Further, A Concert of Names of Manjushri stated that, to help certain beings, Manjushri emanated as Pramatha (“The Destroyer”), leader of the asuras. Subsequently, The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra used “Mathani,” a related form of the same name, as a phonetic transcription of “Mahdi,” the messiah of the non-Indic invaders, whom it identified with the asura caste. Just as Kalachakra was opening the door for Hindus to accept the Buddhist Kalki as the Hindu Kalki, its choice of the transcription Mathani was perhaps similarly opening the door for Muslims also to accept Kalki as the Mahdi and thus, like the Hindus, to fit harmoniously into a Buddhist society.

The Muslim Response to the Kalachakra Prophesies

Some Shiite groups seem to have been aware of the Kalachakra prediction that the Kalki King Raudrachakrin of Shambhala would defeat Mahdi, and took offense. In later centuries, a belief arose, for instance in Baltistan (northern Pakistan), that the Deceiver Messiah Dajjal was the Buddhist Kalki Raudrachakrin. Sometimes, people identified Dajjal even with Chinggis Khan and with the Tibetan mythical hero Ling Kesar. Such identifications, however, were extremely rare and limited to just a few marginal groups.

Buddhist-Muslim relations in Tibet, where the Kalachakra teachings flourished, always remained peaceful. For example, in the mid-seventeenth century CE, after a century and a half of civil war, the Fifth Dalai Lama inaugurated a policy to integrate into a united society the various factions and religious groups present in Tibet at the time. Due to his open, tolerant policy and a severe famine in Kashmir, many Kashmiri Muslims moved to Tibet. The Fifth Dalai Lama gave them special privileges, such as granting them land, exempting them from tax, and permitting them to follow their religion and settle their internal affairs by their own council of leaders and Sharia law. He did this without gathering them into a Kalachakra mandala and conferring on them the Kalachakra initiation.

Christian Fear of an Invasion Led by Mahdi

At the end of the tenth and during the eleventh centuries CE, the Sunnis and Buddhists were not alone in fearing an invasion by forces led by Mahdi. Fear of an imminent apocalyptic battle soon became rampant in Christian Europe as well.

Medieval Christianity expected the Antichrist, the Second Coming of Christ, the apocalypse, the end of the world, and the Last Judgment to occur 1000 years after Jesus. The Antichrist and the re-arisen Christ would appear miraculously, rather than arise from political quarters. When this did not happen in 1000 CE, people expected it 1000 years after the Passion of Christ, in 1033.

When el-Hakim, the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt, destroyed the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in 1009 CE, many thought that the predicted Antichrist had arrived. Still, the Second Coming did not occur in 1033 and, gradually, the Christian Church took it upon itself to purge the world of heresy and impurity instead, first in the Holy Land and then within its own ranks.

In 1055 CE, the Seljuq Turks, after driving the Ghaznivids from Iran, conquered Baghdad and overthrew the Abbasids. In 1076, the Seljuqs went on to capture Palestine and Jerusalem from the Fatimids. Starting in 1090, followers of the Nizari branch of Ismailis, known to the Crusaders as the Order of Assassins, carried out a campaign of terror in Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They undertook this to prepare the way for their leader to take over the world as Mahdi. Both the Seljuqs and Fatimids severely persecuted them.

Although the Seljuqs were orthodox Sunnis and did not see their leaders as candidates for Mahdi, the European Christians did not differentiate among the Muslims. They identified all Muslims with the Nizari Mahdi movement. Consequently, in 1096 CE, Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade to win Jerusalem from the Muslim infidels (in this case, the Seljuqs).

Although the Buddhists predicted an apocalyptic battle in which the forces of Shambhala would defeat Mahdi, and encouraged all Hindus to put aside their caste differences and join them as a unified front, they never launched a crusade against the Muslims. In fact, they opened the door for Muslims to join them in the spiritual quest for highest truth.

Conclusions from the Historical Analysis and the Analysis of the Prophesy

The Sunni Abbasids and their vassals persecuted Buddhism only rarely between the late eighth and the late tenth centuries CE. They mostly tolerated it instead, choosing the economically more profitable course of heavily taxing its followers and its monasteries. Therefore, it seems inappropriate to identify the non-Indic invaders predicted in the tantra with the Sunni Abbasid Muslims or their Sunni Ghaznavid vassals. The list of the invaders’ prophets corroborates this conclusion.

The Afghan and Oddiyana Buddhists probably followed the Abbasid and Ghaznavid lead in identifying the Ismaili Shiite Fatimids, expanding their empire under the banner of a Mahdi, as the main threat at that time to social stability. They may also have confused and conflated the Fatimid Ismailis of Multan with the Ghaznavids who conquered their regions and attacked India. Since the Afghan Buddhist scholars who had worked translating texts in Baghdad were familiar with the Manichaean Shiites, the portrait of the threatening non-Indic invaders probably was an amalgam of their knowledge of them and of the Ismailis. Moreover, it is also quite likely that Manichaeans were among the converts to Ismaili Shia in the Fatimid vassal state of Multan and, in accord with the Ismaili conversion policy that allowed adhesion, that they had added Mani to the Ismaili list of seven prophets.

