Embodying the Kalachakra

Marveling at how the ultimate is described as expressions, and thinking about how to relate this ongoing theme to Kālachakra practice, I happened upon a short piece by the late Lama Ngawang Kalden from Dzamthang that strikes at the heart of this matter.

In a compilation of his writings and talks, there is a short text within his Cycle of Instructions for Visualizing the Profound that has a passage on how the ultimate manifests as contemplative experience through the vajrayana process of embodying the Kālachakra deity.

Here in this passage, Lama Kalden gives us an extremely concise condensation of the vajrayoga path from the preliminary practices or “ngöndro” (sngon ‘gro) according to the Jonang Kālachakra practice tradition up to the “ngözhi” (dngos gzhi) or primary practices.[1] Then, in the context of describing the subtle and coarse obscurations that are relevant during the completion stage process, he writes,

From the Śrī Kālachakra-tantra it reads,

“ … the embodiment of emptiness and compassion …. ”

This is the body, voice, and mind of majestic Kālachakra imbued with every facet of the sublime ― the expressions of emptiness that are enlightened essence, the actuality of phenomena, the ground expanse that does not reside blemished due to adventitious defilements of the relative.

Likewise, this is the domain of one’s own spiritual family. This embodiment has not been joined nor separated from oneself from original time.

Since this is the nature of the indivisibility of ground and fruition, and the coalescence of space and awareness, this is what there is to be recognized![2]

This short excerpt is full of tantric innuendos, and it deserves commentary from an exemplar of the Jonang Kālachakra tradition. However, there is one phrase that Lama Kalden uses here that I would like to draw attention towards because of its relevance to earlier posts.[3] This is the phrase in Tibetan, “rnam kun mchog ldan.” We find this phrase throughout the Kālachakra literature, and I translated it here as “imbued with every facet of the sublime.” To do a more literal riff, the phrase could be rendered as, “endowed with all good things.”

What makes this phrase so interesting is that its a synonym for emptiness; a Kālachakra code for the ultimate nature of emptiness. This suggests that emptiness is less empty and more full than the English word “emptiness” may imply. That is, emptiness is non-nihilistic ― zhentong. The question then is how do we account for “every facet of the sublime” or “all good things” as characterizing emptiness? What then is in emptiness?

Again, we are referring to fullness here, but also to the capacity for manifesting fullness. As we find in the quote above, the Jonang Kālachakra practice tradition understands this capacity as the infinite qualities that swell forth from buddhahood, the very expressions of emptiness that cannot be restrained by ordinary being.


1. These consist of both the “common preliminaries” (thun mong gi sngon ‘gro) and the “uncommon preliminaries” (thun mong ma yin pa’i sngon ‘gro). See the post, Kālachakra Practice I.

2. Ngag dbang skal ldan rgya mtsho. Zab mo dmigs khrid kyi skor, 30. In Rje btsun ngag dbang skal ldan rgya mtsho’i ljags rtsom gces bsdus nor bu’i phreng ba, Chengdu.

3. See the posts, Expressions of Emptiness, Dolpopa’s Experience, and Expressions of the Essence.

Blog Category: Research Articles


  1. suzanne on November 15, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    the “embodiment of emptiness and compassion”
    Michael, can you cite the source for this quote? Where is it in the Kalachakratantra?

    This is not necessarily for posting; I would just like to know – for one thing, because I might post it in IKN.

    Also, I think you blog is going to be a lifesaver for me. I’ve been very addicted to certain political forums and it occurs to me that I can now wean myself through your blog. (Will try not to bug you too much, though!)


    • Michael R. Sheehy on November 16, 2008 at 4:32 pm

      Hi Suzanne:

      Not sure where exactly that line is in the tantra. Its a quote from within a quote, so its not easy to say where he’s quoting from.

      Please do keep active on the blog. The more interest there is, the more we will post & be able to generate a conversation.