zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Monk Wirathu’s 969 quotes the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra

Monk Wirathu’s 969 quotes the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra

[ by Charles Cameron — a Buddhist instance of the widespread use of sacred texts as offering sanction for religious violence, with Muslims depicted as the enemy on this occasion ]

Three dimensional Kalachakra mandala by Arjia Rinpoche, photo credit kalachakranet.org


I have commented a couple of times on texts from the Kalachakra Tantra literature about a future war between Buddhism and Islam, first in In a time of Religious Arousal and later more fully in Apocalypse Not Yet? — and today I ran across a reference to the same texts on the web page of the 969 movement in Myanmar.

969 is the monk-led Buddhist movement which has been rioting recently against the Rohingya Muslims, and the monks concerned are Therevadins. The Kalachakra Tantra is the empowerment HH the Dalai Lama gives in the cause of peace, and the tantras are Vajrayana teachings. I think this para from the current Wikipedia article on Buddhism gives the relevant distinctions in a non-contentious form:

Two major branches of Buddhism are generally recognized: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”). Theravada has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar etc.). Mahayana is found throughout East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan etc.) and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, and Tiantai (Tendai). In some classifications, Vajrayana — practiced mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, and adjacent parts of China and Russia — is recognized as a third branch, while others classify it as a part of Mahayana.

I won’t go into the theological, philosophical and ritual differences, which are considerable, complex — and somewhat contested.


To refresh your memory of the relevant details regarding the Kalachakra’s treatment of “holy war”, here are my key paragraphs on the topic from Apocalypse Not Yet?:

Alexander Berzin has been tutored by HH the Dalai Lama and HHDLs own tutors on the interpretation of the Kalachakra Tantra, and served for some years as HHDL’s translator when HHDL was giving the Kalachakra initiation: indeed his book on the Kalachakra initiation carries a Foreword by HHDL.  His writings are thus among the most scholarly and trustworthy available in the western world on the topic of the initiation which the Dalai Lama will impart for world peace again this July.

Berzin’s words introducing the topic of Holy Wars in relation to the Kalachakra, Buddhism and Islam, are therefore important:

Often, when people think of the Muslim concept of jihad or holy war, they associate with it the negative connotation of a self-righteous campaign of vengeful destruction in the name of God to convert others by force. They may acknowledge that Christianity had an equivalent with the Crusades, but do not usually view Buddhism as having anything similar. After all, they say, Buddhism is a religion of peace and does not have the technical term holy war.

A careful examination of the Buddhist texts, however, particularly The Kalachakra Tantra literature, reveals both external and internal levels of battle that could easily be called “holy wars.” An unbiased study of Islam reveals the same. In both religions, leaders may exploit the external dimensions of holy war for political, economic, or personal gain, by using it to rouse their troops to battle. Historical examples regarding Islam are well known; but one must not be rosy-eyed about Buddhism and think that it has been immune to this phenomenon. Nevertheless, in both religions, the main emphasis is on the internal spiritual battle against one’s own ignorance and destructive ways.

Specifically, he writes:

In The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, Manjushri Yashas explains that the fight with the non-Indic people of Mecca is not an actual war, since the real battle is within the body. The fifteenth-century CE Gelug commentator Kaydrubjey elaborates that Manjushri Yashas’s words do not suggest an actual campaign to kill the followers of the non-Indic religion. The First Kalki’s intention in describing the details of the war was to provide a metaphor for the inner battle…


That, then, is the context — “the fight with the non-Indic people of Mecca is not an actual war” but a metaphorical one. Here, by contrast, is the interpretation given to the same text by the 969 movement in an article titled Kalachakra Tantra and 969, posted on their website two months ago (Sept 1st, 2013):

The Kalachakra is a Tibetan Buddhist doctrine on the cycles of time. In addition to being a text, meditation practice, and initiation ritual, Kalachakra is a prophecy for the victory of the Buddhist religion in a war with Islam.

Beginning in 712AD and continuing through 1030AD, India was subject to massive annual invasions from Muslims who eventually conquered and destroyed much of the cultural heritage of India. In a final desperate act to annihilate Buddhism, in 1193, Nalanda University which was home to the greatest center of learnings in the East was destroyed, with thousands of monks beheaded. The destruction of the temples, monasteries, centres of learning at Nalanda and northern India to be responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy. Much of what modern scholarship of Buddhist studies puzzles over today was contained in the manuscripts and minds of those who were lost during this calamity. However as the Kalachakra Tantra shows, the war between Dhamma and Islam is not over, nor is it. The prophecy includes detailed descriptions of the future invaders as well as suggested ways for the Buddhist teachings to survive these onslaughts.

The Dalai Lama has stated that the public exposition of this tantra is necessary in the current degenerate age. The initiation may be received simply as a blessing for the majority of those attending, however, many of the more qualified attendees do take the commitments and subsequently engage in the practice.

In a phrase, “Kalachakra is a prophecy for the victory of the Buddhist religion in a war with Islam”.

