Kalachakra Mandala

1. Entering the Mandala

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1. Entering the Mandala

IF YOU LOOK UP the word “mandala” in a Sanskrit dictionary you will find meanings such as: circular, round, a disk, a circle, a wheel, a group, and so forth. The word also has more technical uses, and in a Buddhist ritual context, mandala is used mostly to represent two closely related but different things.

In the Tibetan language a distinction is made between these two by, for the first use, leaving the word “mandala” in its original Sanskrit and transcribing it into Tibetan characters, and for the second, translating the word into Tibetan. As yet there is no consensus as to how, if at all, we should represent either of these two uses of this word in English.

The first type of mandala is a representation of the Buddhist view of the world system, or universe. This consists of a central mountain, known as Mt. Meru, surrounded by four major continents, rings of lesser mountains, continents and oceans, and much else.

Most people new to Tibetan Buddhism encounter this type of mandala first. In a widely used type of preliminary meditation practice, the practitioner imagines offering the whole world and its contents to an assembly of buddhas, lamas, and so forth, imagined in the form of this mandala. This is often called in English an “offering mandala,” and it is encountered in many situations in Tibetan Buddhism, not just these preliminary practices.

The second main use of the term “mandala,” translated into Tibetan as kyil-khor (dkyil ’khor), is more widely known. In this use the mandala is a representation of a divine palace (gzhal yas khang, vimāna), in which at least one deity, and sometimes several hundred, is imagined as dwelling. Two words that are often used in this context are support (rten) and supported (brten pa). The latter refers to the deities that are housed in the mandala, and the support refers to the palace that houses them. This pair of words also often describes the support of the outer physical world and the supported animate world that lives in it.

The most common representation of a palace mandala is a two-dimensional drawing or painting, usually of a square structure within circular boundaries. However, the divine palace is really a three-dimensional object, and the two-dimensional representation is effectively a floor plan of the three-dimensional palace.

As it happens, in a full textual description of a divine palace mandala, the mandala as world system is also often included, because the divine palace mandala is often said to sit on top of the central Mt. Meru, within a world-system mandala.

The most widely known representation of the divine palace mandala is usually referred to as a powder mandala (rdul tshon gyi dkyil ’khor, rajomaṇḍala); these are often also referred to as sand mandalas, but fine sand, although commonly used, is just one suitable powder. For a very large mandala, large grains can be used, such as rice. During large rituals, particularly empowerments (initiations), a large mandala is drawn on a flat surface using colored powders. This becomes the focus of the main ritual and is destroyed after several days at the end of the ritual.

These powder mandalas have attracted much attention in the West—they are after all visually attractive and complex, true works of art—and many have been created outside of a ritual context in such places as 4museums and art galleries. Drawn or painted mandalas are also commonly used for small rituals performed in monasteries or in private individual practice. In such instances the mandala again usually becomes the focus of the ritual concerned. In both cases, the procedure for creating the mandala starts by laying out a grid of lines (thig rtsa) for the dimensions, and then drawing the components of the mandala with the help of this grid. After this quite complex drawing has been completed, the colors are applied, either in the form of powder or paint.

The most commonly cited Buddhist definition of a mandala comes from a tantra called the Vairochanābhisambodhi. For example, the early Gelug writer Drakpa Gyaltsen refers to this as the basis of his definition in his text on Sarvavid Vairochana meditation: “Mandala means leading to the essence; as it says in the Vairochanābhisambodhi: ‘maṇḍa is essence, la is leading.’”

Drakpa Gyaltsen continues by describing the nature of the mandala as being a manifestation or projection of the awareness of enlightenment, and that this has two aspects, the inner mandala and the outer. The inner mandala is that nondual awareness of enlightenment that itself has no form, color, and so forth. The outer mandala has form and structure and is described for the benefit of unenlightened beings as a means to attain enlightened awareness. This outer mandala which has the structure of a divine palace is not enlightened awareness itself, but it is used as a means to help realize that awareness. It embodies or grasps the essence of that enlightenment and both symbolizes that final goal and is also used as a tool on the path to enlightenment.

The divine palace is not considered real in any sense and neither are the deities that are imagined within it. There is no concept of a creator god in Buddhism, and the deities that are described are not considered to exist in this world or any other in any literal sense, even though the mythology that accompanies many of them is very rich and full of wonderful stories. That mythology helps practitioners to develop a proper feel for the spiritual reality that the deity and its divine palace represent.

