Explanatory Talks at the Rikon Kalachakra Initiation 1985

Explanatory Talks at the Rikon Kalachakra Initiation 1985

Alexander Berzin, Rikon, Switzerland, July 29-31, 1985. Originally published as Guidelines for Receiving the Kalacakra Empowerment. Seattle: Dharma Friendship Foundation, 1989.

Day One

I am very happy to be with all of you today. Although I am not a monk, still I have had the good fortune to have been able to study Kalachakra with a number of different great Lamas. Based on their kindness in teaching me, I shall try to pass on their wisdom to you by explaining a little about the Kalachakra empowerment or initiation – those two are synonymous or equivalent terms – and by trying to answer some of your questions. Some of you may have heard my introductions before, but perhaps some have not. If I repeat what you have already heard, I ask for your patience.

External, Internal, and Alternative Cycles of Time

Today begins the actual initiation of Kalachakra. What is Kalachakra? Kalachakra literally means “cycles of time.” There are three levels: the external, the internal, and the alternative cycles of time. The external cycles are the cycles the universe goes through. This topic includes the teachings on astronomy and astrology, and the calculations for the motion of the sun, moon, and planets. It also concerns the passage of periods of time, such days, months, and years. The internal cycles deal with the cycles of the different energies and moods within our bodies, and with the cycles of the breath through the course of a day. The alternative cycles are a system of meditation and practice of tantra followed in order to achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit everyone.

In general, there are many things that we need to purify ourselves of, since we are under the control of many disturbing forces. In other words, we all find ourselves in uncontrollably recurring situations known as samsara. What uncontrollably recurs can be described by these external and internal cycles of time, for instance the cycle of dying and being reborn. We are under the debilitating influence of the passage of time, astrological forces, and the different changes in the energies, moods, and breaths within our bodies. With the Kalachakra system of meditation, we are trying to purify being under the control of these forces. We work with these energies to transform them, and thus to overcome all our limitations and realize all our potentials, to become of best benefit to everyone.

Brief History and Lineages

The teachings of Kalachakra were given by the Buddha himself in South India and preserved in the northern land of Shambhala, since the main disciple for the teachings was the King of Shambhala. They were brought back to India in the tenth century of this era. It was between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries that they were brought to Tibet, where they flourished greatly. From Tibet, they were spread to Mongolia, Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union, Manchuria, and North China.

There are several traditions and lineages of Kalachakra. For instance, in India there were three slightly different versions of the first stage of practice (the generation stage) and three different versions of the second stage (the complete stage). Parts of each were combined in different ways in Tibet so that now there are lineages within the Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug traditions. Originally, there was no Nyingma tradition or lineage of Kalachakra, since these teachings were brought to Tibet much later than the Old or Nyingma transmission. Nevertheless, the modern Nyingma tradition transmits the Kalachakra lineage from the nineteenth-century Nonsectarian (Rimey) movement. Thus, there are Nyingma commentaries to this tantra and a Kalachakra style of practicing dzogchen. Within each Tibetan tradition, there are again several different lineages of commentaries or different ways of explaining.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama will follow the rituals of his own monastery, the Namgyal Monastery, which follows the ritual texts of Kaydrub Jey, from within the Gelug tradition. Regardless of which tradition we might receive the Kalachakra from, we are empowered to study and practice it according to any of its various lineages or traditions. At different times when His Holiness gives this empowerment, he explains it from different points of view and commentaries. We have to wait to see which ones His Holiness chooses for this occasion. However, we need to try not to become confused when we hear things explained from slightly different points of view. The basic Kalachakra teachings are the same. There are slight differences in approach, but all are equally effective for realizing enlightenment through these methods.

Preliminary Bodhisattva Teachings

The alternative cycles of time refer to a tantric system of empowerment and meditation practiced in order to overcome our limitations and realize our potentials, in order best to benefit everyone. Therefore, His Holiness always precedes this empowerment with an explanation either of the graded paths to enlightenment, known in Tibetan as lam-rim, or of such texts as The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, as he did last week. This is because these tantric teachings are based on, or grounded in these sutra teachings. We practice tantra as an additional step beyond the thirty-seven bodhisattva sutra practices so that we may reach enlightenment even more quickly, because the needs of people are so great.

The Meaning of the Word Tantra

What is tantra? The word tantra means an “everlasting continuum.” There are three levels. There is the everlasting continuum on the basis level, which is the mental continuum or mind-stream of every sentient being. The everlasting continuum of the path refers to the practices of these deities, or Buddha-figures. On the resultant level, it is the everlasting continuum of the result achieved, namely the continuity of the Buddha bodies manifested with enlightenment. In addition, tantra also refers to the texts that discuss these three.

In tantra, then, we are dealing with everlasting continuums of practice of these Buddha-figures to purify the everlasting continuums of our mental continuums in order to achieve the everlasting continuums of the bodies of a Buddha.

Tantric Deities

I suppose I should say something about this word “deities” in Buddhism. People often ask about them, because in different languages they come out sounding like “gods.” However, these are not gods either in the sense of omnipotent creators or beings in a limited state of rebirth. Rather, in tantra, these are literally “exceptional deities.” They are different exceptional forms in which Buddhas manifest themselves in order to help people of different dispositions and types of subtle energy systems. As Buddha-figures, they are the manifestations of certain special features of an enlightening mind or body of a Buddha, such as compassion or wisdom. By practicing with these Buddha-figures, we are following a method that is going to bring about our achievement of the body and mind of a Buddha more quickly.

The main thing in tantra is that we desperately want to achieve enlightenment, because the suffering of everyone is just unbearable. Because of this strongly felt need, we have to follow a method that is going to be the most effective and the most efficient for achieving the different faculties of an enlightening body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. In tantra, then, we work with these different deities, or Buddha-figures, because by practicing with them they serve as a very quick and efficient method for achieving enlightenment. This is because, if we wish to achieve the attainments of a Buddha, one of the quickest methods is to practice now as if we were performing a rehearsal for the theater. By practicing now in our imaginations, that we already have, for instance, the body of a Buddha, it acts as a much more effective cause for achieving such a body more quickly.

Using the Imagination

All of this, then, involves the use of imagination. The imagination is a very powerful tool that we all possess. If we can imagine something happening and go over it again and again, it actually will come about much more quickly. If we imagine that we are, for instance, taking a trip to India, and we put all our energies in this direction, then in fact our arrival in India will come about more quickly. However, when using the imagination, it is essential to be able to distinguish between nd reality, otherwise we will be in real trouble. This is why another essential prerequisite for tantric practice is some stable level of understanding of voidness, or the absence of fantasized ways of existing.

In tantra, then, we imagine that we already have the body of the deity, the body of a Buddha. We imagine that this is a transparent body made of clear light and that it is capable of doing all sorts of unimaginable things for helping others. In addition, we imagine that the environment around us is also completely pure and conducive for everyone’s progress. We also imagine that we are acting in the way a Buddha acts. In other words, we are able to exert an enlightening influence on everyone around us. Just by our very way of being, we act as a positive influence on others.

We can see this very clearly in the example of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His Holiness does not really have to do anything in order to bring about the benefit of others. He is such an extremely inspiring person that his positive charisma affects everyone around him in a very beneficial way.

Similarly, we imagine that we too are able to have such an enlightening influence on everyone around us. We imagine that we can calm everyone down and make situations peaceful. Also, we imagine we can stimulate everything around us to grow, for instance people’s clarity of mind, their interests, their energies, and so forth. A clear example is what happened just yesterday morning. How many individuals in the world could stimulate people to get up so early for a teaching at 4:30 A.M. the way that His Holiness did without any effort? It is really quite remarkable.

We also imagine, in addition to being able to exert such a positive influence, that we are able to enjoy things in a pure way, as the Buddhas do. The usual way we enjoy things is with confusion. This is usually translated as “contaminated pleasure,” but the actual connotation of the term is that our pleasure is associated with confusion. We are critical; we are never satisfied. We listen to music, but we cannot fully enjoy it because we complain about the quality of the sound reproduction. The way a Buddha is able to enjoy everything is completely without confusion. A Buddha enjoys things purely. Likewise, we practice in tantra by imagining we are able to enjoy things in this way. We do this, for instance, when making some of the offerings in the various tantric rituals.

Generation Stage

There are four classes of tantra. Kalachakra belongs to the highest class, called anuttarayoga, which means the peerlessly integrated practice of a Buddha-figure. This class of tantra has two stages of practice. The first is the generation stage – the stage at which we work with our imaginations. We imagine that we have already achieved the body and the environment of a Buddha, as well as all his or her activities and manner of enjoying things.

Everything that we are imagining has many different levels of symbolism. The form of our bodies as deities is symbolic. The different arms that we have, for instance, stand for many things on many different levels. It is not that we are practicing to become some sort of insect with a thousand arms, or a monster with all these heads. They have many different levels of purpose and meaning.

For instance, suppose that we want to be aware of twenty-four things at the same time. This is a relevant example, since, after all, we are training to open our minds and hearts to care for everybody, to become omniscient and be aware of everything at the same time. Now, it is very difficult to be simultaneously aware of twenty-four things in just an abstract way. However, if we represent the twenty-four items in a graphic form, for instance in the form of our having twenty-four arms, this helps us to keep twenty-four things in our mind at the same time. That, in turn, helps us to be aware of the meanings of all of them, simultaneously, on many different levels. In this way, it is a very useful technique.

The Meaning of a Mandala

The mandala, as well, follows the same principles. A mandala is literally “a round symbolic world,” although it does not need to be round. In many cases, it is referring to the actual building or palace that the Buddha-figure lives in. It is likewise symbolic. Every part of the mandala palace stands for something; everything has symbolic meaning. By trying to keep all the different details and parts of the building in mind, we practice being simultaneously aware of what all of them stand for.

As a palace or a building, it is a three-dimensional structure. When we have, for instance, a powder mandala such as what is being constructed here out of different colored sands and which is something in two dimensions, we should remember that it is like an architect’s blueprint. It is a blueprint of a three-dimensional building. No one ever visualizes a two-dimensional mandala. In summary, then, the generation stage deals with our imagination. We imagine that we are Buddha-figures in one of these incredible palaces.

Complete Stage

The second stage of the highest class of tantra practice is the complete stage. Here, everything is complete for us to work with what we basically have in order to realize our fullest potentials. By having trained the power of our imagination, we can use it as the key, or way of being able to gain access into the subtle energy systems of our body. On the complete stage, we work with this subtle energy system, which would be quite inaccessible to us if we had not practiced the previous generation stage. We use this energy system to access our subtlest level of consciousness, in other words, the clear light. Out of this, we will be able to create the actual conditions for manifesting the bodies of a Buddha. We will be able actually to make ourselves Buddhas, not just in our imaginations.

Everything in tantra, as in Buddhism in general, follows the laws of cause and effect. The main thing we want to do is to be able to benefit everybody, because we cannot bear the suffering and problems that they have. The way we are actually able to benefit others the best is if we ourselves have become enlightened, if we have rid ourselves of our limitations and realized our fullest potentials. In order actually to achieve enlightenment, we have to be able to generate ourselves in enlightening forms, with no restrictions or limitations, out of our subtlest consciousness. This requires all the practices of the complete stage, working with the subtle energy system. In order to have access to it, we have to learn first to work with and completely master the powers of our imagination. This is why we need to practice beforehand the generation stage.

The Role of the Spiritual Master and the Lineage Masters

In order to follow all the procedures of these practices correctly and successfully, we need to have a strong and healthy relationship with a spiritual master. It is only by following his or her instructions that we will be able to have any success. In addition, we need to keep various vows and follow the correct procedures while practicing. This is because if we try to practice in a sloppy manner, doing anything that we feel like, it will be almost impossible to gain success.

The Buddha himself has indicated all the various procedures to be able to achieve the stage he himself achieved. Thus, he taught that receiving an empowerment is completely necessary for being able to engage in these tantric practices. What receiving one does, first of all, is link us very strongly with a spiritual master. Not only that, it links us to the entire lineage of masters – going all the way back to Buddha himself – who have followed these practices and achieved total success through them.

This is something extremely important psychologically. It is important because it grounds us in a feeling of great confidence. We can have confidence that this is not just some crazy method that some mad person thought up. We are not just imagining that we are Mickey Mouse or Napoleon. Rather, this is a method that goes all the way back to the Buddha, and we have the names of all the lineage masters, going from the Buddha down to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is something that has been validated over and again through the centuries. We are joining this whole line of masters going all the way back. Thus, we can have great confidence in what we are doing. It is a valid method.

Taking Vows

In addition, when we receive the empowerment, we are formally taking on the various vows or vowed restraints. We make a definite commitment that we are going to follow this path and follow it correctly. It is very formal, which also makes a difference. This is because, if we just, in a casual manner, decide to do something, then it is also easy, in a very casual way, to change our minds later. However, if we want to be able to help everybody, and if we want to be able to reach our fullest potential of a Buddha in order to be able to do that, it is not a casual matter. It is something very serious. If we make up our minds at an occasion like this, at an empowerment, that now I am really going to put all my energies in this direction, then we have a point of reference that we can always go back to. It becomes a great occasion or event in our lives: on this day and at this time, we have actually started; we have actually set forth in this direction.

It is at this time that we then take on these vowed restraints as guidelines in our practice. They are guidelines of what things we need to avoid, for instance, in our conduct, that would prevent us from being of best help to others. These are the bodhisattva vows. They tell us which actions to avoid that would really hamper us, or prevent us from helping others. The tantric vows concern which actions we need to avoid that might cause us to have great problems in accomplishing anything through these practices.

We can be very thankful and grateful that there is something like these vows. Buddha has been so kind as to point out the dangers that we need to avoid. We do not have to discover them ourselves. We do not need to fall down and make mistakes ourselves, but Buddha actually pointed out what to avoid. That is very, very kind.

Purification and Planting Seeds

In addition to making a strong relation with a spiritual master and giving us an opportunity to commit ourselves with the vows, the empowerment purifies us of a certain degree of limitations and plants seeds for success. In fact, this two-fold process of purification and growth is a central procedure for the entire Buddhist practice. To become a Buddha, we must clear away our limitations – in other words, we have to purify ourselves – and we have to realize our fullest potentials. We have to grow to the limits of what is possible and, in order to grow, we have to plant seeds. This is what the empowerment does for us. This is the type of opportunity it provides.

To enter this process, it is extremely important to have a proper motivation. This is the motivation that His Holiness has been discussing in The Thirty-Seven Practices and it is something that His Holiness will speak of further today. There is no need for me to go into so much detail.

The Preparation Ceremony

The empowerment itself will have two parts. The first part will take place today. It is the preparation ceremony, or the preliminary. The following days will be the actual empowerment itself.

Some of us may have seen in the Kalachakra empowerment pamphlet the outline of the steps for each of these parts. There is no need for me to go through all of them. However, let me speak briefly about the main points.

First, before we enter and sit down, we wash our mouths with water that will be given to us. This is symbolic of washing ourselves and usually the procedure is to spit that water out. We want to get all the dirt out of us. We do not want to swallow it.

Then, after prostrating three times, we will offer a mandala, as a request. Here, mandala has the same general meaning as before. It is a round, symbolic universe. It does not really matter in what form we conceive of the universe, with Mount Meru, four continents, and such, or whatever. It is a round symbol that we are taking the essence of. By making an offering of it, the essence of what we are doing is that we are offering the entire universe. We want to give everything in order actually to be able to help everybody. We are willing to give everything in order to learn these methods or gain an entrance into them, so that we can become enlightened and be able to help everyone as quickly as possible.

Next, His Holiness will explain about the motivation. After that, we will have what is called the inner initiation or inner empowerment. This symbolic world of Kalachakra is not ordinary and so we cannot enter it in our ordinary forms. Therefore, we will be generated in the form of Buddha-figures. We will do this by visualizing or using our imagination.


Perhaps I need to say a few things about what it actually means to visualize. The word visualization unfortunately has the connotation of just using our eyes. However, this is not limited to only our eyes. We are using our entire imaginations to imagine not only sights, but also sounds, fragrances, and so forth. We are imagining things with all our senses. We do not imagine that we are just able to see things, but also that we are able to hear, feel, and so forth. It is a process done with our full minds, hearts, and feelings. It is not limited to just our intellects. It is not just an intellectual process of working with tiny little details of a very specific type of image that we are trying to imagine. Rather, it is something that involves a whole transformational process within us. We are dealing with the very deepest levels of our feelings of who we are and what everything around us is.

Clarity and Pride

Two aspects are usually discussed in this process. One is to have clarity of appearance. The second is called “having the pride of being the deity.” Pride can be translated in different ways. It means, for instance, to have the self-esteem, or the dignity of being a Buddha-figure. The great masters always say that, in the beginning, it is much more important to have this dignity, or feeling, of being the Buddha-figure than it is to have all the details of clarity.

Thus, it is very important to have the feeling of being in a pure form, or of being a deity. Don’t worry about the details of the visualization! They will come eventually through familiarity. If we worry about all the details – and believe me, there will be a lot of details that we will be asked to visualize – we could just get caught up in these details and be overwhelmed and give up. It would be quite sad to give up.

The basic thing is not to worry about it and to try to work more with having the feeling that we are these Buddha-figures and the feeling that all these purifications are occurring. So, the thing is to have a very deep feeling, with all our being, of who we are: we are these Buddha-figures, and who His Holiness is: he is Kalachakra, he is a Buddha. Whether we can see him with twenty-four arms or not is not the point. The point is the feeling, the recognition of him being a totally enlightened being.

The same thing is happening in terms of where we are. Do not feel that this is just an ordinary place, but try to have the feeling that we are actually entering the symbolic world of Kalachakra – i.e., it is here. If it is not here, with His Holiness, where is it? This is something we can really do, even if we are not yet capable of seeing it clearly in our minds with all of its details. Let’s try it.

How to Visualize

We can all feel that there is a large tent over there, on the other side of the path. Whether we can see it in our minds or not, it is not so difficult to feel that there is a tent over there. It is the same thing as feeling that we are outside a palace. We can feel that we are inside this tent now, can’t we? It is the same thing in terms of feeling that we are inside the mandala.

Let me use the same example that my teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, used to use. We can feel, for instance, that we are a man or a woman, or that we are Swiss, or German, or American, can’t we? We do not actually have to visualize ourselves as being Swiss or German. We have a feeling of who we are. It is this power of having a feeling of who we are that we are going to use. This is what we use to feel that pride or dignity, whatever you want to call it, of being the Buddha-figure Kalachakra. Then, if, in addition, we can also see some of the details, that is very good. If we can imagine all the details, that is even better, that is excellent. However, it is not something to worry about, if we cannot do it yet. We need much practice and experience before we will be able to do it. It will come with time.

What we should try to feel now, while we are here, is that we are outside this enormous palace of Kalachakra. If we can feel that there is a tent next door, we can also feel that there is a palace next door. The palace is a five-storied building, shaped a bit like a five-layer wedding cake. Each story is half the size of the one beneath. It is very large, two hundred times our own size. And, as I said, don’t worry about all the details.

Today we are lucky, because we are still outside. We do not have to worry about what is inside. Today we imagine that we are not able to see what is inside. That is not so difficult to do, is it?

The thing we have to keep in mind is that throughout the entire process we are always going to remain on the ground floor. His Holiness, as the central figure, is always on the fourth floor. If we count the ground floor as the first floor as in the United States, then His Holiness is on the fourth floor. If we call the story above the ground floor as the first story, as is done in many European countries, then His Holiness is on the third floor.

Directional Orientation in the Mandala

The palace is transparent and made of light of various colors. It is always referred to in terms of the directions. As this may become a little confusing, I will give a guideline of where we are. Imagine a map of Europe. His Holiness is standing in Switzerland, facing Austria. Austria is in the east. We are all, to start with, standing in Austria, in the east, and are facing His Holiness. The south is where Italy is, north is Germany, and the west is France. If we keep that in mind, we will always know where we are.

These different directions are of different colors, and they are associated with the different Buddha families. If we are familiar with other mandalas, we will notice that here the colors are different and the Buddha families are in different directions from the way they usually are. Try not to get confused. As one of my teachers said, “Symmetry is stupid.” We in the West have the feeling that everything has to be symmetrical and nice, always the same and orderly. This is perhaps our inheritance from the ancient Greeks. It is not necessarily so that everything has to be like that. We can develop a great deal of flexibility by working with different systems in which the directions are different colors and the Buddhas change seats. They do not always need to have the same colors or the same numbers of arms and faces. Why should they?

We can keep in mind the colors of the different directions by remembering that they are assigned in terms of the elements. In the Kalachakra system, the elements play a very important role, as do atoms. The east, where we are starting out, is Austria. It is black for the element wind, and that is where we find Buddha Amoghasiddhi. By the way, these are also the same colors as the faces of Kalachakra in each of these directions. So, his front face, facing Austria in the east, is black. Of course, sometimes black is referred to as dark blue. We don’t worry about that. Remember, “Symmetry is stupid.” Furthermore, each of these faces refers to a different function of a Buddha. This front face, the black face, is the face for vajra-mind. Thus, when we are in the east, the text will refer to this direction sometimes in terms of its black color, sometimes in terms of vajra-mind or the mind-face, and sometimes in terms of Amoghasiddhi. These are all referring to the same direction.

In the south, where Italy is, the color is red, and that is the element fire. It is for Buddha Ratnasambhava, and it is the speech-face for vajra-speech.

In the north, where Germany is, the color is white. It is for the element water. It is for Buddha Amitabha, and it is the body-face for vajra-body.

In the back, where France is, in the west, the color is yellow. That is for the element earth, the Buddha Vairochana, and it is the deep awareness face for vajra deep awareness. I am not sure of the term the translators will be using. It might be wisdom, pristine awareness, exalted wisdom, or something like that, rather than deep awareness.

In the top, the color is green for the element of space and Buddha Akshobhya. On the bottom, the color is blue for Vajrasattva, and that again is for deep awareness.

During the empowerment, we are going to be asked to imagine that we walk around this mandala palace. At different times, we will be in different directions, and when we are in these different directions, we will be in the middle of the entranceways that are in the middle each of the four sides of the square mandala palace. It will be described in terms of what color we are, or which face we are looking at of Kalachakra. If we keep the map of Europe in mind, and keep these basic four colors in mind, like Austria is black, Italy is red, Germany is white, and France is yellow, we will be able to follow.

His Holiness is in the form of the full central deity. We can see a picture behind him, so it will not be so difficult to keep in mind. Further, we need to remember that he is actually a couple, which is a father and mother. Yab-yum means father and mother, and has nothing to do with Western concepts of masculinity and femininity.

Inner Empowerment

The process of our initially arising as Buddha-figures will be in a manner similar to the way that the Buddhist systems describe rebirth. We enter His Holiness’ mouth, like the consciousness of a bardo being entering the mouth of a father. Then we pass through the father’s body into the mother’s womb, where we will be generated in the form of Buddha-figures. We will be in the simple form of Kalachakra, with one face and two arms. We are blue, with two legs. Our right leg is red. This is easy to remember, at least in English and German, not necessarily in the other languages, because both “right” and “red” begin with the letter “R.” The left leg is white. We look basically the same as our father. So, in fact, we are now His Holiness’ spiritual offspring. We are born from the womb and we go outside the palace and stand in Austria.

The important thing here is to feel that now we really are His Holiness’ spiritual offspring. This is a very strong and very deep feeling that we have from inside us. We feel that we have now made this very, very special, important relationship with His Holiness, with Kalachakra. Whether we can imagine that our right legs are red, our left legs are white, and our bodies are blue, is not so important. The important thing is that we feel that now we have made this connection as His Holiness’ spiritual offspring and that now we are starting a new spiritual life. We have just been born, pure, and now we are going to enter this Kalachakra practice and become like our father and mother. We should feel that everybody around us is the same, and that we all are the spiritual children of His Holiness. We call this relationship “vajra brothers” and “vajra sisters.” So, in fact we will all have a very special relationship with each other.

Taking Refuge and Vows

After that, we will take refuge (safe direction) and the various vows. Some people have asked, “Can we take refuge with His Holiness, and is there something special that we can do?” The answer is that there is no separate special ceremony. It is a part of what we are doing here. Refuge has the meaning of putting a safe and valid direction in our lives. In other words, we are going in the direction of the attainments of His Holiness, of Kalachakra. To work to achieve the same attainments is what definitely is going to protect us from the many different problems and difficulties we face in life. This is what really makes us a Buddhist. To go in this direction is an active process; it is not passive. You don’t just receive protection from a supreme being in heaven.

Then, we will take the vowed restraints, namely the bodhisattva and the tantric vows. As I explained, these are guidelines that we follow. They are practical. We are not asked to become fanatics. However, we try our best to follow these guidelines. If we feel that we are not ready to take on these guidelines, then as His Holiness says in English, “You can just be a neutral observer.” There is no obligation. As a neutral observer, we just watch. There is nothing to hide, but we would not actually participate in all the visualizations that will be going on.

We don’t have to tell anybody whether we are neutral observers or participating. It is a private matter. This is called the secret vehicle, so everything is kept very private. What we are doing is nobody else’s business. If we wear red ribbons on our heads during the ceremony, it does not mean anything. Neutral observers can wear red ribbons on their heads – even dogs can – and it does not mean that they are taking the empowerment. Whether we take it or not is in terms of whether we are participating in our imagination concerning our feelings about ourselves.


People ask about the commitments of Kalachakra. If we are actually taking the empowerment, the commitment is that we will keep the vows. In addition, there are the nineteen close bonds or “samayas” in Sanskrit, “dam-tsig” in Tibetan, that bond us closely to the five Buddha families individually. Sometimes, they are called “pledges,” also meaning that which makes a connection.

One way to keep mindful and remember these nineteen, since it might be easy to forget them, is to do The Six-Session Yoga. This is a practice that we repeat six times a day. It is a practice, that we can receive teachings on to get deeper into it. There are several levels of extensiveness. It does not have to be a huge time-consuming thing. This is also a commitment from the empowerment, that we will do this practice each day for the rest of our life. Of course, if we are unconscious, in a coma, or extremely sick, that is an exception, obviously, we do not have to be an inflexible fanatic. However, if we are capable of doing it each day, we need to do it as a way to keep mindful of these guidelines and of this safe direction that we are going in.

[See:Kalachakra Six-Session Guru-Yoga. See also:Six-Session Yogas.]

As I mentioned, there are different levels of extensiveness, different lengths of the six-session practice – very short ones, longer ones, and so forth. It is not necessary to have to do the long, fullest six-session practice specifically associated with Kalachakra every day. And it is not necessary to have to do exactly the same one each day. When we have more time, we will want to do a fuller version. If we do not have time, we can do a shorter one. There is even a version that is just in four lines, one verse, for when we really have no time. Of course, if we can do it more extensively, that is better. Also, if we are already doing a six-session practice from a previous empowerment, it is not necessary to do anything further. One round is sufficient.

These are the commitments. If we feel that we are ready to take them on, excellent! If we feel that we are not ready, then be a neutral observer! People sometimes refer to this latter option as just receiving a blessing. The Tibetan word translated as “blessing” has the connotation of “inspiration.” It is not as though someone were blessing us with a magic wand; but rather, from being here even as a neutral observer, we can receive a great deal of inspiration simply from being in His Holiness’ presence. It is not something magical in a weird, mysterious sense. It is true, however: it is indeed inspiring to be in His Holiness’ presence.

Sadhana Practice

There is no additional commitment in terms of actually doing a sadhana practice, or repeating the mantra, or doing retreats. If we want to do any of these things, fine. However, if not, that is fine also. I should mention on the side, since there is sometimes confusion about this, that The Kalachakra Six-Session Guru-Yoga is not a sadhana. Those are two separate types of practices.

[See: Basic Features of Tantra.]

I have prepared some short materials, in English, for further Kalachakra practice. This was done when I asked His Holiness to recommend some shorter sadhana practices, and these were what he recommended. They are graded materials. In other words, just because Kalachakra in its full form has 722 deities in its mandala, this does not mean that we start trying to imagine 722 figures. When I asked His Holiness whether it is necessary to practice simpler deities first before Kalachakra, His Holiness said “No.” He said that there are practices of Kalachakra that are just with the simple deity with one face and two arms. From this, we can work up to progressively more complicated practices. Thus, it is something you can grow with.

[See: Kalachakra Sadhanas.]

Protection Strings

After the taking of the vows, there will be various other procedures in the preliminary ceremony today for purification. There is no need to go into detail.

One of the steps is that we will be given protection strings to wear. These can be worn on either arm. They have the significance of Maitreya in two senses of the word. We wear them until either Maitreya comes, the future Buddha, or, since the actual meaning of the word Maitreya is “love,” we wear them until we develop pure love on our mental continuums. Our true protection will be if we can have sincere, caring love. So whether we wear the strings until Maitreya comes, or we develop pure love, or we wear them until they fall off or we lose them, that is not so important. What is important is the meaning of the strings.

Day Two

I have a stack of questions here in front of me. Let me try to answer some of them during the course of explaining what will happen today during the first day of the actual empowerment.

Following the Visualizations

One thing to keep in mind about what is going on here is that it is going to be difficult to understand everything. We need to try not to worry about the fact that we cannot follow everything. I imagine that hardly anybody can. Empowerments are things that in general are taken many, many times. The more familiar we become with the empowerment, the more fully we can participate in all the procedures of its visualizations, and so forth. We try our best to follow on our own levels and don’t worry about it.

Concerning the visualizations of each of the steps of the empowerment, let me give a very good piece of advice that my own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, gave. Empowerments, sadhanas, and all the various procedures in tantra are like a motion picture. Each frame and each scene of a motion picture is on only as long as its own time period. Then it passes and the next scene appears. We don’t try to superimpose every frame of the movie and show them all at the same time. Whatever visualizations we have of different syllables, different deities, and different parts of our bodies, that only holds true for that very short period of time, for that step of the empowerment. Then the scene changes and the movie goes on. We shift to the next scene. If we miss one of the scenes, forget about it. Just continue. Otherwise, the movie never goes on.

General Outline of the First Day of the Actual Empowerment

The empowerment today will have several parts and we can have a general idea of what is going on, as follows.

We have been prepared to enter the mandala. One of the questions here concerns whether people who were not present at the ceremony yesterday and have not generated themselves as Buddha-figures can proceed today. There is no problem, since we will again be generated in the form of a Buddha-figure, and we will again be taking the vows. However, the movie of getting the two pieces of kusha grass and placing them under our mattresses and pillows for examining our dreams last night is past. You missed it. However, there is no problem; it does not matter.

Now, we are ready to enter the mandala and receive the empowerments. For entering the mandala, we will first be wearing blindfolds – red ribbons on our foreheads – because we are not yet allowed to see what is inside. Then, we will remove the blindfolds and will be able to see everything.

The period we have the blindfolds on has two parts. The first will take place outside the curtain, which means outside the walls of the mandala palace. The second part will take place inside the walls, which is referred to as inside the curtains of the mandala. Each of these parts has several steps.

Then, we will remove our blindfolds and further things will happen, and finally we will actually receive the empowerments. This is basically what will be going on, and we begin with standing outside the palace, near the eastern gateway, as if in Austria, with our blindfolds on.

Interpretation of Dreams and Other Preliminary Steps

First, there will be a discussion of our dreams. There were a few questions about specific interpretations of dreams. There really is no time for this and I am not qualified to analyze everybody’s dreams. His Holiness will speak about it in general, i.e., what are auspicious and what are inauspicious signs in dreams. And then, of course, the general advice: we should not be proud of good signs, or be depressed by inauspicious signs.

Next, His Holiness will perform a certain ceremony to get rid of any interference or difficulties anybody might have had from inauspicious signs. His Holiness will take care of it, don’t worry. We have to keep in mind, in any case, that all dreams, just like anything else, lack solid, concrete existence.

Then various ritual clothes and garments will be passed out to some of the people on the stage. You might be wondering about all of that. As we were saying yesterday, we are all being generated in the form of these Buddha-figures, so we are not viewing or thinking of ourselves in our usual ordinary ways. Wearing the ritual clothes is a way to help us keep mindful that we are not in our ordinary forms. That is the reason we wear them. It does not matter that not all of us have them.

Generation as the Buddha-Figure

Then we are going to be generated once more in the form of the simple deity, Kalachakra, but this time we will be with a partner. One of the questions that I saw here was about the significance of the simple deity. It is just a simple basic form; there is no special significance.

Someone else asked if there was any special significance to the partner, to the mother, aside from helping in the birth process. The answer is yes; there are other purposes. First, we need to keep in mind that, as practitioners of any of these tantric systems, we are not just the main deity. In fact, we are everybody in the whole world system! We are the main couple and we are also all of the 722 figures in the mandala. All of the figures in the mandala represent various things on external and internal levels and on a practice level (the alternative level).

For example, some of the deities represent the different elements in our bodies; and some signify various energy-channels in different parts of our bodies. In fact, if we look at our ordinary bodies, we see that it has far more than 722 parts. We are not only our heads; we are also our arms and legs. And we are the different veins and bones in our bodies too.

Very often, we are unaware of the myriad things that constitute us. I am not only speaking on a physical level, but also on mental and emotional levels. We are made up of so many things: for instance, the various aspects of our personalities, the various things that we have learned both inside and outside school, and the different types of lives that we lead. We all have business lives or professional lives; we have nuclear family lives with our partners and children; and we have extended family lives with our parents and other relatives. Even if they have already passed away, they are still parts of us. Then we have our personal spiritual lives, sport lives, recreational lives, school lives, vacation lives, and so on. And, in fact, we are all of these. In Buddhist technical terms, all of them serve as the basis for labeling our conventional “me”s.

It is very helpful to try to integrate all of these aspects of ourselves into a whole being, a whole person. In terms of practicing with these deity systems, when we try to be aware of the different Buddha-figures around us, we are trying to be aware of all of them constituting the basis for labeling “me.” This is very helpful for becoming a more integrated person.

It is very important for us to learn to feel that all the various aspects of our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and all the different aspects of our lives fit together harmoniously. From any point of view, if we can feel that we are whole persons, it is very healing, very helpful. So, we are all of these Buddha-figures, and we are the palace as well, because the building too has many levels of symbolism. It stands for different aspects of ourselves on the spiritual path.

Visualization of the Female Partner

The female partner, then, is part of us. The main symbolism of the mother and father, the couple, is in terms of method and wisdom. Because wisdom, the understanding of reality, gives birth to all our different attainments and realizations, it is symbolized by a mother. Here, the main mother is yellow, and she is called Vishvamata, which means “Mother of Diversity.”

There is also a group of ten powerful ladies, called “shaktis” in Sanskrit. They constitute another aspect of the main partner. On one level, they stand for the ten far-reaching attitudes (Skt.paramita, perfections). What might be slightly confusing is when we are generated as the simple couple at the very beginning of the empowerment today, the partner is going to be blue, not yellow. That is if His Holiness follows the text – he may also follow an oral tradition in which she is yellow. We do not know what is coming.

If our partner happens to be blue, do not let this upset you. Everybody changes colors at different times. Moreover, any of the ten powerful ladies can substitute for the main consort, and particularly the blue one, who happens to be Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom or discriminating awareness.

This scene only goes on for a certain part in the beginning of the empowerment today. After that, we are going to be transformed into lots of other aspects, so don’t just hold on to the first scene. The female partners here have a great deal of meaning throughout the entire practice, because throughout the entire practice we need to have wisdom, we need to have an understanding of reality.

Another piece of amusing advice comes to mind, again from Serkong Rinpoche. Someone asked, “Isn’t it difficult to imagine that we have this partner, that we are this couple if we are walking around and sitting and doing various things?” Rinpoche replied that, in a way it is like wearing clothes. We are wearing clothes as we walk around, sit, and do various things. Throughout the day, we know we are dressed and we have the feeling that we are dressed. This is part of us, but we do not really worry about it. We do not focus so strongly on it, unless we are vain.

In general, we need to try not to have mental blocks about any of these different aspects. As I said yesterday, the main thing is to have a feeling that we have all these things and that we are all these aspects. We have both the various methods for reaching enlightenment, in terms of the bodies of a Buddha, and we also have wisdom.

Taking Vows Once More

After the generation of ourselves as Buddha-figures, there will be the taking of the vows again: these will be the taking of refuge, the bodhisattva vows, and the tantric vows. The bodhisattva vows are also sometimes called the bodhichitta vows. It is the same thing, so don’t be thrown by their having two names. Then there are the tantric vows, and they are also called the secret mantra vows, the same thing. And then there are some special vows that are particularly associated with the Kalachakra practice. His Holiness will probably explain a little bit about them.

One question that was asked a number of times here was about the vows that were given on Saturday morning, the one-day Mahayana vows. That was the scene in the movie that played Saturday morning. That scene is not continuing to play today, unless, of course, we put it on this morning and took the vows again. In any case, those were not the set of vows that we are taking here. We are not taking vows that we will never eat after noon again for the rest of our lives. That was something different and please do not confuse them with the vows we are taking here at the empowerment.

There are many questions concerning specific vows. I will speak more about them after I go through some more general points concerning the empowerment.

The Yoga Encompassing Everything

After the vows, we have a procedure called “the yoga encompassing everything.” With it, we try to develop an awareness or feeling of conventional (relative) and deepest (ultimate) bodhichittas.

The term that I like to use for bodhichitta is an “expanding heart.” Conventional bodhichitta is a heart set on enlightenment and expanding out to all others and to achieving enlightenment to be able to help them the best. Deepest bodhichitta is a mind set on voidness and is expanding out to understand and encompass it completely. A very important part of the empowerment is generating these two aspects of our hearts and minds expanding out, because this will be the context within which everything is practiced and held.

Keeping Tantra Private

Then, there will be quite a bit of emphasis on keeping the vows of secrecy. At various times during the empowerment, we will be reminded always to keep the secrecy. The whole idea of secrecy is keeping things private. It is not that we are doing something that we have to hide, such as something dirty or bad. Rather, the point is that if we publicize the different visualizations and so on that we are doing, they lose their value and worth.

One of the worst things – and it can be really devastating for our practice – is if we tell someone, “I am visualizing myself as a deity with four heads and twenty-four arms,” and then they make fun of us. Aside from the fact that they may consider us crazy, still, if people start to laugh at us, and we have to become defensive about our spiritual practice, it really loses its whole power.

Thus, we really need to keep to ourselves the methods and practices we are following. If people ask us a question of what we are doing, we can answer in a very vague way, like “I am working on my attitude, trying to get a more positive feeling about myself.” Something simple. Nobody has to know what we are visualizing, and the specific methods we are following.

That is also why the Lamas often advise that it is not so good to put up strange pictures of these deities in place in our homes where anybody who comes in can see them and ask all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Nor is it wise to walk around with a rosary, or something like that, making a big show, so that people again start asking us a lot of questions. It becomes quite awkward. The more private we keep our practice, the better. It becomes much more precious to us. Also, if we explain to other people who are not ready to understand, they might develop some very strange ideas about it. It really is not so good to give other people opportunities for developing incorrect ideas.

Changing Forms

After that, we will go inside the mandala, still blindfolded, and circumambulate. This is on the ground floor of this very large building. We will also make prostrations in the four doorways. There is a doorway in the middle of each side and we’ll start to change our forms at this point. In each doorway, we are going to be in the form of a different Buddha-figure. We will be a different color, and so on, and it will start to come quite fast. If you can follow, great. If you can’t, don’t worry! The main thing is that we are showing respect; we are prostrating.

The same thing is going to be true throughout the empowerment. Don’t worry if you can not keep up with all the changes of the colors and the things we are holding. Try to keep in mind the essence of what is going on in that particular stage.

Not Belittling Our Spiritual Masters

After prostrating and showing respect, we will again be told to keep the secrecy, and not to belittle or put down our spiritual masters. This is very important, because if we think that our spiritual masters do not know what they are talking about, how can we possible have any confidence in what they teach us? This is the reason why it is so important to examine beforehand whether we can accept the master as our personal spiritual teacher. The time to examine is beforehand, not after.

Again, as in an example Serkong Rinpoche used, we should not be like the crazy person who runs out on the ice of a lake and then turns around and taps with a stick behind him to see if the ice will hold him. With His Holiness, we can be completely confident that he is certainly the most fully qualified master we could find.

The Descent of Deep Awareness Beings and the Tossing of a Flower into the Mandala

Next, we will have the beings of deep awareness, the wisdom beings, descend upon us. We will imagine various deities descending into us and merging with us in a very complicated visualization. In this way, we become even more authentically transformed into these Buddha-figures.

After that, we toss a flower into the mandala. Based on the direction in which it falls, we will know our affiliation, or which Buddha-family we are connected with. We will also receive a secret name in terms of this.

Some of the questions here are also concerned with the fact that yesterday the Western disciples had a connection with the attainment of increase. Remember I spoke yesterday about the different types of activities that a Buddha has, the different ways in which he or she is able to exert an enlightening influence on others. I was discussing how one of these ways is that a Buddha is able to stimulate everything around him or her to grow. This refers to the attainment of increase. This shows that we will have a connection particularly with gaining this ability to exert this tremendous stimulating influence on everyone around us.

We will get another affiliation from tossing the flower today. The flower will be placed on our heads. We are going to be told that from the circumstance of being touched with the flower, namely from the sensation of the flower on the top of our heads, we experience inseparable voidness and bliss. This instruction to imagine that we now experience inseparable voidness and bliss will recur repeatedly throughout the empowerment. Let me explain a bit about that.

Experiencing Inseparable Voidness and Bliss

Yesterday, we discussed that each empowerment has as its functions purifying a certain type of stain and planting a specific seed. We purify in order to be able to overcome our limitations, and we plant seeds in order to be able to grow and develop good qualities. The seeds that we plant are actually of two kinds. One is a conscious experience during the empowerment, and that is an experience of inseparable voidness and bliss. The second is an actual seed – a legacy from experiencing the ritual – that is planted on our mental continuums for some future ripening.

What are voidness and bliss, or emptiness and bliss? One of the “simple” questions asked was “What is emptiness of inherent existence?” We can talk a lot about it. His Holiness has addressed the subject already. Basically, however, to grasp for inherent (solid, true) existence is to believe that things exist with identities established from their own sides. It is to believe that we can actually find existing – let’s say in this can of club soda on the table in front of me – something that we can point our fingers to as establishing or as being the identity of the can.

The way we usually think is in terms of this being a concrete object right here, with a solid identity as “this” or “that.” “This is my can of club soda and you had better not take it.” Or, “This can is extremely cold and I don’t like to drink anything cold. I’m really upset that they brought me something that is so ice cold. Why weren’t they more considerate? And look, it has a flip-top opener on top, which I usually manage to cut my finger on. What a horrible can of soda!”

Thus, I imagine this can of club soda is sitting here, defiantly existing with an identity as something annoying and disappointing from its own side. And if I grasp at this can of club soda to have all these projected qualities, from its own side, inherently – if I grasp at it to exist in the way my paranoid and ungrateful mind makes it appear – I get into a whole disturbing mental state about it.

Grasping for inherent existence, then, would be believing that this can of soda has an existence and concrete identity established from its own side, that I can find here on the table, completely separate from all the different causes that went into it, such as the intention of the kind person who brought it for me and so forth.

What is the actual reality of this can of soda? What I can say about it is that, in fact, there is a total absence of it existing as this nasty, disappointing can. The paranoid vision of the can of soda, that it has been put here on purpose to make me angry, is just a complete fantasy, a fantasized way of existing. That way of existing, that fantasized way of existing, is totally absent; it is not the case; it is not referring to anything true. A can of soda has no intention, because it is cold, to upset my stomach. There are no such things as “disappointing cans of soda.” If a can of soda were disappointing from its own side, it would have to be disappointing to everyone. And I am sure there are many of you listening to me who would love to drink it and would not consider it disappointing or annoying at all.

So, when we talk about emptiness or voidness, it is a complete absence of some strange fantasized way that we think things exist and that we project. The strange, fantasized ways in which we imagine that things exist has many levels of subtlety. As we study more and gain deeper insight, we will be able to see, on progressively more subtle levels, these fantasized, impossible ways. However, in general, this is what voidness is talking about.

Further, there are many types of mind or consciousness with which we could be aware of this absence. Some of these states of mind have more advantages than others do. When we talk about bliss, bliss is actually a blissful type of awareness. “Blissful” is an adjective. We are speaking of a way of being aware of something that is characterized by being very blissful.

A blissful awareness has many advantages. One is that it is an extremely intense state of mind. Furthermore, the more intense it is, the subtler and more nonconceptual it becomes. If we have many different types of mind that we could choose with which to be aware of reality, it would be good to choose one that has many advantages. It is like if we want to shoot an arrow into a target and we have many different arrows that we could use, we would want to choose one of the best arrows. The arrow that we choose is this blissful awareness. The blissful awareness arrow is the arrow that we are going to use as the one to shoot into the target, voidness. We are going to use it as the type of mind with which we understand reality, or voidness, this absence of fantasized ways of existing. So, when we talk about “inseparable voidness and bliss,” this is what we are talking about. It is a blissful type of awareness with which we are aware of reality or voidness.

In his commentary to the Kalachakra empowerment, the Seventh Dalai Lama wrote that it will be difficult for most disciples actually to have an experience of voidness and bliss during the empowerment. Therefore, what disciples need to do, in general, is try to generate a happy state of mind. With a happy state of mind, on whatever level they are able to generate one, they need to try to be aware of reality to whatever level they are capable of understanding it. If reality speaks of a total absence of fantasized ways of existing, then on whatever level we are capable of understanding that, we need to think of it in a happy state of mind. This is the type of mind we need to try to generate each time in the empowerment we are instructed, “Imagine that you have an experience of inseparable voidness and bliss.”

The reality of the situation of the empowerment, for instance, is not that there is some strange thing occurring on the stage, and we are completely separated from it down here in the audience. That situation with a thick solid line around His Holiness on the stage and a thick solid line around us in the audience is not true, it is absent. In fact, the whole situation is very open and a whole process of cause and effect is occurring. We are experiencing various things, such as seeds being planted to form a basis for our future success in the practice. Therefore, even if we just think in terms of the absence of these thick solid lines, and think of this in a happy state of mind, this will do.

In fact, we are at an empowerment, which means we are gaining the power to grow. On the basis of our experience of thinking of this absence with a happy state of mind during the empowerment, our understanding and insight will grow. So it does not have to be the most ultimate, sophisticated experience of voidness and bliss at the empowerment. However, if we try in this way, we will gain the basic experience from which we can grow.

Levels of the Empowerment

After this, we will remove the blindfolds so that we are able to see the mandala, and we will listen to a description of it. Then, the specific empowerments will be given. When the Kalachakra initiation is given in full, there are first the seven empowerments of entering like a child, then the four higher and the four highest empowerments, and finally the great vajra-overlord empowerment.

One of the questions asked was “I understand that this is not the fullest level of the Kalachakra empowerment that is being given. What is going on here?” The three levels that can be given are as follows: The first is to give only the seven empowerments of entering as a child. From receiving this, we are empowered to do the generation stage practices, which are the practices done with the imagination. This is what His Holiness gave in Madison Wisconsin a few years ago.

What His Holiness will give here in Switzerland will be the intermediate level. We will receive the seven empowerments of entering as a child, and certain ones out of the four higher and the four highest. Let me explain. There are higher vase, secret, wisdom and fourth, or word, empowerments, and also a highest level of each of the four. We will receive the higher vase, secret, wisdom, and fourth, and then also the highest word, or fourth empowerment. On the basis of this, we are empowered to do all the practices of Kalachakra, both the generation and the complete stage. It enables us to receive all the teachings of Kalachakra, and, if we have the qualifications, to explain them to others.

The third level that can be given, the fullest level, has the seven of entering like a child, the four higher and the complete four highest, and the great vajra-overlord empowerments. Having received that – and this is what His Holiness will give in Bodh Gaya this winter – the only additional thing we are empowered to do is, if we have done all the preparations and are utterly qualified, to confer the empowerment to others. This is the only thing that we are not empowered to do here now. Since this is not so relevant for most of us, it is not being given. However, we should not feel badly, that this is an incomplete initiation, and that we are missing something. What we are missing is something that for most of us is irrelevant.

Now, let us turn to some of the questions.

Vows, Pledges, and the Six-Session Yoga Practice

The largest number of questions that have been asked concern the vows and commitments, or pledges. A vow is a promised restraint from doing a naturally destructive action or one that is prohibited for certain individuals, such as wearing robes for monastics. A pledge is a close-bonding practice, something that we practice in order to make us close to the Buddha-figures.

The six-session yoga practice is something that makes us close to the five Buddha-families. We promise to repeat the six-session practice six times each day for the rest of our lives, as a way of keeping mindful of the practices that will make us close to these families. We can do it on six separate occasions during the day and evening, but that is not necessary. What most people do is to recite it three times in the morning and three times in the evening. If we are doing the longer versions, then the three repetitions are not complete repetitions of the entire thing. There are only certain verses that we repeat the second and third times, and that is indicated quite clearly in the books.

We can also recite these verses six times altogether, if we are not able to do them three times in the morning and three times in the evening. We can also do different lengths of the practice at different times, to suit our individual circumstances. However, the shortest one, just saying one verse, if we say it six times, cannot take us more than a few minutes. So, it is not something outrageous that we are promising to do.

Bodhisattva and Tantric Vows Are until Enlightenment

A few persons ask, “Are the vows only for when we are doing this practice? How long are these vows for?” The bodhisattva and tantric vows are guidelines that we try to follow for the rest of our lives. In fact, if we want to be technically correct, we are promising to try to keep them as guidelines for our behavior throughout all our lives, all the way to enlightenment.

Breaking Vows and Feeling Guilt

This raises the whole subject of guilt, and since we are mostly all Westerners here, and most Westerners have problems with guilt, we might as well address it. It is very helpful to examine what is the feeling of guilt that we experience when we break a vow. I suppose various people have different ideas, but from my own thinking it seems as follows.

We do something that is destructive. Let’s not use the terms bad or evil, or non-virtuous, which all imply a moral judgment. Let’s simply call it destructive. I think the whole issue of guilt arises when we identify very strongly with what we have done and then feel, “I am a bad person. I have done something wrong.” Then we hang onto it very, very tightly as now being our permanent identities. The psychological implication is that “This is who I am and now there is very little that can be done about it.”

If, on the other hand, we tell people, “Well, you should not feel guilty,” they may misunderstand. Some people may think that this means they can go out and do anything they want to do and not feel guilty about it. That also is incorrect.

The facts of reality are that certain actions are destructive and others are constructive. If we do something destructive and we don’t do anything about it, then a lot of problems come about. And, to do nothing about it and, in addition, to feel that there is nothing that can be done about it, is to feel guilty. However, in fact, something can be done about it. Even if we have done something destructive, we can apply opponent forces and build up a more positive potential.

It is always said that if we understand voidness, we can purify ourselves of all the seeds of our destructive actions of our past. This does not mean that now all our destructive potentials are void; they have all disappeared. We get rid of them just by thinking that they do not exist. Rather, the understanding of voidness is in terms of understanding cause and effect, or dependent arising. So, when we understand voidness, or the absence of fantasized ways of existing, we understand that the potentials and everything that we will experience in the future are things that follow a process of cause and effect. They are not predetermined fates carved in stone.

What we have done in the past, what we have now as potentials, and what we will experience in the future – all of them occur according to the laws of cause and effect. If our negative potentials existed inherently from their own sides as sort of marks on a score board, then there is nothing that can be done about them. We are condemned. And, if we are condemned like that, then we are guilty.

However, it is not like that. Our negative potentials do not exist in this fantasized way. They are devoid of existing like that. They can be affected by cause and effect. That means that in fact we have to do something about them and not just sit and feel guilty and badly about them and indulge in self-pity. There are various practices we can do that will overcome these negative potentials and build up positive ones. Otherwise, there would be no way to become enlightened, if we think about it.

Factors Required for Losing the Vows

Although we try never to break our vows, it is difficult not to transgress them some times. Therefore, the main emphasis is on not losing our vows. In transgressing our vows, then, there is a big difference between merely weakening them and losing them completely. For most of the vows, losing them requires certain attitudes to be present. Without all of these attitudes complete, our transgression merely weakens our vows. We still have them on our mental continuums.

Consider the bodhisattva vows. Suppose, we claim, for example, “I am the best doctor in the world. I am so wonderful and all other doctors are incompetent and stupid. They can’t do anything.” If we say this with the motivation of having more patients and making more money, this is going to prevent us from benefiting others the best. If we do this and feel happy about what we have done; and if we feel there is nothing wrong with it, because, after all, we want to make a lot of money; and if we have absolutely no intention of stopping this in the future; and we don’t care in the slightest how our behavior reflects on us or on our loved ones, because we are here to make as much money as possible; we lose our bodhisattva vows. With these attitudes, we have, in fact, discarded them. If, however, not all of these attitudes are present, we have just weakened our vows. We have not lost them.

So, if we find that we have praised ourselves and put down other people, because after all, we are human and we may inadvertently do that, then we try to feel regret about that: regret, but not guilt. Guilt would mean, “I have blown it; there is nothing I can do; and I am just a terrible person.” This is guilt. Regret means, “I have eaten too much whipped cream, and I know I am going to get an upset stomach; but I can take a pill and I can get rid of it.” This, however, does not mean that we can always go and eat an excessive amount of whipped cream, because we can always take a pill afterwards.

In any case, if we regret what we have done and will try our best not to repeat it; and if we feel that it was not the best thing to have done; and if we have a sense of ethical self-pride and care how our behavior reflects on us and on our loved ones and teachers, because we want to try to help everybody; then praising ourselves and belittling others just weakens the force of our vows. We therefore need to apply the various opponent forces to restrengthen our commitments. Namely, we reaffirm our refuge, the safe direction we are taking in life. We reaffirm or rededicate our hearts to others and to enlightenment, with bodhichitta. We can also do various other purification practices, such as Vajrasattva.

If we feel guilty, we do not really believe that these opponent forces are going to be effective. For many Western people, guilt causes so many problems. We need to have confidence in the laws of behavioral cause and effect. The more we understand voidness, or the absence of fantasized ways of existing, the more we understand reality, and thus the more we will have confidence in cause and effect. How many times have we heard His Holiness say that? This is a very important point, especially in light of the purification that occurs during the empowerment.

In summary, the various vows are guidelines that we follow in terms of what are the most constructive things to do in order to be able to benefit others, and in order to achieve enlightenment through the tantric practices.

There are a lot of questions here about specific vows. There are various ways to approach this pile of questions. I suppose I should follow the advice from the teachings on training the mind, or cleansing attitudes, and take the most difficult or the most persistent questions first.

The Vow Not to Release Semen

The most frequently asked question concerns the vow about not releasing semen. First, as His Holiness said when I asked him for clarification about this vow, it is not the case that men have fourteen tantric vows, and women have only thirteen. We have equality of the sexes here. Everybody has this vow. However, what does it mean?

Semen can also be translated as “seminal force” or “seminal energy,” which leaves it a little bit more open. Seminal, the adjective form of semen, gives the idea of something that can give birth to many other things. We are talking about many different levels of subtlety here of the energy involved. Primarily, what we want to do is to achieve a blissful awareness and use it to be able to understand voidness, or reality. This very intense state of mind will bring us many advantages for being able to see reality more clearly. What we do not want to do, then, is to lose that blissful state of mind. We want to be able to maintain it.

The ability to develop an intensely blissful state of mind and not to lose it becomes extremely important when we reach the advanced stages of the practice – the complete stage. On less advanced stages, this ability is not as crucial, because we are not yet dealing with the subtle energy systems. On a more beginners’ level of practice, this vow is referring to avoiding the thought that having ordinary sex is a way of gaining liberation or enlightenment. When we have ordinary sex and we come to the point where we have a peak experience of orgasm, the energy dissipates afterwards, either immediately or gradually. If we think that this is what will bring us enlightenment, we might develop all sorts of strange ideas about sex. This is breaking the vow.

Let’s not let these vows make us feel guilty about sex. That would be very sad. We have to understand them in terms of the more advanced levels of dealing with the energies in the body and wanting to maintain and not lose a blissful state of mind. And, on a beginners’ level of practice, we do not want to indulge in ordinary sex and think that this is the way to achieve enlightenment.

A Qualified Partner

A similar answer can be given to the next most frequently asked question, “What about the vow of only being with a qualified partner and having the three recognitions?”

A qualified partner, if we take this in a very general sense, is someone who has a similar understanding of the spiritual path and practice as we do and does not have strange ideas about sex. The recognitions are in terms of having a correct understanding of reality, a correct understanding of ourselves and our partners as Buddha-figures, and so forth.

We can appreciate the meaning of the word recognition by thinking of it in terms of feelings. We try not to have the feeling that, by engaging in a sexual act, we can gain liberation. Instead, we try to be mindful of the long-range goals we are aiming for. We are aiming to be able to help everybody and becoming enlightened. We want to use all the experiences we have in order to be able to develop ourselves more in this direction.

This does not mean that we are not going to have any more children. It means to have the recognition, throughout the day and night, of being in the pure forms of Buddha-figures, as we were discussing yesterday. To feel this helps us to remain mindful that we are aiming to achieve the bodies of a Buddha and that when we experience happiness and joy, we want, while in this state of mind, to try to stay focused on reality and not be intoxicated or overwhelmed by our bliss. It is similar to what His Holiness was explaining yesterday about using desire as part of the path.

Day Three

Review of Some Essential Points

First, I shall speak a little about what is going to take place today. We have reached the point in the empowerment at which we have entered the mandala. First, we did so with blindfolds on and now our blindfolds have been removed. We have been introduced to the entire mandala system. As I said yesterday, although we have been introduced to the 722 deities in the mandala, if we have not been able to follow where they all are, don’t worry about it! Just have the feeling that they are all there. That is fine.

Also, I should probably repeat from yesterday, since a few questions again have been asked about it, that the visualizations for each step of the mandala, for each step of the empowerment, only occur during that particular step. So, please, don’t try to hold all the visualizations collectively at the same time. Do what is happening at the particular point in the empowerment that is happening now, and when the next point comes, go on to the next visualization and let the previous one dissolve. If you have missed one of the stages, it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry!

The main empowerments that will be given today are the seven empowerments of entering as a child, the four higher empowerments, which will consist of a vase, a secret, a wisdom, and a fourth or word empowerment, and a fourth or word empowerment from the set of the highest four empowerments. All of these are purifying different stages in our lives. As I was explaining yesterday, each empowerment will purify something and plant certain seeds. What is being purified will be presented on many different levels.

The Stages in Life That Each Empowerment Purifies

The most general level of what each empowerment purifies is stages in a person’s life. The seven of entering as a child purify the different phases of childhood. During the empowerment, we experience each phase in a purified manner. First is the water empowerment, and this is like washing us as newborn infants. Remember, we have been born as the spiritual children of His Holiness in order to enter this world system. Then, we receive the crown empowerment, which is likened to receiving our first haircuts as babies. Next is the ear tassel empowerment. This refers to a ribbon that hangs down from the ears, and is likened to having our ears pierced as babies. We can find the analogies for the rest of this first set of empowerments in the Kalachakra Initiation pamphlet. There is no need for me to go through all of them.

The four higher empowerments purify the different stages of desire that we develop as we go through adolescence. They are also analogous to the different stages of our spiritual growth, for instance, being householders, then novices, fully ordained monastics, and so on.

The Locations in the Mandala for Receiving the Empowerments

The first seven empowerments will be given at different sides of the mandala. As you will recall, the mandala is actually a five-storied palace. It is very large, two hundred times our size. We are always on the ground floor. We might recall from the description of the mandala yesterday, that there are deities or groups of figures on each of the floors, in each side of the building. On the floor that we are on, the deities are on a large high platform in front of us that goes round like a square ring within the story. We are standing on the floor, in a narrow corridor between the wall and this platform. Whenever we walk around the mandala, we are always in this corridor between the wall and the raised platform, as we go to each of the doorways that are in the center of the walls.

Each direction has a different color, as described the first day. We can delineate each of them in terms of the face of Kalachakra that is facing in that direction. The colors of the faces are the same as the colors of the directions. The main Kalachakra figure has one head, but four faces. If we forget what color each face is, we can just look at the very large brocade picture behind His Holiness. To help remember, we can also use the example from yesterday’s example of the map of Europe. If His Holiness is standing in Switzerland, and facing east, the east is Austria. So the front, black face, which looks dark blue, but is called black, is facing Austria in the east. Then based on that, if we forget what color we are in each direction, we can figure it out by looking at the brocade picture.

We will receive two empowerments from each of the faces. Well, it is not quite that. There are seven empowerments, so it is not quite symmetrical. We receive two each from three of the faces and one from the fourth face.

We receive the first two empowerments from the body-face, that is the white face, which would be, from our perspective of the map of Europe, in the north, toward Germany. We will also be generated as white Buddha-figures for these two. All the forms we take for these seven empowerments have three faces and six arms. That will be the water and the crown empowerments.

Then we will walk clockwise to the south, so that we will be in the direction toward Italy, which is red. There we will be working with the speech-face of the Kalachakra deity, the red face. When we say we receive the empowerment from that face, it is not really from that face. It means we receive it while facing that face. For each of these sets empowerments, we are going to be generated in the form of a Buddha-figure that is the same color as the face we are facing.

The way we are generated is similar to the way it happened the first day with the inner empowerment. We are going into the mouth of the father and then, within a state of the absence of all fantasized ways of existing, we are born from the womb of the mother. Then we are generated back out. Since we enter the father through his mouth, and since he has four faces and four mouths, we enter through the mouth of the face that we are facing. It is in this sense that we receive the empowerment from or through a certain face. The second two empowerments, which we receive facing the red face, the speech-face, then, are the ear-tassel and then the vajra and bell empowerments.

Next, we will go round to the front face, which is the black face in the east toward Austria. That is the mind-face, and there, after being generated as black deities, we will receive the tamed-behavior and the name empowerments.

After that, we go round in the back to the west face, the deep awareness face, which is yellow, toward France. We will be born as yellow deities, and we will receive only one empowerment, the subsequent permission empowerment.

Following that, we will receive what is added or appended to this, namely, the mantra and the vajra-master empowerment. At that time, we will be transformed into Vajrasattvas who, in the Kalachakra system, are blue.

Procedure for the Seven Empowerments of Entering As a Child

Each of the seven empowerments also purifies some aspect of ourselves as a person, such as the different elements in our bodies and the aggregate factors of our experience (our five aggregates).

First, we dissolve their ordinary appearances and think of how they do not exist in fantasized ways. Then, they are generated as deities of the Kalachakra mandala. This relates to the fact that everything in the Kalachakra mandala has symbolism in terms of both the external and internal world of a living being. Eventually, we want to transform every aspect of ourselves completely, so that, instead of having impure appearances, all the parts of our bodies will have pure appearances as all these different deities. In this way, we become the entire symbolic world of the Kalachakra system. We will be all the deities, because all of them are different parts of our bodies, minds, elements, and so forth.

The transformation process entails quite complicated visualizations, which will involve a certain implement with which each empowerment is given, such as a vase or a crown, certain parts of our bodies, and certain groups of deities in the mandala.

We can take an example. First is the water empowerment. This is to purify the five elements of our bodies: earth, water, fire, wind, and space. In the Kalachakra mandala system, the five elements take the aspect of the five female Buddhas. With the empowerment, we plant certain seeds to purify these elements. This involves using a certain implement, in this case the water in a vase.

Now, how is this done? First, we focus on the five elements of our bodies and the water of the vase. I will not give all the details, because it is a bit much. Basically, the ordinary appearances of all of these dissolve into voidness, so there is a total absence of all strange ways that we might imagine that they exist. We then generate them in pure forms, as the five female Buddhas. Whether we can visualize them or not, is another matter. As I was saying before, basically, we need to try to have a feeling that both the elements of our bodies and the water of the vase now have pure appearances. There are slightly different traditions and opinions in the commentaries as to how exactly we visualize the female Buddhas in our bodies. That is very complicated, so just have a general feeling about it.

At this point, then, there are three groups of five female Buddhas – the actual five in the mandala, the five that were the water of the vase, and the five that were the elements of our bodies. First, the actual female Buddhas in the mandala come from where they sit around the main central couple and give the empowerment to the female Buddhas of the water in the vase. The latter set of five then transform back into the water in the vase. The five female Buddhas come once more from the mandala and touch the vase to the crowns of our heads. Nectars flow from it and give the empowerment to the five female Buddhas of our bodies. After this, each female Buddha in the mandala emanates a replica of herself and they dissolve into the female Buddhas in us. This makes everything stable.

The empowerment does two things: it purifies a factor and it plants seeds. In this case, it purifies our elements and it plants two seeds. One seed is a conscious experience, and the other is a seed to achieve the actual purified states in the future. When we imagine that we are touched on our heads with the vase and our bodies become filled with the water in it, the conscious experience is to imagine we experience inseparable voidness and bliss. I explained how to do this yesterday. We just try to generate some feeling of happiness, and in that state of happiness have some sort of thought about the absence of any fantasized reality, to whatever level we are capable of understanding it. This conscious experience not only is a seed in itself, but it plants another seed on our mental continuums as a kind of legacy for future success in the practice.

This, then, is the basic structure of each of the seven empowerments of entering as a child. Whether the empowerment concerns the elements of our bodies, our aggregates, sensory apparatus, or energy-channels, the ritual follows the same structure. Some aspect of our bodies is going to be transformed into a group of deities and the same thing will happen with an empowering implement, such as a crown, a bracelet, a thumb-ring, and so on. Then, the deities of the crown, for instance, receive the empowerment from the corresponding deities in the mandala, and, after they transform back into the crown, we receive the empowerment by imagining we are touched with it. We have a conscious experience of voidness and bliss, which both acts as a seed and plants a seed. Finally, replicas of whatever group of deities in the mandala we are dealing with will come into us and dissolve.

Again, try not to worry if you can’t really visualize all these groups of deities that we are dealing with here. It is very difficult and complicated. However, if we follow this general idea of different aspects of ourselves being purified at each stage, that is quite good.

The initiation text explains that each of the empowerments plants a seed in terms of the bodhisattva stages or “bhumis” in Sanskrit. Please do not misunderstand this statement. It does not refer to our having the seed to attain that level of realization. Rather, we plant a seed to be able to achieve an equivalent amount of positive potential (merit) as is achieved on each of those stages. I just mention this for those of you who have studied the stages of the tantra path. It may be a little confusing. If you have not studied these stages, it really does not make any difference. The point is that it plants seeds for achieving a tremendous amount of positive potential.

Now let’s turn to more questions. I am sorry if I won’t be able to answer every question individually. I have gone through the questions that I received yesterday and tried to put them together into groups, since many were asking quite similar things. Hopefully, by addressing them in this way, I can cover most people’s questions.

Daily Practice

Many of the questions deal with the commitments of the empowerment in terms of the daily practice. Of course, the general practice is keeping the vows, the bodhisattva and tantric vows. There is no commitment for a specific Kalachakra practice. If we want to do the mantra, fine. If we wish to engage in further practices, we can do one of the Kalachakra sadhanas, but that is completely optional.

What we are specifically asked to do each day is the six-session yoga practice. If we are already doing this in connection with another highest yoga tantra empowerment, then there is no need to do anything more. There are four different lengths of this practice. The longest is in conjunction with Kalachakra, but we do not necessarily have to practice that version. Any of the other versions will do, and all six repetitions in a day need not be of the same version.

We can do these practices either six different times during the day, or three together twice a day, or all six together, or two together three times a day. It does not matter. If we are doing them several times in a row together, then for the two longest versions – let’s call them the third and fourth levels – it is not necessary to repeat the entire text each time. We repeat only specific verses the second and third times.

The two shorter versions are in eight verses and one verse respectively. It is the custom to repeat the eight-verse one in full six times a day. It is usually done three times in the morning and three times at night, and it is not abbreviated when repeated the second and the third times. If, on a particular day, it becomes impossible to do the eight-verse version and we are faced with the possibility that we might not be able to keep our commitment to do this practice, then it is permissible to do the one-verse one. We have to judge for ourselves the availability of our time, but the one-verse version was never intended for daily practice. It is only for emergency use.

New Terminology

Some of the terminology in the eight and one-verse six-session practices and in the Kalachakra sadhana materials I have prepared is new, and it was asked to give some clarification of it. I have introduced some of this new terminology in An Anthology of Well-Spoken Advice by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, in Dharamsala, India. In this book, I have prepared a complete glossary of the new terminology together with their equivalents in the old terminology.

In this book, I also explain why I have developed this system. The basic reason is because a lot of the terminology has lost its meaning for many people. If, for instance, I said to my mother, “Why don’t you take refuge,” she would not know what that expression meant. It would not have any meaning for her. Also, many of the old terms have strong Christian connotations, like “virtue,” “sin,” and so on, which are quite inappropriate in the Buddhist context. Moreover, many of the old terms are in Sanskrit, such as Buddha, Dharma, karma, samsara, nirvana, bodhichitta, sutra, tantra, mandala, mantra, and so on. My mother does not know any of these Sanskrit words. Therefore, I tried to render every word into English.

I must apologize if there are many unfamiliar terms. Let me give the equivalents here for a few of the more important ones. “Safe direction” is to go for refuge. It means to go in the direction of working to overcome or purify ourselves of our limitations, and to grow and realize our fullest potential, the way the Buddhas have done and the community of advanced practitioners is doing. “Total purification” refers to enlightenment. To “expand our heart out” is to expand it with bodhichitta, to becoming a Buddha in order to help all. “The expanding behavior of the spiritual offspring of the triumphant ones” is the behavior of a bodhisattva. It is expanding behavior because we are expanding our hearts out to more and more people and doing more and more things to help.

“The three sets of proscriptions” are the three sets of vows. “For liberation” refers to the pratimoksha vows, “for expanding my heart” to the bodhichitta vows, since these are the guidelines we want to follow in order to expand our hearts out to everyone, and “for enigmatically protecting my mind” refers to the tantra or secret mantra vows. In the line “I’ll uphold the verbal and realized measures” the word “measure” refers to the Dharma, namely the preventive measures we take to avoid suffering and problems. The “four classes of streams” are the four classes of tantra, since tantra means an everlasting continuum or stream. “To a clear evolved state” refers to the state of a Buddha in which all our limitations and obscurations have been cleared out and we have evolved fully so that all our potentials have been realized. It would be very good, if people are interested, to ask for teachings from our lamas at the different centers on the six-session practice. This would be very worthwhile.

People have also said, “What if I feel that I cannot continue this in the future and I cannot really commit myself to doing this?” This is why the one-verse version was specifically made. It is for when we really have no time, because it really does not take very long to do this version. However, if we feel that we cannot keep these commitments, then, as His Holiness said, we can be observers.

If people are interested in finding the Tibetan versions of these six-session practices, the Tibetan version of the Kalachakra one is here in this white Kalachakra Initiation pamphlet. The others are in the Lama Neljor book of daily recitations available in Dharamsala. The one-verse version appears in the small notes at the end of the eight-verse one in that text.

Vow Requirements

Some people asked for an explanation of His Holiness’ statement that if people do not take the bodhisattva vows, they could just enter the mandala, but not receive the empowerment. This means that if we feel that we are not ready to take these vows, we can imagine that we have come to this world system, and although we enter the mandala palace, we are not permitted to see all its details and we do not actually receive the empowerment.

We can, of course, in this way of participating, receive the blessings. Blessings can mean, in one sense, “inspiration.” As His Holiness explained, it means to transform oneself into an exalted state. If we generate a strong conventional and deepest bodhichitta at the occasion of the empowerment, namely, the strong wish to be able to help everybody and to achieve enlightenment in order to be able to do that, as well as a basic understanding of the absence of fantasized ways of existing, this inspires us and helps us attain an exalted state. Blessings do not come in some sort of magical way, from somebody with a magic wand.

His Holiness also said that if people do not take the tantric vows, then they cannot receive the vajra-master empowerment. This is referring to the empowerment given after receiving the seven of entering as a child, namely the vajra-master empowerment. This is not to be confused with the great vajra-overlord empowerment, which is after the four higher and four highest ones.

There are four classes of tantra. The first two do not have the vajra-master empowerment, or any of those that are higher than that. Only the two highest classes of tantra have the vajra- master empowerment and the taking of tantric vows. All four classes, however, have the taking of the bodhisattva vows. His Holiness was only pointing out a technical detail here, that the tantric vows become relevant only when a vajra-master initiation is taken.

The Tradition of Using a Powder Mandala

Another question concerns the tradition of giving the Kalachakra empowerment from a powder mandala. The commentary His Holiness cited about the necessity for giving the Kalachakra empowerment from a powder mandala was by Naropa and is followed by the traditions of His Holiness’ monastery. The Gelug and some Sakya and Kagyu traditions follow this commentary of Naropa. However, other Kagyu and Sakya traditions follow a different commentary. Thus, when they give the Kalachakra empowerment, it is from a painted-picture mandala. This is not something strange or unusual. It is just a matter of different traditions and commentaries by different authors.

Vows for Mother Tantra

There are many questions about specific vows. I shall try to answer a few of them. People have asked about the vows for mother tantra. Some systems divide the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga, into mother and father tantra. They draw this division in terms of the emphasis in the practice. In mother tantra, the emphasis is on clear light and wisdom. In father tantra, it is on illusory body. In such systems, Kalachakra is a mother tantra. So when it says, “I shall perform all my actions first with my left,” then, since the left signifies wisdom, it is referring to doing practices that help us always to be aware of wisdom, or the understanding of voidness.

“Abandoning repulsion when tasting bodhichitta” refers to the occasion of pujas and different empowerments in which we are given different substances to taste. For instance, in anuttarayoga tantra pujas, we are given a small amount of meat and alcohol. Repulsion in tasting these would be to say, “I am a vegetarian,” or “I have taken a vow not to drink alcohol and so I cannot possibly drink this.”

We must realize that this is just a symbolic eating of these substances. Meat and alcohol have different levels of symbolism. For instance, in an inner offering they are symbolic of the elements and aggregates of the body. In a ritual manner, they are transformed into nectars and, when we partake of them, this symbolizes the transformation and purification process of what we would normally consider impure into something pure.

Specifically in Kalachakra, as His Holiness mentioned yesterday, the meats and nectars refer to the disturbing energy-winds in the body, known as the aggregate winds and the element winds. Tasting the transformation and purification of them is symbolic of stopping the coursing of these energy-winds in the subtle energy-channels. Repulsion would be to consider these substances on an ordinary level. When we are given various things to taste in pujas, ceremonies, or empowerments, we need to not consider them on their ordinary levels.

Other Tantric Vows

“Abandoning having no regard for the rules set down by the Buddha” refers to feeling that different things that the Buddha advised us to do are unimportant, such as to make offerings. Buddha said many different things, and whatever he said was with a definite purpose, namely to benefit others. He did not waste words. It is very common and easy, when we do not understand something, to say, “This does not have any meaning!” However, if there is something that the Buddha has said and we do not understand it, we must not disregard it. Rather, we need to make an effort to find out what it means.

The vow of “not to eat impure meat” refers to not eating the meat of an animal that we have ordered to be killed for us. It is not a vow to be a vegetarian.

The vow “not to misuse your body” is to avoid going to extremes, such as torturing ourselves with sitting on a bed of nails. Misusing or abusing our bodies can have different levels of meaning, such as taking self-destructive drugs. This too would be a misuse of our bodies.

Falling Asleep before Completing the Six-Session Practice

Someone asks, “If you are reciting the six-session practice before you go to sleep and you fall asleep while doing it without having completed the six, is it OK to do them the next morning?”

When various Lamas have been asked about this, they usually say, “Yes, try to make them up and do not just forget about it.” So, we need to repeat next day the six-session practice for the number of times we have missed. Falling asleep like this will perhaps weaken the force of our saying we are going to repeat the verses every day, but we are not necessarily losing any vows.

I had mentioned yesterday the ways of applying the opponents if we have found that we have transgressed any vow or commitment. The main point is to try not to break the vow completely such that we lose our vows. For instance, we try not to feel happy about having transgressed it. We need to remember that our main concern is our ability to help others and, by transgressing the vow or commitment, we have weakened that ability. We need to feel regret, which I explained yesterday is not guilt, and decide quite strongly that we are going to try not to transgress it again. Then, we rededicate ourselves to taking a safe direction in life, which is refuge, and to expanding our hearts with bodhichitta and applying various opponent forces, like, for instance, Vajrasattva meditation.

Practicing Buddhism While Remaining a Christian

There are a number of questions, such as “Do you have to be a Buddhist to take this initiation and to keep these vows? What about Christianity? Does this mean giving up Christianity, since there are various vows not to put all your energy into reading non-Buddhist material, or becoming attached to it?”

Again, we need to go back to the term “taking a safe direction in life,” or “refuge.” There is no term in Tibetan that means literally “a Buddhist.” The term used in Tibetan is “someone who lives within,” namely someone who lives within the boundaries of taking a safe direction in life. It is always said that what differentiates a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist is whether one takes refuge. What this means is not necessarily that we have gone to a formal refuge ceremony, or have converted to Buddhism. Rather, it means going in this safe and sound, valid, positive direction in our lives of working to achieve what the Buddhas have achieved, working to clear away our limitations, and to evolve, grow, and realize our fullest potential.

