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Home > Advanced Meditation > Kalachakra > Brochure for the Ulaan Baatar Kalachakra Initiation 1995

Brochure for the Ulaan Baatar Kalachakra Initiation 1995

Alexander Berzin

Kalachakra means “cycles of time.” It is a Mahayana Buddhist teaching from the highest class of tantra. In it, the Buddha presented a system of external, internal, and alternative cycles. The external ones deal with the motion of the planets through the heavens and various cycles or divisions of time measured by them such as years, months and days. The internal ones treat the cycles of energies and breaths through the body. The alternative cycles include the various tantric meditative practices involving the Buddha-figure called Kalachakra, used to gain control over or purify these former two cycles.

The external and internal cycles of time are parallel to each other, and occur due to collective external and individual internal impulses of energy, or karma. In other words, there are certain impulses of energy that drive the planetary and also the human bodily cycles. They can be experienced in either a disturbing or nondisturbing manner since there is a close relation between energy and states of mind. With the Kalachakra practices, one works to overcome being under the influence of uncontrollably recurring external and internal situations, such as astrological, calendar and biological cycles. No longer limited or disturbed by them, one is able to realize one’s fullest potential in order to be able to benefit everyone most effectively.

The Kalachakra Tantra was taught by the Buddha more than 2800 years ago in present-day Andhra Pradesh, South India. It was preserved in the northern land of Shambhala and brought back to India in the tenth century. It was spread from India to Burma, the Malay Peninsula, and Indonesia, but died out in these areas by the fourteenth century. It was transmitted from India to Tibet several times between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. Lineages of it are found in the Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug traditions of Tibet.

In the mid-eighteenth century, the Gelug lineage of the Kalachakra teachings were brought from Tibet to Manchu China at the request of the Qianlung Emperor. A Kalachakra college was established at the Yungho Gong Monastery in Beijing with help from the Seventh Dalai Lama. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Kalachakra came to Mongolia. At the invitation of the Fourth Bogdo Gegen, the Eighth Dalai Lama sent from his own Namgyal Monastery Gyalsay Dorjechang, who founded the main Kalachakra Monastery of Mongolia, Dechen Kalawa. Kalachakra practice was spread throughout Mongolia by the Fourth and Fifth Bogdo Gegens. The other major monasteries for Kalachakra rituals in Mongolia were Gandan and Dzun Khure in Ulaan Baatar. Although the last powdered sand mandala of Kalachakra in Mongolia was constructed in 1937, the Kalachakra rituals have continued to be recited annually at Gandan Monastery.

In Western Mongolia and in the Oirat Mongol regions of present-day Xinjiang (East Turkistan), the Kalachakra lineage came from Labrang Tashikyil Monastery in the northeastern Tibetan province of Amdo. Two lineages of Kalachakra went to Buryatia in Siberia. One was from Dechen Kalawa in Mongolia, and the other also from Labrang Tashikyil. The Kalachakra tradition was also transmitted from Mongolia to the Turkic Buddhist region of Tuva. In Kalmykia and in the Leningrad Datsang Monastery, the Kalachakra tradition came directly from Tibet, primarily through the efforts of Agvan Dorjiev, the Buryat Mongol Master Debate Partner of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.

Kalachakra has received prominent attention in the various medical and astro traditions and institutes of Tibet, Mongolia, and Central Asia. This is because the science of calculating the Tibetan calendar, a great portion of the Tibetan astronomical and astrological teachings, and a certain small portion of the Tibetan medical knowledge, particularly the formulas for making various precious-gem medicines, derive from the Kalachakra teachings. The Mongolian calendar and astrology and medical systems derive from the Tibetan ones.

There is no particular special relation between the line of Dalai Lamas and Kalachakra. Nevertheless, Kalachakra practice has been one of the favorites of the First, Second, Seventh, Eighth, and the present Fourteenth Dalai Lamas. Since the time of the Eighth Dalai Lama, its rituals and meditation practices have been a specialty of the Namgyal Monastery, the personal monastery at the Potala of the Dalai Lamas.

There is no restriction on the number of times the Kalachakra empowerment may be given during the lifetime of a master and there is no particular special reason why His Holiness has given this empowerment so frequently. His Holiness gives it when he is requested and the circumstances are conducive.

Unlike with other tantras, the Kalachakra empowerment has historically been given to large crowds of people. The Buddha first gave it to the king of Shambhala and his entourage of 96 minor rulers. In time, it was given to all the people of Shambhala in order to unite them against the threat of a possible invasion and avert annihilation. In this way, the Kalachakra empowerment became linked with world peace and has always attracted more people than any other Tibetan Buddhist event.

