I am very happy to be with all of you today. Although I am not a monk, still I have had the good fortune to have been able to study Kalachakra with a number of different great Lamas. Based on their kindness in teaching me, I shall try to pass on their wisdom to you by explaining a little about the Kalachakra empowerment or initiation – those two are synonymous or equivalent terms – and by trying to answer some of your questions. Some of you may have heard my introductions before, but perhaps some have not. If I repeat what you have already heard, I ask for your patience.
External, Internal, and Alternative Cycles of Time
Today begins the actual initiation of Kalachakra. What is Kalachakra? Kalachakra literally means "cycles of time." There are three levels: the external, the internal, and the alternative cycles of time. The external cycles are the cycles the universe goes through. This topic includes the teachings on astronomy and astrology, and the calculations for the motion of the sun, moon, and planets. It also concerns the passage of periods of time, such days, months, and years. The internal cycles deal with the cycles of the different energies and moods within our bodies, and with the cycles of the breath through the course of a day. The alternative cycles are a system of meditation and practice of tantra followed in order to achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit everyone.
In general, there are many things that we need to purify ourselves of, since we are under the control of many disturbing forces. In other words, we all find ourselves in uncontrollably recurring situations known as samsara. What uncontrollably recurs can be described by these external and internal cycles of time, for instance the cycle of dying and being reborn. We are under the debilitating influence of the passage of time, astrological forces, and the different changes in the energies, moods, and breaths within our bodies. With the Kalachakra system of meditation, we are trying to purify being under the control of these forces. We work with these energies to transform them, and thus to overcome all our limitations and realize all our potentials, to become of best benefit to everyone.
Brief History and Lineages
The teachings of Kalachakra were given by the Buddha himself in South India and preserved in the northern land of Shambhala, since the main disciple for the teachings was the King of Shambhala. They were brought back to India in the tenth century of this era. It was between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries that they were brought to Tibet, where they flourished greatly. From Tibet, they were spread to Mongolia, Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union, Manchuria, and North China.
There are several traditions and lineages of Kalachakra. For instance, in India there were three slightly different versions of the first stage of practice (the generation stage) and three different versions of the second stage (the complete stage). Parts of each were combined in different ways in Tibet so that now there are lineages within the Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug traditions. Originally, there was no Nyingma tradition or lineage of Kalachakra, since these teachings were brought to Tibet much later than the Old or Nyingma transmission. Nevertheless, the modern Nyingma tradition transmits the Kalachakra lineage from the nineteenth-century Nonsectarian (Rimey) movement. Thus, there are Nyingma commentaries to this tantra and a Kalachakra style of practicing dzogchen. Within each Tibetan tradition, there are again several different lineages of commentaries or different ways of explaining.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama will follow the rituals of his own monastery, the Namgyal Monastery, which follows the ritual texts of Kedrub Je, from within the Gelug tradition. Regardless of which tradition we might receive the Kalachakra from, we are empowered to study and practice it according to any of its various lineages or traditions. At different times when His Holiness gives this empowerment, he explains it from different points of view and commentaries. We have to wait to see which ones His Holiness chooses for this occasion. However, we need to try not to become confused when we hear things explained from slightly different points of view. The basic Kalachakra teachings are the same. There are slight differences in approach, but all are equally effective for realizing enlightenment through these methods.
Preliminary Bodhisattva Teachings
The alternative cycles of time refer to a tantric system of empowerment and meditation practiced in order to overcome our limitations and realize our potentials, in order best to benefit everyone. Therefore, His Holiness always precedes this empowerment with an explanation either of the graded paths to enlightenment, known in Tibetan as lam-rim, or of such texts as The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, as he did last week. This is because these tantric teachings are based on, or grounded in these sutra teachings. We practice tantra as an additional step beyond the thirty-seven bodhisattva sutra practices so that we may reach enlightenment even more quickly, because the needs of people are so great.
The Meaning of the Word Tantra
What is tantra? The word tantra means an "everlasting continuum." There are three levels. There is the everlasting continuum on the basis level, which is the mental continuum or mind-stream of every sentient being. The everlasting continuum of the path refers to the practices of these deities, or Buddha-figures. On the resultant level, it is the everlasting continuum of the result achieved, namely the continuity of the Buddha bodies manifested with enlightenment. In addition, tantra also refers to the texts that discuss these three.
In tantra, then, we are dealing with everlasting continuums of practice of these Buddha-figures to purify the everlasting continuums of our mental continuums in order to achieve the everlasting continuums of the bodies of a Buddha.
I suppose I should say something about this word "deities" in Buddhism. People often ask about them, because in different languages they come out sounding like "gods." However, these are not gods either in the sense of omnipotent creators or beings in a limited state of rebirth. Rather, in tantra, these are literally "exceptional deities." They are different exceptional forms in which Buddhas manifest themselves in order to help people of different dispositions and types of subtle energy systems. As Buddha-figures, they are the manifestations of certain special features of an enlightening mind or body of a Buddha, such as compassion or wisdom. By practicing with these Buddha-figures, we are following a method that is going to bring about our achievement of the body and mind of a Buddha more quickly.
The main thing in tantra is that we desperately want to achieve enlightenment, because the suffering of everyone is just unbearable. Because of this strongly felt need, we have to follow a method that is going to be the most effective and the most efficient for achieving the different faculties of an enlightening body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. In tantra, then, we work with these different deities, or Buddha-figures, because by practicing with them they serve as a very quick and efficient method for achieving enlightenment. This is because, if we wish to achieve the attainments of a Buddha, one of the quickest methods is to practice now as if we were performing a rehearsal for the theater. By practicing now in our imaginations, that we already have, for instance, the body of a Buddha, it acts as a much more effective cause for achieving such a body more quickly.
Using the Imagination
All of this, then, involves the use of imagination. The imagination is a very powerful tool that we all possess. If we can imagine something happening and go over it again and again, it actually will come about much more quickly. If we imagine that we are, for instance, taking a trip to India, and we put all our energies in this direction, then in fact our arrival in India will come about more quickly. However, when using the imagination, it is essential to be able to distinguish between nd reality, otherwise we will be in real trouble. This is why another essential prerequisite for tantric practice is some stable level of understanding of voidness, or the absence of fantasized ways of existing.
In tantra, then, we imagine that we already have the body of the deity, the body of a Buddha. We imagine that this is a transparent body made of clear light and that it is capable of doing all sorts of unimaginable things for helping others. In addition, we imagine that the environment around us is also completely pure and conducive for everyone's progress. We also imagine that we are acting in the way a Buddha acts. In other words, we are able to exert an enlightening influence on everyone around us. Just by our very way of being, we act as a positive influence on others.
We can see this very clearly in the example of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His Holiness does not really have to do anything in order to bring about the benefit of others. He is such an extremely inspiring person that his positive charisma affects everyone around him in a very beneficial way.
Similarly, we imagine that we too are able to have such an enlightening influence on everyone around us. We imagine that we can calm everyone down and make situations peaceful. Also, we imagine we can stimulate everything around us to grow, for instance people's clarity of mind, their interests, their energies, and so forth. A clear example is what happened just yesterday morning. How many individuals in the world could stimulate people to get up so early for a teaching at 4:30 A.M. the way that His Holiness did without any effort? It is really quite remarkable.
We also imagine, in addition to being able to exert such a positive influence, that we are able to enjoy things in a pure way, as the Buddhas do. The usual way we enjoy things is with confusion. This is usually translated as "contaminated pleasure," but the actual connotation of the term is that our pleasure is associated with confusion. We are critical; we are never satisfied. We listen to music, but we cannot fully enjoy it because we complain about the quality of the sound reproduction. The way a Buddha is able to enjoy everything is completely without confusion. A Buddha enjoys things purely. Likewise, we practice in tantra by imagining we are able to enjoy things in this way. We do this, for instance, when making some of the offerings in the various tantric rituals.
There are four classes of tantra. Kalachakra belongs to the highest class, called anuttarayoga, which means the peerlessly integrated practice of a Buddha-figure. This class of tantra has two stages of practice. The first is the generation stage – the stage at which we work with our imaginations. We imagine that we have already achieved the body and the environment of a Buddha, as well as all his or her activities and manner of enjoying things.
Everything that we are imagining has many different levels of symbolism. The form of our bodies as deities is symbolic. The different arms that we have, for instance, stand for many things on many different levels. It is not that we are practicing to become some sort of insect with a thousand arms, or a monster with all these heads. They have many different levels of purpose and meaning.
For instance, suppose that we want to be aware of twenty-four things at the same time. This is a relevant example, since, after all, we are training to open our minds and hearts to care for everybody, to become omniscient and be aware of everything at the same time. Now, it is very difficult to be simultaneously aware of twenty-four things in just an abstract way. However, if we represent the twenty-four items in a graphic form, for instance in the form of our having twenty-four arms, this helps us to keep twenty-four things in our mind at the same time. That, in turn, helps us to be aware of the meanings of all of them, simultaneously, on many different levels. In this way, it is a very useful technique.
The Meaning of a Mandala
The mandala, as well, follows the same principles. A mandala is literally "a round symbolic world," although it does not need to be round. In many cases, it is referring to the actual building or palace that the Buddha-figure lives in. It is likewise symbolic. Every part of the mandala palace stands for something; everything has symbolic meaning. By trying to keep all the different details and parts of the building in mind, we practice being simultaneously aware of what all of them stand for.
As a palace or a building, it is a three-dimensional structure. When we have, for instance, a powder mandala such as what is being constructed here out of different colored sands and which is something in two dimensions, we should remember that it is like an architect's blueprint. It is a blueprint of a three-dimensional building. No one ever visualizes a two-dimensional mandala. In summary, then, the generation stage deals with our imagination. We imagine that we are Buddha-figures in one of these incredible palaces.
The second stage of the highest class of tantra practice is the complete stage. Here, everything is complete for us to work with what we basically have in order to realize our fullest potentials. By having trained the power of our imagination, we can use it as the key, or way of being able to gain access into the subtle energy systems of our body. On the complete stage, we work with this subtle energy system, which would be quite inaccessible to us if we had not practiced the previous generation stage. We use this energy system to access our subtlest level of consciousness, in other words, the clear light. Out of this, we will be able to create the actual conditions for manifesting the bodies of a Buddha. We will be able actually to make ourselves Buddhas, not just in our imaginations.
Everything in tantra, as in Buddhism in general, follows the laws of cause and effect. The main thing we want to do is to be able to benefit everybody, because we cannot bear the suffering and problems that they have. The way we are actually able to benefit others the best is if we ourselves have become enlightened, if we have rid ourselves of our limitations and realized our fullest potentials. In order actually to achieve enlightenment, we have to be able to generate ourselves in enlightening forms, with no restrictions or limitations, out of our subtlest consciousness. This requires all the practices of the complete stage, working with the subtle energy system. In order to have access to it, we have to learn first to work with and completely master the powers of our imagination. This is why we need to practice beforehand the generation stage.
The Role of the Spiritual Master and the Lineage Masters
In order to follow all the procedures of these practices correctly and successfully, we need to have a strong and healthy relationship with a spiritual master. It is only by following his or her instructions that we will be able to have any success. In addition, we need to keep various vows and follow the correct procedures while practicing. This is because if we try to practice in a sloppy manner, doing anything that we feel like, it will be almost impossible to gain success.
The Buddha himself has indicated all the various procedures to be able to achieve the stage he himself achieved. Thus, he taught that receiving an empowerment is completely necessary for being able to engage in these tantric practices. What receiving one does, first of all, is link us very strongly with a spiritual master. Not only that, it links us to the entire lineage of masters - going all the way back to Buddha himself – who have followed these practices and achieved total success through them.
This is something extremely important psychologically. It is important because it grounds us in a feeling of great confidence. We can have confidence that this is not just some crazy method that some mad person thought up. We are not just imagining that we are Mickey Mouse or Napoleon. Rather, this is a method that goes all the way back to the Buddha, and we have the names of all the lineage masters, going from the Buddha down to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is something that has been validated over and again through the centuries. We are joining this whole line of masters going all the way back. Thus, we can have great confidence in what we are doing. It is a valid method.
In addition, when we receive the empowerment, we are formally taking on the various vows or vowed restraints. We make a definite commitment that we are going to follow this path and follow it correctly. It is very formal, which also makes a difference. This is because, if we just, in a casual manner, decide to do something, then it is also easy, in a very casual way, to change our minds later. However, if we want to be able to help everybody, and if we want to be able to reach our fullest potential of a Buddha in order to be able to do that, it is not a casual matter. It is something very serious. If we make up our minds at an occasion like this, at an empowerment, that now I am really going to put all my energies in this direction, then we have a point of reference that we can always go back to. It becomes a great occasion or event in our lives: on this day and at this time, we have actually started; we have actually set forth in this direction.
It is at this time that we then take on these vowed restraints as guidelines in our practice. They are guidelines of what things we need to avoid, for instance, in our conduct, that would prevent us from being of best help to others. These are the bodhisattva vows. They tell us which actions to avoid that would really hamper us, or prevent us from helping others. The tantric vows concern which actions we need to avoid that might cause us to have great problems in accomplishing anything through these practices.
We can be very thankful and grateful that there is something like these vows. Buddha has been so kind as to point out the dangers that we need to avoid. We do not have to discover them ourselves. We do not need to fall down and make mistakes ourselves, but Buddha actually pointed out what to avoid. That is very, very kind.
Purification and Planting Seeds
In addition to making a strong relation with a spiritual master and giving us an opportunity to commit ourselves with the vows, the empowerment purifies us of a certain degree of limitations and plants seeds for success. In fact, this two-fold process of purification and growth is a central procedure for the entire Buddhist practice. To become a Buddha, we must clear away our limitations - in other words, we have to purify ourselves – and we have to realize our fullest potentials. We have to grow to the limits of what is possible and, in order to grow, we have to plant seeds. This is what the empowerment does for us. This is the type of opportunity it provides.
To enter this process, it is extremely important to have a proper motivation. This is the motivation that His Holiness has been discussing in The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices and it is something that His Holiness will speak of further today. There is no need for me to go into so much detail.
The Preparation Ceremony
The empowerment itself will have two parts. The first part will take place today. It is the preparation ceremony, or the preliminary. The following days will be the actual empowerment itself.
Some of us may have seen in the Kalachakra empowerment pamphlet the outline of the steps for each of these parts. There is no need for me to go through all of them. However, let me speak briefly about the main points.
First, before we enter and sit down, we wash our mouths with water that will be given to us. This is symbolic of washing ourselves and usually the procedure is to spit that water out. We want to get all the dirt out of us. We do not want to swallow it.
Then, after prostrating three times, we will offer a mandala, as a request. Here, mandala has the same general meaning as before. It is a round, symbolic universe. It does not really matter in what form we conceive of the universe, with Mount Meru, four continents, and such, or whatever. It is a round symbol that we are taking the essence of. By making an offering of it, the essence of what we are doing is that we are offering the entire universe. We want to give everything in order actually to be able to help everybody. We are willing to give everything in order to learn these methods or gain an entrance into them, so that we can become enlightened and be able to help everyone as quickly as possible.
Next, His Holiness will explain about the motivation. After that, we will have what is called the inner initiation or inner empowerment. This symbolic world of Kalachakra is not ordinary and so we cannot enter it in our ordinary forms. Therefore, we will be generated in the form of Buddha-figures. We will do this by visualizing or using our imagination.
Perhaps I need to say a few things about what it actually means to visualize. The word visualization unfortunately has the connotation of just using our eyes. However, this is not limited to only our eyes. We are using our entire imaginations to imagine not only sights, but also sounds, fragrances, and so forth. We are imagining things with all our senses. We do not imagine that we are just able to see things, but also that we are able to hear, feel, and so forth. It is a process done with our full minds, hearts, and feelings. It is not limited to just our intellects. It is not just an intellectual process of working with tiny little details of a very specific type of image that we are trying to imagine. Rather, it is something that involves a whole transformational process within us. We are dealing with the very deepest levels of our feelings of who we are and what everything around us is.
Clarity and Pride
Two aspects are usually discussed in this process. One is to have clarity of appearance. The second is called "having the pride of being the deity." Pride can be translated in different ways. It means, for instance, to have the self-esteem, or the dignity of being a Buddha-figure. The great masters always say that, in the beginning, it is much more important to have this dignity, or feeling, of being the Buddha-figure than it is to have all the details of clarity.
