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Transmission of the Kalachakra from Shambhala to Tibet

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 Alexander Csoma de Körös reported the bare bones story of the introduction of the Kalachakra into India in his seminal "Note on the Origins of the Kála-Chakra and Adi-Buddha Systems" prepared for the 1833 Bulletin of Asiatic Society of Bengal, and scholars right up to the present day have continued to make emendations and elucidate additional scenarios. Most versions center about four major characters: Tsilupa (a.k.a., Chilupa, Tsi lu, Tsilu, Cilu, Cheluka, etc.), Kalachachrapda the Elder, Kalachakrada the Younger, and Pindo Acarya. Dispute have arisen about the identity of each of these men and what role they played in the introduction of the Kalachakra and the attendant Legend of Shambhala into India. I will present here only the most well-known versions of the story, while reinterating that there are numerous variants.

According to the simplest and perhaps most popular scenario Tsilupa and Kalachakrapada the Elder were actually the same person, a so-called "mahasiddha," or holy man, who hailed from Cuttack in what is now the state of Orissa. Tsilupa did apparently make a journey of some sort to the north of India, regardless of how events on his journey later became mythologized. The journey, however, takes on different connotations according to which version of the Legend which we accept. A strictly historical approach would maintain that Tsilupa actually traveled by conventional means to a country which then actually existed in the material realm, but to which legend has given the name of Shambhala, and there met with teachers or adepts who taught him the Kalachakra and presented him with actual texts which he then brought back to India. Thus his journey would have been similar to the famous and well documented journey of the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang (c.600-664) who in the seventh century traveled extensively throughout Central Asia and India before returning to China laden with Buddhist texts he had acquired along the way. This approach has its adherents, as we shall see.

Whatever the nature of his journey, almost all sources assert that Tsipula arrived back in India in 966 or 967 a.d. What happened then is less clear. upon his return to India-this still acccording to the simplest version of events-turned up at Nalanda monastery, where he drew the Kalachakra symbol for the so-called "ten guardians of the world" over the entrance gate. This "mantric cosmogram," we are told, "consists of different colored letters woven together," and symbolizes "the entire universe as conceived by the Kalachakra." Below the drawing he inscribed six main tenets of the Kalachakra teachings. The abbot of Nalanda, a man named Nadapada (Csoma's Narotapa), along with 500 resident pandits debated with Tsilupa but eventually "fell at his feet" and accepting his teachings. Nadapada has been identified by most commentators as Kalachakrapada the Younger, but he perhaps now best known by his Tibetan name, Naropa. He became, as we shall see, one of the chief promulgators of the Kalachakra doctrine.

This simple, straight forward story of the transmission of the Kalachakra doctrine and attendant Legend of Shambhala has been superceded by various other renderings of increasing detail and complexity. The most prevalent of these alternative versions have become known as the Rva Tradition and the Dro Tradition.

The Rva tradition also credits the pandit Tsilupa with bringing the Kalachakra doctrine from Shambhala to India. Tsilupa had studied at many of the major centers of Buddhist learning including Ratnagiri (northeast of current-day Cuttack in Orissa), Vikramasila, and Nalanda. He soon realized that none of these teachings could help him achieve buddhahood in this lifetime. He then heard that in Shambhala more advanced teachings were available which would allow him to quickly attain enlightenment. Some sources hint that he actually examined some Kalachakra texts while still in India and thus purposely set out on his journey to Shambhala to obtain more texts and initiation into these teachings. This then would mean that the Kalachakra in some form already existed in India. Little more is said on this subject, however, and the Kalachakra as it was expounded first at Nalanda in India and later in Tibet is said to be based solely on the texts which Tsilupa supposedly brought back from Shambhala. In any case, Tsilupa set out for Shambhala in the company of a group of traders. They soon went their separate ways, however, and Tsilupa continued on alone.

Even within the Rva Tradition there are several variants of what happened next, but the most common one asserts that Tsipula was climbing up toward a pass when a man approached and asked him where he was going. "I am going to Shambhala in search of the Bodhisattva Corpus," Tsilupa replied. The man informed him that it was very difficult to get to Shambhala, and in any case the journey was not necessary, since he could tell Tsilupa everything he wanted to know. The man, it turns out, was a emanation of the bodhisattva Manjushri (it will be recalled that King Yashas of Shambhala, the First Kalkin, was also an emanation of Manjushri). Tsilupa prostrated himself before this man and asked for instruction in the Kalachakra and other teachings. The man placed a flower on Tsilupa's head and commanded, "Realize the entire Bodhisattva Corpus!" At this moment the entire teachings were transmitted into his mind. Tsilupa, his mission accomplished, then turned to India without ever actually going to Shambhala. A variant of this story suggests that Tsilupa actually did get to Shambhala, where a emanation of Avalokiteshvara (King Yasha's son Pundarika was considered an emanation of Avalokiteshvara) blessed him with the ability to memorize a thousand verses a day. He thus memorized the various Kalachakra texts and returned to India.

According to the Rva schema Tsilupa, after his return from Shambhala, came to reside in Cuttack in Orissa, then the capital of the King of Kataka. Here he acquired three disciples who asked him to write down the teachings he had learned on the way to Shambhala or while there. The most advanced of Tsilupa's disciples was a man named Pindo Acharya. Unfortunately, at least four different men named Pindo Acharya have cropped up in various versions of the Legend. To avoid getting sidetracked by this contentious issue let's just say that according to the Rva Tradition Tsilupa's student Pindo Acharyas passed on the Kalachakra teachings to his disciple, a man from Virenda in northern Bengal who became known as Kalachackrapada the Elder. Thus according to the Rva Tradition Tsilupa and Kalachackrapada the Elder were not one and the same man, as the simplest version of the Legend maintains. A variant of the Rva tradition suggests that Kalachackrapada the Elder, acting under the directions of his tutelary deity Tara, himself went to Shambhala for further instruction in the Kalachakra. After returning to India, perhaps with texts he had acquired in Shambhala, he acquired four disciples, one of whom eventually became known as Kalachackrapada the Younger. According to some commentators, this Kalachackrapada the Younger was in fact Nadapada, that is to say, the aforementioned Naropa. Thus is was Naropa, identified here as Kalachakrapada the Younger, and not Tsilupa, who appeared at Nalanda and drew the mantra above the door of the monastery and below it wrote the short thesis about the Kalachakra. He then debated with the monks of Nalanda and after winning them over instructed them in the Kalachakra teachings. One of his main converts was Manjukirti, from whom the Rva Traditions traces its lineage.

What became known as the Dro Tradition dispenses with Tsilupa altogether. Instead it begins with Shripala, the 17th Khalkin King of Shambhala. Immediately we are faced with a chronological problem, since it is generally accepted that the Kalachakra was introduced into India in 966-67 or, in the context of the Legend of Shambhala, during the reign of the twelth Khalkin King, Surya, when Islam was rapidly advancing through Central Asia. This was hundreds of years after the reign of Shripala. Shambhalists have explained away this discrepancy by maintaining that Shripala is simply another name for Pindo Acharya, apparently the same Pindo Acharya who popped up in the Rva Tradition account.

That may be the case, but the tale of Shripala, although legendary in nature, does contain a curious detail which might pertain to the actual physical location of Shambhala. According to the Dro Tradition a young man, the son of two yoga practioners, heard that boddhisattvas themselves were teaching the Dharma somewhere to the north of India in the country of Shambhala. Eager to learn the Dharma he set out on a journey to find these teachers. Beyond India but before reaching Shambhala, we are told, he encountered a vast desert which would have taken four months to cross.

One may speculate here that the desert in question is the Taklamakan Desert of western China. As noted earlier, the Uighur kingdom of Khocho, located at the northern edge of the Taklamakan, has often been posited as the "historical" Shambhala. To reach Khocho from the southern edge of the Taklamakan would indeed have taken four or more months, depending on what route the traveler took. Is it possible that a geographical factoid somehow became embedded in this mythologized account of King Shripala?

In any case King Shripala, using his pyschic powers, soon learned of the young man's approach and ascertained that his motives were pure. Afraid that the young man would perish trying to reach Shambhala, King Shripala sent his emanation body to meet him at the southern edge of the desert. King Shripala, in his emanation body, told the young man it was not necessary to go to Shambhala to obtain the teachings he desired and that he, King Shripala, could tell him all he needed to know right there.

For four months the young man studied under Shripala and eventually returned to India with the Kalachakra doctrine and other teachings in hand. He then became known as Kalachakrapada the Elder. If we accept the identification of Shripala as Pindo Acharyas, then of course it would have been from Pindo Acharyas that Kalacakrapada the Elder learned the Kalachakra. Kalacakrapada the Elder in turn passed on the Kalachakra doctrine to Kalacakrapada the Younger, who as in the Rva Tradition is usually identified with Napendrapa, i.e., Naropa.

Unlike in the Rva Tradition, however, Naropa is said not to have appeared at Nalanda and debated with the monks there. Instead a Kashmiri pandit named Somanatha came to the monastery of Vikramashila, in Magadha, where both the Kalachakrapas were staying, and learned the Kalachakra doctrine from them. The Dro lineage, then, was passed down from Naropa down to Somanatha, just as the Rva lineage was passed from Naropa to Manjukirti. "Thus the lineage of Naropa is probably the only Kalachakra tradition that has come down to us today in an unbroken transmission," notes one prominent Shambhalist.

There are other versions of the transmission of the Kalachakra teachings from Shambhala to India, but we'll stop here, not only because, as another commentator has pointed out, "Any given story of the introduction of the Kalachakra into India can be contradicted by another, equally venerable story," but also because with the introduction of Naropa into the scenario we can leave the quagmire of myth and proceed on firmer historical ground.

