by Alexander Berzin
1 - The Kalachakra
Verse and Its Indian Commentary
Verse I.154 from The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra (Tib. bsDus-rgyud, Skt. Laghu Kalachakra
Adam, Noah, Abraham, and five
others - Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad One, Muhammad, and
Mahdi - with tamas, are in the asura-naga caste. The eighth
will be the blinded one. The seventh will manifestly come to
the city of Baghdad in the land of Mecca, (the place) in
this world where a portion of the asura (caste) will have
the form of the powerful, merciless mlecchas.
According to A Commentary on
Difficult Points Called "Padmini" (Tib. Padma-can zhes-bya-bai
dka'-'grel, Skt. Padmini-nama-panjika):
If you ask who propagated the
Dharma of the mlecchas, it says, "Adam, Noah, and Abraham of
the asura (caste) and, from the naga caste, the five others
with tamas: Moses, this one, and The White-Clad One,
Muhammad, and The Emanation. That eighth one will be the
blinded one. The seventh will manifestly come to the cities
of Baghdad and so on in the land of Mecca." Those with these
names of non-Buddhists, and so on, will propagate the Dharma
of the asuras. Among these, the one called "The White-Clad
One" is Mahamayin. That one will propagate the Dharma of the
asuras and so on in the cities of the land of Mecca and so
on. If you ask what kind of land is that, it says, "(It is
the place) in this world where the asura caste will have the
form of the powerful, merciless mlecchas."
This verse and its Indian commentary
have many difficult points. I cannot pretend to be able to
resolve the problems in them. Here, I shall merely present the
cultural and historical contexts and offer some arguments for
and against the varied interpretations that can be made
concerning debatable points.
The traditional Buddhist view is that Buddha himself taught The
Root Kalachakra Tantra in the ninth century before the common
era and that the First Kalki King of Shambhala compiled
Abridged Kalachakra Tantra seven centuries later. Only the
latter text has survived. Here, we shall follow a Western
scholarly analysis that postulates the composition of The
Abridged Tantra between the ninth and tenth centuries of the
common era, as a composite of different portions compiled in
perhaps several areas in the region between eastern Afghanistan
and Kashmir. According to this theory, Afghan Buddhist scholars
developed the historical portions.
2 - Historical
The Term for the Non-Indic Invaders
The Sanskrit term mleccha
(Tib. kla-klo), most frequently translated as "barbarians,"
originally meant those who spoke indistinctly in a non-Sanskrit
language. Specifically, the term referred to non-Sanskrit
speaking groups that invaded and then ruled northwestern India,
starting around a millennium after the Aryan invasion that
initially established the Sanskrit-related languages there.
Before its appearance in the Kalachakra texts, "mleccha" was
used in early Hindu literature to refer to the Macedonian Greek
invaders, led by Alexander the Great in the third century before
the common era. Hindu literature also applied the term to
subsequent foreign invaders, such as the Shakas, Kushans, and
An early appearance of the term in Buddhist literature prior to
Kalachakra is in Nagarjuna's Friendly Letter (Tib. bShes-pa'i
spring-yig, Skt. Suhrllekha), written, in the second century of
the common era, Udayana, a Shatavahana ruler of Andhra, South
India. One of the four defective human rebirths with no chance
to study or practice the Dharma is among the mleccha in a region
beyond the four mountain ranges surrounding central India.
In Buddhism, then, the main connotation of the term is a
non-Indic people, among whom there is no chance to study and
practice Buddhism. The Hindu usage adds that such people will be
invaders of northwestern India.
Although the Sanskrit term undeniably has these derogatory
connotations, the more neutral translation non-Indic-speaking
invaders, shortened to non-Indic invaders, is less
confrontational than "barbarians."
The List of Prophets
Some Western scholars
translate the list of the invaders' prophets as "Adam, Enoch,
Abraham, Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad One, Muhammad, and Mathani."
A rendering of the list as "Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus,
Mani, Muhammad, and Mahdi" seems to make more sense.
Both Enoch and Noah appear in the list of twenty-five prophets
mentioned in The Quran. Enoch was the inventor of writing and
taught sciences such as astrology. Moreover, among The Old
Testament Pseudepigrapha, The First Book of Enoch is one of the
earliest sources of the prediction of an apocalypse. An argument
for choosing Enoch as the reference is that Kalachakra also
predicts an apocalyptic battle and that the invaders against
whom it will be waged will be knowledgeable of astronomy and
The Arabic name for Enoch,
however, is "Idris," while the Arabic for Noah is "Nuh"
(pronounced "Nuch"). When the Arabic demonstrative particle
"al," normally prefixed to proper names, is added to the
latter, forming "an-Nuh," it closely resembles "Anogha," the
Sanskrit transliteration of the name of this prophet.
Therefore, it makes more sense linguistically that the
second prophet in the Kalachakra list is Noah.
"Isha" (Tib. dBang-po), "The
Powerful Lord," is the Sanskrit phonetic transcription of "Issa,"
the Arabic form of Jesus. Interestingly, "Isha," in
Sanskrit, is also a shortened form of "Ishvara," an
alternative name for Shiva, one of the main Hindu gods.
"Shvetavastri" (Tib. Gos-gar-can),
"The White-Clad One," is the Sanskrit translation of a
common name for Mani, the third-century founder of the
Manichaean religion, followed in Iraq, Iran, and Central
Asia. The argument that since the Kalachakra description of
the invaders' beliefs and practices does not include any
elements of Manichaeism is insufficient to disprove that the
White-Clad One refers to Mani. Mani could be present in the
list for historical reasons that will be explored below.
"Madhumati" (Tib. sBrang-rtsi'i
blo-gros), "The Honey-minded One," is the Sanskrit phonetic
transcription of Muhammad. It also appears in Hindu
literature, such as the Pratisarga Parvana section of
The Bhavishya Purana, which mentions Madhumati (Muhammad) as a
"Mathani" (Tib. 'Joms-byed),
"The Destroyer," is the Sanskrit phonetic transcription of
Mahdi, the Islamic messiah. The choice of Sanskrit names
probably also has a second significance.
The earliest source of Kalachakra
teachings is A Concert of Names of Manjushri (Tib. 'Jam-dpal
mtshan-brjod, Skt. Manjushri-nama-samgiti), in which Manjushri,
the embodiment of the deep awareness (Tib. ye-shes, Skt. jnana,
wisdom) of all the Buddhas, is identified with the Kalachakra
Buddha-figure. It can be dated no later than the mid-eighth
century, since its first Sanskrit commentary, by Manjushrimitra,
and its first Tibetan translation both date near the end of that
The text praises Manjushri as "the upholder of the line of
Buddha's emanations, he who radiates various emanations to
benefit beings accordingly." Among the emanations then listed is
Pramatha (Tib. 'Joms-byed), "The Destroyer." As the Tibetan
translation attests, "Pramatha" and "Mathani" come from the same
Sanskrit root math, "to destroy." "Pramatha" is the Sanskrit
name of the leader of the asuras, the jealous "anti-gods." The
association of the invaders and their teachings with asuras,
specified in the verse from The Abridged Tantra, will be
Another name for Pramatha is "Vemacitra" ("Bright Loom"), for
which the possible variant "Vimacitta" ("The Destruction-minded
One") seems more significant. In the Kalachakra prediction,
Krinmati, the King of Delhi, will declare himself Mahdi. "Krinmati"
in Sanskrit also means "The Destruction-minded One."
The Main Sects of Islam
There are two main sects of Islam: Sunni and Shiah. They split
over the succession of imams (political leaders of the Muslims)
following Muhammad's death in 632.
The Sunnis follow the
succession from Muhammad's brother-in-law, Muawaiya, who
established the Umayyad Dynasty in 661. The Umayyad
Empire included Iran.
The Shiites follow the
succession from Muhammad's son-in-law Ali, whose son Husayn was martyred in 670 trying to overthrow the
Umayyids. The Shiites consider the line of imams to be
not only the political leaders of the Muslims, but also
the religious authorities.
Although formal Islamic sects arose
only in the eleventh century, these two rival factions divided
from each other from early Umayyid times. For ease of
discussion, we shall use the names Sunni and Shiah
anachronistically to refer to the two factions. Eventually, most
Arabs followed Sunni Islam, while most Iranians followed Shiah
and opposed the Sunni Arab rule.
With the help of Iranian and Central Asian Shiites - led by Abu
Muslim - the Arab Abbasids overthrew the Arab Umayyids in 750.
Although the new Abbasid rulers first supported Shiite Islam,
they very quickly renounced it, assassinated Abu Muslim, and
returned to Sunni. The Arab Abbasids continued to maintain a
deep distrust of the Iranian and Central Asian Shiites, many of
whom declared the marytred Abu Muslim as the Mahdi, and now
fought to overthrow the Sunni Arab rule.
In 762, the Abbasids built Baghdad as their new capital. They
engaged Indian architects and engineers to design the city.
"Baghdad" is actually a Sanskrit name, "Bhaga + dada," meaning
"Gift of God." Thus, the specification of Baghdad in the tantra
is not surprising, since the city would have been widely known
among the educated classes of Indians. Moreover, its mention
indicates that the reference to the non-Indic invaders must be
to groups that existed after 762. The first groups to consider,
then, are the Sunnis and the mainstream Shiites of that period.
The List of Prophets Does Not
Correspond to Sunni or Mainstream Shiah Beliefs
Both Sunni and mainstream
Shiah (which later became known as Ithna Ashari or "Twelver"
Shiah) accept the list of twenty-five prophets found in The
Quran. Both also accept that Muhammad will be the last prophet.
Although the Sunnis accept Mahdi as a messiah and imam who will
reinstate the purity of Islam, they put little emphasis on him.
The Shiites, on the other hand, strongly emphasize Mahdi and say
that he will avenge the injustice of Husayn's martyrdom. Neither
the Sunnis nor the mainstream Shiites, however, assert Mahdi as
Thus, based on the evidence of the list of prophets mentioned in
the tantra verse, the non-Indic invaders do not refer to either
the Sunni Abbasids or the mainstream Shiites who opposed them.
A counterargument to this hypothesis could be made based on a
quotation from The Stainless Light (Tib. Dri-med 'od, Skt.
Vimalaprabha) commentary to The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra.
According to tradition, both texts were compiled in Shambhala,
the tantra by the First Kalki (Tib. Rigs-ldan) ruler
Manjushri-yashas (Tib. 'Jam-dpal grags-pa) and the commentary by
his son, the Second Kalki ruler Pundarika (Tib. Padma dkar-po).
The commentary refers to Muhammad as "a teacher of the Dharma of
the non-Indic invaders, a guru and master of the non-Indic
invader Tajiks." The Sanskrit tayi ("Tajik") is a phonetic
transcription of "tazi," the Persian word for Arabs. The Chinese
phonetically represented the same Persian word as "daxi" (ta-shih),
explaining it as cognate with the Aramaic and Persian words for
"trader," and also used it for the Arabs. Thus, based on the
term tayi, one could argue that the non-Indic invaders would be
Arabs, specifically Abbasid Sunni Arabs.
The appearance, in the Kalachakra literature, of the term tayi
for the non-Indic invaders, however, does not necessarily
establish the invaders as the Arab Sunni Abbasids. It can also
indicate that the invaders will be from the Iranian cultural
area in general, where the Arab Abbasids ruled. The Tibetans,
for example, translated "tayi" as "stag-gzig" (pronounced "tazig"),
suggestive that they were familiar with Persian term tazi that
the Sanskrit phonetically transcribed. Tibetans also use "stag-gzig"
for the original homeland of its native religion Bon - namely,
the Iranian cultural area of Central Asia (Tajikistan) to the
west of Zhang-zhung (western Tibet). The present-day Tajiks
speak an Iranian language and are unrelated to the Arabs.
Alternatively, the term tayi could indicate that the compilers
of the Kalachakra literature did not clearly differentiate the
ethnic backgrounds of the various Islamic groups of their times.
Supporting evidence for this conclusion derives from the fact
that Tibetan commentators to The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra,
such as Buton (Bu-ston) in the fourteenth-century and Kaydrubjey
(mKhas-grub rJe) in the fifteenth-century, glossed "tayi" as "sog-po"
and "the land of Mecca" as "sog-yul" (the land of the "sog-po").
At the time of these two Tibetan commentators, "sog-po" referred
primarily to various Mongol groups. The Mongols became a major
force in Central Asia, however, only at the beginning of the
thirteenth century. Thus, the Kalachakra reference, predating
this event by several centuries, could not have been to the
Historically, the Tibetans have applied the name sog-po, derived
from "Sogdia," to all Central Asians, not simply to Sogdians.
During the eighth and first half of the ninth centuries, an
assortment of Arab, Chinese, Turkic, and Tibetan dynasties
repeatedly fought each other over control of Sogdia (modern-day
Uzbekistan) and adjacent areas of Central Asia. The name sog-po
would not necessarily have applied only to the Arabs themselves;
it could have included Sogdians and other Central Asians
conscripted into their army as well. Moreover, although many
Sogdians converted to Islam during the Abbasid period, many also
retained their earlier Manichaean and Buddhist religions. Thus,
as in the case of "tayi," the term sog-po could indicate either
the Central Asian cultural area or an imprecise differentiation
of ethnic and religious groups.
In short, the general terms tayi and sog-po are too vague to
serve as conclusive proof of the identity of the non-Indic
invaders for whom Muhammad was a teacher. The evidence offered
by the list of prophets specifies the invaders more precisely,
and is therefore more reliable in identifying this group.
Early Abbasid Shiah Sects
Within the Shiah division
of Islam, a faction split in 765, forming the Ismaili sect. The
Ismailis asserted that the seventh imam, Ismail, who disappeared
as a child in 762, will return in the future as the Mahdi.
Consequently, the Ismailis placed a great emphasis on the number
seven. Their list of prophets has seven members: Adam, Noah,
Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and Mahdi. Except for the
omission of Mani, this is the same list as the invaders' list
mentioned in Kalachakra. The Abbasids branded them a heresy and
Another subgroup within Shiah Islam that emerged at this time
was Manichaean Islam. It combined Mani's teachings with Shiah
Islam and was followed by many Iranian intellectuals in the
Abbasid court in the late eighth century. It appealed to these
intellectuals because it offered wider and deeper philosophical
teachings than those found in Sunni Islam at the time.
Seeing Manichaean ideas as a threat to their authority, the
Sunni Abbasid rulers also branded Manichaean Shiah a heresy.
They persecuted not only them, but also mainstream Manichaeans.
In contrast, the Abbasids tolerated all other religious groups
in their domain - Nestorian Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians,
Buddhists, and Hindus alike, provided they paid a poll tax.
An additional contributing factor for the Abbasid intolerance of
the Manichaean Shiites and Manichaeans could have been a
connection they alleged between them and certain rebel factions.
Two main dissident groups fought against the Abbasids in Iran
and Central Asia - Iranian Shiites, such as the followers of the
martyred Abu Muslim, and Turkic tribes, such as the Orkhon
Turks. Both wore white robes to show their opposition to the
Abbasids, who wore black. Manichaeans also wore white robes.
Thus, the Manichaean Shiite Muslims might have been identified
with the dissidents and considered a dangerous threat not only
intellectually, but politically as well. This could have been
the case simply because of their association with the
Manichaeans, regardless of what color clothing the Manichaean
Shiites themselves wore.
The Connection with the Destruction
of Jain Temples and Buddhist Monasteries in Valabhi
In the early 780s, the
Abbasid generals ruling in Sindh (southern Pakistan) attacked
and destroyed the Jain temples and Buddhist monasteries in
Valabhi, Saurashtra (southern Gujarat, India). This was during
their campaign to gain control of the Saurashtran ports, as they
previously had of the Sindhi ports at the mouth of the Indus
River. Their main aim was to control and tax the maritime trade
with Byzantium and Europe that passed through there.
Valabhi was the spiritual center of the Shvetambara (White-Clad)
sect of the Jains. The Abbasids probably mistook the white-clad
Jains for the white-clad dissidents and for the Manichaeans and
Manichaean Shiites. It is hardly likely that the Abbasid
generals bothered to learn of the religious differences among
Thus, the White-Clad Jains were probably the main target in
Valabhi, not the Buddhists. This conclusion is supported by the
fact that the Abbasids left the Buddhist monasteries alone in
Sindh, from where they launched their attack, preferring to tax
them heavily instead. Buddhist monasteries continued to function
in Sindh under Abbasid rule for several centuries after the
destruction of Valabhi.
None of the above-mentioned white-clad groups, however - the Abu
Muslim and Orkhon Turkic rebels, the Manichaeans, or the Jains -
could have been the non-Indic invaders predicted in Kalachakra.
The Abu Muslim rebel leaders started the Musalemiyya sect of
Islam, the customs of which did not include praying five times a
day facing Mecca. The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra specifies such
prayer as a characteristic of the invaders' Dharma. The
religious practices of the Orkhon Turkic rebels are not clear,
but they were not Muslims. The first Turkic tribe officially to
adopt the Muslim faith was the Western Qarakhanids of Kashgar,
in the late 930s. The Manichaean and Jain beliefs also do not
conform to the specified parameters mentioned in the text.
Moreover, although Stainless Light refers in several passages to
the non-Indic invaders as "those who wear white" (Tib. kla-klo
gos-dkar-can, Skt. mleccha svetavastri), this epithet does not
imply a logical pervasion. Not all the invaders will necessarily
wear white, and not all who wear white will necessarily be the
In comment to a passage in The Abridged Tantra that mentions
"those that wear red and those that wear white," Stainless Light
explains that "Buddhists wear red and the non-Indic invaders
wear white. (This is in reference to) the ascetics. Householders
(among both) have no certainty (about the color of the clothes
that they wear)."
The acceptance of Muhammad and Mahdi as prophets places the
non-Indic invaders as an Islamic sect. Muslim pilgrims of all
sects wear white during the hajj in Mecca. Therefore, invader
pilgrims (ascetics) wear white during the hajj, but not all who
wear white at the hajj are invader pilgrims. Thus, the statement
that invader householders do not necessarily wear white is
further evidence to exclude the white-clad groups of Abu Muslim
householder rebels as the non-Indic invaders.
Let us explore further the case of the Manichaean Shiites and
Afghan and Indian Buddhist Scholars in Baghdad in the Service of
The Abbasid ruler who ordered the attack against Valabhi was
Caliph al-Mahdi (ruled 775-785). Although the caliph had the
same name as the last prophet in the Kalachakra list, he never
declared himself a prophet or the Islamic messiah. His father,
Caliph al-Mansur, had given him this name to help rally Arabs on
his side in a rivalry with another political leader in Mecca,
who also had named his son al-Mahdi.
Caliph al-Mahdi invited Buddhist scholars from India and from
the huge Nava Vihara monastery in Afghanistan to Baghdad to work
at the newly constructed House of Knowledge to translate texts
into Arabic - further evidence of his lack of intolerance of
Buddhism. They worked there from the late eighth to the early
ninth centuries. The Buddhist scholars probably knew of the
Manichaean Shiites and the Abbasid prejudice against them as
being dangerous to society.
After their persecution by the Abbasids, many Manichaean Shiah
followers turned to Ismaili Shiah Islam, which was a longer
lasting opponent to the Abbasid Arab rule.
Although I have not found any record of the Manichaean Shiah
list of prophets, their joining with the Ismailis could imply
several possible conclusions:
The Manichaean Shiites
originally had the same list of prophets as the Ismailis,
except for the addition of Mani.
After joining the Ismailis, they
adopted the Ismaili list, but maintained their identity by
adding Mani to it.
In accord with the Ismaili
conversion custom that allowed adhesion and syncretism as
intermediary steps, the Ismailis initially allowed the
Manichaeans and Manichaean Shiites who converted to add Mani
to the standard Ismaili list of seven prophets. Adhesion is
the addition of elements of two belief systems without
change in either of them, while syncretism is the blending
of two systems into a new synthesis. This would have been a
precursor to the tactic the Ismailis later followed in the
conversion of Hindus, which identified Ali, the first imam
according to Shiah and Ismaili, with Kalki, the tenth avatar
In any case, the orthodox Ismailis
themselves never included Mani in their list of prophets. To
include an eighth prophet would transgress their emphasis on
"seven" as a holy number.
Two possible conclusions may follow from this:
The non-Indic invaders would be
the descendants of the Manichaean and Manichaean-Shiite
converts within the Ismaili community. Considering that this
minority never gained political or military power, this
conclusion is highly unlikely.
The Afghan and Indian Buddhists
lacked continuing contact with the Ismailis once they ceased
their translation activities in Baghdad and, consequently,
merged their picture of Manichaean Shiah with that of
Ismaili Shiah. This conclusion seems more likely, especially
in light of:
(1) the introduction
of Ismaili Shiah in Multan (northern Sindh, Pakistan) in
the third-quarter of the tenth century
(2) the presence of
Manichaeans in the area, especially in the mountainous
regions to the north
(3) the Ismaili
conversion policy of adhesion
Contact with Nestorian Christianity
The most prevalent form
of Christianity in the Abbasid Empire, from Syria to Central
Asia, was the Nestorian branch of the Syrian Orthodox Church,
started in the early fifth century by Nestorius, Patriarch of
Constantinople. It taught that Jesus was born with a human
nature and that his divine nature entered him afterwards. The
Council of Chalcedon declared it a heresy in 431. It was the
form of Christianity with which Muhammad was acquainted.
