Kalachakra and Western Science
His Holiness: Now in the case of Kalachakra, it speaks of Shambhala and a war against Lalo invaders. It might have had a special relation with those who lived at the time of the well-known Muslim invasions of India. I wonder if there might be some connection with those in general who live in times of danger of war. But, as for a special relation with Westerners in general, I don't know? What did Serkong Rinpochey say?
His Holiness: Yes, you could say there is somewhat of a connection like that. But, what is the point of that kind of connection? There is some similarity, but isn't it nearly always the situation that people everywhere talk of war? So, that reason is not exact. Relation between Kalachakra and Western Science
His Holiness: I would say so.
His Holiness: No. It isn't necessarily especially in terms of Kalachakra; it is general. The basic belief in Buddhism is that if something is supported by reason, then we must accept it; and if something has no reason or is unreasonable, then there is no need to accept it. Even Buddha's own words must by interpreted in a different nonliteral way if they make no sense or are unreasonable.
For instance, we accept quote "A" from the Buddha, while we do not accept quote "B." Why? If, for the acceptability of the words of the Buddha, we had to rely on other words of the Buddha, then those would require yet other words of the Buddha and it would be an infinite regression, wouldn't it? Therefore, in practical terms, we need to explain some of Buddha's words as having only an interpretable meaning (drang-don) and only selected others as being definitive (nges-don). If that is the case, it means that Buddha's ultimate meaning has to accord with reason.
Now, in terms of scientific investigation, if something can be proven as fact, then it is accepted. Science works on that basis, doesn't it? For instance, one scientist does an experiment and something happens. Then, someone else conducts the same experiment and gets the same result. This procedure establishes something as a fact of reality. That is how science works. Thus, the basic attitude of science is that if something is a verifiable fact of reality, accept it; and if it is not verifiable, don't believe it.
That is also the basic Buddhist attitude, isn't it, especially in Mahayana. I wonder if the Hinayana tenet systems actually explain Buddha's words as having a difference of interpretable and definitive meaning. Probably, they do not. In them, it is pervasive that all of Buddha's words are definitive. However, the Mahayana tenet systems explain the two – Buddha's words that are interpretable and those that are definitive.
If this is the manner of assertion, then, as I have already explained, deciding what is definitive falls on reason. It can't be based just on faith. If that is the case, then if scientists find some concrete result or proof that there are no future lives, no rebirth – if they can actually prove that – we must accept it as the Buddhist basic attitude. Thus, the fundamental approach in Buddhism is one that accords with fact and reason. That is one point.
Now secondly, there are specific explanations on which both Buddhism and science agree. For example, Buddhism asserts that all phenomena that are conditioned or affected by other phenomena degenerate from moment to moment, without ever remaining still. Everything continuously changes from moment to moment, subtly, never staying static. Scientists also agree that physical phenomena subtly change each moment, without ever staying still – namely, because they depend on atoms – and yet, on a gross level, they appear not to change. It is not necessary to prove that they appear to remain the way they are, without any change: we can see that with our own eyes. So, regarding the point that on a gross level things seem to remain still, but on a subtle level they don't remain still for even a moment, science and Buddhism agree that this is fact.
Further, there is relativity; namely, the theory that things dependently arise. Anything that exists is established as being dependent on or relative to other things. This is also common between the two systems. Although scientists do not discuss unaffected (static) phenomenon, still they agree that at least things with form or which occur over time all arise dependently on other factors, for example on causes and conditions. Their identities are established in relation to factors other than themselves.
The latest thing scientists are discussing in terms of matter concerns quantum theory and quarks. They discover and are beginning to understand that this extremely subtle level of matter is intimately connected with the perceiver. In other words, the mind that cognizes this level as its cognitive object becomes involved.
For example, the time and size of an object is relative to the time and speed of the object and of the observer. The direction and speed of the observer relative to the direction and to the speed of the object observed affects the observer's measurements of the location and spatial/temporal dimensions of the object.
When you get to waves, is it matter or energy? From one way of looking, it is matter and from another way of perceiving, it is energy. Buddhism calls this relationship "two facts about the same aspect of a phenomenon" and explains it as the two sharing the same essential nature, but being different conceptually isolated items (ngo-bo-cig ldog-pa tha-dad).
Thus, the conventional identity of the wave as a particle or as energy is a function of mental labeling. This implies that the difference between a particle and energy must be understood in terms of the perceiver and is not inherent in the object itself. This shows the close link between cognition and matter.
In the past, classical science has also considered whether there might be some force besides matter, whether it is consciousness or whatever. When we consider this point, then when any system, not only Buddhist, asserts that certain phenomena are unmistaken, the issue of whether or not something is unmistaken depends on cognition; and cognition is something internal, not external. Cognition is what meets and is involved with objects and what does the labeling of something as unmistaken or not.
The most detailed identification and discussion of cognition and mental labeling are undoubtedly found in Buddhism. Within Buddhism, the various traditions of abhidharma (special topics of knowledge) explain much about primary consciousness (gtso-sems) and mental factors (sems-byung). Tantra, specifically anuttarayoga tantra, discusses gross and subtle consciousness and the relationship between mind and subtle energy/wind. I am quite sure that in the next century it will become clearer that the meeting place of Western science and Eastern philosophy will concern the relation between mind (cognition) and matter in terms of these topics. That is the real place where East and Western science can meet.
His Holiness: Yes, this would be in terms of subtle particles (rdul phra-rab). In general, whether or not there is mention in Vasubandhu's Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa'i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha), in Kalachakra you have particles of space (nam-mka'i rdul-tshan). In empty space, there are particles of space and that is the real basis of the progressively grosser particles, those of the four elements of earth, water, fire, and wind (air). A previous universe disappears and there is an eon of emptiness – more specifically, there are the eons of disintegration, followed by eons of emptiness and during the twenty intermediate eons of emptiness, there are these particles of space. Following that, during the eons of arising, the basis for the arising of space, wind, fire, water, and earth are the particles of space.
His Holiness: It is probably like this. The Madhyamaka texts and the Prajnaparamita literature assert five forms that are only among the cognitive source which is all phenomenon (chos skye-mched-gyi gzugs, forms that are only among Dharma cognitive sources). These are forms that come from collections, those that arise from clearly taking them on such as vows, those existing in actual situations such as astronomical and microscopic distances between things, those that are totally imaginary such as those perceived in dreams, and those from gaining control of the elements.
As for those that come from collections, they are explained as subtle particles and they have a spherical shape (zlum-bo). These come probably in Prajnaparamita and, there, subtle particles are forms that are only among Dharma cognitive sources. They cannot be seen by the eye. They are form, however, but can only be known by a mind. They are spherical in shape. These are undoubtedly our present day atoms. They are all spherical, aren't they? They really seem similar.
His Holiness: What I just explained are atoms as presented in abhidharma, and I think the particles explained in Kalachakra are even subtler than that. The abhidharma atoms -referred to as the four elements: the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind – probably correspond here to the Kalachakra earth particles. These are the usual things called atoms. Then, as for the particles of space in Kalachakra, we have four subatomic particles more subtle than the abhidharma atoms. As for what is their essential nature (ngo-bo – what they are), I don't know clearly.
There is one relevant point, however, in Maitreya's Furthest Everlasting Continuum (rGyud bla-ma, Skt. Uttaratantra). Externally, there is the dissolution sequence of earth, water, fire, wind, and space; and for the generation sequence, wind, fire, water, and earth generate forth. Note that in Uttaratantra there is no "fire." Externally, what the elements develop out of is space and what they dissolve into is space.
Likewise, internally, our devoid nature (chos-nyid), as a Buddha-nature factor (de-gshegs-snying-po, a womb containing a Thusly Gone One), is that from which things arise and are collected back. When you apply this internally to the mind, space is clear light mental activity, or the voidness of clear light, or the space of clear light.
Kalachakra discusses the space included in the space-like mental continuum (mkha'i rgyud-pa bsdu-ba nam-mkha' cig), the space included in the blue drop (thig-le mngon-po). When one can recognize this space, this space can probably be explained as a space particle. I don't know this clearly or well. However, this is a little bit of a special feature.
His Holiness: Could they really be static? No, they're not static. However, as for how Zijin Nyingpo (gZi-byin snying-po) would explain in his commentaries, if that would make it more certain? I don't know.
His Holiness: I don't really know. Kalachakra itself explains many things. For instance, someone like me, I have interest in Kalachakra and I can feel comfortable with it. I'm fitting and proper for it, so to speak. But if some scientists were to just read through it quickly, it won't turn out to suit their minds like this. To start with, they'll get to the presentation of external, internal, and alternative Kalachakra and that may cause a lot of complications and problems. For instance, the first chapter, The World Sphere ('Jig-rten-gyi khams), explains Mount Meru and the Southern Continent, Jambudvipa. This becomes quite messy. It is complete nonsense, isn't it?
His Holiness: Oh, I was just saying that casually. I wasn't really serious.
However, the Sakya tradition explains a relevant point about Kalachakra in conjunction with its lamdre (lam-'bras, the path together with its results) teachings. According to this explanation, all external phenomenon are complete in a person's body. The way of abiding (gnas-tshul, way of existing) of a person's body is that the body is complete in the energy-channels (rtsa-la tshang). The way of abiding of the channels is that they are complete in the syllables. The way of abiding of syllables is that they are complete in the constituent-source energy-drops (khams). The way of abiding of the constituent-source energy-drops is that they are complete in the energy-winds. The final ultimate point of this is that the way of abiding or of existing of everything is complete in foundation mind (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, Skt. alayavijnana, storehouse consciousness).
In the lamdre system, foundation mind refers to the causal continuum of the alaya (kun-gzhi rgyu'i rgyud), namely the subtlest clear light level of mental activity. It does not refer to foundation mind as asserted in the Chittamatra (mind-only) system of tenets.
Thus, with all external phenomena being complete in the human body, then on one side we can understand this in terms of symbolism. The external four continents and Mount Meru are complete in one human body, symbolically. Kalachakra presents something similar to this. Mount Meru is one portion of the spine, while the planes of sensory desires (form realm), ethereal forms (form realm), and formless beings (formless realm) are portions of the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head.
Mount Meru is the spine, from the hip joint to the bottom of the neck. The plane of sensory desires extends from the soles of the feet to one-third up the neck, the plane of ethereal forms from there to the forehead, and the plane of formless beings from the forehead to the crown of the head.
In other words, in a human body, from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, the three planes of samsaric existence (three realms) as explained in Kalachakra, i.e. the thirty-one realms of the world sphere, are all complete. Because of that, we can say that the human body contains symbolism.
Then, from another side, we can explain the three realms being complete in the human body in a different way. Our mental activity (mind) has many gross and subtle levels or aspects. In view of this situation, then, there are, for instance, gross feelings; and, from among the gross feelings, there is the gross feeling of pleasure.
Then, as the Great Fifth Dalai Lama said in The Graded Stages of the Path: Personal Instructions from Manjushri (Lam-rim 'jam-dpal zhal-lung), sentient beings engage in karmic actions for the sake of gaining the experience of feelings of pleasure and happiness. Those who seek to actualize rough feelings of pleasure by acting destructively accumulate non-meritorious karma (bsod-nams ma-yin-pa'i las) to be reborn in one of the three worse states of rebirth. In general, however, those whose thoughts mainly run after a feeling of pleasure from the sense organs build up the karma for rebirth on the worse or better states of the plane of sensory desires depending on whether they act destructively or constructively.
Then, there are those who turn from desire for the feeling of pleasure externally, but who desire the feeling of pleasure internally from absorbed concentration ( ting-nge-'dzin, Skt. samadhi) and who accumulate karma. A mind acting like that builds up karma for rebirth on the plane of ethereal forms, from the first to the third state of mental stability (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyana). Those who desire a feeling of equanimity that comes internally from samadhi, beyond the feeling of pleasure, build up the karma for rebirth in the fourth state of mental stability on the plane of ethereal forms.
