History of the Kalachakra Tantra

The History

Beginnings in India

According to traditional, sacred history, on the fifteenth day of the third month, a year after his enlightenment, Shakyamuni Buddha appeared at Vulture Peak in the attire of a monk, setting forth the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Stanzas, and simultaneously he appeared at Dhanyakataka in South Indian as Kalachakra, setting forth the Kalachakra Tantra. The tantra was preached inside a huge, many leveled monument (mchod rten, chaitya); the location, Dhanyakataka, is identified by George Roerich as Amaravati in the Sattenpalle Taluka of Guntur District, Madras South India.

The tantra was expounded at the request of King Suchandra, an emanation of Vajrapani, who thereupon compiled the tantra in its long form, said to be twelve thousand stanzas. King Suchandra was from Shambhala, which G. Tucci says “tradition place near the river Sita (viz. Tarim),” East Turkestan. After hearing the tantra, the King returned to Shambhala, wrote a long exposition of it, and propagated Kalachakra Buddhism as the state religion.

The next six kings of Shambhala maintained the tradition, and the eighth king, Manjushrikirti (‘jam dpal graps pa) initiated so may persons (reportedly thirty-five million seers) into the Kalachakra mandala that he, and subsequent kings, were called kulika (rigs Idan), “one who bears the lineage”. Based on the long root tantra, Kulika Manjushrikirti composed a shorter tantra of five chapters , which has one thousand forty-seven stanzas. Named the Condensed Kalachakra Tantra (bsdus rgyud, laghutantra), it is what is currently called the Kalachakra Tantra, the logner version not being extant.

Kulika Manjushrikirti was followed by Kulika Pundarika who componsed the currently most famous exposition of the tantra, commonly called the Great Commentary on the “Kalachakra Tantar”, the Stainless Light (‘grel chen dri med ‘od, vimalaprabha). It is still extant and most likely served as the basis for the subsequent literature.

Another eight hundred years after Kulika Pundarika, a Moslem invasion weakened the kingdom, this being in 624 A.D. Nevertheless, the lineage of Kulika Kings continued such that the Indian master Chilupa from Orissa travelled to Shambhala and become an expert in the tantra and in Kulika Pundarika’s Great Commentary. He returned to India in 966 A.D., and disseminated the teaching, bringing it to prominence there. The author of The Blue Annals, the Translator form Go, Shon-nu-bel (‘gos lo tso ba bzhon nu dpal, 1392-1481) argues cogently that the Kalachakra Tantra had reappeared in India long before that time, since, among other reason, Chilupa: …had read (it) in the vihara of Ratnagiri (Rinchen ri-bo) which had been left undamaged by the Turuskhas, and was of the opionion that, in general, for the (attainment) of Enlightenment the Mahayana Guhyamantra (gsan-snags) was necessary, and that the text had to be studied with the help of the commentary by the Bodhisattvas. Accordingly he proceeded in search of the Kalachakra (so the Kalachakra must have been in existence at that time). Thus it has to be admitted that the system of Kalachakra seems to have reached Aryadesa [India]at an early date and that (the system) become known to many people in the time of Kalachakrapada, father and son.

It is likely that Kalachakrapada the greater (“Kalachakrapada, father” in the above reference) is Chilupa himself. Helmut Hoffman reports that Chilupa defeated in debate “Pandi Nadapada, called Na-ro-pa by the Tibetans” who was then abbot of Nalands, “which was, together with Vikramashila the most important centre of Buddhism in those days/” Lesser Kalachakrapada. Hoffman concludes.

It would seem that the whole further tradition of Kalachakra derived these two, not only in India but also in Tibet.

Nadapada, in turn, initiated Atisha into the into the Kalachakra system, and among Atisha’s students was the famous Kalachakra master Pi-to-pa, also called Pindo Acharya.

In the histories, there is agreement that the Kalachakra Tantra came to widely known in India from 966 A.D. with Chilupa’s return and “became effective in India under King Mahipala of Bengla (c.974-1026.)”

The Kalachakra is one of the last Sanskrit works to have been written in a Central Asian land whence it is said to have travelled into India.

With Chilupa’s efforts, the system was developed in India, spawning numerous compositions on various aspects of the tantra; beyond Kulika Pundarika’s Great Commentary, Lokesh Chandra lists forty-seven works by twenty-two authors (including six anonymous works). Sixty years Chilupa’s return, the Kalachakra Tantra was introduced into Tibet, this being in 1026, and quickly gave rise to a flourishing tradition.

Translation and commentaries in Tibetan

The first translation was by Gyi-jo, who studied under Bhadrabodhi, a pupil of Chilupa, but “he had only four pupils, and even they did not maintain the tradition after him.” A student of Nadapada, the Kashmiri Somanatha went to Tibet and, after Ye-shay-chok (ye shes mchog) of Nyo (gngyos) did not live up to promise to present him with one hundred ounces of gold, travelled to a region just north of Hla-sa, called Pen-bo (‘phan po) where with the Translator of Dro, Shay-rap-drak (‘bro tsa b ashes rab grags) he completed a translation of Kulika Pundarika’s Great Commentary or the “Kalachakra Tantra”, the Stainless Lights, and a transmission known as the school of Dro was begun.

The other important tradition was the school of the Translator of Ra, Dor-jay-drak-ba (rva lo tso ba rdo grags pa) who studied the Kalachakra Tantra for almost six years in Kashmir with Samantashri, another former student of Nadapada. He persuaded his teacher to return with him to Tibet, three hundred ounces of gold being the offering, and the Ra school thereupon become particularly important in the Sa-gya order of Tibetan Buddhism. Through Sa-gya Pandita (1182-1251) and the Pak-ba (‘phags pa) the Ra tradition came to have important influence in the period of heavy Mongolian involvement in Tibet. Bu-don Rin-chen-drup (bus ton rin chen grub, 1290-1361) of the Sa-gya order who are called “the two great expounders of the Kalachakra in the Land of Snows”, received teachings from transmissions.

Bu-don Rin-chen-drup, in particular, wrote prolifically on the Kalachakra Tantra; the first five volumes of his Collected works are devoted solely to these expositions, ranging from an annotated version of the tantra called Easily Understandable Annotation For the Condensed Glorious Kalachakra Tantra, Great King of Tantras Arisen from the Supreme Original Buddha (mchog gi dang pa’ i sangs rgyas las phyungs ba rgyud kyi rgyal po chen po dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’ i bsdus pa’ i rgyud kyi go sla’ i mchan), to Annotation to (Kulika Pundarika’s) “Stainless Light” (dri med ‘od kyi mchan), to numerous texts on topics ranging from the six-branched yoga to astrology initiation, and so forth.

Bu-don’s disciple, Cho-gyi-bel (chos kyi dpal), conferred the Kalachakra initiation of Dzong-ka-ba (tsong kha pa, 1375-1419), the founder of the Ge-luk-ba order to Tibetan Buddhism, who himself wrote several short works on aspects of the tantra. Dzong-ka-ba’s disciple, Kay-drup-ge-lek-bel-sang (mkhas grub dge legs dpal dzang, 1385-1438) composed a gigantic work of four volumes in commentary on the Condensed Kalachakra Tantra and Kulika Pundarika’s Stainless Light, some of it attributed to his students but included in his Collected Works. Kay-drup also composed shorter works on many translated in this book, the Mandala Rite of the Glorious Kalachakra: Illumination of the Thought (dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’ i dkyil chog dgongs pa rab gsal).

Dzong-ka-ba’s other main disciple, Gyel-tsap-dra-ma-rin-chen (rgyal tshad dar ma rin chen, 1364-1432) wrote a highly cogent and readable exposition of the stage of generation and stage of completion called How To Practice the Two Stage of the Path of the Glorious Kalachakra: Quick Entry to the Path of Great Bliss (dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’ i lam rim pa gnyis ji ltar nyams su len pa’ i tshul bde ba chen po’ i lam rim pa gnyis ji ltra nyams su len pa’ i tshul bde chen po’ i lam du myur du ‘jug pa). The First Panchen Lama, Lo-sang-cho-gyi-gyel-tsen (blo bzang chos kyirgyal mtshan, 157?-1662) wrote a condensation (one hundred eighty-four-folios) of Kay-drup’s huge work, and many Geluk-ba lamas have written on various aspect of the tantra.

Thus, in the Ge-luk-ba order the Kalachakra Tantra has received considerable attention despite its not being their central tantra. In the Ge-luk-ba order, the focal Highest Yoga Tantra is the Guhyasamaja Tantra, the tantric colleges of upper and lower Hla-sa having as their foremost purpose its exposition and practice. In Ge-luk-ba, Highest Yoga Tantra is studied mainly in the context of the Guhyasamaja system, which is considered the “general system” of Highest Yoga Tantra through which most other tantras of that class are understood. The Kalachakra Tantra is an exception, as it presents a somewhat parallel but interestingly different system for transforming mind and body into purity.