The Manichaean Shiites originally came from Baghdad (the Abbasid capital), as did the Sunnis. Thus, it is understandable that the Buddhists identified Baghdad as the place from which the Dharma of the non-Indic invaders came. They probably identified Baghdad and Mecca as the holy cities of all forms of Islam.

The main threat that the Fatimids posed in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries CE, however, was political and not religious. Buddhism as portrayed in the Kalachakra literature was not anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, or anti-Hindu. It was merely responding to the spirit of the times – widespread fear of an invasion, an apocalyptic battle, and the end of the world – and the popular preoccupation with the coming of a messiah.

To face the threat, Kalachakra presented its own version of the prediction and 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.

Analysis of the Cultural Features

The Reference to the Invaders as a Caste

Most aspects of the Kalachakra system have three levels of meaning: external or outer (dealing with history and astronomy), internal or inner (dealing with human physiology and disease), and alternative (dealing with tantra practice with the Buddha-figure called “Kalachakra”). The three levels always parallel each other.

On the external level, the term rigs (Skt. kula, “family”) refers to caste. According to the verse from The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, the non-Indic invaders form a special caste.

Manjushri Yashas, as the First Kalki, unified the people of Shambhala into one caste, the vajra caste, by making them all vajra brothers and sisters in the Kalachakra mandala. As one caste, dedicated to following pure ethical principles, they would form a united society with the moral strength to resist an invasion by those who would turn them from their spiritual paths.

Elsewhere, the tantra text gives methods for leading not only the Hindu brahmans, but also the non-Indic invaders to the path of Buddhism. This implies that the members of the invader caste could also join the vajra caste in the Kalachakra mandala.

One of the distinctive features of both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism is that regardless of caste differences, all people who join a Buddhist monastery or nunnery shed their caste differences and form one community (Skt. sangha). The literal translation of the Tibetan rendering of “sangha” as “dge-‘dun” (“those intent on what is constructive”) indicates the aim of the community. It is to follow a spiritual agenda, not a political or military one as some people might allege.

Uniting in the Kalachakra mandala, however, is not equivalent to joining a monastic institution and becoming a Buddhist. It was not the First Kalki’s intention that all Hindus and Muslims must convert to Buddhism, nor that they forge an army of crusader soldiers. The aim was for them to live together in harmony and peace, like one caste. This follows from the Mahayana usage of the same term rigs for Buddha-nature (Tib. sangs-rgyas-kyi rigs). Thus, we must look to the alternative level of Kalachakra for the deeper significance of the term in the verse.

The Relation between Caste and Buddha-Nature

Buddha-nature refers to the inborn potentials and qualities that enable a person to reach enlightenment and become a Buddha. Ultimately, everyone already belongs to one caste, the caste of those with Buddha-nature. Receiving tantric empowerment(initiation), such as in the Kalachakra mandala, awakens each person’s Buddha-nature. Even if non-Buddhists do not adopt the Buddha path, their joining in the Kalachakra mandala will remind them of their unity with each other in that everyone has Buddha-nature. By joining as one vajra-caste, everyone reaffirms his or her Buddha-nature to reach the highest state of spiritual and ethical evolution that is possible.

Within the Buddhist fold, people may belong to the shravaka, pratyekabuddha, or bodhisattva castes (natures), as three types of practitioners with strong instincts to follow different spiritual paths and to aim for different spiritual goals. These differences in nature or caste, however, are only provisional. Ultimately, everyone has Buddha-nature and belongs to the Buddha-caste of those who can become Buddhas.

Similarly, the Kalachakra literature classifies non-Buddhists within castes given the names of different rebirth states – gods, asuras (jealous “anti-gods”), nagas (“mermen” and “mermaids”), bhutas (elemental beings), and humans. The sixteen-line root mantra of Vajravega (rdo-rje shugs kyi rtsa-sngags bcu-drug-pa) – the forceful form of the Kalachakra Buddha-figure – refers to this classification scheme. In it, Vajravega is called “the lord of the gods, the lord of the asuras, the lord of the nagas (Skt. phanendra), the lord of the bhutas, and the lord of humans.” We shall examine the significance of asuras, nagas, and bhutas below.

Belonging to one of these castes indicates a strong instinct to follow the behavior of the beings of the corresponding rebirth state (Tib. skye-gnas, “birthplace”). Members of these castes have the “natures” of these rebirth states. However, their having, for example, asura-natures or naga-natures indicates only provisional caste differences among all beings. As in the case of those with shravaka-natures and pratyekabuddha-natures, members of all castes (with all provisional natures) ultimately have Buddha-nature (vajra-nature) and belong to the Buddha-caste (vajra-caste).

