Like space gazing at space, both the ‘gazer’ and the ‘gazed at’, are naturally dissolved in purity.from ‘Wisdom Ḍākinī’s Oral Instructions on the Bardo to Tilopa ‘
For Ḍākinī day today, I offer a new translation of a short instruction given by a wisdom Ḍākinī to the famous yogi, Tilopa, forefather of the Kagyu lineages. The advice, Severing the Bardo ‘Once and for All’: ‘Question and answer’ oral instructions of the wisdom Ḍākinī to Tilopa, is very profound and short, and was found in a Collection of Karmapas’ Works , attributed to the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi. It is not stated when and why he composed it, but perhaps it is an oral instruction the 2nd Karmapa himself received. I could not find an edition of this text anywhere else online and has not been previously translated into English either.
Before presenting the text in more detail, I give a short introduction, including my compilation/catalogue of the various life stories (namthar) of Tilopa by past Tibetan masters, the four aspects he showed (and four qualities he had in the aspect of a human being), a consideration of his becoming the servant of a prostitute, Dharima [or Bharima] and his declaration that Ḍākinī is truth when encountering a group of Ḍākinīs who mocked him.
Tilopa’s Life Stories by Tibetan masters – A Catalogue
A key figure for all the Kagyu lineages is the Indian master, Tilopa (988-1069), one of the 84 Mahāsiddhas, who is often depicted at the top of the traditional paintings of Kagyu refuge trees. Suprisingly, other than the The Life of the Mahāsiddha Tilopa (tr. Torricelli and Nagar (1995)) composed by renowned student of Nāropa, Lotsawa Marpa , a biography by HE Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and a recent publication Tilopa: Mahasiddha of the Tenth Century (Torricelli, LTWA, 2019) there is little else about Tilopa’s life (translated from Tibetan source texts) in the English language.
Biographies can be biased though, so one can never know the full extent of a master and their lives from them, so why are they still important? As it says in the Introduction to Thrangu Rinpoche’s Tilopa biography:
“One Tibetan author, Amdor Ganden Chophel who wrote the White Annals makes the point that Tibetan stories and biographies don’t present the complete truth and gloss over some of the faults of lamas. There is some truth in this, but the purpose of a namtar is for the student to discover what the practice of dharma is actually like, what meditation is like, and to learn how love and compassion are expressed by the great practitioners. So the purpose of a namtar is to inspire the student and this is why they present all the marvelous qualities of the lamas and leave out the negative ones.
Western scholars ask, “How can these biographies be taken seriously? They don’t provide a birth date, the actual place names, and other details of the mahasiddha’s life.” This is true, but why does one need to know when these people lived? Perhaps Tilopa lived in the fifth century, perhaps in the seventh century. But who actually cares? Tilopa was not an ordinary human being anyway. We remember the great kindness and great efforts of Tilopa and Naropa who made the teachings of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa available to all of those in Tibet, and now to students all over the whole world.” (2002: 2).
Another English language biography of Tilopa, in the book, ‘Karmapa: The Black Hat Lama of Tibet’ (Douglas and White (1976), and in Thrangu Rinpoche (2002: 5-8) describes Tilopa’s connection as a boy with the great Indian siddha Nagārjuna and how it led to him being crowned a King. Then, becoming weary of a life of luxury, he became a monk at the temple of Somapuri in Bengal.
After that, it has been said that Tilopa was expelled by monks from the monastery. However, Thrangu Rinpoche (2002: 11) explains that Tilopa was actually told by a Ḍākinī (Karpo Sangmo) to leave the monastery and ‘act like a madman’:
“The Ḍākinī transformed herself into the mandala of Chakrasamvara in the sky in front of him, giving Tilopa the pith instructions of the creation and completion stages of practice. …..With these two pith instructions, Tilopa attained a degree of realization and the Ḍākinī said, “Now throw out your bhikshu ordination and go about acting like a madman, practicing in secret so that nobody knows what you are doing,” and then she vanished into the sky. This Ḍākinī who bestowed these instructions and empowerments on Tilopa was called Karpo Sangmo………This part of Tilopa’s biography corrects the notion that people can accomplish enlightenment by themselves and that they don’t need a teacher. Tilopa took a Ḍākinī as a teacher. That is why Marpa in his commentary on this part of Tilopa’s life wrote, “He received the blessing from the great Ḍākinī, Karpo Sangmo, and she gave him the four empowerments.”
As he was a former Brahmin Pandita and Buddhist monk, he lost all his opportunities for wealth and fame. Later, he was advised by a Ḍākinī [some say his female teacher Matangi] to serve a prostitute, Dharima, as her servant (for more on that see below). Tilopa had several excellent disciples (for more on his eight pupils, see Thrangu Rinpoche (2002: Chapter 5), the foremost of whom were Lalitavajra and Nāropa.
However, in terms of Tibetan biographies of Tilopa, there are several composed by past masters of the different Kagyu lineages (Drugpa, Drigung and so on). Some of these are helpfully listed in the English edition of Marpa’s Tilopa biography (Preface: pp.viii-xi) as:
—Gyalthangpa Dechen Dorje (rGyal-thang-pa bDe-chen-rdo-rje (13th cent.)). The manuscript, following the Drugpa Kagyupa ( ‘Brug-pa dKar-brgyud-pa) tradition, can be dated to the latter half of the 15th century or the first half of the 16th century and is is preserved at Hemis in Ladakh.
—Drubthob Ogyenpa Rinchen Pal (Grub-thob O-rgyan-pa Rin-chen-dpal (1229/30-1309)). Like Gyalthangpa (rGyal-thang-pa), Orgyenpa (O-rgyan-pa) was a disciple of Gotsangpa (rGod-tshang-pa). However, he integrated the teachings of this master with the instruction he received from a Ḍākinī in Uddiyana (Tucci 1940; Tucci 1949: 90-91). This collection of hagiographies, following the Drigung Kagyupa (‘Bri-gung dKar-brgyud-pa) tradition, was written between 1295 and 1304 and is conserved in the library of the Kangyur Rimpoche of Darjeeling.
