Clarification Session on the Kalachakra Six-Session Guru-Yoga
Toronto, Canada, April 2004
The Kalachakra Six-Session Yoga: it’s basically a six-session yoga. It’s not a sadhana. It has a lot of things from the sadhana put into it, but it is not a full sadhana in terms of having all the full defining characteristics of a sadhana – but it has most of them, so it’s pretty okay in terms of a very good practice that is more extensive than just the generic six-session practice – and it follows from the six-session practice.
The six-session practice is basically a way of keeping the nineteen closely bonding practices (dam-tshig) of the five Buddha-families (sangs-rgyas-kyi rigs). What are Buddha-families? Buddha-families – that word is referring to different aspects of Buddha-nature. That’s what the word means, the family traits. Within Buddha-nature factors, we have five basic ones that are discussed in anuttarayoga – although in Kalachakra, there are six – five in general with these nineteen.
- The five can be explained in terms of body, speech, mind, good qualities, and enlightening influence (’phrin-las) – or Buddha-activity, as it’s sometimes translated – like you get in Uttaratantra (rGyud bla-ma, The Furthest Everlasting Stream), Maitreya’s text, a sutra text.
- Or you can speak just in terms of each of them having five. The one that’s most usual is in terms of the mind, so you have the five types of deep awareness (ye-shes lnga), the so-called Buddha-wisdoms – the mirror-like, equalizing, individualizing, accomplishing, and the sphere of reality, those five.
So we have these five families. And what you want to practice in terms of these five types of family traits can be taken on many different levels, so there are different types of practices that you can do that will make a… the Tibetan word is damtsig (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya). I translate it as a close bond. People sometimes translate it as a commitment, but I think that loses the meaning. It’s making a close bond with something so that you could actualize it more easily.
For instance, with equalizing awareness (mnyam-nyid ye-shes), you see everybody is equal. But when that gets overlaid with grasping for true existence, you don’t see everybody’s equal. You want to keep what you have for me, not share it with you, and you don’t see that everybody wants it as well – so you get miserliness or arrogance (“I’m better than everybody else”). You don’t see the equality. So to get rid of that miserliness, you practice the four types of generosity. By practicing the four types of generosity – and this is represented by Ratnasambhava – that helps you to purify away this miserliness so that you can eventually see the equality of everybody. This type of thing.
So you have these nineteen. That’s basically what the six-session practice is all about, it is to maintain that close bond by being mindful of these nineteen practices six times a day (usually three times in the morning and three times at night, but it doesn’t matter when you do it actually; the Tibetans do it usually three in the morning, three at night).
And also it has various things from the Fifty Stanzas on the Guru to keep in terms of tantra (like offering a mandala, this type of thing). So it fulfills them as well. And it fulfills some of the tantric and bodhisattva vows (having to meditate on voidness every day, and this type of stuff). And you review the vows, which is very important (otherwise you forget them). So to remain mindful of them, it’s pretty good to actually recite what all the vows are.
Now, what it throws into it on top of that are certain aspects from the sadhana. A sadhana (sgrub-thabs) is a way to actualize… the word means “a method to actualize yourself as a Buddha-figure.” That’s what sadhana means. So you practice doing that. And practicing doing that… Well, I don’t know that I want to go into that. We don’t have so much time, and actually I’m giving a talk on Sunday morning. People have asked me to give a talk to a larger group at ten in the morning. You know the entrance to the big hall where we’re going, which is where the streetcar stop is? The far end of that big, long hall. When you walk in, there’s a big empty space to the left, and it’ll be there. If anybody has a loudspeaker, an amplifier, that would be great, because although I have a pretty loud voice, I don’t know that it can be so effective where there’s such a high ceiling. But in any case, there I’ll go into it a little bit further. Sunday morning at ten. Anyway, let me finish what I’m saying.
So you want to aim for that goal with tantra. So you practice now as if you have achieved that goal already, and that has to be based on understanding the validity of mentally labeling that you are a Buddha now (based on Buddha-nature) with the conviction that… This is what bodhichitta is all about. What you’re aimed at is not Buddhahood in general. It’s not the Buddhahood of Shakyamuni. Those aren’t things that you can attain. You’re aiming at the enlightenment that has not yet happened but which can happen further down the line of your own mental continuum. That’s what you’re aiming at. It’s not yet happened though, and it’s not that it’s happening somewhere else. But it can happen, based on the fact we have Buddha-nature, if you put in all the conditions – the two networks (positive force and deep awareness), bodhichitta, and all this sort of stuff. That’s what you’re aiming for. So you’re aiming for that, and then you imagine that you’re that way now.
The Kalachakra Six-Session Yoga adds into the basic six-session practice, then, a lot of preliminaries – so much more stuff for building up positive force – and then you go through the ten far-reaching attitudes (the ten perfections), the four ways of helping others, and all this sort of stuff. So you remind yourself of all this stuff to build up positive force.
And there’s also getting inspiration (byin-gyis rlabs) – what you usually call blessing – getting inspiration from the teacher (His Holiness) with taking the empowerment from Kalachakra. Well, what’s that all about? Basically that’s all about activating Buddha-nature. I mean, that’s what an empowerment is all about. You have these Buddha-nature factors and you want to activate them, so the empowerment activates them. And that’s also what you want inspiration for, because that activates them and gives a little bit more force to them for then actualizing what you’re aiming for. So you add that into it.
And you add much more detail about building up the network of deep awareness, of focusing on voidness. In the six-session practice… The generic one is basically Guhyasamaja. In Guhyasamaja, the form of the central figure in different parts of the sadhana is called either Vajradhara or Vajrasattva. So that’s what they’re called in that version, and they’re visualized in this simple form as in Guhyasamaja. Well, in some commentaries – did some tape recorder just end? – it says, “Well, you can add anything. It can be done in the context of any practice. It doesn’t have to be done generic Guhyasamaja.” So you can do Yamantaka, you could do a Chakrasamvara – you can do anybody, according to what is the daily practice that you’re doing it as part of. So here we do it in terms of Kalachakra. So then the question is, how do you do the voidness meditation when you arise (i.e. how to be mindful of voidness)? And there are two commentarial traditions to it:
- One just says, “Well, instantaneous arisal.” You think of voidness and then an instantaneous arisal.
- The commentary that actually comes from Pabongka is that “Well hey, you can do it like in a sadhana and go through the dissolution, the withdrawal of the consciousness from the gross elements and from the different levels of appearance-making of true existence” – that’s usually translated as the white, red, and black appearances, which has to do with the level of subtlety of the appearance of true existence that your mind is projecting – “and get down to the clear-light level.” So you can do the voidness meditation in terms of that.
Here, in the Kalachakra six-session practice, you do as in the sadhana. You do that type of going down to voidness and then generation as the deity. Then rather than just as the simple Kalachakra couple, you have the first row of figures around as well – the shaktis, these powerful ladies (which have many, many levels of what they represent) – and you do the mantra and that sort of stuff. And then you go back to the six session, the regular, generic six session, and you add at the end of it – although it’s totally optional – the long prayer from the end of the Kalachakra sadhana, which reviews all the steps of the generation and complete stage of the Kalachakra practice.
So that’s all it is.
Participant: It’s a beautiful prayer.
Alex: Oh, of course it’s a very beautiful prayer. It’s a very, very beautiful prayer.
Participant: Alex, this was written contemporarily? It was written by His Holiness, the current His Holiness?
Alex: Yeah. I’ve forgotten who versified it. Did Ling Rinpoche write it and His Holiness versify it? Or was it the other way around?
Participant: I thought it was the other way.
Alex: That Ling Rinpoche wrote it?
Alex: His Holiness wrote it, and then Ling Rinpoche versified it.
Participant: That’s my understanding.
Alex: Okay, it could be. I don’t remember it very well.
Participant: Does that mean there wasn’t anything before His Holiness wrote it? Or did His Holiness work on something similar and changed it?
Alex: Was there another Kalachakra Six Session? There was the generic six-session, that’s for sure. That goes back to the First Panchen Lama, who was the tutor of the Fifth Dalai Lama.
Participant: No, the Kalachakra Six-Session Guru-Yoga. Before His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama wrote this, was there anything similar?
Alex: I’ve no idea. I never asked His Holiness. I’ve never come across one. I’ve no idea.
Most sadhanas, by the way, are just… The Tibetans have no concept of plagiarism being improper. Even Tsongkhapa plagiarized a tremendous amount from earlier – in Lam-rim chenmo (Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path) and these sort of things. He plagiarized from the Kadampa lam-rims. Because there were some lam-rims written in the Kadampa tradition. You don’t hear about them very much, but there were. This is not seen as anything wrong. This is seen as showing respect to the previous tradition – and then just elaborating it more, and so on.
There are lots and lots of versions of sadhanas, lots of versions. What His Holiness always says is that when one becomes too popularized so that people have it on their coffee table and stuff like that, then you need something fresh. Because what’s really important is to treat this as something sacred and not something which is a Kalachakra T-shirt that the baby throws up all over. That really lowers the whole thing. How can you have great respect for it? You might as well have a Kalachakra ashtray or something like that. So you don’t want to just vulgarize it. It has to be something sacred, and that’s why you don’t want to...
Participant: Would a baby throwing up sense it?
Alex: You can look at it from the deepest point of view. But from a conventional point of view, it is not respectful, not respectful.
Participant: It depends whose baby.
Alex: Anybody’s baby is a baby. Let us not lose sight of the conventional truth of things.
Participant: In the list of offerings, there’s something called gandham, which I’m not familiar with. I just wondered what gandham means.
Alex: I mean, I did this many years ago. There’s a mistake. Gandhe is the perfume. Actually it’s cologne water – it’s something that you sprinkle on that’s refreshing and has a nice scent. That was repeated twice. That’s wrong.
Participant: Oh, I see. So the first one…
Alex: It should be deleted. I asked His Holiness specifically, and he said they made a mistake. It was a printer’s mistake that happens.
Participant: Could you explain a little bit about what bala paramita is, which I see was translated as strength in one of the earlier prayers? I just wonder how it’s different from enthusiasm.
Alex: Now, I must say I don’t have that instantly fresh in my mind, so now I’m trying to rely on my memory.
First of all, you know the difference between prajna paramita and jnana paramita, between discriminating awareness and deep awareness? Discriminating awareness is just of voidness. Deep awareness is of the two truths inseparably. So that’s the difference between those two.
Upaya is the skillful means to achieve enlightenment. And pranidhana, the prayers to achieve enlightenment. Bala, if I remember correctly, and I can’t give 100% certainty to this, was the strength not to turn away from enlightenment. And then jnana paramita is the actual realization of the two truths – the two truths inseparably, not just the deepest truth (which would be prajna paramita).
Participant: So bala paramita is talking about, for instance, people who would turn away from the holy path to pursue a…
Alex: This one is “It’s such a pain in the neck that I really don’t want to work for this.”
You know the thing where some mara asked Buddha to give him his arm? And so Buddha cut off his right arm and gave it to him with his left arm. And then the mara said, “I won’t accept it because you gave it to me with your left arm, because it’s dirty.” This sort of thing. That could be a bit discouraging.
Participant: Who was this?
Alex: Some previous life of the Buddha as a bodhisattva. Somebody did that. No, it wasn’t. Was it Shariputra?
Participant: I think so.
Alex: Shariputra. One of these people. Anyway, it’s just illustrative. It doesn’t matter who did it.
Participant: What did you say the others were of these ten?
Alex: Oh, these are the ten far-reaching attitudes or perfections. They’re far reaching in the sense that they take you all way to enlightenment. That’s literally what the Sanskrit and Tibetan means. Because perfection sounds like you have to be perfect. Perfection is just speaking about the resultant stage, but this is both the path stage and the resultant stage.
So dana is generosity. Shila is ethical self-discipline. Kshanti is patience. Virya is joyful enthusiasm – perseverance, joyful perseverance.
Dhyana is stability of mind. Usually people translate that as concentration, but it’s a little bit clearer in Shantideva’s chapter on it that you’re talking about mental stability – that it’s not going to go up and down because of the disturbing emotions. It has concentration in that sense. It’s a little bit broader than just concentration. It’s mental stability.
And prajna paramita is the discriminating awareness specifically of voidness. That’s Gelugpa. Non-Gelugpa has a slightly different explanation of prajna paramita and jnana paramita, but let’s stick with Gelugpa for the moment. Gelugpa is radically different from the others.
Tsongkhapa was an incredible revolutionary. Such incredible courage he had. Don’t get me started on Tsongkhapa! But he went around to all the monasteries from all the traditions, because he got these ideas, this understanding, and checked it with everybody, with these other explanations, and said, “Come on!” – that this was not adequate, what they were understanding. But he went and he checked it with everybody, the best minds, to see if they could refute him, and they couldn’t. I mean, that took a lot of guts.
Participant: I think I made a mistake here with bala paramita.
Alex: Right. That’s this strength. And I’m not 100% sure that I remember it correctly, but I think it’s the strength not to turn back.
Participant: Okay. Is it yellow, and is it in the northeast corner?
Alex: Oh, wait a second. Dana, virya, shila, kshanti, dhyana, prajna, upaya, bala… No. Upaya, pranidhana, bala. Bala is behind. This is the yellow one. It’s not in the corner; it’s directly behind.
