[Clarification of His Holiness' answers by Dr. Berzin are included within square brackets.]
Topics for Introductory Talks for Taking the Kalachakra Initiation
Dr. Berzin: When I go to the West next year to give introductory talks for the Kalachakra initiation, what would be good to present that would help people prepare? What would be helpful for people to know as a background for attending the initiation?
His Holiness: Speak about the uncommon things to be understood from Kalachakra. Setting it as an anuttarayoga mandala, present its special features. Then, explain the way that Kalachakra works, in terms of the systems of external, internal, and alternative Kalachakras. Then, since the initiation is important and, for taking the initiation, keeping the vows is essential, and before this, training in the common paths of bodhichitta and the correct view of voidness are extremely crucial; if you explain a little bit about all of these, that will be good.
In addition, if you have more time, give the general way of proceeding with anuttarayoga, step by step, and the features that it shares in common with tantra in general. Without a good foundation and preparation, there is no point in becoming involved with tantra. I shall also give an introduction about these things as preliminary.
What about also describing the history of the Kalachakra tantra and its spread to India and Tibet?
That would be fine.
Is it helpful to explain about Shambhala?
Certainly. Where do you think it is?
I don't quite know. Serkong Rinpoche said it was not on earth, but could perhaps be on another world where flying saucers come from. This is because the texts speak of people coming from Shambhala on flying vehicles. They come from Shambhala to check our situation. Several cultures among the indigenous people of South America and South Africa also have myths like this, that visitors came long ago from outer space and taught them calendar-making and astronomy. Perhaps they came from Shambhala.
From the point of view of Buddhism, Shambhala is a pure land (dag-zhing), like Sukhavati, Tushita, and Khachari (Dakini-land).
Isn't Shambhala a human realm?
If it's a pure land, it doesn't have to be a god realm. There are some pure lands where humans can go. Even non-Buddhists can reach them and once there, proceed on the spiritual path.
Is Shambhala included in samsara or nirvana? Serkong Rinpoche said it is a samsaric realm.
It seems to be in samsara. However, once one gets to this samsaric place, one's mind and heart naturally develop much more rapidly. It is probably more like a human realm within in the cycle of samsaric existence where special people live who have built up a great store of positive force (merit, positive potential).
So it is not technically a pure land, but just similar to a pure land?
It is not a pure land in the sense of being a god realm. It is a human realm, but probably also a pure land.
It is not on earth?
It is not on earth. If it were, we should be able to find it. However, it is probably in our universe, but we need pure karma to reach it. I wonder if we can really get there directly by just some sort of mechanical vehicle, like a space ship. Why I think like that, I don't know. But, what (the Sixth Panchen Lama) Panchen Palden Yeshe (Pan-chen dPal-ldan ye-shes) said about it makes things a bit complicated. In his Guidebook for the Path to Shambhala (Shambhala lam-yig), he wrote that if you do an intense meditation retreat, then you can actually see deities and they will give you help to go to Shambhala. He wrote like that. Therefore, it is not simply an ordinary physical journey.
Serkong Rinpoche told me that his father, Serkong Dorjechang, had gone to Shambhala and had brought back fruit and flowers, which they had in their house.
I take safe direction (refuge) from him! Panchen Palden Yeshe also went to Shambhala. Some other learned masters went as well. There is an account of Taranatha going to Shambhala, but I think that was in a dream body. However, it is not on this round earth. It is probably a pure land with humans similar to those on earth. It is difficult to say.
The Kalachakra texts speak of the larger and smaller Jambudvipas (Southern Continents). On the northern half of the smaller one, the texts list six lands going northwards, one of which is Shambhala.
That is difficult. If we speak in terms of that, then Shambhala would have to be a place on this earth. There is also mention in the texts of Potala Mountain in the south, the land of Ugyan (Skt. Oddiyana) in the west, the Five-Peaked Mountain in the east, and Shambhala in the north.
Serkong Rinpoche had said that of these, some are on earth and some are not.
Precisely, that is why. There are two for each: the actual ones and similar ones that represent and substitute for them. For instance, according to the scholar Gendun Chopel (dGe-'dun chos-'phel), Ugyan is in Sindhi Swat Valley in Pakistan. Today, it is a Muslim area. It is not completely clear, but as for the Copper-Colored Mountain that Guru Rinpoche went to in Ugyan, that probably is in an uncontaminated pure land.
Now as for Potala Mountain in the south, then as a substitute for it, there is one in the south of India. But, then there is also the Potala Mountain of Avalokiteshvara, which is in a pure land. As for the Five-Peaked Mountain, there is the usual place in China [Wutaishan] with this name as an actual place in the east, but also there is the pure land of Manjushri with the same name.
Thus, it is quite probable that Shambhala is also a pure land like this, with some location representing it. There is precedent for it being so. However, it cannot be found in any place. There are many reasons and signs for saying that it exists, but because it isn't in this world, then except for it being an uncontaminated pure land, there is nothing else it could be referring to in the texts.
And what about the talk of flying saucers?
It could be said that they have a connection with Shambhala. Definitely, there are other beings in the universe. There are other kinds of sentient beings and it is decidedly so that they are on other worlds, not just on our world. That is definite. There are many galaxies.
Now, Shambhala is included in our galaxy, perhaps even in our solar system, since the texts say it is included in Jambudvipa our world-system. Thus, it is talking of a pure land in our world-system, however large our system might be, where only sentient beings with pure karma can go and where there are sentient beings with human bodies.
In the West, we have talk of Shangrila. Is this related?
It is a pure place, isn't it? I don't know, but probably it is. The name signifies a pure place, so I think the name probably came originally from Shambhala.
