Taking the Kalachakra Initiation
Berzin, Alexander. Taking the Kalachakra Initiation.
Ithaca, Snow Lion, 1997
Reprint: Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation.
Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010
Order this book directly from Snow Lion Publications
Part III: Vows and Closely Bonding Practices
8 Tamed Behavior and Closely Bonding Practices
Another commitment of the Kalachakra empowerment is to safeguard twenty-five modes of tamed behavior. According to Tsongkhapa, this promise is not required by other anuttarayoga tantra systems, whereas Ngari Panchen has asserted that it is common to all highest tantra systems, including dzogchen. In either case, the tamed behavior is to refrain from intentionally committing any of twenty-five negative actions while motivated by longing desire, anger or foolish confusion about either reality or also behavioral cause and effect. A lack of a sense of honor or face must also accompany the action.
The actions are divided into five groups of five. The first group is the same as the laypersons' vows, which are sometimes called the five precepts. The actions to be abandoned are:
(1) Taking a life. Since refraining from killing all types of animate beings is specified later in the list of tamed modes of behavior, here taking a life refers to inflicting physical harm on any human or animal. Psychologically tormenting others is also included.
(2) Speaking lies. Especially serious is teaching something untrue that we have contrived. Lying also includes cheating in business, such as setting unfair prices. If others would take undue advantage of our honesty in negotiating a contract, however, there is no fault in striking a hard bargain so long as our motivation is not greed. Being competitive is not necessarily a disturbing attitude.
(3) Taking what is not given. This is stealing anything, regardless of value, and includes not paying fees or repaying loans. Even using someone else's computer without permission is a form of taking what has not been given.
(4) Inappropriate sexual conduct. Certain times, places and parts of the body are inappropriate for sexual contact since resorting to them usually arises from excessive desire and unwillingness to exercise any restraint in sexual matters. The most inappropriate form of sexual behavior, however, is to have relations with someone else's spouse.
(5) Drinking alcohol. Strictly interpreted, this means not to take even a drop. A similar prohibition extends to narcotics and recreational drugs. Regardless of motivation, consuming alcohol or drugs clouds our judgment, weakens our self-control and often leads to destructive behavior, words or thoughts.
There are several situations in which alcohol can be taken when not motivated by a disturbing emotion. It is not a fault, for example, to taste alcohol at a tsog puja – in fact, to refuse a symbolic taste is a root tantric downfall. Alcohol is also occasionally employed in anuttarayoga tantra to enhance the blissful awareness of voidness, with the same restrictions as the similar use of sexual union. Drinking is never considered a spiritual act or viewed as a path to liberation or enlightenment, and alcohol is employed in the path only when it is accompanied by a yogic mastery of the energy-winds that prevents intoxication and by the full maintenance of a blissful awareness of voidness. This is the meaning of the statement by the nineteenth-century Rimey master Kongtrul that maintaining this mode of tamed behavior does not prohibit tasting alcohol at a tsog puja or using it to enhance our spiritual path so long as we do not become drunk. He was not sanctioning the controlled or moderate consumption of alcohol.
Some people considering taking the Kalachakra initiation are prepared to uphold the other commitments, but find it difficult to promise never to take a drink again. They wonder if this means they cannot take the initiation as a full participant. To answer this question, we may look to the bodhisattva vows and trainings for guidelines. Many of the secondary bodhisattva vows have the stipulation that if we cannot yet stop committing a certain negative action because of strongly disturbing emotions, we avoid a serious fault if we lessen that action and seriously work on ourselves to abandon it in the future. Therefore, some teachers advise potential candidates for the initiation who face this problem that if their attachment is too overwhelming to forsake alcohol yet, they need, with this vow, at least to limit and then steadily decrease their consumption, and not accompany their drinking with the four binding factors. It is important, however, not to rationalize a fondness for alcohol. Even in countries where most people take wine or beer with meals, there is almost always a polite and diplomatic way to decline a drink without offending anyone.
The second of the five groups consists of the five auxiliary destructive actions. (6) Gambling. This includes playing dice, cards, board games and so on, in order to win money, to pass time, or because of competitiveness. Such time-consuming activities divert our constructive energy. There is no fault, however, in playing games for educational purposes or as a way to establish a rapport with children or uncommunicative people.
