Preface to “Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation”

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For several decades, masters from all four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism have been conferring the Kalachakra initiation in India, Mongolia, Southeast Asia and the West. Thousands of people from Buddhist and non-Buddhist cultures alike have either received the empowerment as active participants or attended as interested observers. Requests for future Kalachakra initiations from around the world are ever-increasing. The interest is great.

Only a handful of Westerners attended the first Kalachakra empowerment His Holiness the Dalai Lama conferred outside Tibet, and I had the good fortune to be among them. This was in Dharamsala, India, in March 1970. Seeing that many more Westerners would come to future initiations, His Holiness decided to make available some guidelines and background information about Kalachakra for this new audience. Thus several months before the Kalachakra empowerment he next conferred in Bodh Gaya, India, in December 1974, His Holiness commissioned Sharpa Rinpoche and myself to translate a series of articles on Kalachakra written by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey and Garjang Kamtrul Rinpoche. The Library of Tibetan Works & Archives published them in Dharamsala, and Deer Park reprinted the one by Geshe Dhargyey as part of the manual they prepared for His Holiness's first conferral of the initiation in the West. This was in Madison, Wisconsin, in July 1981. Organizers of later Kalachakra initiations have frequently reprinted this manual both in English and several European languages. His Holiness also commissioned Professor Jeffrey Hopkins to translate and publish the text of the initiation ritual so that participants could follow more easily.

His Holiness's main Kalachakra teacher was Tsenshap Serkong Rinpoche, his late master debate partner and assistant tutor. Serkong Rinpoche was the son and spiritual heir of Serkong Dorjechang, an outstanding master of Kalachakra and a member of its lineage. Serkong Rinpoche was also my own root guru, whom I served for many years as interpreter. Seeing that there would be ever-growing interest in the West about Kalachakra, he taught me the subject extensively. This included not only formal teaching on its many commentaries, but informal explanations on Kalachakra equivalents to almost anything I translated for him. He never tired of discussing the topic and did so at home, on the road and even at the dinner table, both in India and everywhere we traveled on his lecture tours of the West. He particularly delighted in the details of the three-dimensional Kalachakra mandala palace and would often use dough to make models of its architectural features. I eventually shared these teachings with Martin Brauen in Switzerland, where they became the basis for his book on the topic, and resulted in the construction of a three-dimensional mandala palace at Zurich's Volkerkunde Museum at the time of His Holiness's conferral of the initiation in Rikon, in July 1985.

Wishing me to have a closer link with the lineage, Serkong Rinpoche kindly arranged for me to receive private teachings on Kalachakra from Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche, the late Senior Tutor of His Holiness and a member of the Kalachakra lineage from whom His Holiness received the empowerment. By the time His Holiness conferred the Kalachakra initiation in Spiti, India, in July 1983, I was sufficiently prepared to serve as His Holiness's translator for it. At the time, I felt as if I were an offering made by Serkong Rinpoche to His Holiness for this purpose, and I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of responsibility, awe, respect, gratitude and inspiration.

The last conversation I had with Serkong Rinpoche shortly after that initiation concerned some difficult points about the Kalachakra initiation. He did not quote any commentaries, but worked out the answers to my questions purely with reason. I have taken this as a precious guideline in my own subsequent efforts to teach.

After the deaths of Serkong and Ling Rinpoches in 1983, His Holiness generously consented to guide my continuing studies and practice of Kalachakra. With Serkong Rinpoche I had begun a program of reading the major commentaries from masters of the four Tibetan lineages, and His Holiness met with me privately to answer questions after I completed each text. Shortly before he passed away, Serkong Rinpoche had recommended I study Kalachakra astronomy and astrology with Gen Lodro Gyatso, the late Master Astrologer of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute, and Kalachakra ritual with Lobpon Thubten Choephel, the Kalachakra master of His Holiness's Namgyal Monastery. Following Serkong Rinpoche's death, I followed his advice to round out my Kalachakra education.

In 1985, several Buddhist centers in Europe requested me to give introductory talks on Kalachakra to help people prepare for the initiation which His Holiness would give in July of that year in Rikon, Switzerland. After granting authorization, His Holiness guided me extensively on how to answer the most frequently asked questions. During that initiation, I gave three lectures to help participants and observers through the procedures. Meridian Trust prepared and distributed video tapes of these lectures and the Dharma Friendship Foundation eventually published a lightly edited transcript of them. Subsequent to this initiation, many Buddhist centers in Europe and North America began inviting me to explain basic Kalachakra teachings and meditation practice. Once more, His Holiness was extremely generous with his time and guided me in what and how to teach. Some of the German, French and Dutch lectures were published in those languages by the Aryatara Institut of Munich, Germany, the Vajrayogini Institut of Lavaur, France, and the Maitreya Instituut of Emst, Holland. The main part of the present book is an expansion of the lectures I gave on those tours and the ones I gave at Rikon.

Over the ensuing years, I have had the privilege to serve His Holiness several more times as a translator for the Kalachakra initiation, and as a lecturer during the procedures. During several visits to Mongolia and the former Soviet Union, I spoke with monk and lay scholars about the history of Kalachakra in their countries, and found many rare Kalachakra texts in their libraries. As a result of these visits, the translators for the Kalachakra empowerment His Holiness conferred in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, in July 1995, requested me to compile a summary of the ritual to help them prepare. An edited version forms the last chapter of this present work.

In 1996, Sidney Piburn of Snow Lion Publications approached me to expand my previously published work on Kalachakra and compile a more comprehensive book on the topic. His wish was to help those who plan to attend future initiations, and those who had already received the empowerment, to make their experience more meaningful. This book is the result of that request and the long history that preceded it. I wish to thank the Kapor Family Foundation for funding its preparation, and the Nama Rupa Foundation for administering the funds. I also wish to thank my editors at Snow Lion, as well as Rajinder Kumar Dogra, for his helpful suggestions. May this book in some way begin to repay the kindness of my teachers and make the world of Kalachakra more accessible for the benefit of all.

Alexander Berzin
Dharamsala, India
February 22, 1997