མི་མནོ། – Don’t remember.
མི་བསམ། – Don’t think.
མི་ཤེས། – Don’t understand.
མི་དཔྱོད། – Don’t act.
མི་སྒོམ། – Don’t meditate.
རང་སར་བཞག། Remain restful.
—Tilopa’s Six Words of Advice[i]
“Like space gazing at space, both the ‘gazer’ and the ‘gazed at’, are naturally dissolved in purity.”
‘There are no demons, the Ḍākinī is truth!’ ཉེས་པ་ཟད་པ་རྫུན་གྱི་ཚིག། སྨྲ་བར་མི་འགྱུར་རྒྱུ་མེད་ཕྱིར། བདུད་མིན་མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་རུ་བདེན།
—-‘Wisdom Ḍākinī’s Oral Instructions on the Bardo to Tilopa ‘
Happy to announce for Ḍākinī day today, a new website section here (https://dakinitranslations.com/tilopa/) for the Indian Mahasiddha and Kagyu forefather and lineage master of mahāmudrā, Tilopa (Talika or Tilopadā; 988–1069) who was an Indian Buddhist monk who later left the monastery and became a tantric practitioner and mahasiddha. Another Indian mahasiddha, Naropa is considered to be one of his main students. As I wrote about here in Mahāsiddha Tilopa: Catalogue of Biographies and ‘Ḍākinī’s Instruction to Tilopa on the Bardo‘ regarding Tilopa’s life-story:
Tilopa’s Life Stories by Tibetan masters – A Catalogue
A key figure for all the Kagyu lineages is the Indian master, Tilopa (988-1069), one of the 84 Mahāsiddhas, who is often depicted at the top of the traditional paintings of Kagyu refuge trees. Suprisingly, other than the The Life of the Mahāsiddha Tilopa (tr. Torricelli and Nagar (1995)) composed by renowned student of Nāropa, Lotsawa Marpa , and a biography by HE Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, there is little else about Tilopa’s life (translated from Tibetan source texts) in the English language.
Biographies can be biased though, so one can never know the full extent of a master and their lives from them, so why are they still important? As it says in the Introduction to Thrangu Rinpoche’s Tilopa biography:
“One Tibetan author, Amdor Ganden Chophel who wrote the White Annals makes the point that Tibetan stories and biographies don’t present the complete truth and gloss over some of the faults of lamas. There is some truth in this, but the purpose of a liberation-story (namtar) is for the student to discover what the practice of dharma is actually like, what meditation is like, and to learn how love and compassion are expressed by the great practitioners. So the purpose of a namtar is to inspire the student and this is why they present all the marvelous qualities of the lamas and leave out the negative ones.
Western scholars ask, “How can these biographies be taken seriously? They don’t provide a birth date, the actual place names, and other details of the mahasiddha’s life.” This is true, but why does one need to know when these people lived? Perhaps Tilopa lived in the fifth century, perhaps in the seventh century. But who actually cares? Tilopa was not an ordinary human being anyway. We remember the great kindness and great efforts of Tilopa and Naropa who made the teachings of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa available to all of those in Tibet, and now to students all over the whole world.” (2002: 2).
Another English language biography of Tilopa, in the book, ‘Karmapa: The Black Hat Lama of Tibet’ (Douglas and White (1976), and in Thrangu Rinpoche (2002: 5-8) describes Tilopa’s connection as a boy with the great Indian siddha Nagārjuna and how it led to him being crowned a King. Then, becoming weary of a life of luxury, he became a monk at the temple of Somapuri in Bengal.
After that, it has been said that Tilopa was expelled by monks from the monastery. However, Thrangu Rinpoche (2002: 11) explains that Tilopa was actually told by a Ḍākinī (Karpo Sangmo) to leave the monastery and ‘act like a madman’:
“The Ḍākinī transformed herself into the mandala of Chakrasamvara in the sky in front of him, giving Tilopa the pith instructions of the creation and completion stages of practice. …..With these two pith instructions, Tilopa attained a degree of realization and the Ḍākinī said, “Now throw out your bhikshu ordination and go about acting like a madman, practicing in secret so that nobody knows what you are doing,” and then she vanished into the sky. This Ḍākinī who bestowed these instructions and empowerments on Tilopa was called Karpo Sangmo………This part of Tilopa’s biography corrects the notion that people can accomplish enlightenment by themselves and that they don’t need a teacher. Tilopa took a Ḍākinī as a teacher. That is why Marpa in his commentary on this part of Tilopa’s life wrote, “He received the blessing from the great Ḍākinī, Karpo Sangmo, and she gave him the four empowerments.”