According to the Kalachakra teachings, periodically barbaric hordes invade the civilized world and try to eliminate all possibilities for spiritual practice and growth. Another such invasion is predicted approximately 433 years in the future, and there will be a terrible war. At that time help will come from the land of Shambhala and the barbarians will be defeated. A new golden age will then begin and everything will be conducive for spiritual practice, particularly of Kalachakra. All those who have received the Kalachakra empowerment will be reborn at that time on the victorious side.

The highest motivation for receiving the empowerment is to be able to practice the Kalachakra teachings now, and by means of it to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime to be able to benefit others the fullest. Nevertheless, huge crowds come in order to plant the karmic seeds to be connected with this golden spiritual age in the future and to be able to complete its practice then.

Kalachakra has been especially popular in Mongolia and among the Mongol and Turkic Buddhist groups in present-day Russia and China. This is perhaps due to the widespread belief that the northern land of Shambhala is located in these regions.

It is undoubtedly from a distortion of the word Shambhala that Western romantic writers derived the idea of Shangrila – a Paradise on Earth. Although there may be a place on the Earth that is representative of it, that is not the actual Shambhala. His Holiness has said that Shambhala is not to be found either on this planet or in outer space. It is described, however, as a human realm in which everything is conducive for spiritual practice, particularly that of Kalachakra. In this way it is somewhat like a paradise. And although there have been guidebooks to Shambhala written both in Sanskrit and Tibetan, the journey is described as a physical one for only so far. The sojourner must then do millions of mantras and other practices in order to arrive there. Therefore, the journey to Shambhala is a spiritual one. In any case, the aim of the Kalachakra is not being reborn in Shambhala but, like all other Mahayana Buddhist practices, to gain enlightenment for the benefit of all.

The Kalachakra empowerment plants the seeds to be able to do this and helps to purify some of the grosser obstacles that would prevent that. In order to receive it, it is necessary to be well prepared. Therefore, His Holiness precedes the empowerment with a teaching on the “lam-rim,” the graded path to enlightenment. The disciples are taught about refuge, that is putting the safe direction in their lives that has been indicated by the Buddhas, their teachings, and the community of those who are very advanced in that direction. This is the direction of working on themselves to overcome all their problems and eventually to try to gain all the good qualities to be able to benefit everyone the best. They are further taught about cause and effect, and that to avoid suffering and problems, they need to stop acting destructively, and to achieve happiness they need to act in a constructive manner.

They are also taught the three principal paths of the mind. First is to develop a strong determination to be free from their problems. Then, they need to expand their hearts out to everyone and set their hearts on achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all. Finally, they need to gain a correct understanding of reality and see that everything is devoid of existing in fantasized ways. People imagine things to exist in all sorts of crazy manners, like imagining that someone exists inherently as a monster, or as an enemy who can never be loved, but no one exists truly in that way. These three principle paths are sometimes translated as renunciation, bodhichitta, and voidness.

Once the disciples have been prepared in this way with the preliminary teachings, they are ready to receive the Kalachakra empowerment. This involves a preparation day ceremony and the actual empowerment. The most important preparation is the disciples’ taking of various vows to restrain from acting, speaking, and thinking in negative ways that would prevent them from helping others the best, and also to restrain from acting in ways that would be damaging to their spiritual practice. These are known as the bodhisattva and tantric vows.

The empowerment involves a complex procedure of entering the “mandala” or symbolic world-structure of Kalachakra, and then having various seeds planted and purifications occur. The mandala constructed from colored powders is a two-dimensional blueprint of a three-dimensional palace, in which is found the Kalachakra main deity couple. Their union symbolizes the union of method and wisdom. This symbolic world, with its palace and so on, contains 722 figures. It is all emanated from His Holiness whom the disciples visualize as inseparable from the main Buddha-figure Kalachakra. Thus, all the disciples are visualizing the place, the teacher, themselves, and each other in very special pure forms.

The procedures involve seven empowerments of “entering like an infant,” then four higher, four highest, and finally the Vajra Master Overlord empowerments. These are in analogy with the stages of human development through a lifetime. They progressively purify more and more subtle obstacles and plant seeds empowering the disciples to do more and more advanced levels of the practice.

The visualizations involved in these steps of the empowerment are very complex. However, if the disciples, on the basis of a strong determination to be free, their hearts set on becoming Buddhas to benefit all, and with an understanding that nothing exists in fantasized ways, take the vows very sincerely and at least feel with strong faith that all the procedures they are to be visualizing are actually occurring, they can be confident that they have received the empowerment. Everyone tries to the best of their abilities, and at least prays that sometime they may be able to travel the full path to enlightenment presented in The Kalachakra Tantra.

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama received the Kalachakra empowerment from his late Senior Tutor, Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche, and the transmission of its extensive teachings from his late Master Debate Partner, Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche.