Ornament of Stainless Light
A new series of Buddhist translations is being published by Wisdom Publications under the title of Library of Tibetan Classics. The first published work of this new series, initiated and coordinated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa, himself a renowned translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is Ornament of Stainless Light by Khedrup Norsang Gyatso (d. 1613), a commentary on the Kalachakra root text, the Vimalaprabha. His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself selected this text for inclusion in the Library of Tibetan Classics series.
Gavin Kilty’s translation of this commentary on the Vimalaprabha is scholarly and practical, his lucid introduction demonstrating his excellent grasp of the subject matter. Gavin consulted Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoche, Jhado Rinpoche (Abbot of Namgyal Monastery), and Edward Henning, a Western expert on the Kalacakra calendar and cosmology. This commentary gives ready access to the Vimalaprabha, itself a commentary on the abbreviated tantra. So through this one book we can learn all the important points of the Kalachakratantra.
In Kalacakra Sadhana and Social Responsibility, David Reigle shows how the Kalachakratantra has performed an influential role at critical moments in the spiritual evolution of the world. The first moment was the initial revelation, when Buddha gave the tantra to Suchandra, King of Shambhala. After 600 years, Manjushri Yashas (a later king of Shambhala) initiated the Brahmin sages into the Kalachakra mandala, to sustain the spiritual integrity of Shambhala when non-Indic forces threatened it. Later, the Kalachakra surfaced in India in the early eleventh century, appropriately being lifted to Tibet just before the suppression of Indian Buddhism. Thus, this most scientific of Buddhist systems underlay the entire Tibetan Buddhist culture of the second millennium C.E.
Today, one thousand years later, at a new turning point in the spiritual history of the world, Kalachakra wisdom re-emerges as a power for good. The Buddhist Middle Way view of reality lights a way beyond post-structuralist thought and post-modern culture. The Kalachakratantra understanding that empty particles underpin all matter, and that karmic winds are the medium of connectivity between the individual and the cosmos, supplements contemporary knowledge both of particle physics and of the origins of the universe. The socially inclusive, anti-elitist social philosophy of the Vimalaprabha offers a spiritual framework for contemporary multi-culturalism and urban internationalisation.
Stimulated by the frequency of Kalachakra initiations by masters such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoche, the Kalachakra is enjoying a worldwide revival. Kalachakra practice groups are forming in several countries, linked by the International Kalacakra Network (IKN), which provides information, email groups and materials in many languages to initiates. New translations of Vimalaprabha from Sanskrit, such as those by Vesna Wallace and Sofia Stril Rever, root contemporary Kalachakra studies in original sources. The IKN has recently commissioned Gavin to continue his work on Kalachakra by translating the long sadhana, and a commentary on the generation process, to support an oral commentary by Jhado Rinpoche, planned for 2005 in Europe. The IKN network of practice groups, translators and teachers is thus developing a Kalachakra mandala for the twenty-first century [see www.kalachakranet.org]. Gavin’s translation of Ornament of Stainless Light has an immediate style that will appeal to this audience.
In the first two of the five parts of Norsang Gyatso’s book (“The External World” and “The Inner World of Sentient Beings”) we engage with history, science, and philosophy – the nature and origins of the universe, the place of sentient beings in it, the processes of the individual, and the common basis of person and cosmos.
For example, relate this passage on the formation of the universe, to the latest scientific understanding:
“During this time of emptiness the subtle particles of these five elements exist as isolated fragments and are not in any conventional sense objects of the sensory powers of the eye and so forth. They are known as empty particles and remain isolated in empty space. When the potential of the collective karma of sentient beings is ripened, the subtle air particles come together to form air whose nature is light and moving.”
Descriptions of Kalachakra practices for personal transformation appear in the latter three parts (“Initiations,” “Sadhana: Methods of Accomplishment,” and “Gnosis: A Presentation of the Completion Stage”). Most readers will find some sections challenging. For example, those on the movement of the planets, and other scientific subjects are hard going. However, those who practice tantra can use these topics to help them recognize the intimate connection between inner and outer worlds on which enlightened transformation is based.
Whether you are a Kalachakra practitioner, a student of Tibetan Buddhism, or interested in science from a new angle, this book is worthy of study.
Reviewed by Andy Wistreich, who has been actively involved with Kalachakra since 1981, co-founding the International Kalacakra Network with David Reigle in 1998. To earn a living, Andy takes responsibility for a set of publicly funded advisory services that support the innovative use of Information and Communications Technology, and the development of e-learning capacity, in the post-16 education sector, including universities, across the UK. He lives in Somerset, England, with his wife, Shan Tate.