That’s the opening of the article, clearly identifying the Kalachakra as a text about Buddhism vs Islam. There follows a curious incomplete sentence:

We must be diligent in reminding the

I’d love to know what the author wanted to remind us of, and what the rest of that paragraph — or group of paras? — had to say about the Kalachakra, but the rest of the text as printed is no longer talking about warfare, but explaining some basic notions in Buddhism:

It is important to notice what Alexander Berzin wrote how “Karmic potentials, in fact, give rise to a broad array of impulses that affect our lives. Collective karmic potentials from previous actions of a huge number of beings – including ourselves – give rise, for example, to the impulse for a universe to evolve with specific environments and life forms into which we and these beings subsequently take rebirth.” Collective karma can be seen as the actions that have generated us in our present bodies, from the decisions of our parents, ancestors, and peers that gives us the appearance of our lives (Janaka kamma or the kamma that determines birth). We are all recipients of karma beyond our control. Put in another way, our DNA contains a vast storehouse of kamma.

This sad state of affairs is where the Kalachakra initiation takes its cue. By harnessing ritual and intention, the Kalachakra initiation at its highest level bestows a daily practice for awakening that an army of practioners around the world are also engaging in. This collective kamma has the subtle effect of making the conditions of purifying bad kamma’s and unwholesome dhamma’s into virtuous ones.

Ultimately we feel this will have the eventual effect of producing a Dhamma centered world based on the natural laws of mind that the founders of the 969 Movement are striving to achieve.

Whether or not warfare, as suggested in the first section of the article, is compatible with Buddhism, as expressed in the second, is a matter for Buddhist theological debate — as is the nature of “war” as envisioned in the Kalachakra itself.

My own purpose in making this post is to point out that the 969 movement, led by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, is now quoting a prophecy of war against Islam, found in the Kalachakra literature, which in turn is taught as a instrument of peace by HH the Dalai Lama. To my ears, that sets up a howl of cognitive dissonance.

13 Responses to “Monk Wirathu’s 969 quotes the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra”

  1. Grurray Says:

    “This sad state of affairs”
     Do they consider collective karma a punishment? If so this is truly a group of people at war with themselves.

  2. zen Says:

    Tendai and Zen Buddhism has a history of incredibly competent martial ferocity in the pre-Tokugawa period of Japanese history from the 12th century onward. Suppression of the Buddhist monasteries as independent military powers was a necessity for Tokugawa Ieyasu in cementing the unification of Japan under the Shogunate established by his predecessor.
    Zen Buddhism ( or at least certain Zen roshis and schools) became associated with the program for Imperial expansion, ultranationalism and state shinto Emperor-worship promoted by circles in Japan’s elite during the late Meiji period

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Indeed — and during WWII. Here’s an overview from a 2003 NYT piece titled Meditating On War And Guilt, Zen Says It’s Sorry:

    To many Americans, Zen Buddhists primarily devote themselves to discovering inner serenity and social peace. But Zen has had strong ties to militarism — indeed so strong, that the leaders of one of the largest denominations in Japan have remorsefully compared their former religious fanaticism during Japan’s brutal expansionism in the 1930’s and 40’s to today’s murderously militant Islamists.

    The unexpected apology for wartime complicity by the leaders of Myoshin-ji, the headquarters temple of one of Japan’s main Zen sects, was issued 16 days after 9/11, which gave it a particular resonance. But the leaders of Myoshin-ji — as well as other Zen Buddhist leaders who have also delivered apologies over the past two years — mainly credit a disillusioned Westerner for their public regrets: Brian Victoria, a former Methodist missionary, who is a Zen priest and historian.
    Buddhist leaders in Japan and the United States said in recent interviews that Mr. Victoria had exerted a profound influence, especially in the West, by revealing in his 1997 book, ”Zen at War,” a shockingly dark and unfamiliar picture of Zen during World War II to followers who had no idea about its history.  [ … ]
    Now, in a new sequel called ”Zen War Stories,” Mr. Victoria has dug more specifically into relationships between Zen leaders and the military during World War II.
    From its beginnings in Japan, Zen has been associated with the warrior culture established by the early shoguns. But the extent of its involvement in World War II has stayed mostly submerged until recently. Many people in the United States and Europe know Zen’s indirect traces through the poetry of the Beats or the quietist aura of contemporary architecture and clothing.
    Even John Dower, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of modern Japan at M.I.T., whose early interest in Japan was kindled by Zen-inspired architecture, said that Mr. Victoria’s works had opened his eyes to “how Zen violated Buddhism’s teachings about compassion and nonviolence.”


    I mentioned Victoria’s book, along with Gary SNyder’s response, in a comment here

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    The entire karmic system always seemed to me entirely too mechanical to be taken seriously, literally, but interesting as a metaphor. My impression is that the Theravadins tend to the literal, Mahayanists and a fortiori Vajrayanists to the metaphorical and paradoxical. 
    IMO, only, y’unnerstand. 

  5. larrydunbar Says:

    “too mechanical to be taken seriously, literally,”

    Mechanics is too slow for the brain? In other words, the brain can out act anything mechanical, so once inside the OODA loop of the other it has no advantages? I mean like Chet said this morning, formations are weak against something formless, but the fact that formations still exist make me think that formations do have some advantages. You’re talking a very long war here, so as Boyd said, you have to take into account time-dispersion as well as space-dispersion. If there is no time-dispersion, then space dispersion is pretty handy. Especially when it comes to form. Depends a lot on what you Observe, and how you observe it.

