What is Kalachakra?

Kalachakra is a Sanskrit word made up of two terms; kala meaning “time” and chakra meaning “wheel”, literally translated into English as “Wheel of Time”. But what does that actually mean? To answer this question, we will need to look at Kalachakra from multiple dimensions or levels of understanding.

The External Reality

At the most superficial level, we could simply say that Kalachakra is the nature of everything. Or put another way, everything which exists is of the nature of cycles of time. There is nothing which exists outside this constant nexus of changing cycles. If we look outward to the universe with its many galaxies and solar systems, we can see endless cycles of change playing out over the past, present and future. It is in this way, that every thing is contained within the Outer Kalachakra.

A presentation of the movement of the planets in accordance with Kalachakra Cosmology.

The Internal Reality

Moving from macro to micro, we can then consider the nature of the beings which inhabit this universe. At the level of an indivudual person, Kalachakra can be understood to be the very subtle structures of a person’s body and mind. This is known as the Inner Kalachakra. It includes not only the structure, but also the dynamic influence that the mind/body complex has on the surrounding universe. Therefore, through understanding this Inner Kalachakra we are able to break free from the dominance of our external conditions and transform our experience in order to create a harmonious and peaceful environment.

A map of the subtle energetic system according to the Kalachakra Tantra.

The Enlightened Reality

If we go even deeper though, we discover what is referred to as the Pure Form Kalachakra (also known as the Alternative or Enlightened Kalachakra). At this level we are still talking about cycles of time, but the meaning of these words becomes completely different.

At this ultimate level, we speak of the unchanging or immutable cycles of time, which are the union of immutable bliss and empty form. This union is depicted by the Kalachakra deity in union with his consort. The masculine aspect of Kalachakra represents the mind of immutable bliss, while the female aspect of Vishvamatha represents the sublime empty form. These two are in fact of one essence, representing our own absolute nature.

Our ego self is the combination of our external universe and our internal being. Our true self though is this deepest absolute level, our sacred truth. Through practicing with our subtle body and mind, we are able to purify our coarse perceptions and experiences, thus unveiling the complete mandala of Kalachakra pure forms.

The enlightened mandala of Kalachakra describing the pure nature of all phenomena.

How is Kalachakra Different from Other Traditions?

The Kalachakra system offers profound methods for transforming one’s impure perceptions and experiences, and unveiling our deepest reality. Within the context of Buddhist Tantra, there are many systems which provide methods for attaining enlightenment. The Kalachakra Tantra however has a number of unique characteristics that make it particularly important for this time.

Who teaches Kalachakra?

For those who aspire to engage in the practice of Kalachakra, it is important to establish a connection with an authentic Kalachakra teacher who is capable of guiding you through the complete Kalachakra system. It is therefore important to identify who are the holders of these teachings and where to find them.

The Kalachakra Initiation

The Kalachakra Path is fully integrated with the foundational practices of the sutra tradition of Buddhism as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, but in order to practice Kalachakra, it is necessary to be formally invited, which is the primary purpose of taking an initiation. As is evident, receiving an invitation to this great path is based on causes and conditions of both the receiver and the giver – simply attending the ceremony does not guarantee that one will receive true initiation. So too, the ceremony may form a connection to the path yet it is not the path. One can liken Kalachakra initiation to receiving a seed for practice however it is the practitioner that plants, nurtures and cultivates the seed.

Qualified teachers for giving the Kalachakra initiation should have completed extensive practice (retreat) of the generation and completion stage practices. It is not enough simply to receive the initiation and then pass it on to others.

The Kalachakra Practice Lineage

After receiving a Kalachakra initiation, you are authorised to begin studying and practicing the Kalachakra system. While many others are teaching isolated pieces of the Kalachakra practice, only the Jonang Tradition provides access to the complete path.

The Jonang Tradition has taught, practiced and mastered Kalachakra since the 13th century. Today the focus of every Jonang monastery is to master this “King of Tantras” and realise its truth. Sadly other traditions have lost this system of practice in its entirety however some continue to teach segments of the tantra, as transmitted from the Jonang. Jonangpas (those who possess the complete Kalachakra Tantra) have a great wish that the complete system will be rediscovered by other traditions.

For more information please read our introduction to The Jonang Tradition

How to Practice Kalachakra

Practising Kalachakra is the most constructive and favourable way to unveil our own sacred truth, and is a profound method which can enable a serious practitioner to obtain the state of Perfect Buddhahood in a single lifetime.

Although some Tibetan traditions offer Kalachakra Tantra, the Jonang tradition is the only tradition which has preserved the entire Kalachakra system of practice. This includes all of the extensive practices from fundamental preliminaries up to the completion process containing the six yogas. This tradition has been practised for centuries in remote parts of Tibet, untouched by politics or modernisation. The recent emergence from Tibet brings with it an authenticity and purity almost impossible to find today.

Within the Jonang Tradition, the practice of the Kalachara Path is broken into four distinct phases or sets of practices: