Historic First Kalachakra Initiation by the 11th Panchen Lama
His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu recently bestowed the Kalachakra initiation at his New Palace near Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Xigaze (Shigatse), southwest of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. This is the first Kalachakra initiation to be held publicly in Tibet/China in the last 50 years and the historic first Kalachakra initiation presided over by the young Panchen Lama.
The initiation formally began on 21st July 2016 with 40 monks beginning a closed-door observance of the self-initiation of the Kalachakra deity on Thursday morning. The monks from Labrang Monastery in northwest China’s Gansu Province and Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, assisted in this ritual every morning throughout the four-day event.
Over 100,000 attended the initiation and teachings, which included over 5,000 monks and nuns and 100 incarnated lamas and teachers. Amongst the lamas in attendance were His Eminence the 20th Denma Gonsa Rinpoche, His Eminence Nyitrul Rinpoche, Venerable Lama Jampa Ngodrub Rinpoche also known as Lama Wangchuk, and many other eminent masters.
At the start of the initiation, the Tibetan pilgrims tossed silk khata scarves in the direction of the 11th Panchen Lama as an auspicious greeting. The khatas quickly piled up before the crowd. It had rained the night before and drizzled intermittently on the first day but the damp and the cold did not deter the throngs of pilgrims and monastics from attending the event. Just before the afternoon session began, monks in maroon robes carried huge kettles and offered hot tea to everyone, which offered a warm respite from the cold. The monks also distributed refreshments of barley biscuits to the crowd.
In his opening speech, the 11th Panchen Lama proclaimed the rainfall to be “an auspicious sign,” and recalled that it also rained during the previous Kalachakra initiation that was led by His Holiness the 10th Panchen Lama. He added that the 10th Panchen Lama at that time had explained that the rain indicated purification.
The organizers ensured the smooth flow of this grand event by offering various conveniences for the public, which included huge screens displaying the proceedings happening on stage so that even those seated far behind could follow the event closely, a dozen temporary water stations and portable washrooms. In addition, 50 doctors and nurses from local hospitals were assembled into 11 medical squads stationed in various strategic places to provide emergency aid if needed. These are just a reflection of the careful planning and tremendous effort put in by the organizers to ensure the historic and auspicious event went without a hitch.
The Kalachakra Tantras
The name Kalachakra literally means the ‘Wheel of Time’ in Sanskrit or Dukyi Khorlo in Tibetan. The Kalachakra Tantra is one of the most advanced Tantric systems within Tibetan Buddhism. It was one of the last great Tantras to be brought over from India to Tibet before the great Indian monasteries and centers of learning were sacked and destroyed by successive Northern invasions.
The Kalachakra Tantras are inextricably linked with the legend of the mystical land of Shambhala. Shambhala is a place on our earth that is described in the commentaries to be a hidden land ruled by enlightened kings. The king of Shambhala is both ruler and lama. The Kalachakra Tantra is the primary practice of the populace of this kingdom and the king is the one who bestows the initiations and commentaries of Kalachakra.
In fact, the Kalachakra Tantra states that it was Suchandra, an earlier King of Shambhala, who requested Buddha Shakyamuni to teach a method to practice the Dharma without renouncing worldly responsibilities. In response to his request, the Buddha taught the first teachings on Kalachakra in Dhanyakataka, which is near modern-day Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh, Southeastern India. Miraculously, the Buddha gave this teaching simultaneously with another teaching on Vulture’s Peak in the state of Bihar.
Apart from the king, ninety-six minor kings and emissaries from Shambhala who were amongst the retinue of the king also received the teachings. In this manner, the Kalachakra Tantra was first transmitted directly to Shambhala, where it was kept and practiced for hundreds of years. Successive kings of Shambhala, Manjushrikirti and Pundarika, were said to have composed the condensed Shri Kalachakra Laghutantra and its main commentary, the Vimalaprabha that is at the heart of the Kalachakra texts.
Within Tibet, the Kalachakra Tantra has many lineages but amongst them, there are two main lineages, the Dro and the Ra. The Ra lineage descends from the Kashmiri master Samantashri and the translator Ra Lotsawa Dorje Drak. This lineage eventually found a prominent place within the Sakya School, where great masters like Sakya Pandita, Drogon Chogyal Phagpa and so forth upheld and proliferated it.
On the other hand, the Dro lineage descends from the Kashmiri scholar Somanatha, who traveled to Tibet in 1027 AD and his translator Dro Lotsawa Sherab Drak, whose name became synonymous with this transmission of the Kalachakra Tantras. The Dro lineage eventually became an integral part of the Jonang lineage through its founder Yumo Mikyo Dorje and Kunpang Tukje Tsondru. Then, the Jonang scholar Taranatha left his mark on the lineage by developing this Tantra with his commentaries and teachings.
Today, the Kalachakra Tantra is disseminated within all schools of Tibetan Buddhism but is featured prominently within the Gelug lineage. Lama Tsongkhapa is said to have received and engaged in the Kalachakra practice while examining all the points of this Tantra. He received auspicious signs and Kalachakra appeared to him in a pure vision, placed his hands on Lama Tsongkhapa’s head and proclaimed, “Concerning the Kalachakra Tantra, you have appeared like King Suchandra himself.”
A close disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa and the posthumously recognized 1st Panchen Lama, Khedrup Je composed an important commentary of the Kalachakra Tantra.
Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, the 11th Panchen Lama
Within the Tibetan spiritual and political sphere, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama are the two highest-ranking lamas. This tradition began since the time of the 4th Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyeltsen, who discovered and enthroned the Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso in the 17th Century.
The Fifth Dalai Lama went on to unify the country and was enthroned as the temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet. In gratitude to his spiritual master, the Dalai Lama bestowed the title ‘Panchen Lama’ on his own teacher, while posthumously recognizing the three previous Panchen Lamas. The Dalai Lama also established Tashi Lhunpo Monastery as his teacher’s monastic seat.
As a young boy, Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu was officially recognized and installed as the 11th Panchen Lama on Nov. 29, 1995 after a lot-drawing ceremony from the sacred golden urn in strict compliance with religious rituals and conventions. His given name is Gyaincain Norbu.
Gyaincain Norbu was born on February 13, 1990 at Lhari County in northern Tibet. His father and mother both had primary school education. The name ‘Gyaincain Norbu’ which means ‘jewelled victory banner’ was given by his maternal grandfather. Many auspicious signs were observed surrounding the birth of Gyaincain Norbu. For instance, the boy’s caretaker discovered a white holy Tibetan letter ‘AH’ on his tongue, which signified that the boy was a high incarnation.
Meanwhile, the official search for the reincarnation of His Holiness the 10th Panchen Lama began in June 1989. Based on the observations at the sacred lake, divinations and the identifying objects left behind by the late 10th Panchen Lama as well as a comprehensive observation of his countenance and other auspicious signs, three most brilliant candidates were eventually shortlisted.
Thereafter, the method of drawing lots from the golden urn was performed before the sacred statue of Jowo Rinpoche in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa and Gyaincain Norbu was confirmed as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Erdeni. His religious name is Jizun Losang Qamba Lhunzhub Qoigyijabu Baisangbu. Through the instructions of several tutors and his own diligence since his confirmation, enthronement and ordination, the young Tulku had mastered most of the Sutras and Tantras by the age of 15.
He has since grown up to become the religious leader that he is today. He is currently serving as the Vice President of the Buddhist Association of China and recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his enthronement at his monastic seat of Tashi Lhunpo.
The Significance of this Kalachakra Initiation
The Kalachakra initiation is filled with complicated rituals, visualizations and recitations. But although relatively young, His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama was able to bestow the initiation for the first time in a calm, familiar and confident manner, just as he had done in previous lives. Apart from highlighting the strong connection between the Kalachakra Tantras and the line of Panchen Lamas, this is also indicative of the fact that he was groomed and taught very well by his teachers, especially his root teacher Jamyang Gyatso.
In fact, the Panchen Lama has a special chapel in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery dedicated to the practice, mastery and proliferation of the Kalachakra Tantra. All his previous lives practiced and proliferated this Tantra as well. So, the Kalachakra initiation is not something new for the Panchen Lama but a continuation of the practice from previous lives. In fact, the Kalachakra Tantra is a specialty of his incarnation line.
Moreover, the Panchen Lama is known to be the emanation of Buddha Amitabha and also the emanation of the king of Shambhala. Hence, there is a special significance for the Panchen Lama to be giving this initiation given the connection between the Kalachakra Tantras and the land of Shambhala.
In actuality, any lama or practitioner can receive the Kalachakra initiation, engage in the necessary requirements and bestow the initiation upon others. In order to give the initiation, one must first have received the initiation from a qualified Lama holding the Kalachakra lineage and then practice Kalachakra single-pointedly and engage in the fire puja upon completion of the required retreats. If requested, they may then give this initiation to others just like the Panchen Lama. Therefore, one does not need to be the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama or any High Lama sitting on a throne to be giving this initiation. Any practitioner who has completed the requirements may give this initiation.
Therefore, contrary to the claims of some who say that this Kalachakra initiation is invalid because the Panchen Lama is not the rightful incarnation, it does not matter if the Panchen Lama is the ‘real’ or ‘fake’ one. As long as this young lama has done the practice according to the ancient rites and rituals as laid down in the texts, then the initiation is real and an initiation transmission was bestowed on the initiates. Therefore, it is illogical to claim that the initiation is not authentic and anyone who tries to do so is displaying a deep ignorance of the tantric teachings (specifically the Kalachakra Tantra) and how it is transmitted.
According to news reports, the initiation was state sponsored by the Chinese government and as such, the monks and the organizing committee had the resources to ensure the event was well-planned and successfully executed. Interestingly, the Chinese government is encouraging religious freedom by allowing and sponsoring an event of this nature. In fact, His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama welcomed everyone to be a part of the Kalachakra initiation and there were no restrictions as to who could attend the teachings. This is a far cry from the teachings and initiations held in Dharamsala, India where Dorje Shugden practitioners are barred from participating by the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership. This is enough to make one re-examine who truly has religious freedom and who is truly guilty of religious persecution.
With over 100,000 people in attendance, it shows that the influence of the young Panchen Lama is growing and will continue to grow even more. This in turn means that many Tibetans will become his disciples and therefore, the claim that he is a fake Panchen Lama will have less and less of a foothold. No self-respecting Tibetan would tolerate having their lama slandered with claims that he is false and a ‘fake’.
The ascending stature of the Panchen Lama will no doubt scare his detractors in Dharamsala because his spiritual clout will only grow bigger especially if he bestows the Kalachakra initiation on a regular basis. His influence over the Tibetans will eventually eclipse theirs because he is young, energetic and has the Chinese government as his powerful ally and patron. In fact, the 11th Panchen Lama is slowly but surely blossoming and reaching out to many more people and his detractors will have less and less of a basis to criticize him.
According to Tibetan Buddhist beliefs, if the wrong person is enthroned as a lama, the merits of the lama’s incarnation line would be detrimental to the pretender. Therefore, a false lama’s works and teachings will not grow and the lama himself will have a short life. However, as the current Panchen Lama is growing from strength to strength, this proves that he is indeed the unmistaken incarnation.
In fact, the success of this Panchen Lama goes to show that the Chinese government is able to groom a high Lama to be highly beneficial, and this is not the first time they have done so as we can see in the case of the 10th Panchen Lama. In the 1950s, the Dalai Lama had recognized his preferred candidate as the reincarnation of the 9th Panchen Lama, while the Chinese Kuomintang government enthroned their own candidate, Lobsang Trinley Lhundrub Chokyi Gyaltsen. The Chinese candidate eventually became much more famous and influential, thus forcing the Dalai Lama to recognize him as the rightful Panchen Lama and relegate his original candidate to be Panchen Otrul Rinpoche, which signifies that he is an emanation of the Panchen Lama but NOT the main incarnation.
It also logically follows that if the Panchen Lama’s influence is on the rise, this would also have a positive impact on the acceptance of Dorje Shugden’s practice. Historically, one of the main Protectors of the Panchen Lamas is Dorje Shugden and he is also the Protector of Tashi Lhunpo, the monastic seat of the Panchen Lamas. In fact, there is a huge chapel at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery dedicated to the practice of Dorje Shugden. Therefore, the acceptance and popularity of Dorje Shugden’s practice will most certainly rise in line with the Panchen Lama’s fame and influence.
By tradition, most Maha Anuttarayoga Tantra class initiations like Heruka Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja and so forth would never be given to the masses. This is because they are supposed to be given only to a select few, highly qualified disciples who have guru devotion, are able to hold vows and commitments, have completed the preliminary practices and whose minds are stabilized by the Three Principle Aspects of the Path. Hence, teachers would closely check and screen their students before giving any higher Tantric empowerments and in the end, only a handful of disciples usually qualify to receive the initiation. Thus, the giving or not giving of an initiation is done out of compassion, so that qualified disciples are able to reap the full benefit of these powerful practices and so that unqualified disciples will not have to suffer the consequences for not being able to maintain the commitments.
However, the Kalachakra Tantra is an exception because the initiation can be given to the masses and has various benefits according to the level of the practitioner. For the highest practitioner, he or she will achieve Enlightenment through this practice; for the middling practitioner, he or she will continue to practice the Dharma in this and future lives; and for the lowest practitioner, he or she will be able to take rebirth in Shambhala through sincere practice although they may not achieve high attainments. Lastly, those who attend the initiation but do not practice will have the powerful blessings of Kalachakra planted in their mindstreams so that in the future, they too may be able to take rebirth in Shambhala as well.
The mystical kingdom of Shambhala is geographically located on our earth. As such, we have a stronger connection to this place and it is easier for us to take rebirth there compared to other pure lands. Therefore, when the Kalachakra initiation is given to the masses, the imprints and blessings of Kalachakra are planted in the minds of the masses and the causes are created for them to eventually take rebirth in Shambhala.
That is the main reason why this particular initiation is given on a massive scale by the Panchen Lama who is the emanation of the Shambhala kings, whose sole purpose is to liberate as many beings as possible. No matter how exotic and elaborate the rituals, the Kalachakra initiation and practice embodies the spirit of Mahayana Buddhism – liberation of others and oneself. And the Kalachakra initiation given by His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama is definitely an event to rejoice at, and can be seen as a powerful indication of the Dharma growing and spreading from China to beyond.
Video: His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama Gives Kalachakra Initiation
Or view the video on the server at:
More Pictures of the Event
For more interesting information:
- Panchen Lama’s Dorje Shugden Puja text
- Panchen Lama sungbum
- The Dalai Lama & Panchen Lama in India in 1956
- Nechung – The Retiring Devil of Tibet
- H.H. Gaden Trisur Lungrik Namgyal’s 90th Birthday Celebration
- My recollection of H.E. Guru Deva Rinpoche 忆念尊贵的古鲁迪瓦仁波切
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