Then, when explaining the differences between the plane of ethereal forms and the plane of formless beings, when after blocking appearances of all forms, you meditate on nothingness or on a blank emptiness like space, and so on, you build up the karma for rebirth in one of the four divine realms on the plane of formless beings: the divine realms of infinite space, infinite mind, nothingness, or the peak of existence.
So, when you look at it from one side, since there are gross and subtle levels of mental activity, then, under the influence of these inner gross and subtle minds referring to gross and subtle pleasure and the desire to seek after them, one accumulates karma. Under the power of this karma, the three planes of samsaric existence are established and come about.
That being so, then when we say that the three planes of samsaric existence are established and are complete in the human body through symbolism; then, thinking about it in one way, we can understand this in terms of the influence of karma. The mind or mental activity is one aspect of Buddha-nature (de-gshegs snying-po, source of authentic transformation); and it is under the influence of the mind, or based on the mind, that we accumulate karma. From that, we have one way of establishing a human body. In other words, the body of a rebirth state comes from the mind that has accumulating the karma for experiencing that rebirth state.
With this establishment of the physical body from karma as a circumstance, we can also establish from the Buddha-nature mind accumulating karma the physical place of the plane of sensory desires, in which such humans primarily live. There is undoubtedly this special feature.
That being so, then Mount Meru and so on explained in Kalachakra, in reality, have a deeper meaning. They are mainly referring to the abiding situation of the body of a human being of the Southern Continent (Jambudvipa). The presentation of an external Jambudvipa is there in Kalachakra because of the necessity for explaining the relation between the external and internal worlds - each of them symbolize and are parallel to the other. In that sense, it is not necessary that Mount Meru exist as a giant mountain standing somewhere in reality in some separate location.
His Holiness: In the Abhidharmakosha, Mount Meru is square and here, in Kalachakra, it is round and gets larger on top. Jambudvipa is around the bottom of it so that when you look up the wider top portion of Mount Meru, it appears hanging over your head. Thus, it looks as if it is about to fall. Finding Further Analogies between Kalachakra and Science
Berzin: The qualities of a Buddha include the ability to take any worldly teaching and turn it into a path for Dharma. This requires, however, skillful means. My question concerns how to develop the skillful means to do something similar at our levels.
For example, in The Sadhana Chapter (sGrub-le) of The Kalachakra Tantra, concerning the hidden point of yajna sacrifices and so on in the Vedas (mchod-sbyin-la-sogs-pa rig-byed-gyi gsang-ba'i mtha'), the text explains that when the Vedas say to sacrifice animals, this is like the close bonds (dam-tshig) in Guhyasamaja or Kalachakra to take life. To take life has a metaphorical meaning (dgongs-can) and means to dissolve the life-supporting winds.
Further, when the Vedas speak of the indestructible sound nada (mi-zhoms-pa'i sgra), we are to understand this means the undissipating drop (mi-shigs-pa'i thig-le) and the sound quality of the space element.
In other places, however, for instance in The World Sphere Chapter (Khams-le), when the King explains astrology to the rishi sage Suryaratha (Drang-srong Nyi-ma'i shing-rta), he says that talk in the Vedas of the Brahma realms being 10,000,000 yojanas in size is a lie.
Similarly, in The Great Commentary to the Kalachakra Tantra (Tik-chen), Kaydrubjey (mKhas-grub-rje dGe-legs dpal-bzang) explains that sometimes Buddha said things had true inherent existence (bden-grub), but he had another intention and it was merely a metaphor. However, Buddha never said there is a static, monolithic, independent self. That would be a lie.
If that is the case, then when explaining Dharma to Westerners and talking about Western religions and science, how do we differentiate what can be said to be symbolic metaphors and what are lies? My reason for asking is that it is very easy to make up cute analogies for Kalachakra. Sometimes, things in Kalachakra and in Western religions and science would be analogies of each other, but sometimes things in one or the other systems would be lies.
His Holiness: The tantras and sutras are the ultimate authority, we aren't. Unless there is a scriptural reference in them, there is no need for us to make these things up and assert that Buddha had in mind an analogy with Western religion or science. Love in Christianity and in Buddhism
His Holiness: Christianity teaches love toward God and love toward fellow human beings. When they say we should love God, they mean we should keep God close to our hearts, and we should like him and love him. Buddhism also teaches having respect for and liking the Buddha. Christianity says we should have a warm heart and feelings, not for all beings including bugs, but specifically for our fellow human beings. So, if we speak very roughly, we can understand this to be like our love in Buddhism and it is the same.
However, as for Christian talk about a creator, if we say that in Buddhist terms this can be understood to be voidness, although we could make such an interpretation, this will not do. For instance, you could say that voidness, as a womb containing a Thusly Gone One, (as a Buddha-nature factor) is the creator. It is formless, unimaginable, and can't be put in words, as is God. Although you could say that, I doubt that speaking like that will really do. I don't think that's OK.
Like that, when it comes to philosophy, there are disagreements. Buddhism does not assert a creator in the way that Christianity asserts God as the creator. Buddhism does not accept that. Buddhism would say that ultimately one's own mind is, in a sense, a creator, but there is no ultimate Almighty Creator. We can speak like that and explain it like that. Scientifically Confirming Whether Mount Meru Actually Exists
His Holiness: Science has the same approach as Buddhism does. I think that from this point of view, they come to the same thing. That is one of the basic Buddhist attitudes. For instance, there are two types of distorted antagonistic attitudes (log-lta): those that are interpolations (sgro-'dogs) and those that are totally imaginary (kun-brtags-kyi log-lta) equivalent to repudiations (skur-'debs). What do these categories refer to? An antagonistic attitude believing that something that exists does not exist is a distorted attitude that repudiates. One that believes that something that does not exist does exist is a distorted attitude of interpolation.
For instance, if Mount Meru exists and we say it doesn't, that is a distorted attitude. If it doesn't exist and we say it does, that also is a distorted attitude. That means that whatever is the fact, that is what we accept. For instance, if on the ground, there is an elephant and it is visible, we should see it because it is visible. Using this line of reasoning, if something exists (and is visible), we should see it. And, if it should be visible and we don't see it, then it doesn't exist.
So like that, concerning whether or not Mount Meru exists, when you explore in spacecrafts and if definitely it should be visible – because it is described as an object of the eye sensors – and if we don't see it – of course, if it is something that exists but it can't be seen, that is something completely different – but if it is the case that if it exists it has to be visible, then if it can't be seen, we can decide that it doesn't exist. Since the texts say that Mount Meru does exist, then except for them being of interpretable meaning, there is no other possibility.
If we research scientifically, then if something exists we should be able to confirm it decisively – for instance, the diameters of the sun and the moon. I don't remember the exact figures, but the diameter of the sun is much greater than that of the moon. We can see this with valid visual perception; it's been seen. However, Abhidharmakosha says that the diameter of the moon is fifty yojanas and that of the sun is fifty-one – only one yojana difference.
Now, let's leave aside the possibility that Mount Meru exists but just can't be seen (because it's invisible); we can directly see the size of the sun and the moon. We can see the sun and the moon and, if the sun and moon are visible, it can't be that we cannot see their sizes. We can see their orbs. We can feel their heat; we can see their orbits; and we can see their sizes. Since we can see them, then when we look at them, we can see there is a big difference.
So, when Abhidharmakosha says their diameters are fifty and fifty-one yojanas respectively, this has to be refuted as an interpretable level of meaning. To say that what we see in terms of mathematical calculations is not the case – that it's a deceptive appearance – and what Vasubhandu said in the Kosha about their being fifty and fifty-one yojanas is true, we couldn't possibly say that. That is the basic Buddhist attitude: when there is a scientific finding that has been proven, we must accept it.
When science doesn't find something, there are two possibilities: the not finding of something that doesn't exist and the case of even though something exists, it can't be found. They are different. For instance, about past and future lives and not being able to prove them scientifically, it is just that scientists cannot find them, but that doesn't prove that they don't exist. The Validity of the Kalachakra Presentation of the Universe and of the Body as Bases for Purification
Berzin: Both Kedrub Je and Kedrub Norzang Gyatso (mKhas-grub Nor-bzang rgya-mtsho) said in their Kalachakra commentaries that if the basis for purification (sbyang-gzhi) is not established as valid, it is difficult to establish the validity of a pathway mind that does the purifying. If that is the case, what is a skillful way to present to Westerners that the outer and inner bases for purification in Kalachakra are valid?
His Holiness: As for the outer environment as a basis to be purified, it doesn't have to especially be exactly as described in Kalachakra, but in general there is a basis to be purified. There is an external environment: that is external Kalachakra. There is internal situation: that is internal Kalachakra. It is very simple. They are bases to be purified.
His Holiness: There are four elements: earth, water, fire, and wind. There is no need that they be specifically like this or like that. As for Mount Meru, since there are sides and since there are directions in the galaxy, there must be a center- that's Mount Meru. It is not necessarily this shape or that size.
His Holiness: Yes, definitely explain it. There are these things, but no need to explain how many rocks are on top of Mount Meru, just as there is no need to explain or assert how many trees are in the world or how many mountains. In general, however, there is a world (Jambudvipa). Setting that as a basis for purification is sufficient.
For instance, for purifying our aggregates there is the purifying of the energy-channels, but there is no need for an exact count of these and those channels. Similarly, our aggregates are to be purified, but there is no need to explain, or assert, or know the number of atoms or molecules in them.
Thus, we may conclude that the specific count in Kalachakra of the energy channels, and so on, is an illustrative one. It allows us to work with them in parallel astrological, medical, and meditation systems with visualizations of a certain number of Buddha-figures with certain numbers of arms and so on. The actual count, however, is not just arbitrary. It has the authority of Buddha and scriptures. We need a middle way: neither the extreme of taking the scriptures totally literally as if they were dogma, nor the extreme of taking what they say as totally arbitrary and therefore having no respect for them or thinking there is no point to them.
For instance, we have twelve billion brain cells in our bodies. There is no necessity to have twelve billion paths that purify them. Thus, we use only the illustrative numbers chosen by Buddha, a valid authority, who had many other purposes in mind when giving them. For instance, the authoritative scriptural texts enumerate fifty-one mental factors ( sems-byung). These are not all of them, but an illustrative number chosen for specific purposes.
So, just think that the body has, in general, energy-channels, energy-winds, and constituent-source energy-drops, and that these three are to be purified. Likewise, there is the external environment, the four elements, the continents and subcontinents, and they too are to be purified.
Now, as for Mount Meru being round, what could that be? That is difficult to explain. However, the Milky Way does have a center around which it revolves. The Milky Way is one billion light years across, so it has a center. We could set that as Mount Meru and then the shape may be OK, since it bulges at the top and is round. Kalachakra and Tibetan Medicine
His Holiness: I don't know in detail. However, the certificates given for completing Tibetan medical studies mention The Meaning of the Profound Inner (Chapter) (Zab-mo nang-don) a sub-commentary by the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (Kar-ma-pa Rang-byung rdo-rje) on the second chapter of the commentary to The Kalachakra Condensed Tantra (bsDus-rgyud) by Pundarika, Stainless Light (Dri-med 'od, Skt. Vimalaprabha). Because of this mention, I wonder what the connection is between the study of medicine and the study of this commentary. I had hoped to see it. If its explanation of the energy-channels, winds, and drops is the same as in the complete stage of Kalachakra, then on the basis of this we would know there to be a connection with general Tibetan medicine in terms of those points. Otherwise, I don't know.
Now if you ask what specific points in Tibetan medicine derive from Kalachakra, there is the formula for making one of the precious pills ngulchu-tsodey (dngul-chu rtso-sde) out of mercury. This comes from The Kalachakra Condensed Tantra. There is some mention of it in The Hevajra Two-Chapter Tantra (rTags-gnyis), but much more explanation in Kalachakra. The making of ngulchu-tsodey pills comes from the practice of the fourteenth-century Nyingma mahasiddha Drubtob Ogyen Lingpa (Grub-thob O-rgyan gling-pa). He was a great practitioner of Kalachakra and had great realizations of it. There is that connection. But, as for more of a connection with general Tibetan medicine, I don't know.