Consequently, Islam also asserted Jesus as a human prophet, and
added that his teachings were a forerunner of those revealed by
In 726, during the Umayyad period, the Nestorian theologian John
of Damascus wrote that Muhammad was a forerunner of the
Antichrist. The Nestorian position - and consequently the Muslim
response - changed, however, during the Abbasid period when
Buddhists would have had contact with both religions. In the
early 780s, Caliph al-Mahdi invited the Nestorian Patriarch
Timothy I to Baghdad to discuss the doctrinal differences
between Christianity and Islam. The dialogue was polite and
friendly, with both sides praising both Jesus and Muhammad.
Just as the Buddhist scholars working in Baghdad at the time
witnessed the anti-Manichaean Shiah sentiment of the Abbasads,
they likewise witnessed the Abbasad's friendly attitude toward
Nestorian Christianity. Whether or not they adopted these
attitudes is difficult to say. However, the fact that
Nestorianism lacks any mention of Muhammad or Mahdi as prophets
further disqualifies the Christians from being the non-Indic
invaders warned against in the Kalachakra teachings.
Abbasid Interaction with the Afghan
Invaders damaged Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan only twice
during the next two centuries. Both times, the monasteries
quickly recovered. Buddhist monasteries in the Indian
subcontinent itself, including Kashmir, were not attacked during
The first attack (815 - 819) was made by the Abbasids
themselves, when the Turki Shahi (Buddhist) rulers of Kabul,
with their Tibetan allies, joined other dissident groups from
Central Asia to try to overthrow the Abbasids and lost. The
damage was minor and the Turki Shahis soon regained control.
In the second half of the ninth century, the Abbasid rule of
their empire weakened and various portions became autonomous
states with only nominal allegiance to the Abbasids. The second
oppression (870 - 879) was inflicted by the ruler of one of
these autonomous states, the Saffarids based in Iran. They
caused greater damage than the previous attack had inflicted.
The Hindu Shahis, however, soon wrested eastern Afghanistan from
the Saffarids' hands. The Hindu Shahi rulers supported both
Hinduism and Buddhism.
The Rise of Ismaili Rivals to the
In 969, the Fatimids, who
followed Ismaili Shiah Islam, established a powerful dynasty in
Egypt. Soon, their empire spread as far as western Iran. They
were the main rivals of the Sunni Abbasids and sought to unite
the entire Muslim world under the banner of their Ismaili sect
and their promise of the messiah Mahdi. They sent many
missionaries further to the east to try to win converts to their
form of Islam.
In 976, the Ghaznavid Turks conquered eastern Afghanistan from
the Hindu Shahis and established an autonomous state under the
Abbasids. As followers of Islam, they did not persecute Buddhism
in Afghanistan, but taxed the Afghan Buddhists and the
In 985, a group of Ismaili converts established the kingdom of
Multan in northern Sindh, Pakistan, as vassals of the Fatimids
in Egypt. Subsequently, the Abbasids and their vassals feared an
Ismaili Fatimid invasion attacking from both their western and
The Ghaznavid ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni, was a strong upholder of
Sunni Islam. He expanded his empire to include all of
Afghanistan, southern Sogdia, and most of Iran. To counter the
Ismaili Fatimid political threat and prove himself the main
upholder of his Abbasid overlords, he invaded Multan and
conquered it in 1008. After looting its wealth, and anxious to
gain even more riches and power, he invaded India. In 1017, he
destroyed the great Buddhist monasteries at Madhura, south of
Delhi, plundering its treasures.
Mahmud's invasion of India seems to have been primarily
motivated by the wish to establish an even larger financial and
power base to oppose the Fatimids. Given the political climate
within the Islamic world at that juncture in history, it seems
unlikely that his main motivation was religious fanaticism to
eliminate all Indian faiths and convert the Indians to Sunni
The Compilation of The Abridged
From the point of view of Western scholarship, The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra is probably a combination of portions written
in different places at different times. It appeared in India in
the late tenth century, before Mahmud of Ghazni's invasion.
Thus, its historical picture reflects Buddhist-Islamic relations
before this time.
The outer Kalachakra portions dealing with historical matters,
such as the non-Indic invaders and their Dharma, were most
likely compiled by Buddhist masters in eastern Afghanistan in
the period between the late eighth and late tenth centuries.
This is the period between when Afghan and Indian Buddhist
masters translated texts in Baghdad and when the Kalachakra
texts first appeared in India.
Several points support this hypothesis. During this period,
eastern Afghanistan had:
a mixed Hindu and Buddhist
population, as did Shambhala
contact with Manichaeism and
contact with Buddhist and
Hindu tantra in Kashmir
the twelve astrological
signs of the zodiac painted around the walls of the main
halls of several of its Buddhist monasteries - a motif
found both in Iranian royal palaces and in the
Kalachakra mandala where deities representing the twelve
signs surround the palace
An alternative hypothesis locates
the composition of the historical features in Kashmir. Kashmir
at that time also shared the above features. It was the main
area where Hindu and Buddhist tantra intermixed, and thus was
most likely the region where the alternative Kalachakra
meditation teachings evolved. Furthermore, geographic details in
Kalachakra point to Kashmir as the model for Shambhala.
Kashmir, however, had no direct experience with the Islamic
world before the appearance of the Kalachakra literature.
Moreover, the Kashmiri king's defeat of Mahmud Ghazni's troops
was also after the appearance of the Kalachakra literature.
Before then, Kashmir may have gained knowledge about the
Abbasids and their vassals from the contact it had with Afghan
Buddhists, but it would not have felt the Abbasids' fear of a
threatened invasion as strongly as the Afghans did.
Therefore, from the viewpoint of Western scholarship, whether
one asserts that the historical material in Kalachakra developed
in eastern Afghanistan itself or in Kashmir through information
gathered from Afghan Buddhists in their midst, the evidence
points to the Afghan experience with Islamic groups as the
source of the predictions.
3 - Analysis of
The Coming of Mahdi, the Battle with
Dajjal, and the Last Judgment
To appreciate the urgency
of the threat that the Sunnis felt the Ismailis posed, and which
the Afghan Buddhists came to share, requires understanding the
Islamic concept of the coming of Mahdi as a messiah.
The prediction of a messiah leading an apocalyptic battle of
good against evil, followed by a golden age, the end of time,
and a Last Judgment, first appeared in Zoroastrianism in ancient
Iran. This occurred in approximately the fourth century before
the common era. Various versions of the prediction spread to the
civilizations around Iran. To the west, it passed into Judaism,
from there to Christianity, and from Nestorian Christianity to
Islam. In Iran, Iraq, and Central Asia, it spread to
Manichaeism. To the east of Iran, it passed into Hinduism.
Within Islam, the earliest forms of the prophesy followed the
Nestorian Christian versions in first asserting the coming of
the deceiver prophet Dajjal, then the true messiah Mahdi, and
apocalyptic battle in which Mahdi will defeat Dajjal. Then, a
golden age of Islam will ensue, followed by the end of the world
and the Final Judgment.
The later, full Shiite form, which first appeared in its Ismaili
version early in the Abbasid period, added several elements.
Most Muslims at this time believed that the world was 5500 years
old during the life of Muhammad and would last only 6000 years.
Thus, the end of the world was imminent; it would occur in the
beginning of the twelfth century.
According to the Ismaili prophecy, the seventh imam, who had
disappeared from the earth in 762, will arise once more as the
Mahdi shortly before the end of the world. Thus, another name
for Mahdi will be "al-Qaim," "The Arisen One." When he returns,
Islam will have divided into rival sects; Shariah (Islamic) law
will be ignored; and Muslims will act like savage barbarians,
fighting each other. Mahdi, who will be born in the family of
Muhammad, will come as a political and spiritual leader (imam).
He will proclaim himself the messiah in Mecca and will lead an
army to Jerusalem, where he will establish himself as ruler of
the world. He will restore Shariah law, order, and peace.
Mahdi's rule from Jerusalem will last less than a decade. People
will desert him for an impostor messiah, Dajjal, the one-eyed
Islamic counterpart of the Antichrist, who will also claim to
have arisen once more after having vanished in the past. Dajjal
will legalize negative ways forbidden by Shariah law, will give
the people material wealth, and will heal the sick.
Consequently, people will feel they have no need for Allah.
Before all believers are lost, the Second Coming of Christ will
occur. Parallel to the disappearing of the imam and his
reappearance as Mahdi, Jesus (considered an Islamic prophet)
will similarly return to the earth after having disappeared. He
will come to Damascus and pray at the side of Mahdi. Wearing
armor, Jesus, rather than Mahdi, will then defeat Dajjal. This
battle, known as the apocalypse, will occur at Armageddon in
After his victory, Jesus will break all crosses since they were
being worshipped like idols, kill all pigs, and abolish the poll
tax on non-Muslim "people of the Book," because they will all
have converted to Islam. Jesus will then rule the earth in an
Islamic golden age. The period of peace that will follow will
last for forty years, after which Allah will destroy the earth,
raise the dead, and enact the Last Judgment. The good shall go
eternally to Heaven and the bad shall burn eternally in Hell.
The Muslim versions derive primarily from the revised Nestorian
Christian Syriac Bible of 508, which added the apocalyptic
vision to the earlier Syriac Peshitta version. The main
differences are the addition of Mahdi and Jesus being a Muslim
Since the predicted end of the world was around 1100, many rival
Islamic leaders, wishing to rule the entire Muslim world,
claimed to be Mahdi in the immediately preceding century and a
half. Such claims could help them win political and religious
support from the masses. This phenomenon was especially
prominent among the Shiites. Not only were the Ismailis actively
expecting the immanent arrival of Mahdi, but now so were the
mainstream Ithna Ashari Shiites. Their twelfth imam, al-Askari,
disappeared as a child in 873, and was also expected to return
as the Mahdi.
Since the Shiites saw Mahdi as the avenger of Husayn's martyrdom
at the hands of the faction that became the Arab Sunnis, the
Abbasids and their vassals felt especially threatened by a
Shiite attack. Since the Ithna Asharis within the Abbasid Empire
were politically weak, the Ismaili Fatimids were the most likely
candidates for an invasion.
The Kalachakra warning of an invasion by non-Indic forces led by
Mahdi, then, echoes the Abbasids' fear of such an invasion. It
reflects the predominant ethos of the times.