As many Lamas have said, including my own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, if we look at the teachings of love and so on in other religions, such as Christianity, then to follow them is not going outside the direction taught in Buddhism. So, when it says not to put all our energies into reading non-Buddhist material, or not to become attached to it, this is referring to putting our energies into learning something negative and destructive. However, it is not at all in contradiction with the direction of the universal, humanitarian thought that we find in all world religions.

Practicing Both Tibetan Buddhism and Other Systems of Meditation

Then people were asking, “What about if you are practicing Zen or non-Buddhist systems of meditation?”

Again, there is no problem, because Zen and other systems of meditation are likewise methods for working toward realizing our fullest potentials. However, all the great masters advise, and His Holiness very strongly stresses this as well, that we must try not to mix and adulterate practices. If we are going to have soup and a cup of coffee, we do not pour the coffee into the soup and drink both together. If we are going to do different practices, that is fine, but we need to do them in separate sessions. Whatever practice we are doing, we must do it totally within the traditions and customs of that practice itself. Otherwise, everything becomes a mess and it is unfair to the traditions.

Not Spending More Than Seven Days among Hinayanists

There is a question about the vow of “not to spend more than seven days among Hinayanists.”

To understand this vow, we need to understand what is meant here by Hinayanist. “Hinayana” is a pejorative term coined in Mahayana texts to characterize an extreme point of view that we need to avoid. It does not refer to the modern Theravada school. The point of the vow is that we can be strongly influenced by the company we keep and therefore, we need to avoid negative influences when we are not yet strong enough to be immune to them.

In tantra, we are following a Mahayana or bodhisattva path. We are working to try to be able to benefit everybody and to reach enlightenment in order to be able to do so the best. The Hinayana traditions, as Buddhist traditions, of course have teachings on love and compassion. They do not, however, emphasize that the aim of working on ourselves is to achieve Buddhahood in order to be able to help others the best.

From the Hinayana point of view, there will be one thousand Buddhas during this eon and the places are already taken. No reservations are available, as it were, and therefore, there is no point in working to become a Buddha. What we can achieve on our own is becoming liberated from our own suffering and problems. This is the only feasible goal at the moment. From the Mahayana point of view, although there will be a thousand Buddhas in this world age, these are only the ones who will start universal Buddhist religions. There will be many other Buddhas in addition who do not do so. It is feasible to become one of them and therefore it is reasonable to strive for enlightenment.

The various methods followed in order to overcome our own problems and limitations in the Hinayana systems are also followed in the Mahayana. The vow is not focusing on them. The Hinayana position that the vow is talking about is the extreme position of being concerned only about oneself and working only to overcome one’s own problems. People with this so-called “Hinayana” attitude have no concern for helping others or for developing themselves in order to benefit anyone else. If we spend a long time with such persons, we can easily become infected with their attitude. Of course, there can be Hinayanists who do not have this selfish attitude, and there can be so-called Mahayanists who do have this attitude. The point is not to put ourselves in a situation in which the negative, selfish influences around us are so strong that they might turn us away from our altruistic direction.

Are Buddhists Only Concerned with Others

Another question is, “Are Buddhists indifferent to their own sufferings and only concerned with the suffering of others?” The answer is no. We also follow the practices to overcome our own limitations and problems. Buddha taught both Hinayana and Mahayana, and Mahayana includes all the Hinayana methods. First, we need to develop the determination to be free of our own problems, and work to overcome them in order then to feel compassion for others and to develop the skill to help them overcome their problems.

The Need for a Guru

Someone asks: “Is it possible to take the Kalachakra initiation without a guru?”

The answer is “No.” An empowerment needs to be given by a spiritual master, and, as I was explaining the first day, it is very important to make a strong connection with the teacher and the lineage. This is because it is from a living master that we can receive instruction in a living way. We cannot ask books questions, can we? Also, a teacher gives us a living example of what we are striving to achieve. Otherwise, it is easy to have a fantasized notion of what it would be like to master these methods.

If we have received the Kalachakra empowerment, completed the retreat of the full sadhana (not just a retreat based on the Kalachakra six-session yoga practice) and done the concluding fire-puja, we may take the self-initiation to renew our vows. The self-initiation is performed without the presence of our spiritual master. But, this is something completely different. The question, I think, concerned receiving the initiation for the first time.

Inner Gurus

“How about outer and inner gurus? Aren’t there also inner ones?”

Yes, there are, there are many different levels of gurus. We can say on a deeper level, that the innermost guru would be the voidness and bliss of the subtlest mind. However, there is a definite need for an outer guru as well, in terms of someone to guide us and to connect us to a living tradition.

The Four Subtle Energy-Drops

There is a technical question about the symbolism of the four faces of Kalachakra that His Holiness explained in connection with the four subtle energy-drops.

We have four subtle energy-drops, one in each of four different chakras within our bodies: the crown, throat, heart, and navel chakras. Furthermore, there are four categories of energy-winds that can be associated, one with each. These energy-winds carry the various stains or obscurations of four different occasions: being awake, dreaming, deep sleep, and the fourth occasion, which is the peak occasion of bliss.

We have all sorts of strange, unusual appearances and ideas during each of these four occasions. The potentials for them are carried by these four categories of energy-winds associated with the four subtle energy-drops.

The four faces stand for these four drops. This is the level of symbolism His Holiness was explaining, but there are many different levels of symbolism as well. On the level of what we want to purify, the faces represent the impure appearances of these four occasions, which are based on the energy-winds associated with these drops. However, if we dissolve the disturbing energy-winds associated with the four drops, and we come to the clear light realization in association with each of them, then, as a reflection of this clear light mind, we can achieve the four Buddha-bodies. On a pure level, then, the four faces symbolize the four Buddha-bodies achieved in relation to the four energy-drops.

The Four Buddha-Bodies in the Kalachakra System

In the Kalachakra system, the two types of form bodies of a Buddha are reflections of the clear-light mind. They are called devoid-forms, or empty-forms. Devoid refers to their being devoid of atoms, not to their being devoid of inherent existence, although, of course, in the same way as all other phenomena, they are devoid of this fantasized way of existing.

Nirmanakaya, or a body or corpus of emanations, is a collection of devoid-forms, in the aspect of Buddha-figures. “Kaya,” translated as “body” or “corpus” means a collection of items. Nirmanakaya is not just one body; it is a corpus of an infinite number of emanations.

Sambhogakaya, the other type of form body, is, literally, the body or corpus that makes full use, namely, full use of the Mahayana teachings. In the sutra system, it is an assortment of special types of enlightening body that only highly realized bodhisattvas can see. In the tantra systems, Sambhogakaya usually refers to the wide array of enlightening speech of a Buddha, since that too makes full use of the Mahayana. Kalachakra is a little bit special, because here this corpus refers to both enlightening speech and subtle physical forms.

Dharmakaya is a corpus that encompasses everything. It can be discussed in many ways. Here, as in the sutra system, it is the omniscient mind of a Buddha, which encompasses everything.

In the sutra system, as well as the other non-Kalachakra tantric systems, Svabhavakaya, or nature body, is the voidness of that omniscient mind. More technically, it is both the natural separation of that mind from inherent existence and also the separation of it from various fleeting obscurations or stains. As such, the nature body is a non-collected, or uncompounded, or unaffected phenomena. This means that the voidness of the omniscient mind of a Buddha, its absence of existing inherently, is not affected by anything. It is always the case; it is always true. Furthermore, its state of being free from all fleeting stains also cannot be affected by anything. It too is always the case.

In the Kalachakra system, the Svabhavakaya, or nature body, is sometimes also called the great bliss body. It refers to great unchanging bliss as the nature of the clear-light omniscient mind, which is Dharmakaya. This is also always going to be the case. It has continuity forever, but is something that changes from moment to moment. This is because the mind takes different objects each moment. For this reason, the Svabhavakaya in Kalachakra is an affected or compounded phenomenon.

This is the difference His Holiness was pointing out when he discussed the nature body in Kalachakra as an impermanent phenomenon, and not a permanent one as in the other systems. For those of us who are interested in technical points, this is a technical point that gives a lot to think about. If we are not concerned with technical points, we need not worry about it.

The Kalachakra Figure as a Couple

Someone asked, “Why is the Kalachakra deity in the form of a couple?”

This is to symbolize method and wisdom. Method here as the father, is an unchanging great, blissful awareness. Wisdom, as the mother, is the awareness of voidness. On another level, the mother represents the devoid-form reflection of that unchanging blissful awareness. We visualize ourselves as both this couple and everybody in the mandala. Whether we are a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter. We are each both members of the couple, as well as everyone else in the Kalachakra world system and the building as well.

Vajravega – the Forceful Form of Kalachakra

There are some questions about Vajravega – Dorje Shug, in Tibetan – the forceful aspect of Kalachakra. This is the form we were visualizing ourselves in at the end of yesterday. As the forceful form of Kalachakra, he is a strong aspect who protects us. How does he protect us? It is in terms of what he symbolizes. He symbolizes a certain type of energy-wind in the body, called the “deep awareness energy-wind.”

Unlike other tantra systems, Kalachakra asserts that ordinarily we do have a certain type of energy-wind that passes through the central energy-channel. This is called the deep awareness energy-wind. By bringing all the winds into the central channel, we will be able to overcome being under the control of the disturbing energies in the body. We will be able to access the subtlest consciousness of clear light and, from that, actualize the enlightening bodies of a Buddha.

Vajravega, as the protection aspect of Kalachakra, represents these energy-winds that can go into the central channel, just as the deep awareness energy-winds do. If we can gain access and control over all of them, of what he symbolizes, then obviously he will bring us the best protection, because we will achieve enlightenment.

Vajrasattva and Akshobhya in Kalachakra

Someone asked, “What is the aspect of Vajrasattva and Akshobhya in Kalachakra?”

Here, Vajrasattva is blue and Akshobhya is green, and both of them have three faces and six arms.

The Apocalyptic War of the Future

Some people were worried about an apocalyptic war in the future. There is a war that is predicted to occur about 440 years from now. At that time, the King of Shambhala, the twenty-fifth ruler of Shambhala, will come and help us overcome the forces that will try to destroy our religious and spiritual freedom.

People were worried that, if they receive this empowerment, they will be recruited into the army and will have to fight these forces. The connection with Shambhala that is made with this empowerment does not mean that we will necessarily have to fight in a war. However, after this war, the teachings of Kalachakra will flourish and there will be a new Golden Age when everything will be conducive for spiritual practice, especially of Kalachakra. We make a connection with Shambhala and Kalachakra in terms of this, so that we will also be around when all the conditions are conducive after this war for being able to follow Kalachakra. Everything will be completely peaceful. Kalachakra for world peace is very much in terms of making the connection with a time of peace and with bringing peace to the entire world, so that everything will be conducive for spiritual practice.


I want to thank you very much for all your time and attention. Let us dedicate whatever positive energy and potential we have built up here toward everybody achieving enlightenment to the benefit of all, and toward the realization of world peace. Also, let us dedicate it for the long life of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who really is Kalachakra.

Thank you.