Outer and Inner Interpretations
At first glance, the Kalachakra’s account of the history of Shambhala is striking in several ways. In the Kalachakra, cultural and religious diversity is portrayed as a threat to the integrity of the Kingdom: Rigden Yasas predicts that the different clans, cultures and ritual practices throughout the kingdom would weaken Shambhala, leaving it susceptible to barbarianism. He demands that this diversity be abandoned for unification under one clan and one practice system.
Also striking is the great war against the barbarians predicted for the 25th century. The twenty-fifth Rigden, an emanation of the wrathful bodhisattva, Yamantanka, is prophesied to lead soldiers into battle to annihilate barbarian culture. This might strike us as difficult imagery to understand from a Buddhist perspective. As contemporary Shambhalians, we are taught to value diversity and to abide by an ethics of peace. One response to this interpretive discrepancy is to recall that these texts were written at an anxious moment in the history of Buddhism. Northwestern India in the eleventh century was beginning to face pressure from Islamic military forces; the texts also clearly reflect anxiety about Buddhism’s relationship with Hindu social and ritual life.
But the Kalachakra literature supplies an inner interpretation of these events and specifies the inner interpretation as the definitive one. Chapter Two of the Sri Kalachakra comments that the great battle against barbarianism is really the inner battle against samsara. The text clarifies that the barbarian armies represent our own passion, aggression and ignorance. The four armies of Shambhala represent the antidote to these inner poisons, the Four Immeasurables–love, compassion, joy, and equanimity–while the defeat of the great barbarian general is the defeat of fear itself. And for the vajrayana practitioner, the text specifies how this process unfolds within the body.
Similarly, the inner interpretation of Rigden sheds light on the subtleties of meditation practice. The text correlates the diverse castes of Shambhala to the many kinds of conceptual thoughts. The one who brings those many families of thoughts together as one, gathering the mind in meditation, is known as Rigden, “holder of the family.” For tantric practitioners, this process is explained as a practice unfolding within the inner yogic body. In this way, we are instructed by the text in how to become the Rigden ourselves, gathering the mind, revealing the inherent strength that brings victory over the barbarianism of habitual patterns.
While our Shambhala tradition is totally sufficient on its own for the practice of meditation and the cultivation of enlightened society, I find it interesting to explore the context from which these ideas emerged. Encountering the Kalachakra has informed my understanding not just of Shambhala’s history, but the inner meanings that are represented in it and that are relevant to us as meditators in this age.