Songs and Histories of the Eighty-four Buddhist Siddhas
The Legends of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas
(Grub thob brgyad bcu tsa bzhi'i lo rgyus) by Mondup Sherab orally dictated by
Abhayadatta Sri (12th c.) and Vajra Songs: the Heart Realizations of the
Eighty-four Mahasiddhas (Grub thob brgyad bcu rtogs pa'i snying po rdo rje'i lu)
by Vira Prakash, translated by Keith Dowman with Bhaga Tulku Pema Tenzin; introduction and
commentaries by Keith Dowman; cover and 20 line drawings by H. R. Downs; published by the
State University of New York Press, Albany, NY., 1985, hardback and softback, 454 pages.
Translated into German as Die Meister der Mahamudra, Diederichs, Munchen, 1991.
'In Tibetan Buddhism, Mahamudra represents
a perfected level of meditative realization: it is the inseparable union of wisdom and
compassion, of emptiness and skilful means. These eight-four masters, some historical,
some archetypal, accomplished this practice in India where they lived between the eighth
and twelfth centuries. Leading unconventional lives, the siddhas include some of the
greatest Buddhist teachers; Tilopa, Naropa and Saraha among then. Through many years of
study, Keith Dowman has collected their songs of realization and the legends about them.
In consultation with contemporary teachers he gives a commentary on each of the great
adepts and culls from available sources what we know of their history.'
'Dowman's extensive Introduction traces
the development of tantra and discusses the key concept of Mahamudra. In a lively and
illuminating style, he unfolds the deeper understandings of mind that the text encodes.
His treatment of the many parallels to contemporary psychology and experience makes a
valuable contribution to our understanding of human nature.'
'This book is a major work on the origins
and practices of the mahamudra lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism, and is a great source of
information and inspiration to anyone interested in the flowering of Northern Indian
Buddhism and its subsequent adoption and development in Tibet.' Robert Beer in The Middle
1 The Mahasiddha
Luipa, The Fish-Gut Eater
A wild dog with honey rubbed on its nose
Madly devours whatever it sees;
Give the Lama's secret to a worldly fool
And his mind and the lineage burn out.
For a responsive man with knowledge of unborn reality
A mere glimpse of the Lama's vision of pure light-form,
Destroys mental fiction like an elephant berserk
Rampaging through hostile ranks with a sword lashed to its trunk.
Long ago, in the island kingdom of Sri
Lanka, a young prince ascended the throne of his fabulously wealthy father, The court
astrologers had calculated that the kingdom must be given to the deceased king's second
son if it was to remain strong and its people content. In his palace, where the walls were
plated with gold and silver and studded with pearls and precious stones, the young king
ruled his two brothers and all the people of Sri Lanka. However, possessing nothing but
contempt for wealth and power, his only desire was to escape his situation. When he first
attempted to escape, his brothers and courtiers caught him and bound him in golden chains,
but finally he succeeded in bribing his guards with gold and silver, and at night,
disguised in rags, he escaped with a single attendant. He rewarded his faithful accomplice
generously before leaving his island kingdom for Ramesvaram, where King Rama reigned, and
there he exchanged his golden throne for a simple deer-skin and his couch of silks and
satin for a bed of ashes. Thus he became a yogin.
The king- turned-yogin was handsome and
charming, and he had no difficulty in begging his daily needs. Wandering the length of
India, eventually he arrived in Vajrasana, where the Buddha Sakyamuni had achieved
enlightenment, and there he attached himself to hospitable Dakinis, who transmitted to him
their feminine insight. From Vajrasana he travelled to Pataliputra, the king's capital on
the River Ganges, where he subsisted on the alms he begged and slept in a cremation
ground. Begging in the bazaar one market day, he paused at a house of pleasure, and his
karma effected this fateful encounter with a courtesan, who was an incarnate, worldly
Dakini. Gazing through him at the nature of his mind, the Dakini said, "Your four
psychic centers and their energies are quite pure, but there is a pea-sized obscuration of
royal pride in your heart." And with that she poured some putrid food into his clay
bowl and told him to be on his way. He threw the inedible slop into the gutter, whereupon
the Dakinis, who had been watching him go, shouted after him angrily, "How can you
attain nirvana if you're still concerned about the purity of your food?"
The yogin was mortified. He realized that
his critical and judgmental mind was still subtly active; he still perceived some things
as intrinsically more desirable than others. He also understood that this propensity was
the chief obstacle in his progress to Buddhahood. With this realization he went down to
the River Ganges and began a twelve year sadhana to destroy his discursive
thought-patterns and his prejudices and preconceptions. His practice was to eat the
entrails of the fish that the fishermen disemboweled, to transform the fish-guts into the
nectar of pure awareness by insight into the nature of things as emptiness.
The fisherwomen gave him his name, Luipa,
which means Eater of Fish-guts. The practice which gave him his name also brought him
power and realization. Luipa became a renowned Guru, and in the legends of Darikapa and
Dengipa there is further mention of him.
It is appropriate that the first of the
eighty-four legends should repeat the elements of the story of the first Buddha,
Sakyamuni, in a tantric guise. Luipa is a king who renounces his throne for the sake of
enlightenment. Like Sakyamuni he escaped in the night with a single attendant to become a
yogin, and Sakyamuni, too, probably employed a deer-skin (krsnasara) as a mat, a
throne, and a shawl. Deer-skins indicate renunciate status; the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
wears one around his torso. But Luipa was born into the kaliyuga when it was no longer
possible to practice the fierce discipline and simple practices that Sakyamuni taught. In
order to eradicate the subtle defilement that the Dakini indicated and to resolve the
dualistic mental constructs that are the root cause of samsara, to attain freedom from
samsara in this lifetime a radical short-cut method was required, and in Luipa's case, as
with many of the siddhas, a Dakini was at hand to provide it.
Luipa was a master of the mother-tantra,
and his Gurus were Dakini Gurus, mundane Dakinis, embodiments of the female principle of
awareness.' The Dakinis who indicated his sadhana was a publican and whore-mistress, for
liquor shops doubled as brothels. The "royal pride" she discerned in his heart
can be rendered more precisely as "racial, caste and social discrimination," and
with her putrid food she pointed at a method which can best be described as the path of
dung eating. Cultivate what is most foul and abhorrent, and consciousness is thereby
stimulated to the point of transcendence; familiarize yourself with what is most
disgusting and eventually it tastes no different from bread and butter. The result of this
method is attainment of the awareness of sameness SS3 that is at the heart of all pride,
all discrimination and prejudice, and transmutes these moral qualities, that are the
mental equivalent of fish-guts, into emptiness. To elaborate the Dakini's parting sally:
so long as you fail to perceive the inherent reality of emptiness in every sensual
stimulus, every state of mind, and every thought, you will remain in dualistic samsara,
judging, criticizing and discriminating. To attain the non-duality of nirvana find the
awareness of sameness in what is most revolting, and realize the one taste of all which is
More light is shed on Luipa's practice by
considering what fish meant in his society. First, fish is the flesh of a sentient being
and therefore anathema to the orthodox brahmin; but left-over fish-guts is fit only for
dogs, the lowest life-form on the totem pole. Such a practice, if indeed Luipa performed a
literal interpretation, would have made him unclean in the eyes of his former peers,
untouchable and unapproachable. Self-abasement and humiliation is the corollary of
"dung eating;" destroy every vestige of those associations with former birth,
privilege and wealth, and in an existential pit discover what there is in human being that
can inspire real pride, divine pride, that is inherent in all sentient beings. Second,
fish is a symbol of spirituality and sense control, and Luipa's Samvara sadhana, which is
not described here, involves transformation of his universe into that of a god in his
paradise, and attainment of control of his energies (prana) and thus of his senses.
Our legend is the only source to assert
that Luipa was born in Sri Lanka, to which the text's Singhaladvipa must refer. But there
were several kingdoms in the sub-continent called Singhaladvipa, one contiguous to
Oddiyana which other sources give as Luipa's birth place. In Bu ston's account, Luipa was
son of King Lalitacandra of 0ddiyana. When the prince encountered Savaripa, Saraha's
disciple, he was immensely impressed by this siddha and begged him for instruction. He
received initiation into the Samvara-tantra. The initial part of his sadhana was
completed when he joined a circle of twenty-four Dakas and Dakinis in a rite of offering
in a cremation ground which climaxed in consumption of the corpse of a sage. With a final
blessing from his Guru he left Oddiyana and began a mendicant sadhu existence. That period
ended when, feeling the need for sustained one-pointed meditation practice, he sat down to
meditate beside a pile of fish-guts by the banks of the River Ganges in Bengal (Bangala),
where he remained until he had attained mahamudra-siddhi. His subsequent encounter
with the king and minister who became Darikapa and Dengipa portray Luipa as an
outrageously honest and fearless exploiter of personal power, and also an adept wielder of
the apt phrase bearing tantric truth. Consistent with this facility with words, the Sakya
school's account of Luipa's life asserts that he was a scribe (kayastha) at the
court of the Maharaja of Bharendra, Dharmapala. Begging alms at Dharmapala's palace
Savaripa recognized the scribe Luipa as a suitable recipient of his Samvara lineage; his
extraordinary talent was evident in the versified letters he wrote to the king's
correspondents, a task requiring acute, one-pointed concentration. Taranatha's account
differs significantly from Bu ston's in that Luipa was a scribe to the King of Oddiyana,
and was initiated into Vajra Varahi's mandala.
The most significant piece of information
in these legends is that Luipa worked at the court of the Maharaja of Bharendra,
Dharmapala. The only king who had the right to call himself Maharaja of this kingdom was
the great Pala Emperor Dharmapala, who gained it by right of conquest. Since the Sakya
legends have been given the greatest historiographical credence of all the siddhas'
legends, it is tempting to accept this crucial identification and place Luipa as a younger
contemporary of Dharmapala (AD 770-810). If Luipa was initiated in his youth at the end of
the eighth century or the beginning of the ninth, his Guru Savaripa's lifetime can be
calculated, together with the dates of Darikapa and Dengipa, and also Dombi Heruka (4) who
Luipa taught.' Kilapa (73) may also have been his disciple. 9 But if Luipa was born in the
eighth century he cannot be identified with Minapa/Macchendranath, an identification that
has been attempted due to several coincidences: the stem of both their names means
"fish;" they are both associated with Sri Lanka and Bengal; they both conceived yogini-tantra
lineages (Luipa - Samvara; Minapa -Yogini-kaula), and they are both known as adi-guru,
Whereas Minapa was the originator of nath saiva lineages, from which he gained
his adi-guru status, Luipa has no Hindu associations, although his sadhana has a sakta
Luipa's first place in the eighty-four
legends could reflect the belief of the narrator, or the translator, that Luipa was First
Guru (adi-guru) of the Mahamudra-siddhas in either time or status. The other
claimant to this title is Saraha. Regarding time, Luipa was born after Saraha, but
although Luipa's Guru was Saraha's disciple, their lifetimes probably overlapped.
Regarding status and personal power, whereas Saraha's reputation lies to a large extent in
his literary genius, Luipa's name evokes a sense of the siddha's tremendous integrity and
commitment, the samaya that creates the personal power demonstrated in his legends.
Both Saraha and Luipa were originators of Samvara-tantra lineages, but it was Luipa
who received the title of Guhyapati, Master of Secrets, to add to his status of adi-guru
in the lineage that practiced the Samvara-tantra according to the method of
Luipa; he received direct transmission from the Dakini Vajra Varahi. If Luipa obtained his
original Samvara revelation in Oddiyana, the home of several of the mother-tantras, he
would have been one of the siddhas responsible for propagating this tantra in Eastern
India. But whatever the tantra's provenance, Luipa became the great exemplar of what
Saraha preached, as confirmed in his own few doha songs, and his sadhana became the
inspiration and example for some of the greatest names amongst the mahasiddhas: Kambala,
Ghantapa, Indrabhuti, Jalandhara, Krsnacarya, Tilopa and Naropa were all initiates into
the Samvara-tantra according to the method of Luipa. Marpa Dopa transmitted the
tantra to Tibet, where it has remained the principal yidam practice of the Kahgyu school
Although the Tibetan translator rendered
"Luipa" as The Fishgut Eater (Nya Ito zhabs), the root of the word is probably
Old Bengali lohita, a type of fish, and Luipa is thus synonymous with Minapa and
Macchendra/Matsyendra. Luhipa, Lohipa, Luyipa, Loyipa, are variants of the name.
4 The Mahasiddha
Dombipa, The Tiger-Rider
The philosopher's stone
Turns iron into gold;
The innate power of the Great Jewel
Converts passion into pure awareness.
Dombipa was a king of Magadha. He was
initiated by the Guru Virupa into the mandala of the Buddha-deity Hevajra. Through
practice of the meditation rites of Hevajra he experienced the deity's reality and
attained his realization and magical power.
The enlightened king regarded his subjects
as a father treats his only son, but his people had no idea that their king was an
initiate of the mysteries. However, they all agreed that he was an honest man with an
innate propensity to treat his subjects kindly.
The king conceived a scheme to drive fear
and want from his kingdom. He summoned his minister, charging him in this way: "Our
country is plagued by thieves and bandits, and due to past neglect our karma has burdened
us with much poverty. To protect it from fear and want, cast a great bronze bell and hang
it from the branch of a strong tree. Whenever you see danger or poverty, strike the
bell." The minister fulfilled the king's command, and while the king reigned. Magadha
was free of crime, famine, plague and poverty.
Some time later a wandering band of
minstrels arrived in the city to sing and dance for the king. One of the minstrels had a
twelve year-old daughter, an innocent virgin untainted by the sordid world about her. She
was utterly charming, with a fair complexion and classical features, and to glance at her
was to fall in love. She had all the qualities of a padmini, a lotus child, the
rarest and most desirable of all girls. The king decided to take this girl for his
spiritual consort, and in secret he commanded the gypsy to give her to him.
"You are the great king of
Magadha," the man replied. "You rule eight hundred thousand households in such
luxury and style that you are left completely ignorant of the other side of life. We are
low caste wretches, reviled and shunned by all. How could you even think of such a
The king insisted. He gave the minstrel
the girl's weight in gold and took her to serve as his mystic consort. For many years he
kept her hidden, but in the twelfth year her existence became known. "The king is
consorting with an outcast woman," was the rumor that spread like wild-fire across
the kingdom, and despite his previous benevolence the king's conduct was not tolerated by
the establishment. He was forced to abdicate. Entrusting his kingdom to his son and
ministers he departed for the jungle with his low-caste mistress, and in an idyllic
hermitage in solitude they continued practicing their tantric yoga for a further twelve
Meanwhile the kingdom was misgoverned. The
quality of life diminished as virtue ebbed to a low level. A council agreed to request the
old king to return to govern, and a delegation was sent into the jungle to find him. When
they eventually found the hermitage, from a distance they saw the king sitting under a
tree while his consort walked upon lotus leaves to the middle of a pond, where she drew
cool nectar from a depth of fifteen fathoms before returning to offer it to her lord. The
watchers were amazed, and returned immediately to the city to report what they had seen.
Then another delegation was sent with the people's invitation. and the king accepted it,
agreeing to return.
The king, in union with his consort, came
riding out of the jungle on the back of a pregnant tigress, brandishing a deadly snake as
a whip. After the people had overcome their fear and astonishment they begged him to take
up the reigns of government again.
"I have lost my own caste status by
consorting with an outcast woman," the king told them. "It is not proper for me
to resume my original position. However, since death ends all distinctions, burn us. In
our rebirth we will have been absolved."
A great pyre of cow-head sandalwood was
constructed, and after the king and his consort had mounted it, it was fired. The huge
pyre burned for seven days, and when it was cool enough to approach, the people caught
sight of the two of them shimmering, as if covered in dew drops, in the spontaneously
arisen illusory form of the Buddha-deity Hevajra in union with his consort, in the heart
of a fully-blown lotus. At this point the last vestiges of doubt were removed from the
minds of the men of Magadha, and they began to call their king the master Dombipa, which
means Lord of the Dombi.
Stepping out of the fire the king
addressed the ministers and all of his people of the four castes. "If you emulate me,
I shall stay to govern you. If you will not help yourselves, I shall not remain to govern
The people were shocked, and remonstrated,
saying, "How is that possible?" "How can we give up our homes and
families?" "We are not yogins!"
Then the king addressed them again.
"Political power is of little benefit and the retribution is great. Those who wield
authority can do little good, and more often than not the damage that flows from their
actions leads to misery for all in the long run. My kingdom is the kingdom of truth!"
He spoke, and in that instant of
immortality he arrived in the Dakini's Paradise, where he remains for the sake of perfect
awareness and pure delight.
In India it is universally believed that
the sound of a bell has the power to exorcise demons and to purify the mind; a bell is
always sounded before entering a temple. The bell that Dombipa had erected was
multifunctional: it called prudent attention to thieves and approaching natural disasters,
for example; it exorcised the area of any demons responsible for plague and famine; and by
purifying the minds of the populace it improved their karma; the all pervasive sound of
the bell is also an auditory symbol of female wisdom and emptiness. After this initial
anecdote illustrating the king's benevolence, the bulk of Dombipa's legend concerns his
sexual sadhana and caste problems.
Inter-caste miscegenation was forbidden
for the twice-born castes, and the penalty for breaking this taboo was loss of caste,
which meant social ostracism. But the evident anti-caste bias of Buddhism in general, and
Tantra in particular, does not manifest as social rebellion and zeal to reform society -
unless ordination and initiation into an outcast sect is viewed as an anti-caste act - as
everybody recognized caste as an immutable, divine dispensation. Rather, for the tantrika,
the mind-set, preconceptions and prejudices of caste- consciousness, comprise a paradigm
of the social conditioning that must be eradicated if Buddhahood is to be achieved. just
as we can lose our racial prejudice by marrying a partner belonging to another race, the
siddhas took consorts from outcast communities to cultivate the awareness of
nondiscrimination. Further, in the same way that pride is destroyed by entering into the
essence of humiliation, passion dissolves by cultivating sexual desire in the framework of
a fulfillment yoga and penetrating its essence. It should be said that the popularity of
Dombi, Sabara and Candala consorts depended to some extent upon availability. No matter
what the original caste status of a bone-garlanded yogin, few women of high caste would be
associated with him. The Dombis were wandering minstrels and musicians. The age of
Dombipa's consort, twelve, signifies maturity, or perfection; sixteen is the actual age
when a girl is ripe according to the Kamasutra, which places padmini at the
top of a fourfold classification of the ideal girl's physical attributes. Mudra is
the term used to describe Dombipa's "mystic consort." On the sensual plane she
is the "other body", the karma-mudra, employed in sexual yoga. On the
non-dual, ultimate level she is the jnana-mudra, the "seal of awareness"
stamped upon every experience of body, speech and mind.
Dombipa's consort was Vajra Varahi to his
own Hevajra (although another source calls her Cinta, the sahaja-yogini of Hevajra's
retinue). The precise nature of their jungle meditation is omitted, but probably it was
the yoga of uniting pleasure and emptiness. Practicing a form of coitus interruptus and
retention of semen, the energy generated is sublimated, vitalizing the psycho-organism's
focal points of energy, raising the level of sensual pleasure to the point where dualistic
functions of mind are overwhelmed and the non-dual pure awareness of the Buddha shines
through. The kundalini rises from the sexual cakra, through the four levels
of joy and the four higher cakras, to consummate Buddhahood in the fontanelle
center (see p. 217).
The vignette of Dombipa's purification by
fire is a common enough motif in tantric legend (e.g. Padmasambhava's burning with
Mandarava); fire may indicate the fierce passion that is transmuted into pure awareness by
meditation upon its essential nature as mind pure in itself; imperviousness to fire
indicates a yogin's control of the elements and may signify that his body has become
immaterial, in his own vision, like a rainbow body; the halo that surrounds the wrathful
deities in Tibetan iconography is the fire of wisdom that burns away the veils of thought
and emotion. The "cow-head" sandalwood of the pyre upon which they were burnt is
a highly scented, sacred wood usually employed for carving images and anointing saints.
It is interesting to consider the
implications of Dombipa's final judgement upon political involvement. In his early years
as an enlightened king like Lilapa, he used his situation to fulfill the Bodhisattva Vow
of selfless service, and, like the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, he took upon himself the
misfortunes of beings and the negative karma of wielding authority and power. Finally,
however, when his people plead incapacity to emulate the master he refuses to rule them
and dissolves into the Dakini's Paradise. We may infer from this that the renunciate yogin
s path is ultimately superior to living in the world - if the choice is possible. In the
same key, Dombipa could have claimed that he never indulged in sexual pleasure, his
practice with his consort being a highly ascetic practice in which transcendence of
sexual involvement was the path to mahamudra-siddhi.
Taranatha's extensive account of Dombipa's
life begins in Tripura, in Assam, where Virupa was born (see p. 50). Dombi was the king
(or a lord) of Tripura. His account is substantially the same as our legend until Dombi
returns to his kingdom at the insistence of his people. After teaching his own people he
wandered afar with his consort, demonstrating his magical power for the benefit of others.
In Radha he flew across the city mounted on his tiger, threatening the king and citizens
with venomous snakes, forcing them to take refuge in the Buddha (thus the descriptive
epithet Tiger-Rider). In Karnataka, in South India, he taught five hundred yogins and
yoginis in a cremation ground, and all except one, who violated the samaya, gained siddhi.
Also in the South, he coerced a people who built sacrificial mounds of animals' hearts
as offering to renounce animal sacrifice.
Taranatha lists Dombipa's ten disciples:
amongst them are Alalavajra, Garbaripa, Jayasri, and Rahulavajra. G(h)arbaripa has been
identified with Dharmapa (48). Vilasyavajra and Krsnacarya are also given as Dombipa's
disciples, but evidence of the Guru's relationships with all these disciples is sparse.
