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Kālacakra Tantra

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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 Introduction to Kalachakra

    "May I be inspired to accomplish the meditations
    Of the supreme yogas of the profound tantric path
    Of Kalachakra, the king of tantric traditions,
    And thus purify and dissolve all physical materiality,
    Giving rise to the dance of the empty body
    In union with the great unchanging bliss
    That in turn induces highest enlightenment,
    The state of the primordial Buddha Kalachakra."
    From Prayer of the Kalachakra Path, by the Sixth Panchen Lama
    (Translated by Glenn Mullin [6])


        Kalachakra means Time-Wheel, as "Kāla" is Sanskrit for Time and "Chakra" (or Cakra) is Wheel in Sanskrit (In Tibetan his name is dus.'khor).

It is also translated as Time-Cycles.

Much in this tradition revolves around the concept of time and cycles: from the cycles of the planets, to the cycles of our breath and the practice of controlling the most subtle energies within one's body on the path to enlightenment.

The Kalachakra deity represents omniscience, as everything is under the influence of time, he is time and therefore knows all. Similarly, the wheel is beginningless and endless.

        Among the five main Tibetan schools, the Kalachakra practice appears most prominent in the Jonang tradition, although the practice is found in all five schools.

The Jonang tradition is not well known due to historic reasons, but very significant for Kalachakra practice.

They established Kalachakra as their main system for practice and have preserved a unique lineage of the Kalachakra practice. The Dalai Lamas have had specific interest in the Kalachakra practice, specifically the First, Second, Seventh, Eighth, and the current Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

        In Tibet, the Kalachakra astrological system forms one of the main building blocks to compose astrological calendars. The astrology in the Kalachakra is not unlike the Western system, where for example, complicated calculations are required to determine e.g. the exact location of the planets.

        Very often, the phrase 'as it is outside, so it is within the body' can be found in the Kalachakratantra to emphasize similarities between ourselves and the cosmos; the basis for astrology, but also for even more profound connections and interdependence as taught in the Kalachakra literature.

    "Time is the substance from which I am made.
    Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river;
    It is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger;
    It is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire."
    Jorge Luis Borges

    Running time


Among the other practices of the Highest Yoga Tantra (Anuttarayoga in Skt.), the Kalachakra is in many aspects somewhat unusual.

Many details in this system deviate from the other Buddhist tantras, but they are often also complementary to the other tantric systems.

In fact, when the Kalachakra was first introduced in the great Buddhist university of Nalanda (India), these differences did cause some confusion.

After extensive study, the greatest masters agreed the system was genuinely Buddhist, and the Kalachakra received its own place in the vast array of Mahayana Buddhist teachings.

In many aspects, the Kalachakra system clearly shows its Buddhist core with concepts like renunciation, bodhicitta, emptiness, enlightenment etc. being of major importance to the practice.

Kalachakra is also called the "clear" tantra, because its language is unusually clear and straightforward as compared to most other Highest Yoga Tantras.

As Vesna Wallace notes in [5], the Kalachakratantra appears to combine aspects of several different systems, including non-Buddhist systems of thought.

For example, just in the part of cosmology, aspects can be found of the Vaibhashika, Puranic, Samkhya, Jaina, and of course the Buddhist Abidharma.

Similarly, terminology of several Hindu traditions can be found, as well as terms from Ayurvedic medicine.

    "...the Kalachakratantra adopts and redefines concepts characteristic of non-Buddhist systems, it also incorporates non-Buddhist cosmological views without reinterpreting them."
    Vesna Wallace [5]


The Kalachakra teaching as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha is called the Root Kalachakra Tantra, the Kalachakra Mulatantra or Paramadibuddhatantra of 12,000 lines.

The Shambhala King Suchandra wrote a commentary called the Explanatory Tantra in 60,000 lines.

However, both these texts never reached us.

Some parts of the original Paramadibuddhatantra have been preserved by citation in other texts; mainly 200 verses in the Vimalaprabha, and in the Sekoddesa, which circulated as an independent text in early eleventh-century India and has traditionally been considered to be a part of the Paramadibuddhatantra." .

According to tradition, the Shambhala King Manjushri-Yashas composed the Abridged Kalachakra Tantra or Kalachakra Laghutantra (Skt.), bsDus-rgyud (Tib.), it is also called 'the' Kalachakratantra or Shri Kalachakra, as for us it fulfills the function of the main tantric root text, although it is about one quarter the length of the original Mulatantra.