The Invaders Being from the Asura-Naga Caste

According to the verse, the caste to which the non-Indic prophets and invaders belong is the asura-naga caste. Some Western scholars have translated “asura-naga” as “demonic snakes.” “Demons” translates the Tibetan “lha ma-yin” (Skt. asura, anti-gods) and “snakes” translates “lag-‘gro”, a synonym for “klu” (Skt. naga). This choice of translation terms is offensive to Christians and Muslims alike.

Christians and Muslims reading “demonic snakes” will think that Kalachakra is calling the prophets “the Devil.” This is because demons (the torturers in Hell) and snakes (the serpent that convinced Adam and Eve to disobey God) are associated with the Devil, who lives under the earth as the ruler of Hell.

There can be several possible reasons for applying the categories of asura and naga in reference to the invaders’ prophets and their followers. The Bible and The Quran often describe God as a jealous god. Within an Indian cultural context, beings, more powerful than humans, who are jealous of the traditional Indian gods, fulfill the defining characteristics of the asura category of beings. Because of their jealousy, asuras continually launch battles to overthrow the gods. The fact that the asuras are always defeated, however, would give hope to an Indian reader that any non-Indic invasion by members of the asura caste would ultimately fail.

Nagas are creatures with a human torso, head, and arms, and the lower part of the body of a snake. They have extreme wealth, protect the Dharma teachings, uphold cleanliness, and harm those who offend them. If we identify the non-Indic invaders with followers of messianic forms of Islam and look at the general impression of Islam that Buddhists at the time had, it matches the attributes of nagas. Muslim rulers had extreme wealth. They were upholders of the purity of Islam, washed five times a day before praying, and punished those who offended them. If non-Muslims paid them a poll tax, they received dhimmi status as protected citizens. If they refused to pay and would not accept Islam as the alternative, they received severe punishment. Thus, in an Indian cultural context, the predicted invaders have the features of the naga caste of beings.

Moreover, in the Kalachakra description of the universe, the upper half of the earth mandala (the first of the five element mandalas under the surface of the ground) has one half occupied by the asuras and one half occupied by the nagas. The asuras live beneath the ocean surrounding Mount Meru. The nagas live under the ground and under the oceans of the various continents where humans live. Thus, it makes sense within the Kalachakra context to group asuras and nagas together.

In the tantra, the two words form a compound asura-naga. Sanskrit compounds can be glossed in several ways. Consider the example “king-father.” As a dvandva compound, it means “king and father.” The two could refer to separate individuals or to the same person. As a tatpurusha compound, it can mean “king’s father,” “king-like father,” or “king who is like a father.” All such readings are possible. The same is true with “asura-naga.”

(1) Padmani, Buton, and Kedrub Je all take “asura-naga” as a dvandva compound: “asura and naga.”

(a) Padmani and Buton take asura and naga as two separate castes. This is supported by the fact that the eight prophets are listed in two groups: three and five. According to their interpretation, Adam, Noah, and Abraham are from the asura caste; Moses, Jesus, Mani, Muhammad, and Mahdi are from the naga caste. Moreover, in the sixteen-line root mantra of Vajravega cited above, asuras and nagas are clearly distinct groups.

The Padmani commentary is consistent with its interpretation that there are two castes of prophets within the eight when it says, “The one called ‘The White-Clad One’ is Mahamayin. That one will propagate the Dharma of the asuras and so on in the cities of the land of Mecca and so on.” The “and so on” (Tib. la-sogs-pa) after “asuras” could include the Dharmas of the naga caste of prophets.

(b) Kedrub Je accepts that asuras and nagas are separate types of beings, but argues that they constitute one caste, the asura-naga caste, which ultimately is the asura caste. As evidence, he argues that many passages elsewhere in the text refer to the entire caste of non-Indic invaders as members of the asura caste. All eight prophets are teachers of the Dharmas of the rival jealous gods who will challenge the traditional Indian gods. Since King Manjushri Yashas was warning the Hindu brahman sages of Shambhala about a future invasion that would threaten their way of life, it would make sense to call all eight prophets members of the jealous asura caste.

Furthermore, in two statements, Padmani seems to contradict its position that the prophets form two castes:

  • After its gloss of the first three lines of the verse, mentioning all eight names, it comments, “Those with these names of non-Buddhists, and so on, will propagate the Dharma of the asuras.”
  • Shortly afterwards, it describes Mecca as “(The place) in this world where the asura caste will have the form of the powerful, merciless mlecchas.”

If asura and naga were separate castes, then because five of the prophets, including Muhammad, are in the so-called naga caste, the absurd conclusion would follow that prophets from the naga caste teach the Dharmas of the asura caste.

(2) If we take “asura-naga” as a tatpurusha compound, it could mean “eight asuras.” This would also lead to Kedrub Je’s conclusion that all eight prophets and their followers belong to the asura caste.

Both “naga” and “snake” are code words for the number eight. The Kalachakra literature often contains such code words, frequently used in texts discussing Indian mathematics, astronomy, and astrology. For example, the verse in The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra immediately preceding this one begins, “The seven rays, mountains, weekdays, sages, and like that.”

  • Although Padmani does not take “naga” as a code word for “eight,” he glosses “mountain” as a code word for “seven.” Therefore, one could argue by parallelism that “naga” means “eight.”
  • Kedrub Je does not consider “mountain” a code word for “seven,” but takes it instead as a separate category having seven members. Similarly, he does not gloss “naga” as a code word for “eight.”

There is no way to settle the question of whether to translate “asura-naga” as “asura and naga” as two separate castes or as one, or as “eight asuras,” or even as “naga-like asuras.” The passage in the tantra does not help to settle the question, since it does not mention the Dharma of the asura caste or the Dharma of the naga caste.

"Asura" Is Not a Translation of "Antichrist"

Some people may feel that the term asura (anti-god), when applied in Kalachakra to the invader prophets, is a translation of the Biblical term Antichrist. After all, in Sanskrit, “sura” means “god” and “a” is the particle of negation, implying here both that the asuras are not gods and that they are against the gods.

The English word Antichrist comes from the Greek antichristos. “Christos” means “The Anointed One” and “anti” is a prefix meaning “against” or “instead of.” In Greek, “antichristos” appears as a synonym for the terms pseudoprophetes (“The False Prophet,” “The Liar Prophet”) and planos (“The Imposter,” “The One Who Leads Astray”).

In Arabic, the false messiah is called “al-masih ad-dajjal” (“The Deceiver Messiah”), popularly shortened to “Dajjal” (“The Deceiver”). A less frequent term is “idu masih,” meaning “Adversary Messiah.” Thus, the Arabic terms parallel “pseudoprophetes” and “planos,” rather than “antichristos.”

Islam, however, derived many of its names from the Syriac Bible of the Nestorian Christians, and not from the earlier Greek Bible. The Arabic dajjal derives from the Syriac daggal, which also means “The Deceiver” or “The Liar.” With his lies, Daggal/Dajjal deceived others into accepting him as the messiah. The Syriac, in turn, derived mostly from earlier Essene Jewish versions, which used such terms as “man of lies” for the opponent of the true messiah, and not terms equivalent to “antichrist.”

The Buddhists who gained knowledge of Islam, Nestorian Christianity, and Manichaean Shia, at the Abbasid court in Baghdad would not have encountered the Greek term antichristos. They could only have encountered the Arabic dajjaland the Syriac daggal.

Therefore, it is improbable that the later association of the term asura with the non-Indic prophets was as a translation of “antichristos,” used to mean “anti-Kalki.” Moreover, the main characteristic of asuras is jealousy, not deceit. “Asura” in Kalachakra, then, needs to be understood purely within the Indian cultural context.

Possible Reasons for Grouping Together the Last Five Prophets

In the Quranic list of twenty-five prophets, five are grouped together as law-bringing prophets: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. The Kalachakra list, however, makes Moses, Jesus, Mani, Muhammad, and Mahdi into a group of five. Let us examine two possible reasons for the Kalachakra grouping.

(1) On the external, historical level of meaning, four of the prophets represent traditions that predict a messiah and the fifth is the messiah himself. Moses represents Judaism, Jesus Christianity, Mani Manichaeism, Muhammad Islam (specifically the various messianic sects of Islam), and Mahdi is the Islamic messiah.

Mahdi, as the invader messiah found with different names in Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeism, and Islam, will be the rival of the Indian messiah, Kalki, found in both Hinduism and Buddhism.

(2) On the alternative level, Mathani, the phonetic transcription of Mahdi, means “the destroyer,” parallel to Krinmati, Mahdi’s other name, which means “The Destruction-minded One.” According to The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, the horse that Mahdi will ride represents ignorance. He will lead an army of four divisions, which represent hatred, malice, resentment, and prejudice. The five together represent the minds that arise from negative karmic force (Tib. sdig-pa). Perhaps Mahdi and the four preceding prophets being grouped together as five indicates these five, whom Kalki Raudrachakrin will overcome.

Moreover, according to other passages in the tantra text, Muhammad represents the pathway of destructive (nonvirtuous) karma. The fact that Mahdi, as the emanation of Muhammad, and his four army divisions all follow the teachings of Muhammad parallels negative karmic force coming from the pathway of destructive karma.

The Prophets Having the Primal Constituent Feature of Tamas

Tamas (Tib. mun-pa, darkness) is one of the three primal material constituents or features (Tib. yon-tan gsum, Skt. triguna, three qualities) in the Samkhya school of Hinduism. The other two are rajas (speck of passion; Tib. rdul, speck of menstrual blood) and sattva (Tib. snying-stobs, mental strength). To be more intelligible and accessible to Hindu brahmans, Kalachakra often used Samkhya terminology, such as tamas, rajas, and sattva. It used this threefold scheme in various contexts, but with different meanings.

Sometimes, the three were used in reference to the three poisonous attitudes and to liberation from them. Tamas is naivety (Tib. gti-mug, Skt. moha) or ignorance; rajas is desire and anger; and sattva is the mind that is free of all three.

Sometimes, the three were used in reference to karma and to liberation from it. Tamas is destructive (nonvirtuous) conduct; rajas is samsaric constructive (virtuous) behavior; and sattva is conduct that is separate from both and rises above them. Alternatively, tamas is destructive behavior, rajas is mixed destructive and constructive behavior, and sattva is constructive behavior.

Padmani and Buton take the tantra verse to mean that the primal constituent feature of tamas applies specifically to the last five prophets. Thus, their being the five “tamas” prophets could refer to them representing five aspects of ignorance and destructive behavior. This would conform to the second analysis given above for putting the five together as a group.

Kedrub Je interprets the tantra verse to mean that the constituent feature of tamas applies to all eight prophets.

The Classification of the Five Types of Beings into Three Categories of Rebirth State

Although Kedrub Je does not specify the following as his reason, “tamas” applying to all eight prophets parallels the usage of “sattva” and “rajas” in the immediately preceding verse in The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra to refer to entire lists of figures. According to this verse, the seven sages (Skt. rshi, the fabled poets who composed the Vedas) and the seven heavenly bodies (gods in Hinduism) belong to the rebirth state/caste of the gods, deriving from a predominance of sattva. The eight avatars of Vishnu – the list of ten minus the last two, Buddha and Kalki – belong to the rebirth/state caste of elemental beings (Tib. ‘byung-po, Skt. bhuta), deriving from a predominance of rajas.

The term bhuta applied to Vishnu here is not unique. It also appears with this reference in the Vajrabhairava literature, in the mantra used for making offerings to the fifteen directional protectors (Tib. phyogs-skyong). Vajrabhairava is the forceful form of Manjushri and is also mentioned in A Concert of Names of Manjushri. In the Kalachakra verse, Kedrub Je takes “bhuta” to mean the animal rebirth caste and glosses it as the human caste. This follows from the fact that of the eight avatars of Vishnu, three are in animal form, one is half-animal half-human, and four are human. Thus, Kedrub Je’s gloss of asura-naga fits well

Padmani takes “bhuta” to mean the preta (ghost) caste and glosses it as the asura caste. This follows from the more common Buddhist classification of bhuta as elemental spirits, a category of ghosts.

Kedrub Je’s gloss of “bhuta” seems to make the most sense. From his analysis, we may conclude that the five classes of beings condense into three categories of rebirth states. The gods are sattva, bhutas (animals) and humans are rajas, while asuras and nagas are tamas. This condensation of five castes into three parallels the condensation of the five Buddha-castes (Buddha-families) of anuttarayoga tantra into the three Buddha-castes of kriya tantra.

Emanations of Buddha

According to the Padmani commentary, in order to tame the minds of the non-Buddhists (the Hindus), Buddha emanated as both the sattva list of seven sages and seven heavenly bodies, and the rajas list of eight avatars. The sattva list has a predominance of constructive thoughts, while the rajas list has a mixture of both constructive and destructive thoughts. Although not explicitly stated, the tamas list has a predominance of destructive thoughts.

According to the tantra verse, the rajas list of avatars will terrorize the asuras; however, Chakrapani (equivalent to the Twenty-fifth Kalki Raudrachakrin) will be the actual foe that defeats them. This implies two levels of overcoming destructive thoughts and negative karma: a provisional and an ultimate.

On the provisional level, rajas terrorizes tamas, while sattva is beyond the conflict. Thus, provisionally, Buddha manifests as the avatars of the god Vishnu, who frighten the invaders, and as the Vedic sages and gods who are above the battle. Ultimately, however, Buddha will defeat the invaders as Kalki, and not as the sages. Such a presentation would be intelligible and acceptable to a Hindu audience. The symbolism of the Buddha-figure Kalachakra, as the alternative meaning of the Kalki, then indicates the deeper implication to which that audience can be led.

According to the Hindu Samkhya school, the universe is made of primal matter (Tib. spyi'i gtso-bo, Skt. prakrti) and individual beings or consciousness (Tib. skyes-bu, Skt. purusha). Primal matter is an intertwining of the three primal material constituents: sattva, rajas, and tamas, which bind individual beings and consciousness. As a result of one’s actions, the predominant constituent feature of the action produces the type of rebirth state to which one passes, while various combinations of the three produce the twenty-four material factors (Tib. de-nyid, Skt. tattva) experienced during that rebirth. Liberation is the attainment of freedom from primal matter and its three primal constituents.

