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Inner Kālacakra - The channels and centres

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The channels and centres, part 1

The first image depicting the channels and centres

The final pair of paintings in this set depict inner Kālacakra: the body together with its channels and centres. Some of the main winds are also described here. The original material for this in the second chapter of the Vimalaprabhā has been reliably translated by Vesna Wallace, under the title: "The Kālacakratantra. The Chapter on the Individual together with the Vimalaprabhā". Where relevant in the following, references will given to verse numbers (eg. v.25.) in the second chapter as given in Vesna Wallace's text. Also see section 9, on "Channels, Winds and Drops", in the "Ornament of Stainless Light", by Norzang Gyatso, translated by Gavin Kilty.

The channels and centres are here represented as they are considered to exist within the body. In another sense, they are also imagined in meditation practices, but in that case their forms are more stylised, more regular, with the main channels straight, and so forth. In the form in which they are shown here, a great number are considered (a total of 72,000), and they are naturally depicted in a more organic form. Branching off from the vertical central channel are six centres ('khor lo, cakra) of minor channels. These are associated with the various elements (v.25.), and have different numbers of minor channels, or channel-petals (rtsa 'dab). They also have colours associated with them, depending on the element:

Crownspace – green – 4
Forehead – water – white – (4) – 8 – 16
Throatfire – red – (4) – 8 – 32
Heartwind – black – 4 – 8
Navelearth – yellow – 4 – 8 – 12/16 – 64
Genitalsawareness – blue – 6 – 10 – 16

The navel centre
The joints of the right arm
The left hand
The joints of the left leg
The channels of the head

The sets of numbers above represent the branching of the channel-petals. For example, at the genital centre (v.46.), six channels branch from the central channel. Four of these each split into two, making a total of ten intermediate channel-petals. Finally, of these ten, six split into two, making a total of 16 outer channel-petals. A similar description applies to the other centres here. In the painting, however, the channels of the genital centre do not quite fit this description, although the other centres do match the expected numbers. For two of the centres in the list above, the number 4 is in brackets. This is because in some descriptions they are both given as having eight channel-petals branching off from the central channel.

In addition to these main centres, this painting also depicts the twelve centres in the main joints (shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles) and the minor centres in the knuckles of the fingers and toes. These all constitute the indestructible aspect of the body (rdo rje'i lus, vajrakāya). In the preliminary parts of the main meditations of Kālacakra, seed syllables (also given in v.68.) are imagined at the various channels of these centres.

The centres of the three joints of the left leg are associated with the element of earth, those of the right leg with water, those of the left arm fire and those of the right arm, wind. Each of the fingers and toes consist of three knuckles each, with each one having its own minor centre. The thumb and big toe (v.26.) are associated with the element of earth, the first finger and first toe, water, then fire, wind (there is a mistake here in Wallace's text) and space for the little fingers and toes. The three rows of knuckles are each associated with one of the three qualities (yon tan, guṇa): sattva, rajas and tamas.

The centres are those places where channels are grouped together, and are where the winds are active and changes take place in the movements of those winds. These changes are considered to take place at regular intervals, and these are correlated in various ways with changes in the external physical world. In a general sense, winds are considered to move in one channel for a particular period of time, and then change to another channel. The most important of the external changes lies in the rising of the different signs of the zodiac. The sign coming over the horizon in the east is known as the ascendant (dus sbyor, lagna), although the association is also made with the passage of the Sun through the various signs.

In the image on the left, the navel centre is shown. The 12 intermediate channel-petals are associated here with the 12 ascendants. Starting at the front (in the bottom of this image) the first channel to the left (-side of the body, therefore to the right in this image) is Aries. The first to the right is Taurus. The word for Taurus (glang) is visible right in the middle of the lower part of the image. We then progress around from these: the next to the left is Gemini, and the next to the right is Cancer, and so forth. The signs Taurus, Cancer, and so forth on the right are called the even signs, and Aries, Gemini, etc., are the odd signs (v.40.).

In the image on the right are seen the major joints of the right arm. The shoulder is associated with Capricorn (v.67, 68.), the elbow with Pisces and the wrist with Taurus. The Vimalaprabhā lists these a little differently. For example, the right elbow is associated with the month of Caitra (nag pa); this is the month during which the Sun leaves the sign of Pisces and enters Aries. These associations are given in the next painting.

The equivalent joints of the left arm are associated with Aquarius, Aries and Gemini. Notice that the channels following the length of the arm are of different colours, indicating their association with the different elements.

The image on the left shows the left hand, and the writing indicates the signs associated with the three different rows of knuckles. These are the same signs as are associated with the main joints of the left arm: the first (inner) row of knuckles with Aquarius, the middle row with Aries and the outer row with Gemini.

The equivalent associations for the right hand are Capricorn, Pisces and Taurus.

In the image on the right are shown the centres of the left leg. The hip is associated with Leo, the knee with Libra and the ankle with Sagitarrius. The writing at the bottom associates these same signs with the rows of toe knuckles of the left foot. The equivalent joints of the right leg and toes are associated respectively with Cancer, Virgo and Scorpio.

The image on the right shows the head. The forehead centre is clearly visible with its 16 channel-petals (only 14 are drawn here). Above is the crown centre with four channels, in the middle of which can be seen an upside-down syllable "haṃ", representing the white element, or bodhicitta (byang sems).

