H.H. Dalai Lama: QA Kalachakra

Question Sessions with H. H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Concerning the Kalachakra Initiation

Dharamsala, India, November 5, 1983; August 13, 1984; 
January 22, 1985; March 25, 1985; March 26, 1986 
translated by Alexander Berzin

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1 Preparation for Receiving the Initiation

Topics for Introductory Talks for Taking the Kalachakra Initiation


Prophesies about the Barbarian Invasion

Learning about the Initiation and Vows before Receiving the Initiation

Attending As a Neutral Observer

2 Kalachakra and Western Science

Relation between Westerners and Kalachakra

Relation between Kalachakra and Western Science

Subtle Particles in Kalachakra

Kalachakra and the Description of the Universe

Finding Further Analogies between Kalachakra and Science

Love in Christianity and in Buddhism

Scientifically Confirming Whether Mount Meru Actually Exists

The Validity of the Kalachakra Presentation of the Universe and of the Body as Bases for Purification

Kalachakra and Tibetan Medicine

3 Tibetan Traditions of Kalachakra

Kalachakra in the Four Tibetan Traditions

Special Features of the Gelug Tradition of Kalachakra

Conferring the Empowerment from a Powder or a Cloth Mandala

Kalachakra as a Nondual Tantra

Receiving the Kalachakra Initiation from Different Lineages

Connection between the Dalai Lamas and Kalachakra

No Limitation in the Number of Times the Empowerment May Be Conferred

The Kalachakra Tradition His Holiness Follows

Analyzing the Discrepant Assertions of Different Masters

Positive Force from Receiving the Initiation

The Gateway for Receiving the Higher and Highest Empowerments

4 Advice for Keeping the Vows and Beginning Kalachakra Practice

The Vow Not to Lose Seminal Energy-Drops

Women Not Emitting Seminal Energy-Drops

Not Belittling Women

Which Kalachakra Sadhana to Teach

Practice of Other Anuttarayoga Systems before Practicing Kalachakra

Deciding Which Tantra to Practice

1 Preparation for Receiving the Initiation

[with clarification of His Holiness’ answers included within square brackets in violet.]

Topics for Introductory Talks for Taking the Kalachakra Initiation

Berzin: When I go to the West next year to give introductory talks for the Kalachakra initiation, what would be good to present that would help people prepare? What would be helpful for people to know as a background for attending the initiation?

His Holiness: Speak about the uncommon things to be understood from Kalachakra. Setting it as an anuttarayoga mandala, present its special features. Then, explain the way that Kalachakra works, in terms of the systems of external, internal, and alternative Kalachakras. Then, since the initiation is important and, for taking the initiation, keeping the vows is essential, and before this, training in the common paths of bodhichitta and the correct view of voidness are extremely crucial; if you explain a little bit about all of these, that will be good.

In addition, if you have more time, give the general way of proceeding with anuttarayoga, step by step, and the features that it shares in common with tantra in general. Without a good foundation and preparation, there is no point in becoming involved with tantra. I shall also give an introduction about these things as preliminary.

Berzin: What about also describing the history of the Kalachakra tantra and its spread to India and Tibet?

His Holiness: That would be fine.


Berzin: Is it helpful to explain about Shambhala?

His Holiness: Certainly. Where do you think it is?

Berzin: I don’t quite know. Serkong Rinpoche said it was not on earth, but could perhaps be on another world where flying saucers come from. This is because the texts speak of people coming from Shambhala on flying vehicles. They come from Shambhala to check our situation. Several cultures among the indigenous people of South America and South Africa also have myths like this, that visitors came long ago from outer space and taught them calendar-making and astronomy. Perhaps they came from Shambhala.

His Holiness: From the point of view of Buddhism, Shambhala is a pure land (dag-zhing), like Sukhavati, Tushita, and Khachari (Dakini-land).

Berzin: Isn’t Shambhala a human realm?

His Holiness: If it’s a pure land, it doesn’t have to be a god realm. There are some pure lands where humans can go. Even non-Buddhists can reach them and once there, proceed on the spiritual path.

Berzin: Is Shambhala included in samsara or nirvana? Serkong Rinpoche said it is a samsaric realm.

His Holiness: It seems to be in samsara. However, once one gets to this samsaric place, one’s mind and heart naturally develop much more rapidly. It is probably more like a human realm within in the cycle of samsaric existence where special people live who have built up a great store of positive force (merit, positive potential).

Berzin: So it is not technically a pure land, but just similar to a pure land?

His Holiness: It is not a pure land in the sense of being a god realm. It is a human realm, but probably also a pure land.

Berzin: It is not on earth?

His Holiness: It is not on earth. If it were, we should be able to find it. However, it is probably in our universe, but we need pure karma to reach it. I wonder if we can really get there directly by just some sort of mechanical vehicle, like a space ship. Why I think like that, I don’t know. But, what (the Third Panchen Lama) Panchen Palden-yeshey (Pan-chen dPal-ldan ye-shes) said about it makes things a bit complicated. In his Guidebook for the Path to Shambhala (Shambhala lam-yig), he wrote that if you do an intense meditation retreat, then you can actually see deities and they will give you help to go to Shambhala. He wrote like that. Therefore, it is not simply an ordinary physical journey.

Berzin: Serkong Rinpoche told me that his father Serkong Dorjechang had gone to Shambhala and had brought back fruit and flowers, which they had in their house.

His Holiness: I take safe direction (refuge) from him! Panchen Palden-yeshey also went to Shambhala. Some other learned masters went as well. There is an account of Taranatha going to Shambhala, but I think that was in a dream body. However, it is not on this round earth. It is probably a pure land with humans similar to those on earth. It is difficult to say.

Berzin: The Kalachakra texts speak of the larger and smaller Jambudvipas (Southern Continents). On the northern half of the smaller one, the texts list six lands going northwards, one of which is Shambhala.

His Holiness: That is difficult. If we speak in terms of that, then Shambhala would have to be a place on this earth. There is also mention in the texts of Potala Mountain in the south, the land of Ugyan (Skt. Oddiyana) in the west, the Five-Peaked Mountain in the east, and Shambhala in the north.

Berzin: Serkong Rinpoche had said that of these, some are on earth and some are not.

His Holiness: Precisely, that is why. There are two for each: the actual ones and similar ones that represent and substitute for them. For instance, according to the scholar Gendun-chopel (dGe-‘dun chos-‘phel), Ugyan is in Sindhi [Swat Valley in Pakistan]. Today, it is a Muslim area. It is not completely clear, but as for the Copper-Colored Mountain that Guru Rinpoche went to in Ugyan, that probably is in an uncontaminated pure land.

Now as for Potala Mountain in the south, then as a substitute for it, there is one in the south of India. But, then there is also the Potala Mountain of Avalokiteshvara, which is in a pure land. As for the Five-Peaked Mountain, there is the usual place in China [Wutaishan] with this name as an actual place in the east, but also there is the pure land of Manjushri with the same name.

Thus, it is quite probable that Shambhala is also a pure land like this, with some location representing it. There is precedent for it being so. However, it cannot be found in any place. There are many reasons and signs for saying that it exists, but because it isn’t in this world, then except for it being an uncontaminated pure land, there is nothing else it could be referring to in the texts.

Berzin: And what about the talk of flying saucers?

His Holiness: It could be said that they have a connection with Shambhala. Definitely, there are other beings in the universe. There are other kinds of sentient beings and it is decidedly so that they are on other worlds, not just on our world. That is definite. There are many galaxies.

Now, Shambhala is included in our galaxy, perhaps even in our solar system, since the texts say it is included in Jambudvipa [our world-system]. Thus, it is talking of a pure land in our world-system, however large our system might be, where only sentient beings with pure karma can go and where there are sentient beings with human bodies.

Berzin: In the West, we have talk of Shangrila. Is this related?

His Holiness: It is a pure place, isn’t it? I don’t know, but probably it is. The name signifies a pure place, so I think the name probably came originally from Shambhala.

Prophesies about the Barbarian Invasion

Berzin: What is the best way to explain the Kalachakra prophesies about the non-Indic barbarian invaders, the Lalo?

His Holiness: Can we actually say they are Muslims or a group that shares certain customs in common with Muslims? It is not at all definite. I don’t know what to say. For instance, in Mongolia, they call the Russians “Turuka,” another name that appears in the literature for the Lalo invaders. Communists in general are also called Turuka or Lalo. Lalos, then, are those who deliberately try to destroy Buddhism.

Berzin: Is it better just to call them Lalo in English?

His Holiness: Yes, Lalo is perhaps the best. If you look in The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra (bsDus-rgyud), it says that Lalos eat beef and eggs. The reference is to non-Indic people [since Indians do not eat beef], and undoubtedly people from a warm climate. It is quite clear that in Europe, in cool climates, there were no chickens. I don’t think it was so in previous older times. The Greeks and Romans probably ate chicken eggs [and the Indians originally used the term Lalo (Skt. mleccha) for the invading troops of Alexander the Great of Macedonia]. In Tibet, we didn’t especially eat eggs. It was an Indian custom, so why the reference to eggs?

Turuka refers to Turkic people, doesn’t it? Among the Muslim invaders of India, there were several waves of Turkic people. However, the Mughals weren’t Turkic and they invaded much later. Were people at that time [in the late ninth or early tenth centuries when the Kalachakra teachings came to India] called Turks? I think that if the texts have a historical reference, they are referring to the Turkic invasions of India. However, Turuka in general refers to those who would destroy Buddhism [whether Central Asian hordes or from elsewhere, whether Muslim, communist, or followers of any other creed.]

[For a more detailed discussion, see: The Kalachakra Presentation of the Prophets of the Non-Indic Invaders – Full Version, or Abridged Version. See also: Holy Wars in Buddhism and Islam: The Myth of Shambala – Full Version, or Abridged Version.]

Berzin: Could the Lalos be only symbolic and refer only to the destructive forces we need to battle in an internal spiritual war?

His Holiness: I wonder if it is only symbolic? When the texts speak of a war and the general Hanuman, whether that is merely symbolic or for real, I don’t know.

Berzin: But they do have symbolic meanings, as the Kalachakra texts explain.

His Holiness: Yes, but the commentaries of learned masters don’t take them only symbolically, but also literally. However, if the reference is to a nuclear war, it won’t be for another almost 400 years. But, how it will be, I don’t know.

Berzin: Sometimes Westerners ask if this war and Dragpo Korchen (Drag-po ‘khor-can, Skt. Rudrachakrin) [the ruler of Shambhala who will defeat the Lalos] will come earlier. Is that possible?

His Holiness: I don’t know. It is difficult to say. But, if Shambhala comes sooner, then we will be able to go back to Tibet sooner. The sooner Shambhala comes; the sooner there will be liberation.

Learning about the Initiation and Vows before Receiving the Initiation

Berzin: As an introduction to the initiation, is it permitted to describe the mandala, how many deities there are, the colors, and so on?

His Holiness: It is all right. It is good if people know a little about the procedures of the initiation. Later, during the actual initiation, I’ll introduce them to each point. But, if they knew a little beforehand, it would be of help.

Berzin: What about the tantric vows and close bonds (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya), is it permitted to tell people about them beforehand?

His Holiness: According to the tantric procedures, one must not disclose the tantric vows before the initiation. However, for those who are sincere in receiving the initiation, if they know a little beforehand, then the initiation will come out really strong and perfect. But such persons would need to be Buddhists who were sincere and definite about taking the initiation or those who have received another anuttarayoga tantra initiation before. To explain to such persons, there would be no fault. Especially, if people have already received another anuttarayoga initiation, then there is nothing wrong with explaining the Kalachakra close bonds.

For those with no anuttarayoga initiation and no intention to receive one, for example those who are only scholars, it is not too good to explain them. It is better to have some restrictions. However, if the lists of the tantric vows and close bonds are already published and people misunderstand them and hold strange views about them, the necessity overrides the prohibition. It is better to give people a correct explanation, rather than let them disparage tantra because of misinformation or poor explanations.

[See: Common Root Tantric Vows .]

Attending As a Neutral Observer

Berzin: Among those who will attend the initiation, most will have interest in Buddhism, but it is hard to say whether or not they accept Buddhism. Those who do not follow Buddhism, but attend the initiation, will not want to take the bodhisattva and tantric vows.

His Holiness: This is something I regularly talk about at the time of the initiation. Then they would just be like observers or witnesses. I spoke like that the last time I gave the initiation in America. Also, in France, when I gave the Guru Rinpoche eight manifestations initiation, on the second day, Mayor Jacques Chirac came and I invited him to attend as a witness. He isn’t Buddhist, though he likes Buddhism. So, there is no harm.

Thus, at the time of taking the bodhisattva vows, I regularly explain that only those who are Buddhist, who want to take the bodhisattva vows and who can keep the vows, need to visualize like this. Then, I do the same for the tantric vows. Others who do not wish to take the vows are just witnesses, observers [and do not follow the same procedures and visualizations].

Berzin: When they are there like that and observe, what is best for them to think and what is the benefit of their being observers?

His Holiness: I can’t say. Although one could suggest helpful thoughts if such people are receptive, we have no right to insist that they should think this way or that. Just be simple observers. Some who come may even be critical of Buddhism. That is possible. However, we cannot say don’t be critical. That is their right. For those of us who are Buddhists, we can give them instructions what to think and do during the initiation; but for others, we cannot impose specific instructions on them. We can only say observe, and that is all.

Some may come with ill feelings, but most won’t have ill feelings. As for those with no ill feelings, there is no problem. But, as for those who would come with ill feelings toward Buddhism, there is no need for them to come. It would be better for such people to stay home. However, there is no point in saying don’t have ill feelings. So, better to be actual neutral observers and then there is nothing to say. Isn’t that so?

2 Kalachakra and Western Science

[With clarification of His Holiness’ answers included within square brackets in violet.]

Relation between Westerners and Kalachakra

Berzin: Do Westerners have a special relation with Kalachakra?

His Holiness: I wonder, do they really have one? In general, the Buddhist teachings are for the sake of all sentient beings, not for just some specific ones.

Berzin: Some people have preconceptions about this.

His Holiness: Now in the case of Kalachakra, it speaks of Shambhala and a war against Lalo invaders. It might have had a special relation with those who lived at the time of the well-known Muslim invasions of India. I wonder if there might be some connection with those in general who live in times of danger of war. But, as for a special relation with Westerners in general, I don’t know? What did Serkong Rinpochey say?

Berzin: Western people like science and technology, and Shambhala has a great deal of high technology. Perhaps, there is a connection in terms of that.

His Holiness: Yes, you could say there is somewhat of a connection like that. But, what is the point of that kind of connection? There is some similarity, but isn’t it nearly always the situation that people everywhere talk of war? So, that reason is not exact.

Relation between Kalachakra and Western Science

Berzin: Is there a relationship between Kalachakra and Western science?

His Holiness: I would say so.

Berzin: Sometimes, Your Holiness speaks of a common meeting point between Buddhism and science, is it in terms of Kalachakra?

His Holiness: No. It isn’t necessarily especially in terms of Kalachakra; it is general. The basic belief in Buddhism is that if something is supported by reason, then we must accept it; and if something has no reason or is unreasonable, then there is no need to accept it. Even Buddha’s own words must by interpreted in a different nonliteral way if they make no sense or are unreasonable.

For instance, we accept quote “A” from the Buddha, while we do not accept quote “B.” Why? If, for the acceptability of the words of the Buddha, we had to rely on other words of the Buddha, then those would require yet other words of the Buddha and it would be an infinite regression, wouldn’t it? Therefore, in practical terms, we need to explain some of Buddha’s words as having only an interpretable meaning (drang-don) and only selected others as being definitive (nges-don). If that is the case, it means that Buddha’s ultimate meaning has to accord with reason.

Now, in terms of scientific investigation, if something can be proven as fact, then it is accepted. Science works on that basis, doesn’t it? For instance, one scientist does an experiment and something happens. Then, someone else conducts the same experiment and gets the same result. This procedure establishes something as a fact of reality. That is how science works. Thus, the basic attitude of science is that if something is a verifiable fact of reality, accept it; and if it is not verifiable, don’t believe it.

That is also the basic Buddhist attitude, isn’t it, especially in Mahayana. I wonder if the Hinayana tenet systems actually explain Buddha’s words as having a difference of interpretable and definitive meaning. Probably, they do not. In them, it is pervasive that all of Buddha’s words are definitive. However, the Mahayana tenet systems explain the two – Buddha’s words that are interpretable and those that are definitive.

If this is the manner of assertion, then, as I have already explained, deciding what is definitive falls on reason. It can’t be based just on faith. If that is the case, then if scientists find some concrete result or proof that there are no future lives, no rebirth – if they can actually prove that – we must accept it as the Buddhist basic attitude. Thus, the fundamental approach in Buddhism is one that accords with fact and reason. That is one point.

Now secondly, there are specific explanations on which both Buddhism and science agree. For example, Buddhism asserts that all phenomena that are conditioned or affected by other phenomena degenerate from moment to moment, without ever remaining still. Everything continuously changes from moment to moment, subtly, never staying static. Scientists also agree that physical phenomena subtly change each moment, without ever staying still – namely, because they depend on atoms – and yet, on a gross level, they appear not to change. It is not necessary to prove that they appear to remain the way they are, without any change: we can see that with our own eyes. So, regarding the point that on a gross level things seem to remain still, but on a subtle level they don’t remain still for even a moment, science and Buddhism agree that this is fact.

Further, there is relativity; namely, the theory that things dependently arise. Anything that exists is established as being dependent on or relative to other things. This is also common between the two systems. Although scientists do not discuss unaffected (static) phenomenon, still they agree that at least things with form or which occur over time all arise dependently on other factors, for example on causes and conditions. Their identities are established in relation to factors other than themselves.

The latest thing scientists are discussing in terms of matter concerns quantum theory and quarks. They discover and are beginning to understand that this extremely subtle level of matter is intimately connected with the perceiver. In other words, the mind that cognizes this level as its cognitive object becomes involved.

[For example, the time and size of an object is relative to the time and speed of the object and of the observer. The direction and speed of the observer relative to the direction and to the speed of the object observed affects the observer’s measurements of the location and spatial/temporal dimensions of the object.]

When you get to waves, is it matter or energy? From one way of looking, it is matter and from another way of perceiving, it is energy. Buddhism calls this relationship “two facts about the same aspect of a phenomenon” and explains it as the two sharing the same essential nature, but being different conceptually isolated items (ngo-bo-cig ldog-pa tha-dad).

[For more detail, see: Relationships between Two Objects in General.]

Thus, the conventional identity of the wave as a particle or as energy is a function of mental labeling. This implies that the difference between a particle and energy must be understood in terms of the perceiver [and is not inherent in the object itself]. This shows the close link between cognition and matter.

In the past, classical science has also considered whether there might be some force besides matter, whether it is consciousness or whatever. When we consider this point, then when any system, not only Buddhist, asserts that certain phenomena are unmistaken, the issue of whether or not something is unmistaken depends on cognition; and cognition is something internal, not external. Cognition is what meets and is involved with objects and what does the labeling of something as unmistaken or not.

The most detailed identification and discussion of cognition and mental labeling are undoubtedly found in Buddhism. Within Buddhism, the various traditions of abhidharma (special topics of knowledge) explain much about primary consciousness (gtso-sems) and mental factors (sems-byung). Tantra, specifically anuttarayoga tantra, discusses gross and subtle consciousness and the relationship between mind and subtle energy/wind. I am quite sure that in the next century it will become clearer that the meeting place of Western science and Eastern philosophy will concern the relation between mind (cognition) and matter in terms of these topics. That is the real place where East and Western science can meet.

Subtle Particles in Kalachakra

Berzin: Is there anything in Kalachakra that can also serve as a meeting place, for instance the discussion of subtle particles?

His Holiness: Yes, this would be in terms of subtle particles (rdul phra-rab). In general, whether or not there is mention in Vasubandhu’s Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha), in Kalachakra you have particles of space (nam-mka’i rdul-tshan). In empty space, there are particles of space and that is the real basis of the progressively grosser particles, those of the four elements of earth, water, fire, and wind (air). A previous universe disappears and there is an eon of emptiness – more specifically, there are the eons of disintegration, followed by eons of emptiness and during the twenty intermediate eons of emptiness, there are these particles of space. Following that, during the eons of arising, the basis for the arising of space, wind, fire, water, and earth are the particles of space.

Berzin: How are we to understand particles of space? Are they form (gzugs)?

His Holiness: It is probably like this. The Madhyamaka texts and the Prajnaparamita literature assert five forms that are only among the cognitive source which is all phenomenon (chos skye-mched-gyi gzugs, forms that are only among Dharma cognitive sources). These are forms that come from collections, those that arise from clearly taking them on [such as vows], those existing in actual situations [such as astronomical and microscopic distances between things], those that are totally imaginary [such as those perceived in dreams], and those from gaining control of the elements.

As for those that come from collections, they are explained as subtle particles and they have a spherical shape (zlum-bo). These come probably in Prajnaparamita and, there, subtle particles are forms that are only among Dharma cognitive sources. They cannot be seen by the eye. They are form, however, but can only be known by a mind. They are spherical in shape. These are undoubtedly our present day atoms. They are all spherical, aren’t they? They really seem similar.

[Note: Form has shape and color. To say they have color implies wavelength frequency on a spectrometer, which atoms or particles have.]

Berzin: And atoms of space?

His Holiness: What I just explained are atoms as presented in abhidharma, and I think the particles explained in Kalachakra are even subtler than that. The abhidharma atoms -referred to as the four elements: the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind – probably correspond here to the Kalachakra earth particles. These are the usual things called atoms. Then, as for the particles of space in Kalachakra, we have four subatomic particles more subtle than the abhidharma atoms. As for what is their essential nature (ngo-bo – what they are), I don’t know clearly.

There is one relevant point, however, in Maitreya’s Furthest Everlasting Continuum (rGyud bla-ma, Skt. Uttaratantra). Externally, there is the dissolution sequence of earth, water, fire, wind, and space; and for the generation sequence, wind, fire, water, and earth generate forth. [Note that in Uttaratantra there is no “fire.”] Externally, what the elements develop out of is space and what they dissolve into is space.

Likewise, internally, our devoid nature (chos-nyid), as a Buddha-nature factor (de-gshegs-snying-po, a womb containing a Thusly Gone One), is that from which things arise and are collected back. When you apply this internally to the mind, space is clear light mental activity, or the voidness of clear light, or the space of clear light.

Kalachakra discusses the space included in the space-like mental continuum (mkha’i rgyud-pa bsdu-ba nam-mkha’ cig), the space included in the blue drop (thig-le mngon-po). When one can recognize this space, this space can probably be explained as a space particle. I don’t know this clearly or well. However, this is a little bit of a special feature.

Berzin: Are these space particles static (rtag-pa, permanent)?

His Holiness: Could they really be static? No, they’re not static. However, as for how Zijin-nyingpo (gZi-byin snying-po) would explain in his commentaries, if that would make it more certain? I don’t know.

Kalachakra and the Description of the Universe

Berzin: Is it helpful for Westerners who have faith in Buddhism and who are interested in science to study Kalachakra? Is it helpful for them to look for correlations between Kalachakra and science?

His Holiness: I don’t really know. Kalachakra itself explains many things. For instance, someone like me, I have interest in Kalachakra and I can feel comfortable with it. I’m fitting and proper for it, so to speak. But if some scientists were to just read through it quickly, it won’t turn out to suit their minds like this. To start with, they’ll get to the presentation of external, internal, and alternative Kalachakra and that may cause a lot of complications and problems. For instance, the first chapter, The World Sphere (‘Jig-rten-gyi khams), explains Mount Meru and the Southern Continent, Jambudvipa. This becomes quite messy. It is complete nonsense, isn’t it?

Berzin: I heard you once say that Mount Meru might be the Milky Way.

His Holiness: Oh, I was just saying that casually. I wasn’t really serious.

However, the Sakya tradition explains a relevant point about Kalachakra in conjunction with its lamdray (lam-‘bras, the path together with its results) teachings. According to this explanation, all external phenomenon are complete in a person’s body. The way of abiding (gnas-tshul, way of existing) of a person’s body is that the body is complete in the energy-channels (rtsa-la tshang). The way of abiding of the channels is that they are complete in the syllables. [The way of abiding of syllables is that they are complete in the constituent-source energy-drops (khams). The way of abiding of the constituent-source energy-drops is that they are complete in the energy-winds.] The final ultimate point of this is that [the way of abiding or of existing of everything] is complete in foundation mind (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, Skt. alayavijnana, storehouse consciousness).

[In the lamdray system, foundation mind refers to the causal continuum of the alaya (kun-gzhi rgyu’i rgyud), namely the subtlest clear light level of mental activity. It does not refer to foundation mind as asserted in the Chittamatra (mind-only) system of tenets.]

Thus, with all external phenomena being complete in the human body, then on one side we can understand this in terms of symbolism. The external four continents and Mount Meru are complete in one human body, symbolically. Kalachakra presents something similar to this. Mount Meru is one portion of the spine, while the planes of sensory desires (form realm), ethereal forms (form realm), and formless beings (formless realm) are portions of the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head.

[Mount Meru is the spine, from the hip joint to the bottom of the neck. The plane of sensory desires extends from the soles of the feet to one-third up the neck, the plane of ethereal forms from there to the forehead, and the plane of formless beings from the forehead to the crown of the head.]

In other words, in a human body, from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, the three planes of samsaric existence (three realms) as explained in Kalachakra, i.e. the thirty-one realms of the world sphere, are all complete. Because of that, we can say that the human body contains symbolism.

Then, from another side, we can explain the three realms being complete in the human body in a different way. Our mental activity (mind) has many gross and subtle levels or aspects. In view of this situation, then, there are, for instance, gross feelings; and, from among the gross feelings, there is the gross feeling of pleasure.

Then, as the Great Fifth Dalai Lama said in The Graded Stages of the Path: Personal Instructions from Manjushri (Lam-rim ‘jam-dpal zhal-lung), sentient beings engage in karmic actions for the sake of gaining the experience of feelings of pleasure and happiness. Those who seek to actualize rough feelings of pleasure [by acting destructively] accumulate non-meritorious karma (bsod-nams ma-yin-pa’i las) [to be reborn in one of the three worse states of rebirth.] In general, however, those whose thoughts mainly run after a feeling of pleasure from the sense organs build up the karma for rebirth on the [worse or better states of the] plane of sensory desires [depending on whether they act destructively or constructively.]

Then, there are those who turn from desire for the feeling of pleasure externally, but who desire the feeling of pleasure internally from absorbed concentration (ting-nge-‘dzin, Skt. samadhi) and who accumulate karma. A mind acting like that builds up karma for rebirth on the plane of ethereal forms, from the first to the third state of mental stability (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyana). Those who desire a feeling of equanimity that comes internally from samadhi, beyond the feeling of pleasure, build up the karma for rebirth in the fourth state of mental stability [on the plane of ethereal forms].

Then, when explaining the differences between the plane of ethereal forms and the plane of formelss beings, when after blocking appearances of all forms, you meditate on nothingness or on a blank emptiness like space, and so on, you build up the karma for rebirth in one of the four divine realms on the plane of formless beings: the divine realms of infinite space, infinite mind, nothingness, or the peak of existence.

So, when you look at it from one side, since there are gross and subtle levels of mental activity, then, under the influence of these inner gross and subtle minds [referring to gross and subtle pleasure and the desire to seek after them], one accumulates karma. Under the power of this karma, the three planes of samsaric existence are established and come about.

That being so, then when we say that the three planes of samsaric existence are established and are complete in the human body through symbolism; then, thinking about it in one way, we can understand this in terms of the influence of karma. The mind or mental activity is one aspect of Buddha-nature (de-gshegs snying-po, source of authentic transformation); and it is under the influence of the mind, or based on the mind, that we accumulate karma. From that, we have one way of establishing a human body. [In other words, the body of a rebirth state comes from the mind that has accumulating the karma for experiencing that rebirth state.]

With this [establishment of the physical body from karma] as a circumstance, we can also establish [from the Buddha-nature mind accumulating karma] the physical place of the plane of sensory desires, in which such humans primarily live. There is undoubtedly this special feature.

That being so, then Mount Meru and so on explained in Kalachakra, in reality, have a deeper meaning. They are mainly referring to the abiding situation of the body of a human being of the Southern Continent (Jambudvipa). The presentation of an external Jambudvipa is there in Kalachakra because of the necessity for explaining the relation between the external and internal worlds – each of them symbolize and are parallel to the other. In that sense, it is not necessary that Mount Meru exist as a giant mountain standing somewhere in reality in some separate location.

Berzin: Serkong Rinpoche said that Mount Meru in Kalachakra looks as though it is over your head and about to fall on you. What is that referring to?

His Holiness: In the Abhidharmakosha, Mount Meru is square and here, in Kalachakra, it is round and gets larger on top. Jambudvipa is around the bottom of it so that when you look up the wider top portion of Mount Meru, it appears hanging over your head. Thus, it looks as if it is about to fall.

Finding Further Analogies between Kalachakra and Science

Berzin: The qualities of a Buddha include the ability to take any worldly teaching and turn it into a path for Dharma. This requires, however, skillful means. My question concerns how to develop the skillful means to do something similar at our levels.

For example, in The Sadhana Chapter (sGrub-le) of The Kalachakra Tantra, concerning the hidden point of yajna sacrifices and so on in the Vedas (mchod-sbyin-la-sogs-pa rig-byed-gyi gsang-ba’i mtha’), the text explains that when the Vedas say to sacrifice animals, this is like the close bonds (dam-tshig) in Guhyasamaja or Kalachakra to take life. To take life has a metaphorical meaning (dgongs-can) and means to dissolve the life-supporting winds.

[See: Uncommon Bonding Practices for the Buddha-Families. See also: The Six Alternatives and Four Modes for Explaining Vajra Expressions in Anuttarayoga Tantra.]

Further, when the Vedas speak of the indestructible sound nada (mi-zhoms-pa’i sgra), we are to understand this means the undissipating drop (mi-shigs-pa’i thig-le) and the sound quality of the space element.

In other places, however, for instance in The World Sphere Chapter (Khams-le), when the King explains astrology to the rishi sage Suryaratha (Drang-srong Nyi-ma’i shing-rta), he says that talk in the Vedas of the Brahma realms being 10,000,000 yojanas in size is a lie.

Thus, we can conclude that sometimes what the Vedas say are symbolic metaphors and sometimes assertions of lies.

Similarly, in The Great Commentary to the Kalachakra Tantra (Tik-chen), Kaydrubjey (mKhas-grub-rje dGe-legs dpal-bzang) explains that sometimes Buddha said things had true inherent existence (bden-grub), but he had another intention and it was merely a metaphor. However, Buddha never said there is a static, monolithic, independent self. That would be a lie.

If that is the case, then when explaining Dharma to Westerners and talking about Western religions and science, how do we differentiate what can be said to be symbolic metaphors and what are lies? My reason for asking is that it is very easy to make up cute analogies for Kalachakra. Sometimes, things in Kalachakra and in Western religions and science would be analogies of each other, but sometimes things in one or the other systems would be lies.

His Holiness: The tantras and sutras are the ultimate authority, we aren’t. Unless there is a scriptural reference in them, there is no need for us to make these things up and assert that Buddha had in mind an analogy with Western religion or science.

Love in Christianity and in Buddhism

Berzin: Christianity speaks of love, so is this like our love in Buddhism? Can we speak like that?

His Holiness: Christianity teaches love toward God and love toward fellow human beings. When they say we should love God, they mean we should keep God close to our hearts, and we should like him and love him. Buddhism also teaches having respect for and liking the Buddha. Christianity says we should have a warm heart and feelings, not for all beings including bugs, but specifically for our fellow human beings. So, if we speak very roughly, we can understand this to be like our love in Buddhism and it is the same.

However, as for Christian talk about a creator, if we say that in Buddhist terms this can be understood to be voidness, although we could make such an interpretation, this will not do. For instance, you could say that voidness, as a womb containing a Thusly Gone One, (as a Buddha-nature factor) is the creator. It is formless, unimaginable, and can’t be put in words, as is God. Although you could say that, I doubt that speaking like that will really do. I don’t think that’s OK.

Like that, when it comes to philosophy, there are disagreements. Buddhism does not assert a creator in the way that Christianity asserts God as the creator. Buddhism does not accept that. Buddhism would say that ultimately one’s own mind is, in a sense, a creator, but there is no ultimate Almighty Creator. We can speak like that and explain it like that.

Scientifically Confirming Whether Mount Meru Actually Exists

Berzin: So it would be best not to say that what science says is just like Buddhism?

His Holiness: Science has the same approach as Buddhism does. I think that from this point of view, they come to the same thing. That is one of the basic Buddhist attitudes. For instance, there are two types of distorted antagonistic attitudes (log-lta): those that are interpolations (sgro-‘dogs) and those that are totally imaginary (kun-brtags-kyi log-lta) [equivalent to repudiations (skur-‘debs)]. What do these categories refer to? An antagonistic attitude believing that something that exists does not exist is a distorted attitude that repudiates. One that believes that something that does not exist does exist is a distorted attitude of interpolation.

For instance, if Mount Meru exists and we say it doesn’t, that is a distorted attitude. If it doesn’t exist and we say it does, that also is a distorted attitude. That means that whatever is the fact, that is what we accept. For instance, if on the ground, there is an elephant and it is visible, we should see it because it is visible. Using this line of reasoning, if something exists (and is visible), we should see it. And, if it should be visible and we don’t see it, then it doesn’t exist.

So like that, concerning whether or not Mount Meru exists, when you explore in spacecrafts and if definitely it should be visible – because it is described as an object of the eye sensors – and if we don’t see it – of course, if it is something that exists but it can’t be seen, that is something completely different – but if it is the case that if it exists it has to be visible, then if it can’t be seen, we can decide that it doesn’t exist. Since the texts say that Mount Meru does exist, then except for them being of interpretable meaning, [there is no other possibility].

If we research scientifically, then if something exists we should be able to confirm it decisively – for instance, the diameters of the sun and the moon. I don’t remember the exact figures, but the diameter of the sun is much greater than that of the moon. We can see this with valid visual perception; it’s been seen. However, Abhidharmakosha says that the diameter of the moon is fifty yojanas and that of the sun is fifty-one – only one yojana difference.

Now, let’s leave aside the possibility that Mount Meru exists but just can’t be seen (because it’s invisible); we can directly see the size of the sun and the moon. We can see the sun and the moon and, if the sun and moon are visible, it can’t be that we cannot see their sizes. We can see their orbs. We can feel their heat; we can see their orbits; and we can see their sizes. Since we can see them, then when we look at them, we can see there is a big difference.

So, when Abhidharmakosha says their diameters are fifty and fifty-one yojanas respectively, this has to be refuted as an interpretable level of meaning. To say that what we see in terms of mathematical calculations is not the case – that it’s a deceptive appearance – and what Vasubhandu said in the Kosha about their being fifty and fifty-one yojanas is true, we couldn’t possibly say that. That is the basic Buddhist attitude: when there is a scientific finding that has been proven, we must accept it.

When science doesn’t find something, there are two possibilities: the not finding of something that doesn’t exist and the case of even though something exists, it can’t be found. They are different. For instance, about past and future lives and not being able to prove them scientifically, it is just that scientists cannot find them, but that doesn’t prove that they don’t exist.

The Validity of the Kalachakra Presentation of the Universe and of the Body as Bases for Purification

Berzin: Both Kaydrubjey and Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso (mKhas-grub Nor-bzang rgya-mtsho) said in their Kalachakra commentaries that if the basis for purification (sbyang-gzhi) is not established as valid, it is difficult to establish the validity of a pathway mind that does the purifying. If that is the case, what is a skillful way to present to Westerners that the outer and inner bases for purification in Kalachakra are valid?

His Holiness: As for the outer environment as a basis to be purified, it doesn’t have to especially be exactly as described in Kalachakra, but in general there is a basis to be purified. There is an external environment: that is external Kalachakra. There is internal situation: that is internal Kalachakra. It is very simple. They are bases to be purified.

Berzin: But specifically, we meditate on the generation stage in analogy with Mount Meru, the four elements, and so on.

His Holiness: There are four elements: earth, water, fire, and wind. There is no need that they be specifically like this or like that. As for Mount Meru, since there are sides and since there are directions [in the galaxy], there must be a center- that’s Mount Meru. It is not necessarily this shape or that size.

Berzin: Kalachakra meditation, however, does entail meditation with a pathway mind that purifies and is in analogy with the basis for purification. Should we explain in terms of this?

His Holiness: Yes, definitely explain it. There are these things, but no need to explain how many rocks are on top of Mount Meru, just as there is no need to explain or assert how many trees are in the world or how many mountains. In general, however, there is a world (Jambudvipa). Setting that as a basis for purification is sufficient.

For instance, for purifying our aggregates there is the purifying of the energy-channels, but there is no need for an exact count of these and those channels. Similarly, our aggregates are to be purified, but there is no need to explain, or assert, or know the number of atoms or molecules in them.

[Thus, we may conclude that the specific count in Kalachakra of the energy channels, and so on, is an illustrative one. It allows us to work with them in parallel astrological, medical, and meditation systems with visualizations of a certain number of Buddha-figures with certain numbers of arms and so on. The actual count, however, is not just arbitrary. It has the authority of Buddha and scriptures. We need a middle way: neither the extreme of taking the scriptures totally literally as if they were dogma, nor the extreme of taking what they say as totally arbitrary and therefore having no respect for them or thinking there is no point to them.]

For instance, we have twelve billion brain cells in our bodies. There is no necessity to have twelve billion paths that purify them. [Thus, we use only the illustrative numbers chosen by Buddha, a valid authority, who had many other purposes in mind when giving them. For instance, the authoritative scriptural texts enumerate fifty-one mental factors (sems-byung). These are not all of them, but an illustrative number chosen for specific purposes.]

So, just think that the body has, in general, energy-channels, energy-winds, and constituent-source energy-drops, and that these three are to be purified. Likewise, there is the external environment, the four elements, the continents and subcontinents, and they too are to be purified.

Now, as for Mount Meru being round, what could that be? That is difficult to explain. However, the Milky Way does have a center around which it revolves. The Milky Way is one billion light years across, so it has a center. We could set that as Mount Meru and then the shape may be OK, since it bulges at the top and is round.

Kalachakra and Tibetan Medicine

Berzin: The internal Kalachakra teachings explain the energy-winds and so on. What is the relation of internal Kalachakra and Tibetan medicine?

His Holiness: I don’t know in detail. However, the certificates [given for completing Tibetan medical studies] mention The Meaning of the Profound Inner (Chapter) (Zab-mo nang-don) [a sub-commentary by the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (Kar-ma-pa Rang-byung rdo-rje) on the second chapter of the commentary to The Kalachakra Condensed Tantra (bsDus-rgyud) by Pundarika, Stainless Light (Dri-med ‘od, Skt. Vimalaprabha).] Because of this mention, I wonder what the connection is between the study of medicine and the study of this commentary. I had hoped to see it. If its explanation of the energy-channels, winds, and drops is the same as in the complete stage of Kalachakra, then on the basis of this we would know there to be a connection with general Tibetan medicine in terms of those points. Otherwise, I don’t know.

Now if you ask what specific points in Tibetan medicine derive from Kalachakra, there is the formula for making one of the precious pills ngulchu-tsodey (dngul-chu rtso-sde) out of mercury. This comes from The Kalachakra Condensed Tantra. There is some mention of it in The Hevajra Two-Chapter Tantra (rTags-gnyis), but much more explanation in Kalachakra. The making of ngulchu-tsodey pills comes from the practice of the [fourteenth-century] Nyingma mahasiddha Drubtob Ogyen-lingpa (Grub-thob O-rgyan gling-pa). He was a great practitioner of Kalachakra and had great realizations of it. There is that connection. But, as for more of a connection with general Tibetan medicine, I don’t know.

3 Tibetan Traditions of Kalachakra

[With clarification of His Holiness’ answers included within square brackets in violet.]

Kalachakra in the Four Tibetan Traditions

Berzin: As Kalachakra is found in all four Tibetan traditions and, in the West, Kalu Rinpoche has given the Kalachakra initiation several times…

His Holiness: From a cloth mandala, wasn’t it?

Berzin: Yes. Then would it be helpful for promoting nonsectarianism, when giving an introduction to Kalachakra in the West, to explain some of the differences of the four traditions in terms of Kalachakra?

His Holiness: Kalachakra, however, is from the Sarma New Tradition Period; it is not a Nyingma text. [It came to Tibet after the Old Translation Period.] In any case, Ju Mipam (‘ Ju Mi-pham rgya-mtsho) always said that The Deep Awareness Chapter (Ye-she’i le’u) of Kalachakra comes within the sphere of dzogchen. [The nineteenth-century Nyingma master Mipham wrote The Illumination of the Vajra Sun (rDo-rje nyi-ma’i snang-ba), a commentary on all five chapters of Kalachakra.] He said that because of that, the subject matter of The Deep Awareness Chapter – inseparable method and wisdom, the inseparable two truths – is the same as the intention of dzogchen. In terms of that, there is a connection.

Berzin: In general, how many traditions of Kalachakra are there?

His Holiness: I don’t know exactly, but there are two main ones. One from Ra Lotsawa (Rva Lo-rtsa-ba Chos-rab) [called the Ra lineage (Rva-lugs)] and one from Droton Lotsawa (‘ Bro-ston Lo-rtsa-ba dKon-mchog srung) [called the Dro lineage (‘Bro-lugs)]. Then there are some other minor ones, but all are Sarma. There are no Nyingma lineages. Kalachakra is not from the Nyingma Old Translation Period, but as I said, Mipam said The Deep Awareness Chapter includes the main points of dzogchen. That is one thing.

Then, Longchen Rinpoche (Longchen Rabjampa, Klong-chen Rab-‘byams-pa Dri-med ‘od-zer) in Treasury of the Supreme Vehicle (Theg-mchog mdzod) explains something similar to the way things go in Kalachakra. I recall that distinctly. Also, in Kunkyen Jigmey-lingpa’s (Kun-mkhyen ‘Jigs-med gling-pa) Treasury of Good Qualities (Yon-tan mdzod), the presentation of the way the paths and stages go and, specifically, the way the arya bodhisattva levels of bhumi mind (sa, Skt. bhumi) are accomplished is explained in terms of the six chakras. This is similar to Kalachakra. One fills up the first half and then the second half of [the central channel between] each of the six chakras with bodhichitta drops and, applying each to one of the arya bodhisattva levels of bhumi mind, one attains the twelve bhumi minds from these twelve. This is very similar to Kalachakra.

Berzin: In other words, the stacking of drops, but without mention specifically of 21,600 drops.

His Holiness: Yes. He doesn’t say this is the Kalachakra tradition, but the way of speaking is very much like Kalachakra. I wonder what dzogchen text he took as a source? It is from this that I think the way of traveling the paths and stages in Kalachakra and in dzogchen are a little similar, but not exactly corresponding.

So, at first [within the Sarma traditions], Kalachakra was made into a nondual tantra. Later, Nyingma masters have taken it and made it a widespread practice. However, Kalachakra is Sarma, not Nyingma.

Special Features of the Gelug Tradition of Kalachakra

Berzin: Within Sarma, what are the special characteristics of Tsongkhapa’s tradition of Kalachakra? For instance, is one of the special Gelug features conferring the empowerment from a powder mandala?

His Holiness: The [Namgyal (rNam-rgyal)] monastery [His Holiness’s personal monastery] follows exactly the tradition of [the Sakya master] Buton (Bu-ston Rin-chen grub). The sadhana derives from Kaydrubjey [as arranged for recitation by the Seventh Dalai Lama (rGyal-dbang bsKal-bzang rgya-mtsho).] The use of the powder mandala and way of laying it out are nothing other than Buton’s tradition.

As for the way in which the figures (mtshan-ma) [ in the entourage] are arranged, in A Presentation of the Generation Stage of Glorious Kalachakra: Personal Instructions of Manjushri (dPal dus-kyi ‘khor-lo’i bskyed-rim-gyi rnam-bzhag ‘Jam-dpal zhal-lung) [the standard commentary on Kaydrubjey’s Kalachakra sadhana, the Gelug master] Amdo Detri Jamyang-tubten-nyima (sDe-khri ‘Jam-dbyangs thub-bstan nyi-ma) said that the entourage looks up at the face of the main couple and thus right and left is taken in terms of the entourages’ [right and left] hands. Our monastery doesn’t take it like that. Whatever direction the main deity is facing, right and left is from his point of view. This is the Buton tradition.

As for Jey Tsongkhapa’s tradition, Jey Rinpoche gave only a [brief] explanation. However, if we ask what are the special features [that distinguish a general Gelug presentation of Kalachakra] as found in the extensive explanatory texts written by Kaydrub Rinpochey [Kaydrubjey] and Darchen [Gyaltsabjey (rGyal-tshab Dar-ma rin-chen)], then in general, in terms of the view, they both refuted the view of other voidness (gzhan-stong). That is one common feature [of all Gelug commentaries]. But, I wonder if there really is much difference in their way of presenting how the generation and complete stages go?

Conferring the Empowerment from a Powder or a Cloth Mandala

Berzin: What about the empowerment being given only from a powder mandala?

His Holiness: This, I think, is a matter of difference between Kalachakra within the corpus of general main empowerments (spyi-ka) and within the corpus of a side collection of empowerments (zur-ka). The empowerment from a cloth mandala is usually one from the latter, while from a powder mandala is for Kalachakra as a general initiation.

[Gelug transmits several collections of initiations called zur-ka. In addition to A Hundred (Empowerments) That Are a Source of Gems (Rin-‘byung brgya-rtsa) and A Hundred (Empowerments Collected) by Maitripa (Mai-tri brgya-rtsa),] there is The Vajra Garland (rDo-rje ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Vajramala) [collected by Abhayakaragupta] . In this, there is a Kalachakra initiation as an empowerment from a side collection. [This is the one that Kirti Tsenzhab Rinpoche, for example, confers. It is without a powder mandala, just a cloth one.] The Sakya lineage [and Kalu Rinpoche from the Shangpa Kagyu line] also confer the Kalachakra empowerment from a cloth mandala.

[As for Kalachakra as a general main empowerment,] it is like this in The Abbreviated Point Concerning the Empowerment (dBang-mdor, Skt. Sekoddesha) [the fragment from The Kalachakra Root Tantra on the initiation]. There, it says, “Having laid out the mandala, give it.” This means one needs to make or lay out a powder mandala and then give the empowerment from it. This is very clear in Naropa’s Commentary to “The Abbreviated Point Concerning the Empowerment” (dBang-mdor bstan-pa’i ‘grel-pa, Skt. Sekoddeshatika). With this as the scriptural source, then it is said that the seven initiations of entering like a child need to be given from a powder mandala.

Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso, however, [in An Adornment for “Stainless Light” (Dri-med ‘od-kyi rgyan)] said that for a disciple who has given up everything (kun-spang), it is permitted to give the Kalachakra empowerment from a cloth. This refers to disciples who are very poor and have nothing. This too is not a point that we can make into exemplifying Tsongkhapa’s tradition, because this also comes from a statement in The Abbreviated Point Concerning the Empowerment. Thus, we may conclude that conferring the empowerment from a powder mandala is best, but we cannot say that it is absolutely necessary.

Kalachakra as a Nondual Tantra

Berzin: What are distinguishing features in the Kagyu tradition of Kalachakra? Do they have the division of father, mother, and nondual tradition?

His Holiness: One cannot generalize about all the branches of the Kagyu tradition. Their masters have held various opinions. Some Drugpa Kagyu masters [for example, Barawa (‘Ba’-ra-ba rGyal-mtshan dpal-bzang) of the Upper Drugpa line (sTod-‘brug), a teacher of Tsongkhapa’s teacher Lama Umapa (dBu-ma-pa)] asserted that Kalachakra is a nondual tantra. I doubt that this is true for all Kagyupas.

[Drugchen Pemakarpo (‘ Brug-chen Pad-ma dkar-po) of the Middle Drugpa line (Bar-‘brug), for example, refutes nondual tantra as a separate category and classifies Kalachakra as a mother tantra, as did Tsongkhapa more than a century before him. Jamgon Kongtrul (‘Jam-mgon Kong-sprul Blo-gros mtha’-yas), one of the main authors of the nineteenth-century nonsectarian Rimey (ri-med) movement, asserts the same as Gelug.]

Within the Sakya tradition, there are also various opinions. Some masters, such as Buton (Bu-ston Rin-chen grub) assert nondual tantra as a separate category, and some do not. Among those who assert nondual tantra, not all include Kalachakra among them, for instance Dragpa-gyeltsen (Grags-pa rgyal-mtshan). The Sakya critic of Tsongkhapa’s Kalachakra views, for example,] Tagtsang Lotsawa (sTag-tshang Lotsawa Shes-rab rin-chen) [teacher of Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso, the Gelug tutor of the Second Dalai Lama Gedun-gyatso (rGyal-ba dGe-‘dun rgya-mtsho), and criticized back by Kaydrubjey] has said that Kalachakra is a nondual tantra. His way of asserting the three divisions of anuttarayoga tantra is [different from his Sakya and Kagyu predecessors and is] very neat. He asserts that if an anuttarayoga tantra shows prominently the pathway mind of the secret initiation (gsang-dbang), it is father tantra; if that of the discriminating deep awareness (wisdom) initiation (shes-rab ye-shes dbang), it is mother tantra; and if that of the fourth initiation (bzhi-pa’i dbang), it is nondual. Referring to this, Bunang Jampelyang – I looked a little at the works of Bunang – said, “I explain just as this wise one said.”

Give some thought to this. For instance, Guhyasamaja and all related tantras are hidden tantras (sbas-rgyud), not clear (obvious) tantras (gsal-rgyud). Kalachakra is a clear tantra since it makes prominent and shows clearly the fourth initiation. [The distinction between hidden and clear tantras comes from The Kalachakra Condensed Tantra itself.] This point sets up and makes it acceptable to consider Kalachakra a nondual tantra by Tagtsang’s criteria.

For instance, Guhyasamaja [as a father tantra] explains prominently illusory body (sgyu-lus) [for which the secret initiation empowers one to practice] . Chakrasamvara [as a mother tantra] explains prominently great bliss. Moreover, it explains prominently only in terms of clear light (‘od-gsal) [for which the discriminating deep awareness initiation empowers one to practice]. Guhyasamaja, however, not only explains clear light, but it also explains prominently illusory body. This probably means that it does not explain both equally and does not clearly explain the unified pair (zung-‘jug, Skt. yuganaddha, unity).

Now, concerning the fourth initiation in Kalachakra, in other (anuttarayoga) tantras it says “Similar to that, so it is with the fourth.” They indicate or show the fourth initiation by taking the third as an example. Therefore, they are called hidden tantras and not only because of that, but also because they explain by means of the six alternatives and four modes (mtha’-drug tshul-bzhi).

[See: The Six Alternatives and Four Modes for Explaining Vajra Expressions in Anuttarayoga Tantra.]

Kalachakra dispenses with explaining in terms of the six alternatives. Clearing this away, it is a clear tantra and, on top of this, it explains prominently the fourth initiation. Because of these two features, calling it a nondual tantra is easily and readily understandable.

Receiving the Kalachakra Initiation from Different Lineages

Berzin: In the West, people who received the Kalachakra initiation from Kalu Rinpoche want to know if this and the practice of Kalachakra as given by Your Holiness are the same or not.

His Holiness: The practice is the same. If you want to say it is the same, it is the same. You could either say it is the same or not. If someone wants to make them different, make them different; if you want to make them one, they are one.

Berzin: Is the sadhana (method for actualizing oneself as the Buddha-figure) different?

His Holiness: It would seem that surely they have a different sadhana. I don’t know from which text Kalu Rinpochey gives the empowerment, but his tradition is the same in studying in full the many Collected Works (Sung-bum) [of the great masters on Kalachakra] which are accepted in common [such as the works of Buton]. And wouldn’t the works of Drugchen Pema-karpo also be included [in what Kalu Rinpoche’s tradition accepts]? Maybe what they do, however, follows what Buton wrote. There is a little bit of difference in the words between the sadhana of Buton and that of Kaydrubjey, I believe.

Oh, there is one special feature, the difference in the generation of the deities. There were three learned Indian masters: Sadhuputra, Abhayakaragupta, and Vibhutichandra [who each wrote a slightly different Kalachakra sadhana included the Tengyur (bsTan-‘gyur) collection of works by Indian authors translated into Tibetan. The Gelug tradition follows Vibhutichandra.] In Sadhuputra’s way of generating, the goddesses of the dates (tshe-mo) [in the body mandala on the petals of the lotuses on the backs of the twelve animals for the twelve months] and the goddesses of feeling like doing something (‘ dod-ma) and feeling like not doing something (log-par ‘dod-ma) [on the ledges for the offering goddesses around the speech and body mandalas] each have one face and two arms. But, in Kadrubjey’s sadhana [following Vibhutichandra], some have one face and two arms, some one face and four arms, some three faces and six arms, and so forth. I wonder, however, if this really makes such a big difference.

[Other slight differences occur regarding whether the main couple stands on three or four planet-seat mandalas, whether the lotus is under or on top of the animals in the speech and body mandalas, which figures are on lotuses for the count of 156 lotuses, whether or not the protectors of the above and below directions stand on the gateways, and so on.]

Berzin: If you receive the Kalachakra initiation from one tradition, can you practice Kalachakra of another tradition?

His Holiness: Yes.

Connection between the Dalai Lamas and Kalachakra

Berzin: In general, is there a special relation between the Dalai Lamas and Kalachakra?

His Holiness: Some Dalai Lamas had. For instance, the Second Dalai Lama had a special relation. He wrote A Commentary to “A Concert of Names of Manjushri” (‘Jam-dpal mtshan-brjod-gyi ‘grel-ba), which is an explanation of the Kalachakra tradition. The Seventh Dalai Lama also had a connection with Kalachakra. He was mainly associated with Kalachakra and Chakrasamvara. So some had and some did not. There is no significance.

Berzin: And as for the Dalai Lamas being incarnations of the Second Holder of the Castes, Kalki Pundarika (Rigs-ldan Pad-ma dkar-po)?

His Holiness: I don’t know. Is that a reason? I don’t know.

Berzin: So some had a special relation and some did not.

His Holiness: Yes. And if you ask do I have a karmic connection (las-‘brel) with Kalachakra, I suppose that I do. From a very early age, I had a great liking for Shambhala and for the religious kings and holders of the caste.

No Limitation in the Number of Times the Empowerment May Be Conferred

Berzin: In the West, people say that former Dalai Lamas gave Kalachakra initiations only a limited number of times. Is that correct?

His Holiness: It wasn’t like that, not with Kalachakra. For example, Khangsar Rinpoche [from whom His Holiness’s Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, received the Kalachakra lineage] gave the Kalachakra initiation seventeen times. How many times did Serkong Dorjechang [from whom Khangsar Rinpoche received it and who was the father of Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche, Assistant Tutor of His Holiness] give it? I don’t know, but Khangsar Rinpoche gave it seventeen times. Some empowerments and subsequent permissions (rje-snang, “jenang”) can only be given once in one’s lifetime, some only three times. There are some like that, but Kalachakra is not one of them.

Berzin: Is there any specific reason why Your Holiness gives the Kalachakra initiation frequently?

His Holiness: No. I give it only because I have been requested. [In Rikon, Switzerland] there is a large area for the venerable members of the Namgyal Monastery and there are good facilities. So there is no trouble. Moreover, people came to me saying it would be good to give the Kalachakra initiation there, and so I waited, saw, and now I will give it. There is no special reason.

The Kalachakra Tradition His Holiness Follows

Berzin: Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso refutes many points of Kaydrubjey concerning the Kalachakra generation stage, for instance concerning the five precursors to enlightenment (mngon-byang-lnga). Does the Gelug tradition accept Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso’s assertions or those of Kaydrubjey, the Seventh Dalai Lama, and Detri Rinpoche exclusively as its own tradition? Or do we need to examine each point? For instance, Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso has only three planet-seat mandalas under the main couple, rather than four.

His Holiness: This is said to be a choice. There is a choice between Kalagni and Rahu as one of the planet-seat mandalas. There is no necessity to combine them and have both. Also, the goddesses of feeling like doing something and not feeling like doing something can all be the direction colors, with one face and two arms, rather than in a variety of forms. There are a few differences.

Berzin: Also Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso has both supported and supporting mandalas in Vishvamati’s lotus.

His Holiness: This won’t do.

Berzin: Like this, there are quite a few differences.

His Holiness: This is because their scriptural sources are different. Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso favors Sadhuputra’s generation stage ritual (bskyed-chog), while Kaydrubjey follows the Kalachakrapada tradition [transmitted by Vibhutichandra to Buton]. They don’t make any difference to me. Usually, I follow the ritual of the Seventh Dalai Lama based on that of Kaydrubjey, actualize (sgrub) [the self-generation (bdag-bskyed), front-generation (mdun-bskyed), vase (bum-pa), and self-initiation (bdag-‘jug)] according to that, and follow its order as it is.

Berzin: What about the differences in the crown ornaments?

His Holiness: We just leave it the way that Kaydrubjey has it.

Analyzing the Discrepant Assertions of Different Masters

His Holiness: Now, there is the matter of setting the boundaries between the stages in the complete stage, especially in terms of the deep awareness of the first arya bodhisattva bhumi mind. When we speak of twelve levels of bhumi minds, we take the six chakras and divide each in half, putting one bhumi mind on each half, so you get twelve levels of bhumi minds. Kaydrubjey asserts that on the absorbed concentration (ting-nge-‘dzin, Skt. samadhi) branch [the sixth of the complete stage six-branch yoga (sbyor-ba yan-lag drug)], the first 1800 moments are pathway minds of ordinary beings (so-skye) [meaning applying pathway minds (sbyor-lam, path of preparation)]. Gyeltsabjey has the first 1799 as ordinary-being pathway minds and the 1800th as a seeing pathway mind (mthong-lam, path of seeing) of an arya. Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso [and Buton, Rendawa (Re-mda’-ba gZhon-nu blo-gros), and Tatsang Lotsawa] set the arya pathway minds from the first moment of the samadhi branch, and I think that seems right.

Berzin: So we have to examine each point.

His Holiness: This is the Ngareng tradition [of Tsongkhapa’s Sakya teacher, Rendawa] that Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso follows, that the samadhi branch is pervasive with being arya pathway minds, and I think that is so, but I don’t really know. I just say that off the top of my head as my own bias.

Nevertheless, whatever constituent energy-drops are stacked up from lower end of the central channel and bound without shifting, and whatever unchanging blissful awareness arises on the basis of these drops, one side [Gyaltsabjey and Kaydrubjey] takes these moments of unchanging blissful awareness and divides them into two categories: one that has nonconceptual straightforward cognition of voidness and one that does not. The other side [Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso, etc.] says there is no special reason to do this. To say that as soon as we generate unchanging blissful awareness, this unchanging blissful awareness has nonconceptual straightforward cognition of voidness and that this is the attainment of an arya pathway mind and thus the first level of bhumi mind starts from there, I think this is better. However, in A Grand Presentation of the Stages of Secret Mantra (sNgags-rim chen-mo), Jey Rinpoche (Tsongkhapa) explains that the samadhi branch includes a pathway mind of ordinary beings. So, this would be inconsistent with that.

However, if we want to force the issue, then, for instance concerning Guhyasamaja’s five stage [complete stage, which also can be divided into the six branches with the same names as in the Kalachakra complete stage], sNgags-rim chen-mo does not speak decisively about the way of arising and appearing as unpurified and purified illusory bodies. [The unpurified illusory body is achieved while still having an applying pathway mind as an ordinary being, a purified illusory body while having a seeing pathway mind as an arya. Tsongkhapa does not explain explicitly which of the two illusory bodies is included in the samadhi branch, and thus does not speak decisively whether or not the samadhi branch includes a part while still having a pathway mind of ordinary beings. In A Summary of All the Essential Points of (Tsongkhapa’s) “Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages (of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage)”: A Sun to Illuminate the Profound Meaning (Rim-lnga gsal-sgron-gyi snying-po’i gnad kun-bsdus-pa zab-don gsal-ba’i nyi-ma), however, the First Panchen Lama (Pan-chen Blo-bzang chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan) asserts that the samadhi branch includes only the purified illusory body and thus only arya pathway minds.] Now, in terms of the samadhi branch in Kalachakra, whether or not Tsongkhapa says it is entirely with an arya pathway mind – maybe we can just leave it that there are several traditions.

Berzin: So, Gelug practitioners do not need to insist and defend Kaydrubjey or Gyaltsabjey, for example, as their own tradition of Kalachakra?

His Holiness: No, they don’t need to do that. Unless the reasons set for Kaydrubjey’s assertions are correct, we don’t have to accept them. If another master has an equally excellent reason for a different assertion, there is no reason why Gelug practitioners have to assert exclusively as Kaydrubjey does.

Berzin: So we must analyze.

His Holiness: Yes. For instance, even on the sutra side, Kaydrubjey, in both his Great Commentary to “Pramanavarttika”: An Ocean of Stages (rNam-‘grel tik-chen rim-pa’i rgya-mtsho) and in his Commentary on the Seven Logic Texts: Eliminating the Darkness of the Mind (Tshad-ma bdun-‘grel yid-kyi mun-sel), says that deepest truth (don-dam bden-pa, ultimate truth) for Chittamatra is clear-light reflexive awareness (rang-rig ‘od-gsal). He says a nondual cognition is a deepest truth: the clarity/awareness that cognizes the apprehending mind and its apprehended object as nondual is a deepest truth. As Gelug practitioners, we cannot accept that – this we can decide for sure. [According to the Gelug Chittamatra assertions, only voidness as defined in Chittamatra is a deepest true phenomenon.]

So, my inclination is that in some places follow Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso as the main source, and in some places Kaydrubjey. Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso was extremely competent and can be established as a valid source of information. His main teacher was the Sakya master Tagtsang Lotsawa.

Positive Force from Receiving the Initiation

Berzin: In the seven initiations of entering like a child, you build up the positive force (bsod-nams, Skt. punya, merit, positive potential) of the seven bodhisattva bhumi minds. In An Ocean of Teachings on the General Meaning of Kalachakra (Dus-‘khor spyi-don bstan-pa’i rgya-mtsho), Tagtsang Lotsawa says these are to be understood as the seven bhumi minds in the sutra vehicle of far-reaching attitudes (Skt. Paramitayana).

His Holiness: That seems to be so.

Berzin: But the seven initiations of a child empower you to do the generation stage and when that is completed, you have only actualized a building-up pathway mind (tshogs-lam, path of accumulation).

His Holiness: The point is that the amount of positive force built up in completing the generation stage can substitute for the amount built up when you have attained a Paramitayana eighth bhumi mind. Thus, it is speaking of the powerful ability (nus-pa, potential) that you achieve.

However, at the generation stage you haven’t achieved the good qualities (yon-tan) of the first or second level bhumi minds. You are not an arya; you do not have nonconceptual straightforward cognition of voidness. Nevertheless, when you consider the amount of positive force built up, it is as Maitreya explains in Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamayalamkara), in the section called “intense application” (shin-tu sbyor-ba). In other words, the positive force built up with the Paramitayana impure seven bhumi minds has a powerful ability and, as a substitute, we can build up as much just on the generation stage alone.

This probably comes in Tsongkhapa’s Great Exposition of the Graded Stages of Secret Mantra. In connection with Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja, Tsongkhapa says that the powerful ability of the positive force from completing the generation stage is the same as having attained a Paramitayana eighth level bhumi mind.

The Gateway for Receiving the Higher and Highest Empowerments

Berzin: During the initiation, at which gateway are the four higher and the four highest empowerments received?

His Holiness: At the eastern door. For the seven initiations of entering like a child it is clear that they are at the northern door, the southern door, and so on. Here, however, where it is not clear, we take the eastern door as the main one, as we are manifesting the discriminating awareness of the mind [and at the eastern doorway, we face the mind-face of the central figure].

If we look at it from another point of view, the four higher and four highest initiations are not conferred in connection with the mandala that is actualized. They do not have that as a special condition. [The vase empowerments are conferred from the mandala of the (consort’s) body, the secret empowerments from the mandala of the secret place, the discriminating deep awareness empowerments from the mandala of conventional (relative, apparent) bodhichitta, and the fourth empowerment from the mandala of deepest (ultimate) bodhichitta.]

For the seven initiations of a child, you must especially erect a mandala. For the higher and highest empowerments, the tantric master recites only the mind mandala self-generation. Except for conferring these empowerments on the basis of this – except for conferring them from the visualization that is the lustrous play (rtsal) of the tantric master’s body: for example, for the vase initiation, except for conferred it from the visualized powerful lady’s breasts touched by the initiates’ hands – they aren’t conferred from the mandala (palace) itself. We usually do it [confer the seven initiations of a child and the higher and highest empowerments] at one time and so the mandala is already there. However, to confer them without the mandala palace is also all right. So there is no special connection with a mandala palace.

Berzin: But during the initiation, if the mandala palace is already there, do we imagine that we are in the eastern doorway?

His Holiness: I wonder how it is? For instance, there is no front-generation [in preparation for conferring the higher and highest empowerments]. The tantric master does the mind mandala self-generation, or if not that, then he recites a nine-deity yoga and on the basis of that confers the vase and secret initiations and so on, doesn’t he? Doing like that, we don’t especially need [the mandala palace]. It is probably that one doesn’t visualize the mandala palace at all. It isn’t necessary.

4 Advice for Keeping the Vows and Beginning Kalachakra Practice

[With clarification of His Holiness’ answers included within square brackets in violet.]

The Vow Not to Lose Seminal Energy-Drops

Berzin: Many Westerners are married, what about the close bond of not losing (mi-nyams) seminal energy-drops (khu-ba)?

His Holiness: What lay householders should do, I don’t know.

Berzin: Is this just referring to when practicing the complete stage (rdzogs-rim)?

His Holiness: What should I say? In Kalachakra, for achieving a devoid form (stong-gzugs), you need supreme unchanging bliss (mi-‘gyur-ba’i bde-ba). Kalachakra speaks a great deal about the necessity for maintaining non-weakened seminal energy-drops and therefore not losing semen. That being the case, then if a person practicing the Kalachakra complete stage is a male, it would seem that it is pervasive with the person abandoning home life (rab-byung) and becoming celibate. But, I wonder if that is so? I don’t know.

Berzin: For instance, Serkong Rinpoche said when you are practicing the complete stage, this is an absolute necessity. But before you reach that point, if you simply have confident belief in this and set the intention that when you reach that point you will practice like that, then it is probably OK.

His Holiness: Probably it is like that, better to explain it like that, because being able to have sexual contact without releasing semen is something needed when you practice the advanced stages of the complete stage. But to say that you are not permitted to before you reach the point [of being able to dissolve into the central channel the downward-voiding energy-winds (thur-sel-gyi rlung)] so that you are able to have sexual contact without releasing semen, that would be difficult, wouldn’t it? To say that it is necessary for everyone who takes the initiation to act like monks would be difficult.

On the other hand, if I give the impression of telling them to go ahead and release semen, that wouldn’t do at all. This is because if you really are practicing Kalachakra, you need to have no release or loss of semen whatsoever. Moreover, there is probably no division to be made in this respect between practitioners of the generation stage and of the complete stage. To state this clearly is probably better.

Now, as for the actual root downfall of discarding bodhichitta, this is talking about having the mind that wishes liberation through the bliss of orgasmic release (‘dzag-bde grol-ba ‘dod-kyi sems). As for this bliss of orgasmic release, some non-Buddhist traditions (mu-stegs-pa) assert that offering a homa fire puja of semen in the reality source of a woman pleases Ishvara (dBang-phyug, Shiva) and that through this one can achieve moksha, liberation. But, liberation doesn’t happen like that. Therefore, specifically to stop this mistaken practice, the vow was made that if, with a mind wishing for liberation through the bliss of orgasmic release, one ejaculates one’s constituent source energy-drops externally (phyi-rol-du khams-phong-ba), it is a root downfall. Usually, however, when one has and ejaculates semen, there is no thought of wishing liberation through the bliss of releasing it. Thus, it is not a root downfall.

However, there is a transgression and ignoring (chag-‘dor) of the root vow. One was not taking care about one’s seminal energy-drops (khu-ba bdag-po-ma-byed). Thus, there is a transgression of the root vow, but not a complete root downfall. If one is a practitioner and one’s constituent-source energy-drops are lost (khams nyams-pa yin-pa), then one weakens the generation of unchanging bliss.

Kadrubjey said that in Kalachakra, it is necessary for constituent-source energy-drops never to be lost at all. He states this in conjunction with the point concerning methods for actualizing blissful awareness. In Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja, one actualizes an illusory body. In Kalachakra, however, one actualizes a devoid form and a devoid form is actualized within a state of supreme unchanging blissful awareness. Because of that, it is extremely important never to degenerate, weaken, or lose one’s constituent-source energy-drops, he says.

Therefore, to constitute a root downfall, one needs the mind of wishing liberation from the bliss of orgasmic release. Furthermore, although root downfalls will not occur [without such a wish], still the flaw can occur of being stained with the fault of an infraction of the vow. To avoid this, one needs to safeguard against losing one’s seminal energy-drops [if one is a serious practitioner of Kalachakra, at any stage of the practice.] Nevertheless, to say that this pertains mainly to complete stage practice and leave it at that is probably OK.

[For further discussion of this point, see: The Kalachakra Root Tantric Vows.]

Women Not Emitting Seminal Energy-Drops

Berzin: How should women understand the vow not to emit seminal energy-drops?

His Holiness: When Kalachakra speaks of constituent-source energy-drops being emitted, they are not necessarily a gross liquid and do not necessarily have to come out of the body externally. What we need to eliminate are the propensities for these subtle energy-drops to move (g.yo-ba’i bag-chags). We have to cease (‘ gag, stop) all movement of the constituent-source energy-drops and bind them unmovingly.

For instance, in terms of men, not merely is it not having constituent-source energy-drops fall (lhung) outside the body with gross liquid drops of semen. In addition, when the constituent-source energy-drops cascade down (mar-babs) first through the chakras in the central energy channel [as white bodhichitta], we need to make that which has fallen remain stable (brtan-par gnas). That is what unmoving means.

[In other words, when the subtle constituent-source energy-drops descend in the central energy-channel through the burning of the inner heat of tummo in advanced complete stage practice, they need to stay put there. One does not put an end to the blissful awareness by having the subtle drops join with seminal fluid and move outside the body. One needs to maintain this blissful awareness to have it focus on voidness.]

Not only outside, but even inside the central channel, the constituent-source energy-drops may move back up (yar-log-pa). We must bind them so that they don’t return up. This requires stacking them inside the central channel, like building a wall – stacking or piling them up one on top of the next.

This non-moving of the constituent-source energy-drops comes from relying on a devoid-form mahamudra (great sealing partner). In the stages of meditation, union with a visualized jnanamudra (deep awareness partner) causes the constituent-source energy-drops to drip down and brings moving blissful awareness (g.yo-ba’i bde-ba) [since the drops move back up the central channel]. Practice with a devoid-form mahamudra brings the unchanging blissful awareness of the constituent-source energy-drops not moving or shifting, either externally [outside the body in connection with gross liquids] or internally [back up the central channel].

Berzin: So women have this vow too?

His Holiness: Yes, yes.

Berzin: Is it to be understood only on an internal level of not having their constituent-source energy-drops move in their central channels? Or, does it also refer to their worldly bliss of an orgasmic external release of constituent energy-drops?

His Holiness: I really don’t know. It is difficult to say, since it is not clear in any text, but women undoubtedly have something similar. If we consider men, when constituent-source energy-drops fall outside (lhung-na), then at that point, since the basis for the blissful awareness has been lost (bde-ba’i rten nyams-pa), the blissful awareness itself ceases, doesn’t it? So if men can bind (bcings, hold) the basis for the blissful awareness, the bodhichitta drops, without it being lost (nyams), the blissful awareness will not go away, will it? Women must have something analogous, whether or not it entails a release of gross fluids.

Not Belittling Women

Berzin: Concerning another of the tantric vows, not belittling women, should women think in terms of not belittling men?

His Holiness: Could that really be? Probably not. I doubt it. Among women, there are a few very special persons, such as vajra dakinis (rdo-rje mkha-‘gro) [advanced tantra practitioners]. Because of them, there is the vow not to belittle women.

[See: Basic Features of Tantra.]

But, then it would seem that women have only thirteen root vows and not fourteen. That can’t be. However, if you say that from the side of wisdom [referring to women], do not belittle method [referring to men] – that might be all right. There isn’t really the fault of men having one more vow, is there? From the side of method, don’t belittle wisdom and from the side of wisdom, don’t belittle method. That probably would be OK. Nevertheless, we could not call belittling men a root downfall. That would be inventing something new.

Which Kalachakra Sadhana to Teach

Berzin: Concerning Kalachakra, Your Holiness had instructed me to translate four short sadhanas, which I did.

[See: Abbreviated Single-Deity Kalachakra Sadhana – 1985 Translation, Abbreviated Nine-Deity Kalachakra Sadhana – 1985 Translation, Abbreviated Kalachakra Mind Mandala Sadhana – 1985 Translation, and Abbreviated Kalachakra Body, Speech, and Mind Sadhana – 1985 Translation.]

When teaching them, I thought to follow the commentaries of Detri Rinpoche and Kadrub Norzang-gyatso. Of the four sadhanas, which would be the best for teaching? For example, in conjunction with doing the nine deities of The Kalachakra Six-Session Guru-Yoga, is it best to do the nine-deity sadhana?

[See: The Kalachakra Six-Session Guru-Yoga – 2003 Translation.]

His Holiness: I don’t know. That depends on the receiver’s side. Suppose the disciple is serious and capable of understanding, then explain the rough idea of the entire body, speech, and mind mandala practice. Then indicate how the mind mandala practice is abbreviated from that, and how the nine-deity practice is abbreviated from the mind mandala practice. The basic structure for study is like that. But, when we do meditation, if we wish a very abbreviated manner, then having just the eight powerful ladies (nus-ma) [as in the nine-deity Kalachakra sadhana] is simpler for meditation.

If the students are capable, however, then usually as I mentioned, they should know and you need to explain the extensive practice and then if they wish to abbreviate from that, their practice will be more sound, won’t it? If they do not know and you do not explain the extensive practice, but only a more abbreviated one, their understanding and practice will not be clear. If, however, the students are not capable, then we need to explain directly just the nine deities.

Practice of Other Anuttarayoga Systems before Practicing Kalachakra

Berzin: Before Westerners practice Kalachakra, is it better for them to have studied and practiced Yamantaka (Vajrabhairava) or Guhyasamaja, or is it all right for them to practice Kalachakra directly?

His Holiness: If they have studied Guhysasamaja, wouldn’t it be better? I think among anuttarayoga tantra texts, Guhyasamaja is the most extensive, isn’t it? The Vajrabhairava Tantra, for instance, is not terribly extensive. If they have studied The Guhyasamaja Tantra, then for understanding general anuttarayoga they will know about the six alternatives and four modes (mtha’-drug tshul-bzhi). This will help a little.

[See: The Six Alternatives and Four Modes for Explaining Vajra Expressions in Anuttarayoga Tantra.]

Berzin: If they started with visualizing one Buddha-figure and gain stability, wouldn’t that be easier than trying the full Kalachakra entourage of 722 deities all at once?

His Holiness: Yes, that is so.

Berzin: So it is better for them to start studying more general anuttarayoga tantra.

His Holiness: Yes, that is right.

Berzin: There are some, however, who have not received any other initiations and they don’t have any initiation except Kalachakra. How should they start to practice?

His Holiness: That doesn’t matter. There are Kalachakra single-deity sadhanas [with only the central male figure] and co-arising Kalachakra sadhanas (dus-‘khor lhan-skyes) [with just the central couple].

Berzin: Is it also acceptable to begin practice, as in The Kalachakra Six-Session Yoga, with the main couple and the eight powerful ladies around, counted as nine deities?

His Holiness: Yes.

Berzin: Even though a six-session yoga is not actually a sadhana, can practitioners do this instead of or as a substitute for an actual sadhana?

[For a Kalachakra practice to be a sadhana, it needs to have complete not only meditation on death as a pathway mind for (attaining) a dharmakaya (‘chi-ba chos-sku lam-‘khyer) and rebirth as a pathway mind for (attaining) a nirmanakaya (skye-ba sprul-sku lam-‘khyer), which a six-session yoga may include. It must also have four further essential sections. These are the absorbed concentration practices (ting-nge-‘dzin, Skt. samadhi) of a supreme triumphant mandala (dkyil-‘khor rgyal-mchog), supreme triumphant actions (las rgyal-mchog), energy-drop yoga (thig-le rnal-‘byor), and subtle yoga (phra-mo rnal-‘byor).]

His Holiness: Yes, it is very good. You have the guru-deity as the Kalachakra main couple before you, you receive initiation, they dissolve into you, and then you arise in the form of the nine deities. There are even simpler forms for practicing similar to a Kalachakra sadhana, for example just with the various length versions of the common six-session yoga [visualizing oneself as a simple one-face two-armed Kalachakra couple instead of as a Vajrasattva couple].

Deciding Which Tantra to Practice

Berzin: When practicing in the Gelug tradition, is it only when we reach the complete stage that we need to decide the specific Buddha-figure system through which we will reach enlightenment – for instance, through Kalachakra or through the joint practice of Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, and Vajrabhairava?

His Holiness: You cannot practice both [as your actual path for reaching enlightenment]. But, that doesn’t concern us now. When we reach the point at which we single-pointedly practice the generation stage with fully qualified bodhichitta and a correct understanding of voidness, and we decide fully to devote ourselves to a course of generation and complete stage practice, then it is best to find out whether we fulfill the defining characteristics for someone who will reach enlightenment through this path or that path. This will depend on our own physical condition [particularly, which subtle energy-system is most prominent in us] and on our previous karmic connections. Then, on this basis, we definitely decide.

Berzin: On the generation stage?

His Holiness: We are not yet at the above stage where we can concentrate fully on the generation stage, so there is not much harm in practicing several systems. We just simply get used to this generation stage or that, since we are not yet devoting our entire energies and time. When all preparations are finished and we can put all our energies into practice of the generation stage alone, then that is the stage at which to decide. Based on this decision, the complete stage of that particular generation stage will follow. Thus, the generation and complete stages are integrally related. It is impossible for someone fully practicing the Guhyasamaja generation stage to transfer on the complete stage to the Chakrasamvara complete stage.

In other words, first we need to ascertain very clearly [in terms of our subtle energy-systems and so on] that our stable connection is with the Kalachakra complete stage or with the Guhyasamaja or Chakrasamvara one. Then, we would accordingly practice that generation stage.

Berzin: Before we reach that point, is it helpful to practice many generation stages?

His Holiness: That is what we do, and it is better, because we make some connections with various practices and lay instincts. That is helpful.