Kalachakra Root Tantric Vows


In the Kalachakra Tantra, most of the fourteen root tantric vows are defined more specifically than in the other tantra systems. With Kalachakra empowerment (dbang, initiation), we promise to keep both the common and the specifically Kalachakra formulations of them. This is relevant advice for practitioners of any of the higher tantra systems. As corroboration, Ngari Panchen (mNga'-ris Pan-chen Padma dbang-rgyal), a 16th-century master of the Nyingma tradition, has explained in Ascertaining the Three Levels of Vowed Restraints That are Branches of the Natural Path of Dzogchen (Rang-bzhin rdzogs-pa chen-po'i lam-gyi cha-lag sdom-gsum rnam-nges) that the root tantric vows taken at any dzogchen empowerment are a blend of the common and Kalachakra versions delineated separately in the other three Tibetan lineages.

To differentiate clearly the common from the Kalachakra root tantric vows, we shall follow here the explanation given in An Explanation of Secret Mantra Ethical Discipline: A Cluster of Fruit of Actual Attainments (gSang-sngags-kyi tshul-khrims-kyi rnam-bshad dngos-grub-kyi snye-ma) by the early 15th-century Gelug founder Tsongkhapa (Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa). We shall supplement it from A Lamp to Illuminate the Closely Bonding Practices (Dam-tshig gsal-ba'i sgron-me) by the late 15th-century Gelug master Kedrub Norzang Gyatso (mKhas-grub Nor-bzang rgya-mtsho).

The Fourteen Kalachakra Tantra Root Downfalls

(1) Disturbing the minds of our vajra masters

Rather than scorning or deriding our tantric masters, here the downfall is to cause a specific insult. Because of a disturbing emotion or attitude, and not for any altruistic purpose, we act or speak in a destructive manner and do not even think to refrain from doing so at any point during our act. When our teachers learn of our conduct and show displeasure in order to help tame us, this root downfall is complete.

(2) Transgressing our teachers' injunctions

This is more specific than trivializing and transgressing a vow taught by an enlightened being. Here the downfall is to commit in a hidden fashion one of the ten destructive actions or break one of our vows, after our vajra masters have specifically said not to do so. The motivation must be a disturbing emotion or attitude, not some altruistic aim. As with the prior root downfall, we need to recognize our tantric masters as holy beings, know fully well that such behavior displeases them, and think nothing of engaging in it anyway. Here it is not required that our teachers learn of our misdeeds or show displeasure.

(3) Because of anger, faulting vajra brothers or sisters

This is the same as in the list of common tantric root downfalls.

[See: Common Root Tantric Vows]

(4) Giving up love for sentient beings

This is also the same as the corresponding common downfall. The commentary adds the stipulation that the downfall is only committed when love for a specific being, once lost, does not return for a day and a night. Becoming exasperated and losing love for someone only for a shorter period is not a root downfall.

(5) Giving up bodhichitta

Corresponding to the common tantric root downfall of discarding the wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all, here we discard the subtle creative drops (thig-le) that allow us, through Kalachakra complete stage (rdzogs-rim) practice, to actualize that enlightenment through an unchanging blissful awareness (mi-'gyur-ba'i bde-ba). Such awareness is reached only upon manifesting clear light mental activity and generating it as a blissful awareness of voidness. After this most powerful tool is gained, an ever more stable basis for it is built within the central energy-channel by stacking there, through yoga methods, 21,600 subtle drops – corresponding to the number of Kalachakra hours in a year and breaths in a day. Once stacked, these invisible drops remain fixed in place until attaining enlightenment – which is why the supremely blissful awareness based on them is called "unchanging." Such awareness empowers the understanding of voidness with clear light mental activity to dispel, in stages, all instincts of confusion and winds of karma in the most efficient manner possible. These drops only disappear upon becoming a Buddha, since at that stage we no longer have the type of physical bodies that have subtle drops or a central channel.