With respect to other Tibetan works on Kalachakra, the Sa-gya author, the Translator Dak-tsang-shay-rap-rin-chen (stag tshang lo tsa ba shes rab rin chen,bron 1405) wrote a famous commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra Called The General Meaning of Kalachakra: Ocean of the Teaching (dus ‘khor spyi don bstan pa’ i rgya mtsho), and the later eighteenth and early nineteenth Nying-ma scholoar Mi-pam-gya-tso (mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846-1912) wrote a two volume work, including an edition of the tantra itself and a commentary on the entire text called Clarifying the Meaning of the Words of the Glorious Kalachakra Tantra, Illumination of the Vajra Sun (dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rgyud kyi tshing don rab tu gsal byed rdo nyi ma’ i snang ba). A select bibliography of a hundred works on the Kalachakra is offered by A-ku Shay-rap-gya-tso (a khu shes rab rgya mtsho 1803-1875).

This huge number of indigenous Tibetan works indicates the importance that the Kalachakra Tantra assumed in Tibetan and its cultural region, which includes the Himalayan regions of Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan as well as the Mongolain areas – Outer Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, the Kalmuck lands and areas of Siberia. Aside from these areas, however, it appears not to have spread of China, Korea Japan, or Southeast Asia, and thus the only practitioners today with a full transmission of initiation are in the Tibetan cultural region. Within that, due to communist takeovers, the only lamas giving initiation are among the Tibetan refugees or in Bhutan and Sikkim.

Kalachakra and the Dalai Lamas

The tantra has become particularly associated with the Dalai Lamas, some of whom have given the initiation to huge messes of peoples. The present Dalai Lama has given the initiation eleven times in large public gatherings. For many Tibetans, receiving the Kalachakra initiation from the Dalai Lama or anther lama is a major event in their lives. The present Dalai Lama gave the Kalachakra initiation twice in Tibet at his summer place, the Nor-bu-ling-ga, in 1954 and 1956, each time to approximately one hundred thousand persons. He has given it seven times in India – at Thekchen Choeling, Dharamsala, in 1970, to thirty thousand; in Bylakuppe, Karantaka State, in 1971 to ten thousand; in Bodh Gaya, Bihar State, in 1974 to one hundred thousand; in Leh Ladakh, in 1976 to forty thousand; in Derang, Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh, in 1983 to ten thousand; and again in Bodh Gaya, Bihar State, in 1985 to two hundred thousand person. The Dalai Lama also gave the Kalachakra initiation twice in the west, near Madison Wisconsin, in 1981 to fifteen hundred persons; and in Rikon, Switzerland in 1985 to three thousand. The commentary that accompanies the translation of the initiation ritual in this work is largely taken from the event in Madison. It indispensably serves to bring the initiation to life so that the audience can visualize, feel, and reflect on the principles of the process.

Shambhala in the future

The current, twenty-first, Kulika is said to have ascended to the throne in 1972, and the reign of the twenty-fifth and last Kulika, called “Rudra Width A Wheel”, will being in 2327 – the reign of each Kulika being one hundred years. In the ninety-eighth year of his rule, the year 2425, which according to the Kalachakra calendar is 3304 years after Shakyamuni Buddha’s passing away, a great war will be waged from Shambhala during which the barbarians will be defeated. After that, Buddhism will again flourish for eighteen hundred years; thus, in the 5104th year after Shakyamuni Buddha’s passing away period of his teaching will finish, the length of time being 104 years longer than in the Sutra system.

Although Chilupa travelled to Shambhala, it is sometimes described as like a pure land, a place beyond the reach of ordinary travel, a land that appears-wishes person can be reborn in Shambhala whereby they can enjoy the Kulikas’ continual preaching of doctrine. Also, initiation is said to establish predispositions for rebirth in Shambhala not only for the sake in Shambhala not only for the sake of maintaining practice of the Kalachakra system but also for being under the care and protection of the Kulika Rudra With A Wheel when the great war comes. Thus, Shambhala is a beacon of hope in a world of tragedy for many Tibetans, Mongolians, Bhutanese, Sikkimese, Nepalese, and Ladakhis.