(7) Eating unseemly meat. This is not a promise to be a vegetarian, although such a diet is considered best, if health and circumstances permit. Rather, it is a promise to avoid eating the meat of an animal we either suspect or know was killed especially for our consumption. Such meat is called "unseemly." As with alcohol and sexual union, anuttarayoga practice sometimes employs eating meat, so long as it is not unseemly, to enhance the blissful awareness of voidness by vitalizing our energies. Eating meat, however, is not regarded as a pathway leading to liberation or enlightenment, and it is used only when we have gained some level of blissful awareness of voidness and mastery over our energy-winds so that they do not become heavy because of the meat. Furthermore, when eating meat within this context, it is important to offer prayers for the animal whose life was sacrificed and not to lose sight of the fact that the meat was the flesh of a living being. Like ourselves, it also wished and deserved liberation from suffering.
(8) Reading ignoble words. This refers to reading books, articles or, in a modern context, looking at photos or watching video material that arouses anger or desire when we have no control over these disturbing emotions. Such activities simply increase our delusions. For example, if we read about a villain, we come to hate the person and rejoice when the hero kills him or her. Another formulation of this negative action is to say anything that comes to our mind, referring specifically to relating stories or talking about topics that incite anger or increase desire.
(9) Making offerings in association with ancestor worship. This does not refer to lighting a candle or placing flowers on a grave in respectful memory of a lost relative, but rather to worshiping spirits. Any form of spirit worship debases our practice. It causes us to lose sight of karma and imagine that liberation from suffering and gaining happiness can come from propitiating nature spirits or spirits of the deceased. The only situations in which making offerings to spirits is appropriate are if it is motivated by compassion to help alleviate their suffering or to placate their wrath if we have caused them offence. It is important to realize, however, that making offerings and prayers for supernatural help can never substitute for constructive action to understand voidness and benefit others.
(10) Following extremist practices, such as sacrificing animals and making blood offerings. Although such types of ritual are rare these days, it is helpful to examine whether we sacrifice the welfare of others in order to get ahead.
The third group comprises five types of murder. (11) Killing cattle, symbolizing animals. People may find it relatively easy to stop hunting and fishing, but much more difficult to stop killing insects. When our automatic reaction to a bug is to squash it, we build up a habit of dealing with every annoyance in life with a violent means. There are often alternative ways to remove insects from our home or fields. And if there are none and we must remove pests for health or economic reasons, it is important not to act with anger or hatred.
(12) Killing children. The commentaries do not explain why children are singled out as a separate category. It may have to do with female infanticide in countries where male offspring are favored. Or, since the ten stages of life outlined in the inner Kalachakra teachings begin as a foetus, the reason may also be to include abortion. There may be certain justifiable reasons for abortion, such as health, but this is a delicate issue and depends on individual circumstances. Often, however, the reason is a disturbing emotion or attitude such as attachment to our own convenience, anger if the pregnancy is the result of rape, or foolish confusion such as considering abortion a means of birth control. Regardless of the motivation, however, abortion after a certain point in the development of the foetal matter is still the taking of a life. If there is no way to avoid taking that life, it is best to try to ameliorate the results – both the immediate psychological effects as well as long-term karmic ones – by strong thoughts of love and compassion for the unborn child. For example, it may be helpful to acknowledge that life by giving the child a name and honoring him or her with a proper funeral ceremony.
(13) Killing women and (14) killing men. This negative action raises the issue of euthanasia, both of people and pets. There is a great difference between giving someone a lethal injection and withholding medical support to artificially prolong an unsustainable life. From a karmic point of view, the latter choice of allowing for a natural death is preferable, within the context of making the person or creature as comfortable as possible with painkillers.
(15) Destroying representations of Buddha's enlightening body, speech or mind – such as images, texts or reliquary monuments (stupas) – or murdering those training in higher ethical self-discipline, concentration or discriminating awareness. If we need to dispose of religious texts for any reason, the usual custom is to burn them with respect.
The fourth group consists of the five types of contempt. (16) Hating friends who benefit the Dharma or the world in general. If we find the methods people employ to help others not very skillful and we become emotionally upset, we soon deny any benefit these persons and methods bring about. This haughty attitude easily leads to egotistic thoughts that only we know best how to benefit others. Such an attitude seriously hampers our ability to help anyone.
(17) Hating leaders or elders worthy of respect. We may not like everyone's personality, but when our personal preferences cloud our discrimination of who is worthy of honor and who is not, we soon lose our ability to discriminate reality.
