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Cycles of Time and Karma
The structures of the external and internal cycles are analogous, similar to the parallel between macrocosm and microcosm discussed in Western philosophy. This means that the same laws that govern a universe also pertain to atoms, the body and our experience of life.
The practices of the alternative
cycles also follow this structure so as to allow us to engage with
and surmount these forces in an efficient manner. Such mimicking is,
in fact, one of the distinguishing features of the anuttarayoga
On an internal level, the body goes
through physiological cycles, many of which bring about associated
mental and emotional cycles as well. Furthermore, just as universes
form, expand, contract, disappear and then form once again,
individual beings pass through continuing rebirths with repeated
conception, growth, old age and death.
We think, for example, "I am definitely like this, those objects or persons are certainly like that, I must possess these things as mine and get rid of those that bother me," and so on. Any physical, verbal or mental action committed on the basis of such a rigid, confused way of thinking builds up karmic potentials and habits.
Under appropriate circumstances, these
potentials or "seeds of karma" ripen in the form of
compelling impulses to repeat these acts, and to enter into
situations in which similar actions happen to us. We can readily see
this if we examine carefully the impulsive behavior behind the
personal and historical events we experience. How many people
blunder from one bad marriage to another, and how many countries
from one crisis to the next?
All these factors that ripen from karma
work harmoniously together to provide the "container" within which
we experience the ripening of other personal karmic potentials in
the form of the impulsive behavior behind life's events. Born in a
nation at war, we impulsively become a soldier, bomb enemy villages
and one day are killed in battle. The many levels of external and
internal cycles of time intertwine in a complex manner.
Because the minds of beings are under the influence of confusion, however, the bodies, mentalities and environments that result from the karmic actions they commit have a constricting, detrimental effect on them. These factors limit their abilities to benefit themselves and others.
People living during the
medieval plagues could do little to counter the horrors they faced.
They serve not only as an alternative to the external and internal cycles, but as a way to gain liberation from them. The possibility of gaining liberation from time, however, does not imply that time does not actually exist or that someone can live and benefit others outside of time. Time, as a measurement of change, also occurs as a measure of the cycles of actions of a Buddha.
Liberation from time means ridding
ourselves of the confusion, and its instincts, that repeatedly give
rise to the impulses, or karma, that render us at the mercy of the
ravages of time. Once free, we are no longer adversely affected by
external winter darkness, eclipses, wars and so on that periodically
recur. Nor are we restricted by the type of body that is under the
control of periodic biological forces, such as hunger, sexual urges,
tiredness or aging. As a result of the full understanding of
reality, it becomes possible, instead, to generate cycles of forms
that benefit others beyond any limitations imposed by time.
This is possible because our basis tantra, our individual clear light mind, underlies each moment of experience and, like time, it has no end.
Once our subtlest mind
is freed from the deepest cause giving rise to the impulses of
energy that perpetuate cycles of time and bondage to them, it gives
rise, instead, to the bodies of a Buddha, in the form of
One of the last tantra systems to
emerge historically, Kalachakra quickly achieved prominence
and popularity in the monastic universities of the central Gangetic
plain and then, shortly afterwards, in those of Kashmir. Four styles
of practice eventually emerged. Masters from these areas taught
Kalachakra in northern Burma, the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia, but
it died out in these areas by the fourteenth century.
Since the Nyingma school of Tibetan
Buddhism transmits only Indian texts that reached Tibet and were
translated prior to the early ninth century, there is no direct
Nyingma lineage of Kalachakra. Later Nyingma masters, however,
have received and conferred Kalachakra empowerment from other
lineages, particularly that of the nineteenth-century Rimey or
nonsectarian movement, and written commentaries on all aspects of
the teachings. Moreover, there is a Kalachakra style of dzogchen, or
great completeness practice.
During the nineteenth century the
Tibetans and the Mongols of Inner and Outer Mongolia transmitted
Kalachakra to the Buryat Mongols of Siberia and they, in turn,
at the beginning of the twentieth century, spread it to the Kalmyk
Mongols on the Volga River and the Siberian Turkic people of Tuva.
As in other Mongol areas and Amdo, large sectors of the major
monasteries of each of these regions devoted themselves to
The Mongolian calendar, as well as astrological and medical systems, subsequently derived from the Tibetan ones.
Kalachakra is thus the Buddhist equivalent of
the "patron-saint" of these sciences.
His Holiness modestly claims there is no special relation between the line of Dalai Lamas and Kalachakra, despite the Dalai Lamas being considered incarnations of one of the Shambhala rulers.
Nevertheless, the First, Second,
Seventh, Eighth and the present Fourteenth Dalai Lamas have taken
strong interest in the Kalachakra system. Since the time of
the Seventh Dalai Lama in the early eighteenth century, Kalachakra
ritual and meditation practices have been specialties of the
Namgyal Monastery, the personal monastery of the Dalai Lamas at
the Potala Palace in Lhasa.
Since 1970, he has conferred the empowerment in numerous places in India, as well as in North America, Europe, Mongolia and Australia. Several other great masters of the Gelug, Kagyu, Sakya and Nyingma traditions have conferred it widely as well. It makes little difference from which lineage the Kalachakra initiation is received.
They all empower us to study
and practice the vast array of its teachings.
Some people even choose Kalachakra over other anuttarayoga tantra systems because of this association. But what exactly is the connection between Kalachakra and peace, and why do so many people attend? Although empowerments for other tantras are intended for only a small number of disciples at a time, there is a historical tradition of conferring the Kalachakra initiation to large crowds of people.
Buddha first gave it to the king of
Shambhala and his entourage of ninety-six minor rulers. In time,
their descendants conferred it upon the entire population of
Shambhala in order to unite them against the threat of a
possible invasion and avert annihilation. This is the origin of the
association of the Kalachakra empowerment with world peace
and the tradition of conferring it upon large numbers of
The highest motivation for receiving the empowerment is to be able to practice the Kalachakra methods now in order to achieve enlightenment in this very lifetime.
Nevertheless, people have traditionally flocked to the initiation
with the motivation of planting karmic seeds to connect themselves
with this future golden age so as to complete its practice then.
It is undoubtedly from a
distortion of the name "Shambhala" that the Western romantic writer
James Hilton has derived the myth of Shangri-la - a
hidden paradise on Earth. Although there may be a place in this
world representative of Shambhala, that is not the actual fabled
land. Shambhala cannot be found on this planet or even in
some distant world. It is, however, a human realm in which
everything is conducive for spiritual practice, particularly of
The journey to Shambhala, then, is primarily a spiritual one. The aim of receiving Kalachakra initiation is not to reach or be reborn in Shambhala, but, like all other mahayana, or "vast vehicle" Buddhist practices, is to gain enlightenment here and now for the benefit of all.
The empowerment plants the seeds enabling us to reach this goal
and helps purify some of the grosser internal obstacles that would
prevent its attainment.
We still need to decide whether we are actually ready to receive empowerment and embark on its practice, or whether it is better to attend as a well-informed and admiring observer. The most reasonable course is to base our decision on how well prepared we are.
Although hundreds of thousands of
prostrations, repetitions of the hundred-syllable Vajrasattva
mantra and so forth are extremely helpful, the main
preparation is training in lamrim - the graded pathways of
behaving, communicating, thinking and feeling that lead to
For example, because we are totally disgusted with being lonely and frustrated, we are willing and determined to give up not only our unhealthy relationships with others, but also our negative personality traits and confused, distorted self-image which make our relations nonfulfilling.
Bodhichitta is a heart that is
set on achieving enlightenment - overcoming all shortcomings and
realizing all potentials - for everyone's sake. It is motivated by
love and compassion for all beings, and a sense of responsibility to
help them as much as possible to overcome their problems and attain
lasting happiness. Voidness means an absence of fantasized
ways of existing.
On a more subtle level, we are
preoccupied with ourselves, thinking we exist as some solid "me"
inside our head whom we fear no one will like and everyone will
reject. Confusing these fantasies with reality, we act out of
ignorance and the insecurity it generates. Even before any conflict
arises, we are so nervous and self-conscious that we ensure the
relationship fails. Our behavior not only builds up and reinforces a
pattern of karmic potentials for problems to ripen in future
relationships, but also triggers the ripening of past potentials in
the form of present rejections.
According to these systems, not only ourselves, but everything is
devoid of existing in fantasized ways. The particular systems differ
primarily according to the level of subtlety of fantasy they
must judge for ourselves if we are sufficiently prepared.
The most important part of the initial procedures is taking refuge and the bodhisattva and tantric vows. Without all three, we cannot actually receive empowerment, although we may witness it and derive great benefit.
The empowerment itself involves a complex procedure of imagining ourselves transforming into a series of special forms, entering the mandala of the Buddha-figure Kalachakra, and experiencing in it a sequence of purifications and the awakening and enhancing of potentials for future success in the practice.
The mandala is an enormous
multistoried palace, in and around which are 722 figures, including
a principal couple in the center. The master conferring the
empowerment simultaneously appears as all these figures, not just as
the central one. Thus, throughout the process we visualize
ourselves, our teacher and our surroundings in a very special way.
With this basis secured, the next step is seeking further instruction and then trying, as sincerely as possible, to travel the full path to enlightenment as presented in the Kalachakra Tantra.