Adibuddha in the Kalachakra Tantra

Brahma, the Creator God

Vairochana Buddha - A 14th-century painting from a Buddhist Ritual Crown of Tibet

by Jayaram V

Summary: This essay presents concept of Adibuddha as found in the descriptions of the Kalachakra Tantra who is the chief deity of Vajrayana Buddhism.

Ādibuddha figures prominently in Vajrayana Buddhism as practiced in Tibet and Mongolia. He is the chief deity of the Kālachakara Tantra which is one of its principal texts. As the supreme being and the lord of the universe, he has many similarities with the Isvara of Hinduism. His aspects, manifestations and functions as the creator, preserver and destroyer are similar to those of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the highest triple deities of Hinduism.

As his name suggests, just as Isvara, Adibuddha represents the first and foremost (Ādi) reality in all existence, which is eternal and indestructible. As the creator God, and the personification of Time (Kālachakara), he manifests the worlds, Buddhas, gods, beings, objects and reality itself.

Literally speaking, Ādibuddha means the first Buddha, which may be a reference to the historical Buddha who first appeared upon earth about 2500 years ago or to the primordial Buddha who, just as Adi Shiva or Adi Vishnu or Parabrahma, is eternal, indestructible, without connection, without a second, and without a beginning and an end. His name is synonymous with Kala or Kālachakara, whom the tantra proclaims as the creator and the source of all.

The Kālachakara Tantra is believed to be a remnant of the original Paramādhibuddha Tantra, which was said to have been taught by Sakyamuni Buddha to King Sucandra of Shambhala (land of Shambhu) at Dhanyakataka Stupa, which is currently located at Amaravathi in Andhra Pradesh. It was later codified by a king of Shambhala named Manjusri-Yasas, while his successor Pundarika wrote a comprehensive commentary called Vimalaprabha.

The knowledge of the tantra remained a secret in Shambhala for 1400 years, before it reappeared in India as Kālachakara Tantra about 1024-27 AD in an abbreviated form. The original tantra, known as the Paramādhibuddha Tantra or mulatantra, was lost. Its abbreviated version (laghu tantra) was subsequently taken to Tibet by Bhadrabodhi (or Bodhibhadra) where it gained popularity due to the efforts of his disciples, especially one named Atisa. As a result, the knowledge of Kālachakara Tantra became an important part of the Vajrayana Buddhism which has been practiced in Tibet for over a thousand years and which is presently known as Tibetan Buddhism.

Ādibuddha or Paramādhibuddha is the principal deity and the focal point of Kālachakara Tantra and its teachings. According to the descriptions found in it, Ādibuddha is the source of supreme knowledge, including the Vedas, and has pure knowledge or consciousness as his essential nature. He possesses three relative bodies namely Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, while his absolute, supreme state as Paramādhibuddha represents his fourth body or his essence-body (svābhāvika-kaya). The four bodies constitute his shining, unchanging, absolute reality (vajrasattva) as well as his supreme state (vajrayoga).

Adibuddha also goes by the name Kālachakara in many descriptions found in the text. As the central deity of the Kalachakra mandala and creation itself, he is the omniscient (sarvajna) supporter and mover of time (Kāla), with the knowledge of the past, present and future ever present in him in the unified state. The creator of all dualities and yet beyond them, he is the indivisible, incomparable, sole reality, “beyond existence and-origination,” representing the knowledge of the whole and parts, subjective and objective reality, all the knowledge possessed by the best of the Jinas, pure consciousness (bodhicitta), the power of the vajra-mind and the world of the jinas.

Just as Vishnu, he has ten incarnations (avatars), with identical names; and just as Shiva, he has a universal female aspect (Shakti) known as Vishvamata (Universal Mother), with whom he is forever united. Both are the progenitors of all the Buddhas, 1620 gods and goddesses and all the beings. From their union arises the great bliss (mahasukha) which pervades their supreme state. They represent the union of opposites and occupy the center of the Kālachakara mandala, surrounded by the Buddhas who originate from them.

The last incarnation of Ādibuddha will be known as Rudra Kalkin, or Rudra Chakrin, just as the last incarnation of Vishnu is known as Kalki. He will be the 25th king in the long line of the rulers of the great country, Shambhala or Sambhala, which is believed to exist somewhere in the Himalayas. According to the Kalachakra Tantra, Rudra Kalkin will be the 25th king in the line of succession, with the reign of each king lasting for about 100 years. He will rule Shambhala (the land of Shambhu) with Kalāpa as his capital and wage a fierce battle with the Mlecchas or the barbarian hordes of the lands that are west to Jambudvipa (the Indian subcontinent). In that war, Hari, Hara, Hanuman and other beings participate. Hanuman will defeat Asvatthama, one of the generals of the evil forces. Rudra Kalkin will defeat the lord of the Mlecchas and the messenger of the Mlecchas who will appear in a white robe.

After a decisive victory, Rudra Kalkin will reestablish order and regularity, protect the holy men and reestablish the sacred Dharma. The battle is supposed to take place in the 24th century AD, more precisely in the year 2325. After that, peace will reign for about 850 years, followed by a revival of the Mlecchas dharma which will last for about 1800 years. Then another great war will be fought between the forces of good and evil. Scholars believe that apart from its macrocosmic implications, the battle between Rudra Kalkin and the Mlecchas has a symbolic significance and refers to the battle that happens within the microcosm of our minds and bodies, similar to the one the Buddha fought with Mara before his enlightenment.