—Dorje Nize O (rDo-rje-nidzes-‘od (13th cent.)), This text has been translated into English (Great Kagyu Masters: 33-54). The author was a disciple of Palden Rithro Wangchug (dPal-ldan Ri-khrod-dbang-phyug), who was a disciple of Jigten Gonpo (rJig-rten mGon-po), the founder of the Drigungpa (‘Brigung-pa) sect.
— Montsepa Kunga Palden (Mon-rtse-pa Kun-dga’-dpal-ldan (1408-1475?)) The manuscript, compiled and calligraphed in the last half of the 15th century and conserved at Takna in Ladakh, brings together a collection of hagiographies following the Bara Drugpa Kagyupa ( ‘Ba’-ra ‘Brug-pa dKar-brgyud-pa) tradition.
— Tsangnyon Heruka (gTsang-smyon He-ru-ka Sangs-rgyas-rgyal-mtshan (1452-1507)), in the Whispered Lineage of Ḍākinīs of Chakrasmavara (bDe-mchog mkha’-‘gro snyan-rgyud), vol. ga, fols. 9b-20a.
—Drigung Choje Kunga Rinchen (‘Bri-gung Chos-rje Kun-dga’-rin-chen (1475-1527). This concise text was composed in 1508 by the last abbot of Drigung (‘Bri-gung) monastery to follow the pure Drigung Kagyupa tradition. In fact, after him the rNying-ma-pa school gradually took over the monastery.
—Lhatsun Rinchen Namgyal (IHa-btsun Rin-chen-rnam-rgyal (1473-1557). One of the closest disciples of Tsangnyon Heruka, Lhatsun follows the teachings and contents of the oral tradition going back to Rechung (Ras-chung).
I found some other biographies of Tilopa on TBRC online (I have not listed them all here) which include these composed by:
—Je Gampopa, Sonam Rinchen (bsod nams rin chen) in his Collected Works.
—3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje)in his Collected Works.
— 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, in his Collected Works.
— Sakya Rinchen, the ninth Je Khenpo of Bhutan, in his Collected Works 
—4th Zhamarpa, Chodrag Yeshe in his Collected Works .
Compiling and translating the biographies of Tilopa is a big translation project in itself and, time permitting, I hope to translate some of these biographies by Gampopa and the Karmapas in the future.
The Four Aspects and Four Qualities of Tilopa
According to Marpa’s biography, Tilopa had four aspects in his life and, in his first aspect as a human being, four great qualities:
“Among the [accounts of the] perfect liberation (rnam-thar) of the siddhas’ lineage of the Nirmanakaya, at the outset, in the perfect liberation of Tilopa, there are four [sections]: his fame
(1) as a human being,
(2) as a manifestation of Cakrasamvara,
(3) as Cakrasamvara himself, and
(4) as the synthesis of the Bodies of all Buddhas (Sangs-rgyas thamscad-kyi sku ’dus-pa).
གཉིས་པ་སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་གྲུབ་ཐོབ་བརྒྱུད་པའི་རྣམ་ཐར་ལ་ཐོག་མར་ཏེ་ལོའི་རྣམ་ཐར་ལ་བཞི་སྟེ། དང་པོ་མི་རང་རྒྱུད་པར་གྲགས་པ་དང་། བདེ་མཆོག་གི་སྤྲུལ་པར་གྲགས་པ་དང་། བདེ་མཆོག་དངོས་སུ་གྲགས་པ་དང་། སངས་རྒྱས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་སྐུ་འདུས་པར་གྲགས་པའོ༎
As for the first [section,) the human lineage of this great Lord Tilopa has four great qualities. They are, with respect to the provisional meaning (drang-don):
(1) he was prophesied by the Ḍākinī, looked for a guru and practised until accomplishment;
(2) he outshone the Ḍākinīs and asked [them] for the Dharma. With respect to the definitive meaning (nges-don), he showed himself
(3) as one without human gurus, and
(4) under several manifestations.”
དེ་ལས་དང་པོ་ཇོ་བོ་ཆེན་པོ་ཏེ་ལོ་པ་འདི་མི་རང་རྒྱུད་པར་བྱས་ན་སྐུ་ཆེ་བའི་ཡོན་ཏན་ལ་བཞི་སྟེ། དང་པོ་དྲང་དོན་དུ་མཁའ་འགྲོས་ལུང་བསྟན་ཏེ་བླ་མ་རྩལ་ཏེ་སྒྲུབ་པ་མཛད་པ་དང་། མཁའ་འགྲོ་ཟཏི་གྱིས་མནན་ཏེ་ཆོས་ཞུས་པ་དང་། ངེས་དོན་དུ་མ་ཨིལ་བླ་མ་མེད་པར་སྟན་པ་དང་། སྤྲུལ་པ་སྣ་ཚོགས་སྟན་པའོ༎
So why would Tilopa manifest as a human being if he is Chakrasamvara, a fully enlightened Buddha? Thrangu Rinpoche explains:
“Because of the obscurations and negative accumulations of sentient beings they are not able to perceive the form of Chakrasamvara directly. So Chakrasamvara emanates as an impure being, an ordinary manifestation being born among humans so he is visible to human beings who need to be caught about how co gain liberation. Without any doubt Tilopa was an emanation of Chakrasamvara. If Chakrasamvara were to emanate in the human realm without relying on a particular teacher, doing a particular practice, or following any particular tradition then people would think, “Well, this is a being from somewhere else and it isn’t possible for me to be like him in any way.” They simply would not practice. So Chakrasamvara manifested as an ordinary being who then received all the practice instructions and who then practiced these instructions, and finally accomplished enlightenment. This is how emanations of Chakrasamvara manifest to help sentient beings.” (p.3).
