Study notes

Kāla Chakra and Tantra

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Kala Chakra and Tantra

A look at Tibet, maybe through a movie or a book, can be revealing. Within the unlikely setting of mountains and small isolated villages, there is a culture of respect and gratitude for the spiritual path. For more than 1000 years the Tibetans remained dedicated to the cultivation of body, mind, spirit, and gnosis.

Kalachakra Tantra offers a unique and mystical perspective into the mindset of this high-culture, which also maintains profound spiritual methods. They are thought of as ways to enrich the Path. We can say that the founders and creators of these methods were enlightened masters. Their real intentions may remain hidden until the Time comes. Cultures have often spiritualized what humans do not understand. Time is one example. Kalachakra holds a special place among the traditions that deify the aspect of time. Doing that is also common within the proto-Yezidic and Persian Zurvanite traditions, or the Greek and Roman traditions[1]. The difference is the Path itself, because Kalachakra interacts with the aspect of time from a mandalic abstraction point, that by itself is beyond time.

– In a certain part of the Vajrayana (within Tibetan Buddhism) system it is not considered necessary to put the emphasis on all the details, and for the following paragraphs, this fits a more forgiving and possibly esoteric setting. Nowadays it is relatively easy to get insights into the methods, applied abstractions, and rites of the Kalachakra traditions. The key is not just knowledge, but also the timeless wisdom of the Great Work.

Kalachakra-Tantra – its history and openness

During recent years the leaders of Tibetan Buddhism have encouraged openness about some of the once-secret teachings. This is not as simple as it may sound.

The teachings have a defensible and at the same time adaptive character: “its [Kalachakra’s] affiliation with non-Buddhist Indian systems is in form rather than content”[2] By itself Kalachakra is a pluralism and not a syncretism, that can be shared by Buddhist schools, Bön, Dzogchen and Indian traditions[3] (Madhyamikas, Nagarjuna followers). The tradition establishes a dialogue, with originality to the inside.

Iranian and Babylonian influences

Different cultures have their own perspectives upon impermanence, the origin of the universe[4] and of time and the cyclic nature of the cosmos.

What is unique about Kalachakra is, that its origin is almost as esoteric as its original inside conclusions. It is described to be Shambhala:

The Dzogchen teaching developed in a country called Oddiyana in ancient times, in the original language of that region. Today that region is the northern part of Pakistan. You may have heard of a famous country called Shambhala. That is primarily where the Kalachakra teaching developed. Shambhala was also in northern Pakistan and today that country is Afghanistan.[5]

According to Kuznetsov (et. al.)[6], Indian and Persian influences can be traced, according to which the Indians used to name Iran as Shambhala. It can be translated as " the holders of the world (good). " From Iran, the Indians (probably) borrowed the doctrine of eternal time (Zurvan Akarana), which then became the inspirational basis of the Buddhist Kalachakra[7]. To varying degrees, the influences can be associated with Bön and the pre-Buddhistic religions[8].

Shenrabs origins are said to be in Iran-Elam and his name is given as Mithra. The Tibetan word Tsug-Pu (gtsug.phud) meaning ‘crown of the head’ approximates the actual word Mithra.[9]

It is possible to assume that such a doctrine was co-realized with Iranian Magi under the influence of the ancient Babylonian tradition, according to which the story is divided into long cycle times, and within each of them are recurring events.[10]

Nowadays the “Hindu” term “Yuga” is very popular, and possibly everyone with a Western education has heard about the Big Bang theory and the origin of the cosmos, about galaxies that are cycling just like planets and moons.
Within the Kalachakra this larger astronomical and astrometric field is called the “Outer Kalachakra”.

Proto-Iranian traces from Kushana to Zhang-zhung

The Proto-Iranian influences have been described by Namkhai Norbu as well:

"Just to the west of Zhang-zhung there once existed the vast Kushana empire […] an area in which Indian Buddhism and the Bon teachings interacted with various strands of the great Iranian and Central Asian religions-- Zoroastrian, Zurvanist, Mithraist, Manichean, as well as Indian Shaivism and Nestorian Christianity“[11]

The Tibetan empire hasn’t always been one country. Zhang-zhung (or Shang shung) has been located in the West with its borders to the Kashmir region. From the South-West border of Nepal, many Bön-related influences can be cited as direct (and embedded) connections into the Kalachakra traditions, but there is not just one kind of Bön (alike to Shamanism). There are many different kinds of Bön traditions, that sometimes may appear only local with meaning to the villages and hidden places only, that time seems to have forgotten.

Proto-Yezidi believes of salvation and the Kalki King prophecy

Myths can carry projections of emerging life situations. What is real about them often doesn’t appear to be obvious from one single context.

“and three ‘storms’ (Kurd. tofan) which divide the history of Yezidism into four stages. In Yezidism, the older original concept of metempsychosis and the cyclic perception of the course of time is harmonised and coexists with the younger idea of a collective eschatology”[12]

Yezidis believe not only that they are the people chosen by God, who will be rescued at the End of Time, but also that they were created differently from all other peoples.[13]

In a similar sense the mystical prophecies of Shambhala apply:

The barbarians will attack Shambhala with a huge army equipped with terrible weapons. Then the king of Shambhala will emerge from Shambhala with a huge army to vanquish “dark forces” and usher in a worldwide Golden Age.[14]

What both have in common is, that they create the apotheotic belief of cyclic time as a salvation. Time as a way to an end of suffering and as a point of contact to await a higher power. Time remains beyond human understanding. Therefore, the myths equally conclude that the place for a divine force is there.

This way the prophecies tangent the meta-current of time as acts of self-realization. Either of hope, for those who have to endure suffering. Or of continuity, as means to an end of the smaller cycle.

Yugas correspond to the Outer and Inner Kalachakra

Ages of mankind often get spiritualized in a prophetic manor. The Roman poet Ovid wrote about Four Ages in his “Metamorphosis”. There are also Four Yugas.
– Yugas do not statically belong to the Kalachakra tradition or to Buddhistic systems. In Kalachakra we can find the prophecies to denote epochal changes:

Kalachakra prophesies the gradual deterioration of mankind as the ideology of materialism spreads over the earth. When the “barbarians” who follow this ideology are united under an evil king and think there is nothing left to conquer, the mists will lift to reveal the snowy mountains of Shambhala.[15]

Neither prophecies nor Yugas are not an exact science, although a certain amount of mathematics can be attributed to the observations and related to astrometric measurements that we have today. These measurements can be aligned with the Yugas and the Outer Kalachakra to build a correspondence:


image
12-spoked wheel with 12 Chinese Zodiac symbols

12_spoked

12 Zodiac signs in the Western System


12-spoked wheels of Time

This Outer Kalachakra Mandala has 12 sections. Its description knows 5 elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Space. This leads to cycles of 12 x 5 = 60 years. Years are alternatingly male or female. 60 Ghati or 30 Muhurta (Vedic units) are 24 hours, which equals a 360° turn of the earth around its axis. Then there are other Vedic units, like Masa (30 days), which can be put in cyclic mathematical relations.
The cyclic form can be correlated with the Yugas.

The Kalachakra tradition points out that no presentation of cosmology constitutes the sole truth on the matter to the exclusion of all other presentations, and that it is not necessary to establish such a truth because each presentation suits its own purpose.

What is relevant is, that there are parallels about cyclic perspectives of Time, that exist across different cultures. And that focuses an observation sooner or later leads an individual to an ex-panded perspective upon existence and the cosmos. Both Yugas and the Outer Kalachakra appear as tools of awareness to remind of cyclical existence within Samsara. Within and without. The Outer may nourish the inner perspective’s awareness; and the other way around. This methodi-cal duality is unique within the Kalachakra. It allows the pluralistic incorporation of various cul-tural aspects without syncretic modality.

A source of the gnosis of time besides the perspective into the night sky and the moving stars is time itself. Time as a continuous self-realizing current:

[O]ur time itself, as a dimension of earthly existence, gives an intimation of a dimension other than its own chronological dimension—a dimension of light which determines its form and meaning. Inversely, the absence or annihilation of this dimension measures the depth of darkness of one who is in this time. Since it discloses this relation with the origin, the dimension of light may be called the archetypal dimension; as such, it characterizes and situates a being of Light, a being of Ohrmazdean essence. Forming a bond between this being and an eternal Time to which the limited time of his actual form of existence…[16]

This quote from Corbin’s works on Time in context of Kalachakra refers to a force that frees (the observer) from Samsaric imprisonment via “intimidation”. This marks a tangent (or a Yantra) be-tween the Outer and the Inner Kalachakra, because the gnosis is instilled by the cosmic percep-tion of the cyclic chronological dimension.


  1. God as ‘Time’ in the Ancient World - Article by Bhakti Ananda Goswami (2013) ↩︎

  2. Vesna Wallace, The Inner Kalachakra, A Buddhist Tantric View on the Individual – 2001, p. 211 ↩︎

  3. Vikramaśīla - Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia / Wiki ↩︎

  4. Some Bön traditions have another approach for a “Time Cycle of the elements” (Chuzhag) and its own myth of the origin of existence (“The myth of the cosmic egg”, one of light and one of darkness) ↩︎

  5. Public Talk on the Essence of Dzogchen Teaching Kiev - Namkhai Norbu ↩︎

  6. The Shambhala Path & The Bon Tradition (Blog) – J Thomas Hopkins - 2012 ↩︎

  7. Shambhala: the mystical and the real ↩︎

  8. From a Land in the West: An Examination of the Possibility of Persian Influence on the Tibetan Bon Religion, p. 2 ↩︎

  9. June Campbell - Traveller in Space – 1996, p. 37 ↩︎

  10. Shambhala: the mystical and the real – Mystery story - 2011 ↩︎

  11. Drung, Deu and Bon: Narrations, Symbolic Languages and the Bon Tradition on Ancient Tibet – Norbu - 1995 ↩︎

  12. Next note, “Belief in rebirth and the concept of time“, p. 26 ↩︎

  13. The Yezidi Religious Textual Tradition: From Oral to Written - Khanna Omarkhali – 2017, p. 25 ↩︎

  14. Next note, paragraph “ KALKI-CHAKRIN and THE GOLDEN AGE of MAITREYA BUDDHA↩︎

  15. 4 Yugas – In Other Cultures ↩︎

  16. Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis - Henry Corbin ↩︎