My Pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya to Attend the Kalachakra Teachings
The most recent Kalachakra Initiation was the 34th Kalachakra Initiation by His Holiness the Great Fourteenth Dalai Lama, held for the fifth time in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, and organised by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) for the first time. It was held from January 2-14 2017 for 13 days. Kalachakra is a Sanskrit term meaning wheel of time (Dhus-Khor-Wang-Chen in Tibetan). It is one of the most important Buddhist tantric teachings and is usually given to a large number of devotees.
More than 200,000 Buddhists from 90 odd countries converged on the sacred pilgrimage site to receive the teachings. Like all Buddhists, I always wished to receive the teachings and was fortunate to be able to attend from London. My journey to Bodh Gaya started on New Year’s Eve with a 9 hour flight to Delhi and then a 10 hour train journey to Bodh Gaya. In between, I and many other pilgrims had to face 7 hours of train delays due to the foggy weather conditions. Sometimes the train would stop at a station for hours and nobody would know when it would start again, just like in England!
Because of this, I had missed the very first day of Kalachakra empowerment when I reached Bodh Gaya on 3 January. After the procedures for taking care of disciples on the very first day were completed, His Holiness had suggested going on pilgrimage to the nearby Rajgir, Nalanda and Mahakala caves the following two days, while He performed the preparatory rites for the Kalachakra empowerment.
Kalachakra is a Sanskrit term meaning wheel of time... It is one of the most important Buddhist tantric teachings...
An intrinsic element of any Kalachakra Initiation is the creation of the sand mandala (pictured above). The process begins with the rituals to obtain land and permission to use it and ward off any potential obstacles, basically to cleanse the land upon which the sand mandala is to be constructed and from where the empowerment is bestowed.
I saw devotees totally engaged in the pursuit of earning merit in and around the Mahabodhi Temple, which housed the sacred Buddha statue, monks reciting prayers from sacred texts, lay people circumambulating the main temple along with family members of all ages. The more devout ones prostrated full length; some on the floor while others on the wooden planks in the designated area. Everyone was on a mission. I was like a small drop in this sea of humanity.
The preliminary teaching to the Kalachakra Empowerment began from 5 January. His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave teachings from Shantideva’s “Guide to Boddhisattava’s Way of Life” and the middle volume of Kamalashila’s ‘’Stages of Meditation”, and then we were reminded to take control of the real and the most damaging enemies - the disturbing emotions within us, by understanding Emptiness. He often urged the devotees to live an ethical and altruistic life full of compassion towards all sentient beings. There, on the Kalachakra ground you get to feel this is Shambhala!
Everyone was on a mission. I was like a small drop in this sea of humanity.
The day after these preliminary teachings and when the construction of the sand mandala was completed, the monks of Namgyal Monastery performed spiritual dances, depicting themselves as goddesses, making offerings of concentration to the assembly of deities of the Kalachakra mandala. The artists of Dharamsala’s Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, and laypeople also performed dances and songs, celebrating the start of the Kalachakra empowerment.
Before the actual empowerment was given, the devotees had to prepare themselves to receive it by taking some vows. This was then followed by the main Kalachakra empowerment, which began from 11 January.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama remarked that the huge gathering of devotees at the sacred place of Bodh Gaya for receiving this teaching was a fortunate moment for all, and could be positive and effective if they had the right motivation. He further dispelled the prevailing notion that receiving the main Kalachakra empowerment was more important than the preliminary teachings. He urged them to strive to become 21st century Buddhists – understanding the Buddhist philosophy through study and reason, rather than follow Buddhism purely as a faith.
He underlined the importance of the devotees going back to their respective homes a better person, as a result of having received the preliminary teachings and the empowerment. He also assured everyone that He would live until at least 100 years of age during the life-long offering to Him on the last day. The closing ceremony was also attended by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
One of the highlights of the 34th Kalachakra was the use of modern technology to live stream the entire teachings, courtesy the offices of Gadhen Phodrang (Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama) and Department of Information and International Relations. It is reported that the viewership of Facebook livestream crossed 1 million: with translations available in 8 major languages.
The Organizing Committee, headed by the Kalon (Minister) for Department of Religion & Culture had done a commendable job, making it the most successful Kalachakra to date. The District and State administration’s utmost assistance and cooperation during the entire duration of the Kalachakra also deserves credit for this.
However, the saddest part of the Kalachakra was when more than 7000 Tibetans from Tibet were forced against their will to return to Tibet by an order issued by the Chinese government, or face severe consequences. This clearly shows China’s utter disregard for the feelings and emotions of Tibetans. It was heart-wrenching to hear and see them leave with heavy hearts and tears. Religious freedom in Tibet remains just a mirage.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama assured us all that He would consider their presence in spirit at the holy teaching ground throughout the Kalachakra teachings, thereby ensuring that they too obtain the empowerment, like those physically present.
It was heart-wrenching to hear and see them leave with heavy hearts and tears. Religious freedom in Tibet remains just a mirage.
Before leaving Bodh Gaya, I prostrated in front of the Buddha statue at the Mahabodhi temple for one last time and wished for the day when His Holiness, the Great 14th Dalai Lama, gives Kalachakra teachings in a free Tibet from the grounds of the Potala Palace and may peace prevail on this earth.
About the author: Namgyal is Free Tibet’s Finance Officer. Born in south India, Namgyal has been living in the UK since 2014. Previously, Namgyal worked for the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala and the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi.