Buddhism Kālacakra
Vesna Wallace
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0083


The Kālacakra (wheel of time) is one of the latest Buddhist tantric traditions that appeared in North India in the early 11th century. Its early history in India is unclear, and Tibetan sources on its history differ. The tradition was imported in the 11th century to Tibet, where it became one of the major tantric systems, influencing not only Tibetan Buddhist doctrinal views and practices but also Tibetan astronomy and medicine. It was introduced to the Mongolian court during the Yuan dynasty, and translations of the Kālacakratantra and its commentaries into Mongolian began in the 17th century. The popularity of the Kālacakra tradition in Europe and America commenced in the latter part of the 20th century, and initiations into this tantric system continue to this day in the West and in Asia.

General Overviews

The field of Kālacakra studies is relatively young, and the number of available sources in Western languages is fairly small. The following are basic treatments and general introductions appearing in encyclopedia articles and two collections of essays on the Kālacakra tradition written by multiple authors. The majority of the treatments of the Kālacakra tantric tradition, which is highly complex and elaborate, pertain to the very specific issues within the tradition. Therefore, general overviews of the entire system offered in Wallace 2005, Newman 2004, and Lhundub Sopa, et al. 1985 are useful guides for those unfamiliar with this intricate system of thought and practice. The collection of essays, written by Western academics and by contemporary Tibetan holders of the tradition, in Arnold 2009 deals with a variety of topics either directly or indirectly related to the Kālacakra tradition. Although the volume does not offer an integrated picture of this tantric system, it tries to cover a large spectrum of treatments.

  • Arnold, Edward A., ed. As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H. H. The Dalai Lama. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2009.

    A collection of twenty-five essays and translations that deals with a wide range of topics related to the Kālacakratantra tradition in India and Tibet. The essays are classified into three broader categories: translation and revelation, analysis and insight, and transmission and transition; not all of them are directly related to the Kālacakra tradition.

  • Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Roger Jackson, and John Newman. The Wheel of Time: The Kalachakra in Context. Edited by Beth Simon. Madison, WI: Deer Park, 1985.

    A collection of five essays that contains a brief summary of the broader context of the Kālacakratantra in India, its history in India and Tibet, the Kālacakratantra initiation and stage of generation practice, and the concept of subtle body.

  • Newman, John. “Kālacakra.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. New York: Macmillan, 2004.

    A brief, general introduction to the Kālacakra tradition.

  • Wallace, Vesna A. “Kālacakra.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 8. 2d ed. New York: Macmillan, 2005.

    A short introduction to the Kālacakra deity, history of the Kālacakra tradition, content of the Kālacakratantra, and iconography of the Kālacakra deity.

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