Whether male or female, whenever we experience the release of energy that accompanies sexual orgasm – regardless of the emission of gross fluids – we lose subtle creative drops, called "bodhichitta" or "jasmine flower drops (Skt. kunda)." These drops form the basis for achieving unchanging blissful awareness. Since such release discards the most efficient means for achieving enlightenment, it is called "giving up bodhichitta." For this root downfall to be complete, however, we need to understand the nature of unchanging blissful awareness, yet release these subtle drops anyway – when there is no special need to do so – through any means, with the wish to attain enlightenment through the bliss of ordinary orgasmic emission. The four binding factors need not accompany this action.

Release of orgasmic energy or fluids in ordinary sexual acts does not constitute a tantric root downfall, so long as it is not regarded as something spiritual – specifically, as a means for attaining liberation or enlightenment. However, any experience of orgasmic release, regardless of how we view it, weakens the form we are trying to give to our lives with Kalachakra root tantric vows. It counters the purpose of trying to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible through the Kalachakra method of unchanging blissful awareness.

It is important to be realistic, not melodramatic about this matter. Taking this vow does not mean having to remain childless or never to have another baby. Nor does it condemn us to stop enjoying ordinary sex or to feel guilty about it. It does mean, however, seeing the bliss of orgasmic emission in the perspective of unchanging blissful awareness, and committing ourselves to revising our values. In short, when we have no control over our orgasmic energies, we stress, with this vow, never to regard the bliss of orgasmic release from ordinary sex as a spiritual experience, as a way to solve all problems, or as a path to enlightenment.

(6) Holding the view of reality in sutra to be inferior to that in tantra

This is more specific than deriding our own or others' tenets by proclaiming that any teaching from the sutra or tantra vehicles does not derive from Buddha's words. Here, the downfall is to disparage specifically the voidness explanations found in The Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness (Skt. Prajnaparamita Sutras) as inferior to those found in the tantras, although still accepting both as authentic teachings of the Buddha. The motivation must be anger, such as due to sectarian views, and not simply ignorance.

(7) Disclosing confidential teachings to those who are unripe

This is similar to the common downfall except that it refers specifically to teachings on greatly blissful awareness (bde-ba chen-po) – the most intense of four gradations of joy (dga'-bzhi) experienced within the central channel.

(8) Abusing our aggregates

Whereas the common root downfall is either simply reviling or, in addition, abusing our aggregates, here the reference is specifically to the latter. We recognize our aggregates to be in the nature of Buddha-figures (yi-dam) and deep awareness (ye-shes), and realize that if we harm them we destroy our blissful awareness and impair our ability to generate more. Yet we still wish to inflict damage or pain on them, and not for the sake of benefiting someone else. This downfall is complete when we actually commit a self-punishing act and experience, as a result, a diminution of whatever level of physical and mental blissful awareness we have attained.

(9) Not having faith in the purity of phenomena

The common tantric root downfall that corresponds to this is rejecting voidness as taught in the Chittamatra or any of the Madhyamaka schools of tenets. Here the downfall is not only to reject voidness, but also to adopt in its stead a fabricated view of reality of our own or someone else's contriving. This does not include doing this for the sake of others, as when simplifying the voidness teachings to provide beginners with an initial idea.

(10) Having deceitful love

While the common tantric root downfall is being loving toward malevolent people, the Kalachakra downfall is to speak loving words to others while harboring thoughts of malice toward them in our hearts. By extension, we commit this downfall by being hypocritical in keeping close bonds (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya) with the tantric practices, for example by reciting a daily sadhana text or attending pujas without faith, pretending to be devout, yet hiddenly acting in destructive ways contrary to our pledges.

(11) Conceptualizing about the blissful awareness that is beyond words

The corresponding common tantric root downfall is not meditating on voidness continually. Here, more specifically, we do not accept unchanging blissful awareness when experiencing it in complete stage practice. When this awareness arises, it is a downfall to waver indecisively and not direct it toward continual meditation on voidness.

(12) Faulting pure beings

The common downfall corresponding to this is to destroy people's faith in a particular tantric practice so that they turn from wishing to engage in it. Here, the downfall is to direct discouraging words specifically at meditators accomplished in some tantric practice, faulting and deriding them to their faces out of jealousy. This downfall is complete when they understand these words and, as a result, become depressed.

(13) Rejecting the substances that bond us closely to tantric practice

(14) Deriding women

These two are the same as in the list of common tantric root downfalls. The emphasis in the latter, however, is on disparaging women in general.