(18) Hating spiritual masters or Buddhas. The objects include not only our own spiritual masters but extend to other spiritual teachers even if they are not properly qualified. Recognizing mistakes and shortcomings in teachers is not the same as hating them as persons. In some versions, this negative action is showing disrespect for the Buddhas or the Dharma.
(19) Hating members of the Sangha, the highly realized spiritual community. Although the main objects for this negative action are those with straightforward nonconceptual perception of voidness, the Sangha is conventionally represented by the monastic community. Some persons may become monks or nuns for nonspiritual purposes, yet because of what their robes represent it is inappropriate to show them contempt. In Western circles, the word "sangha" has taken on the meaning of members of a Buddhist center. Enmity within such communities seriously jeopardizes spiritual growth.
(20) Deceiving those who trust us. This negative action includes letting down those who depend on our help, as well as abusing positions of power.
The last set are the five longings, which are to be infatuated with pleasant (21) sights, (22) sounds, (23) fragrances, (24) tastes, and (25) tactile or physical sensations. Such infatuations deter our focus from gaining an unchanging blissful awareness of voidness. This is not a promise of asceticism, but rather a pledge to set reasonable limits and exercise self-control, for example at the dining table.
In addition to taking vows and, in the case of Kalachakra, promising to keep tamed behavior, we also pledge as an active participant in an anuttarayoga empowerment to maintain certain practices or attitudes that bond us closely to tantra. These are called samaya in Sanskrit and damtsig in Tibetan, and are sometimes translated as "pledges" or "words of honor." Taking a vow entails promising to restrain from either a naturally destructive action, such as killing, or a form of ethically neutral behavior, such as not meditating on voidness continually, that is detrimental for spiritual advance. Adopting a closely bonding practice, on the other hand, involves pledging to engage in a constructive or ethically neutral act conducive for progress, such as being generous or maintaining chaste behavior.
Kalachakra empowerment calls for adopting a set of auxiliary closely bonding practices common to all anuttarayoga systems and also a set specific to mother tantra – the anuttarayoga tantras that emphasize practices for attaining clear light mind. The common pledges are reformulations or extensions of several of the root tantric vows and modes of tamed behavior, phrased in terms of conduct to adopt rather than actions to avoid. The pledges specific to mother tantra help us to remain on course for achieving blissful awareness of voidness with our clear light mind. There is no need to study their details before receiving empowerment.
The empowerment also requires a pledge to adopt and maintain certain practices that create close bonds with the individual Buddha-family traits. Often translated as "Buddha-families," these traits refer to aspects of Buddha-nature – specifically the aspects of clear light mind as our basis tantra – that allow us to attain enlightenment. As in the case of the aggregates, each is represented in purified form by a Buddha-figure. As with the root tantric vows, there are two versions of these closely bonding practices – one shared in common by all anuttarayoga tantra systems and one specific to Kalachakra. Let us look first at the common practices as explained in the Gelug tradition by Tsongkhapa. The other three Tibetan traditions explain them in a similar fashion, with a few minor variations.
There are nineteen common practices to bond us closely with five Buddha-family traits. To create close bonds with the deep awareness that is like a mirror, represented by the Buddha-figure Vairochana, we take safe direction from (1) the Buddhas, (2) the Dharma and (3) the Sangha. We likewise practice the three types of ethical self-discipline involved in (4) restraining from destructive actions, (5) engaging in constructive ones, such as study and meditation, in order to develop good qualities, and (6) working to benefit others. Many of the Kagyu traditions teach that these practices associated with Vairochana create bonds with the deep awareness of the sphere of reality. In the Nyingma tradition, developing the aspiring and involved levels of bodhichitta substitutes for the first three. Taking safe direction, practicing ethical self-discipline and developing bodhichitta bring ever increasing clarity, as in a mirror, of the sphere of reality of both enlightenment and the course of behavioral cause and effect that leads to it.
Four practices create close bonds with the family trait represented by Ratnasambhava, deep awareness of the equality of things. These are being generous in four ways: giving or being always willing to give (7) material objects or wealth, (8) Dharma teachings or advice, (9) protection from fear, primarily by having equanimity and openness toward others so that they have no fear of being clung to, rejected or ignored by us, and (10) love, the wish for others to be happy and to have the causes for happiness. By giving generously, we gain an ever broader realization of the equality of ourselves and others.
Three practices create close bonds with the deep awareness of the individuality of things, represented by Amitabha. These are upholding the teachings of (11) the three sutra vehicles, (12) the external vehicles of the lower classes of tantra and (13) the confidential vehicles of tantra's higher classes. Upholding all of Buddha's teachings brings an ever deeper appreciation of the individual brilliance and skill of each method.
Two practices create close bonds with the deep awareness to accomplish things and Amoghasiddhi. These are (14) safeguarding our vows and (15) making offerings. In place of safeguarding vows, the Nyingma tradition substitutes engaging in activities such as pacifying suffering and stimulating others' good qualities. It also divides making offerings into two practices – making offerings in general and offering tormas, sculpted cakes made of barley flour and butter. Acting in accordance with vows, engaging in activities like those of a Buddha and making offerings bring ever increasing wisdom and skill to accomplish all purposes.
Finally, four practices create close bonds with Akshobhya and the family trait of the deep awareness of the sphere of reality. Many of the Kagyu systems substitute the deep awareness that is like a mirror. These four practices are (16) keeping a vajra, and the blissful awareness it symbolizes, as our method, (17) keeping a bell, and the discriminating awareness of voidness it represents, as our wisdom, (18) maintaining the mudra, or seal of visualizing ourselves as a Buddha-figure couple in union, representing the inseparable union of method and wisdom, and (19) committing ourselves properly to a tantric master. Maintaining a level of awareness that is both blissful and discriminating of voidness and following the instructions of a fully qualified tantric master bring ever fuller realization of the sphere of reality, as clearly as if seen in a mirror.
Taking the Kalachakra initiation as a full participant also entails an additional pledge to maintain six practices that create close bonds with six Buddha-family traits. As with the nineteen common pledges, the first five practices create close bonds with the five types of deep awareness, represented by the Buddha-figures Akshobhya, Amoghasiddhi, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Vairochana. These are, respectively, taking a life, speaking untrue words, stealing others' wealth, appropriating others' spouses and taking alcohol and meat. The Guhyasamaja system and the higher classes of Nyingma tantra also include these five pledges. Exclusive to Kalachakra, however, is the presentation of a sixth family trait – clear light mind itself, represented by the Buddha-figure Vajrasattva. Not deriding women's sexual organs creates a close bond with this trait. Kalachakra also uniquely presents two levels of meaning for each of the six bonding actions.
On the interpretable level, (1) taking a life means to kill a harmful being, for example a rabid dog that is biting people, when our motivation is solely compassion and there are no other means to stop the damage it is causing. This is similar to one of the secondary bodhisattva vows – not hesitating to commit a destructive action when love and compassion call for it. This type of killing requires the deep awareness of the sphere of reality to differentiate between what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected, as well as the deep awareness that is like a mirror to reflect the full scope of the situation. It also requires the selfless courage, as a budding bodhisattva, to accept whatever painful consequences might follow from our act.
(2) Speaking untrue words means to explain how things appear, which does not accord with how they exist. For example, to help someone to make a difficult decision, such as buying a house, we simplify the variables that need to be taken into account although, in actuality, the issue is far more complex. Speaking deceptive words such as these requires the deep awareness of how to accomplish various aims.
(3) Stealing others' wealth means to take possessions away from people who are miserly with them, in order to help such persons overcome their stinginess, and to give these objects to others in need of them. An example is taxing the rich on luxury items and using the money to feed the poor. Taking what is not readily given arises from the deep awareness of the equality of those in need.
(4) Appropriating others' spouses means to take, under special circumstances, the wives or husbands from people who are overly attached to them, in order to help such persons overcome their dependence. This closely bonding practice does not specifically mean to have an adulterous affair. Even appropriating someone's husband for a few days to help us move house can help his clinging wife to become more self-reliant. Stealing others' spouses is founded on the deep awareness of individuality which singles out a specific person.
(5) Taking alcohol and meat means to use them for special purposes without attachment. Certain medicines have an alcohol base and certain sicknesses, such as hepatitis, call for a diet that includes meat. In order to regain our health and strengthen our body to engage in meditation practice and serve others, we may need to take these substances even if we would normally avoid them. Taking alcohol and meat in such circumstances requires the deep awareness that is like a mirror to reflect our situation clearly and the deep awareness of the sphere of reality to do what accords with the facts.
(6) Not deriding women's sexual organs is equivalent to the fourteenth root tantric vow – not deriding women. The bliss of union that arises dependent on a woman's sexual organs can enhance the blissful awareness of voidness and bring the mind to more subtle levels so that this blissful awareness is with the clear light mind. In this way, not deriding the female sexual organs creates a close bond with clear light mind.
