Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Wheel of Time

Coedes referring to Austronesian practices of burying their dead:

"... in jars or dolmens and for which purpose the megalithic structures
are constructed, throughout not only the island chain but wherever
this system occurred, is characteristic. So also is the cosmological
dualism which is inherent in the system. This dualism is not only of
gods but of the spirits of mountain and sea and of species and
further of mountain and lowland peoples. This system is indelibly
stamped on the Austronesian people, probably the Chinese K'unlun or
the Sanskrit Dvipantera, 'the people of the islands'. These people
had a civilisation that penetrated it and an approximate idea of
this civilisation can still be obtained by observation of some
peoples of the mountains and back country of Indochina and Malaya."

(The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, pp. 9-10)

The dualism mentioned also plays an important role in Tantric doctrine. Tantra claims to offer a "fast track" path to enlightenment or liberation. The practitioner, by identifying with the goal, reduces the time taken to achieve that goal.

In dualistic philosophy, the ultimate reality consists of the splitting of the two cosmic principles and their subsequent interaction, until finally reuniting. This end result is the same goal as that in the minds of the Tantric practitioner, and can be viewed in ways that some might consider profane.

In Tantric Buddhism, or Vajrayana, the initiate visualizes the union of knowledge/wisdom with compassion in the form of corresponding representative deities. These are seen as polarities -- as male and female respectively. Vajrayana means "Way of the Thunderbolt" after the use of the iconic vajra "thunderbolt" in meditation and other rituals.

The vajra, as a male symbol, was used together with the bell, as a female symbol, in rituals aimed at increasing self-identification with a particular deity. In the same sense, the curved knife was used with a skull, as complimentary duals, in shamanic and exorcism rituals.

The vajra was initially in the design of a double-sided spear or javelin with variable number of prongs on each end. According to legend, the Buddha closed these prongs by fusing them to the central shaft, thus creating a "peaceful" weapon.

Vajra with closed prongs and lotuses ornamenting central shaft

Vajrayana bell

Vajrayana curved knife

The phurba dagger used in visualization to subdue demons

The practice of self-identifying with deity or the act of becoming the deity is, of course, very similar to what happens in shamanistic practices. The gods that were the objects of this self-identification are known in Tibetan Buddhism as Yidam deities.

Shamans visualize themselves as a totem, spirit, hero or god. In this visualization a battle takes place between "good" and "evil" forces. We can see from the use of ritual weapons that Tantric visualization also involves something akin to shamanic warfare.

If Tantric Buddhists see the more efficient and effective paths to enlightenment as better, the in the Tibetan world none is better than the Kalacakra "the Wheel of Time."

Time after all is the main thing that separates the disjoining of the polarities from the rejoining, or the seeker from the goal. Time is thus the all-controlling factor and is personified in the Kalacakra Deity. This god takes on the form of the Adibuddha, the "First" or "Primordial Buddha," a pantheistic being from which all things arise.

The cosmic cycles of time are also found in microcosm within one's own body according to Kalacakra principles. By identifying with these cycles and with the Kalacakra Deity one transcends time and attains enlightenment swiftly.

In Kalacakra visualization, mandala's are constructed representing the cosmos. These are forms of the cosmic mountain in the shape of a terraced pyramid viewed from the top.

Sketch of Borobodur pyramid viewed from the top looking down

The Kalacakra mandala

As noted earlier, the Kalacakra practice appears to have originated in Suvarnadvipa, the lands of the Nusantao. And what is interesting about the Kalacakra texts is that they have what has been generally interpreted as strong views against expansionist religions particularly Islam and Christianity.

A type of world conflict is envisioned that we will examine in more detail as we go along.

Paul Kekai Manansala