Kalachakra means wheel of time and time is one of the central concerns of the Kalachakra system. This system of Tantric practice uses a developed view of time to arrive at the timeless. It is usually classified as a Mother Tantra and both as deity and tantra is highly regarded by all Tibetan schools. It is an exceedingly complex system of thought and practice.
The Kalachakra was revealed, according to tradition, by Buddha in the stupa of Dhanyakataka, twelve months after his enlightenment. He taught the tantra inside a huge stupa at the request of Suchandra, King of Shambhala of central Asia. The stupa became dilated till it assumed the proportions of the universe. Suchandra wrote down the revelation and returned to Shambhala, built a three-dimensional mandala of Kalachakra, and made Tantric Buddhism based on the Kalachakra system the state religion. Many generations of Kulika kings ruled wisely and handed down the teachings of Kalachakra. The eighth king, Manjushrikirti, initiated many people into the tantra, and also composed a short text – ‘the condensed Kalachakra Tantra’ – which is what is now generally known as the Kalachakra Tantra.
It is believe that the Kalachakra teachings came to Tibet with Atisha Dipankara in 1026 A.D. Their instructions into Tibet led to a new system of measuring time in sixty-year periods. Five elements, fire, earth, water, wood, and metal, were added to the twelve-year system by which each year is attributed to one of the signs of zodiac. The Kalachakra system was studied by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Further the Kalachakra Tantra is a method or path of reaching enlightenment faster although with great effort, capable of leading the practitioner to Buddhahood within one human lifetime. The meaning of the Kalachakra Tantra is contained within three wheels of Time, called the External, the Internal and the Alternative. The External Kalachakra refers to the external environment, the physical universe and the astronomical system. The Internal Kalachakra refers to the beings that live within the physical universe, and describes the bodily channels, ‘wind’, and drops of fluids and how they circulate inside the body. The Alternative Kalachakra refers to the methods to reach enlightenment, together with their result. The Alternative Kalachakra contains the Kalachakra initiations, which authorize the person who takes to follow the systematic Kalachakra path to Buddhahood.
The Kalachakra mandala is like a huge palace, with five distinct floors levels, which are depicted here in five mandalas:
1. Body Mandala
2. Speech Mandala
3. Mind Mandala
4. Exalted Wisdom Mandala
5. Great Bliss Mandala
At the ground level is the body mandala, which has four huge entranceways in the main directions and within the body mandala on a high platform comes the speech mandala, which looks very similar to the body mandala. At the center of the speech Mandala, comes the mind mandala, which looks again very similar to the body mandala. The mind mandala has two more floor levels, the Exalted Wisdom mandala and the Great Bliss mandala. On a slightly raised platform, is the central Great Bliss mandala with a large lotus on which the main Deity Kalachakra with his consort Vishvamata resides, surrounded by the eight Shaktis. This mandala is depicted here in the center.
1. Body Mandala: The body mandala represents the form body of the Buddha (Rupakaya) and it surrounds the speech mandala. The body mandala is placed on the first floor at ground level. The body mandala has the deities pertaining to Time – deities of Full Moon/Purnima and New Moon/Amavasya are surrounded by goddesses of 14 lunar days from pratipada (the first date) to the chaturdashi (14th date), and the deities of months; together these represent the 30 lunar days in a month. The number 360 also refers to the sets of 360 breaths we take in 60 cycles every day (adding up to 21,600 breaths per day).
2. Speech Mandala: This mandala is at the first floor, which represents the enjoyment body of the Buddha (sambhogakaya). This mandala houses 116 deities, the Yoginis of the speech mandala; they represent for example the 80 minor marks of a Buddha.
3. Mind Mandala: The remaining highest three floors of the Kalachakra mandala are part of the mind mandala, which holds some 70 deities. This mandala represents the mind of the Kalachakra Buddha.
4. Exalted Wisdom Mandala: The exalted wisdom mandala, which represents the subtle mind and is on the fourth floor of the mandala. Between the pillars of this square are the eight pairs of Tathagatas, seated on lotus seats, and vases.
5. Great Bliss Mandala: On a slightly raised platform of exalted wisdom mandala is the central Great Bliss Mandala, with a large lotus on which the main deity Kalachakra with his consort Vishvamata resides. They are surrounded by the eight Shaktis.
Though as mentioned above the square of the Kalachakra mandala is five-floored mansion, however basically it represents the three aspects of Kalachakra system and the last three mandals are inter-related. The inner sanctum is the mind or chitta mandala wherein is the lotus. In the lotus, the secret of the heart, is the mysterious presence of the Kalachakra Buddha with his consort Vishvamata. The middle precinct is the speech mandala. The outer precinct is body or the Kaya mandala. The physical, verbal and psychical are the Three Mysteries, the three inborn planes of Body, Speech and Mind of Kalachakra that pervade the infinite space of Enlightenment, the basic homogeneity of man with Kalachakra. The three precincts are the palaces, the place where the images of the deities are disposed.
The square of Kalachakra mandala is surrounded by circles, which also represent the elements – earth, water, fire, wind and space. The outermost is the circle of wisdom fire, which burns the sins of the meditator. In another words we may say that the circle of fire symbolizes the process of transformation and burning of ignorance of practitioner, because one can enter the sacred territory, only after transformation. This circle is also known as “mountain of flames" or "circle of wisdom" which represents the wisdom element. After this, comes a circle of vajras, which represents the solidity of the adamantine plane wherein the meditator becomes a vajra-being, a vajra-sattva. This circle actually symbolizes adamantine bodhi or enlightenment, once gained it is unchangeable. Thereafter is the circle of wind, which represents one of the five elements. This is followed by a circle of eight graveyards, representing the eight aspects of human consciousness that bind a person to the cycle of rebirth which are represented here by eight-spoked wheels. Between these wheels, Sanskrit syllables (in Tibetan character) are placed. Then is the circle of water, which also represents one of the great five elements. Finally, the innermost ring is made of lotus leaves, signifying religious rebirth. It is actually is the purity of heart with which devotee or practitioner approaches the sanctum. The inner sanctum has gates in four sides like the gopurams of South Indian temples. The four gateways are protected by attendants, guardian, and minor deities surrounding the image of the principal deity in the center, which is like a lotus.
Thus the Buddha Kalachakra symbolizes method (upaya) which refers to the great bliss. The consort of the Buddha symbolizes wisdom (prajna) which is the realization of emptiness. Theirs is the union of the great bliss and the wisdom realizing emptiness. Without the wisdom of indivisible bliss and emptiness, it is impossible to reach the state of full enlightenment. It is for this reason that Kalachakra symbolizing the method, and the consort symbolizing the wisdom, are in intimate union.
Apart from these five Kalachakra mandalas, this painting depicts, Dharmachakra on lotus at the top, vishva-vajra and Vase on lotuses in the each side of middle ground, respectively. The bottom center is filled with conch on lotus. This painting is framed with auspicious symbols.
The extended brocade is woven with Garuda and Dragon figures with Chinese auspicious good luck symbol. This painting is very much suitable of Kalachakra practices and meditation.
This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on “Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)”.