The Kālacakratantra by Vesna A. Wallace

The Kālacakratantra: The Chapter on the Individual together with the Vimalaprabhā. Translated from Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Mongolian by Vesna A. Wallace. Introductory Remarks by Robergt A. F. Thurman. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies co-published with Columbia University’s Center for Buddhist Studies and Tibet House US, 2004. Hardcover, xxiii + 374 pages.

This substantial work launches the Tanjur Translation Initiative Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences Series, published by the American Institute of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, New York.

The vast literature of Buddhist Tantras has been barely explored, and few texts exist in reliable translations. Their symbolism and syncretistic conceptual environment call for first-class scholarship and access to the oral tradition, which only the most learned and experienced lamas can communicate. Vesna Wallace, a professor of religious studies at Santa Barbara, California, has rare linguistic and scholarly talent, which enabled her to study the Kālacakra-Tantra in three difficult languages, though apparently without resorting to the wisdom of present-day adepts practicing the teachings of the Kālacakra system.

The Kālacakra-Tantra is one of the key texts of Tibetan Buddhism, and in his introductory remarks Robert Thurman calls it rightly “amazing” and “unique in all of Buddhism.” The VimalaPrabhā(“Stainless Radiance”) is an equally crucial commentary and absolutely instrumental in even beginning to comprehend the often abstruse meaning of this Tantra. Yet, this fine commentary also has its own challenges for anyone wishing to understand it more deeply.

Wallace chose to translate the second chapter of the Kālacakra-Tantra, which focuses on the parallelism between the microcosm (the practitioner’s body-mind) and macrocosmic realities—a favorite topic of Tantra. The discussion of breath control and the whole inner alchemical process, as well as the treatment of medicinal applications during the spiritual process make for illuminating reading.

As the translator admits, this chapter became intelligible only after she had comprehended the contents of all the other chapters, which puts the reader at something of a disadvantage. Her ample annotations, however, help considerably in making the translated portion more accessible. Also, her earlier book The Inner Kālacakratantra(published by Oxford University Press in 2001) will be found very helpful to readers wanting to penetrate the formidable complexities of this Tantric scripture.

Considering the intricacies discussed in the Kālacakra-Tantra and its commentary, Wallace’s rendering reads as smoothly as can be expected. Nevertheless, fascinating as the subject matter is to all students of Yoga, much necessarily remains obscure and will only reveal itself after long and dedicated practice of the Kālacakra teachings.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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