The Prediction of a Messiah in
The prediction of a
messiah spread to Hinduism through Indian contact with Iranian
culture during the Kushan Dynasty in the first two centuries of
the common era. It appeared first in an abbreviated form in the
interpolated Markandeya Parvan section of The Mahabharata. Its
fullest form, however, appeared in The Vishnu Purana, which
scholars date to the fourth century of the common era.
The Vishnu Purana describes the periodic birth and passage of
each universe through cycles of four ages and, in this context,
discusses astronomy and astrology. The current kaliyuga (Tib.
rtsod-pa'i dus, age of disputes) will end with the coming of
Kalki (Tib. Rigs-ldan), the eighth and final avatar (Tib.
'jug-pa, descent, incarnation) of Vishnu. He will be born in
Shambhala in the family of the brahman Vishnu-yashas. He will
destroy the mlecchas, thieves, and all others who act
The text specifies the mlecchas as the Yavanas (Macedonian
Greeks), Shakas, Huns, and Turushkas (Kushans) - all of whom
were non-Indic groups that had previously invaded and ruled
The Kalachakra Response with Its
With Kalachakra, the Buddhists responded to the general fear of
an invasion by asserting its own messiah prediction and by
following the policies already employed by the Hindus and
Muslims of the time. The policy was to find similarities,
whether actual or stretched, that would allow followers of other
religions to fit under the umbrella of a ruling faction's
religion. From a sociopolitical viewpoint, such a policy allowed
for an integrated multicultural society, an essential
prerequisite for successfully meeting the challenge of an
invasion. From a religious point of view, it laid the foundation
for receptive followers of other faiths to see the rulers'
religion as the deeper truth of their own beliefs. Thus, in a
subtle, nonaggressive manner, it opened the door to conversion.
This methodology also appeared in other aspects of Buddhism. In
Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (sPyod-'jug, Skt.
Bodhicharyavatara), the eighth-century Indian master Shantideva
explained that to lead an opponent in a debate to a deeper
understanding, one needs to use examples shared in common.
Accordingly, in wishing to form a united front with the Hindus,
the Buddhists used, in Kalachakra, motifs and names already
familiar to the Hindu public from The Vishnu Purana. In the
Kalachakra version of the messiah prediction, universes
periodically go through cycles of four ages, following the laws
of astronomy and astrology. Seven centuries before the end of
the current fourth age (the kaliyuga), the king of Shambhala
will unify all his Hindu and Buddhist subjects into one caste to
face the future invasion that will end the age. The unifying
king will be Manjushri-yashas, who will take the title Kalki and
be the first of a line of twenty-five Kalki rulers of Shambhala.
In The Vishnu Purana, the name Kalki, derived from the Sanskirt
word kalka meaning "dirt" or "something foul," is glossed as "Kalka-vinasana,"
"The Destroyer of What Is Foul." Kalachakra uses the same
Sanskrit name Kalki, but takes it as a variant of "Kulika" (from
"kula," caste), to mean "Holder of the Castes," to signify that
Manjushri-yashas will unify and hold together all the castes.
Hence, the Tibetan translation Rigs-ldan for both "Kalki" and "Kulika"
(which is also the name of a naga).
Seven centuries later, the actual Buddhist messiah will be
Raudrachakrin (Tib. Drag-pa'i 'khor-lo), the twenty-fifth Kalki
ruler who, like the first Kalki, will be an emanation of
Manjushri. During his reign, Krinmati, the King of Delhi, will
declare himself Mahdi, the messiah of the mlecchas - the
Delhi (Skt. Dili), here, cannot refer to the actual city with
that name, which was built only in the twelfth century, long
after the Kalachakra literature appeared in India. The name
appears in Indian literature, however, as early as the first
century before the common era to refer to a larger area around
what later became the city of Delhi, probably eastern Punjab.
From Delhi, the non-Indic forces will attempt an invasion of
Shambhala, but Raudrachakrin will defeat Mahdi before he reaches
that land to the north. This will mark the end of the kaliyuga
and the start of a new golden age. The Kalachakra texts even
refer to the invaders as "Turushkas," an earlier name for the
Kushans and their descendants, the Hephthalite Huns.
The identification of the Turushkas with the Ghaznavid Turks,
who attacked Kashmir from the Delhi region in 1021 and were
defeated by the Hindu King Samgrama Raja, would seem like a
subsequent extension of the term to include later non-Indic
invaders. The Kalachakra texts appeared slightly earlier than
the Ghaznavid invasions of Multan, northern India, and Kashmir.
Moreover, Mahmud of Ghazni, who led the invasion, never claimed
to be the Mahdi.
Parallels between the Hindu and
The parallels between the Hindu and Buddhist versions of the
prediction are clear. Both have the messiah coming from
Shambhala (the "Land of Bliss"), defeating the mlecchas, ending
the kaliyuga, and bringing about a new golden age. In the Hindu
presentation, Kalki is both the final avatar of Vishnu and the
son of Vishnu-yashas. In the Buddhist presentation, the first
Kalki is Manjushri-yashas and both he and the final Kalki
Raudrachakrin are emanations of Manjushri. Manjushri is closely
associated with Kalachakra through Concert of Names of Manjushri.
In indicating to the Hindus of Shambhala that the Buddhist Kalki
- understood on both the historical and spiritual levels - is
actually the deepest meaning of the Hindu Kalki, the Buddhists
were following the same methods as the Hindus had previously
used. Early lists of the avatars of Vishnu had only eight
members. For example, The Vishnu Purana omits from the list of
ten Vamana the Dwarf Avatar and Buddha. Buddha was a later
addition, when depiction of the ten first appeared at the
beginning of the fifth century. With Buddha as an avatar of
Vishnu, Buddhists could fit harmoniously into Hindu society
without renouncing Buddhism.
Similarly, Hindus could fit harmoniously into a Buddhist society
by joining in one vajra caste, without renouncing Hinduism.
After all, according to the Padmini commentary, the first eight
avatars mentioned in the immediately preceding verse of The
Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, were actually emanations of the
Buddha. The Kalachakra list of eight, revealingly, includes
Vamana the Dwarf Avatar, but omits Kalki. Therefore, since
Hindus felt no conflict in accepting Buddha as the ninth avatar
of Vishnu, they need not feel uncomfortable in following the
future Kalki king of Shambhala as the tenth avatar.
The Hindu Response to the
The Kalki Purana retells
the Hindu prophecy of Kalki. The additional elements not found
in The Vishnu Purana suggest a composition date in the eleventh
or twelfth century, after the appearance in India of the
Kalachakra texts and before the assimilation of Buddhism into
Hinduism in northern India with the destruction of the main
In this version, the leader of the mlecchas will be Kali ("The
Disputer"), the personification of the kaliyuga (the age of
disputes), the son of Kroddha ("Anger") and Himsa ("Violence").
Kali will befoul the pure Hindu Dharma by teaching doctrines
contradictory to it, such as the uniting of the castes,
intercaste marriage, and the lifting of the status of the lower
castes. Kalki as "The Destroyer of What Is Foul," will defeat
Kali and the Buddhists and Jains who follow his teachings. His
victory will reestablish pure Dharma with its unadulterated
caste system, end the kaliyuga, and herald a new golden age.
Perhaps many Hindus felt offended by the Kalachakra teaching of
a Kalki mixing and uniting the castes. Thus, they would feel the
need to reject this false Buddhist Kalki and to reaffirm the
true Hindu Kalki - the destroyer of the fouling of the pure
caste system and the teachers who befouled it. Thus, the change
of Kalki's father's name from "Vishnu-yashas" to "Vishnu-vyasa"
was perhaps a conscience move to distance the Hindu Kalki from
the Buddhist one. "Vyasa" was the name of the composer of The
Although The Bhavishya Purana, contemporaneous with The Kalki
Purana, mentions Muhammad as a mleccha teacher, it is noteworthy
that the latter specifies only the Buddhists and Jains as
belonging to the side of Kali, and makes no mention of Islam.
Nevertheless, the revised Hindu prediction parallels an element
of the Muslim version. After his victory over Dajjal, Jesus will
bring all non-Muslim "people of the Book" back to pure Islam.
Similarly, after his victory over Kali, the Hindu Kalki will
bring all non-Hindu followers of Indian religions (namely, the
Buddhists and Jains) back to pure Hinduism.
Despite the strong anti-Buddhist and anti-Jain words of The
Kalki Purana, Hindus never launched a pogrom against either
group, or severely persecuted them under their rule. In fact,
the kings of the Pala Dynasty (750 - late twelfth century),
which ruled Bihar and Bengal in northern India during this
period, were patrons of Buddhism.
Parallels between the Kalachakra
and Islamic Versions
In order also to lead the non-Indic invaders to a deeper
understanding, the Kalachakra version of the messiah prophesy
similarly uses certain features that either it attributes to the
Muslim version or which are actually there. For example, in
Stainless Light, Muhammad is called an "avatar of Rahman." "Rahman"
("The Merciful") is a common Arabic epithet of Allah. Mahdi, in
turn, is called "The Emanation," at the end of a line of imam
successors from the family of Muhammad. This parallels the First
Kalki being an emanation of Manjushri, and after a line of Kalki
successors, the Twenty-fifth and final Kalki also being an
emanation of Manjushri. Similarly, it parallels the Hindu Kalki
being the last of a line of successive avatars of Vishnu.
The line of Kalkis being rulers of Shambhala, the land entrusted
by Buddha to preserve the Kalachakra teachings, parallels the
line of imams, succeeding Muhammad, entrusted with political
power to preserve the purity of Islam. Moreover, the line of
Kalkis having twenty-five members parallels the prophets
mentioned in The Quran also constituting a line of twenty-five.
Further, A Concert of Names of Manjushri identifies Manjushri as
the Adibuddha (Tib. Dang-po'i sangs-rgyas), a term that can be
understood in several ways. The earliest appearance in Buddhist
literature is in A Filigree of Mahayana Sutras (Tib. Theg-pa
chen-po'i mdo-sde rgyan, Skt. Mahayanasutralamkara) by the
third-century Indian Buddhist master Asanga. There, Asanga
refutes the possibility of an Adibuddha, which he takes to mean
a "Buddha from the First" - in other words, someone who from the
start was a Buddha, without having to accumulate the causes for
In the Kalachakra literature, Adibuddha takes on the deeper
meaning of "Primordial Buddha," as with the parallel epithet in
A Concert of Names of Manjushri, "The Supreme Primordial One" (Tib.
mchog-gi dang-po, Skt. paramadya). Manjushri (Kalachakra)
represents the subtlest level of each individual's mental
continuum, the clear light level, which has no beginning and no
end. Its Buddha-nature qualities that allow it to become the
omniscient mind of a Buddha include its innate purity from all
fleeting stains and its innate quality or potential of unimpeded
deep awareness. Thus, it is primordially a Buddha. Moreover,
clear light mind is the creator of all appearances. This
parallels Allah being the supreme omniscient creator. Kalachakra,
however, never asserted Adibuddha as a specific being who was
the First Buddha, despite the word Adibuddha also having that
As was the case in response to Hinduism, Buddhism in Kalachakra
was following the Muslim lead in finding parallels. Islam
tolerates other religions, so long as its followers are "people
of the Book." It defines such people as those who accept both a
creator God and prophets who reveal the primordial wisdom of
such a God. Islamic rulers accepted into their society followers
of religions that met these criteria, without their needing to
renounce their faiths, so long as they paid a poll tax.
Buddhists Accepted under Islamic
Law as "People of the Book"
Islamic law, specifically
during the Arab rule of Sindh from the eighth to the tenth
century, accepted Buddhism as a "religion of the Book" and thus
peacefully included Buddhists under its protection. It is hardly
likely that the Muslim rulers were aware of the term Adibuddha
in A Concert of Names of Manjushri. They probably based their
identification of Buddhists as people of the Book based on other
The Sogdians began to translate Buddhist texts into their
language at the beginning of the seventh century. They
translated the term dharma with the Greek loan word nom,
originally meaning "law," but taken in Sogdian also as the word
for "book." Thus Buddhists, as the people of Dharma, became
known in Central Asia as "people of the book."
The Sogdians were the first people with a Buddhist population
that the Muslims met in their eighth-century expansion into
Central Asia. Thus, the Muslims accepted Buddhists as "people of
the Book" based on the Sogdian name for them, rather than
strictly on the Buddhist beliefs. Based on the receptivity that
the word nom instilled, Buddhism established, with the
Kalachakra teachings, a firmer doctrinal basis that provided
shared points between the two religions.
Further, A Concert of Names of Manjushri stated that, to help
certain beings, Manjushri emanated as Pramatha ("The
Destroyer"), leader of the asuras. Subsequently, The Abridged
Kalachakra Tantra used "Mathani," a related form of the same
name, as a phonetic transcription of "Mahdi," the messiah of the
non-Indic invaders, whom it identified with the asura caste.
Just as Kalachakra was opening the door for Hindus to accept the
Buddhist Kalki as the Hindu Kalki, its choice of the
transcription Mathani was perhaps similarly opening the door for
Muslims also to accept Kalki as the Mahdi and thus, like the
Hindus, to fit harmoniously into a Buddhist society.
The Muslim Response to the
Some Shiite groups seem
to have been aware of the Kalachakra prediction that the
King Raudrachakrin of Shambhala would defeat Mahdi, and took
offense. In later centuries, a belief arose, for instance in
Baltistan (northern Pakistan), that the Deceiver Messiah Dajjal
was the Buddhist Kalki Raudrachakrin. Sometimes, people
identified Dajjal even with Chinggis Khan and with the Tibetan
mythical hero Ling Kesar. Such identifications, however, were
extremely rare and limited to just a few marginal groups.
Buddhist-Muslim relations in Tibet, where the Kalachakra
teachings flourished, always remained peaceful. For example, in
the mid-seventeenth century, after a century and a half of civil
war, the Fifth Dalai Lama inaugurated a policy to integrate into
a united society the various factions and religious groups
present in Tibet at the time. Due to his open, tolerant policy
and a severe famine in Kashmir, many Kashmiri Muslims moved to
Tibet. The Fifth Dalai Lama gave them special privileges, such
as granting them land, exempting them from tax, and permitting
them to follow their religion and settle their internal affairs
by their own council of leaders and Shariah law. He did this
without gathering them into a Kalachakra mandala and conferring
on them the Kalachakra initiation.
Christian Fear of an Invasion Led
At the end of the tenth and during the eleventh centuries, the
Sunnis and Buddhists were not alone in fearing an invasion by
forces led by Mahdi. Fear of an immanent apocalyptic battle soon
became rampant in Christian Europe as well.
Medieval Christianity expected the Antichrist, the Second Coming
of Christ, the apocalypse, the end of the world, and
Judgment to occur 1000 years after Jesus. The Antichrist and the
re-arisen Christ would appear miraculously, rather than arise
from political quarters. When this did not happen in 1000 AD,
people expected it 1000 years after the Passion of Christ, in
When el-Hakim, the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt, destroyed the Holy
Sepulcher in Jerusalem in 1009, many thought that the predicted
Antichrist had arrived. Still, the Second Coming did not occur
in 1033 and, gradually, the Christian Church took it upon itself
to purge the world of heresy and impurity instead, first in the
Holy Land and then within its own ranks.
In 1055, the Seljuq Turks, after driving the Ghaznivids from
Iran, conquered Baghdad and overthrew the Abbasids. In the 1076,
the Seljuqs went on to capture Palestine and Jerusalem from the
Fatimids. Starting in 1090, followers of the Nizan branch of
Ismailis, known to the Crusaders as the Order of Assassins,
carried out a campaign of terror in Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They
undertook this to prepare the way for their leader to take over
the world as Mahdi. Both the Seljuqs and Fatimids severely
Although the Seljuqs were orthodox Sunnis and did not see their
leaders as candidates for Mahdi, the European Christians did not
differentiate among the Muslims. They identified all Muslims
with the Nizani Mahdi movement. Consequently, in 1096, Pope
Urban II declared the First Crusade to win Jerusalem from the
Muslim infidels (in this case, the Seljuqs).
Although the Buddhists predicted an apocalyptic battle in which
the forces of Shambhala would defeat Mahdi, and encouraged all
Hindus to put aside their caste differences and join them as a
unified front, they never launched a crusade against the
Muslims. In fact, they opened the door for Muslims to join them
in the spiritual quest for highest truth.
Conclusions from the Historical Analysis and the Analysis of the
The Sunni Abbasids and their vassals persecuted Buddhism only
rarely between the late eighth and the late tenth centuries.
They mostly tolerated it instead, choosing the economically more
profitable course of heavily taxing its followers and its
monasteries. Therefore, it seems inappropriate to identify the
non-Indic invaders predicted in the tantra with the Sunni
Abbasid Muslims or their Sunni Ghaznavid vassals. The list of
the invaders' prophets corroborates this conclusion.
The Afghan Buddhists probably followed the Abbasid lead in
identifying the Ismaili Shiite Fatimids, expanding their empire
under the banner of a Mahdi, as the main threat at that time to
social stability. Since the Afghan Buddhist scholars who had
worked translating texts in Baghdad were familiar with the
Manichaean Shiites, the portrait of the threatening non-Indic
invaders probably was an amalgam of their knowledge of them and
of the Ismailis. Moreover, it is also quite likely that
Manichaeans were among the converts to Ismaili Shiah in the
Fatimid vassal state of Multan and, in accord with the Ismaili
conversion policy that allowed adhesion, that they had added
Mani to the Ismaili list of seven prophets.
The Manichaean Shiites originally came from Baghdad (the Abbasid
capital), as did the Sunnis. Thus, it is understandable that the
Buddhists identified Baghdad as the place from which the Dharma
of the non-Indic invaders came. They probably identified Baghdad
and Mecca as the holy cities of all forms of Islam.
The main threat that the Fatimids posed in the late tenth and
early eleventh centuries, however, was political and not
religious. Buddhism as portrayed in the Kalachakra literature
was not anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, or anti-Hindu.
It was merely responding to the spirit of the times - widespread
fear of an invasion, an apocalyptic battle, and the end of the
world - and the popular preoccupation with the coming of a
To face the threat, Kalachakra presented its own version of the
prediction and recommended a policy already followed by Hinduism
and the ruling Abbasid Muslims. The policy was to show that
Buddhism too had open doctrinal doors for including other
religions within its sphere. An essential foundation on which a
multicultural society needs to stand in order to face a
threatened invasion is religious harmony among its people.
Joining others in a Kalachakra mandala symbolizes this
commitment to cooperation.
The Kalachakra depiction of the non-Indic prophets and its
prophecies of a future war with their followers must be
understood in this historical and cultural context. Despite the
recommended policy, neither Buddhist leaders nor masters at the
time actually launched a campaign to bring Hindus and Muslims
into its fold. No one held a Kalachakra initiation with such an
aim in mind. Nevertheless, certain Hindu and Muslim groups
resented the Kalachakra call for unity and identified the future
Buddhist King of Shambhala as the false messiah predicted in
their own texts.
When several religions share a belief in a true messiah
overcoming a false messiah in an apocalyptic battle, and members
of these religions live in close proximity to each other, two
possible outcomes may follow. Several of the religions may try
to unite in facing a common false messiah by declaring that they
share the same true messiah. Alternatively, they may identify
each other's true messiahs as their own predicted false
messiahs. History shows that both policies can lead to distrust
In short, the primary purpose of the Kalachakra teachings on
history was to describe future events in a manner that
paralleled advanced stages of Kalachakra meditation practice.
They neither reflect nor shape the current Buddhist view of the
present world situation.
- Analysis of the Cultural Features
The Reference to the Invaders as a Caste
Most aspects of the Kalachakra system have three levels of
meaning: external or outer (dealing with history and astronomy),
internal or inner (dealing with human physiology and disease),
and alternative (dealing with tantra practice with the
Buddha-figure called "Kalachakra"). The three levels always
parallel each other.
On the external level, the term rigs (Skt. kula, "family")
refers to caste. According to the verse from The Abridged
Kalachakra Tantra, the non-Indic invaders form a special caste.
Manjushri-yashas, as the First Kalki, unified the people of
Shambhala into one caste, the vajra caste, by making them all
vajra brothers and sisters in the Kalachakra mandala. As one
caste, dedicated to following pure ethical principles, they
would form a united society with the moral strength to resist an
invasion by those who would turn them from their spiritual
Elsewhere, the tantra text gives methods for leading not only
the Hindu brahmans, but also the non-Indic invaders to the path
of Buddhism. This implies that the members of the invader caste
could also join the vajra caste in the Kalachakra mandala.
One of the distinctive features of both Hinayana and Mahayana
Buddhism is that regardless of caste differences, all people who
join a Buddhist monastery or nunnery shed their caste
differences and form one community (Skt. sangha). The literal
translation of the Tibetan rendering of "sangha" as "dge-'dun"
("those intent on what is constructive") indicates the aim of
the community. It is to follow a spiritual agenda, not a
political or military one as some people might allege.
