Alexander Berzin: Explanation of the Kalachakra initiation – 1

His Holiness the Dalai Lama prepares the Kalachakra mandala.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama prepares the Kalachakra mandala.

Explanation of the Kalachakra initiation.

By Alexander Berzin at Maitreya Institute, Maasbommel, Netherlands on 26 – 28th of April 1985

Why Kalachakra is special.

Kalachakra means cycles of time. The initiation to Kalachakra is very special for many reasons. It’s special and worthwhile to do. First of all it’s special because His Holiness is giving the initiation some of his qualities. First of all the method that it presents for achieving enlightenment has a lot of very unique features in terms of how you actually achieve the body of a Buddha. In all the different systems that you have for achieving Buddhahood – if you really examine them – the main difference come about in how you achieve the body of a Buddha. That’s not easy to do.

The other reason why Kalachakra is special is because it’s so extensive and it presents a great many teachings. Actually, going into the initiation is like entering the door of an entire world of various teachings, various methods. I’ll give you some idea what Kalachakra teachings contain.

First of all you get a lot of the teachings on astronomy coming from Kalachakra. Kalachakra deals with the external cycles of time and these are the cycles of time that the universe goes through. For example you have:

  • the cycles of the planets and their motions through the heavens;

  • cycles of the years and the days, months, hours and all divisions of time;

  • on an internal level we have the internal cycles of time; the internal cycles of time have to do with the cycles that the energy goes through in our subtle body; also the cycles of the breath; you have a sophisticated analyses how the breath passes first through one nostril and then mainly through the other nostril during the course of the day and the whole detailed analysis of that in relation to the energy in the body and that correlates to the different moods that we go through in terms of the changes of our energy.

  • then it presents an alternative cycles of time, which is basically a method for achieving enlightenment, which is going to use this certain type of energy that the universe externally and internally our body goes through and meditate in a system similar to that in order to overcome being under control of these external and internal cycles.

Tibetan astronomy or astrology has things coming into it from 3 different angles:

1 The Indian system, which is basically what is presented in the Kalachakra. The Indian astronomy comes with elements similar to Greek astronomy. So you have things that are similar to us like these signs of The Zodiac, you have the days of the weeks being named for the planets etc.

2 The Chinese system: the year of the monkey and this type of stuff that you didn’t get in India.

3 You also have an element coming in from Central-Asia, which combines these things like the years of the monkey etc. with the different elements. So you get a whole presentation of certain cycles of years.

What you get in the Kalachakra system is basically the motion of the planets for astronomy and the calculations you get for where the planets are. Because Chinese astronomy, which was similar to Arab astronomy, which came later, was based on observing the planets and observing different things through various instruments, a little bit like what you have in Stonehenge (England). Based on these observations they had predictions for where the sun and moon were and the planets. Whereas Hindu astronomy is similar to the Greek in the sense that it derives the motion of the planets from mathematic and from different formulas. So in Kalachakra you get a whole system of mathematical calculations for how to predict where the planets, the sun and the moon are going to be, and when eclipses will take place. In the entire Tibetan calendar the calculations are based on this Kalachakra system. This is a lunar calendar based on the phases of the moon. Then there is a whole system of astrology that comes out of the Kalachakra. This isn’t an astrology which is used for things like personal horoscopes. In Tibetan astrology the personal horoscopes come out of the Chinese system.

The system of astrology here is a system which is talking about when is the best hour to start doing things or when it is inauspicious to do things and when it is good to plant your crops in the fields and these type of things. This is done in terms of looking where the sun is, where the moon is and in terms of the constellations and correlating that to the different elements; and then seeing if the elements clash or go together nicely. For example if you have two fires together that means one thing; if you have fire and water then that’s not too good. So you get a whole system of being able to predict when is an appropriate time to start things or not to start things. You also have this whole system of “arising from the vowels”, as it is called, which is a little bit like the Kabala. You know in the West we have this Kabala, which assigns different numbers to different letters and based on that you have different things that you can predict. You don’t quite get a correlation of numbers with letters here but you have things like the dates of the month go from 1 to 30. Likewise in Sanskrit you have 30 different vowels and based on that you have a certain vowel which would arise each particular day, each particular date. You would also have a vowel that arises at each particular hour. And then you would look at that vowel and you would also, look at let’s say, the first vowel of your own name. Then there are different elements again which are assigned to the different vowels and based on that, whether they clash or whether they go together nicely, you can make all sort of predictions. Predictions for any type of problem that might come up.

The Tibetans are very much into different systems of prognostication like we have a little bit in the I Ching. The I Ching we have in the Chinese astrology so in that way it came in Tibet. That’s a system to predict different situations. Likewise the Tibetans have many different systems for doing that. One of the systems has to do with the astronomy and astrology and all of that comes out of Kalachakra.

Then you have the whole system of presentation of the geography of the world and that is a thing which is different from the usual presentation that you find in the Abhidharma or the Theory of Knowledge. In this presentation of geography it starts to get quite scientific in the sense that it will begin to describe how on different places on the earth you get the length of days which differs if you go north and also the calculations of things related to that.

Then you get a whole theory of history starting first of all with how the world was formed and there is quite a bit of emphasis on the theory y of atoms in Kalachakra. This is really quite interesting because instead of having the universe start, as you do in the Abhidharma system, from just blankness and out of blankness or nothingness in which everything is in a state of potentials then the universe evolves; eventually it disintegrates and goes into potentials and comes back out again. Instead of that you get a similar system but here talks about the tiny sub-atomic particles and what happens is that these particles, in the beginning, are just not together. The forces of the time bring these particles together so eventually you get atoms and based on that we have the build up of the universe. After that these atoms break apart until you get what you call atoms of space. So outer space would be where these particles are just not together. Very interesting. His Holiness is quite fond of discussing these atoms of space with scientists –

There also is a discussion of history. I suppose that the main thing that is talked about is the cycle coming of different types of savage hordes or barbarian hordes, who would come and try to destroy civilization and would try to eliminate all the possibilities that we might have for spiritual growth. These types of hordes come up periodically through history and we have many examples of them who have come in the past and their predictions for various things that will come in the future. There is a prediction of a great war that will come in year 2424 – if you calculate it out, that is about 440 years from now. It is not the type of war that’s going to destroy all of civilization – what a lot of people seem to be frightened of, but it will be a big war. There is also the whole discussion about Shambala. Basically at that time the King of Shambala will come with his forces and help us overcome the savage hordes that are going to try to take over the world at that time. At that time a new golden Age will begin. We have so much talks in many different western areas about the coming of a New Age in future. Kalachakra speaks about that coming up, in about 440 years from now.

So in conjunction with this discussion of history and the invasion of the various savage forces it gives a lot of social comment about how to handle that type of situation and how to be best prepared for meeting that type of challenge that comes. These type of things, as His Holiness says, is most relevant on a broad level for our western people here, because so many of us are aware of the possible threat towards civilization in the future. And the comments and things that they say in Kalachakra are really very relevant. Just to give an example:

It says for example there was a time that the King of Shambala brought together all the people of Shambala and they were going to be facing an invasion some time in the future. He asked everybody to examine all the customs. He said: “Look at your customs and see how they compare with the customs of the savages, who would like to destroy your civilization. If you find in your customs things which are similar to those of the people who would destroy your civilization then your children and your children’s children will see very little difference between their parents and the people who would destroy their civilization and because they would see very little difference they will accept the savage ways much more easily”. If you think about that, that’s extremely profound.

When you look at the tendency let’s say in some of our societies that, if we have difficulty with a different nation or people who disagree with us; that if immediately we just turn to forceful means and aggression to solve our problems, then we are acting in a very savage way. And our children wont see any difference. So in this way Kalachakra is really full of insightful type of comments and advice, about the affairs that were facing India at that time, and which are very relevant in our time as well.

You also get a rather interesting thing in this material about how to build various machines. Coming out a very ancient text, you get commentaries how to build all sorts of technological things, such as machines that fly etc. You get a whole discussion on the internal level of the energy systems and this is going to be slightly different from some of the other presentations of it. Some of the things you get in Tibetan medicine also come out of this discussion. All Tibetan medicine does not come out of Kalachakra.

Tibetan medicine, like Tibetan astrology and astronomy, also is coming from 3 different directions:

1. Influence from ancient Greek medicine came into Tibet. Likewise you have:

2. The Indian medicine – Ayurvedic system.

3. Ancient Chinese medicine.

These 3 came into Tibet and were put together into a type of system that also changed things a bit from the original form, and you get the present system of Tibetan medicine.

The part of Tibetan medicine that comes from Kalachakra deals with all the calculations which are done in Tibetan medicine for treating the body like for example there are: the energy passes through the body and there is a certain vital point in the body which will shift during the course of the lunar month and in Tibetan medicine some times they burn the body, it is a type of “moxabustion”. There are different nerve centres on the body, which they treat with heat to cause the energies to flow in a different way or to draw out lymph and different things that might be affecting rheumatism and these type of things. You want to correlate where you are going to treat the body with where the energy centre is shifted in the body during the course of the month. All these calculations come out of Kalachakra.

Also you get in Kalachakra the discussion of the formulas for how to make the various wonder drugs that we have in Tibetan medicine, particularly the drugs that are made out of Mercury. They have a number of things where they use Mercury, which is a poison but it can be made into medicine like a homeopathic medicine in the west uses different poisonous substances. So you have different processes where they cook up Mercury for many many months on a continuous type of fire, mixed up with various other chemicals and substances. Then you get the wonder drugs that are used for treating cancer, rheumatism etc., a number of extraordinary drugs that you have in Tibetan medicine. All of that comes out of Kalachakra, which is pretty amazing.

In conjunction with that you have a whole presentation of alchemy as well and a sort of spiritual transformation of different elements within the body. There is also a very sophisticated treatment of language and philology in the Kalachakra – in terms of Sanskrit grammar. So you have a big analysis of the different sounds in Sanskrit and how the alphabet correlates with that, tying up a little bit with the system used in astrology for predictions out of the vowels and consonants.

Then you get a whole discussion of the correlation between the external and the internal cycles, a little bit like you get in a lot of systems of correlating the macro-cosmos and the micro-cosmos and how the energies of the universe affect and parallel the energies that we have within our body.

There is also a whole system of meditation which is extremely extensive. You get 722 deities in the Kalachakra World System, or Mandala, which doesn’t take the record having the most deities -there are some more – in some other tantras, but it is pretty extensive. What you are doing is basically transforming and purifying all the different elements that change into the external and internal universes. For example you have 360 days in the lunar year, so you get 360 deities for each of the days and these correlate to our 360 bones in our body and 360 joints. So you get 360 deities that also will correlate to that. In fact you even get that in terms of the parts of the body of the main figure. (Vide the picture of Kalachakra).

This deity has 24 arms, each of the arms has a hand and each of the hands has 5 fingers. Each finger has 3 joints. If you multiply that out and add it up it comes to 360 in all different colours and that as well correlates with 360 days, the 360 bones and 360 deities and now 360 parts of his fingers. In this way you get a whole system in which you are making parallels on many many different levels to start to work with the cyclic energy that we have both externally and internally. You also get all the constellations in the heavens turned into deities, the signs of the zodiac, the planets and all these different things are laid all around you in this rather fantastic world system What we are trying to do here is almost like a mental judo or martial art. You know in martial art you have some energies going in a certain direction and if you want to deal with that energy you have to go In the same direction as that energy but flip it to your own advantage so likewise you do a similar type of thing here mentally in terms of the universe going in a certain energy of the cycles of time. Internally our body is also going through these cycles of time and what we want to do is going in a system that’s similar to that, but flip it, so that in fact we’re in control of that system. It deals with that type of method.

I suppose that another really incredible feature of Kalachakra Is that it’s called the “clear tantra”. All the other tantras are considered to be obscure or hidden because the teachings in them are presented in a very obscure way. A lot of things that we might want to be more clear are a sort of under the surface and presented in a very puzzling way, in the other tantra. Whereas Kalachakra presents things in a very clear manner and explains what is going on so that we can understand it more clearly. For example you get things, as in the other tantras, the presentation that as you centralize your energies and the mind gets more and more subtle; you’re able to manifest the more subtle levels of mind that various appearances occur. Appearances like things being like a mirage or smoke, white and red appearances, all these sorts of things. In the other tantras it is sort of presented and that’s it.

Whereas in Kalachakra it starts actually to explain what is the nature of these appearances and where it’s coming from and what actually is going on. So in that way a lot of things are presented in a very clear manner. So it is extremely helpful for all our other studies, to be able to get these explanations from Kalachakra.


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