UNSUNG HEROINES, MOTHERS OF MAHĀMUDRĀ AND SOURCE OF SARAHA’S SONGS : Re-telling the (her)stories of the symbolic ‘arrow-maker’ Dakhenma, and the ‘radish-curry’ cook gurus of siddha, Saraha

“The Buddha’s meaning can be known through symbols and actions, not through words and books.” [1]  
—Arrow-Maker Woman’s teaching to Saraha

“A solitary body is not solitude. Being [mentally] solitary, away from the mental references and concepts: this is the supreme solitude. Even though you were settled in a meditative trance for twelve years , you cannot sever this crude reference, the concept of radishes , so what good will come of going to the mountains?”
—-Radish-Curry Cook to Saraha

“The Brahmin Rahula [Saraha], without preserving the ascetic austerities of ordination, has fallen from celibacy. Being with a vile woman of inferior standing, he engages in debased practices and has taken to roaming about in all directions like a dog .”

“Yesterday I was no brahmin,
I, a brahmin pure.
Today I am a brahmin,
The real brahmin is great purity.

Yesterday I was no monk,
I,  an ascetic monk.
Today I am a monk,
The real monk is great asceticism.”
–Saraha’s Song[2]  to critics of his relations with the arrow-maker

Figure 1. Image of Saraha and his two female gurus, from the cover of Guenther’s 1968 text, ‘Royal Song of Saraha’, the first major English Language studies of Saraha’s life and songs.

For the ‘double’ Ḍākinī Day  (this month the 25th Day falls on two days)[3], here is a new research article on two ‘unsung heroines; important (yet de-named[4]) female teachers of mahasiddha and Mahamudra lineage holder, Saraha, who are known as the ‘Arrow-Maker’ (in Tibetan, Dakhenma) and ‘Radish-Curry’ Cook.

The invisibility, or overlooking and diminishing, of women’s contributions socially, culturally and spiritually, is nothing new. In that respect Tibetan Buddhist culture is no different from other patriarchal religious cultures. However, with an increase in the equality and empowerment of women globally refusing to tolerate bias, inequality, sexism, manipulation, sexual objectification and so on , a fresh and powerful voice is becoming more prominent in Tibetan Buddhist scholarship and practice: that of females.  As Miranda Shaw points out in Passionate Enlightenment (1994), well-known male figures, such as Saraha, Tilopa and so on, recur in the sectarian annals, religious biographies, and historical works of India and Tibet as the founders of Vajrayana (or Secret Mantra) Buddhism, while the names of equally glorious foremothers and lineage founders ‘do not shine with the same lustre as those of their male counterparts and in some cases have nearly been forgotten altogether-save for sufficient evidence for a historian to rediscover them.’ [5] Even when the woman is named as a lineage holder, her voice is all too often hijacked my male scholars and interpreters, who in subtle (and not so subtle ways) diminish her, as I wrote about here recently in relation to the Jonang Zhentong lineage holder, Kunga Trinley Wangmo.

Thus, this article picks up on Shaw’s assertion, and goes further by considering in more detail the ‘belittling’ of women, in relation to these two important female teachers in Saraha’s life. This is done by considering and re-visiting the varying narratives of these two female teachers within the original Tibetan sources, in particular those of Tāranātha, Karma Trinleypa and Tsuglag Trengwa (all men). My former postgraduate supervisor, continually stressed the importance of having primary Indic or Tibetan sources when doing research on such topics. In that respect, although Shaw’s work can clearly be critiqued, for not citing the original Tibetan sources she relies on (and even misrepresenting what Tāranātha says), her work is still valuable and groundbreaking with pertinent questions and information for future research and analysis.

Almost all the current translation and scholarship on Saraha’s life, is written by men (see Bibliography). The  most recent academic work on Saraha’s life is  Kurtis Schaeffer’s Dreaming the Great Brahmin, Tibetan Traditions of the Poet Saint Saraha (2005). Although Schaeffer is the first to offer a more detailed and sourced analysis than Shaw (on the lives and roles of the two women), he does not consider Shaw’s earlier contention that the role of these women have been undervalued, and simply presents the varying accounts of the women in the Tibetan sources. Other books recently published on Saraha hardly even mention the women, if at all[6].

The first section of this essay deals with the main textual sources on Saraha’s life. The second section addresses the varying accounts of the two female teachers’ lives found within those sources. Finally, I share some brief conclusions, in accordance with Shaw’s hypothesis that female contributions in Vajrayana Buddhism has been undervalued, concluding that even with the varying accounts of the Tibetan sources on Saraha’s life, it is clear that both women were realized teachers (or Ḍākinīs) in their own right and that contemporary translation, language choice and visual depiction of these women[7] has further exacerbated this ‘de-naming’ and ‘belittlement’. Moreover, one could even go so far as to say that the two women were ultimately the originators (or muses) of Saraha’s famous Doha Songs,  to convince his detractors and critics of his full awakening they had brought about.

This is the first published article (by a woman) that considers in more detail the undervaluing of  the lives and import of the female teachers of Saraha, by looking at current work on Saraha, and their original Tibetan sources. It is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it is a start in raising more awareness outside of the academic sphere, yet with textual sourcing and analysis, on the lives and contributions of overlooked or undervalued women/lineages. Such women, past and present, need to be restored to their rightful position as female lineage founders and mother teachers of Secret Mantra and Vajrayana. It is only when women are restored to their valuable and crucial role in these practices and lineages, as realized teachers and practitioners, that the power can be reclaimed (and thus re-balanced) from the current imbalance wielded by sexist (and often misogynist) male, patriarchal religious cultures and institutions.

I dedicate this to all the ignored, overlooked, undervalued and ‘de-named’ female teachers, practitioners, translators, consorts, wives and mothers.

Written by Adele Tomlin, 4th June 2021.

PART I: Indic/Tibetan sources on Saraha’s Liberation-Stories

Mahāmudrā, Cakrasaṃvara lineage head, Treasure-Revealer and Guru Padmasambhava emanation

“As is so often the case with major figures in the intellectual history of India, almost nothing factual is known about Saraha.” –Herbert Guenther (1968)

Before discussing the two female teachers of Saraha, I will give a brief overview of the main textual sources on Saraha and his importance to the Mahāmudrā lineage, particularly as practiced within the Karma Kagyu[8]. Shaw (1994) writes:

“One of the towering founding fathers of Tantric Buddhism is the adept Saraha, a former priest and scholar. Saraha’s Tantric songs (doha) are prized as the authoritative source of Mahāmudrā tradition and its characteristic expression in epigrammatic, poetic form.  Saraha also heads the transmission lineage of the Cakrasaṃvara-tantra and is identified by Tāranātha as the founder of anuttara-yoga tantra. Formerly known as the Hindu priest Rahula, Saraha showed great intelligence from a young age and applied himself seriously to his studies, memorizing the Vedas and mastering many other subjects before he converted to Buddhism and became a monk.”

Schaeffer (2005) also mentions that Saraha has been mentioned as a treasure-revealer, citing texts by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye the First, as well as being an emanation of Guru Padmasambhava according to Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje (1904-1987) [9].