Uniting in the Kalachakra mandala, however, is not equivalent to
joining a monastic institution and becoming a Buddhist. It was
not the First Kalki's intention that all Hindus and Muslims must
convert to Buddhism, nor that they forge an army of crusader
soldiers. The aim was for them to live together in harmony and
peace, like one caste. This follows from the Mahayana usage of
the same term rigs for Buddha-nature (Tib. sangs-rgyas-kyi
rigs). Thus, we must look to the alternative level of Kalachakra
for the deeper significance of the term in the verse.
The Relation between Caste and
Buddha-nature refers to the inborn potentials and qualities that
enable a person to reach enlightenment and become a Buddha.
Ultimately, everyone already belongs to one caste, the caste of
those with Buddha-nature. Receiving tantric empowerment
(initiation), such as in the Kalachakra mandala, awakens each
person's Buddha-nature. Even if non-Buddhists do not adopt the
Buddha path, their joining in the Kalachakra mandala will remind
them of their unity with each other in that everyone has
Buddha-nature. By joining as one vajra-caste, everyone reaffirms
his or her Buddha-nature to reach the highest state of spiritual
and ethical evolution that is possible.
Within the Buddhist fold, people may belong to the shravaka,
pratyekabuddha, or bodhisattva castes (natures), as three types
of practitioners with strong instincts to follow different
spiritual paths and to aim for different spiritual goals. These
differences in nature or caste, however, are only provisional.
Ultimately, everyone has Buddha-nature and belongs to the
Buddha-caste of those who can become Buddhas.
Similarly, the Kalachakra literature classifies non-Buddhists
within castes given the names of different rebirth states -
gods, asuras (jealous "anti-gods"), nagas ("mermen" and
"mermaids"), bhutas (elemental beings), and humans. The
sixteen-line root mantra of Vajravega (rdo-rje shugs kyi
rtsa-sngags bcu-drug-pa) - the forceful form of the Kalachakra
Buddha-figure - refers to this classification scheme. In it,
Vajravega is called "the lord of the gods, the lord of the
asuras, the lord of the nagas (Skt. phanendra), the lord of the
bhutas, and the lord of humans." We shall examine the
significance of asuras, nagas, and bhutas below.
Belonging to one of these castes indicates a strong instinct to
follow the behavior of the beings of the corresponding rebirth
state (Tib. skye-gnas, "birthplace"). Members of these castes
have the "natures" of these rebirth states. However, their
having, for example, asura-natures or naga-natures indicates
only provisional caste differences among all beings. As in the
case of those with shravaka-natures and pratyekabuddha-natures,
members of all castes (with all provisional natures) ultimately
have Buddha-nature (vajra-nature) and belong to the Buddha-caste
The Invaders Being from the
According to the verse, the caste to which the non-Indic
prophets and invaders belong is the asura-naga caste. Some
Western scholars have translated "asura-naga" as "demonic
snakes." "Demons" translates the Tibetan "lha ma-yin" (Skt.
asura, anti-gods) and "snakes" translates "lag-'gro", a synonym
for "klu" (Skt. naga). This choice of translation terms is
offensive to Christians and Muslims alike.
Christians and Muslims reading "demonic snakes" will think that
Kalachakra is calling the prophets "the Devil." This is because
demons (the torturers in Hell) and snakes (the serpent that
convinced Adam and Eve to disobey God) are associated with the
Devil, who lives under the earth as the ruler of Hell.
There can be several possible reasons for applying the
categories of asura and naga in reference to the invaders'
prophets and their followers. The Bible and The Quran often
describe God as a jealous god. Within an Indian cultural
context, beings, more powerful than humans, who are jealous of
the traditional Indian gods, fulfill the defining
characteristics of the asura category of beings. Because of
their jealousy, asuras continually launch battles to overthrow
the gods. The fact that the asuras are always defeated, however,
would give hope to an Indian reader that any non-Indic invasion
by members of the asura caste would ultimately fail.
Nagas are creatures with a human torso, head, and arms, and the
lower part of the body of a snake. They have extreme wealth,
protect the Dharma teachings, uphold cleanliness, and harm those
who offend them. If we identify the non-Indic invaders with
followers of messianic forms of Islam and look at the general
impression of Islam that Buddhists at the time had, it matches
the attributes of nagas. Muslim rulers had extreme wealth. They
were upholders of the purity of Islam, washed five times a day
before praying, and punished those who offended them. If
non-Muslims paid them a poll tax, they received dhimmi status as
protected citizens. If they refused to pay and would not accept
Islam as the alternative, they received severe punishment. Thus,
in an Indian cultural context, the predicted invaders have the
features of the naga caste of beings.
Moreover, in the Kalachakra description of the universe, the
upper half of the earth mandala (the first of the five element
mandalas under the surface of the ground) has one half occupied
by the asuras and one half occupied by the nagas. The asuras
live beneath the ocean surrounding Mount Meru. The nagas live
under the ground and under the oceans of the various continents
where humans live. Thus, it makes sense within the Kalachakra
context to group asuras and nagas together.
In the tantra, the two words form a compound asura-naga.
Sanskrit compounds can be glossed in several ways. Consider the
example "king-father." As a dvandva compound, it means "king and
father." The two could refer to separate individuals or to the
same person. As a tatpurusha compound, it can mean "king's
father," "king-like father," or "king who is like a father." All
such readings are possible. The same is true with "asura-naga."
(1) Padmini, Buton, and
Kaydrubjey all take "asura-naga" as a dvandva compound: "asura
(a) Padmini and Buton
take asura and naga as two separate castes. This is
supported by the fact that the eight prophets are listed
in two groups: three and five. According to their
interpretation, Adam, Noah, and Abraham are from the
asura caste; Moses, Jesus, Mani, Muhammad, and Mahdi are
from the naga caste. Moreover, in the sixteen-line root
mantra of Vajravega cited above, asuras and nagas are
clearly distinct groups.
The Padmini commentary is consistent with its
interpretation that there are two castes of prophets
within the eight when it says, "The one called 'The
White-Clad One' is Mahamayin. That one will propagate
the Dharma of the asuras and so on in the cities of the
land of Mecca and so on." The "and so on" (Tib. la-sogs-pa)
after "asuras" could include the Dharmas of the naga
caste of prophets.
(b) Kaydrubjey accepts that asuras and nagas are
separate types of beings, but argues that they
constitute one caste, the asura-naga caste, which
ultimately is the asura caste. As evidence, he argues
that many passages elsewhere in the text refer to the
entire caste of non-Indic invaders as members of the
asura caste. All eight prophets are teachers of the
Dharmas of the rival jealous gods who will challenge the
traditional Indian gods. Since King Manjushri-yashas was
warning the Hindu brahman sages of Shambhala about a
future invasion that would threaten their way of life,
it would make sense to call all eight prophets members
of the jealous asura caste.
Furthermore, in two statements,
Padmini seems to contradict its position that the prophets form
After its gloss of the first
three lines of the verse, mentioning all eight names, it
comments, "Those with these names of non-Buddhists, and so
on, will propagate the Dharma of the asuras."
Shortly afterwards, it describes
Mecca as "(The place) in this world where the caste of
(followers of) the asuras will assume the form of the
powerful, merciless non-Indic invaders."
If asura and naga were separate
castes, then because five of the prophets, including Muhammad,
are in the so-called naga caste, the absurd conclusion would
follow that prophets from the naga caste teach the Dharmas of
the asura caste.
(2) If we take "asura-naga"
as a tatpurusha compound, it could mean "eight asuras." This
would also lead to Kaydrubjey's conclusion that all eight
prophets and their followers belong to the asura caste.
Both "naga" and "snake" are code words for the number eight.
The Kalachakra literature often contains such code words,
frequently used in texts discussing Indian mathematics,
astronomy, and astrology. For example, the verse in The
Abridged Kalachakra Tantra immediately preceding this one
begins, "The seven rays, mountain weekdays, sages, and like
Although Padmini does not
take "naga" as a code word for "eight," he glosses
"mountain" as a code word for "seven." Therefore, one
could argue by parallelism that "naga" means "eight."
Kaydrubjey does not consider
"mountain" a code word for "seven," but takes it instead
as a separate category having seven members. Similarly,
he does not gloss "naga" as a code word for "eight."
There is no way to settle the
question of whether to translate "asura-naga" as "asura and
naga" as two separate castes or as one, or as "eight asuras,"
or even as "naga-like asuras." The passage in the tantra
does not help to settle the question, since it does not
mention the Dharma of the asura caste or the Dharma of the
"Asura" Is Not a Translation of
Some people may feel that
the term asura (anti-god), when applied in Kalachakra to the
invader prophets, is a translation of the Biblical term
Antichrist. After all, in Sanskrit, "sura" means "god" and "a"
is the particle of negation, implying here both that the asuras
are not gods and that they are against the gods.
The English word Antichrist comes from the Greek antichristos. "Christos"
means "The Anointed One" and "anti" is a prefix meaning
"against" or "instead of." In Greek, "antichristos" appears as a
synonym for the terms pseudoprophetes ("The False Prophet," "The
Liar Prophet") and planos ("The Imposter," "The One Who Leads
In Arabic, the false messiah is called "al-masih ad-dajjal"
("The Deceiver Messiah"), popularly shortened to "Dajjal" ("The
Deceiver"). A less frequent term is "idu masih," meaning
"Adversary Messiah." Thus, the Arabic terms parallel "pseudoprophetes"
and "planos," rather than "antichristos."
Islam, however, derived many of its names from the Syriac Bible
of the Nestorian Christians, and not from the earlier Greek
Bible. The Arabic dajjal derives from the Syriac daggal, which
also means "The Deceiver" or "The Liar." With his lies, Daggal/Dajjal
deceived others into accepting him as the messiah. The Syriac,
in turn, derived mostly from earlier Essene Jewish versions,
which used such terms as "man of lies" for the opponent of the
true messiah, and not terms equivalent to "antichrist."
The Buddhists who gained knowledge of Islam, Nestorian
Christianity, and Manichaean Shiiah, at the Abbasid court in
Baghdad would not have encountered the Greek term antichristos.
They could only have encountered the Arabic dajjal and the
Therefore, it is improbable that the later association of the
term asura with the non-Indic prophets was as a translation of "antichristos,"
used to mean "anti-Kalki." Moreover, the main characteristic of
asuras is jealousy, not deceit. "Asura" in Kalachakra, then,
needs to be understood purely within the Indian cultural
Possible Reasons for Grouping
Together the Last Five Prophets
In the Quranic list of
twenty-five prophets, five are grouped together as law-bringing
prophets: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. The
Kalachakra list, however, makes Moses, Jesus, Mani, Muhammad,
and Mahdi into a group of five. Let us examine two possible
reasons for the Kalachakra grouping.