Tilopa instructed to act as servant to Dharima, the prostitute
According to the life stories of Tilopa he had various encounters with and teachings from Ḍākinīs including the wisdom (Tibetan: ye shes) Ḍākinīs. The text I have translated here is an advice from a wisdom Ḍākinī. Although, there are several instances of Tilopa being instructed by (and subduing/outshining) Ḍākinīs, one of the most well-known is when he was instructed by his guru Matangi to be the servant of Dharima, a sex worker.
“The outer action of any mahasiddha has three stages, The first J stage is called the “all-good stage,” the second is called the “stage of vanquishing behavior,” and the third stage is called the “victorious in all directions behavior.” A mahasiddha goes through these
stages one by one. The first is called “all-good behavior” because the beginner must take up the practice of being extremely peaceful, calm, and carefully watch his or her actions by having extremely controlled and noble behavior. The beginner who engages in this behavior is able to advance along the path and then at a certain point, he or she must enter what is called the “vanquishing behavior” or ‘dul shug in Tibetan. The syllable ‘dul means “to vanquish” or “to subdue” and refers to one’s kleshas, especially one’s arrogance which is co be completely subdued by the practice. The syllable shug means “entering.” So in chis stage one actually submits oneself to conditions that may normally evoke disturbing consequences such as rage or desire. In the stage of all-good behavior
the beginner avoids these situations, but in the vanquishing stage the meditator actually seeks them out. The meditator has to destroy arrogance, pride, and hatred by confronting them and throwing himself into situations that evoke the kind of response that allows him or her to work with these emotions. The third stage of “victorious in all directions behaviour” is the final expression of total fearlessness; it is a total lack of
any inhibition about anything done.”
The biographies by 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and Dorje Dze O list his four human gurus as Charyawa, Nagarjuna, Lawapa, and Dakini Samantabhadri, while other biographies are said to lists four human gurus in addition to Nagarjuna: Matangi, Lalapa, Dakini Samantabhadri, and Nagpopa. It is said that Tilopa met Nagārjuna’s female disciple, Matangi, when he sought to find Nagārjuna again and discovered that he had already passed away. Tilopa received Guhyasamaja teachings on illusory body from Matangi, Mahamudra and Chakrasamvara teachings on clear light from Lalapa, Hevajra teachings on tummo from Dakini Samantabhadri, and Chakrasamvara teachings from Nagpopa. Matangi ordered him to work as a sesame oil maker and as servant by night to a prostitute named Dharima saying to him (Thrangu Rinpoche (2002):14) :
“Now you must meditate continuously on the very essence of suchness and the nature of phenomena and mind. To do this you must find some kind of activity to engage in. Previously you were a king, so you have some vestige of class arrogance and this must be destroyed.”
Marpa recounts it thus:
“After some time, he was instructed: In Bengal, in the East, In the market-place of Pancapana, There is the prostitute Bhari and her associates. If you follow her as a servant, you will be purified; You will pass over the limits of practice and attain the siddhis! (ཤར་ཕྱོགས་བྷང་ག་ལའི་བརྒྱུད། པན་ཚ་པ་ནའི་ཚོང་འདུས་ན་། སྨད་འཚོང་བྷ་རི་འཁོར་བཅས་ཀྱི་། དེ་ཡི་ཞབས་འབྲེང་བྱས་ན་གསངས། མཐར་ཐན་ནས་དངོས་གྲུབ་ཐོབ།)
He went there according to what she had said. There in the night-time he would do the work of inviting and accompanying men [into Dharima’s]. During the day, he worked at thrashing sesame grains, and that is why he was known as Tilopa in the language of India and, in Tibetan, as the Sesame-keeper (Til-bsrungs-zhabs). After that, he and Dharima went to the cemetery called Ke-re. There they took delight in the practice of the secret mantra (gsang-ba-sngags) and performed it to its completion.”
Tilopa worked for twelve years as her servant, and on attaining awakening, he is said to have levitated in the sky and brought Dharima up there with him. When she saw him, she was filled with intense regret at not realising he was such a great yogi, apologised and asked to be his student:
“Tilopa said, “You are not at fault. You didn’t know I was a mahasiddha. Actually, I have attained all the siddhis because of you. I needed to work as your servant to become enlightened. There has been no harm done.” Dharima developed great faith in Tilopa who approached her and touched her on the head with a flower. He blessed her saying, “May all the experience and wisdom I possess arise in you at this very instant.” Because of her strong connection with him, she immediately had a profound experience of realization and became a yogini. Everyone around them was completely amazed and rejoiced. Word quickly spread to the king who came in regal splendor riding on an elephant to see what was going on. As he approached he noticed that Tilopa and Dharima were floating in the sky at the height of seven plantain trees.” (Thrangu Rinpoche (2002): 15).
I did a little online research to find out more about the life of Dharima, the prostitute from Tibetan sources texts but could not find anything. Considering she was one of the main consorts (and students) of Tilopa, it is another example of how significant women are absent and ignored in Tibetan Buddhist textual sources.
In addition, in these free and easy internet porn days, the story of Tilopa and Dharima is presented in a rather sexy, glamorous way, as if Tilopa was some kind of eccentric, sexy pimp for a wild woman. However, at that time, prostitution was considered extremely disgusting and disgraceful work (like cleaning sewers) and would not have been glamorous, sexy or well-paid at all. Dharima is also said in some accounts to be the daughter of a sesame seed grinder and low-catse. Thus, to be the servant of such a woman would have been considered a gross thing to do (and a great blow to a man’s pride). For those in doubt about the grim life in Indian brothels for women (and their children born into them), see this documentary about prostitution in Mumbai (as an example) here.