Figure 2. Saraha depicted with what appear to be his two female teachers. The source HAR does not mention the women though. Again, this is yet another depiction of these dakini/Bodhisattva women represented as significantly (and un-naturally smaller in size than Saraha.

As scholars have stated (see Guenther’s quote above), very little of a genuinely factual nature is known about any of the founding figures, including Saraha:

“The available hagiographical materials present numerous problems of identity, chronology, and dating. Thus, one may never know, for example, during the life of which Pala dynast Saraha lived, or if the figure “Saraha” is in fact a composite figure, or if he was a single person whose biography has been augmented by popular stories about the exploits of Tantric yogis or embellished by the storyteller’s art. However, the quasi-legendary nature of the source materials does not deter the present inquiry, because the purpose of this section is to investigate the history of the tradition as it understands and presents itself.” (Shaw 1994: 131)[10]

Sources of information about them are mahasiddha biographies in the Tibetan canon, the  Stories of the Eighty-Four Siddhas (Grub thob brgyad cu rtsa bzhi’i lo rgyus)[11]; various biographies and lineages in works of the chos-byung, or Buddhist history, genre, such as the Blue Annals (Debs tlzer dugon po) by Zhonu Pal (gZhon-nu-dpal), translated into English by George Roerich; and various sectarian annals and lineage histories [12].

Three Cycles Doha

Another important text (relied on by Schaeffer and Guenther) is The Three Cycles of Doha (Do ha skor gsum ti ka ‘bring po sems kyi mam thar ston pa ‘i me long)[13], by Dagpo Kagyu master, Karma Trinleypa (Karma ‘phrin las pa (1456-1539), which has the richest detail about Saraha’s life[14]. See image above of an edition of this text (TBRC W3CN18473) with stunning colour images of Vajradhara and Saraha on the first page.

Tāranātha’s Seven Descents of Instruction:  Jewel-like Adorment Amazing  Life Stories (bka’ babs bdun ldan-gyi  brgyud  pa’i nam thar ngo mtshar mad  du  byung  ba  rin po che’i khungs. See version at TBRC W1KG14132)  an important collection of Indian hagiographies on fifty-nine Siddhas categorized into seven main transmission lineages is also cited by Schaeffer and Shaw. Yet interestingly, neither quote his Tibetan text source itself on the female teachers (Shaw cites David Templeman’s 1983 English translation of it). Templeman says in his introduction to the text:

“Tāranātha  paints a miraculous picture of the great Siddhas of India-their lives and the lineages which sprang from their teachings. In all, the lives of some 59  Siddhas are related some well known, others more obscure, but all linked by their various lineages and by the instructions handed down from Siddha to disciple. Tāranātha ‘s account of these remarkable lives is especially valuable as he had as his gurus, and as the sources of these accounts, three Indians from the very traditions about which he wrote with such conviction. Among them was the great Buddhaguptanatha, disciple of Mahasiddha Santigupta, whose biography Tāranātha  records so eloquently in this work.”

Tāranātha lists the seven main ‘descents’ of instruction as: 1) Mahāmudrā, 2) Tummo (Inner Heat)[15], 3) Karma Mudra (las kyi phyag rgya), 4) Clear Light (‘od gsal), 5) Activities of the Generation Stage (bskyed rim ‘phrin las) [16], 6) Word Lineage (tshig gi brgyud pa), 7) Various Upadeshas  (thor bu sna tshog).

Image of the first page in an edition of Taranatha’s text, ‘Seven Descents of Instruction.’

Within the first lineage, Mahāmudrā, Tāranātha tells the  tale of Saraha and his female teachers.[17]. The Kagyu (bKa’-brgyud) lineages regard Saraha as the authoritative source of their mahāmudra tradition and Gampopa (sGam-po-pa (1079-1153)) as their authoritative formulator of the mahāmudra system. According to Zhonu Pal (gZhon-nu-dpal)’s Blue Annals, after Saraha the system passed through Savari, Luipa, Darika, Deogi, Vajraghaota, Kurmapada, Jalandhara, Kaoha, Vijayapada, Tilopa, and Nāropa.[18] There is some debate about whether Mahāmudrā can be achieved without a Vajrayana empowerment, which the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, recently taught on, see here  [19]

PART II: Saraha’s female teachers, the Arrow-Maker and Radish-Curry Cook

Figure 3. 19th C. Tibetan thangka of Saraha with female teacher/consort. Source HAR. This is the not only a rare thangka representation of Saraha with his female teacher but also one in which she is represented as almost similar in physical size. See: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/65204

As Shaw (1994) and others[20] have pointed out, a striking feature in the Saraha liberation-stories is the key role of  female teachers/companions. The two main narratives of the ‘female arrow-maker’ and of the ‘radish-curry cook’ are popular stories in connection with Saraha.  Both women are portrayed as crucial in helping Saraha gain full awakening. The Radish Cook narrative has been quoted significantly on social media posts about Saraha, yet more as a young girl, servant, wife or consort. The fact that she is also nameless in these histories, shows how such a woman was not seen as important enough to even be named (more on that below).

Female scholars, such as Shaw (1994) and Allione (2000) and others, have done important and valuable work on making more prominent the lives and accomplishments of female lineage holders, yoginis, consorts and masters. However, despite this, the unconscious sexist bias towards male privilege and superiority, male (particularly monks) as the teachers, controllers and holders of empowerments and texts etc prevails.  Yet, even male-written histories of the teachings and practices of Vajrayana show that such practices and teachings were not originally created or bestowed by monks for monks.  For example, in her groundbreaking work, Passionate Enlightenment, Shaw mentions several female lineages in her book, including a section on what she terms the Mothers of the Founding Fathers[21]. The acknowledged “founders” of many Vajrayana and secret mantra lineages of Tibetan Buddhism are the Indian Mahasiddhas,  including Saraha, Kainha, Virupa, Luipa, Tilopa, Kambala, Maitripa, Padmavajra, and, for the rNying-ma sect, Padmasambhava.  While there is no denying these men were highly realized mahasiddhas, it is clear that female lineage holders and teachers have not only been ignored in the literature but sometimes positively un-named and belittled, literally and in depictions. The fact that many female lineage holders, for example Kunga Trinley Wangmo (see here), are not even depicted in lineage or refuge trees speaks to the prevailing ‘male-washing’ of their importance.”

In his analysis, Schaeffer (2005) identifies seven variations on the life-story of Saraha[22],  the majority of which (he says) focus on one of two narratives highlighting Saraha’s female teachers (or companions as Schaeffer terms it), the radish-curry cook (Schaeffer and Shaw say ‘girl’) and the arrow-maker. Others combine these two narratives or adapt material from other stories. For this article, I will not refer to  them all but focus mainly on that of Tāranātha (Seven Descents of Instruction), Karma Trinleypa (The Three Doha Cycles) and Tsuglag Trengwa (A Scholar’s Feast).

Figure 4. Unsourced image of Saraha with a female. It is not clear if this is the arrow-maker of the curry-maker. Nonetheless, this is a more life-sized and realistic image of the young woman.