Prophesies about the Barbarian Invasion
What is the best way to explain the Kalachakra prophesies about the non-Indic barbarian invaders, the Lalo?
Can we actually say they are Muslims or a group that shares certain customs in common with Muslims? It is not at all definite. I don't know what to say. For instance, in Mongolia, they call the Russians "Turuka," another name that appears in the literature for the Lalo invaders. Communists in general are also called Turuka or Lalo. Lalos, then, are those who deliberately try to destroy Buddhism.
Is it better just to call them Lalo in English?
Yes, Lalo is perhaps the best. If you look in The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra (bsDus-rgyud), it says that Lalos eat beef and eggs. The reference is to non-Indic people [since Indians do not eat beef], and undoubtedly people from a warm climate. It is quite clear that in Europe, in cool climates, there were no chickens. I don't think it was so in previous older times. The Greeks and Romans probably ate chicken eggs [and the Indians originally used the term Lalo (Skt. mleccha) for the invading troops of Alexander the Great of Macedonia]. In Tibet, we didn't especially eat eggs. It was an Indian custom, so why the reference to eggs?
Turuka refers to Turkic people, doesn't it? Among the Muslim invaders of India, there were several waves of Turkic people. However, the Mughals weren't Turkic and they invaded much later. Were people at that time [in the late 9th or early 10th centuries when the Kalachakra teachings came to India] called Turks? I think that if the texts have a historical reference, they are referring to the Turkic invasions of India. However, Turuka in general refers to those who would destroy Buddhism [whether Central Asian hordes or from elsewhere, whether Muslim, communist, or followers of any other creed.]
[For a more detailed discussion, see: The Prophets of the Non-Indic Invaders in Kalachakra. See also: Holy Wars in Buddhism and Islam]
Could the Lalos be only symbolic and refer only to the destructive forces we need to battle in an internal spiritual war?
I wonder if it is only symbolic? When the texts speak of a war and the general Hanuman, whether that is merely symbolic or for real, I don't know.
But they do have symbolic meanings, as the Kalachakra texts explain.
Yes, but the commentaries of learned masters don't take them only symbolically, but also literally. However, if the reference is to a nuclear war, it won't be for another almost 400 years. But, how it will be, I don't know.
Sometimes Westerners ask if this war and Dragpo Korchen (Drag-po 'khor-can, Skt. Rudrachakrin) [the ruler of Shambhala who will defeat the Lalos] will come earlier. Is that possible?
I don't know. It is difficult to say. But, if Shambhala comes sooner, then we will be able to go back to Tibet sooner. The sooner Shambhala comes; the sooner there will be freedom.
Learning about the Initiation and Vows before Receiving the Initiation
As an introduction to the initiation, is it permitted to describe the mandala, how many deities there are, the colors, and so on?
It is all right. It is good if people know a little about the procedures of the initiation. Later, during the actual initiation, I'll introduce them to each point. But, if they knew a little beforehand, it would be of help.
What about the tantric vows and close bonds (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya), is it permitted to tell people about them beforehand?
According to the tantric procedures, one must not disclose the tantric vows before the initiation. However, for those who are sincere in receiving the initiation, if they know a little beforehand, then the initiation will come out really strong and perfect. But such persons would need to be Buddhists who were sincere and definite about taking the initiation or those who have received another anuttarayoga tantra initiation before. To explain to such persons, there would be no fault. Especially, if people have already received another anuttarayoga initiation, then there is nothing wrong with explaining the Kalachakra close bonds.
For those with no anuttarayoga initiation and no intention to receive one, for example those who are only scholars, it is not too good to explain them. It is better to have some restrictions. However, if the lists of the tantric vows and close bonds are already published and people misunderstand them and hold strange views about them, the necessity overrides the prohibition. It is better to give people a correct explanation, rather than let them disparage tantra because of misinformation or poor explanations.
[See: Common Root Tantric Vows]
Attending As a Neutral Observer
Among those who will attend the initiation, most will have interest in Buddhism, but it is hard to say whether or not they accept Buddhism. Those who do not follow Buddhism, but attend the initiation, will not want to take the bodhisattva and tantric vows.
This is something I regularly talk about at the time of the initiation. Then they would just be like observers or witnesses. I spoke like that the last time I gave the initiation in America. Also, in France, when I gave the Guru Rinpoche eight manifestations initiation, on the second day, Mayor Jacques Chirac came and I invited him to attend as a witness. He isn't Buddhist, though he likes Buddhism. So, there is no harm.
Thus, at the time of taking the bodhisattva vows, I regularly explain that only those who are Buddhist, who want to take the bodhisattva vows and who can keep the vows, need to visualize like this. Then, I do the same for the tantric vows. Others who do not wish to take the vows are just witnesses, observers [and do not follow the same procedures and visualizations].
When they are there like that and observe, what is best for them to think and what is the benefit of their being observers?
I can't say. Although one could suggest helpful thoughts if such people are receptive, we have no right to insist that they should think this way or that. Just be simple observers. Some who come may even be critical of Buddhism. That is possible. However, we cannot say don't be critical. That is their right. For those of us who are Buddhists, we can give them instructions what to think and do during the initiation; but for others, we cannot impose specific instructions on them. We can only say observe, and that is all.
Some may come with ill feelings, but most won't have ill feelings. As for those with no ill feelings, there is no problem. But, as for those who would come with ill feelings toward Buddhism, there is no need for them to come. It would be better for such people to stay home. However, there is no point in saying don't have ill feelings. So, better to be actual neutral observers and then there is nothing to say. Isn't that so?