‘DAKINI IS TRUTH!’ TILOPA’S ‘OVERLOOKED’ FEMALE TEACHERS AND ENTERING ‘UNCONVENTIONAL’ CONDUCT (TUL-ZHUG)

“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.”
—Female Mātaṅgī’s instruction to Tilopa to act as a servant for a low-caste prostitute

“Tilopa’s early spiritual journey was entirely directed by a woman who converted him to Buddhism, advised him to study Buddhist scripture and philosophy, and decided with which gurus he should study (Saryapa and Matangi), finally taking it upon herself to give him the Chakrasamvara-tantra initiation and teachings. This dakini continued to oversee Tilopa’s development as he left the monastery, studied with additional gurus, and did Tantric disciplines in a cremation ground.”

—Miranda Shaw in Passionate Enlightenment (1994)

“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.”
—Tilopa to prostitute, Dharima on attaining the siddhis

“[When] evil is exhausted, false words are not spoken: there would be no cause. There are no ‘demons’; a Ḍākinī is the truth!”
—Tilopa to the Ḍākinīs

Introduction

For Ḍākinī Day today, I offer a post on the Mahasiddha and Kagyu forefather Tilopa’s generally overlooked (and voiceless) female teachers.  This is based on earlier post I  did compiling a catalogue of Tilopa’s biographies (see here). Like another Mahasiddha, Saraha (see here), Tilopa’s female teachers are almost invisible (or at least viewed as insignificant in lineage depictions and supplications of predominantly male, monastic lineages.

A key figure for all the Kagyu lineages is the Indian master, Tilopa (988-1069), one of the 84 Mahāsiddhas,  is often depicted at the top of the traditional paintings of Kagyu refuge trees.  Surprisingly, other than the The Life of the Mahāsiddha Tilopa (tr. Torricelli and Nagar (1995)) composed by renowned student of Nāropa, Lotsawa Marpa[1], and a two biographies by HE Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche (2002, 2019), there is little else about Tilopa’s life (translated from Tibetan source texts) in the English language. Yet, HH 16th Karmapa mentioned the transmissions from the Indian Mahasiddhas like Tilopa as being what identifies the Kagyu lineages. Moreover, the complete lack of emphasis and research on the important female masters in Tilopa’s life, combined with the fact none of these women are included in Kagyu supplications or thangka images, clearly needs to be questioned and amended.

According to the life stories of Tilopa he had various encounters with and teachings from human women Ḍākinīs[2] and including the wisdom (ye shes) Ḍākinīs [3].  I summarise some of these important female teachers below.   In particular, there was the low-caste prostitute, Dharima [4] whom Tilopa acted as a servant for in a brothel while grinding sesame seeds for a living during the day.  This stage in Tilopa’s human aspect also corresponds to what is termed the ‘unconventional conduct’ (tul zhug: brtul zhugs) stage of a mahasiddha. The Tibetan term ‘tul zhug’ is not easy to translate and has been called ‘crazy wisdom’, conduct of a madperson, vanquishing conduct and so on. It is often used in Chod texts as well, for the Chod practitioner to enter into.  Here I have translated it as ‘unconventional conduct’. The dictionary definition explain the meaning as ‘abandoning normal/ordinary conduct and entering into unique/abnormal/conventional conduct’.

In these free and easy internet porn days, the story of Tilopa and Dharima is often presented in a rather sexy, glamorous way, as if Tilopa was some kind of eccentric, stud pimp for a wild, sexy 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-caste. 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 was told to do this for twelve years, which is also a long time.

I have also re-published in full a very short text I  translated, an advice from a wisdom Ḍākinī[5]. Severing the Bardo ‘Once and for All’: ‘Question and answer’ oral instructions of the Wisdom Ḍākinī to Tilopa[6].

May this new translation and research on the female teachers of Tilopa inspire people to find out more about them and 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!