However, although Schaeffer is the first to considers variations in the textual accounts,  the question regarding the diminishing of the importance of the female teachers in Saraha’s life, begins with Shaw who alerts us to the story of the  arrow-maker (she does not mention the radish-curry cook):

“It turns out that in the case of Saraha, clearly one of the greatest founding figures in the history of Tantric Buddhism, the founding father himself had a spiritual mother, an arrowmaker who, despite her low caste and menial occupation, was a woman of spiritual refinement, profundity, and enlightening capabilities.”

Although, I agree with Shaw that Saraha had important female teachers who have been undervalued in historical texts and oral traditions, neither Shaw nor Schaeffer go into any deep analysis as to how and/or where that has happened textually in terms of the textual narratives.  Thus, in the following passages, I will consider in more detail the textual sources available on these women and how both historical (and contemporary)  textual sources (as well as depictions or lack of them) reveal their under-valuation.  There are four main stages in  arrow-maker narrative, which are Saraha:

  • Drinking alcohol with women
  • Meeting the arrow-maker in a market and her pith oral teaching
  • Shunned and outcast for his relation with the arrow-maker
  • Composition of the Vajra Songs and attaining full awakening
Drinking alcohol with Vajrayogini, ‘women’ or dakinis?

Prior to meeting the arrow-maker woman, although he was said to have been a learned Brahmana, born from a dakini, Saraha started to behaved in unconventional and heretical ways, such as drinking alcohol and spending time with women[23]. Tāranātha  says:

“Now, Māhacarya Brahmana Rahula, born in the land of 0divisa, was by caste a Brahmana. From his youth he became proficient in the Vedas, the Vedangas, the eighteen sciences and the eight subsidiary sciences,  etc. When he had read some secret texts to five hundred Brahmin youths, Vajrayogini appeared before him in the guise of a barmaid and repeatedly offered the acarya nectar of the knowledge of the absolute wisdom in the form of a strong intoxicant. He partook of it without an instant’s thought, and even though he had attained the very highest reaches of Samadhi inside, he lost his Brahmin caste. The Brahmins wished to dishonour him, and the acarya, by the power of inner yoga which he was able to summon up, made the Brahmins themselves vomit up the beer. Hurling a huge rock onto the surface of a lake he said, “If I drank beer, may this stone sink. If you have drunk it and not I, may it float!” The rock floated on the water. Thus the Brahmins were defeated by his powers.” (Templeman 1983: 3)

Interestingly, citing Tāranātha, Shaw (1994) says Saraha  ‘he allowed some girls to convince him to drink beer’[24], which is very different to Tāranātha who says it was Vajrayogini emanated as a barmaid.

Moreover, according to Schaeffer (2005), his version of Karma Trinleypa’s text does not even mention this ‘drinking with girls’ episode before meeting the arrow-maker, yet Guenther’s 1968 translation does. The reason for that (he says) could be because Guenther’s textual source contained material form Tsuglag Trengwa’s A Scholar’s Feast (written in 1565), which cites a commentary by the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje[25]. In that text (which Schaeffer translates) there is clear mention of Saraha meeting four ‘girls’ [again this is a questionable translation as their age is not mentioned and so ‘women’ might be more suitable’] holding a tantric feast at which he drank four different kinds of mead that they offered him which led to the four joys arising and them revealing themselves as Ḍākinīs nd bestowing on him the four empowerments[26]. This is also quite different to Tāranātha’s tale and of Shaw’s re-telling of that.

Whichever text we take as our source, clearly these young women were not ordinary girls/women but Ḍākinīs capable of bestowing empowerments and teachings on the renowned former abbot of Nalanda, Saraha.

Meeting the arrow-maker and her pith oral teaching
Figure 5. Close-up of Saraha and female teacher/consort in a 19th Century Thangka. One of the few images that clearly depicts Saraha with a woman, where she seems to be in similar stature to him. See: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/65204

Tāranātha  says that after this drinking episode, Saraha became a monk[27], then an abbot of Nalanda[28] and then met the arrow-smith woman.  Generally, the accounts agree though that at some point, Saraha met the arrow-maker in a marketplace and was greatly inspired with her style and precision when making arrows. When approaching her, she gives him a pith oral instruction, which is often cited (see above).  Shaw (1994: 124) (citing Templeman’s translation of Tāranātha) poetically tells the story thus:

“When he was reeling in a drunken euphoria, a bodhisattva appeared to him and directed him to seek out a mystically talented arrow-making woman who lived in the city, promising that many people would benefit from their meeting. Convinced of the authenticity of this message, Saraha ventured into the marketplace. Among the arrow-makers he spotted a woman who was making arrows with a deliberateness and finesse that bespoke deep meditative concentration. Wholly focused upon her task, she never looked up or became distracted as she cut the arrow-shaft, inserted the arrowhead, affixed the feathers, and checked the arrow for straightness. Saraha tried to break the ice with a trivial question but, not one for trivialities, her first words to him were,

”The Buddha’s meaning can be known through symbols and actions, not through words and books.”

Instantly realizing that he had found a worthy teacher, Saraha put off the monastic robes and devoted himself to his yogini guru. The arrow-maker accepted Saraha as her disciple and Tantric companion. According to Tāranātha, she taught him the meaning of things as they are and enabled him to see reality as it is. Saraha became renowned for giving voice to his spiritual insights in verses characterized by the piquant, pithy mode of expression in which the Arrow-making Yogini had instructed him.”

Tāranātha’s actual account, is slightly different and much briefer though:

“There he saw a yogini who was of the same sphere of liberation as he, and she had the form of a fletcher’s daughter. She straightened arrows etc. and made weapons as her livelihood and she also pointed out to him through signs the meaning of things as they are, and thereby he saw the Dharmāta in its reality. Having taken the arrow smith’s daughter as his mudra, he wandered in various lands doing the work of an arrowsmith. As his wisdom increased he became known as Saraha, or “He who shoots with an arrow”.

Even though, it is generally accepted that Saraha’s name came about as a result of his becoming the student and consort of  the arrow-maker woman, Templeman translates Tāranātha as Saraha taking the young woman as his mudra/consort, yet Shaw states the woman accepted Saraha as his disciple. Which is more accurate? Is it be possible that Tāranātha himself (living in a monastic, patriarchal culture) also diminished the role of the woman, or is Shaw exaggerating it? Templeman’s translation also seems to be questionable though, the Tibetan is phyag rgyur ‘khrid nas which can also be translated  as ‘after having become and led as a mudra/consort, which is quite different from ‘having been taken as a mudra.’

Going back to another Tibetan source is also helpful here, according to Karma Trinleypa’s text (Schaeffer (2005: 21)), the arrow-maker was in fact a Ḍākinī, a Bodhisattva’s emanation from the enlightened deity, Hayagriva:

“Once, in that country, the king named Lahayalall was paying his respects [to Saraha] as an object of worship, serving him with faith, full of praise . At this time, the illustrious [deity] Hayagriva had turned into a bodhisattva named Ratnacarya in order to train those people who were suitable for instantaneous [enlightenment] . Thinking to act for the benefit of the Great Brahmin [ Saraha], he emanated as a female arrow-smith in the midst of a hate, or what in the Tibetan language is called a marketplace. Just then, the Brahmin Rahula was roaming about and had arrived at a grove. In the midst of the market, [he] saw a fletcheress, a young girl making arrows undisturbed, glancing neither right nor left, and he approached her.