(1) On the external,
historical level of meaning, four of the prophets represent
traditions that predict a messiah and the fifth is the
messiah himself. Moses represents Judaism, Jesus
Christianity, Mani Manichaeism, Muhammad Islam (specifically
the various messianic sects of Islam), and Mahdi is the
Mahdi, as the invader messiah found with different names in
Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeism, and Islam, will be the
rival of the Indian messiah, Kalki, found in both Hinduism
(2) On the alternative level, Mathani, the phonetic
transcription of Mahdi, means "the destroyer," parallel to
Krinmati, Mahdi's other name, which means "an attitude of
destruction." According to The Abridged Tantra, the horse
that Mahdi will ride represents ignorance. He will lead an
army of four divisions, which represent hatred, malice,
resentment, and prejudice. The five together represent the
minds that arise from negative karmic force (Tib. sdig-pa).
Perhaps Mahdi and the four preceding prophets being grouped
together as five indicates these five, whom Kalki
Raudrachakrin will overcome.
Moreover, according to other
passages in the tantra text, Muhammad represents the pathway of
destructive (nonvirtuous) karma. The fact that Mahdi, as the
emanation of Muhammad, and his four army divisions all follow
the teachings of Muhammad parallels negative karmic force coming
from the pathway of destructive karma.
The Prophets Having the Primal
Constituent Feature of Tamas
Tamas (Tib. mun-pa,
darkness) is one of the three primal material constituents or
features (Tib. yon-tan gsum, Skt. triguna, three qualities) in
the Samkhya school of Hinduism. The other two are rajas (speck
of passion; Tib. rdul, speck of menstrual blood) and sattva (Tib.
snying-stobs, mental strength). To be more intelligible and
accessible to Hindu brahmans, Kalachakra often used Samkhya
terminology, such as tamas, rajas, and sattva. It used this
threefold scheme in various contexts, but with different
Sometimes, the three were used in reference to the three
poisonous attitudes and to liberation from them. Tamas is
naivety (Tib. gti-mug, Skt. moha) or ignorance; rajas is desire
and anger; and sattva is the mind that is free of all three.
Sometimes, the three were used in reference to karma and to
liberation from it. Tamas is destructive (nonvirtuous) conduct;
rajas is samsaric constructive (virtuous) behavior; and sattva
is conduct that is separate from both and rises above them.
Alternatively, tamas is destructive behavior, rajas is mixed
destructive and constructive behavior, and sattva is
Padmini and Buton take the tantra verse to mean that the primal
constituent feature of tamas applies specifically to the last
five prophets. Thus, their being the five "tamas" prophets could
refer to them representing five aspects of ignorance and
destructive behavior. This would conform to the second analysis
given above for putting the five together as a group.
Kaydrubjey interprets the tantra verse to mean that the
constituent feature of tamas applies to all eight prophets.
The Classification of the Five
Types of Beings into Three Categories of Rebirth State
Although Kaydrubjey does
not specify the following as his reason, "tamas" applying to all
eight prophets parallels the usage of "sattva" and "rajas" in
the immediately preceding verse in The Abridged Tantra to refer
to entire lists of figures. According to this verse, the seven
sages (Skt. rshi, the fabled poets who composed the Vedas) and
the seven heavenly bodies (gods in Hinduism) belong to the
rebirth state/caste of the gods, deriving from a predominance of
sattva. The eight avatars of Vishnu - the list of ten minus the
last two, Buddha and Kalki - belong to the rebirth/state caste
of elemental beings (Tib. 'byung-po, Skt. bhuta), deriving from
a predominance of rajas.
The term bhuta applied to Vishnu here is not unique. It also
appears with this reference in the Vajrabhairava literature, in
the mantra used for making offerings to the fifteen directional
protectors (Tib. phyogs-skyong). Vajrabhairava is the forceful
form of Manjushri and is also mentioned in Concert of Names of
Manjushri. In the Kalachakra verse, Kaydrubjey takes "bhuta" to
mean the animal rebirth caste and glosses it as the human caste.
This follows from the fact that of the eight avatars of Vishnu,
three are in animal form, one is half-animal half-human, and
four are human. Thus, Kaydrubjey's gloss of asura-naga fits well
Padmini takes "bhuta" to mean the preta (ghost) caste and
glosses it as the asura caste. This follows from the more common
Buddhist classification of bhuta as elemental spirits, a
category of ghosts.
Kaydrubjey's gloss of "bhuta" seems to make the most sense. From
his analysis, we may conclude that the five classes of beings
condense into three categories of rebirth states. The gods are
sattva, bhutas (animals) and humans are rajas, while asuras and
nagas are tamas. This condensation of five castes into three
parallels the condensation of the five Buddha-castes
(Buddha-families) of anuttarayoga tantra into the three
Buddha-castes of kriya tantra.
Emanations of Buddha
According to the Padmini
commentary, in order to tame the minds of the non-Buddhists (the
Hindus), Buddha emanated as both the sattva list of seven sages
and seven heavenly bodies, and the rajas list of eight avatars.
The sattva list has a predominance of constructive thoughts,
while the rajas list has a mixture of both constructive and
destructive thoughts. Although not explicitly stated, the tamas
list has a predominance of destructive thoughts.
According to the tantra verse, the sattva list of avatars will
terrorize the asuras; however, Chakrapani (equivalent to the
Twenty-fifth Kalki Raudrachakrin) will be the actual foe that
defeats them. This implies two levels of overcoming destructive
thoughts and negative karma: a provisional and an ultimate.
On the provisional level, rajas terrorizes tamas, while sattva
is beyond the conflict. Thus, provisionally, Buddha manifests as
the avatars of the god Vishnu, who frighten the invaders, and as
the Vedic sages and gods who are above the battle. Ultimately,
however, Buddha will defeat the invaders as Kalki, and not as
the sages. Such a presentation would be intelligible and
acceptable to a Hindu audience. The symbolism of the
Buddha-figure Kalachakra, as the alternative meaning of the
Kalki, then indicates the deeper implication to which that
audience can be led.
According to the Hindu Samkhya school, the universe is made of
primal matter (Tib. spyi'i gtso-bo, Skt. prakrti) and individual
beings or consciousness (Tib. skyes-bu, Skt. purusha). Primal
matter is an intertwining of the three primal material
constituents: sattva, rajas, and tamas, which bind individual
beings and consciousness. As a result of one's actions, the
predominant constituent feature of the action produces the type
of rebirth state to which one passes, while various combinations
of the three produce the twenty-four material factors (Tib. de-nyid,
Skt. tattva) experienced during that rebirth. Liberation is the
attainment of freedom from primal matter and its three primal
As a skillful method for teaching a Hindu audience, the
iconography of the Kalachakra Buddha-figure represents not only
the Buddhist path, but also the Hindu Samkhya one. The
twenty-four weapons that Kalachakra holds in his twenty-four
arms represent his defeat of the twenty-four material factors
composed of combinations of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The
Kalachakra figure himself represents the liberated individual
being or consciousness.
The implication is that Kalki ("mind-vajra," the clear light
blissful awareness of voidness) overcomes not only tamas, but
also rajas and sattva. He overcomes not only the asura-naga
rebirth state, but also the bhuta-human and god rebirth states,
and thus is free from all samsaric rebirths. Samsara is
uncontrollably recurring rebirth, filled with suffering and
problems. In other words, Kalki overcomes not only destructive
karma, but also mixed destructive and constructive karma, and
samsaric constructive karma as well.
Thus, although the predicted apocalyptic battle is against the
non-Indic invader forces of tamas; ultimately, the spiritual
battle is against all positive and negative samsaric forces,
represented by both the Indic and non-Indic factions. The defeat
of tamas is only the first step in the spiritual journey; rajas
and sattva must also be overcome. This does not imply that
Buddhism is bent on conquering the world. Buddhism aims for the
liberation of all beings from the sufferings of samsara.
The tantra verse indicates, then, that the first step on the
spiritual path to liberation is to overcome one's own
destructive behavior, through acting constructively or with
mixed constructive and destructive thoughts. Like the gods, pure
constructive behavior is, at first, beyond one's reach. This is
represented by the Hindu avatars terrorizing the non-Indic
prophets, while the Vedic sages remain above. Ultimately,
however, mind-vajra is needed to overcome all karma - negative,
positive, and mixed. This is represented by Kalki defeating not
only the invader rebirth state/caste, but with the symbolism of
his twenty-four arms, overcoming rebirth in all possible states.
Mahdi Being the Eclipsed One
According to the original
Sanskrit (mathani yo ashthama: so 'ndhaka: syat), "Mathani (Mahdi),
the eighth, will be the blinded one." According to the Tibetan
translation ('joms-byed brgyad-pa gang-de mun-pa-can), "Mathani
(Mahdi), the eighth, will have (the primal constituent feature
of) darkness (tamas)." Padmini glosses the line in accordance
with the original Sanskrit.
The Sanskrit word andhaka, translated here as "the blinded one,"
can have several interpretations:
(1) "Andhaka" is
an astronomical term referring to a heavenly body during an
eclipse, when another heavenly body blinds it from sight.
Kalachakra includes extensive teachings on astronomy and
emphasizes the parallels between features in astronomy,
physiology, and tantra practice (outer, inner, and
alternative Kalachakras). Therefore, it is reasonable that,
within its presentation of outer Kalachakra, it would also
give parallels between features in astronomy and history.
According to Ismaili Shiah, the seventh imam - according to
Ithna Ashari Shiah, the twelfth imam - vanished from sight
as a child, but will return as the Mahdi. In astronomical
terms, the imam's light was eclipsed, but will return in the
(2) "Andhaka" could indicate that Mahdi would
be, literally, blind.
In the Islamic version of the apocalypse, the deceiver
messiah Dajjal will be blind in his right eye; Mahdi,
however, is not described as blind. According to Islamic
commentaries, "blind in one eye" means that Dajjal will lack
the eye of wisdom and will be blind to the truth of Islam.
As with previously cited examples, Kalachakra adopts certain
features of the Islamic version as a didactic method. Thus,
it may be attributing the symbolic feature of Dajjal's one
blind eye to Mahdi, though it does not specify that the
blindness is in only one eye.
Interestingly, by way of contrast, Concert of Names of
Manjushri, ascribes to Manjushri (of whom Raudrachakrin is
an emanation) the epithet of having the one eye of deep
awareness (Tib. ye-shes mig-gcig, Skt: jnana-eka-caksha).
Whether or not this signifies an intentional parallel would
be difficult to prove.