  6. Grurray Says:

    “that formations still exist make me think that formations do have some advantages”
    I’ve wondered about this also. The ‘fighter mafia’ – ‘bomber mafia’ struggle is just a small example of the greater dichotomy between centralization and decentralization. You might also draw an analogy between literal and figurative interpretations.
    I’ve wondered about it more since T. Greer’s last post about later Chinese commanders dismissive attitude towards Sun Tzu. Although, I still think the commanders were taking him too literally (not surprising since they were centralized literalists), T. Greer makes the point that dispersal is not a particularly great strategy against dispersal
    To use Chet’s analogy, the 46 zone defense was used in the 80s against tight, controlled formations. The Bears used it to perfection and were the greatest team of all time, inadvertently validating John Boyd in the process.
    However, shortly after that, the enemy (the 49er’s) implemented the West Coast Offense. To combat the chaotic dispersal of the 46’s constant blitzing, the WCO used many quick horizontal passes or passed into the void left by the blitzing linebackers in the first 10 – 15 yards, combined with a “no-huddle” tempo.
    Since then an arms race of asymmetric formations has been unleashed between offenses and defenses, such as the Cover 2 and the Spread. Aside from the Patriots, who benefited from cheating and celebrity girlfriends, there has been no real dynasty, and it has become very difficult to repeat a championship. Now an uneasy stalemate has set in, characterized by intense injuries. As the stalemate grinds on, an attrition-like style of play is starting to emerge again.
    (the anomaly is Peyton Manning with a record setting year, but he’s benefited from what could be the easiest scheduling in the history of the Super Bowl era)
    So the reason why formations still stick around is because they are a component of the necessary fabric of the churning spiral. Periodically out of favor but always just around the corner after the next turn.

  7. larrydunbar Says:

    “West Coast Offense”
    I like the sound of that. Put more pressure on the quarter back to act, by making him stay in the pocket and throw to the tall quick guy 🙂
    What do you think of the Oregon Ducks. Mostly Boyd’s do two things to your guy’s one, which is also much like the up-tempo WCO. I don’t follow football much, so it is really all speculation on my part.
    “So the reason why formations still stick around is because they are a component of the necessary fabric of the churning spiral.”
    Could be, but I am not convinced.  I mean when you round that corner and a great weight falls on your head, there is something to be said positively about the  formations that are just around the corner.
    Also, I have the feeling Sun Tzu was speaking metaphorically about about “formlessness”. I mean at the end he said formlessness has its own form, which I agree with completely.
    But finally I have to say that I am glad that Zenpundit has finally got on board with this Indo-Pacific pivot. I was beginning to think that they were going to get too caughtup in this R2P thing.
    When COIN comes home, it is not always the well-informed that are able to see it 🙂

  8. larrydunbar Says:

    “When COIN comes home, it is not always the well-informed that are able to see it ”
    Which is why Trotsky said to kill all the doctors first during revolutions like the Tea Pary is involved in. You don’t want to leave any implicit rule sets in the ruling class that might counter the revolution 🙂

  9. Charles Cameron Says:

    Larry, I said “entire karmic system always seemed to me entirely too mechanical to be taken seriously, literally”. I certainly didn’t mean to say anything about the brain (or the OODA loop, for that matter), just that the literal interpretation of the Buddha’s doctrine of karma along the lines of “you reap exactly what you sow — and if you raped someone thirteen hundred and five lifetimes agao you will be raped by them with just the same level of violence in this or some other lifetime” is far too rigid a set of ideas for me to take seriously.
    As metaphor, “you reap what you sow” works nicely, but I don’t see any need to invoke millions of lifetimes or an exact mirroring of that kind to support it. 

  10. Ernst Schnell Says:

    Interesting in this context also the Buddhist dimension of the activities the “Bloody Baron” Roman von Ungern-Sternberg in and around Mongolia. Not quite contemporary, but still relevant and an eye-opener on the less than equanimous aspects of Buddhism. I suppose the take-away point is: if a religion really wants to go berserk, somebody will find a suitable scripture somewhere.

  11. Grurray Says:

    Other Theravada Buddhists that waged a lengthy war were the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka against Hindu Tamils
    in a very long, bloody, and senseless post-colonial ethnic conflict

  12. Charles Cameron Says:

    Indeed, Zen reviewed James Palmer, The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia here on Zenpundit a while back.
    At one point I was gpoing to write a book titled Landmines in the Garden — the garden being paradise and the scriptures and religions that point to it, and the landmines being particular scriptures and historical events that can be plucked from them to provide divine sanction for mayhem of one sort or another.

  13. Charles Cameron Says:

    Grurray, indeed.
    The Tamil Tigers are an interesting group.  I believe most scholars would say the LTTE were deologically secular separatists, although the Tamils as a whole are Hindu — but even so, there were LTTE rituals that clearly drew on Hindu motifs of sacrifice and martyrdom.  

Switch to our mobile site