She deftly straightened a three-jointed natural [reed], cut it from the base and from the tip, affixed an arrowhead into the base, which she had cut in four sections , and bound it with a tendon. She adorned four feathers on the tip which she had cut in two , and with one eye shut and the other open, she lifted that arrow to the other [open eye] and assumed the stance of shooting a target. Seeing this, [Saraha] asked, “Young girl, are you a fletcheress? ” She replied, “Noble son, the intent of the Buddha can be understood through symbols and actions, not through words and texts. ” At that, the symbolic purport of this Ḍākinī came to life in his heart.”

Image of British actress, Keira Knightley, shooting an arrow.

Again, Schaeffer’s use of the term ‘girl’ to translate the Tibetan, which also means ‘female’ or woman’ is problematic, and another subtle way of diminishing her stature and realizations. The word ‘girl’ in English has the connotation of a child, which she was not.  However, in conclusion, the narrative that the arrow-maker accepted Saraha as her disciple, and was not ‘taken by’ Saraha, is the more feasible and likely one.

Image of Saraha from Schechen Monastery.

The profound, pith oral teaching of the arrow-maker to Saraha (according to Karma Trinleypa’s account) is worth reading, so I have included it in the footnotes[29]. Thrangu Rinpoche’s commentary on Sahara’s King Doha (2006:) summarises it as:

“The three segments of the shaft symbolized the three kayas of the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. Cutting off the root symbolized cutting off cyclic existence at its very origin, and cutting off the tip of the shaft symbolized the severing of ego-clinging. Furthermore, he understood that placing the arrowhead onto the shaft symbolized wisdom and that dividing the base into four symbolized the four aspects of mahamudra practice: mindfulness, non-minding, the unborn, and beyond the intellect.  Placing the pebble into these four splits and tying it with a string symbolized unifying method and wisdom (Skt. upaya and prajna) through the practice of calm abiding and deeper insight (Skt. shamatha and vipassana). Inserting the four feathers symbolized the four aspects of view, meditation, conduct, and fruition. Saraha understood the straightening of the arrow as following the straight path from the very beginning. The woman closed one eye and opened the other while checking the straightness of the arrow. This symbolized closing the eye of dualistic mind while opening the eye of wisdom.

Saraha understood the straightening of the arrow as following the straight path from the very beginning. The woman closed one eye and opened the other while checking the straightness of the arrow. This symbolized closing the eye of dualistic mind while opening the eye of wisdom.

At the moment when Saraha fully realized the state of mahāmudrā, he exclaimed “da.” This is a play on the sound of this word, which can mean either “arrow” or “symbol.” He said, “You are not an arrow maker. You are a symbol maker.” From that point onward Saraha changed his lifestyle from that of a monk to that of a siddha.”

Interestingly, Guenther (1968: 6: fn 6) notes that: “There is here a word-play between Da Khenma (mda’-mkhan-ma: female arrowsmith) and Da Khenma (brda-mkhan-ma: a woman well versed in symbols), the pronunciation of the two words being the same. “

Shunned and Outcast and the spontaneous Vajra Songs
Figure 6. Tibetan thangka of Saraha surrounded by Mahasiddhas. The female teachers do not appear to be depicted here. Source HAR.

The next and final stage in the narrative, is the shunning and slandering of Saraha, due to him formerly being a monk and his new relation with the arrow-smith woman, and the spontaneous composition of his songs in response to that negative reaction. As Tāranātha  (tr. Templeman 1983) says:

“Formerly he [Saraha] was a Sthavira or elder over all the monks, and now he had become quite a non-conformist. The King together with innumerable beings came to see him and jeered at him but the acarya in his form of arrow straightener said,

“Oh ho! I am a Brahmana and I live with a woman who works with bamboo.
I see neither caste nor no caste.
I have taken the discipline of the shaven headed monks and yet I also wander with this wife of mine.
There is no distinction between attachment and nonattachment.
These impurities are only thoughts. Others don’t even know this. They are just like poisonous snakes”.

 Having heard all this and having sung many Doha Vajra songs the King and five thousand of his retinue saw clearly the meaning of things as they are. His body was transformed into that of a Vidyadhara and by magic he soared off into the heavens-it is said that he finally became invisible. Furthermore, it happened that as a result of this there were many hundred thousand persons who manifested mental concentration and so his renown spread to all places. Having worked for the welfare of many sentient creatures it is said that he departed in his bodily form to other Buddha realms.”[30]

Image of a yogi and yogini rising upwards in bliss and realisation.

According to Karma Trinleypa’s account (Schaeffer (2005: 21):

“Moreover, while [Saraha] was staying at the charnel ground, associating with the fletcheress [arrow-maker] and singing many diamond-songs, all the people of the Indian south · derided and slandered [him], saying:

“The Brahmin Rahula, without preserving the ascetic austerities of ordination, has fallen from celibacy. Being with a vile woman of inferior standing, he engages in debased practices and has taken to roaming about in all directions like a dog .”

This was rumored everywhere, and when King Mahapala heard it, he issued an order to the citizens of his dominion to sway the Great Brahmin away from these wretched practices and endeavor to beseech him to act within the purview of a pure practice, for the benefit of the citizens at the capitol .

It was then that [ Saraha], on behalf of the common people, put into song 160 doha verses, and in so doing lead them onto the correct path . There, on behalf of the king’s queens, who had also so beseeched him, he put into song 80 doha verses, and in so doing introduced even them to the purport of how things really are. Then, because King Mahapala himself came to request that [Saraha] resume his former demeanor, on his behalf [ Saraha] put into song 40 doha verses and led even the great king upon the path of reality. Among other things, [Saraha] sang many diamond-songs and accomplished immeasurable benefit for living beings. He obtained a rainbow body, and even today the fortunate meet this one residing on the southern mountain of Sri Parvata.”[31]

So, although there are variations in these narratives, what is clear is that the women were not only teachers and consorts, but one might positively say they were the muses and originators of Saraha’s Songs themselves! However, I have not read any account that actively connects the songs as responses by Saraha to people criticizing his relations with these women though.

Visual Depictions of the Two Female Gurus

Even in the very few visual representations (see this article) of Saraha, he is either represented significantly larger than the woman, or the women are completely absent. I have only seen one depiction of her alone, see below (from Shaw (1994) and only one or two where they are represented in a natural, relative size to Saraha:

Image of ‘Arrow-maker’ woman from Shaw (1994).

Even Shaw’s sole depiction of the arrow-maker (1994: 133) could be accused of artistic ‘romanticism’ [or orientalism] in that the the reality is there is no textual source that says the arrow-smith daughter was considered physically beautiful by her community , nor that was a reason why Saraha became inspired by her and approached her. The sources state that he was drawn to her skills and precision in arrow-making. Normally, if she were considered beautiful physically, by those around her or the siddha yogi, it is mentioned in the original Indic/Tibetan sources.