Thus, it is very important to have the feeling of being in a pure form, or of being a deity. Don't worry about the details of the visualization! They will come eventually through familiarity. If we worry about all the details – and believe me, there will be a lot of details that we will be asked to visualize – we could just get caught up in these details and be overwhelmed and give up. It would be quite sad to give up.
The basic thing is not to worry about it and to try to work more with having the feeling that we are these Buddha-figures and the feeling that all these purifications are occurring. So, the thing is to have a very deep feeling, with all our being, of who we are: we are these Buddha-figures, and who His Holiness is: he is Kalachakra, he is a Buddha. Whether we can see him with twenty-four arms or not is not the point. The point is the feeling, the recognition of him being a totally enlightened being.
The same thing is happening in terms of where we are. Do not feel that this is just an ordinary place, but try to have the feeling that we are actually entering the symbolic world of Kalachakra - i.e., it is here. If it is not here, with His Holiness, where is it? This is something we can really do, even if we are not yet capable of seeing it clearly in our minds with all of its details. Let's try it.
How to Visualize
We can all feel that there is a large tent over there, on the other side of the path. Whether we can see it in our minds or not, it is not so difficult to feel that there is a tent over there. It is the same thing as feeling that we are outside a palace. We can feel that we are inside this tent now, can't we? It is the same thing in terms of feeling that we are inside the mandala.
Let me use the same example that my teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, used to use. We can feel, for instance, that we are a man or a woman, or that we are Swiss, or German, or American, can't we? We do not actually have to visualize ourselves as being Swiss or German. We have a feeling of who we are. It is this power of having a feeling of who we are that we are going to use. This is what we use to feel that pride or dignity, whatever you want to call it, of being the Buddha-figure Kalachakra. Then, if, in addition, we can also see some of the details, that is very good. If we can imagine all the details, that is even better, that is excellent. However, it is not something to worry about, if we cannot do it yet. We need much practice and experience before we will be able to do it. It will come with time.
What we should try to feel now, while we are here, is that we are outside this enormous palace of Kalachakra. If we can feel that there is a tent next door, we can also feel that there is a palace next door. The palace is a five-storied building, shaped a bit like a five-layer wedding cake. Each story is half the size of the one beneath. It is very large, two hundred times our own size. And, as I said, don't worry about all the details.
Today we are lucky, because we are still outside. We do not have to worry about what is inside. Today we imagine that we are not able to see what is inside. That is not so difficult to do, is it?
The thing we have to keep in mind is that throughout the entire process we are always going to remain on the ground floor. His Holiness, as the central figure, is always on the fourth floor. If we count the ground floor as the first floor as in the United States, then His Holiness is on the fourth floor. If we call the story above the ground floor as the first story, as is done in many European countries, then His Holiness is on the third floor.
Directional Orientation in the Mandala
The palace is transparent and made of light of various colors. It is always referred to in terms of the directions. As this may become a little confusing, I will give a guideline of where we are. Imagine a map of Europe. His Holiness is standing in Switzerland, facing Austria. Austria is in the east. We are all, to start with, standing in Austria, in the east, and are facing His Holiness. The south is where Italy is, north is Germany, and the west is France. If we keep that in mind, we will always know where we are.
These different directions are of different colors, and they are associated with the different Buddha families. If we are familiar with other mandalas, we will notice that here the colors are different and the Buddha families are in different directions from the way they usually are. Try not to get confused. As one of my teachers said, "Symmetry is stupid." We in the West have the feeling that everything has to be symmetrical and nice, always the same and orderly. This is perhaps our inheritance from the ancient Greeks. It is not necessarily so that everything has to be like that. We can develop a great deal of flexibility by working with different systems in which the directions are different colors and the Buddhas change seats. They do not always need to have the same colors or the same numbers of arms and faces. Why should they?