Virupa was undoubtedly Dombi's Guru, but it appears that Luipa also taught him. Far less
probable are the references in all but one of the texts of the legends that make
Krsnacarya his Guru, although Dombi would have been alive to meet Krsnacarya. There is
room for some confusion in identifying Dombipa's lineage as there was a second Dombipa of
less importance, who was a disciple of Naropa and Vyadhalipa (see p. 285) and taught
Virupa the Younger and Kusalibhadra the Younger Atisa and 'Brog mi.
Dombipa is better known as Dombi Heruka.
"Dombipa" means Lord of the Dombi, Dombi being his outcast consort's caste name.
Heruka is both the name of a form of Samvara and Hevajra, and also an epithet of a siddha
who embodies those deities' qualities; since Dombi is Hevajra, according to our legend,
the name is most fitting. Dombi Heruka wrote few works, but some of significance. His Sri-sahaja-siddhi
is an oft-quoted short form of the Hevajratantra; he revealed the Kurukulla-kalpa
and Aralli-tantra. He also wrote an Ekavira-sadhana. Most of his writing
concerned the mother-tantra, and he is to be considered an important exemplar of woman
worship (str-puja). He must have been born in the second part of the eighth century
and lived a long life through the first half of the ninth.
7 The Siddha
Kankaripa, The Lovelorn Widower
My Dakini-woman, my queen, my lady!
The visible form of my pure awareness,
Form not separate from me, nor yet a part of me,
The phenomenal appearance of empty space:
She is beyond compare and beyond words.
In Magadha there once lived a householder
of low caste. He married a girl of his own social status and settled down. He was not an
immoral man, but caring not a whit for the virtuous life that leads to spiritual freedom,
after tasting the delights of connubial bliss he became obsessed with sensual pleasure. He
experienced peaks of undreamed ecstasy. However, while he was still more than content with
his lot, believing that this world alone could fulfill all his desires, his beloved wife
came to her appointed time and died. He carried her corpse to the cremation ground, and
there he broke down and lost himself in sorrow. His mind and will paralyzed, he was unable
to tear himself away from his beloved's corpse. It was in this state of despair that an
enlightened yogin found him and asked him what was wrong.
"Can't you see the state I'm in,
yogin?" he cried. "The loss of my wife is the end of this glorious life for me.
It's as if I've just had my eyes torn out. No one on earth can suffer more than
"All life ends in death; every
meeting ends in parting; all compounded things eventually disintegrate. Everyone in this
samsaric world suffers; suffering is the nature of this wheel of existence. So why grieve?
Why guard this corpse that's no different from a lump of stony clay? Why don't you
practice Dharma and eliminate pain?"
"If there is a way out of the
confusion of this existence, please show me, yogin," the bereaved man begged.
"The Guru's instruction is the way
out," the yogin told him.
"Then please give it to me."
The yogin initiated him and empowered him
in the precepts relating to the insubstantial seed-essence that has neither center nor
circumference. Then teaching him how to meditate, the heartbroken lover was instructed to
avoid thinking about his dead wife, but to visualize her as a Dakinis, as indivisible
pleasure and emptiness, without substance and without self. Thus he entered into
meditation, and after six years had passed all thought of his dead wife as a woman of
flesh and blood had become a state of pleasure and emptiness. The clouds in his mind
dissolved, and the experience of the clear light of pure pleasure arose within him. just
like the poison dhatura leaving the mind and taking with it all hallucination and
delusion, the poison of bewilderment and unknowing left his being, and he saw the reality
of unalterable truth,
The sudra householder of Magadha
gained mahamudra-siddhi and became known to the world as Kankaripa. He taught the
Buddha's Word to many beings in Magadha before rising into the Dakinis's Paradise.
This straightforward story well
illustrates how ordinary men are transformed into yogins out of which mahasiddhas are
made, by spontaneously taking advantage of the opportunity that arises in the
"bardo" experienced in the aftermath of disaster. The disaster of the premature
death of a partner around whom one's world is built is an excellent paradigm, but many
kinds of mini-disaster plunge one into the same intermediate state of high receptivity,
devoid of preconceptions, ready for anything, a state metaphorically described as "a
cremation ground," where metanoia is possible - an earth-bound hedonist enters
and a sky-bound divine madman exits. The radical distinction between the pleasure of
sexual consummation and the pure pleasure of union with the Dakini is made clear here.
Kankaripa was instructed to meditate upon
the anthropomorphic representation of the ultimate reality he describes in his rare song
of realization. Remove the attachment to one's mundane consort, the attachment that is
reinforced by expendable thought and memory, and what remains is a relationship directly
analogous to the ultimate two-in-one union of empty space and pure awareness; the Dakini
is thus both a woman and "the visible form of pure awareness," and the Dakini's
dance is both the play in male-female rapport and the continuous metamorphosis of
phenomenal appearances. The Awareness Dakinis is so called because her form is inseparable
from the pure awareness of the naths out of which she manifests. "The
insubstantial seed-essence that has neither center nor circumference," the name of
the initiatory precepts Kankiripa received, is a description of the ultimate Dakini
visualized as a zeropoint, the cosmic egg containing the potential, and also the
everchanging actuality, of the universe; another lineage calls it "the indestructible
sole seed:" this point-instant of pure awareness has, in common with a single point
of light in a hologram, the capacity to contain within it the entire interdependent
creation. This Dakini is a union of pure pleasure and emptiness; she is not only present
in, but actually is every moment of sensual perception.
Dhatura is a powerful hallucinogen
otherwise known as Jimson Weed or Thorn Apple. The active parts of the thorny fruit
variety create amazingly credible hallucinations in which the subject can lose himself. It
is used by devotees of Siva in their sadhanas, and as an offering; but to my knowledge it
is not employed in Tibetan Tantra.
The Tibetan form of this siddha's name,
Keng rus zhabs, indicates that Kankalapada (rather than Kankaripa, Kankalipa or Konkalipa)
is the correct form. Kankala (and Keng rus) means "skeleton," a synonym of
Kapalika and Kapala, according to the Skandha Purana, where the Kankala sect is
given as one of the five saiva sects that lead to liberation. Thus Kankala would
appear to be a saiva name.
The variant forms of Kankaripa's
birthplace, Grahura and Maghahura, suggest that either Magadha, ancient S. Bihar, or
Gauda, could be the correct form (see 7 and 11).
The Dark Siddha
- 17 The Mahasiddha
Zealously practice generosity and moral
But you cannot attain siddhi supreme without a Guru
No more than drive a chariot without wheels.
The wide-winged vulture, innately skilled,
Glides high in the sky, ranging far away,
And the Guru's potent precepts absorbed
The karmically-destined yogin is content.
Born in the town of Somapuri Kanhapa, also
known as Krsnacarya, was the son of a scribe. He took ordination in the great monastic
academy of Somapuri, built by King Dharmapala. He was initiated into the mandala of the
Deity Hevajra by his Guru Jalandhara.
Kanhapa practiced his sadhana for twelve
years and was rewarded by a vision of Hevajra with his retinue while the earth trembled
beneath him. This experience inflated his pride, but a Dakini appeared and warned him
against any idea that this vision was anything but a preliminary sign on the path,
assuring him that he had not yet realized ultimate truth. Kanhapa continued his solitary
practice, but one day, wishing to test himself, he placed his foot upon a rock and left
his footprint in it. The Dakini appeared again, entreating him to return to his meditation
seat. Again, sometime later, he awoke from his samadhi and found himself floating in space
one cubit from the ground, and again the Dakini appeared, warning him of pride of
achievement and pointing to his meditation seat. Finally it happened that he rose up with
seven canopies floating above his head and seven damaru skull-drums spontaneously
sounding in the sky around him.