Music? Mātaṅgī’s cutting down Tilopa’s pride: You’re So Vain by Carly Simon; Tilopa’s praise of Dharima: Praise You by Fatboy Slim and This is a Man’s World by James Brown….’this is a man’s world, but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl’.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 31st October 2021.

Tilopa’s female teachers –Kalpabhadrī, Mātaṅgī, Dakini Samantabhadri, Dharima

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 list four human gurus in addition to Nagarjuna: Mātaṅgī, Lalapa, Dakini Samantabhadri, and Nagpopa.  It is said that Tilopa met Nagārjuna’s female disciple, Mātaṅgī, when he sought to find Nagārjuna again and discovered that he had already passed away. Tilopa received Guhyasamaja teachings on illusory body from Mātaṅgī, Mahamudra and Chakrasamvara teachings on clear light from Lalapa, Hevajra teachings on tummo from Dakini Samantabhadri, and Chakrasamvara teachings from Nagpopa.  Tilopa himself stated his teachers were: Cāryapa, Nāgārjuna, Lavapa and “Sukkhasiddhī.” Except for the ḍākinī identified as Sukkhasiddhī, who is often referred to as Kalpabhadrī (skal pa bzang mo), these four are the ones generally recognized as Tilopa’s human masters.

However, as Ducher (2017: 173-179) explains in detail, there are many inconsistencies in the Tilopa biographies, so it is not easy to say exactly who his teachers were[7]. 

Teachers of Tilopa (in his human aspect (from Karmapa: Black Hat Lama of Tibet (Douglas and White (1976))

Yet, the invisibility of these named women in Kagyu lineage supplications, biographies and thangka depictions is all too obvious. 

As Shaw says:

“Tilopa’s early spiritual journey was entirely directed by a woman who converted him to Buddhism, advised him to study Buddhist scripture and philosophy, and decided with which gurus he should study (Saryapa and Matangi), finally taking it upon herself to give him the Chakrasamvara-tantra initiation and teachings. This dakini continued to oversee Tilopa’s development as he left the monastery, studied with additional gurus, and did Tantric disciplines in a cremation ground. When she perceived that Tilopa was ripe for complete enlightenment, she sent him to a town in Bengal to find a woman named Dharima, ordering Tilopa to work for Dharima when he found her. Dharima was a spiritually advanced bodhisattva and dakini who lived as a courtesan in order to liberate sentient beings.  The entire town was saturated with her spiritual presence and provided the optimum environment for the final stages of Tilopa’s journey to enlightenment, as he worked as a sesame-pounder by day and as a servant to the courtesan by night.”

‘Act like a madman’ – Tilopa’s female teacher, Dakini Karpo Sangmo and explusion from the monastery

In his aspect as a human, Tilopa became a monk after weariness with royal life. One 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[8]. 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[9]. 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 Mātaṅgī] to serve a prostitute, Dharima, as her servant (for more on that see below).

Entering ‘unconventional conduct’ (tul zhug) – Tilopa instructed to act as servant to Dharima, the prostitute
Illustration of Tilopa in a Tibetan edition of Marpa’s biography of Tilopa

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 Mātaṅgī to be the servant of  Dharima, a sex worker. Considering that Mātaṅgī was not only Tilopa’s teacher, but also one of the students of Nagārjuna, it is disappointing there is little to read about her life or accomplishments. 

This stage in Tilopa’s human aspect also corresponds to what is termed the ‘unconventional conduct’ (tul zhug: brtul zhugs) stage of a mahasiddha. The Tibetan term ‘tul zhug’ is not easy to translate and has been called ‘crazy wisdom’, conduct of a madperson, vanquishing conduct and so on. It is often used in Chod texts as well, for the Chod practitioner to enter into.  Here I have translated it as unconventional wisdom. The dictionary definition explain the meaning as ‘abandoning normal/ordinary conduct and entering into unique/abnormal/conventional conduct’.