Lower social caste and adopting the woman’s name

It is also important to note that both these women were lower caste and that Saraha was originally  Brahmin caste. In those geographical locations (now called India) such mixing of castes was severely frowned upon and would have been considered heretical.  The fact that Saraha also took the arrow-smith woman’s name (even though the hagiographies de-name her) is also symbolically significant.

Even in the 21st Century it is still considered traditional and ‘normal’ for women to take the name of their husband when getting married. This un-naming of women is another way women are made invisible socially when they are seen as the ‘property’ of a man and his family.  Thus, for Saraha to take the woman’s name, is also radical and brave for those times. Yet, again in the texts and recent scholarship, very little is made of this crucial female element in Saraha’s life and name.

As Shaw (1994: 60-64) points out in an interesting analysis, and challenge to male-centred, sexist interpretations of low-caste women being taken as consorts because they are more ‘sexually available’:

“The social classes to which the low-caste women belonged were classes from which Buddhism and the other classical traditions were receiving infusions of cultural energy during this period. The melding of Buddhist soteriology with archaic religious practices and symbols is part the genius of the tantras. By emphasizing these classes, Tantric Buddhism points to the quarters of society from which it received many of its distinctive ritual and iconographic elements. By highlighting women of those classes, it is possible that Buddhist sources are pointing to their own roots. When all of these factors are considered, it becomes clear that the presence of low-caste women in the Tantric movement is much more complex than a matter of sexual availability. These women were possessors of spiritual power and funds of cultural knowledge. They could find in Tantric Buddhism a sphere of participation in which they would not have to sacrifice their autonomy, initiative, or personal strength.

They were free to undertake Tantric disciplines as serious practitioners in their own right. Their forthright aggressiveness would serve them well in Tantric circles, and instead of being pressed into the service of male compatriots, they could enforce the requirement that men respect and honor them.”


Turning finally, to the second narrative of the female teacher, the radish-curry cook, which has separate origins from the arrow-make narrative. It is less documented and detailed than that of the arrow-maker (Shaw (1994) does not mention it).

However, the woman who lived with and served radish-curry to Saraha is a popular one, so where does it come from?  Schaeffer (2005: 15-19; 24-26)  is the only English-language analysis I have read of the Radish-Curry Cook story. He cites the Tales of the Eighty-Four Adepts as the first main source, beginning with Saraha using his special powers to persuade the Brahmins and King Ratnapala not to banish him for drinking alcohol. However, according to that account, Saraha sang the Doha Songs after that, and before he met the Radish Curry Cook[32].

According to that source, Saraha then met a young female servant and traveled to another very remote place. He practiced spiritual attainment, and she served him:

“One day, [Saraha] said, “I wish to eat radish stew.” So the girl mixed up some buffalo milk and radishes and brought it to him. But [Saraha] had settled into a meditative trance and would not return. He did not rise from this trance for twelve years . After that, he arose and said, “Where is my radish stew?” The girl said,  “You have not arisen from the trance for twelve years , so where are they now? Spring has now gone, and they are no more . ” At that Saraha said, ” Now we are going to the mountains for spiritual attainment.”  To this the girl said,

“A solitary body is not solitude. Being [mentally] solitary, away from the mental signifiers and concepts: this is the supreme solitude. Even though you were settled in a trance for twelve years , you cannot sever this crude sign, the concept of radishes , so what good will come of going to the mountains ?”

And because she said this, Saraha understood the truth and abandoned signifiers and concepts . He took the natural meaning into his experience, attained the highest spiritual boon-the Great Seal-and worked unendingly for the good of living beings. He and the girl passed on to the land of the DakinIs .”

Interestingly, in this text there is no mention at all of the young woman being his wife or consort but as a servant who cooked for him.

The other source cited is that of Golden Rosary of Kagyupa Masters, by Drigung Kagyu scholar, Kunga Rinchen (1475-1527), who writes that the radish cook (and consort) is the one who delivers the breakthrough teaching to Saraha, but then after that he left her and met the arrow-maker who became his teacher and practice partner:

“So, in order to reach perfection, he cast off the trappings of monastic ordination, took a suitable servant girl as a consort, and stayed together with her in the forest. One time he said to the girl, ” Boil some radishes for me, ” and the girl went to pull some radishes . Saraha became entranced in meditation and remained so for twelve years. When he arose from that state, as the servant girl was supposed to have brought food, he said, “Where are my boiled radishes? ” The servant girl told of his [twelve-year] meditation, at which he said, “Now we must take to a place of solitude. ” Then the servant girl said, “If the cravings of the mind are not severed, even though your body is in solitude you will not find solace. Alas, what kind of meditation is this which cannot even sever a craving for boiled radishes ! ” Saraha thought, ” She is right,” and taking as a second consort a female arrowsmith, he went to engage in tantric practice.”

As he straightened arrows, he would cast them about, so providing metaphors [of spiritual realization] for people. Realizing the natural, innate primordial wisdom, he sang this song:

Until today I was no monk,
Today at last a monk I am.
The real monk is a magnificent monk;
Glorious Heruka is the monk supreme.

Amid the rumors and ridicule of the common people, he converted the nonbelievers with miracles , and sang songs of realization such as the Doha Trilogy. While staying on SrI Parvata Mountain, he trained his pure disciples and then passed on to the magnificent Realm of the Dakinis.“ (tr. Schaeffer (2005).


From the textual sources alone, we can reasonably conclude that the arrow-smith was the more significant female teacher in Saraha’s life. Although the sources on the radish-curry cook differ from other accounts regarding the arrow-smith, what is clear from all these texts is that both women played prominent and important roles as gurus to Saraha. Yet, these women are not even named or physically depicted, and even in contemporary works ignored or undervalued.

As Shaw (1994: 131-2) concludes:

“The yogini taught Saraha that there is a mode of companionship that is not based on ordinary attachment. His wonderment at her enlightened presence knew no bounds:

“This yogini’s action is peerless.
She consumes the house-holder, and
Enlightened spontaneity shines forth.
Beyond passion and absence of passion,
Seated beside her own, her mind destroyed,
Thus I have seen the yogini.
One eats and drinks and
Thinks what occurs to thought.
It is beyond the mind and inconceivable,
This wonder of the yogini.
Here sun and moon lose their distinction,
In her the triple world is formed.
Perfecter of thought and unity of enlightened spontaneity, O know this yogini.”[33]

Sorting the wheat from the chaff, and the brass from the gold

So, I end this article in a cycle, back to a similar place we started, a Royal Doha song by Saraha (translated by Guenther). This final song is on the importance of not mistaking was is fake and cheap with what is real and priceless.

24 Some people who have kindled the inner heat and raised it to the fontanelle
Stroke the uvula with the tongue in a sort of coition and confuse
That which fetters, with what gives release,
In pride, will call themselves yogis.

25 As higher awareness, they teach what they experience Within.
What fetters them, they will call liberation.
A glass trinket colored green to them is an emerald;
Deluded, they know not a gem from what they think it should be.

26 They take copper to be gold.
Bound by discursive thought,
They think these thoughts to be ultimate reality.
They long for the pleasures experienced in dreams.
They call the perishable body-mind, eternal bliss supreme.

—Saraha’s Royal Doha (tr. Guenther (1968))

Similarly, to devalue and discount the contribution of women in general, never mind those who were the enlightened yogini teachers of Saraha, is a pervasive mistake and one in urgent need of re-evaluation and reparation. May we all learn from wise women to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, and the brass from the gold and the real from the fake! Or as Percy hilariously thought he had discovered the alchemy of making precious jewels, was brutely told by the Blackadder: “It’s green”.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 4th June 2021. Tomlin/Dakini Publications (2021). Copyright.

Bibliography/Further Reading

Allione, Tsultrim (2000). Women of Wisdom. Shambhala Publications.

Braitstein, Lara E. (2004). Saraha’s Adamantine Songs: Texts, Contexts, Translations and Traditions of the Great Seal. PhD diss., McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Dowman, Keith (1985). Masters of Mahāmudrā , Songs and Histories of the Eighty-Four Buddhist Siddhas. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Guenther, Herbert V. (1993). Ecstatic Spontaneity, Saraha’s Three Cycles of Dohā. Berkeley: Asian Humanities press.

______________. (1968) The Royal Song of Saraha, A Study in the History of Buddhist Thought. Berkeley California: Shambhala Publications.

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche (2006).  A Song for The King, Saraha on Mahāmudrā Meditation. Ed. Michele Martin. Wisdom Publications.

Robinson, James B. (1979) . Buddha’s Lions: The Lives of the Eighty-Four Siddhas. Dharma Publishing, Berkeley.

Schaeffer, Kurtis, R. (2005). Dreaming the Great Brahmin, Tibetan Traditions of the Poet Saint Saraha. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shaw, Miranda (1994). Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton University Press.

Stenzel, Julia. (2008). From Radishes to Realization Saraha and His Impact on the Mahāmudrā Traditionof the Tibetan Karma Kagyu School. MA thesis, University of the West.

Templeman, David (1983). The Seven Instruction Lineages by Jetsun Taranatha. Library of Tibetan Work and Archives, Dharamsala.

______________. (1994) . “Doha, Vajraglti and Carya Songs.” Tantra and Popular Religion in Tibet. Geoffrey Samuel, Hamish Gregor, and Elisabeth Stutchbury, Eds. Aditya PraIcashan, New Delhi. Sata-Pitika Series. v. 376.

Tomlin, Adele (2020). Kagyu Mahāmudrā : origin of the term, distinction between Sūtra and Secret Mantra Mahāmudrā , and pith advice from Je Gampopa by 17th Karmapa

——–(2021). A Woman’s Voice : the Autobiography of Kunga Trinley Wangmo, (Zhentong lineage holder and secret consort of Tāranātha)

—–Mahāsiddha Tilopa: Catalogue of Biographies and ‘Ḍākinī’s Instruction to Tilopa on the Bardo’

Traleg Rinpoche (2017). King Doha, Saraha’s Advice to a King. Wisdom Publications.


[1] Lara Braitstein. The Adamantine Songs: Vajragiti by Saraha. American Institute of Buddhist Studies. 2014, pp. 11-12.

[2] From Tsuglag Trengwa’s A Scholar’s Feast. There are varying accounts of this song and the context in which it was sung, see Schaeffer (2005: 15-26). Here it is reported as bein sung after Saraha drinks alcohol with women, and before he meets the arrow-maker woman. Other texts say he sang this song after he met the arrow-maker (2005: 21 and 25).

[3] This month June 2021, the 4th and 5th June are both listed as the 25th month, which means it is a double Dakini Day!

[4] I say ‘de-named’ here instead of anonymous, because these women did have names and yet, the oral and written accounts of their lives have erased them, for one reason or another.

[5] Shaw: 1994: 130-131.

[6] For example, in the book by Saraha by Traleg Rinpoche (2017)  (who relies on the commentary by Karma Trinleypa) neither mention the two female teachers of Saraha and how their influence and teachings led him to spontaneously compose his songs.

[7] Shaw (1994) says: “Since Tantric Buddhism was a movement in which women participated on every level, claims that women simply served as ritual assistants are false. The evidence offered here refutes the contention that these women were languishing in the shadows, hoping to be allowed to attend a ritual. Women were not uninterested parties who happened to be in the vicinity when a ritual was staged and were somehow induced to attend. In this analysis, Tantric Buddhism does not conform to its usual portrayal as a movement of male ascetics and savants who strenuously avoided and excluded women except when they abducted ignorant, defenseless women for the purposes of sexual exploitation. There is nothing in these reports to indicate that women were acting as ritual accessories to men or that they were “sluts,” mere “means,” “alien objects,” “passive counterparts,” or “ritual assistants.” Rather, the female Tantrics were full co-religionists of the male Tantrics, performing the same array of practices and winning the same supernatural powers and accomplishments, including the ultimate attain entenlightenment itself.” (Shaw 1994: 99-100).

[8] The famous Karma Kagyu Mahamudra lineage prayer cites Vajradhara, then Tilopa, then Naropa as the lineage of Mahamudra. For more on Saraha’s connection and importance to Mahāmudra, see also Stenzel (2008). Stenzel’s thesis is also problematic in parts as it does not always refer to Tibetan source material in her thesis, preferring to cite secondary English language sources, such as Schaeffer (2005).

[9] Schaeffer writes: “I have not dealt with Saraha as a treasure finder in this essay, although he was certainly considered so by Tibetan writers . For instance, in Blo gros mtha’ yas, Gter ston, Kong sprul claims that even the major Indian tantras were treasure texts because they were brought from the naga realms by masters such as Saraha: see Tulku Thondup Rinpoche ( 1986 ) p .60 . ‘Dud ‘joms Rin po che ‘ Jigs bral ye shes rdo rje (1 9 04-1 9 87) considers Saraha to be one of the previous emanations of Padmasambhava: See Dudjom Rinpoche ( 1 9 9 1 ) , p. 471. Bdud ‘ joms gling pa (b. 1835 ) also received treasure teachings from Saraha: see Gyatso ( 1 9 85 ) . p. 324 , n. 16, and p. 338 .” (2005: 192, fn. 12).

[10] “The material regarding female founders has the same historiographical value as the information about male founders. It is equally true of the male and female figures in Tantric literature that if a given person does not correspond to a historical personage, he or she nonetheless represents a type of figure found in Tantric circles or a composite figure around whom the deeds and escapades of several people have constellated.” (Shaw: 1994: 131).

Schaeffer also asserts (2005: 14): “Yet the story of Saraha does not end with the fall of historicity. There is a great deal to learn about Saraha as a figure very much alive in the Tibetan religious imagination for a millennium or more after his pre sumed florescence.  Given the great variation in the details of Saraha’s life , I find myself in agreement with the Tibetan historian Tāranātha , who wrote, “Tracing the lineage from Vajradhara to Saraha to Nagarjuna and others is simply following an enumeration of names and there is nothing definite to be grasped in this.”

