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The Inner Kalacakratantra:
A Buddhist Tantric View of the Individual
by Vesna A. Wallace  

288pp, 2001, Oxford University Press, some black & white illustrations - hardcover.
ISBN: 0-19-512211-9, a
vailable from Snowlion

Boekcover Inner KalacakratantraPublisher Snowlion: The Kalachakratantra 's five chapters are classified into three categories: Outer, Inner, and Other Kalachakra. The present work concentrates on the Inner, which deals with the nature of the human being. Wallace discusses this topic and its relationship to the larger concepts of the Kalachakratantra's theory and practice. For example, the view of the individual is shown to be inseparable from its view of the universe. The understanding of the person becomes clear only when examined in the light of the tantric yoga practices described in the Other Kalachakra section. Among the topics explored are: the Tantras's integration of different Indian Buddhist and non-Buddhist religious ideas; the parallels between the Buddhist gnosticism and that of the Judeo-Christian tradition; the birth and death of the individual's transmigratory mind and body; the Kalachakra's unique theory of karma and its approach to the nature of mental afflictions--their causes and their relation to karma.

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Review by Andy Wistreich:
Overall Rating:

2001 OUP

Vesna Wallace summarises her central thread towards the end of her book:
In this tantric tradition, the innate blissfulness and purity of one’s own mind is the transformative agent, the transformative means as the body of the path, and the transformed body of Buddhahood (p 208)
In other words, the connate bliss and emptiness, which she calls ‘gnosis’, is the basis, path and result. Or, to put it yet another way, through the practice, we take what was always there, and transform it to become simply what it is, by means of itself. Lest we take this gnosis as a self-existent, she periodically reminds us throughout the book, that the Kalacakratantra (root), and more specifically its commentary, the Vimalaprabha (commentary) does not waver from a middle way understanding of emptiness.

Several times I wondered why the book is not called, simply The Kalacakratantra leaving out the word ‘Inner’ simply because it has a substantial amount of outer Kalacakra in its presentation. It might be because its starting point was the author’s doctoral thesis, which focused on Chapter Two of the root text and commentary. This book covers all five chapters with an ease that is captivating, and reassuring. It leaves the reader with a confidence that Kalacakra is indeed understandable. For those whose priority is practice rather than scholarship, this book therefore provides a useful foundation on which to build one’s sadhana, a handbook for the journey.

The eight chapters of The Inner Kalacakratantra could be divided into two groups of four. The first four chapters provide the background for the second four. The first chapter offers a comprehensive coherent overview of the context of the Kalacakratantra, and is followed by three chapters which build on work previously available. The second chapter on the sad-anga-yoga extends work in The Yoga of Six Limbs by Gunter Gronbold (trans. Hutwohl 1996 Spirit of the Sun Publications), critiques it and takes in additional material. The third and fourth chapters on the syncretism and sciences of Kalacakratantra, respectively, again extend discussions first found in Wallace’s doctoral thesis. These four chapters are far more confident than any of the prior work mentioned above, and one must conclude that during the interim since completing her doctorate, Vesna Wallace’s understanding of the Kalacakratantra deepened and expanded enormously. Since the doctoral thesis only covers Chapter Two of the root and commentary, one could conclude that this deepened awareness is the result of intensive study of the other four chapters, and the resultant holistic vision of the overall structure of the Kalacakratantra.

The second half of the book takes us on an extraordinary journey through what the chapter names call, successively The Cosmic Body, The Social Body, The Gnostic Body and The Transformative Body. I wondered whether one might map these four stages of explanation of the tantra to a traditional approach. I guess I could see a parallel between the Cosmic Body and what we normally call the Outer Kalacakra (i.e. Chapter One of root and commentary), but actually parts of the Social Body relate to this chapter too. Also, the Transformative Body is principally where description of the path takes place so there are many references to Chapter Four of root and commentary. The Gnostic Body is where the author goes to tremendous lengths to make sense of Chapter Five of root and commentary, which she does partly with assistance from outside Buddhism, looking at the Gnostic tradition of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

However, my attempts to parallel the books four ‘Body’ chapters to chapters in the root and commentary devalues the eclecticism and commentarial freedom of Wallace’s approach. Unless someone can find a source for her structure that I am not aware of, it looks as if she has chosen this structure as a personal method of unlocking and revealing by stages, the depths and potential of the Kalacakratantra. Perhaps in some way it follows her own journey towards understanding the meaning of Kalacakra.