To paraphrase Drakpa Gyaltsen, the images and mythologies of the outer mandala are not real but are described as means to help achieve the realization of the inner mandala, the awareness of enlightenment, that is real. These images are part of the vocabulary that is used in ritual and meditation to communicate with and about that spiritual reality. Perhaps we could say that they are a metaphorical reality representing the state of enlightenment.

Within vajra vehicle Buddhism there are many different divine palace mandalas described, but the purpose of this book is to describe the Kālachakra (dus kyi ’khor lo) mandala and its meaning. By this I mainly refer to the divine palace of Kālachakra, but as this is always imagined as sitting on top of Mt. Meru, this also therefore implies the world-system mandala as defined within the Kālachakra system.

The source material for the meditation and ritual practices of the vajra vehicle, or tantric Buddhism, is a set of Indian texts known as tantras. Associated with any particular tantra will be commentaries explaining its meaning and the practices it describes. There will also be texts to be used in those practices and rituals, together with material covering the many other topics possibly discussed in the basic tantra.

These works were originally written in Sanskrit, although most of the Sanskrit originals have now been lost. Over a period of several hundred years, Tibetan, Indian, and Nepali scholars translated a large amount of this material into Tibetan. There are two large collections of the original material that was translated into Tibetan—not just concerning the tantras, but all aspects of Buddhism.

The original tantras themselves are said to be the word of the Buddha himself, and these are included with all other such works, sutras, and so forth, in a set of texts of about 100 volumes, depending on the edition, known as the Kangyur (bka’ ’gyur). The commentaries, ritual manuals, and all other materials associated with the tantras are included in a section of the other large collection of translations, the Tengyur (bstan ’gyur).

The two most important source texts for the Kālachakra system are the Kālachakra Tantra (more properly called the Laghutantra, or Abbreviated Tantra), and the commentary to this, the Vimalaprabhā.


Origins of the Kālachakra literature

It is said that the Buddha was requested to teach the Kālachakra by the king from the land of Shambhala, Suchandra. According to the famous historian Tāranātha: “On the full moon of the month Chaitra in the year following his enlightenment, at the great stūpa of Dhānyakaṭaka, the Buddha emanated the mandala called The Glorious Lunar Mansions. In front of an audience of countless buddhas, bodhisattvas, vīras, ḍākinīs, the twelve great gods, gods, nāgas, yakṣhas, spirits, and fortunate people gathered from the 960 million villages north of the river Shītā, he was requested by the emanation of Vajrapāṇi, the king Suchandra, to teach the tantra.” (Takhist)

It is said that Suchandra then returned to his kingdom of Shambhala and wrote down in textual form the original tantra as taught by the Buddha, the 12,000-line Kālachakra root tantra (mūlatantra). As a commentary to this he also composed the explanatory tantra in 60,000 lines. If either of these texts ever existed, they do not survive today, although many quotations attributed to the root tantra do survive, particularly in the Stainless Light (Vimalaprabhā). Suchandra is also said to have constructed out of precious materials a three-dimensional Kālachakra mandala palace, 400 cubits in size.

A later king of Shambhala, Yashas, is said to have written the abbreviated version of the tantra summarizing the meaning of the root tantra, known as the Kālachakra Laghutantra (KalT). This is the one that survives today, both in the original Sanskrit and in several Tibetan translations.

The next king of Shambhala is said to have been Puṇḍarīka, an emanation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Following the structure of the root tantra, he composed a commentary to the Kālachakra Laghutantra, known as the Vimalaprabhā. Fortunately, this also survives in both Sanskrit (Vimala) and Tibetan (Kaldri).

The history of the Kālachakra tradition now moves from the realm of myth and legend into history, but much is still unclear. There are many variations available on similar stories depending on which author one references. The following description of the Indian Kālachakra history up until the time of the visits to Tibet of Somanātha is adapted from the work (Kzabhis) of the Sakya writer Amye Zhab (a mye zhabs, aka: ngag dbang kun dga’ bsod nams).

The one known as Kālachakrapāda the Elder (dus zhabs pa chen po) was born in Varendra (a region of northern Bengal) in eastern India. His father was a Brahmin yogin who practised Black Yamāri (gshin rje gshed nag po), and his mother was an awareness ḍākinī. They performed a ritual from the Kṛṣṇayamāri Tantra to ensure the birth of a noble son. The father dreamed of the noble Mañjushrī entering his wife’s belly, and the child was later born together with auspicious signs.