[11] The Tales of the Eighty-Four Adepts has been translated twice into English, first by Robinson ( 1979) and then by Dowman (1985). “The presence of a thriving hagiographic tradition dedicated to S araha in Tibet is intriguing, given the lack of such Buddhist materials in Indic languages. This is certainly not to say that there was no hagiographic tradition in medieval India, but merely to say that our record of Buddhist biographies is slim to the extreme. The Jains, by contrast, were prolific biographers .Though the Lives of the EightyFour Spiritual Adepts claims to have been created by an Indian master, one Abhayadatta, the formatting of many of the works in this corpus clearly shows that they were at least written down, if not created, in Tibet. This does not, however, preclude the possibility that these narratives were first handed down orally, or that we merely have no textual record of this and related works prior to their reworking in Tibet. It may be that the Lives of the Eighty-Four Adepts is a truly Indo -Tibetan work, an intercultural creative effort.  One Buddhist lineage list that includes t he name Saraha is extant in Sanskrit, thus providing evidence of at least the seeds of a Buddhist hagiographic tradition in India/The presence of Sarah a and his works in the earliest Tibetan biographies such as that of Vairocanavajra also suggests that his name was alive in India and Nepal during the period of the New Tibetan Translations , beginning in the eleventh century. On the basis of these Tibetan clues, and additionally, the presence of similar traditions of biography among the Jains and Natha Siddhas, we can extrapolate conservatively that tales of Saraha’s life did exist in Indic literature.” (Schaeffer, 2005:13-14).

[12] “Saraha has been definitively dated by modern scholarship to somewhere between the third century BCE and the twelfth century C E , and located in East, North, or South India (though curiously never West) . There are a variety of homelands attributed to Saraha by Tibetan historians and hagiographers: Beta or Vidharbha;’ Varanasi; Rolipa, said to be a district in eastern India; or Ra<;la. And though the general consensus is that this author of such works as the Treasury of Doha Verses was a Bengali living in the final centuries of the first millennium, the sheer variety of times and places linked with the name Saraha is important, for it reveals the variation inherent to the Tibetan hagiographic literature that scholars have used to create histories of this Buddhist master, as well as the presuppositions of those who have attempted to separate fact from fantasy in order to arrive at a historical figure.” (Schaeffer, 2005:13).

[13] This text is available on TBRC and was reproduced from rare manuscripts preserved at o rgyan chos gling in bumthang, Bhutan. Druk Sherig Press, Thimphu. 1984. See: https://www.tbrc.org/#!rid=W10426.

[14] Traleg Rinpoche’s book, King Doha, Saraha’s Advice to a King (2017)  is said to be based on Karma Trinleypa’s commentary.

[15] Templeman (1983) translates the Tibetan, gtum mo, as Goddess Candika.

[16] Templeman (1983) translates the Tibetan, bskyed rim ‘phrin las , as Utpattikrama.

[17] Thrangu Rinpoche (2006:10) says: “Saraha’s Song for the King belongs to the lineage of mahamudra instruction, which comes to us in two ways: through a long lineage and a short one. The short or close lineage, which is better known, begins with the dharmakaya Vajradhara and passes on to Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, and others.  The long lineage, which is found in many lineage supplications, also begins with Vajradhara and then goes to the bodhisattva Ratnamati, the mahasiddha Saraha, Nagarjuna, and others, eventually down to Marpa.  Saraha is an important link in this long lineage of mahamudra instructions, which continues unbroken down to the present day.”

[18] George Roerich, trans., Blue Annals, p. 380. “gZhon-nu-dpal also places Saraha early in the Guhyasamaja lineage (p. 359), whereas ‘Phags-pa reports some versions of the Guhyasamaja lineage that place Saraha at the head; Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, p. 231.”

[19] The 17th Karmapa explained (see here):

“In the Dagpo Kagyu, there is this idea that to receive the Mahāmudrā instructions of the Sūtra tradition, it not necessary to get a prior empowerment. The reason they say this is because in other lineage traditions, it is said that out of the four empowerments in the highest secret mantra tradition, Mahāmudrā is the fourth, word empowerment. Therefore, Mahāmudrā  is sometimes thought to be the primordial awareness generated in that empowerment. So, some say that it is absolutely essential to get the empowerment to realise Mahāmudrā [v]. However, here in the Kagyu, according to the Sūtra tradition it is thought that there is no need for an empowerment, that one can realise it through introduction to the nature of mind and so on[vi].

According to Gyalwang Gotsangpa [vii] ’s heart sons, among those who understood the traditions of the ultimate meaning of Mahāmudrā , there are two traditions : that from Saraha and that from Nāgārjuna. So how are these two Mahāmudrā traditions different? From Saraha, he teaches it via establishment (drub chog) [about what it is] whereas in the Nāgārjuna lineage it is more about refutation (gag chog) [what it is not].

Regardless of whether an empowerment is necessary to receive Mahamudra instructions, it is clear even from this that the tradition of Saraha, and then his student Nagarjuna, are considered to be the two main traditions.”

[20] See Schaeffer (2005: 15), Stenzel (2008:12).

[21] Shaw (1994: Chapter 5) lists: “Vajravati and Wrathful Red Tara, a Female Buddha , Niguma and a Cakrasamvara Healing Mahakala, Laksminkara and Severed-Headed Vajrayogini, Mehkala, Kanakhala, and Severed-Headed Vajrayogini Inner Yoga, Siddharanji and the Buddha of Infinite Life, Siddharanji and the Lord Who Dances on a Lotus, Bhikshuni Lakshmi and Avalokiteshvara Fasting Practice, The Mothers of the “Founding Fathers”. Allione (2000) also lists the biographies of several important women holding lineages.

[22] These are 1) The Tales of the Eighty-four Adepts; 2) a 12th Century commentary by Nepalese master, Balpo Asu, aka Kyeme Dechen; 3) 12th Century Scholar, Lodro Senge, aka Parbuwa’s commentary on the King Doha; 4) Advaya Avadhuti’s commentary on the Treasury of Doha Verses; 5) Karma Trinleypa’s Three Doha Cycles 6) Tsuglag Trengwa’s A Scholar’s Feast; 7) Drigung Kagyu Kunga Rinchen (1475-1527)’s Golden Rosary of Kagyupa Masters (Schaeffer (2005: 15-26).

[23] “In the case of Saraha’s hagiography, Saraha is depicted as someone who breaks away from his brahmanic caste by disregarding its rules. He drinks alcohol, associates with a low-caste woman, and mocks other brahmins’ spiritual practice. He becomes, in the true sense of the word, a heretic. Heresy comes from the Greek word hairein, which means “to choose.” Saraha had to make a choice between the norms presented by the tradition into which he was born and his own spiritual convictions. Independently of any historicity, we find here a crucial spiritual instruction: A spiritual seeker finds truth through courageous thinking and acting, which always entails certain consequences, such as social upheaval or temporary alienation. The founders of all great religions went through these acts of “heresy” and a subsequent phase of isolation. This element of the story might therefore be intended as a teaching for all sincere seekers to follow Saraha’s courageous example. (Stenzel (2011: 11))”

[24] Shaw (1994: 130) writes: “Saraha’s life took a decisive turn when he allowed some girls to convince him to drink beer, in violation of his monastic vows.” However, this is quite different from Taranatha’s contention that the barmaid was Vajrayogini and from that of another Tibetan source (see footnote below) that the women were dakinis who bestowed the four empowerments on him.