The Cosmic Body sets the individual within the cosmos and visa versa through the complex network of associations that those reasonably familiar with practice and/or theory of Kalacakra will recognise from their earlier studies. The essential point is that in the Cosmic Body we construct a unity of all inner and outer phenomena that will provide a framework for the experiential journey of practice. On this basis The Social Body takes us out into society. The sociology of Kalacakra, as presented here, encompasses all classes of individual within an inclusive societal vision. Confidence in being in the world as a social actor has been cited as a feature of Kalacakra; this chapter gives much scriptural evidence for this assertion.

These two Bodies, together with the scene-setting of the earlier four chapters, enable the author to take us on the journey to the interior that is surely the purpose of the book and of the whole tradition. We might connect the Gnostic Body and the Transformative Body (the final two chapters), to the third and fourth Noble Truths. It also helps to make sense of the order, to do so, as The Gnostic Body helps us to understand the goal, which is also the basis and the process, while The Transformative Body outlines the steps towards reaching the goal, by purifying the basis and facilitating the process. As the final chapter moves towards its conclusion, our appetite for practice is surely whetted. The yogas of the stages of generation and completion are described sufficiently for practitioners to recognise the structures. Most importantly, because the whole book never wavers from being an attempt to understand the Kalacakratantra and Vimalaprabha, we learn how the practice tradition arises from the root scriptures.

Ultimately, this is a book of contemporary academic scholarship, resting comfortably within the modern tradition. In many respects this is refreshing as it enables new angles and perspectives, whilst still rigorously demanding textual reference and scholarly validity. If anything is missing it is, not surprisingly, the sense of a contemporary practice tradition. For instance, the practitioner is always referred to with the male personal pronoun, and the sexual yogas are discussed exclusively from a male perspective. The story of bringing the practice tradition alive in the context of a 21st Century world is for others to make and express. However, this story will never stand a chance of coming to life, unless there is a significant body of reliable translation of key scriptures and commentaries from Sanskrit and Tibetan (and Mongolian) available in the languages of the modern world. This book takes a significant step towards a modern commentarial tradition. Hopefully it will enable many practitioners to confidently develop a meaningful framework for their spiritual journey to the state of Kalacakra.

The yogic practices of the ‘Kalacakratantra’ are a form of inner sacrifice, in which regenerative fluids, sometimes called ‘soma’, are the inner offering to the deities dwelling within one’s own body. Likewise, in this rite of inner sacrifice, ‘candali’, or the fire of gnosis, is a purifying fire to which all of one’s imperfections are offered. Being the inner sacrifice, it is the most powerful and expedient means to spiritual realisation. (p 216)

Perhaps this penultimate paragraph of the book indicates why the book’s title is The Inner Kalacakratantra, and points to Wallace’s guiding awareness of the ultimate primacy of practice over scholarship.

Andy Wistreich

Review by Rudy Harderwijk:
Overall Rating:

Having finished it, I believe that this work by Vesna Wallace is the most comprehensive package of information on the Kalachakra in book form available today in English. The only criticism I can come up with is pretty irrelevant in the view of the achievement of this book: it is not cheap (though in many ways beyond 'value'), the black and white images are quite austere (as unfortunately appears to be normal in a scholarly work of this calibre), and it does not contain the actual translation (that would have made it huge, and the publisher apparently refused to print it). This book is not exactly easy reading, but that is due to the subject, not Vesna's clear writing style. This book is a genuine 'must' for a serious practitioner of Kalachakra!
Hint: when combining this book with 'The Mandala' by Martin Brauen and its great images, I would have to rate them 6 Stars out of 5!


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