Tilopa’s declaration that ‘Ḍākinī is truth!‘
In Marpa’s biography, during the time when Tilopa subdued Ḍākinīs, just prior to being recognized as Chakramsavara himself, he was challenged by a group of them, where he declares that a Ḍākinī is truth:
“Those in the assembly uttered an embarrassing laugh, making fun of him, and spoke in one voice: “A born-blind looks at, but he cannot see the forms; A deaf man listens to, but he cannot hear the sounds; An idiot speaks, but he cannot understand the meaning. In those deceived by Mara, there is no truth!” The master replied to them: [When] evil is exhausted, false words are not spoken: there would be no cause. There are no ‘demons’; a Ḍākinī is the truth!”
དམུས་ལོང་བལྟས་པས་གཟུགས་མི་མཐོང་། འོན་པས་ཉན་པས་སྒྲ་མི་ཐོས་།་ཀུགས་པས་སྨྲས་པས་དོན་མི་གོ།བདུད་ཀྱིས་བསླུས་ལ་བདེན་པ་མེད། ཉེས་པ་ཟད་པ་རྫུན་གྱི་ཚིག། སྨྲ་བར་མི་འགྱུར་རྒྱུ་མེད་ཕྱིར། བདུད་མིན་མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་རུ་བདེན།
The Text – ‘Instructions on Severing the Bardo’
The translated text, Severing the Bardo ‘Once and for All’: ‘Question and answer’: Oral instructions of the wisdom Ḍākinī to Tilopa, is a short (one folio), question and answer between Tilopa and the wisdom Ḍākinī on the nature of awakening [Buddhahood] and how it manifests at the time of the present moment and at the time of death; and how realizing that eliminates the bardo, the ‘intermediate state’ between death and birth.
The text can be read in full below. The ‘Once and for All’ in the title is my poetic rendition of the Tibetan ‘gcig chod ma’, which has the sense of eliminating something once, without having to do it again. In the teaching, Tilopa gets instructions on the nature of mind, ‘like space gazing into space’. This is very similar to the instructions Tilopa gives to Nāropa in his famed Ganges Māhamudrā:
རྣམ་རྟོག་ཚོགས་འགག་བླ་མེད་བྱང་ཆུབ་འཐོབ། ༈ །
Loosening fetters, will undoubtedly liberate.
For example, looking at the centre of space, ‘seeing’ ceases.
Likewise, when mind tries to look at mind
Masses of thoughts cease and unsurpassed awakening is attained.
—Excerpt from Ganges Māhamudrā by Tilopa (tr. Adele Tomlin, 2019).
Judging by the similar terminology and phrases used by the Ḍākinī in her advice to Tilopa on the bardo, we might surmise that he was passing this ‘whispered’ lineage onto his student, Nāropa in the Ganges teaching.
17th Karmapa on Life of Tilopa at Tilopa’s nunnery and cave
From February 19-26, 2007, His Holiness Karmapa visited Drubten Pemo Jalpay Gatsal, the newly constructed Tilokpur Nuns’ Monastery near Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh. During his visit, the Karmapa taught on the life of Tilopa and the 37 Actions of a Boddhisattva, as well as bestowed a number of empowerments. He also consecrated a new temple at Tilokpur, as well as made a pilgrimage to the historic cave of Tilopa near the nunnery. I was fortunate to be able to attend these teachings in person and visit the cave too.
The video here is the teaching the 17th Karmapa gave on the Life of Tilopa. The transcript of this teaching has not been published in English, and I hope to do that soon.
Severing the Bardo ‘Once and for All’:
‘Question and answer’ oral instructions of the Wisdom Ḍākinī to Tilopa
shrī vajraḍākinī namo!
Tilopa asked the wisdom Ḍākinī: what is awakening [Buddha]? The wisdom Ḍākinī responded:
Tilopa! When the mind looks at mind, the ‘looker’ is mind, the ‘looked at’ is also mind.
Like space gazing at space, both the ‘gazer’ and the ‘gazed at’, are naturally dissolved in purity.
When thoughts are lucidly clear, that is spontaneously accomplished awakening [Buddha]. Actual manifestation of realization is also awakening [Buddha]. Abiding on the path is also awakening [Buddha].
Likewise, by severing the four ‘demons’[māras] of conceptualization, with no birth nor death in the mind, that is the dharmakāya. Tilopa, understand this!
By severing the root basis of mind, since one doesn’t even merely think of mental constructs, at that time, uninterruptedly day and night, decisively strive for the 13th level of the Vajra Holder , Tilopa, understand this!
Tilopa then asked: How is the yoga of clear luminosity of death and the clear luminosity of present moment mixed? The Ḍākinī answered:
“The present moment clear luminosity is when the mind is looking at mind, the beholder and that which is beheld, those two, like gazing into the centre of space, like space free from clouds.
At the time of death, at the time when the outer and inner breath has ceased, the death clear luminosity arrives like space without clouds. By the power of pure looking, that which is called ‘bardo’ will be completely absent. Tilopa, understand this!”
ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་ལ་ཏེེ་ལོ་པའི་ཞུས་ལེན་སྙན་བརྒྱུད་མན་ངག་བར་དོ་གཅིག་ཆོད་མ། ཤྲཱི་བ་ཛྲ་ཌཱ་ཀི་ན་མོ། དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་ལ་ཏཻ་ལོ་པས་ཞུས་པ་སངས་རྒྱས་བྱ་བ་ཅི་ལགས། ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་མཁའ་འགྲོ་མའི་ཞལ་ནས། ནམ་མཁས་ནམ་མཁའ་མཐོང་བ་ལྟ་བུ་ལྟ་མཁན་ལྟ་རྒྱུ་གཉིས་རང་སར་དག་ནས། སེལ་ལེ་སིང་ངེ་རྟོག་པའི་དུས་སུ། ལྷུན་གྱི་གྲུབ་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱང་དེ་ཡིན། རྟོགས་པ་མངོན་དུ་གྱུར་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱང་དེ་ཡིན། ལམ་དུ་ཞུག་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱང་དེ་ཡིན། དེ་ལྟར་རྟོགས་པའི་བདུད་བཞི་ཆོད་ནས། སེམས་ལ་སྐྱེ་རྒྱུ་འཆི་རྒྱུ་མེད་པས་ཆོས་སྐུ་བྱ་བ་དེ་ཡིན་པས། ཏཻ་ལོ་པས་གོ་བར་གྱིས་ཤིག། སེམས་ཀྱི་གཞི་རྩ་ཆོད་པས།བློས་བྱས་སྙམ་ཙམ་དུ་མ་ཤོར་བས་ཉིན་མཚན་རྒྱུན་ཆད་མེད་པའི་དུས་དེར་བར་ཆད་མེད་པར་བཅུ་གསུམ་རྡོ་རྗེ་འཛིན་པའི་ས་ནོན་པ་ཐག་ཆོད།མཁའ་སྤྱོད་བྱ་བ་ཡང་ཡིན། ཏཻ་ལོ་པས་གོ་བ་གྱིས་ཤིག། ཡང་ཏཻ་ལོ་པས་ཞུས་པ། རྣལ་འབྱོར་འཆི་ཁའི་འོད་གསལ་དང་ད་ལྡའི་འོད་གསལ་ཇི་ལྟར་འདྲེས་ཞུས་པས། མཁའ་འགྲོ་མའི་ཞལ་ནས། ད་ལྡའི་འོད་གསལ་བྱ་བ་སེམས་ཀྱིས་སེམས་ལ་བལྟས་པའི་དུས་སུ་ལྟ་མཁན་ལྟ་རྒྱུ་གཉིས་ཀ་ནམ་མཁའི་དཀྱིལ་ལྟར་རྟོགས་པས་སྤྲིན་མེད་པའི་ནམ་མཁ་ལྟ་བུ་སྟེ། འཆི་བའི་དུས་སུ་ཕྱི་དབུགས་ནང་དབུགས་མ་ཆད་པའི་དུས་སུ་འཆི་ཁའི་འོད་གསལ་བྱ་བ་དེ་སྤྲིན་མེདཔའི་ནམ་མཁའ་ལྟ་བུ་འོང་བས་ལྟ་སྦྱངས་པའི་སྟོབས་ཀྱི་བར་དོ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་མེད་པར་འཚང་རྒྱའོ༎ ཏཻ་ལོ་པས་གོ་བར་གྱིས་ཤིག། མངྒ་ལཾ༎
May this new translation and research on the life of Tilopa be of benefit to beings and the Dharma, and may we all have the merit and fortune to meet with and be instructed by Ḍākinīs!
Translated, compiled and edited by Adele Tomlin, 10th December 2020.
- Norbu, Thinley (1981). Magic Dance: The Display of the Self Nature of the Five Wisdom Dakinis (2nd ed.). Jewel Publishing House.
- Campbell, June (1996). Traveller in Space: In Search of the Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism. George Braziller.
- Douglas, Nik and White, Meryl (1976). Karmapa: Black Hat Lama of Tibet. Luzac and Company.
- Simmer-Brown, Judith (2002). Dakini’s Warm Breath:The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Shambhala Publications.
- Thrangu Rinpoche (2019). Tilopa’s Wisdom: His Life and Teaching on the Ganges Mahamudra, Snow Lion Publications.
- Lodro Marpa; Tr. Fabrizio Torricelli and Acharya Sangye T. Naga (1995). The Life of the Mahāsiddha Tilopa. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
- Torricelli Fabrizio (1998), A Thirteenth Century Tibetan Hymn to the Siddha Tilopa, The Tibet Journal, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 3-17, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
- XIIth Khentin Tai Situpa, Tilopa, Some Glimpses Of His Life, Dzalendra Publishing, 1988.
 There are different definitions of and types of ḍākinī. In Tibetan, the word is Khandroma (mkha’ ‘gro ma), which literally means ‘space traveller’. Judith Simmer-Brown (2002) identifies four main classes of ḍākinī:
- The secret class of ḍākinī is prajnaparamita (yum chenmo), the empty nature of reality according to Mahayana doctrine.
- The inner class of ḍākinī is the ḍākinī of the mandala, a meditational deity (yidam) and fully enlightened Buddha who helps the practitioner recognise their own Buddhahood.
- The outer ḍākinī is the physical form of the ḍākinī, attained through completion stage tantra practices such as the Six Yogas of Naropa that work with the subtle winds of the subtle body so that the practitioner’s body is compatible with an enlightened mind.
- The outer-outer ḍākinī is a ḍākinī in human form. She is a yogini in her own right but may also be a karmamudrā, or consort, of a yogi or mahasiddha.
Dakinis can also be classified according to the Trikaya, or three bodies of buddhahood.
- The Dharmakāya ḍākinī, which is Samantabhadrī, represents the dharmadhatu where all phenomena appear.
- The Sambhogakāya ḍākinīs are the yidams used as meditational deities for tantric practice.
- The Nirmanakāya ḍākinīs are human women born with special potentialities; these are realized yoginis, consorts of gurus, or even all women in general as they may be classified into the Five Buddha Families.
 “ye shes kyi mkha’ ‘gro ma la te+e lo pa’i zhus len snyan brgyud man ngag bar do gcig chod ma/.” In karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/. TBRC W3PD1288. 3: 413 – 414. lha sa/: dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang /, 2013?.
 The translators of Marpa’s biography of Tilopa say her name is Bharima, whereas other online sources , such as TBRC and the Kagyu Office, write Dharima.
 “Legend tells that as a boy he was put to a test by the great Siddha Nagarjuna, who asked for his help across a river. Carrying the Teacher on his back the young Tilopa waded fearlessly through the raging waters, never doubting that he would reach the other side safely. Some years later Nagarjuna again appeared in the district and found Tilopa playing at being a King, with two young girls as his Queens. The young man immediately prostrated himself before the Siddha, who asked him if he would really like to become the King. Laughing TUopa replied that indeed he would, but added that it was unlikely ever to happen. When the King of that region died, however, the State Elephant, guided by Nagarjuna’s magical powers, placed the ritual vase of holy water on top of Tilopa’s head, thus indicating the Divine choice for the new monarch. At the same time the great sage conjured up a mighty and invincible army which would only obey the commands of Tilopa. The young. man was crowned King and after reigning for several years began to weary of the life of luxury. (p.5).
 According to another account in Douglas and White (1976): “One day, while engaged in his priestly duties, an ugly hag-like woman appeared before him and asked if he would like to attain true Enlightenment. Tilopa recognised her as a Dakini, a keeper of esoteric secrets, and begged for her instructions. She initiated him into the Chakrasamvara Tantra and he was able to absorb the teachings fully. Tilopa stayed at Somapuri for twelve years, engaging himself in the revealed teachings. He was able to visit the realms of the Dakinis, surviving many ordeals and temptations, culminating in his meeting with the Dakini-Queen herself, from whom he received the full and final transmission of the teachings. He united with a Yogini-ascetic, who was a pounder of sesame seeds, and on this account was driven out from the order of monks.”
 At Pashupatinath temple premise, greatest Hindu shrine of Nepal, there are two caves where Tilopa attained Siddhi and initiated his disciple Naropa. For video see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzOsKWrbLEg
 The translators of this text state that “it is the earliest biography of the mahasiddha Tilopa of which we have direct knowledge. In fact, from the dedicatory verses and the colophon, it appears to have been composed by the great Kagyupa master Marpa Chokyi Lodro (Mar-pa Chos-kyi-blo-gros (1012-1097)) for the benefit of his son Damra Dode (Dar-ma mDo-sde). It is a short work included in a collection of texts of the Mar-pa dKar-brgyud-pa tradition: (bD em chog mkha’- ‘gro snyan-rgyud, vol. klia—brGyud-pa yid-bzhin-nor-bu rnam-par thar-pa, fols. lb-1 lb). Such texts are connected with the oral ‘whispered’ tradition (snyan-rgyud) transmitted by the disciple of Milarepa (Mi-la-ras-pa), Rechung Dorje Drag (Ras-chung rDo-rje-grags (1084- 1161)) and, because of that, they are known as Rechung Nyengyu (Ras-chung snyan-rgyud). The manuscript, compiled by Shar-kha Ras-chen, Kun-dga’-dar-po and Byang-chub-bzang-po in the first half of the 16th century, is written in a cursive script (dbu-med), which is known as Kham Dri (khams-bris), where many short forms are attested. As to the genre, it belongs to what we could call “Buddhist hagiology”, being an account of the ‘complete liberation’ (rnam-par thar-pa, vimoksa) of the guru of Naropa.” See also an edition of the text at TBRC W3CN15304.
 rje-btsun chen-po Tilli-pa’i rnam-par thar-pa. In Golden Garland of Kagyu (dKar-brgyud gser-‘phreng, fols. la-22a. The English ‘Preface’ to the reproduction of the manuscript has the following observation to make on Gyalthangpa (rGyal-thang-pa): “No biography of this master is immediately available, but it is known that he was a disciple of rGod-tshang-pa mGon-po-rdo-rje (1189-1258), the last guru whose biography appears in this collection.” See “rje btsun chen po til+li pa’i rnam par thar pa/.” In dkar brgyud gser ‘phreng /. TBRC W23436. : 21 – 64. palampur, h.p.: sungrab nyamso gyunphel parkhang, tibetan craft community, 1973.
 Te-lo-pa’i rnam-thar in bKa’-brgyud yid – bzhin-nor-bu-yi ‘phreng-ba, fols. 7a-26a. The translators state that: “Like Gyalthangpa (rGyal-thang-pa), Orgyenpa (O-rgyan-pa) was a disciple of Gotsangpa (rGod-tshang-pa). However, he integrated the teachings of this master with the instruction he received from a Ḍākinī in Uddiyana (Tucci 1940; Tucci 1949: 90-91). This collection of hagiographies, following the ‘Bri-gung dKar-brgyud-pa tradition, was written between 1295 and 1304 and is conserved in the library of the Kangyur Rimpoche of Darjeeling.
 rje- Te-lo-pa’i rnam-thar In bKa’-brgyud-kyi rnam-thar chen-mo rinpo-che’i gter-mdzod dgos-’dod ‘byung-gnas, fols. 27a-43b.
 Ti-lo Shes-rab-bzang-po’i rnam-par thar-pa, in dKar-brgyud gser- ‘phreng, vol. kha, fols. 12a-23b.
 Ti-lo-pa’i rnam-thar
 The translators state that:”This biography of Tilopa is included in a Rechung Nyengyu (Ras-chung snyan-rgyud) which was compiled at the end of the 15th century. Even if the dating of the manuscript is quite difficult to achieve, “stylistically, a dating to the second half of the 16th century is not unreasonable,” This manuscript is known as the Jatang Trinley Palwar (Bya-btang ‘Phrin-las-dpal-‘bar) Manuscript; there is another set of the same Demchog Khandro Nyengyu (bDe-mchog mkha’-‘gro snyan-rgyud), known as the Drajkar Rabjampa (Gra-dkar Rab-‘jam-pa) Manuscript, but references here are given only from the former.”
 rjebtsun Ti-to-pa’i rnam-thar dbang-bzhi’i chu-rgyun, in bKa’-rgyud bla-ma-rmms-kyi rnam-thar rin-chen gser-‘phreng, fols.1 lb-13b (fol. 12 is missing).
 rJe-btsun Ti-lo’I rnam-par thar-pa, in bKa’-brgyud gser-‘phreng rgyas-pa, fols.la-45a.
 “This manuscript, preserved in the monastery of Dzongkhul (rDzong-khul) in Zangskar, is the only one from which we give references. There is however another manuscript, r]e-btsun Ti-lo-pa dang Nd-ro-pa’i rnam-thar rin-po-che (B fols. lb-68a), which is a part of the same collection of hagiographies following the Drugpa Kagyupa (‘Brug-pa dKa’ rgyud-pa) tradition.”
 Sangs-rgyas thams-cad-kyi rnam-‘phrul rje-btsun Ti-lo-pa’i rnam-mgur, fols. la-38a). The translators state that: “This text is particularly beautiful and interesting because it is the only Namgur (rnam-mgur) of Tilopa’s we have, i.e. a biography interspersed with esoteric songs (mgur). These songs are by Tilopa himself and belong to two texts which are in the tantric section (rgyud-‘grel) of the Tengyur (bsTan-’gyur), the A cin tyam aham udra and the M aham udropade. Lhatsun (lHa-bstun) compiled this Namgur and printed it first in 1550 at Drakar Taso (Brag-dkar-rta-so). Even if there is another available source of the same text, our references are only from the former.” See also: “sangs rgyas thams cad kyi rnam ‘phrul rje btsun ti lo pa’i rnam mgur/.” In rje btsun ti lo pa’i rnam mgur dang dpal nA ro pa’i rnam thar bsdus pa. TBRC W28882. 1: 13 – 66. zi ling: mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1992.
 “te lo nA ro’i rnam thar/.” In gsung ‘bum/_sgam po pa/. TBRC W23566. 1: 11 – 32. darjeeling, west bengal: kargyud sungrab nyamso khang, 1982.
 “tai lo pa dang nA ro pa’i rnam thar.” In gsung ‘bum/_rang byung rdo rje. TBRC W30541. 4: 5 – 88. [zi ling]: [mtshur phu mkhan po lo yag bkra shis], .
 “rje btsun te lo pa chen po’i rnam par thar pa/.” In gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje. TBRC W8039. 1: 699 – 730. [lha sa]: [s.n.], .
 “tI l+li pa’i rnam thar.” In gsung ‘bum/_shAkya rin chen. TBRC W8684. 1: 7 – 56. thimphu: kunzang topgey, 1976.
 Regarded to be a reembodiment of one of the 16 arhats and of Sangs-rgyas Sman-pa’i-rgyal-po. Served as abbot of Snar-thang for 36 years. nam mkha’ grags pa , smon lam tshul khrims , snar thang pa nyi ma rgyal mtshan . “tai lo pa’i rnam thar .” In snar thang gser phreng . TBRC W2CZ7888. : 3 – 25. [s.l.]: [s.n.], [n.d.].
 sangs rgyas shes rab . “rje btsun ti l+li nA ro’i rnam thar dang mthun pa’i bstod pa.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 4: 187 – 188. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.
 de las dang po jo bo chen po te lo pa ‘di mi rang rgyud par byas na sku che ba’i yon tan la bzhi ste / dang po drang don du mkha’ ‘gros lung bstan te bla ma rtsal te sgrub pa mdzad pa dang / mkha’ ‘gro zti gyis mnan te chos zhus pa dang / nges don du m il bla ma med par stan pa dang / sprul pa sna tshogs stan pa’o//
 One online source states that: “In Tilopa Meets the Ḍākinīs, the 4th Chetsang Rinpoche (1770-1862) of the Drikung Kagyu tells how the Bengali brahmin boy, Salyeu, out minding water buffalo, was visited by a “fearsome, ugly woman” who told him to “. . . herd buffalo And read scriptures. There you will find the prophecies of the Ḍākinīs.” With this, she disappeared. Some time later, while he was reading under a shapa [hat-shaped?] tree, she returned, and asked him to identify himself to her. He gave the appropriate, ordinary information, but she corrected him, saying: “Your country is Oddiyana in the North; your father is Chakrasamvara; your mother is Vajrayogini: your brother is Pantsapana [Hind: Panchpana], and I am your sister, Bliss-giver. If you want to find the true buffalo go to the forest of the bodhi tree. There the stainless Ḍākinīs hold the ear-whispered teachings.” He said, “If I go there, the Ḍākinīs will pose obstacles and prevent me from succeeding.” She said: “Yogi, you can get the teachings. You have received the predictions And kept the samaya vows.” Realizing she was a Ḍākinī, he said: “The path is dangerous and I do not know how to traverse it.” In reply she gave him a crystal ladder, a jeweled bridge, and a coral-handled key, saying: “I give you my blessings; depart without hesitation.” The young man, who would become known as Mahasiddha Tilopa, then crosses the country to reach Oddiyana where, using the magical tools, he negotiates a poison lake and the “iron wall of Ghandola.” Then, he chooses the correct one of the three gates to the Temple of Ghandola and, using his coral key, he enters.
First, he meets nirmanakaya “stainless Ḍākinīs Who desire flesh and blood.” in their many fearsome forms that make terrible noises and threatening gestures, but he is not afraid. Frustrated, they fell into a faint, and when they regained their composure, they begged his forgiveness and admitted: “We are to you as the butterfly to the lamp; The butterfly hopes to extinguish the lamp, But instead dies in the light. … , … .” One among them continued: “I am just an ordinary being, without authority. If I do not ask our leader’s permission to let you in, She will eat my flesh and drink my blood. Therefore, precious one, do not think unkindly of me.”