One of the best explanations of it is by Thrangu Rinpoche (2002:9), with the ultimate accomplishment of it being a ‘total lack of inhibition about anything done’:

“The outer action of any mahasiddha has three stages, The first 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 zhug 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 zhug 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.”Mātaṅgī ordered him to work as a sesame oil maker and as servant by night to a prostitute named Dharima [10] 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! [11].

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[12]:

“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. As Shaw (1994: 137) writes:

“According to Taranatha’s account, the couple traveled and taught together, singing songs that filled their listeners with wonder at the spiritual depths of life. When some Bengali villagers doubted the religious credentials of the obviously low-caste religious wanderers, Tilopa and the sesame-pounding woman allayed their doubts by rising into the sky above them and hovering there, pounding sesame seeds and singing. It is impossible to interpret Tilopa’ s career without reference to the guidance of his numerous spiritual mothers.”

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-caste. 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!’
Tilopa depicted with female yogini. As is typical of thangka representations, yoginis and female teachers of Mahasiddhas are either very small or not even depicted.

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[13]:

“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 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.

Tilokpa nunnery in India  –  Tilopa’s  cave and 17th Karmapa on ‘Life of Tilopa’ at Tilokpur Nunnery
The Tilokpa nunnery nuns perform a puja on the riverbank opposite the cave of Tilopa (see Tibetan Nuns Project).

From February 19-26, 2007, HH 17th Karmapa visited Drubten Pemo Jalpay Gatsal, the newly constructed Tilokpur Nuns’ Monastery near Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh. At the request of HH the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, an English woman, Freda Bedi founded the nunnery in 1968.

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 twice. 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 [14], 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!”

Tibetan Text

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༎

Further Reading/Sources

· 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.

· Ducher, Cecile (2017) . A Lineage in Time: The Vicissitudes of the rNgog pa bka’ brgyud from the 11th through 19th centuries.” (Ph.D. diss). École Pratique des Hautes Études, France.

· Simmer-Brown, Judith (2002). Dakini’s Warm Breath:The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Shambhala Publications.

· Thrangu Rinpoche:

(2002). Life of Tilopa & The Ganges Mahamudra. Zhyisil Chokyi Publications.

(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.

·  Shaw, Miranda () Passionate Enlightenment.

· Tomlin, Adele (2021):

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

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

 NEW TRANSLATION: Tilopa’s Gangama Māhamudrā Instructions

· 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.

·  12th Khentin Tai Situpa, Tilopa, Some Glimpses Of His Life, Dzalendra Publishing, 1988.

 


Endnotes

[1] 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.

[2]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:
  1. The secret class of ḍākinī is prajnaparamita (yum chenmo), the empty nature of reality according to Mahayana doctrine.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

ḍākinīs can also be classified according to the Trikaya, or three bodies of buddhahood.

  1. The Dharmakāya ḍākinī, which is Samantabhadrī, represents the dharmadhatu where all phenomena appear.
  2. The Sambhogakāya ḍākinīs are the yidams used as meditational deities for tantric practice.
  3. 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.

See also: https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/dakini

[3] 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.”

[4] 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.

[5] 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.)”

[6] “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?.

[7] One study shows that Tilopa had four human masters: Cāryapa, Nāgārjuna, Lavapa and “Sukkhasiddhī.” Except for the ḍākinī identified as Sukkhasiddhī, who is often referred to as Kalpabhadrī (skal pa bzang mo), these four are the ones generally recognized as Tilopa’s human masters. Tilopa is said to have stated in a verse:

I have human masters:
They are Nāgārjuna, Cāryapa, Lavapa
And Kalpabhadrī.

The trouble arises when one tries to ascertain what transmission Tilopa received from whom, and who were the previous masters in each of the lineages…. How, therefore, can we explain these differences?”  (Ducher 2017a: 177-8). To summarize, although it is certain that there are several irreconcilable versions, it is possible to make sense of this mass of data on the basis of the different traditions of the bka’babs bzhi alluded to in The Four Lineages of Transmissions and Tilopa’s Hagiography. Tobegin with, it is necessary to distinguish between two levels:

– the lineage of realization and blessing;

– the lineage of transmission and experience.