As a skillful method for teaching a Hindu audience, the iconography of the Kalachakra Buddha-figure represents not only the Buddhist path, but also the Hindu Samkhya one. The twenty-four weapons that Kalachakra holds in his twenty-four arms represent his defeat of the twenty-four material factors composed of combinations of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The Kalachakra figure himself represents the liberated individual being or consciousness.

The implication is that Kalki (“mind-vajra,” the clear light blissful awareness of voidness) overcomes not only tamas, but also rajas and sattva. He overcomes not only the asura-naga rebirth state, but also the bhuta-human and god rebirth states, and thus is free from all samsaric rebirths. Samsara is uncontrollably recurring rebirth, filled with suffering and problems. In other words, Kalki overcomes not only destructive karma, but also mixed destructive and constructive karma, and samsaric constructive karma as well.

Thus, although the predicted apocalyptic battle is against the non-Indic invader forces of tamas; ultimately, the spiritual battle is against all positive and negative samsaric forces, represented by both the Indic and non-Indic factions. The defeat of tamas is only the first step in the spiritual journey; rajas and sattva must also be overcome. This does not imply that Buddhism is bent on conquering the world. Buddhism aims for the liberation of all beings from the sufferings of samsara.

The tantra verse indicates, then, that the first step on the spiritual path to liberation is to overcome one’s own destructive behavior, through acting constructively or with mixed constructive and destructive thoughts. Like the gods, pure constructive behavior is, at first, beyond one’s reach. This is represented by the Hindu avatars terrorizing the non-Indic prophets, while the Vedic sages remain above. Ultimately, however, mind-vajra is needed to overcome all karma – negative, positive, and mixed. This is represented by Kalki defeating not only the invader rebirth state/caste, but with the symbolism of his twenty-four arms, overcoming rebirth in all possible states.

Mahdi Being the Eclipsed One

According to the original Sanskrit (mathani yo ashthama: so ‘ndhaka: syat), “Mathani (Mahdi), the eighth, will be the blinded one.” According to the Tibetan translation (‘joms-byed brgyad-pa gang-de mun-pa-can), “Mathani (Mahdi), the eighth, will have (the primal constituent feature of) darkness (tamas).” Padmani glosses the line in accordance with the original Sanskrit.

The Sanskrit word andhaka, translated here as “the blinded one,” can have several interpretations:

(1) “Andhaka” is an astronomical term referring to a heavenly body during an eclipse, when another heavenly body blinds it from sight.

Kalachakra includes extensive teachings on astronomy and emphasizes the parallels between features in astronomy, physiology, and tantra practice (outer, inner, and alternative Kalachakras). Therefore, it is reasonable that, within its presentation of outer Kalachakra, it would also give parallels between features in astronomy and history.

According to Ismaili Shia, the seventh imam – according to Ithna Ashari Shia, the twelfth imam – vanished from sight as a child, but will return as the Mahdi. In astronomical terms, the imam’s light was eclipsed, but will return in the future.

(2) “Andhaka” could indicate that Mahdi would be, literally, blind.

In the Islamic version of the apocalypse, the deceiver messiah Dajjal will be blind in his right eye; Mahdi, however, is not described as blind. According to Islamic commentaries, “blind in one eye” means that Dajjal will lack the eye of wisdom and will be blind to the truth of Islam.

As with previously cited examples, Kalachakra adopts certain features of the Islamic version as a didactic method. Thus, it may be attributing the symbolic feature of Dajjal’s one blind eye to Mahdi, though it does not specify that the blindness is in only one eye.

Interestingly, by way of contrast, A Concert of Names of Manjushri, ascribes to Manjushri (of whom Raudrachakrin is an emanation) the epithet of having the one eye of deep awareness (Tib. ye-shes mig-gcig, Skt: jnana-eka-caksha). Whether or not this signifies an intentional parallel would be difficult to prove.

(3) “Andhaka” could mean the “one in darkness” and thus refer to Mahdi’s having the primal constituent feature of tamas, as in the Tibetan translation of the tantra verse.

According to the previous line of the verse, the invaders’ last five prophets have the constituent feature of tamas (darkness). Since Mahdi is among them, he would share this feature. The repetition of tamas could be for emphasis, to stress that Mahdi represents unawareness or ignorance of the Buddhist explanation of the true nature of reality.

(4) Regardless of how many of the above hypotheses are correct or false, “andhaka” may also have a deeper meaning in terms of tantra practice.

In Kalachakra, darkness (Tib. mun-pa, Skt. tamas) also appears as a synonym for the approximating vacuum (Tib. nyer-thob, black near attainment) level of mind. In the stages of dissolution of the levels of mind that make appearances of inherent existence, the approximating vacuum stage is the eclipse of the immediately preceding stages of light-diffusion (Tib. mched-pa, red increase) and appearance-congealment (Tib. snang-ba, white appearance). The two phases of the approximating vacuum stage are symbolized by the eclipsing planets Rahu and Kalagni, light-diffusion by the sun, and appearance-congealment by the moon. Finally, even the eclipse needs to be dissolved into the subtlest level of mental activity, clear light mind.

During the re-emergence sequence, approximating vacuum is the first stage to recur. With the appearance-making of inherent existence comes the return of unawareness (ignorance) that the appearances do not correspond to true reality. From that unawareness, disturbing emotions and destructive behavior ensue.

Raudrachakrin, who will defeat Mahdi, represents “mind-vajra,” in other words the clear light mind with the “one eye of deep awareness” that realizes voidness. For the forces of Shambhala (the Land of Bliss), representing the blissful awareness of voidness, to be able to defeat Mahdi’s forces, all the conflicting castes of Shambhala must join in the Kalachakra mandala and become one vajra caste. This represents all the conflicting energy-winds of the body (which support the appearance-making of inherent existence) needing to be dissolved into clear light mind. Only through such dissolution can the resulting mind-vajra arise and defeat an invasion of appearance-making of inherent existence and subsequent ignorance.

Thus, Raudrachakrin defeating Mahdi (darkness, blindness, the eclipse) could represent mind-vajra destroying the approximating vacuum stage of reemerging energy-winds (reemerging divisive caste differences) so that it never recurs.

Support for this hypothesis comes form the Guhyasamaja tantra meditation system, which predates Kalachakra by several centuries. There, the dissolution of Manjushri (of whom Raudrachakrin is an emanation) from the body mandala at the attainment of the approximating vacuum stage (equivalent to Mahdi) represents the application of deep awareness of voidness to this stage, so that it too can be overcome and dissolved into the clear light level. Thus, as a symbol, Manjushri already represented the opponent capable of defeating “The Blinded One” even before Kalachakra.

Padmini's List of Prophets

The line in the Tibetan translation of Padmani, “Moses, this one, and the White-Clad One, Muhammad, and The Emanation” (Tib. byi-ba ‘di-dang dkar-po'i gos-can sbrang-bdag sprul-pa), is problematic. Since the text refers to Muhammad’s emanation as the eighth one in the list of prophets, the Tibetan translation could only mean that “this one” refers to Jesus, and not back to Moses. Otherwise, Padmani would only be listing seven prophets. Buton, however, explicitly lists Jesus (Tib. dBang-po, Skt: Isha) here. Therefore, the Tibetan translation of Padmani is suspicious.

The Tibetan translators have apparently mistaken “Isha” – the Sanskrit transcription of “Issa,” the Arabic name for Jesus – for the Sanskrit demonstrative pronoun esha, meaning “this.” The Sanskrit word preceding this one is “Musa” (the Arabic form of Moses) and, according to the rules of Sanskrit grammar, both “musa isha” and “musa esha” would combine as “musesha.” Replacing “esha” with “Isha,” the line in the Padmani commentary would read, “Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad One, Muhammad, and The Emanation.” This would conform to the line in the tantra to which this is a commentary.

Padmani’s interpretation, “Among these, the one called ‘The White-Clad One’ is Mahamayin,” is rejected by both Buton and Kedrub Je. Padmani’s identification of Mani with Muhammad, however, could have arisen simply as an implication from Muhammad being “the teacher of the mleccha-Dharma” and the term “white-clad mlecchas” in Stainless Light.

It could also have two further explanations:

  • The non-Indic invaders will not really assert Mani as one of their prophets, because Mani was not actually a separate prophet. This would support the hypothesis that the compilers of the Kalachakra texts confused the Manichaean Shiites with the Ismailis.
  • The invaders' Dharma would be an amalgam of the teachings of Mani and Muhammad.

The use of “Mahamayin” simply as a phonetic transcription of Muhammad is confirmed by the Tibetan translation of Padmani, which merely transliterates the name. The fact that “Mahamaya” (“The Grand Illusion,” Tib. sGyu-‘phrul chen-po) is one of the names of Manjushri in A Concert of Names of Manjushri does not seem significant.

According to Shia Islam, the last imam – the seventh according to Ismaili, the twelfth according to orthodox Shia – disappeared and will return in the future as Mahdi. It is appropriate, then, from a Buddhist point of view, to call Mahdi “The Emanation.”

Baghdad in the Land of Mecca

According to the verse from the tantra, “The seventh will manifestly come to the city of Baghdad in the land of Mecca.”

Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 CE and died in 632, while the second Abbasid Caliph, al-Mansur, built Baghdad as the capital of the Abbasid Empire only in 762. Thus, Muhammad himself could not manifestly come to Baghdad. Further, “the land of Mecca” probably refers to the Abbasid Empire with its Arab origins. The Abbasid caliphs, after all, were descendants of Muhammad.