"I have reached my goal," he
told his disciples. "We will go to the barbarian island of Lankapuri to convert the
He set out for the city of Lankapuri on
the island of Sri Lanka with a retinue of three thousand disciples. At the shore of the
sea dividing the island from the mainland, wishing to impress his disciples and also the
people of Sri Lanka, he left his attendants and began the crossing walking on the water.
"Even my Guru lacks this gift!"
he thought to himself - and he sank into the sea. The current washed him ashore, and he
found himself looking up at his Guru, Jalandhara, who was floating in the sky above him.
"Where are you going, Kanhapa?"
asked his Guru. "What's the matter?"
"I was going to the barbarian island
of Sri Lanka to save the people from the pitfalls of samsara, " Kanhapa replied
meekly. "But on the way it occurred to me that my power was superior to yours, and
the result was that I lost the power I had, and I sank into the sea."
"You do no one any good like
that," Jalandhara commented. "You should go to my country of Pataliputra, where
the beneficent King Dharmapala reigns, and there look for a pupil of mine who is a weaver.
Obey him implicitly, and you will attain the ultimate truth, which you have not yet
Kanhapa set out and, obeying his Guru, he
found that his powers were restored. The canopies and damarus re-appeared in the
sky, and he could walk upon water and leave footprints in rock. When he arrived at
Pataliputra he left his three thousand disciples outside the city and went in search of
the weaver. Walking down the main street of the town where the weavers had their shops,
one by one he broke the threads of their looms with his gaze. As each began to retie his
threads manually he knew he had to look further for his teacher. At the end of the street,
on the outskirts of town, however, he found a weaver whose thread spontaneously re-wound
itself, and he knew that he need look no further. Prostrating before this man, and
circumambulating him, Kanhapa then besought him to teach the ultimate truth.
"Do you promise to obey me in all
things?" inquired the weaver.
"I do," Kanhapa responded.
Then they walked together to the cremation
ground, where they found a fresh corpse. "Can you cat the flesh of the corpse?"
the weaver asked.
Kanhapa knelt down, took out his knife,
and began to sever a piece of flesh.
"Not like that!" said the weaver
with contempt, "Like this!" And he transformed himself into a wolf, leapt upon
the corpse, and began to tear at it ravenously. Once more a human being he said, "You
can only eat human flesh when you can transform yourself in that way."
Then continuing his instruction, he
defecated and offered one oi the three pieces of his feces to his pupil. "Eat
it!" he ordered.
"People will ridicule me if I do
it," Kanhapa protested. "I shan't do it!"
Then the weaver ate one piece, the
celestial gods ate another, and the third was carried off by the naga serpents to
the nether world
After they had arrived back in the city
the weaver bought five penny worth of food and alcohol. "Now call your disciples and
we'll celebrate a communal ganacakra feast," he ordered.
Kanhapa did as he was told thinking,
"There's not enough food there for even one man. How is he going to feed us
When the communicants were assembled the
weaver blessed the offerings and filled the bowls with rice, sweetmeats and every kind of
delicacy. The feast lasted for seven days, and still the offerings had not all been
consumed. "There is no end to this," Kanhapa eventually thought in disgust.
"I am going," and he threw away his left overs as an offering to the hungry
ghosts, called to his disciples, and walked off.
The weaver shouted after them:
Ah, you miserable children!
You are destroying yourselves!
You are the kind of yogins
Who separate the emptiness of perfect insight
From the active compassion of life!
What will you gain by running away?
Canopies and damarus are small achievements
Meditate and realize the nature of reality!
Kanhapa did not want to listen. He walked
on, and travelled to the land of Bhadhokora, which was four hundred and fifty miles east
of Somapuri. He stopped, finally, on the outskirts of the city, where he saw a young girl
sitting beneath a lichee tree laden with fruit.
"Give me some fruit," he said to
"I will not," she replied.
The yogin was not to be denied, and he
plucked the fruit from the tree with his powerful gaze. The girl sent each fruit back to
the tree with an equally powerful look. Kanhapa was suddenly angry, and he cursed the girl
with a maledictory mantra so that she fell writhing on the ground, bleeding from her
An indignant crowd gathered,
"Buddhists are supposed to be kind," they muttered, "but this yogin is a
Kanhapa recollected himself when he heard
these words, and feeling compassion for the girl he removed the curse. But he was now
vulnerable to the curse that she called down upon him, and he fell down vomiting and
excreting blood in an acute state of mortal anguish. He called the Dakini Bhande to him,
and asked her to go to Sri Parvata Mountain in the south to bring the herbs that could
The Dakini departed, covering the six
months journey to Sri Parvata in seven days. She soon found the herbs required and
turned back to Bengal. On the last day of the return journey she passed an old crone
weeping by the wayside, and failing to recognize the seductress who had cursed her master,
she stopped to ask the cause of her distress.
"Isn't the death of the Lord Kanhapa
sufficient cause to weep?" moaned the crone.
In despair Bhande threw the vital medicine
away, only to find Kanhapa still critically ill, awaiting his cure. When he asked for the
herbs she could only stammer her tale of deception.
Kanhapa had seven days to teach his
disciples before finally leaving his karmically-matured body for the Dakini's Paradise. He
taught them the sadhana called The Severed-headed Vajra Varahi.
After her master's death the Dakini Bhande
sought the girl whose malediction had caused it. She searched the heavens above, the
netherworld below, and the human world in between. Eventually she found her hiding in a sambhila
tree. She dragged her out of it and cursed her with a spell from which she never
Kanhapa's story is the only legend that
can be described as a cautionary tale. The other siddhas who failed to attain the ultimate
mahamudra-siddhi - Goraksa, Caurangi, Khadgapa, among others - were treated very
kindly by the narrator, but Mahapa, who performed a Hevajra sadhana and was recognized by
the people as a Buddhist yogin, was heavily censured. He refused to listen to his Dakini
advisor; he committed the cardinal sin of disobeying his Guru, the weaver; he was
conceited and hasty; he was governed by anger and pride: he came to a nasty end. The
weaver attributed his failings to his incomplete meditation; he had not united insight and
skillful means. In practical terms, although he may have attained prolonged periods of
insight into emptiness in the controlled situation of trance, during his application of
skillful means in an uncontrolled situation, when impediments such as inflated discursive
thought and strong emotion arose, he lacked the perception of emptiness that would
dissolve these obstacles. Thus, when he was provoked by the Dakini under the lichee tree,
instead of donning a wrathful mask while maintaining the inner equilibrium and detachment
that accompanies an understanding of all phenomena as empty colored space, he was overcome
by anger, and his belated contrition, which he could have reserved for a meditation of
atonement, led to his death. Insight and skillful means are said to be like the wings of a
bird; with only one wing, a bird cannot fly. As to emotion, so to thought; if his arrogant
thoughts dissolved immediately they arose due to his perception of their emptiness, he
would not have fallen. If he had been able to experience the sensual feast of the
ganacakra as emptiness, his appetite would have been limitless. If he had really
eradicated his conditioned prejudice and preconceptions and gained the awareness of
sameness, he could have eaten his Guru's excrement. If he had been free of a sense of ego,
he could have transformed himself into a wolf and eaten human flesh. Kanhapa exemplifies
the common phenomenon of the meditator who experiences the highest heavens in his
meditative trance, who may have realized the emptiness of all things, and can even arise
from his meditation seat and remain in samddhi; but when called upon to act, the
realization achieved in meditation vanishes. Likewise, when conditions are favorable he
can demonstrate siddhi and fulfill his vow to assist all sentient beings, but when
the ultimate insight is necessary to dissolve obstacles, due to vestiges of belief in
"self' it is not available. Only siddhas have constant realization of the ultimate
reality and live their daily lives with insight and skillful means united.
Three Dakinis feature in this legend;
every Dakinis has the potential to function as a guide or assistant to liberation. The
first Dakinis, who Kanhapa chose eventually to ignore, may have been a human embodiment or
a sambhogakaya emanation. The Dakini under the fruit tree was a mundane Dakinis
whose positive potential Kanhapa never discovered because she touched his ego, provoking
him to compete and, fatally attached, he stirred in her a wrath that soon killed him.
Clearly it is very difficult to penetrate to the emptiness of a mundane Dakini when she
shows the heavy and black side of her ambiguous nature; but if that is achieved she
becomes a most loyal ally, guide and savioress. The third Dakinis, Bhande (or Bandhe), is
his trustworthy friend who performed superhuman feats out of her devotion ~o him. Her name
could mean "Buddhist Nun" (bandhd) or "Skull" (Mandha), which
would associate her with the kapalikas. Kanhapa had a male disciple called
Bhandepada (32), but it was a Bhadrapda (24) who sought the murderous Bahuri, found her in
a tree in Devikotta and slew her, according to Taranatha.
Only in this legend are the practices of
flesh-eating, dung-eating and (by implication) a literally performed ganacakra-puja mentioned.
In these so-called left-handed (vamacara) practices there is an element of William
Blake's "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," but more than that,
it is in the basest impurity, in depravity and the lowest forms of life, and in tamasic
food and drink, in the outcaste whore, the kapalika ascetic, excrement, corpses,
alcohol, drugs, fish and meat, that the ultimate truth becomes accessible. Finding purity
in impurity through the experience of the one taste of all things, the ultimate sameness
of all phenomena, which is emptiness, is realized. At the heart of depravity and
corruption is the seed of innocence, unconditioned mind, which turns the wheel full circle
and unites polarities. The seed grows into the flower of liberated bodhisattvic activities
like a lotus growing out of the slime of a lake bottom: no slime, no lotus. The image of
the lotus is basic and ubiquitous in tantric sadhana.
The stereotype of the flesh-eating,
copulating, dung-eating tantrika is the kapalika ascetic, who consciously seeks the
bottom of the pit of samsara to find his way to nirvana. The great poet and singer Kanhapa
sings of the perfected kapalika in some of his many caryapada songs, and
even identifies himself as a kapalika. His Guru Jalandhara was acknowledged as one
of their great Gurus, but it is unlikely that Kanhapa himself actually took the Great Vow (mahavrata)
and performed gross kapalika rites. Although he sings, "0 Dombi, I shall
keep company with thee, and it is for this purpose that I have become a Kapali without
aversion.... I am the Kapali and thou art the Dombi. For thee I have put on a garland of
bones . . ." he also sings the subtle metaphysical equations of the sahajiyas, and
one is tempted to think that the Kapali (or kapalika) is for him a state of mind,
and that he never practiced the literal interpretation. He sings of an uncompromising
non-dual reality in which there is only empty space, and, simply by recognizing that, mahamudra-siddhi
is attained. He rejects the intellectual approach, mantra and visualization, brahmin
ritual, the kapalikas attachment to tantric appearances and conventions, and
he sings of the real kapalika as the ideal sahaja-siddha who has shaken off
all prejudices and partiality, all preconceptions and doctrine, and realized "the
ultimate principle of emptiness that arises spontaneously with every movement of the
Kanhapa is also a founder of nath lineages.
Compared to others of the Five Naths he is not of primary importance, but the nath tradition
is rich in anecdote concerning him. His status is defined by a story of Gorakhnath and
Minanath giving a feast at which each selects his own dish. Kanhapa chose cooked snakes
and scorpions and was hooted from the feast. It is said that he was the son of the
fisherman Kinwar, who caught Minapa's leviathan. The Kanipa, one of the twelve main
panths, recognize him as adi-guru, as also the Augars, who perform twelve
years of sadhana before initiation and lastly the Sepala, lesser, snake-charming
yogins. It is as if he was patron-saint of the second-class naths. But he
maintained a close relationship with Ja1andhara, his Guru, whom he rescued from
"The Black One," "The Dark
One," are names referring to skin color, not to moral quality. They are epithets
given to dark-skinned aboriginals (adivasis), or nick-names given to a yogin of any
caste. origin with a dark complexion. Different languages and dialects produced different
forms of the name: Krsna, Kanhapa, Kahnapa, Kahnupa, Kanupa, Kanapa, Kanipa, etc., all
translated into Tibetan as Nag po pa. Compounded with acarya (pandita or adept),
Krsnacarya, Krsnacarin, Krsnacari, may become just Caryapa; in Tibetan the Nag po spyod pa
pa becomes simply sPyod pa pa. Since Tantra was a path that appealed to the outcaste
tribals there must have been many Krsnas down the centuries. But apart from the nath siddha
mentioned above, we are concerned principally with the two Kamacaryas of the tenth century
who were probably Guru and disciple, and who are confounded in our legend. Jalandhara was
the Guru of the Father, Son and nath Kanhapas. The Father-Guru was an acarya, and
it is likely that this Krsnacarya was responsible for most of the hundred and fifty works
under this name, or variants, found in the Tenjur. It is uncertain whether the Father or
the Son composed and sung the caryapada songs. The Son, who may have been the nath,
could have sung "I am a Kapali free from aversion." But certainly the Son is
associated with dance and small ritual drums known as damarus. Taranatha tells the
story of the Son practicing the Samvara-tantra at Nalanda being induced by a
goddess to go to Kamarupa in Assam to gain the power of wealth (vasu-siddhi). In
Kamarupa he found a chest containing an ornamented damaru, and the moment he picked
it up his feet left the ground in dance. Whenever he played loudly five hundred siddha
yogins and yoginis appeared and danced with him. This Kanhapa was an adept in the
mother-tantra, and chronologically he was a contemporary of the nath founders. But
was there another mahasiddha Kanha of this period? In Nepal a Lord Krsna taught Dza-Ham,
and a brahmin Krsna taught Marpa Dopa. A later Krsna, also called Balin (Balinacarya), a
disciple of Naropa, taught the Tibetans the Guhyasamaja-tantra.
As Father and Son Kanhapa are confounded
in the Tibetan lineages it is almost impossible to relate the many disciples to their
respective Gurus. Mekhala and Kanakhala (66 and 67), Kantali (69), Bhadrapa (24), and
Kapalapa (72) received Hevajra initiation from a Kanhapa. Kugalibhadra and Vijayapada with
their contemporary Guhyapada (Bhadrapa, who also received Kalacakra from a Krsna) were
links in Kanhapa's Samvara lineage. Bhandepa (32) received the Guhyasamaja. Mahipa and
Dharmapa (36 and 37) were also Kanhapa's disciples; and Tilopa (22) received Luipa's
Samvara method from a Mahapa. Carpati (64) and Kapalapa (72) were affiliated with the naths,
but the most renowned disciples of the nath Kanhapa were Gopicand and
Bhatrnath, who even Taranatha acknowledges.