(3) "Andhaka" could mean the "one in darkness"
and thus refer to Mahdi's having the primal constituent
feature of tamas, as in the Tibetan translation of the
According to the previous line of the verse, the invaders'
last five prophets have the constituent feature of tamas
(darkness). Since Mahdi is among them, he would share this
feature. The repetition of tamas could be for emphasis, to
stress that Mahdi represents unawareness or ignorance of the
Buddhist explanation of the true nature of reality.
(4) Regardless of how many of the above hypotheses
are correct or false, "andhaka" may also have a deeper
meaning in terms of tantra practice.
In Kalachakra, darkness (Tib. mun-pa, Skt. tamas) also
appears as a synonym for the approximating vacuum (Tib.
nyer-thob, black near attainment) level of mind. In the
stages of dissolution of the levels of mind that make
appearances of inherent existence, the approximating vacuum
stage is the eclipse of the immediately preceding stages of
light-diffusion (Tib. mched-pa, red increase) and
appearance-congealment (Tib. snang-ba, white appearance).
The two phases of the approximating vacuum stage are
symbolized by the eclipsing planets Rahu and Kalagni,
light-diffusion by the sun, and appearance-congealment by
the moon. Finally, even the eclipse needs to be dissolved
into the subtlest level of mental activity, clear light
During the re-emergence sequence,
approximating vacuum is the first stage to recur. With the
appearance-making of inherent existence comes the return of
unawareness (ignorance) that the appearances do not correspond
to true reality. From that unawareness, disturbing emotions and
destructive behavior ensue.
Raudrachakrin, who will defeat Mahdi, represents "mind-vajra,"
in other words the clear light mind with the "one eye of deep
awareness" that realizes voidness. For the forces of Shambhala
(the Land of Bliss), representing the blissful awareness of
voidness, to be able to defeat Mahdi's forces, all the
conflicting castes of Shambhala must join in the Kalachakra
mandala and become one vajra caste. This represents all the
conflicting energy-winds of the body (which support the
appearance-making of inherent existence) needing to be dissolved
into clear light mind. Only through such dissolution can the
resulting mind-vajra arise and defeat an invasion of
appearance-making of inherent existence and subsequent
Thus, Raudrachakrin defeating Mahdi (darkness, blindness, the
eclipse) could represent mind-vajra destroying the approximating
vacuum stage of reemerging energy-winds (reemerging divisive
caste differences) so that it never recurs.
Support for this hypothesis comes from the Guhyasamaja tantra
meditation system, which predates Kalachakra by several
centuries. There, the dissolution of Manjushri (of whom
Raudrachakrin is an emanation) from the body mandala at the
attainment of the approximating vacuum stage (equivalent to
Mahdi) represents the application of deep awareness of voidness
to this stage, so that it too can be overcome and dissolved into
the clear light level. Thus, as a symbol, Manjushri already
represented the opponent capable of defeating "The Blinded One"
even before Kalachakra.
Padmini's List of Prophets
The line in the Tibetan
translation of Padmini, "Moses, this one, and the White-Clad
One, Muhammad, and The Emanation" (Tib. byi-ba 'di-dang
dkar-po'i gos-can sbrang-bdag sprul-pa), is problematic. Since
the text refers to Muhammad's emanation as the eighth one in the
list of prophets, the Tibetan translation could only mean that
"this one" refers to Jesus, and not back to Moses. Otherwise,
Padmini would only be listing seven prophets. Buton, however,
explicitly lists Jesus (Tib. dBang-po, Skt: Isha) here.
Therefore, the Tibetan translation of Padmini is suspicious.
The Tibetan translators have apparently mistaken "Isha" - the
Sanskrit transcription of "Issa," the Arabic name for Jesus -
for the Sanskrit demonstrative pronoun esha, meaning "this." The
Sanskrit word preceding this one is "Musa" (the Arabic form of
Moses) and, according to the rules of Sanskrit grammar, both "musa
isha" and "musa esha" would combine as "musesha." Replacing "esha"
with "Isha," the line in the Padmini commentary would read,
"Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad One, Muhammad, and The Emanation."
This would conform to the line in the tantra to which this is a
Padmini's interpretation, "Among these, the one called 'The
White-Clad One' is Mahamayin," is rejected by both Buton and
Kaydrubjey. Padmini's identification of Mani with Muhammad,
however, could have arisen simply as an implication from
Muhammad being "the teacher of the mleccha-Dharma" and the term
"white-clad mlecchas" in Stainless Light.
It could also have two further explanations:
The non-Indic invaders will not
really assert Mani as one of their prophets, because Mani
was not actually a separate prophet. This would support the
hypothesis that the compilers of the Kalachakra texts
confused the Manichaean Shiites with the Ismailis.
The invaders' Dharma would be an
amalgam of the teachings of Mani and Muhammad.
The use of "Mahamayin" simply as a
phonetic transcription of Muhammad is confirmed by the Tibetan
translation of Padmini, which merely transliterates the name.
The fact that "Mahamaya" ("The Grand Illusion," Tib. sGyu-'phrul
chen-po) is one of the names of Manjushri in Concert of Names of
Manjushri does not seem significant.
According to Shiah Islam, the last
imam - the seventh according to Ismaili, the twelfth according
to orthodox Shiah - disappeared and will return in the future as
Mahdi. It is appropriate, then, from a Buddhist point of view,
to call Mahdi "The Emanation."
Baghdad in the Land of Mecca
According to the verse
from the tantra, "The seventh will manifestly come to the city
of Baghdad in the land of Mecca."
Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 and died in 632, while the
second Abbasid Caliph, al-Mansur, built Baghdad as the capital
of the Abbasid Empire only in 762. Thus, Muhammad himself could
not manifestly come to Baghdad. Further, "the land of Mecca"
probably refers to the Abbasid Empire with its Arab origins. The
Abbasid caliphs, after all, were descendants of Muhammad.
"…Mahamayin (Muhammad). That one
will propagate the Dharma of the asuras and so on in the
cities of the land of Mecca and so on",
...and his addition of the word "and
so on" after Baghdad in the tantra verse, indicate an
interpretation that accords better with history. In other words,
Muhammad's teachings about a jealous god will spread to Baghdad
and other cities in the Abbasid Empire, and elsewhere as well.
The Relation between the Asura
Caste and the Non-Indic Invaders
In describing the land of
Mecca, the tantra verse reads, "(the place) in this world where
a portion of the asura (caste) will have the form (Skt. murti)
of the powerful, merciless non-Indic invaders."
In A Concert of Names of Manjushri, the Sanskrit word murti
appears in the expression jnanamurti, the physical form
(embodiment) of deep awareness, used in reference to Manjushri.
The first and twenty-fifth Kalkis are physical forms assumed by
Manjushri. Manjushri, in turn, represents the deep awareness of
true reality (voidness) in a physical form. Parallel to this,
the non-Indic invaders will be a physical form that a portion of
the asura caste will assume. The asura caste, in turn,
represents the unawareness of true reality in a physical form.
This interpretation accords with Kaydrubjey's translation of "murti"
as "gzugs" (body, embodiment) and his mention that the Tibetan
translators of Padmini take it as "rnam-pa" (aspect). After all,
in Kalachakra, voidness with an aspect (Tib. stong-nyid rnam-pa-can,
Skt: sakara shunyata) refers to devoid form (Tib. stong-gzugs,
Some translators take "murti" as "idol" and render the line,
"It is where the mighty,
merciless idol of the barbarians, the demonic incarnation,
lives in the world."
This interpretation contradicts
Islamic culture. All forms of Islam strictly forbid the making
of images or idols.
Moreover, in accord with Buton's and Kaydrubjey's gloss of the
Sanskrit expression asuramshi (a portion of the asuras) as a
group or section of asuras, only some of the followers of a
jealous god will constitute the non-Indic invaders, and not all
such followers. Translating the expression as "demonic
incarnation" makes little sense.
Thus, the line in the tantra means that the Abbasid Empire, the
land of Mecca, is the place where a section of the followers of
the teachings of a jealous god will assume the form of the
non-Indic invaders. This interpretation accords with the
previous analysis of Muhammad as "a guru and master of the
non-Indic invader Tajiks."
In summary, the non-Indic invaders discussed in Kalachakra will not
necessarily be the Abbasid Arabs themselves or all Muslims in
general. They will be the followers of messianic sects of Islam that
started in the Abbasid Empire, and which will be intent on
establishing their Mahdi as the ruler of the world.
According to the calculation given in the tantra text, the
apocalyptic battle between Kalki Raudrachakrin and Mahdi, and thus
the end of the kaliyuga, will not happen soon, despite the Islamic
prediction of the world ending 500 years after Muhammad. Kalachakra
predicts a date 1800 years after Muhammad, namely 2424 AD. This date
accords with the prediction that the invaders' Dharma will endure
for 1800 years, after which the Kalachakra teachings will thrive for
twelve successive periods of 1800 years, one on each of the twelve
divisions of the Southern Continent. 1800 is a significant number
that appears repeatedly throughout the Kalachakra teachings with
several astronomical, physiological, and meditative meanings. In
contrast, according to the Hindu prophecy, the kaliyuga will end
360,000 years in the future.
If we take the date 2424 literally, we cannot also take literally
the identification of the invaders as followers of messianic forms
of Islam at the end of the tenth century. The invaders must be
either the descendants of a long-lived dynasty founded by such a
group, or advocates of messianic movements merely represented by and
perhaps modeled after movements existing at that time.
On the other hand, some modern interpreters do not take literally
the Kalachakra predicted date and consider it as referring instead
to the present situation at the beginning of the twenty-first
century. Such an interpretation bases itself perhaps on
predictions of Nostradamus or the millenarian view that two thousand
years after Christ is a significant number of years. Such arguments
are irrelevant to the cultural context of Kalachakra.
If we do not take either the predicted group or the predicted date
literally, the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that with the
prediction, Kalachakra was attempting to draw a parallel between
history, physiology, and meditation, as it did with geography,
anatomy, and meditation. Thus, the prediction needed to fit not only
the historical context when the Kalachakra literature first
appeared. It also needed to fit the Kalachakra presentation of the
flow of breaths and energies in the body, and the stages and
structure of advanced tantra meditation practice.
At the end of the tenth century AD, a widespread belief pervaded the
Middle East and parts of South Asia that the apocalypse and the end
of the world would occur a little more than a century later. Most
people of the time were preoccupied with the issue of the coming of
a messiah, and Buddhism responded to their need by presenting its
spiritual path in a structure relevant and meaningful for their
Despite the application of the Indian cultural terms
tamas, asura, naga, and mleccha to the non-Indic invaders, to read
more than that into the external level of meaning of the Kalachakra
prediction seems to be stretching the point.