Together with the Stainless Light Commentary, Vimalaprabha (Skt.), or Dri-med ‘od (Tib.) written by Shambhala King Pundarika , these two texts form the basis of the Kalachakra practice.

A confusing factor can be the frequent reference to 'Adibuddhatantra' by various authors in history. It most likely refers to the original Root or Mulatantra, but some scholars assume it refers to the Laghutanta.

All texts follow the same sequence and are divided in five chapters.

The first two chapters concern the External Kalachakra (outer) and Internal inner Kalachakra, respectively.

The last three chapters present the so-called Alternative Cycles: the third chapter discusses the Empowerment (initiation), the fourth the Generation Stage and the fifth the Completion Stage and the attainment of enlightenment.

All later commentaries also follow this five-part structure.


Outer Kalachakra refers to the outer world which is the vessel supporting the living beings.

It is compounded by the six elements of earth, water, fire, air, space and wisdom; and all objects of smell, sight, taste, touch, sound and Dharma.

Another division follows the cosmic buildup of the universe; the center made up by Mt. Meru, surrounded by the four continents and the eight subcontinents.

Around its' peak circle the planets of our solar system, the moon, sun, stars and so forth.

This system is dictated by time cycles of years, months and days; also described as "the procession of the external solar and lunar days."

Inner Kalachakra consists of the body and mind of living beings, the psychophysical aggregates, the sensory and psychic capacities so forth.

This includes the six types of living beings (gods, demigods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hell-beings), the six energy centers (chakras) of the body, the ten vital energies, the energy channels, the eight drops that carry the instincts of the two obscurations, and so forth.

Inner Kalachakra deals with the astrological relationships of the internal energies, chakras, channels and drops to mental and emotional states, physical organs, and transformation processes.

The basic theory is that on the body's subtle energies normally move in synchronicity with the cycles of the planets.

This movement of planetary energies within the body is the subject of the astrology of the Internal Kalachakra.

In other words, Inner and Outer Kalachakra include all the living beings and the external world in an astrological relation to the living beings. The relation is similar to the Greek expression "as above, so below".

Alternative (or 'Other') Kalachakra describes the spiritual method leading to enlightenment in the form of Kalachakra. It describes the initiation, the Generation and Completion Stage Yogas.

These two Yoga stages are the methods that have the power to purify the Outer and Inner Kalachakras (living beings and the universe).

Outer and Inner Kalachakras are the bases to be purified, whereas Alternative Kalachakra refers to the yogic practices that effect this purification and produce the three purified results.

    "There exists an archetypal pattern behind both {inner and outer Kalachakra}, and it is this pattern which is the "other", shown in the Kalacakra mandala. ....

Through the practice of the Kalacakra sadhana, the practitioner who is the microcosm, can become an instrument for manifesting in the world, which is the macrocosm, the cosmic order or universal harmony from the blueprint which is the Kalacakra mandala. ... the whole cosmos is a single living entity, and all that makes it up is interconnected.

This single living entity is depicted as the Purusa, or "cosmic Person", in the Vedic teachings, and as the Adi-Buddha, or "cosmic Buddha" in the Kalacakra teachings. ...

A Buddha is described as one who has the thirty-two major marks and the eighty minor marks of a Maha Purusa, or "Great Person", and in Kalacakra this is applied to the Adi-Buddha, which represents the cosmos."
    David Reigle [4]

The Kalachakratantra also takes a firm stand on social issues, specifically against the Indian caste system.
As Vesna Wallace writes in [5],

    "It regards social discrimination and the interpretation of scriptures that support such discrimination as detrimental to both the socio-political, material, and spiritual welfare of society and to the psychological and physical well-being of the individual."


    [1]: Taking the Kalachakra Initiation, Alexander Berzin, Snow Lion, 1997 ISBN 1-55939-084-0
    [2]: Commentary given by Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche December 1989, Bodh Gaya India
    [3]: The Wheel of Time, the Kalachakra in context. Geshe Lhundub Sopa et al, Snow Lion, 1985
    [4]: Kalacakra Sadhana and Social Responsibility, David Reigle, Spirit of the Sun Publications 1996.
    [5]: The Inner Kalacakratantra, Vesna Wallace, Oxford University press 2001.
    [6]: The Practice of Kalachakra, Glenn H. Mullin

An excellent introduction to Kalachakra and for the taking the initiation is this Explanation of the Kalachakra Initiation by Alex Berzin.