- 18 The Mahasiddha
- The One-Eyed
All Buddhas Past, present and future, have
Intuiting this essence you know your own mind's nature;
Let go, and relax into unstructured reality,
And with constant relaxation you are a yogin.
Aryadeva was miraculously born on the
pollen-bed of a lotus flower. As soon as he was of age he was ordained in the academy of
Sri Nalanda, and eventually he became the abbot there. He was then the preceptor of one
thousand monks and the instructor of numerous scholars, but he had not realized his own
perfect potential. In order to gain ultimate knowledge he resolved to find the Great Guru
Nagarjuna, whose extraordinary powers and virtue had inspired his profound respect.
He left Nalanda and set off for the South.
On the way, on the banks of a broad lake, he met the Bodhisattva Manjusri in the guise of
a fisherman, and after bowing down to him and presenting offerings he asked him where
Nagarjuna could be found. The fisherman told him that the master was living in a nearby
jungle, preparing an alchemical potion that vouchsafed immortality. Aryadeva followed his
directions and discovered Nagarjuna collecting the ingredients for his elixir. He
prostrated before the master and begged for instruction. Nagarjuna gave him initiation
into the mandala of Guhyasamaja, precepts to practice and permission to stay with him and
practice his sadhana.
It became these two masters' habit to go
to the town near their jungle hermitage to beg for food. Now while Nagarjuna found great
difficulty in begging anything at all, Aryadeva would return to the hermitage laden with
all kinds of good things.
"You are being provided for by
lustful women," Nagarjuna told his disciple. "Your food is therefore
unwholesome. In the future you will eat only what you can lift on the end of a pin. Enough
of these feasts on banana-leaf dishes!"
Aryadeva obeyed his Guru, eating only the
single grains of rice that he could lift with a pin. But the women of the town prepared
barley-cakes covered with sweetmeat for him, so that he could eat well without breaking
the prohibition. He took the cakes to his Guru, who ate them hungrily. When he reported
how he had obtained them, he was ordered to remain in the hut in the jungle. Aryadeva
obeyed, but this time a tree-nymph brought him delicacies, and she even neglected to cover
up her resplendent naked form while she sat and talked. The food she gave him he took to
his Guru, along with descriptions of the tree-nymph. Nagarjuna went to the tree in which
the nymph lived and called to her; the nymph appeared, showing her head, but modestly
refusing to expose herself fully.
"Why do you show yourself to my
disciple but not to me?" he asked her with chagrin.
"Your disciple is utterly free from
passion," replied the nymph, "but in you there is still a trace of lust to be
It was at this time that Nagarjuna gave
Aryadeva his name, Sublime God.
When Nagarjuna's elixir of eternal youth
was prepared, he anointed his tongue with a few drops and gaveAryadeva the bowl to do the
same. Aryadeva threw the entire bowl against a tree, which immediately broke into leaf.
"If you waste my elixir like
that," Nagirjuna protested, "then you must replace it."
Aryadeva took a bucket of water, urinated
into it, stirred it with a twig and gave it to his Guru.
"This is too much," said
Nagarjuna. His disciple splashed half the bucket's contents over another tree, which also
came into bloom. Nagarjuna then said, "Now you know that your realization is mature,
do not stay in samsara!"
At these words Aryadeva floated up into
the sky in exaltation. But at that moment Aryadeva was approached by a woman who had been
following him from place to place for some time. She prostrated before him, giving him
honor and worship.
"What do you want, woman?"
Aryadeva asked her. "Why have you been following me?"
"I need one of your eyes," the
woman replied. "I have been following you because I must have one of your eyes."
Aryadeva plucked out his right eye and
gave it to her. Thereafter he was known as Aryadeva the One-Eyed (Karnaripa).
Aryadeva had followed the instructions of
his Guru implicitly and the obscurations of his mind had been eradicated, so that merely
by hearing his Guru say that he was liberated he was so, and he levitated to the height of
seven palm trees. Thereafter, floating in the sky, he taught the Buddha's message to all
beings, bringing their minds to maturity. Finally, turning himself upside down, showing
the soles of his feet to the sky, he placed his palms together in adoration and prostrated
to his Guru. As he reversed himself the gods showered flowers down upon him, and he
The thread running through this legend is
a sense of Aryadeva's humility and modesty. "Lotus-born" Bodhisattvas are born
enlightened and they need only go through the motions of learning, both mundane and
spiritual, before they recognize their status as Buddhas. There seems to be no other point
to the rather obscure anecdote concerning the distribution of Nagarjuna's elixir than to
demonstrate Aryadeva's enlightenment and his ignorance of this fact. The unawareness of
his spiritual status, which Aryadeva showed even in Nalanda, is evidence of maturity on
the path. "He who calls himself a Buddha is certainly an imperfect student,"
says Virupa in one of his dohas. Aryadeva's stream of non-dual perception seems to
have been free even of the occasional hiccough that allows an objective thought about
oneself to slip in and undermine one's power. Insofar as evolution on the path implies a
progressive loss of the ego identity that poses questions such as "Who am I?"
and "Am I enlightened yet?" the initial diligent striving and fervent aspiration
necessary to enter the path gradually dissolves and with it the notion that there is any
such attainable state as "liberation," "enlightenment" and
"Buddhahood." Thus Aryadeva needed a Guru to tell him that he had achieved all
that there was to achieve, which is to say, the recognition of his original condition as
nirvana. The metaphysics of sadhana can be conceived as a sacred dream that derives its
validity from the power to take the initiate out of his samsaric condition only to return
him to his starting point free of all mental obscurations and emotional defilements.
Aryadeva's state of innocence and purity
was an irresistible attraction to women. This must have arisen from his inability to
conceive of women as external objects, particularly as sexual objects. Nagarjuna, still
not entirely free of lust, had spent twelve years propitiating female elementals; Aryadeva
attracted female spirits to serve him without any effort whatsoever. His disinterest in
the tree nymph induced her to display herself to him unsolicited. The woman who followed
him may also have intuited Aryadeva's condition, but she wanted to exploit it. In another
Tibetan account of this episode the woman was a saiva tantrika who needed the eye
for a reason similar to the brahmin's need for Nagarjuna's head; she required the eye of a
learned monk to complete the prerequisites for attainment of siddhi. She may have
been a kapalika.
Nagarjuna's alchemical sadhana is called
"the alchemy of mercury." Nagarjuna was one of the foremost rasayana siddhas
(see p. 120), and greatness in this yoga can be defined as the initiate's ability to apply
the alchemical process at every level of his being. Thus in the alchemy of mercury, on the
physical plane a material substance, a herbal or mineral panacea, is produced that will
bestow immortality (or transmute base metal to gold, according to the alchemist's
precepts). On the level of the subtle body, by a hathayoga technique analogous to
the process of creating the actual alchemical substance, that is to say, through control
of the psychic energies that correspond to the "mica" (abhra) in the
"seed" of the divine woman, and control of the creative seed (bodhicitta) of
the divine man, an immortal, subtle body is created that is capable of the sensual
pleasure and mental abilities of the gross physical body. Finally, on the absolute level,
"a body of light" identical to the naths is realized, and this is
immortal in the sense that it is beyond creation and destruction and beyond birth and
death. To attain this final level is to attain mahamudra-siddhi. To attain the
immortal subtle body, as do the naths of the legends, is to attain mundane siddhi
or magical powers. By such a crude delineation of the metaphysics of rasayana it
can be seen how the alchemy of mercury is compatible with other siddha-yogas, such
as the techniques of the creative and fulfillment processes of meditation.