Due to the blessing of noble Mañjushrī, the child had a bright mind with clear faculties and took ordination when he was young. He studied many subjects, and understanding them all with ease, he became a paṇḍita and was known as Chilupa. He heard of Kālachakra from one Paṇḍita Ācharya, but was not satisfied, and through the awakening of his previous prayers he developed a powerful wish to go to Shambhala.

As his personal deity, Tārā would grant the realization of anything he wished, she prophesied that for the benefit of beings he would gather from Shambhala many tantras and bodhisattva commentaries. Those commentaries are known as the “bodhisattva trilogy” (sems ’grel skor gsum). Each said to have been written by great bodhisattvas, one is the Vimalaprabhā commentary on Kālachakra and the other two deal with the Chakrasaṁvara and Hevajra tantras, but explained from a Kālachakra point of view.

He traveled north, but as there was physical danger due to a desolate area that would need four months to cross, he journeyed together with some traders by boat across an ocean. The traders went to an island of jewels, and he traveled on north. He climbed a mountain on an island in the ocean and there met a white man, who was an emanation of the Kalkī king of Shambhala. Some say this was the king Shrīpāla, and others say it was Puṇḍarīka.

The king asked him where he was going and for what 6reason. He replied that he had traveled from eastern India and was on his way to Shambhala to meet the Kalkī and request teachings on Kālachakra. The king told him that he would not be able to make such a journey, but that if he could understand such things here, would he not listen?

Chilupa then understood that the man was an emanation of the Kalkī and prostrated to him and circumambulated him many times. After offering a mandala, he requested that the king accept him as a student. The king told him, “I have come here in order to teach you Kālachakra for the benefit of beings in India, so listen.”

He then manifested the complete Dharmadhātu mandala and gave him empowerment. The full name of the mandala is the Dharmadhātuvāgīshvaramandala (chos dbyings gsung gi dbang phyug gi dkyil ’khor), a name of the normal triple Kālachakra mandala. He then gave Chilupa instruction in the very fast path of the profound six-limbed yoga.

Chilupa meditated for seven days at the foot of the mountain by the side of the ocean and attained realization. He magically flew through the air to the sandalwood grove in Shambhala, and there, at the Kālachakra mandala house, he bowed to the feet of the Kalkī in person, who gave him the complete empowerment, explained to him the instructions on the tantra and commentary, and gave him texts of the bodhisattva teachings, including the Laghutantra, the Kālachakra Tantrottara (rgyud phyi ma), the Vimalaprabhā, the root tantra, the Sekoddesha (dbang mdor bstan), “a synopsis of our and others’ views,” the Triyogahṛdayavyākaraṇa (rnal ’byor gsum gyi snying po gsal ba), the Paramārthasevā (don dam bsnyen pa), the Piṇḍārtha commentary on Chakrasaṁvara (bde mchog bstod ’grel), and Vajragarbha’s commentary on Hevajra (rdo rje snying ’grel).

He then traveled to Puṣhpagiri (me tog khyim) in eastern India, and after journeying to Magadha, Chilupa became known as Kālachakrapāda the Elder. He spread the teachings of the bodhisattva cycle widely through east and west India.

Kālachakrapāda the Elder had many students, among whom were three known as Kālachakrapāda the Younger: Avadhūtipa, Shrībhadrabodhi, and Nālandāpa; also Nāropa, Sādhuputra, Ratnakaragupta, Mokṣhākaragupta, Vinayākaramati, Siṁhadhvaya, and Anantajaya.

Regarding the one known as Kālachakrapāda the Younger, Avadhūtipa: in India a monk with a dull mind performed a practice of the goddess Kurukullā in order to increase his intelligence. The goddess appeared to him in a dream and taught him what to do. He should make a coral image of Kurukullā and then find in a charnel ground the corpse of a woman with all her faculties. He should insert the image in the mouth of the corpse and, placing it facedown, sit in meditation on its back for seven days, until achieving success.

In accordance with this prophecy, after seven days had passed the corpse looked up and asked, “What kind of intelligence do you want?” He had wanted to be able to memorize anything that he saw, but when it came to it, because of his dull mind, he said that he wanted to be able to remember everything that he wrote, and this came to be.

As he lived from alms, he became known as “paṇḍita āchārya.” Later, in Madhyadesha, he became known as Vāgishvarakīrti, and he lived at the Khasarpaṇa temple.

He touched the feet of Kālachakrapāda the Elder and asked him how many tantras he knew, but it is said that he could not even remember the names of those given in the answer. He was then given the empowerment and instructions of Kālachakra, and as a result of his practice he achieved realization and became known as Avadhūtipa, also as Kālachakrapāda (the Younger).

He authored such works as the Padmanināmapañjika (dka’ ’grel padma can) and the sādhana of the Glorious Lunar Mansions (dpal ldan rgyu skar dkyil ’khor gyi cho ga).

His main students were the younger Kālachakrapāda Upāsakabodhi and his son, Nālandāpa. He also spread the teachings of Kālachakra in southern India.

Regarding Nālandāpa, he was the intelligent son of Upāsakabodhi, named Bodhibhadra. Having become an unequaled great paṇḍita, in order to learn Kālachakra from Kālachakrapāda the Elder in Magadha, he thought he should make a golden offering mandala for 7this teaching. It was said that in Tibet gold could be dug from the ground, and so he went to Tibet in search.

He traveled to Chirong in Mangyul (mang yul skyid grong), and obtained his gold there from a head craftsman who became his patron. Later, when traveling on the road to Dingri, he met a paṇḍita riding on a donkey. When he asked him why he was doing this, the paṇḍita replied that as Tibetans were poor they had to act in this way, and this saddened him (the implication being that anybody of substance would be riding a horse).

Nālandāpa returned to India and presented the gold to Kālachakrapāda the Elder, who was greatly pleased. Together with Nāropa he received the full empowerment and instructions on the tantra and commentary. Having practised, in one moment he achieved the ten signs and the eight qualities, and the mandala of his body was filled with bliss. Right there he achieved realization.

His father and his aunt also heard the teachings, but from Avadhūtipa. It is said therefore that there were certain discrepancies between the explanations of the father and son. He considered that the Kālachakra would spread widely if it were taught in Magadha.

At a time when the king of Magadha was the “One with the Wooden Seat,” [that is, Rāmapāla (1072–1126, approx.)], and Sendhapas were in charge of the vihāra of Uddaṇḍapura, he traveled to glorious Nālandā and placed over the door of the vihāra the “Letters of Ten Powers” (the well-known monogram of Kālachakra). Underneath this he wrote:

“Those who do not understand the Paramādibuddha do not understand Kālachakra; those who do not understand Kālachakra do not understand the Nāmasaṁgīti; those who do not understand the Nāmasaṁgīti do not understand the awareness body of Vajradhara; those who do not understand the awareness body of Vajradhara do not understand the mantrayāna; those who do not understand the mantrayāna are those in cyclic existence, and are not on the path of the victorious Vajradhara. This being so, all pure teachers should rely on the Paramādibuddha, and take with them all pure students intent on liberation.”

About 500 paṇḍitas were living there, and not liking this, they argued with Nālandāpa. However, he convinced them of the profound and vast nature of these teachings, and they all gave up their own positions, bowed to him, and became his students.

Well known among these who became experts were: Abhayākaragupta, Buddhakīrti, Abhiyukta, Mañjukīrti, the Kashmiri Somanātha, Paṇḍita Parvata, Achalagarbha, Dānashrī, Puṇya the Great, the Kashmiri Gambhira, Shāntagupta, Guṇarakṣhita, and others.

Also, many kṣhatriyas, vaiṣhyas, and traders developed great confidence in these teachings, copied texts, and developed a strong inclination to these teachings, spreading them widely.

As he stayed at Nālandā, he was known as Lord Nālandāpa. He also built there a Kālachakra temple. His qualities became equal to those of Kālachakrapāda the Elder, and throughout the whole of east and west India he was known as Kālachakrapāda the Younger.

The Kashmiri paṇḍita Somanātha was born the son of a Kashmiri brahmin, and he was able to memorise sixteen verses at one time, remembering one with each breath. Up until the age of twelve he learned all the Vedas from his father, but his mother was a Buddhist, and she sent him to study the Dharma from an excellent great Kashmiri paṇḍita called Brāhmaṇapāda, also known as Sūryaketu.

This paṇḍita had a daughter who found Somanātha very attractive and told him that in order to request teachings the two of them should behave as a couple. He acted accordingly and heard many teachings, and he and the other main students, Sonasahi, Lakṣhminkara, Jñānashrī, and Chandra Rahula, all became paṇḍitas expert in the five subjects. In particular, Somanātha became expert in the “Noble cycle of Guhyasamāja” (the tradition of Guhyasamāja meditation that comes from the “noble” Nāgārjuna) and Mādhyamika.

At that time, paṇḍita Vinayākaramati (earlier mentioned as a student of Kālachakrapāda the Elder) sent as a present to one Bhadrapāda (Brāhmaṇapāda) copies of the Sekoddesha (a section of the Kālachakra Mūlatantra dealing with empowerment) and the Sekaprakriya (an extract from the third and fifth chapters of the Kālachakra Laghutantra, also about empowerment). He 8placed these on his head and prayed, and his students asked what they were and if he would give them to them. He said, “These are from a particular profound tantra which I have not received, and so I am unable to explain these to you.”

He gave the texts to the students, and Somanātha, having looked at them, developed great respect for them.

He broke off his studies and headed to Magadha to investigate these teachings. He met the father and son Kālachakrapāda the Younger, and heard the entire cycle of the bodhisattva teachings (the bodhisattva trilogy), took empowerment and instructions on the tantra and commentaries, and so forth. He also listened to the Abhidharma.

Having mastered all these instructions, he achieved the pacification of the winds and saw all objective phenomena as only the play of awareness. He could not be overpowered by thieves, had the ability to withhold bodhichitta without release, and was greatly blessed. He became known as truly (an embodiment of) Mañjushrī.

He then traveled to Kashmir, debated with the Kashmiri Ratnavajra, and won by refuting his Chittamātra view. Ratnavajra told him that lest his students should come to lose confidence in him, Somanātha should go somewhere else.

As it happened, at that time the Kalkī Puṇḍarīka came to him and told him, “You should go to Tibet and spread widely the teachings of definitive meaning,” and on the basis of this prophecy, Somanātha went to Tibet.

Kālachakra in Tibet

Somanātha traveled to Tibet three times, became expert in the language, and either translated certain texts himself into Tibetan or worked with other translators helping them produce Tibetan versions of important Kālachakra materials. Among these the most notable, and in the long term the most influential, was Dro Sherab Drak (’bro shes rab grags), born at the beginning of the eleventh century.

Generally considered to be equally important and influential in the early translation of Kālachakra material was the translator Ra Chorab (rwa chos rab), born a little later than Dro, in the middle of the eleventh century. He journeyed to Nepal and worked with the Newari paṇḍita Samantashrī, who lived in Patan. Samantashrī is said to have learned Kālachakra from Abhayākaragupta and Mañjukīrti. Both of these are given in the above list as contemporaries of Somanātha at Nālandā.

The traditions in Tibet that come down to us from these two great translators, known respectively as the Dro and Ra traditions, give somewhat different versions of the origin of the Kālachakra teachings before Kālachakrapāda the Elder, but in these stories we read the names of most of the important Indian figures in the transmission of Kālachakra. Later in this book I shall be quoting from the works of some of these Indian masters, particularly Puṇḍarīka, Kālachakrapāda the Elder, Abhayākaragupta, Sādhuputra, and Somanātha.

However, there were many others involved, such as Anupamarakṣhita and Vibhūtichandra, particularly in association with the perfection process meditations of Kālachakra, the six yogas, and their teachings passed along different routes.

Although Dro Sherab Drak and Ra Chorab are considered the most important early translators of Kālachakra, many others were also involved, and The Blue Annals (BlueAn) gives a list of twenty such translators of just the Kālachakra Tantra alone and adds at the end of the list “and others.”

It is also not the case that any one tradition in Tibet adopted just one of the early Indian traditions passing through just one translator. Instead, it was usual that multiple lineages combined together to form the systems that survive today in the Tibetan traditions.

For example, in a quote often cited from The Blue Annals, Zhonnu Pal (’gos lo tsā ba gzhon nu dpal) writes of two contemporary (fourteenth-century) great Tibetan masters of Kālachakra, Buton Rinchen Drup (bu ston rin chen grub) and Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan). In Roerich’s translation we read: “Bu(ston) and Dol-(pa-pa) were the two great expounders of the Kālachakra in the Land of the 9Snows. These two first obtained it from the spiritual descendants of Rwalo-(tsā-ba), but later they studied it according to the tradition of ’Bro lo-tsā-ba.”

Buton had considerable influence on the later development of the Gelug and Sakya traditions of Kālachakra, and Dolpopa on the development of the Jonang, but there were many other influences and much cross-fertilisation between the different traditions.

In the current work I shall be describing the Kālachakra mandala from the point of view of the Jonang tradition. A main reason for this is simply that the Jonang were, and still are, the foremost practitioners of Kālachakra in Tibet, with the Gelug a close second. However, I will also be pointing out the main differences in the mandalas as described in the Karma Kagyu and Gelug traditions.

In the main vajra vehicle meditation practices the focus of attention is on one particular yidam (yi dam), or meditation deity. In the so-called creation process meditations, the practitioner imagines becoming that particular deity within its mandala palace, surrounded perhaps by a large retinue of other deities. The different Tibetan traditions preserve meditation practices that focus on many different yidams—in fact, some collections contain practices for several hundred different deities—but all these traditions specialize in just a handful.

The Sakya have Hevajra (dgyes pa’i rdo rje) as their main yidam; the Kagyu traditions focus on Chakrasaṁvara (’khor lo sdom pa) and Vajrayoginī (rdo rje rnal ’byor ma); the Gelug tradition practice mainly Guhyasamāja (gsang ba ’dus pa) and Vajrabhairava (rdo rje ’jigs byed); and the Jonang specialize in Kālachakra.

Most notably including the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, there were many Gelug teachers and writers who specialized personally in Kālachakra, as well as teachers from other traditions, but the primary position of the Kālachakra within the Jonang means that there survives today more detailed material describing the practices of Kālachakra, including the mandala, in Jonang texts than in works from any other tradition. Unfortunately, there is not so much surviving Jonang material on the theory of Kālachakra, although Jonang annotated commentaries on Vimalaprabhā, one possibly attributable to Dolpopa and, most notably, another by Jonang Chokle Namgyal (phyogs las rnam rgyal), have recently been found and republished. In one of these works, many of the comments that come from the Vimalaprabhā follow the revised Jonang translation, commissioned and annotated by Dolpopa. There are several points where the Jonang translation improves upon the clarity of the earlier versions. There are also substantial works on the theory of the Kālachakra six yogas, by both Tāranātha and Banda Gelek.

The situation with regard to the Karma Kagyu school is rather odd. That tradition’s Kālachakra practices originally came from the translator Tsami (tsa mi lo tsā ba), and passed through the siddha Ogyenpa (o rgyan pa), and then to the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje). From him it was passed down the Karma Kagyu lineage. However, the use of the practice texts of this tradition, the most notable being written by the eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje), has largely ceased, and the practices of the Jonang tradition written by Tāranātha are now mainly used. But still the mandala is drawn according to the original Karma Kagyu methods (to which I will refer as the Tsami tradition), even though there are some clear, although minor, contradictions between the descriptions given in the mandala drawing texts and the practice texts. These differences have sometimes caused puzzlement to modern Karma Kagyu mandala artists, unaware of the full history of their tradition.

In this book I shall therefore describe the Kālachakra mandala mainly from the point of view of Jonang writings, particularly those of Tāranātha (1575–1634) and Banda Gelek (’ba’ mda’ thub bstan dge legs rgya mtsho, 1844–1904). For the Gelug tradition my main sources are Tsongkhapa’s student Khedrubje (mkhas grub rje, 1385–1438) and the third Detri Rinpoche, Jamyang Thubten Nyima (’jam dbyangs thub bstan nyi ma, 1779–1862). My main sources for the Karma Kagyu tradition are Mikyö Dorje (1507–1554) and the fourteenth Karmapa Thekchog Dorje (1798–1868) (theg mchog rdo rje).

There are differences between the mandalas as described by the Jonang, Gelug, and Karma Kagyu traditions, and I shall point out only the most important of these; it could be confusing to go into too many minor 10details. The differences are relatively small, and by describing them from the point of view of these traditions, this almost certainly covers the variations within the mandala as described by all the Tibetan traditions.