The channels and centres, part 2

The second of the two images depicting the channels and centres

The second of these two paintings that depict inner Kālacakra is more complex than the first. It gives astrological correspondences, both with the zodiac and lunar mansions as well as some other divisions of time. It also shows the positions of the main winds that move in the various channels.

The first thing to notice is that this painting shows the three main channels: the central channel (dbu ma, madhyamā), the red rasanā (ro ma) on the right, and the white lalanā (rkyang ma) on the left. The central channel is normally considered either to be green or blue – quite which colour is intended here is unclear.

The channels of the head

In the meditation practices, the rasanā and lalanā are considered to be straight and parallel, but in this context they twist around the central channel at the level of the centres. The text next to the left ear describes how the two channels are said to link around the central channel, at the middle of the heart, throat, forehead and crown centres.

The red lalanā is clear enough in the close-up on the left, but the white lalanā is rather indistinct. Clicking on the image will bring up a higher resolution version which has been computer enhanced in order to make the lalanā at least a little more clear. These channels reach up to the top of the head, and then bend down to reach the point between the eyebrows.

Also indicated on the painting is the association of the four channels of the crown centre with the four junctures (thun mtshams, prahara) of a day and the sixteen channels of the forehead centre with the sixteen lunar days (tshes pa, tithi). The writing by the throat centre indicates the association of the 32 channels of that centre with the 28 lunar mansions (rgyu skar, nakṣatra) together with four daṇḍa constellations (elsewhere, the other four channels are said to be empty). (v.57.)

The writing by the left ear states that in the middle of the centres of heart, throat, forehead and crown, the rasanā and lalanā channels are linked with the central channel – they are seen here as looped around the central channel.

Just underneath that, by the lobe of the left ear, it is stated that the six centres have a total of 156 channels – this is refering to the outermost channels of each. From the ends of these branch the 72,000 channels that spread throughout the whole body. Clearly these cannot be drawn, but the texts states that these are suggested in the painting by channels spreading from the ends of the main centre channels.

The right shoulder and elbow

In the image on the right are seen the centres in two of the joints: those of the right shoulder and elbow. Essentially the same information is given here as in the previous painting, although it is expressed a little differently. The 30 channels of the right shoulder are associated with the 30 lunars days of the month of Māgha (mchu'i zla), during which the Sun leaves the sign of Capricorn. The 30 channels of the elbow are associated with the lunar days of the month of Caitra (nag pa'i zla), during which the Sun leaves the sign of Pisces. And so on for the rest of the main joints:

Right wrist: Jyeṣṭha (snron). Left shoulder, elbow and wrist: Phālguna (dbo), Vaiśākha (sa ga) and Āṣāḍha (chu stod). Right hip, knee and ankle: Śrāvaṇa (gro bzhin), Āśvina (tha skar) and Mārgaśīrṣa (mgo). Left hip, knee and ankle: Bhādrapada (khrums), Kārtikka (smin drug) and Pauṣa (rgyal).

It is clear from the text that it is refering to waning-first (mat ngo sngon 'gro) months. For the right shoulder it states that it startes with the first lunar day of the dark (waning) fortnight following the full Moon of the month of Pauṣa – this would end with the full Moon of the month of Māgha at the end of the white (waxing) fortnight. (The text actually states that the month extends through the 10 days of the month of Māgha; this is clearly an error, and it should read 15.)

The channels and winds of the heart centre

In the image on the left are named the winds that move in the eight channels of the heart centre. They are arranged with east to the bottom, and so, going in a clockwise direction (v.42.) from the point of view of this image, the winds are, together with the elements associated with them:

E: samānavāyu (mnyam gnas) – wind
SE: udānavāyu (gyen rgyu) – fire
S: vyānavāyu (khyab byed) – water
SW: nāgavāyu (klu) – awareness
W: kūrmavāyu (rus sbal) – wind
NW: kṛikaravāyu (rtsangs pa) – fire
N: devadattavāyu (lhas byin) – water
NE: dhanañjayavāyu (nor rgyal) – earth

There are considered to be ten main winds, and of the other two, prāṇavāyu (srog, space) moves in the central channel above the navel, and apānavāyu (thur sel, earth) in the central channel below the navel. These are the main places where these winds are considered to exist. In fact, all ten winds are considered to permeate the whole body.

The channels of the navel and genital centres

The last image shows the channels of the navel and genital centres. The same information is given for the navel centre as in the previous painting, associating the intermediate channels with the signs of the zodiac. In addition, the three main channels below the navel are shown in their different colours, and named.

The lower extension of the lalanā is yellow and extends to reach the anus. It is here called the "channel of faeces". The lower extension of the rasanā is black and is here called the "channel of urine". Joining it in reaching to the genitals is the lower extension of the central channel, known as the śaṃkhinī (dung can ma); this is blue in colour and is here also called the "channel of semen".

The images used to make those shown on these pages were originally provided by Rossi and Rossi Ltd, of London, UK. Thanks are now also due to the Rubin Museum of Art, in New York, for providing the higher resolution master images that have been used for these latest versions. These paintings are also featured in the book by Martin Brauen, "Mandala, Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism", published by Arnoldsche Art Publishers and the Rubin Museum of Art.

E. Henning

See Also