Then, samboghakaya Loka Karma Ḍākinīs appear, but by making the three threatening ritual gestures, Tilopa overpowers their faculties of body, speech and mind. They suffer the same as the previous group, and their leader, “a Minister,” goes to announce him to the Queen. When she permits him to enter, he does not even bow but rather assumes a state of meditation, so the host of attending Ḍākinīs get angry, saying: “She is the blessed one, The mother of the Buddhas of the Three Times. Let us beat him Who shows no respect.” The Mother intervenes saying that he is “. . . . The father of the Buddhas of the Three Times. Even a rain of vajras . . . Could not destroy him. Therefore I will give him the teachings.”
She instructs him in prana [breath/energy] and other unrecorded things, but he insists on more, and Tilopa says that he wants ” . . . the perfect teaching. The stainless bliss, the great secret Of the ordinary and the extraordinary.” She then agrees to confer the three wish-fulfilling gems including the self-arising body of co-emergent Wisdom and Means united; the speech that is the 7-syllable self-arising emerald in the Dharmakara, and the 5-pointed vajra jewel of self-arising mind, but only if he can understand the signs. The host of Ḍākinīs express their doubt that he will be able to understand the signs, but Tilopa responds directly to the Mother, that he has 3 special keys, and that they are: 1. The self-liberation key of samaya that grants access to “the light of wisdom which dispels the darkness of ignorance, And to self-awareness, self-arising, ad self-clarity.”
2. “the key of experience Which opens the door to the mind-as-such, Self-appearing clarity which is ever unborn, . . . .” and
3. “the key of experience of the realized yogi” that opens the door to “Mind-as-such, Dharma-as-such, and Dharmakaya.”
At that the Ḍākinīs rejoice and hold a Ganachakra feast in which they prepare the sindhura (vermillion powder) mandala and further empower him by means of both oral and mental transmissions. They give him 13 distinct tantras for the future benefit of beings including Tantra of Vajra Ḍākinī, Tantra of Sangwai Zo and Tantra of Vajradhara Self-appearance. Then they liken him to a bird and, having addressed him as Chakrasamvara and as Prajnabadra, they beg him to remain with them. Knowing the future, Tilopa explains that he must return to Tsukgi Norbu (Crest Jewel) Monastery “For the spiritual sons Naropa, Ririkasori and others.” As he was leaving, a formless Ḍākinī bestowed 9 special objects with instructions to:
1. “loosen the knot of the mind”
2. “act like a sword striking water”
3. “chase the sun of realization” [a lasso?]
4. “see samaya in the mirror of your mind”
5. “see that the light of awareness is wisdom”
6. “turn the wheel of the channel and wind net”
7. “see the outer mirror equalizing taste”
8. “see the mahamudra [a seal?] of self-liberation”
9. hold “the jewel of great-bliss speech”
And that, according to the Drikung Kagyu, is “how Tilopa as a human being over- powered the Ḍākinīs, and how he received the teachings.”
 There are many different definitions of a Ḍākinī, and types of them too. At the ultimate level of reality there are transcendental buddhas. These are thought of as five families or categories of buddhas. Their female consorts are regarded as “enlightened wisdom” which, paired with the male aspect or “skillful means,” give rise to the enlightened compassionate activity of the universe(s). Thus, there are five major corresponding Ḍākinīs: Padma-Ḍākinī, Buddha-Ḍākinī, Ratna-Ḍākinī, Karma-Ḍākinī, and Vajra-Ḍākinī or Vishva-Ḍākinī (vajra-cross Ḍākinī.)”
 “When Tilopa was abiding in a certain cave, Nagarjuna sent the dakini Matongha to give him teachings. When Matongha appeared, Tilopa inquired about Nagarjuna and was told that Nagarjuna was not in the human realm at that time but was giving teachings in the god realm. Matongha also told Tilopa that Nagarjuna knew Tilopa would be in this particular cave and had sent her to give him teachings.
As Nagarjuna requested, Tilopa received teachings from Matongha. During this time, Matongha noticed that because Tilopa had been king and of royal caste, his mind possessed a strong pride that hindered his progress, and she told him that his arrogance must be removed. Tilopa was given instructions to go to a certain village to seek out a woman there who was a prostitute and to work for her. The woman worked during the day making oil out of sesame seed and worked at night as a prostitute. As he was instructed, he worked for the woman during the day by pounding sesame seed, and during the night by soliciting her customers. In this way Tilopa lived as the prostitute’s helper.” From Rumtek Monastery website (see here).
 From Rumtek Monastery website (ibid.): “One day as Tilopa was pounding sesame seeds in the village, he realized ultimate buddhahood, the Vajradhara aspect of enlightenment. As a sign of his achieving complete realization, Tilopa levitated to the height of seven royal palm trees while still holding a mortar and pestle in his hands and continuing to grind sesame seeds. The news that Tilopa hovered in the air at the height of seven royal palm trees quickly spread through the village.
When the prostitute who employed Tilopa heard that someone was levitating very high in the sky, she hastened to see who it was. To her surprise she discovered that it was her employee in the sky, and that he was still working for her, even as he hovered, by continuing to grind sesame seeds with a mortar and pestle. She felt ashamed to have given such work to a highly realized being, and with great regret, she confessed this to Tilopa and requested him to accept her as his student. As she mentally made this request, Tilopa threw a flower down to her from the sky. The flower hit her on the head, instantaneously causing her to reach complete realization. She then levitated to the same height as Tilopa.”
 From Marpa’s The Life of the Mahasiddha Tilopa: 40.
Thirteen bhumis (sa bcu gsum) — according to the Sarma Schools, there are additional stages to the ten bhumis of the sutra system, which mark degrees of increase in qualities. For more details, see here.