[25] “Ranjung Dorje [Rang byung rdo rje] is said by Karma ‘phrin las pa to have authored commentaries on all three works in the Doha: Trilogy. Only the commentary on the People Doha: (Rang byung rdo rje, Do) is available presently, and it does not contain any reference to Saraha’s dating (Schaeffer 2005: 193: fn. 38).

[26] The account in Scholar’s Feast by Tsuglag Trengwa says:

“In brief, around then, in the south, at Vidharbha, which in Tibetan is known as the country of Beta, [he] was the youngest of five sons of a great brahmin. They all were quite learned in all brahmanical knowledge. One day, after being received by King Mahapala, they came to a resting place in a grove, where there were four Brahmin girls making offerings and one low-caste girl. [The brothers asked them,] “Where do you come from?” Their answers set the teachings of the Dharma deep in their minds, and the four elder brothers disappeared with the brahmin girls into the sky-realm. The youngest brother despaired and, according to [the Third Karmapa,] Noble Rangjung [Dorje], took ordination under the monastic son of Rahula, Mahayana SrrkIrti. It is generally said that he took ordination under Rahula. He became perfect in ethical conduct and was an incomparable scholar.

One time he came to a grove and beheld a circle of girls like those previously, holding a tantric feast. He drank four different kinds of mead from a skull-cup and the primordial awareness of the four joys was born [in him] . The four brahmin girls revealed themselves as dakinis and bestowed upon him the four empowerments. The Diamond Dakini said, “This is your master,” and in the sky appeared the divine son Sukhanatha or Matiratna and Glorious Hayagriva. They granted the teachings of instantaneous Great Seal. [The younger brother’s] body became drunk with mead; his speech drunk with diamond-songs, his mind drunk with co-emergent primordial awareness. Many are of a single taste, ocean-like Body in blissful space.” (Schaeffer (2005: 23)).

[27] “He went to Madhyadesa and became a monk in the doctrine of the Buddha, gradually becoming the most learned bhikshu in the Tripitaka. The upadyaya of this acarya was Sthavira Kala, and his upadyaya was the Noble Asvaghosha. His upadyaya was Upagupta but the Guru (Buddhaguptanatha) says it is hard to be certain of these old teacher lineages. It is said in the Tibetan precept collections that although he was known as the son, Rahula’s true student, it is better if one does not examine further and just leaves it at that.” Taranatha (Templeman, 1983: 3).

[28] “Then he became abbot of Nalanda. He practised the Doctrines and performed them on vast scales-thus the Mahayana Sutra collection became widespread and this was in the era of this acarya. Then he thought of practising mental austerities, and, without wavering from his meditation on the essential characteristiclessness of mind,  he wandered through various lands, finally coming to the southern country of Marhata.” Taranatha ((1983: 3)

[29] “The reed is the symbol of the unfabricated, and its possessing three j oints a symbol of the need to actualize the three enlightened bodies. The straightening is a symbol of straightforwardness. Cutting from the base is a symbol of the need to cut the base of cyclic existence at the root, while cutting from the tip is a symbol of the need to cease adhering to an essential self The fourfold split at the base is a symbol of the need to enrich oneself with memory, nonmemory, nonorigination, and release from the intellect. The affixing of the arrowhead is a symbol of the need to affix the arrowhead of discriminating awareness to oneself. Binding it with tendon is a symbol of the need to be fixed by the seal of unity. The twofold split at the tip is a symbol of appropriate means and discriminating awareness; the four feathers, symbols of the view, contemplation, practice, and result. Closing one eye while opening the other is a symbol of the closed eye of discursive awareness and the open eye of pristine awareness. The stance of lifting [the arrow to the eye] is a symbol of the need to shoot the arrow of nonduality into the heart of dualistic grasping.” (Schaeffer 2005: 21).

[30] Interestingly, Taranatha adds a note regarding Saraha’s ordination as a monk: “In this there is agreement with the Tibetans. In one of the fragments of the Indian book of Siddha lists by Buddhakapala, it appears that in the intervening period, as there is nothing mentioned about Rahula’s ordination, then the Brahqtana Rahula and Sthavira Rahula are clearly to be seen as separate people. Even the Translator of Minyag evidently wants it as such and does not see any contradictions in it.”(Templeman, 1983: 3-4).

[31] This version of events , regarding the origin of the Songs, is also backed up in Tsuglag Trengwa’s account in Scholar’s Feast:

“He journeyed to a market and beheld a fletcheress making arrows, and all appearances dawned as symbols. The fletcheress instructed him in the Seals, and they practiced tantra. The people beseeched him, so he sang the People’s Doha which teaches principally the enlightened body of emanation. The king’ s queens beseeched him, and he sang the Queen Doha, which teaches principally the enlightened body of enjoyment. The king himself beseeched him, and he sang the King Doha, which teaches principally the enlightened body of dharma. So singing, everyone was liberated, and the kingdom became empty. It is said that later the three texts were written on palm leaves and spread after falling into the hands of two brother scribes.” (Schaeffer 2005: 24).

[32] “When [Saraha] drank mead, all the brahmins heard about it and banded together to banish him. They beseeched King Ratnapala, saying, “Is it right that [SarahaJ engages in activities that debase our religion while you are king? This Saraha is the lord of fifteen thousand towns in the land of Roli,’ and for drinking mead and bringing harm to our caste, he must be banished!”

The king said, “I do not wish to banish this one, who holds power over fifteen thousand.” And so saying, the king went to Saraha’s residence and said, “You are a brahmin, and this drinking mead is not good.” Saraha said, “I drank no mead, but if you do not believe me I will take an oath, so gather all the brahmins and all the people.” Everyone gathered, and Saraha said, “If I have drunk mead, may my hand burn, and if I have not drunk, it will not burn.” So saying, he stuck his hand right in boiling butter, and it was unburned.

The king said, “How can it be true that he drank mead?” All the brahmins said, “It is true, he did drink mead!” Again, saying the same thing, [Saraha] drank molten copper and was unburned, and yet [the brahmins] still said, “He drank mead!” Then Saraha said, “Whoever sinks into the water drank mead, and he who does not sink did not drink.” Then one by one the Brahmins entered into the water and sank. Saraha was the only one who did not sink, and again he said, “I did not drink.” Again, [Saraha] said, “Let us measure on a scale. Whoever is heavier did not drink, and whoever is lighter drank.” As before, Saraha was the heavier and he said, “I did not drink.” In the same fashion, they loaded on three iron boulders, each equal in weight to a man, and still Saraha was the heavier ‘He was heavier than even six boulders. The king then said, “If such a person as you with such powers wants to drink mead, then drink mead!” Then all the brahmins and the king paid homage to him and requested spiritual instructions, so he sang songs to the king, the queen, and the people, and these became known as the Doha Trilogy. The brahmins renounced their own teachings and entered into the teachings of the Buddha. The king and his court attained spiritual boons.” (Schaeffer (2005: 17)).

[33] Shaw again uses a secondary source here, without reference to the original Tibetan, an amended version of translation by David Snellgrove in Edward Conze, ed., Buddhist Texts through the Ages, pp. 235-36.

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