Most of these differences, but not all of them, can be traced back to variations between the original Indian writers. As the Tibetans studied all the original Indian material, they clearly had to make choices when writing their own practices. Most tried to base those choices, or at least justify them, by reference to the Vimalaprabhā, the great Indian commentary on the Kālachakra Tantra, but the Vimalaprabhā does not describe the mandala and meditation practices in as much detail as one would perhaps hope. And, as we shall see, there are some variations in the descriptions as given within the Vimalaprabhā itself, and of course differences between the various translations, original and revised, of the Vimalaprabhā into Tibetan. There are also some difference between the mandala descriptions given in the Vimalaprabhā and some of the original Indian mandala rituals that have been preserved in Tibetan.

The present writer is not free from preferences in this respect, and my choices are influenced by the Vimalaprabhā, which in my opinion should be the primary reference work for the Kālachakra. Unfortunately, we cannot now judge why there were some minor differences in the Indian traditions, as those early Indian writers did not leave us explanations for them.

Structure of the meditation practices

Before discussing the mandala in detail in the following chapters, as it is the focus of meditation practices in the Kālachakra system, some overview of that system would be helpful. As with most vajra vehicle meditation practices, the most common format is that of the sādhana (sgrub thabs). Vajra vehicle practice has two main components: the creation process (bskyed rim, utpattikrama) and perfection process (rdzogs rim, utpannakrama). A sādhana is a ritual text for performing the creation process of a deity such as Kālachakra.

A typical sādhana for Kālachakra consists of certain preliminary sections. After the standard Buddhist preliminaries such as refuge and so forth, the most important of these is the protective sphere, which itself consists of two parts, the protection of the individual performing the practice and the protection of the site where it is performed.

There then follows the development of the two accumulations, of virtuous actions and wisdom, the latter culminating in the contemplated dissolution of the individual performing the practice and all the physical worlds into emptiness. From this point on starts the creation process proper.

The creation process is divided into four sections, properly known as the fourfold yoga (yan lag bzhi’i rnal ’byor). In order, these are known as: the Mastery of the Mandala (dkyil ’khor rgyal mchog, maṇḍalarājāgrī), the Mastery of Activity (las rgyal mchog, karmarājāgrī), Drop Yoga (thig le’i rnal ’byor, binduyoga), and Subtle Yoga (phra mo’i rnal ’byor, sūkṣmayoga). In the longer versions of the practice the first two are very extensive.

1. Mastery of the Mandala. First of all, the mandala palace is imagined. Out of emptiness arises the world-system mandala—the elemental disks, Mt. Meru, and so forth. This dissolves into the form of the monogram of Kālachakra, the so-called “ten-powered” (rnam bcu dbang ldan, daśākārovaśī), which itself then transforms back again into the world-system mandala.

Next, on top of Mt. Meru, inside a vajra tent, is imagined the mandala palace. In the center of this is a lotus, moon, sun, and Rāhu, on which the practitioner appears in the form of Kālachakra. That process of Kālachakra forming out of emptiness takes place in five steps, known as the five true awakenings (mngon par byang chub pa, abhibodhi). Banda Gelek explains the meaning of this phrase in terms of the development of awareness: a particular aspect of the meditation removes obstacles to the development of an aspect of awareness, which is then realized, or achieved.

Next, resulting from the union of Kālachakra and his consort, Vishvamātā, the various groups of deities in the mandala are born from the womb of the consort, 11each taking their place in the palace. Once all the deities have been created, there is a short section known as the Empowerment of Compassion (snying rje’i dbang bskur, karuṇābhiṣeka); in this, all beings are invited into the palace and transformed into the purified forms (deities) of their aggregates (skandhas), elements (dhatus), and so forth.

The main deities then dissolve into light, and this section ends with Kālachakra and his consort existing as a sphere of light above the lotus seat.

As this section of the practice sees the formation of the mandala together with the initial radiation of its deities, it is known as the Mastery of the Mandala. It is associated with the purification of the channels and is also known as the path of the body vajra.

2. Mastery of Activity. Goddesses arise spontaneously and request Kālachakra to arise again. In response, the central couple are reformed, and the retinue deities are once again born from the womb of the consort.

Next, the wrathful form of Kālachakra, Vajravega (rdo rje shugs), radiates out and attracts the awareness beings of the Kālachakra mandala. These are then dissolved into the originally imagined forms (the commitment beings), the two groups becoming indistinguishable.

There then follow several sections which could generally be grouped under the heading of empowerment. The first is the placement of six syllables at the six places of the deities (crown, forehead, throat, heart, navel, and genital area).

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