Padmani’s gloss, “…Mahamayin (Muhammad). That one will propagate the Dharma of the asuras and so on in the cities of the land of Mecca and so on,” and his addition of the word “and so on” after Baghdad in the tantra verse, indicate an interpretation that accords better with history. In other words, Muhammad’s teachings about a jealous god will spread to Baghdad and other cities in the Abbasid Empire, and elsewhere as well.

The Relation between the Asura Caste and the Non-Indic Invaders

In describing the land of Mecca, the tantra verse reads

(The place) in this world where a portion of the asura (caste) will have the form (Skt. murti) of the powerful, merciless mlecchas.

In A Concert of Names of Manjushri, the Sanskrit word murti appears in the expression jnanamurti, the physical form (embodiment) of deep awareness, used in reference to Manjushri. The first and twenty-fifth Kalkis are physical forms assumed by Manjushri. Manjushri, in turn, represents the deep awareness of true reality (voidness) in a physical form. Parallel to this, the non-Indic invaders will be a physical form that a portion of the asura caste will assume. The asura caste, in turn, represents the unawareness of true reality in a physical form.

This interpretation accords with Kedrub Je’s translation of “murti” as “gzugs” (body, embodiment) and his mention that the Tibetan translators of Padmani take it as “rnam-pa” (aspect). After all, in Kalachakra, voidness with an aspect (Tib. stong-nyid rnam-pa-can, Skt: sakara shunyata) refers to devoid form (Tib. stong-gzugs, shunyatabimba).

Some translators take “murti” as “idol” and render the line, “It is where the mighty, merciless idol of the barbarians, the demonic incarnation, lives in the world.” This interpretation contradicts Islamic culture. All forms of Islam strictly forbid the making of images or idols.

Moreover, in accord with Buton’s and Kedrub Je’s gloss of the Sanskrit expression asuramshi (a portion of the asuras) as a group or section of asuras, only some of the followers of a jealous god will constitute the non-Indic invaders, and not all such followers. Translating the expression as “demonic incarnation” makes little sense.

Thus, the line in the tantra means that the Abbasid Empire, the land of Mecca, is the place where a section of the followers of the teachings of a jealous god will assume the form of the non-Indic invaders. This interpretation accords with the previous analysis of Muhammad as “a guru and master of the non-Indic invader Tayis.”


In summary, the non-Indic invaders discussed in Kalachakra will not necessarily be the Abbasid Arabs themselves or all Muslims in general. They will be the followers of messianic sects of Islam that started in the Abbasid Empire, and which will be intent on establishing their Mahdi as the ruler of the world.

According to the calculation given in the tantra text, the apocalyptic battle between Kalki Raudrachakrin and Mahdi, and thus the end of the kaliyuga, will not happen soon, despite the Islamic prediction of the world ending 500 years after Muhammad. Kalachakra predicts a date 1800 years after Muhammad, namely 2424 CE. This date accords with the prediction that the invaders’ Dharma will endure for 1800 years, after which the Kalachakra teachings will thrive for twelve successive periods of 1800 years, one on each of the twelve divisions of the Southern Continent. 1800 is a significant number that appears repeatedly throughout the Kalachakra teachings with several astronomical, physiological, and meditative meanings. In contrast, according to the Hindu prophecy, the kaliyuga will end 360,000 years in the future.

If we take the date 2424 CE literally, we cannot also take literally the identification of the invaders as followers of messianic forms of Islam at the end of the tenth century. The invaders must be either the descendants of a long-lived dynasty founded by such a group, or advocates of messianic movements merely represented by and perhaps modeled after movements existing at that time.

On the other hand, some modern interpreters do not take literally the Kalachakra predicted date and consider it as referring instead to the present situation at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Such an interpretation bases itself perhaps on the predictions of Nostradamus or the millenarian view that two thousand years after Christ is a significant number of years. Such arguments are irrelevant to the cultural context of Kalachakra.

If we do not take either the predicted group or the predicted date literally, the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that with the prediction, Kalachakra was attempting to draw a parallel between history, physiology, and meditation, as it did with geography, anatomy, and meditation. Thus, the prediction needed to fit not only the historical context when the Kalachakra literature first appeared. It also needed to fit the Kalachakra presentation of the flow of breaths and energies in the body, and the stages and structure of advanced tantra meditation practice.

At the end of the tenth century CE, a widespread belief pervaded the Middle East and parts of South Asia that the apocalypse and the end of the world would occur a little more than a century later. Most people of the time were preoccupied with the issue of the coming of a messiah, and Buddhism responded to their need by presenting its spiritual path in a structure relevant and meaningful for their situation. Despite the application of the Indian cultural terms tamas, asura, naga, and mleccha to the non-Indic invaders, to read more than that into the external level of meaning of the Kalachakra prediction seems to be stretching the point.