The two great Nagarjunas each had a
disciple called Aryadeva, but the Aryadevas are confounded inextricably just like the
Nagarjunas. These Gurus and disciples are referred to as Fathers and Sons. Both Aryadevas
were their Gurus' principal lineage holder (although Nagabodhi is a rival to the later
Aryadeva); both were prolific writers, both elucidating the works of their masters. The
early Aryadeva gained immortal fame by elaborating Nagarjuna's metaphysics and applying
its ramifications to the practice of the Bodhisattva; his best known treatise, the Catuhsataka,
explained for the first time how the Bodhisattva should act in the light of madhyamika
insight. As to the eighth-ninth century Aryadeva, it is notable that he wrote nothing
on rasayana; it was the tenth century Nagarjuna who was the rasayana-siddha; the
Catuspitha-tantra appears to have been his sphere of practice and commentary.
Taranatha's following story of Aryadeva
concerns the second century mahayana philosopher, but has added, tantric elements,
Aryadeva was born from a lotus in the pleasure garden of the King of Sri Lanka. He
abdicated after reaching the throne and took ordination. He completed study of the Tripitaka,
and on pilgrimage to India he met Nagarjuna and sat at his feet on Sri Parvata
Mountain (at Srisailam), receiving mahayana teaching besides rasayana instruction,
and he attained magical powers. After Nagarjuna's death Aryadeva built many monasteries in
the South. He remained there until he was called by a message attached to the neck of a
crow that had emanated from the heart of a self-manifest image of Mahakala at Nalanda,
begging him to go North and defeat a brahmin tantrika called "The Evil One Difficult
to Subdue". (According to Bu ston this brahmin was the great poet Matrceta - ca. AD
160 - who composed many beautiful Buddhist verses after his conversion.) On the journey he
was waylaid by a woman who required his eye for use in her sadhana. Then "with the
help of a shameless layman, a cat, and a jar of black oil, he subdued a sister pandita, a
parrot, and chalk of the brahmins. He encircled the place of contest with the brahmin with
mantra, and tattered rags, etc., so that Mahadeva could not enter into the heart of his
opponent." Aryadeva defeated this brahmin, arrested him and imprisoned him in a
temple where in a sutra he read a prediction of his own conversion and accordingly
converted to Buddhism. Aryadeva then sang the oft-quoted stanza: "Siva has three eyes
but cannot see the truth; Indra has a thousand eyes but is spiritually blind; but
Aryadeva, with only one eye, can see the true nature of the entire three realms of
existence." Aryadeva's one eye is, of course, the third eye of non-dual awareness.
Aryadeva has one Guru, Nagarjuna. His
principal disciple, and his regent and lineage-holder, was a Rahula whom he taught at
Nalanda and in the South (see p. 255). Udhili, who he taught to fly by an alchemical
method (see 71), was also his disciple. Aryadeva, who lived in the late tenth
century, is also known as Vairaginath or Kanheri, which may be synonymous with Karnari;
Vairagi is also the name of a nath siddha disciple of Gorakhnath.
39 The Siddha
Babhaha, The Free Lover
Pleasure! pleasure! unconditional
Unconditional desireless pleasure!
Every thought-form perceived as pleasure!
0 what unattainable secret pleasure!
Babhaha, Prince of Dhanjur, was
intoxicated by the thrills of sensual pleasure. One day he spoke with a wise yogin who had
come begging at the palace. The yogin inspired faith in him, and he asked for precepts to
assist him in his sexual practice.
"Consummation, the samaya, is
the fountain of all mystical experience; the Guru is the source of all success," were
the precepts the yogin gave him. He then bestowed the initiation that transfers grace upon
the prince, and instructed him in the fulfillment yoga technique of psychic channels,
vital energies and seed essence:
In the lotus mandala of your partner,
A superior consort,
Mingle your white seed
With her ocean of red seed.
Then absorb, raise and diffuse the elixir
And your ecstacy will never end.
Then to raise the pleasure beyond pleasure
Visualize it inseparable from emptiness.
After twelve years of profound experience
in this technique, the prince found that the obscurations of his vision had vanished, and
he gained siddhi. He sang:
As the king of geese
Separates water from milk
The Guru's precepts
Draw up the ambrosial elixir
He served his disciples well before
eventually attaining bodily the Dakini's Paradise.
Babhaha is taught the fulfillment process
technique called Eternal Delight in the Six Yogas of Naropa. The same result can be
achieved with or without a partner, using someone else's body or using one's own body.109
The practice for the celibate yogin is described in Nalinapa's legend (40), and such use
of sexual energy is considered more desirable in the Tibetan tradition. But the well known
axiom "No mahamudra without karma-mudra," where the female consort
is the karma-mudra, and the central place that this yoga holds amongst the
fulfillment stage topics, indicates its significance. The tradition defines "the
superior consort" in physical terms, employing the criteria of the Indian science of
erotics, as explained in texts such as the Kamasutra: the padmini is the
best partner. Regarding the yoga itself, psychic channels carry the vital energies that
consist of seed-essence; and the essence of the yoga is the skill in controlling the
subtle energies. First, energy is sent downward to the sexual center; second, with perfect
control, male and female energy is intermingled under the power of retention; third, the
elixir of pleasure and emptiness united is raised, like a goose drawing water out of milk,
up the central channel; and fourth, it is diffused throughout the psycho-organism by the
constantly bifurcating "capillary" channels. With the withdrawal of
"pleasure and emptiness indivisible" up the central channel, the four levels of
joy are experienced at the four main cakras, and by saturation of the body-mind,
eternal delight is achieved, and ultimately rainbow body is possible. The technical
description of the technique should not obscure the sine qua non of a
"spiritual relationship" between the yogin and his consort. Although the female
body is being used as a source of "nectar," without a totally open, empathetic
and responsive relationship, the yoga will fail. Further, desirelessness is the key to
success, and insofar as such a state cannot be attained by striving, the pleasure that
results from consummation is "unattainable." Finally, as Babhaha's Guru implies
at the beginning, this practice is physically and mentally dangerous and requires a
skillful guide. The samaya he mentions can be interpreted in several ways, all of
them equally vital: it may be maintaining the relative vows and commitments of the vajrayana,
or of this specific practice; it may be the samaya, the body, speech and mind
union, of Guru and Dakini where Vajrayogini is the Dakini; or it may be the fully
empathetic responsiveness of yogin and yogini in their sexual encounter.
The meaning of Babhaha can only be
inferred from the Tibetan translation "He who draws water from milk" (T. Chu las
'o ma len), referring to the yogin's ability to suck up the essential female bodhicitta
from the intermingling of nectars in the bhaga mandala into the central
channel. There is an eastern belief that geese have the facility of sucking out water from
milk, thus keeping the milkman honest. Babhaha, which could be onomatopoeic, is also
spelled Bhalaha, Bhamva, Babhahi, Baha and Bapabhati. His home town of Dhanjur is
unidentified, as is his Guru.
Sincere thanks to Dr.
Nguyen Dinh for providing us with this electronic edition