Ādibuddha or Kālachakara is also known by other names such as Vajrasattva, Vajradhara, Vajrabhairava, Vajrakaya, Jinavarajanaka, Jinajanaka, Jinendra, Jinapati, Isvara, and so on. Depending upon the context in which they are mentioned, they are either synonymous with Ādibuddha or his aspects, states or manifestations. The name Adibuddha appears once in the Gaudapada-Karika, while it is conceptually found in the Guhyasamaja Tantra. In Tibetan Buddhism he is known as Vajradhara and Samantabhadra, and in Japan as Mahavajradhara.

In the Kālachakara Tantra, he is also mentioned as Kālachakara which is the name of either the teaching or the system or the deity Kālachakara. As the wielder of all the chakras (moving phenomena), including time, worlds and beings, he sets in motion the wheels of time, creation, life and existence. As is evident from the Svayambu Purana, the concept of Ādibuddha is also vaguely known in Newar Buddhism, a form of Vajrayana Buddhism, which is practiced by the Newar people of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. Although Ādibuddha or Kālachakara is equated with Vishnu, Shiva and other Hindu deities, he is distinct from them and should not be mistaken as their aspect or manifestation.

Vimalaprabha, which is a commentary on the Kālachakara Tantra pays homage to Kālachakara with the following opening remarks.

“Homage to Kālachakara, who has as his content emptiness and compassion, without origination or annihilation of the three existences, who is regarding a consistent embodiment of knowledge and objects of knowledge as non-existent.”

In another introductory verse of the same text, in the manner which is typical of the Upanishads, Ādibuddha is described thus.

“To the one embraced by the Bhagavati Prajna, the one who is without any aspect although possessing aspect; to the one who has the bliss of the unchanging and who has abandoned the pleasures of laughter and so forth; to the progenitor of the Buddhas, without origination and annihilation, possessing the three bodies, rightly knowing the three times -the omniscient Bhagavan Paramādhibuddha, I worship that very non-duality.”

The following description is also from the introductory part of Vimalaprabha only.

The Paramādhibuddha is the unchanging bliss that is characterized by perfect enlightenment in a single instant, in five aspects, in twenty aspects, and by the net of illusion; it is supreme (parama). The one who first obtained Buddhahood (Ādibuddha) by that [bliss] is the Paramādibuddha. The Paramādibuddha [taught the tantra].

In the following verse from the Kālachakara Tantra (2: 179), while delivering the secret knowledge of the doctrine to the king Suchandra of Shambhala at Dhanyakataka, Buddha as the Adibuddha described himself as Indra, Omkara and as the personification of the supreme knowledge of the Vedas

I am Indra, the guru of thirteen in heaven, a chakravartin on earth, the king of nāgas in the underworld, revered by the family of serpents. I am the omnipresent and excellent knowledge (jnana), a Buddha, Indra [the master] of the wise men, an unchanging and supreme sovereign (akshara-parama-vibhu), the yogis' vajrayoga, the Veda, the om-syllable, a protagonist [chosen by each side to decide a battle] and a means of purification. Oh King, take refuge in me with all your being.”

The following two verses (5.49) also refer to Ādibuddha as the personification of supreme knowledge and the source of the Vedas and the tantras.

The Rigveda is expressed from the western [face] and Yajur [veda] [is expressed] from the left mouth by Jinendra; From the right face [he elaborates] the Samaveda, in the clan of the supreme Hari (Vishnu), from the eastern mouth [is spoken] the Atharvaveda. From the eastern face [he expresses] the kaulatantras, moreover from the western face [he expresses] the Garuda- and Bhuta-tantras. From the left face [he declares] the [Shaiva] Siddhanta, [and] the Vishnu-dharma [that is] like unto the rising sun [he declares] from the left [face].

Conceptually, Ādibuddha may mean different things to different sects. He may be a personification of the highest principles such as void, bliss, dharma, pure knowledge or nirvana, or a primordial being or a creator god, just as Isvara. As the latter, he is said to be svayambhu, self-existent, without a beginning and an end, who created the five jinas or dhyani Buddhas namely Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitiibha and Amoghasiddhi. Hence, in the Kālachakara tantra he is also referred to as Jinapati (lord of the jinas or dhayni buddhas). The fivefold Buddha reminds us of the fivefold (panchanana) Vishnu and fivefold Shiva.

The concept of Ādibuddha as an eternal, nondualistic, absolute and indefinable reality who for the purpose of creation manifests himself as the other Buddhas, bodhisattvas and all the beings who are subject to the duality of knower and the known or the subject and the object is a contradiction within itself, because mainstream Buddhism as preached by the historical Buddha does not believe in the eternal existence of anything or in the transcendental reality. Most importantly, it favors a monotheistic approach to the practice of Buddhism and the deification of the Buddha as the creator God, which is unacceptable to the purists who adhere to the original teachings of Buddhism and its aversion to ritualistic theism.

However, it may be appropriate to say that in the context of Kālachakara Tantra and the followers who practice its doctrine in its current form and organize Kalachakra initiations, Ādibuddha refers to the first Buddha in the long line of Buddhas who received enlightenment and attained Buddhahood through self-knowing or innate knowing (sahaja vidya or sahaja jnana) or what is popularly known as enlightenment. At the same time, it possible that it may be a partial interpretation of the original concept, which ignores the cosmological significance of the deity who is believed to be the source of all reality and existence.

Suggestions for Further Reading


1. The English translations of verses of the Kalachakra Tantra and Vimalaprabha are reproduced from the book Studies in the Kālacakara Tantra: A History of the Kālacakara in Tibet and a Study of the Concept of Ādibuddha, the Fourth Body of the Buddha and the Supreme Unchanging, by Urban Hammar, Stockholm, 2005.

2. Guhya Samaja Tantra or Tathagataguhyaka by Benoytosh Bhattacharya, 1931, Oriental Institute

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