On the definitive level, the six practices of taking a life and so on are specific methods cultivated with the Kalachakra complete stage yogas and applied in the central energy-channel at the six main chakras. These practices help to dissolve the subtle energy-winds at these chakras and attain an unchanging blissful awareness of voidness with clear light mind. For example, to take a life means to bind the white subtle creative drops at the crown chakra so as to take the life of the energy-winds of orgasmic release. Since the six chakras are represented by the six Buddha-figures, these practices create close bonds with each.
In the Guhyasamaja and Nyingma systems, the meaning of the first five closely bonding practices of taking a life and so on corresponds to the definitive level of their meaning in Kalachakra. They are explained as methods specific to either the Guhyasamaja complete stage or dzogchen.
If we take Kalachakra or any other anuttarayoga tantra empowerment from within the Gelug tradition as a full participant, we commit ourselves to a daily practice called six-session yoga. Yoga means an "integrating practice" and in six-session yoga we repeat a series of verses and practices six times daily in order to help integrate our life with the nineteen practices that create close bonds with the five Buddha-family traits. Six-session yoga is not the same as a sadhana. Sadhanas contain all the practices that function as causes for being able to proceed to the complete stage, whereas six-session yoga is not as extensive.
The first six-session yoga text was composed in the seventeenth century by the First Panchen Lama. Its fullest versions contain lists of the bodhisattva and tantric vows, as well as the pertinent modes of tamed behavior and closely bonding practices. The recitation also contains verses that help to fulfil the commitments of taking refuge, developing the pledged state of aspiring bodhichitta and following the advice found in Fifty Stanzas on the Spiritual Teacher – a text by the late first millennium Indian master Ashvaghosha II, on proper conduct with a tantric master. In this way, daily six-session yoga provides an enduring framework for anuttarayoga tantra practice. We promise to maintain it for the rest of our life.
Although the non-Gelug traditions of Tibetan Buddhism do not have an equivalent to six-session yoga, at anuttarayoga and higher Nyingma tantra empowerments masters from these traditions do confer all the vows and closely bonding practices that this yoga helps us to keep mindful of. Safeguarding vows, however, does not mean simply to recite their particulars. Regardless of which lineage of empowerment we receive, our main responsibility is to shape our life according to our vows and closely bonding practices.
There are several lengths of six-session yoga – abbreviated, full and an expanded version specific to Kalachakra. There is even a version in four lines for emergency use. Regardless of which version we use, we recite it three times during the course of each day and three times each night while generating the appropriate visualizations, thoughts and feelings. We can recite the text either out loud or silently, and in either Tibetan or our own language. Reciting the text in Tibetan without understanding it, however, is hardly beneficial. It is not necessary to recite the same version each time, nor to always follow the same routine. Furthermore, if we have received several anuttarayoga empowerments from within the Gelug tradition, reciting one round of yoga texts six times daily fulfills this commitment for all of them. Thus, from Kalachakra empowerment we need not recite the long Kalachakra version each day, and we do not need to add a second six-session practice if we are already doing one daily.
We may recite a six-session yoga on six separate occasions during the daytime and evening, but most people recite one of the versions three times consecutively each morning before the start of their day and three times consecutively each night before going to sleep. If we do either the full or Kalachakra versions in this manner, only certain verses need to be repeated during the second and third recitations, not the whole text.
If we fall asleep while reciting our evening set, we may add the number of times we missed to our next day's practice. By not waiting until we are about to collapse before we begin, we minimize that danger. If we are rushed in the morning, we may even recite one of the texts six times at night, but it is better to avoid that. Of course, if we are extremely sick and cannot recite anything, there is no fault in missing our six-session practice. However, if we are at all able, we try to maintain the momentum of this practice without any break. It helps keep us on course to enlightenment. Thus, depending on our schedule, we may choose to recite the full version each morning and the abbreviated each night, or vice versa, and occasionally the expanded Kalachakra version on weekends when we have more time.
Since repeating the four-line version three times does not take more than a minute or two, promising to do at least this twice a day is not an outrageous commitment or imposition on our life. If we have time to brush our teeth each morning and evening no matter how busy we are, we have time for a daily six-session practice. In fact, it is much easier to fit into our schedule than anything else because, in an emergency, we can recite it even in our car at a stop light or while waiting to cross the street. We need not be a fanatic requiring a special meditation room, silence and incense in order to remind ourselves of our commitments each day and night through practice of six-session yoga.
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