Participant: It’s directly behind?
Alex: Directly behind you.
Participant: We had that in Paris, that there was a difference between Kirti Tsenzhab Rinpoche and the Namgyal tradition.
Alex: Oh, which one is which? The explanation that I was giving is based on Detri Rinpoche’s commentary to the sadhana.
Participant: Some other people, they assign it to a different direction, the northwest.
Alex: So which one does?
Participant: Kirti Tsenzhab Rinpoche follows that.
Alex: Right. Well, he’s coming from an Amdo lineage, which seems to be slightly different from what you get in Central Tibet. As I was saying with the difference between the different college textbooks within the Gelugpa monasteries, you can get different answers on the same question from different masters. If you don’t ask specifically what lineage it is within Gelugpa, it’s very confusing. Different lineages.
Participant: And they’re all okay?
Alex: All of them are okay. All of them lead to valid experience. But the fact that there’s diversity allows for Buddhism not to be dogmatic. So you have debates. That’s very good, a benefit, advantage.
Participant: Right. It keeps the mind active, as opposed to just…
Alex: Just dogma, just memorizing, and “This is the way it is.”
Participant: Why is that picture like that? It doesn’t have the blue.
Alex: There’s that slight little piece of blue. I mean, it’s very difficult to draw four faces two-dimensionally. That’s not easy to draw.
Participant: Especially when one of them is supposed to be behind.
Alex: Yeah. But you are aware how easy it is to remember all these faces. They’re the same colors as the directions of the mandala. The two figures – the male and female figure – their faces are the same color as the direction that those faces are facing.
Participant: There is a special Kalachakra mandala being offered which is different from the common 37-heap mandala or the 23-heap mandala.
Alex: Right. That’s according to the Kalachakra description of the universe.
Participant: Could you just elaborate a little bit on that, okay?
Alex: The description of the universe is different in Kalachakra from the description in abhidharma, and the details are very elaborate. His Holiness has often said that it doesn’t matter.
[For detail, see: Buddhist Cosmology: A Comparison of the Abhidharma and Kalachakra Explanations.]
Alex: Because he said that if it’s more comfortable to offer a globe of the earth or a model of the universe according to how science does it, that’s okay. The fact that Buddha taught two different systems shows that neither of them is to be taken literally.
It’s only if something appears over and over again… This is what Dharmakirti says, and this is a big, big topic in Buddhism. How do you know that it’s interpretable or definitive? Did Buddha really mean that [so it’s definitive]? Or was he just saying it because the people who gave him lunch couldn’t understand something different? He didn’t want to freak them out completely, so he taught them something that they could understand (so it’s interpretable). Pardon my irreverence, but I think you have to put it into real terms of what actually happened. So Dharmakirti says, “Well, if it appears over and over and over again almost everywhere” – like the Three Jewels of Refuge, or karma, or getting out of samsara, or these type of things – “then you know that Buddha really meant it.” But if it’s an abhidharma type of thing – and His Holiness made a big thing out of this (I think it was on the first day) – then it doesn’t really matter.
What’s an interesting point – His Holiness didn’t elaborate on it (he’s elaborated on it on other occasions) – is that the description of the universe in Guhyasamaja, and much more specifically in Kalachakra, is intended to show a parallel between the macrocosm and the microcosm, the shape and proportions of the universe, the shape and proportions of the body, and then you have the same shape and proportions of the mandala, and the same shape and proportions of the body of the figure. So you bring everything into meditation and see, and then it helps you to understand that the false appearance of it all is the same type of false appearance of everything, and so you can purify everything. It’s done like that. So it’s for a different purpose.
If you look at the Three Baskets (sde-snod gsum, Skt. Tripitaka), the abhidharma purpose is to develop discriminating awareness. So you work with categories, and you have complex systems and many variables, and so on. It trains the mind to become analytical.
His Holiness said neither of the systems was designed to navigate a ship to the moon or navigate a boat on the ocean. So you have the Western description. And the Western description is revised every ten or twenty years, so you can’t say that any of them is absolutely “That’s the way that it is.” So it’s functional.
This is interesting that His Holiness now is saying very strongly this thing about conception. When does the mental continuum enter the physical basis? I mean, you were present at far more of the science conferences than I was. But the physical basis has to be sufficiently developed to support mental activity. Now, how do you define that? What are the defining characteristics of mental activity? Again I think you have to bring Prasangika into here – it’s made up by what definition you want to give it.
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