In the first, the proximate lineage (nye brgyud), Tilopa receives teaching directly from enlightenment, “omniscience,” under the guise of Vajradhara, without the intercession of human masters. In the second, the “long lineage” (ring brgyud), there are four lines of transmissions, the bka’ babs bzhi. Descriptions of the four can be related to two traditions, sometimes called “combined” and “non-combined” (thun mong/thun mong ma yin pa). When Tilopa speaks of his four human gurus as Nāgārjuna, Cāryapa, Lavapa and Kalpabhadrī, this refers to the four recipients of the four non-combined transmissions. Their own lineage is sometimes detailed, but mostly not. It is likely that this tradition descends from Tilopa’s Ṣaḍdharmopadeśa (chos drug gi man ngag).

In the combined tradition, for which a single source has not been identified, Tilopa’s masters are Mātaṅgī, Karṇaripa, Indrabhūti and Ḍeṅgipa. The line ending with Mātaṅgī in this set can be equated to the one of Nāgārjuna in the previous set, and the line of Indrabhūti the Lesser corresponds to that of Lavapa, as Mātaṅgī and Indrabhūti are disciples of respectively Nāgārjuna and Lavapa. The two other lines differ in the two sets[6]. Hence, if one takes into account all the lines of transmission referred to in the two traditions, one ends up with six distinct lines of transmission….

From the above, we understand that the term “four lines of transmission” covers a large and indefinite number of Indian gurus who practiced and transmitted tantric teachings that became the core of Mar pa’s legacy in Tibet. These “four” lineages can be counted as six, sometimes seven, or more. There must therefore be reasons for the tradition to remember the number four. A hint to that is the fact that the four lines of the combined tradition are sometimes associated with the four directions of India.” (Ducher 2017a: 177-8).

[8] “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).

[9] According to the 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.”

[10]  “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).

[11] In Tibetan: 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།

[12]  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.”

[13] From Marpa’s The Life of the Mahasiddha Tilopa: 40.

 

4 thoughts on “‘DAKINI IS TRUTH!’ TILOPA’S ‘OVERLOOKED’ FEMALE TEACHERS AND ENTERING ‘UNCONVENTIONAL’ CONDUCT (TUL-ZHUG)

  1. You make an interesting comment that none of the female teachers are in the Kagyu thankas, but I have a photo of a Kagyu refuge tree thanka that has at the top right side Sukkasiddhi, then Niguma and then Chungpo Naljor and under them are Dolpopa and Kunga Nyingpo, and under them is Khyentse Ozer. It could be the attributions are incorrect, but Machik Labdron is definitely on the left side under Zangtsalpa and Barompa, who are under Pagmo Drupa, Atisa and Guru Rinpoche.

    1. Hello Kim, thanks for your comment here. Well, I certainly have never seen them depicted in the thangkas and images of the Kagyu refuge tree, where they are clearly depicted. However, if you have one then please do send a copy/scan of it to me, and I will include it in the post! 🙂 My point still stands though, whether they are in thangkas or not, they are very rarely spoken about in the texts, the biographies or in the lineage supplications of Kagyu, compared to their male students/mahasiddhas. Do you agree?

      I did translate a Kalacakra lineage supplication by Taranatha a couple of years ago that mentioned some female teachers/yoginis, see here: https://dakinitranslations.com/2019/06/19/new-translation-supplication-to-the-kalacakra-lineage-by-jetsun-taranatha/, but I have yet to read a Kagyu one like that, are you aware of any? Do let me know if so.

  2. delighted to find this today… I was researching to find an iconographic link to a statue which recently came into my ownership.. seems to me to be of a female mahasiddha.. Anyway, love the work you have done here, thanks.

    1. Hello Beki, thanks for your comment! That statue sound interesting, care to send a copy of it? Would be good to see more representations of these Kagyu female teachers in the thangkas, statues and lineage supplications! 🙂

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