I'd only had a chance to read through this about six times over the past couple of days, so I was no where near ready to do this without my notes, and I ended up "losing my words" even with them up there. I'm still on the schedule for next week, so I will have another shot at it then, I guess.
Speech #4 - "KALACHAKRA"
Thank you, M. Toastmaster,
fellow Toastmasters, and honored guests.
Over the months that I've been a member of Extreme,
I have frequently alluded to the various areas
in which I have intellectual interests.
Now, one of the things that Tim has been coaching us on
is working from something that we find fascinating
when developing our speeches ...
Many of you will be relieved to hear that my subject tonight
is NOT going to be the geometries of "n-space" or how to
visualize 11 dimensions ...
but rather the Kalachakra.
"The KALA-what?" you ask?
Ah, so here begins the lesson!
"Kalachakra" is translated
more-or-less literally as "The Wheel of Time"
and is a Vajrayana Tantra
especially integral to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Now that we've cleared THAT up ...
Oh, OK ...
I'm seeing confusion. So ...
How many people have heard of the Dalai Lama?
(count hands - give % estimate) Good!
Well, the Dalai Lama is the head of the Gelugpa sect,
which is one of several traditions of "Vajrayana" Buddhism
which again, more-or-less literally
translates to "Lightning Vehicle"
in the classification scheme
of the various sorts of Buddhism
which uses "yanas" or "vehicles" to describe them.
Don't worry ... no quiz.
But you're thinking ...
"Brendan, this is pretty esoteric stuff!
What does it have to do with anything?"
Well, the Kalachakra is a rather unique case,
as it is an extremely advanced Tantra,
yet in the modern world its key initiations
are presented openly to huge crowds.
I, myself, have taken the Kalachakra three times.
I was there for the first instance of it being performed
outside of Tibet or India, in Madison, WI in 1981,
and then subsequently in Los Angeles in 1989
and New York City in 1991.
Madison was very special, as there were only about
fifteen hundred in attendance, whereas many of the Indian
initiations, especially those at Bodh Gaya, draw over
two hundred thousand!
This in contrast to the "traditional" monastic way, where perhaps
only a dozen or so top practitioners would be able to go through
these initiation ceremonies!
A bit of history is needed
to understand why the Kalachakra
shifted from a secret ritual for the elite
to an event for the masses.
In 1949, the communist Chinese invaded Tibet,
and by 1951 they controlled the entire country
and were exerting pressures
on the practice of the Tibetan religion.
The first two "public" Kalachakras
given by the current Dalai Lama
were presented in Lhasa in 1954 and 1956,
when he was still in his teens.
These were done primarily
as an expression of the Tibetan culture
and drew huge crowds,
and much Chinese displeasure.
By 1959 the Chinese had stepped up
the suppression of Buddhism
and the Dalai Lama had to escape into exile in India.
His exile, while incredibly painful to the Tibetan people,
had a silver lining, in that it brought the previously very obscure
Vajrayana teachings out into the modern world.
What, you ask, could an obscure highly technical
Tibetan tantra offer modern Westerners?
Well, do you recall what
the loose translation of "Vajrayana" was?
That's right, the "lightning vehicle".
As opposed to the "Sutrayana" or "Mantrayana"
streams of Buddhism,
Vajrayana, through the Kalachakra,
enables the dedicated practitioner
to achieve Buddhahood within this very lifetime!
What a selling point!
Frankly, without this simpatico with modern spiritual impatience,
it's doubtful that any but a few Buddhist scholars
would have ever encountered the Kalachakra, as its history
involves a lot of "suspension of disbelief"!
Officially, the Kalachakra dates back to the historical Buddha,
in the Fifth Century B.C.
It was a teaching requested by Suchandra,
the king of the not-quite-on-this-plane land of Shambhala ...
... and it was given by The Buddha
while he was in another place
giving another teaching at the same time.
Nice work if you can get it.
So, Suchandra takes the complete Kalachakra teachings ...
several volumes worth ... back to Shambhala
and has a series of "commentaries" composed
distilling the whole into a more manageable digest form.
These commentaries re-appear in India a millennia and a half later,
in the Tenth Century A.D.
and migrated up to Tibet during the Eleventh Century
where they eventually become part of the canon
of all of the major Tibetan schools.
Of course, having the myth of Shambhala as part of the package
certainly helps with piquing Western interest,
and that's been the case at least back to
Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists.
There is, however, a fairly strong tradition of "hidden teachings",
or "TERMA" in Tibetan, so the lineage of the Kalachakra material
may not be as bizarre as it first appears.
So, if this Kalachakra stuff is so marvelous,
why hasn't it become a household word?
You may recall that in the traditional monastic setting,
only a dozen or so top students were given access
to the key Kalachakra initiations.
Well, the PRACTICE of it hasn't gotten any easier.
The Kalachakra involves some of the most focused and intense
visualization exercises ever developed.
It's hard enough to clearly imagine a bowl or a bell
in full three-dimensional detail floating in one's
mental visual field.
And for the actual completion of the Kalachakra
one must generate whole palaces full of deities,
each with multiple arms holding various items,
and maintain the visualization for extended periods of time.
(HAND OUT CARDS)
This card has an image of the famed Kalachakra Sand Mandala,
which is a two-dimensional rendering of the sort of thing
that the practitioner is having to visualize as a full reality!
The Sand Mandala is an amazing thing in and of itself.
About five feet across, it is painstakingly constructed of
tiny particles of ground up precious stones.
Prior to each Kalachakra Initiation, the monks spend a week or so
creating this amazing work of art, which is then obliterated
and washed into a local river as a closing to the rituals!
One last thing that I have only recently found out
about the Kalachakra
is that it has a "prophetic" aspect as well.
This goes back to Shambhala,
and the line of the Kalkin Kings,
the 25th of which, Raudra Chakri,
will re-establish The Dharma
sometime in the 24th Century.
Following a final battle between the forces of Shambhala
and "the savage hordes" ...
which are, interestingly, textually linked to Islam ...
the full Kalachakra teachings will be brought to all,
and humanity will be in a new "Golden Age".
Which brings me to one final question ...
"Don't you love a happy ending?"
Thank you very much!
I'm hoping that I'll be able to work primarily without notes next week, but it's going to be tough. I was able to improvise a lectern tonight, which helped a lot, as I was able to put my notes down, and free up my hands!