A perhaps more important disciple of Naropa's was the above mentioned Kashmiri pandit Somanatha. According to one story he was invited to Tibet by a wealthy patron of religion named Ye-shes-mchog who promised him one hundred ounces of gold in exchange for the teachings. Somanatha began work on translating into Tibetan the second Kalkin King of Shambhala Pundarika's Great Commentary: A Stainless Light (Vimalaprabha), but when his sponsor failed to pay the gold as promised he moved to the north of Lhasa and began working with a translator known as Dro Lotsawa (also known as Shay-rap-drak, or the Translator of Dro ) Together they finished the translation of the Great Commentary and worked on other key Kalachakra texts. According to one account Ye-shes-mchog was furious that Somanatha had deserted him for Dro Lotsawa and in retaliation attacked the latter by means visions conjured up by black magic. We are told, however, "that one hundred terrible gods could not frighten the pupil of Somanatha, nor could a hundred graciously smiling maidens turn his thoughts to love." The Kalachakra lineage they passed on because known as the aforementioned Dro Tradition, after the translator Dro Lotsawa.

A third student of Naropa's was Manjukirti, who in turn had a disciple named Samantashri. The Tibetan translator known as Rva Chorab sought out Samantashri at Patan, near Kathmandu, in Nepal, (according to some accounts, in Kashmir) and together they spent five or six years studying the Kalachakra. Eventually Rva Chos rab offered Samantashri 300 ounces of gold if he would return with him to Tibet and expound the teachings there. Their lineage of teachings became known as the Rva Tradition. Thus the Dro and Rva traditions were, as Shambhalist Glenn Mullin asserts, "the most important lineages of transmission in the early spread of the Kalachakra in Tibet.

Yet another of Naropa's students was Atisha, who achieved prominence at the monastery of Vikramashila, in Magadha. Like Somanatha and Samantashri, Atisha was offered gold to travel to Tibet and spread the Dharma (he donated his take to Buddhist institutions in India). He left Vikramashila in 1040, the following year arrived in Nepal, and was in Tholing in Western Tibet by 1042. It is Atisha we are told, "who was to establish the Buddhist religion in Tibet once and for all . . ." [Hoffman, 1961 #47, p.119], and his fundamental text Lamp for the Way of Enlightenment is still read today. Although not concerned primarily with the Kalachakra doctrine, nor did he write about it, he apparently taught the doctrine to his students, and he made various revisions on the Kalachakra calender. His chief disciple Lama Drom Tonpa "is regarded as being an early predecessor in the string of reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas." [Mullin, 1991 #43, p.45] He died in at the age of seventy-three, in 1054, after spending thirteen years in Tibet.

The eleventh to thirteen centuries witnessed the florescence of Buddhism in Tibet. Within this ferment most the various traditions of the Kalachakra continued to be practised. The Rva Tradition became especially important in the Sakya school, which was derived from the teachings of the Indian yogi Virupa. One of the main expounders of the Kalachakra within Sakya school was Kunga Gyalten, better known now as the Sakya Pandit (1182-1251). When Tibet was threatened with invasion by the Chingisid Mongols in the early thirteenth century Sakya Pandit travelled to their court and attempted to appease the Mongol rulers. His nephew Pak-ba remained in the Mongol entourage after the death of Sakya Pandit and eventually gained the ear of Kublai Khan, Chingis Khan's grandson and founder of the Yüan Dynasty. Kublai was so impressed by Pak-ba and Tibetan Buddhism in general that he finally granted the Sakya school virtual control of Tibet, and Sakya lamas came to came as spiritual advisors to both him and the succeeding Mongol khans. The Kalachakra was first introduced to the Mongols at this time, although like Buddhism in general, its influence may have been limited to the royal court (among whom its misinterpretation might well have had a deletorious effect). With the fall of the Yüan Dynasty in 1368 interest in Buddhism dwindled among the Mongols who retreated to their homeland in Mongolia, but it would be revived again in the sixteenth century and from then on, as we shall see, the Kalachakra and the Legend of Shambhala became increasing widespread among Mongolian Buddhists.

One of the leading Sakyas in Tibet was Dol-ba-ba Shay-rap-gyel-tsen (1291-1361), who along with his near-contemporary Buton (1290-1364) followed both the Rva and Dro traditons. These two men became, as one Tibetan historian noted, "the two great expounders of the Kalachakra in the Land of Snows." Bu-ston wrote extensively on the Kalachakra, including such works as the Easily Understandable Annotations For the Condensed Glorious Kalachakra Tantra, the Great King of Tantras Arisen from the Supreme Original Buddha, and the Annotations to "Stainless Light", and is famous for his attempts to fuse the various traditions into a coherent whole. He also wrote a history of Buddhism in India and Tibet and edited the massive Tangyur and Kangyur collections which comprize the Tibetan Buddhist canon.

It was Buton's disciple Cho gyi bel who taught the Kalachakra to Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Gelukpa school, and thus it is Buton's two-fold lineage which been passed down through this sect to the present day. Other traditions did continue, for example in the Nyingma and Sakya schools, but the Kalachakra found perhaps its greatest expression in the Gelupka school, whose successive Panchen lamas and Dalai lamas became the most famous expounders of the Kalachakra, and both of whom play leading parts in the Legend of Shambhala. Therefore we will concentrate on the Gelupka version of the Legend.