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Shambhala in the Kalachakra Tantra

6 Comments August 8, 2010 5:30 am | Permalink |

Kalachakra Mandala, courtesy of HimalayanArt.org


By Nick Trautz
We often hear about the connection between Shambhala and the Kalachakra tradition.
While the Kalachakra initiation has been given publically by teachers like His Holiness
the Dalai Lama and His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, it is less common to have exposure to
the Kalachakra Tantra source-material in translation. This year, I have enjoyed the good
fortune of studying the Kalachakra texts as part of my graduate program in Buddhist
Studies. I thought it might be interesting to share some of what I have learned about
Shambhala in the Kalachakra tradition.
The History of the Kalachakra
The Kalachakra is an encyclopedic collection of vajrayana Buddhist knowledge,
including material on astrology, the human body, ritual, and meditation practice. The
Kalachakra tradition gained prominence in India sometime in the early 11th century,
making it the last of the tantric traditions to develop in India. The Kalachakra eventually
disappeared along with Buddhism in India, but flourished in the Tibetan world, where it
is still studied and practiced today.
The Kalachakra system draws on broad influences in formulating its content, enough so
that the text at times must defend itself from critics who dont recognize some of its
material as Buddhist. But in general, the Kalachakra has proven its significance as a
major source of vajrayana knowledge, and is present across Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

Gilded statue of Dawa Sangpo at the Gesar Palace in Golok


The Kalachakra texts that form the basis of the Kalachakra tradition consist of the
Abridged Kalachakra Tantra (the Sri Kalachakra), and its commentary, Stainless Light
(Vimalaprabha in Sanskrit). The original and supposedly older root tantra is quoted in
these texts, but no version of it has ever been found.
These texts tell the story of the Kalachakra Tantras origins at the time of the Buddha. In
the final year of the Buddhas life, a king from a northern kingdom traveled to
Dhanyakataka in southeastern India to study the Dharma. The Sanskrit name of that king
was Sucandara, Dawa Sangpo in Tibetan. His kingdom was called Shambhala.
The text specifies that Shambhala was a kingdom north of the River Sita. While no
consensus exits among scholars regarding the historical reality of Shambhala, several
scholars believe that Shambhala was an historical kingdom of a different name (circa
850-1250), located in present day Xinjiang province of northwestern China and in eastern
Kyrgyzstan, and that the River Sita refers to the Tarim River. The Tarim River basin has
been the home to several well-known Buddhist and Bon kingdoms, and there is
climatological evidence that this area was once far less arid than it is now; the ruins of
stupas are found throughout this vast region, now mostly buried under desert sands.
In India, the king of Shambhala, Dawa Sangpo, was searching for dharma teachings that
would not require him to take monastic vows. In response to this request, the Buddha
appeared to Dawa Sangpo and bestowed the Kalachakra teachings: outer, inner and secret
teachings that depict a sacred world consisting of wisdom and compassion.
Dawa Sangpo returned to Shambhala and taught the Kalachakra for three years before
passing the lineage to his son. Six succeeding kings held the Kalachakra teachings and
taught them for one hundred years each. We refer to these as the Seven Dharmarajas of

Shambhala. The Kalachakra tradition regards each of these kings as emanations of


specific bodhisattvas, beginning with Dawa Sangpo as Vajrapani.