The highest class of Buddhist tantra, anuttarayoga, teaches meditation methods that parallel the process of death and rebirth in order to access the subtlest level of mind, the clear light level, which naturally manifests at the time of death. Through utilizing this unique level of mind to gain a non-conceptual blissful awareness of voidness, practitioners rid their mental continuums forever of unawareness, disturbing emotions, karmic forces, and the tendencies and habits of all of these. In accomplishing this, they attain a true stopping of the driving forces and causes of the uncontrollably recurring cycle of their ordinary deaths and rebirths, and thus attain liberation and enlightenment so that they can best benefit everyone.
The Guhyasamaja system of anuttarayoga tantra includes as well a macrocosmic level of parallelism to its meditation methods for accessing the clear light mind. It makes reference to the cycles that universes periodically undergo, with uncontrollably recurring dissolution, empty periods, evolution, and enduring, similar to what limited beings undergo with uncontrollably recurring death, the in-between bardo period, rebirth, and a lifespan. The meditation practices rid the practitioner of helplessly being under the control of not only these recurring internal cycles of death and rebirth, but the parallel external cycles of the universe as well.
The Kalachakra or “Cycles of Time” system of anuttarayoga tantra adds yet further external and internal parallelisms. In order to make the purification process as complete as possible, this system presents a model of external astronomical and astrological cycles, as well as internal breathing and subtle energy cycles, that not only parallel each other, but also parallel its special meditation practices. For the same purpose of inclusiveness, the system also presents a specially designed picture of history, geography, and physiology that similarly parallels this structure, but which, because of its conscious design, differs from the picture drawn in other Buddhist texts. By understanding that all these corresponding macro- and microcosmic structures occur under the influence of individual and collective karma, practitioners undertake analogous Kalachakra meditation in order to purify their mental continuums of that karma and attain liberation and enlightenment. Thus, the ultimate aim of Kalachakra practice is no different from that of the other anuttarayoga tantra systems.
In order to make its presentation of the meditations for overcoming the ignorance and barbaric disturbing emotions that bring on the karma that needs to be purified, the Kalachakra texts add to the picture it draws of the cycles of history descriptions of false and true messiahs, invasions of Shambhala, apocalyptic battles, and new golden ages. This historical representation draws on features of the politics, events, and popular pan-religious beliefs and concerns of the time and place in which the Kalachakra literature emerged, namely the early tenth century CE in the area between eastern Afghanistan and Kashmir.
It is crucial to appreciate the fact that the Kalachakra texts have consciously molded their historical picture to fit the structure of its meditation practice. Thus, the prediction of a future Armageddon battle occurring 1800 years in the future from the founding of the belief system of the invading forces, representing ignorance, parallels:
- the 1800 breaths that occur during each of the 12 zodiac sign periods of a day,
- the 1800 breaths that pass primarily through one or the other nostril during the 12 shift periods of a day, during which the primary flow of the breath shifts from one nostril to the other,
- the 1800 breaths that flow through each of the 12 zodiac sign channels of the navel chakra during the course of a day,
- the 1800 astrological hours in each of the 12 lunar months of 30 days each, in which each day has 60 astrological hours,
- the 1800 minutes in the 30 degrees of each of the 12 signs of the zodiac, in which each degree has 60 minutes,
- the 1800 years of the flourishing of the Kalachakra teachings on our “continent” after the apocalyptic battle,
- the 1800 years that the Kalachakra teachings will subsequently flourish on each of the other 11 “continents” in the Kalachakra presentation of geography,
- the 1800 creative energy drops stacked in each of the 12 divisions of the central energy channel during the time period of the 12 levels of bodhisattva bhumi minds,
- the 1800 moments of unchanging blissful awareness experienced on the basis of each of these groups of 1800 drops,
- the 1800 energy-winds of karma that are stopped and the 1800 aspects of karmic habit that are eliminated by means of each of these groups of 1800 moments of unchanging blissful awareness of voidness.
Moreover, each of the battling divisions on the sides of the invading and victorious counter forces has a parallel with one or another aspect of ignorance and the victorious counter forces of wisdom. It is clear, then, that the historical picture presented in the Kalachakra literature was never intended as a socio-political policy statement of Buddhism. Admittedly, a few rare cases have occurred in which some military leaders in the Mongolian Peoples’ Republic, the Soviet Union, and Imperial Japan have exploited themes from this picture for political purposes. But these abuses were based on misunderstandings of the intention of the Kalachakra teachings. They do not prove that implementation of a similar misrepresentation has ever been, presently is, or will be the political agenda of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. To draw that conclusion is as faulty a logic as concluding that launching a Crusade or Inquisition is the general policy of the Christian Church.
Interfaith dialogue and understanding, rather than misinformed suspicion and mistrust, are needed for fostering world peace. The conferring of a Kalachakra initiation is a Buddhist contribution to this vitally important process and certainly not a recruitment procedure for a Buddhist holy war. It brings people of different faiths and secular beliefs together in a peaceful atmosphere for a reaffirmation of their moral commitment to counter ignorance and prejudice with mutual understanding and respect.