Ornament of Stainless Light - Preface

An Exposition of the Kālacakra Tantra

General Editor’s Preface

It is a source of great joy to present this English translation of Khedrup Norsang Gyatso’s classic work on the Kālacakra system of thought and practice entitled Ornament of Stainless Light. This work, ably translated by Gavin Kilty, is the debut volume in English from The Library of Tibetan Classics, although it is volume fourteen in the series.

Two primary objectives have guided the creation and development of The Library of Tibetan Classics. The first is to help revitalize the appreciation and study of the important texts of the Tibetan classical cultural heritage within Tibetan-speaking communities all over the world, especially among the younger generation, whose lives represent the challenge of coexistence between traditional Tibetan culture and the realities of modern industrial existence. To this end, efforts have been made to develop a comprehensive yet manageable body of texts that feature the works of Tibet’s best-known authors and span the entire gamut of classical Tibetan knowledge. The second objective for The Library of Tibetan Classics is to help make these classical Tibetan texts part of global literary and intellectual heritage through translation into contemporary European and other languages. In this regard we have made extensive efforts to make the English text of the Classics series reader-friendly. As much as possible, efforts have been made to ensure the main body of the text is free of unnecessary scholarly apparatus, which often intimidates the general reader. For those specialists who wish to compare the translation with the Tibetan original, the page references to the critical edition of the Tibetan text have been embedded within the translation.

Several other important considerations underlie the development of this series. The texts in the series span more than a millennium, beginning from the development of the current Tibetan script in the seventh century to the first part of the twentieth century, when Tibetan society and its culture were abruptly confronted with the modern industrial age. The volumes are thematically organized and cover the following sixteen broad categories of classical Tibetan knowledge: (1) specific teachings of the Tibetan schools, (2) the bodhisattva’s altruistic ideal, (3) presentation of the three codes, (4) the generation and completion stages of highest yoga tantra, (5) the Perfection of Wisdom studies, (6) the theory of buddha-nature, (7) the Middle Way philosophy of emptiness, (8) logic and epistemology, (9) Abhidharma psychology and phenomenology, (10) the tenets of classical Indian philosophies, (11) advice on worldly wisdom and civility, (12) gateway for the learned, which includes such diverse fields as linguistics, poetry, and literature, (13) medicine, (14) astronomy and astrology, (15) tales from Tibetan opera, and (16) historical writings.

The first of these sixteen categories covers the teachings of Kadam, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyü, Geluk, Jonang, miscellaneous Buddhist schools, and the Bön school. Texts featured in these volumes have been, on the whole, selected by senior lineage holders of the individual schools. As for other categories, selection of the texts has been based primarily on recognition of the historical reality of the development of the individual disciplines. For example, in the field of epistemology, the works of the Sakya and Geluk schools have been selected, while on the topic of buddha-nature, the writings of Butön Rinchen Drup and Kagyü masters feature with greater prominence. Where there are fields of common interest, such as the presentation of the three codes or the bodhisattva’s altruistic ideal, efforts have been made to include the perspectives of all four major Tibetan Buddhist schools. It is hoped that with the creation of The Library of Tibetan Classics, a manageable reference library of key classical Tibetan works covering the entire expanse of classical Tibetan knowledge will become available to many libraries, educational and cultural institutions, and interested individuals.

This inaugural volume of The Library of Tibetan Classics expounds on a system of Buddhist thought and practice that exerted great influence in many key areas of classical Tibetan knowledge. Though belonging to the class of Vajrayana Buddhist teaching, the Kālacakra genre of texts also covers such diverse fields as cosmology, astronomy, and astrology, classical numerical system, and medicine and human physiology. Since the principal theme of this volume is the exposition of Kālacakra system of meditative practice, many of the practices presented presuppose that the reader has received initiation into the highest yoga tantra. Furthermore, given the esoteric nature of some of these meditative practices, it’s worth bearing in mind the proper context of profound symbolism and meaning that encompasses many aspects of the practices described here, some of which may appear transgressive to the modern reader.

The author of our present volume, Khedrup Norsang Gyatso, was a well-known Tibetan scholar and adept of the fifteenth century. He was a student of, among others, the First Dalai Lama Gendün Drup and Taktsang Lotsāwa Sherap Gyaltsen, and later became a principal teacher of the Second Dalai Lama Gendün Gyatso. Though belonging to the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism, Norsang Gyatso is recognized as a seminal figure in the promotion of a syncretic approach, between the Geluk and Kagyü schools, to the teachings and practices of the Buddhist tradition of mahāmudrā. Along with Phukpa Lhundrup Gyatso, Norsang Gyatso is also credited with the founding of the highly influential Phuk school of Tibetan astronomy and astrology. Most importantly in the present context, because of his dedication to intensive meditative practice for more than four decades as a “wandering hermit,” moving from one solitary place of retreat to another, Norsang Gyatso came to be revered in Tibet as a great meditator and teacher. Today he is included among the lineage masters of many important practice traditions, including of course the lineage of Kālacakra. Norsang Gyatso died in 1513 at the age of ninety-one.

It has truly been a great privilege to be part of this important translation project. I would like first of all to thank His Holiness the Dalai Lama for selecting this important text for inclusion in The Library of Tibetan Classics. I thank Gavin Kilty for doing such a superb job in translating this monumental text, and to the following individuals and organizations I also owe my sincere thanks: to David Kittelstrom at Wisdom for being such an incisive and dedicated editor; to Gene Smith and the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center for lending crucial Tibetan texts, including a copy of Norsang Gyatso’s text on astrology; to the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, India, for providing full access to its library to the Tibetan editors who have sourced the numerous citations in Norsang Gyatso’s text; and of course to my wife, Sophie Boyer-Langri, for shouldering the numberless invisible administrative chores that are entailed in a collaborative project such as this. Finally, without the indispensable fuel of funding, no amount of dedicated energy could have accomplished a project such as the translation of this volume. So I would like to thank Richard Gere and the Gere Foundation for funding the entire cost of translating this volume. I would also like to thank the Hershey Family Foundation for its longstanding support of the Institute of Tibetan Classics, without which the dream of creating The Library of Tibetan Classics, of which this volume is a part, would never have gotten off the ground. It is my sincere hope that through the publication of this volume, the many thousands of individuals outside the Tibetan-speaking community who have received the Kālacakra initiation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama will have an opportunity to study this important Buddhist system of thought and practice so that they could take their understanding and practice to a deeper level. Through the efforts of all those who have been involved in this important venture, may all sentient beings enjoy peace and happiness.

Thupten Jinpa
General Editor, The Library of Tibetan Classics

 

How to cite this document:
© Institute of Tibetan Classics, Ornament of Stainless Light (Wisdom Publications, 2004)

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Ornament of Stainless Light by Gavin Kilty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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