We can keep in mind the colors of the different directions by remembering that they are assigned in terms of the elements. In the Kalachakra system, the elements play a very important role, as do atoms. The east, where we are starting out, is Austria. It is black for the element wind, and that is where we find Buddha Amoghasiddhi. By the way, these are also the same colors as the faces of Kalachakra in each of these directions. So, his front face, facing Austria in the east, is black. Of course, sometimes black is referred to as dark blue. We don't worry about that. Remember, "Symmetry is stupid." Furthermore, each of these faces refers to a different function of a Buddha. This front face, the black face, is the face for vajra-mind. Thus, when we are in the east, the text will refer to this direction sometimes in terms of its black color, sometimes in terms of vajra-mind or the mind-face, and sometimes in terms of Amoghasiddhi. These are all referring to the same direction.
In the south, where Italy is, the color is red, and that is the element fire. It is for Buddha Ratnasambhava, and it is the speech-face for vajra-speech.
In the north, where Germany is, the color is white. It is for the element water. It is for Buddha Amitabha, and it is the body-face for vajra-body.
In the back, where France is, in the west, the color is yellow. That is for the element earth, the Buddha Vairochana, and it is the deep awareness face for vajra deep awareness. I am not sure of the term the translators will be using. It might be wisdom, pristine awareness, exalted wisdom, or something like that, rather than deep awareness.
In the top, the color is green for the element of space and Buddha Akshobhya. On the bottom, the color is blue for Vajrasattva, and that again is for deep awareness.
During the empowerment, we are going to be asked to imagine that we walk around this mandala palace. At different times, we will be in different directions, and when we are in these different directions, we will be in the middle of the entranceways that are in the middle each of the four sides of the square mandala palace. It will be described in terms of what color we are, or which face we are looking at of Kalachakra. If we keep the map of Europe in mind, and keep these basic four colors in mind, like Austria is black, Italy is red, Germany is white, and France is yellow, we will be able to follow.
His Holiness is in the form of the full central deity. We can see a picture behind him, so it will not be so difficult to keep in mind. Further, we need to remember that he is actually a couple, which is a father and mother. Yab-yum means father and mother, and has nothing to do with Western concepts of masculinity and femininity.
The process of our initially arising as Buddha-figures will be in a manner similar to the way that the Buddhist systems describe rebirth. We enter His Holiness' mouth, like the consciousness of a bardo being entering the mouth of a father. Then we pass through the father's body into the mother's womb, where we will be generated in the form of Buddha-figures. We will be in the simple form of Kalachakra, with one face and two arms. We are blue, with two legs. Our right leg is red. This is easy to remember, at least in English and German, not necessarily in the other languages, because both "right" and "red" begin with the letter "R." The left leg is white. We look basically the same as our father. So, in fact, we are now His Holiness' spiritual offspring. We are born from the womb and we go outside the palace and stand in Austria.
The important thing here is to feel that now we really are His Holiness' spiritual offspring. This is a very strong and very deep feeling that we have from inside us. We feel that we have now made this very, very special, important relationship with His Holiness, with Kalachakra. Whether we can imagine that our right legs are red, our left legs are white, and our bodies are blue, is not so important. The important thing is that we feel that now we have made this connection as His Holiness' spiritual offspring and that now we are starting a new spiritual life. We have just been born, pure, and now we are going to enter this Kalachakra practice and become like our father and mother. We should feel that everybody around us is the same, and that we all are the spiritual children of His Holiness. We call this relationship "vajra brothers" and "vajra sisters." So, in fact we will all have a very special relationship with each other.
Taking Refuge and Vows
After that, we will take refuge (safe direction) and the various vows. Some people have asked, "Can we take refuge with His Holiness, and is there something special that we can do?" The answer is that there is no separate special ceremony. It is a part of what we are doing here. Refuge has the meaning of putting a safe and valid direction in our lives. In other words, we are going in the direction of the attainments of His Holiness, of Kalachakra. To work to achieve the same attainments is what definitely is going to protect us from the many different problems and difficulties we face in life. This is what really makes us a Buddhist. To go in this direction is an active process; it is not passive. You don't just receive protection from a supreme being in heaven.
Then, we will take the vowed restraints, namely the bodhisattva and the tantric vows. As I explained, these are guidelines that we follow. They are practical. We are not asked to become fanatics. However, we try our best to follow these guidelines. If we feel that we are not ready to take on these guidelines, then as His Holiness says in English, "You can just be a neutral observer." There is no obligation. As a neutral observer, we just watch. There is nothing to hide, but we would not actually participate in all the visualizations that will be going on.
We don't have to tell anybody whether we are neutral observers or participating. It is a private matter. This is called the secret vehicle, so everything is kept very private. What we are doing is nobody else's business. If we wear red ribbons on our heads during the ceremony, it does not mean anything. Neutral observers can wear red ribbons on their heads – even dogs can – and it does not mean that they are taking the empowerment. Whether we take it or not is in terms of whether we are participating in our imagination concerning our feelings about ourselves.
People ask about the commitments of Kalachakra. If we are actually taking the empowerment, the commitment is that we will keep the vows. In addition, there are the nineteen close bonds or "samayas" in Sanskrit, "dam-tsig" in Tibetan, that bond us closely to the five Buddha families individually. Sometimes, they are called "pledges," also meaning that which makes a connection.
One way to keep mindful and remember these nineteen, since it might be easy to forget them, is to do The Six-Session Yoga. This is a practice that we repeat six times a day. It is a practice, that we can receive teachings on to get deeper into it. There are several levels of extensiveness. It does not have to be a huge time-consuming thing. This is also a commitment from the empowerment, that we will do this practice each day for the rest of our life. Of course, if we are unconscious, in a coma, or extremely sick, that is an exception, obviously, we do not have to be an inflexible fanatic. However, if we are capable of doing it each day, we need to do it as a way to keep mindful of these guidelines and of this safe direction that we are going in.
As I mentioned, there are different levels of extensiveness, different lengths of the six-session practice – very short ones, longer ones, and so forth. It is not necessary to have to do the long, fullest six-session practice specifically associated with Kalachakra every day. And it is not necessary to have to do exactly the same one each day. When we have more time, we will want to do a fuller version. If we do not have time, we can do a shorter one. There is even a version that is just in four lines, one verse, for when we really have no time. Of course, if we can do it more extensively, that is better. Also, if we are already doing a six-session practice from a previous empowerment, it is not necessary to do anything further. One round is sufficient.
These are the commitments. If we feel that we are ready to take them on, excellent! If we feel that we are not ready, then be a neutral observer! People sometimes refer to this latter option as just receiving a blessing. The Tibetan word translated as "blessing" has the connotation of "inspiration." It is not as though someone were blessing us with a magic wand; but rather, from being here even as a neutral observer, we can receive a great deal of inspiration simply from being in His Holiness' presence. It is not something magical in a weird, mysterious sense. It is true, however: it is indeed inspiring to be in His Holiness' presence.
There is no additional commitment in terms of actually doing a sadhana practice, or repeating the mantra, or doing retreats. If we want to do any of these things, fine. However, if not, that is fine also. I should mention on the side, since there is sometimes confusion about this, that The Kalachakra Six-Session Guru-Yoga is not a sadhana. Those are two separate types of practices.
[See: The Main Features of Tantra]
I have prepared some short materials, in English, for further Kalachakra practice. This was done when I asked His Holiness to recommend some shorter sadhana practices, and these were what he recommended. They are graded materials. In other words, just because Kalachakra in its full form has 722 deities in its mandala, this does not mean that we start trying to imagine 722 figures. When I asked His Holiness whether it is necessary to practice simpler deities first before Kalachakra, His Holiness said "No." He said that there are practices of Kalachakra that are just with the simple deity with one face and two arms. From this, we can work up to progressively more complicated practices. Thus, it is something you can grow with.
After the taking of the vows, there will be various other procedures in the preliminary ceremony today for purification. There is no need to go into detail.
One of the steps is that we will be given protection strings to wear. These can be worn on either arm. They have the significance of Maitreya in two senses of the word. We wear them until either Maitreya comes, the future Buddha, or, since the actual meaning of the word Maitreya is "love," we wear them until we develop pure love on our mental continuums. Our true protection will be if we can have sincere, caring love. So whether we wear the strings until Maitreya comes, or we develop pure love, or we wear them until they fall off or we lose them, that is not so important. What is important is the meaning of the strings.