Tilopa’s encounters with and teachings from Ḍākinīs and instructed to act as servant to Dharima, the prostitute
This stage in Tilopa’s human aspect also corresponds to what is termed the ‘vanquishing conduct’ (‘dul shug) stage of a mahasiddha. According to Thrangu Rinpoche (2002:9):
“The outer action of any mahasiddha has three stages, The first J stage is called the “all-good stage,” the second is called the “stage of vanquishing behavior,” and the third stage is called the “victorious in all directions behavior.” A mahasiddha goes through these stages one by one. The first is called “all-good behavior” because the beginner must take up the practice of being extremely peaceful, calm, and carefully watch his or her actions by having extremely controlled and noble behavior. The beginner who engages in this behavior is able to advance along the path and then at a certain point, he or she must enter what is called the “vanquishing behavior” or ‘dul shug in Tibetan. The syllable ‘dul means “to vanquish” or “to subdue” and refers to one’s kleshas, especially one’s arrogance which is co be completely subdued by the practice. The syllable shug means “entering.” So in chis stage one actually submits oneself to conditions that may normally evoke disturbing consequences such as rage or desire. In the stage of all-good behavior the beginner avoids these situations, but in the vanquishing stage the meditator actually seeks them out. The meditator has to destroy arrogance, pride, and hatred by confronting them and throwing himself into situations that evoke the kind of response that allows him or her to work with these emotions. The third stage of “victorious in all directions behaviour” is the final expression of total fearlessness; it is a total lack of
any inhibition about anything done.”
The biographies by 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and Dorje Dze O list his four human gurus as Charyawa, Nagarjuna, Lawapa, and Dakini Samantabhadri, while other biographies are said to lists four human gurus in addition to Nagarjuna: Matangi, Lalapa, Dakini Samantabhadri, and Nagpopa. It is said that Tilopa met Nagārjuna’s female disciple, Matangi, when he sought to find Nagārjuna again and discovered that he had already passed away. Tilopa received Guhyasamaja teachings on illusory body from Matangi, Mahamudra and Chakrasamvara teachings on clear light from Lalapa, Hevajra teachings on tummo from Dakini Samantabhadri, and Chakrasamvara teachings from Nagpopa. Matangi ordered him to work as a sesame oil maker and as servant by night to a prostitute named Dharima saying to him (Thrangu Rinpoche (2002):14) :
“Now you must meditate continuously on the very essence of suchness and the nature of phenomena and mind. To do this you must find some kind of activity to engage in. Previously you were a king, so you have some vestige of class arrogance and this must be destroyed.”
Marpa recounts it thus:
“After some time, he was instructed: In Bengal, in the East, In the market-place of Pancapana, There is the prostitute Bhari and her associates. If you follow her as a servant, you will be purified; You will pass over the limits of practice and attain the siddhis! (ཤར་ཕྱོགས་བྷང་ག་ལའི་བརྒྱུད། པན་ཚ་པ་ནའི་ཚོང་འདུས་ན་། སྨད་འཚོང་བྷ་རི་འཁོར་བཅས་ཀྱི་། དེ་ཡི་ཞབས་འབྲེང་བྱས་ན་གསངས། མཐར་ཐན་ནས་དངོས་གྲུབ་ཐོབ།)
He went there according to what she had said. There in the night-time he would do the work of inviting and accompanying men [into Dharima’s]. During the day, he worked at thrashing sesame grains, and that is why he was known as Tilopa in the language of India and, in Tibetan, as the Sesame-keeper (Til-bsrungs-zhabs). After that, he and Dharima went to the cemetery called Ke-re. There they took delight in the practice of the secret mantra (gsang-ba-sngags) and performed it to its completion.”
Tilopa worked for twelve years as her servant, and on attaining awakening, he is said to have levitated in the sky and brought Dharima up there with him. When she saw him, she was filled with intense regret at not realising he was such a great yogi, apologised and asked to be his student:
“Tilopa said, “You are not at fault. You didn’t know I was a mahasiddha. Actually, I have attained all the siddhis because of you. I needed to work as your servant to become enlightened. There has been no harm done.” Dharima developed great faith in Tilopa who approached her and touched her on the head with a flower. He blessed her saying, “May all the experience and wisdom I possess arise in you at this very instant.” Because of her strong connection with him, she immediately had a profound experience of realization and became a yogini. Everyone around them was completely amazed and rejoiced. Word quickly spread to the king who came in regal splendor riding on an elephant to see what was going on. As he approached he noticed that Tilopa and Dharima were floating in the sky at the height of seven plantain trees.” (Thrangu Rinpoche (2002): 15).
I did a little online research to find out more about the life of Dharima, the prostitute from Tibetan sources texts but could not find anything. Considering she was one of the main consorts (and students) of Tilopa, it is another example of how significant women are absent and ignored in Tibetan Buddhist textual sources.
In addition, in these free and easy internet porn days, the story of Tilopa and Dharima is presented in a rather sexy, glamorous way, as if Tilopa was some kind of eccentric, sexy pimp for a wild woman. However, at that time, prostitution was considered extremely disgusting and disgraceful work (like cleaning sewers) and would not have been glamorous, sexy or well-paid at all. Dharima is also said in some accounts to be the daughter of a sesame seed grinder and low-catse. Thus, to be the servant of such a woman would have been considered a gross thing to do (and a great blow to a man’s pride). For those in doubt about the grim life in Indian brothels for women (and their children born into them), see this documentary about prostitution in Mumbai (as an example) here.
Tilopa’s declaration that ‘Ḍākinī is truth!‘
In Marpa’s biography, during the time when Tilopa subdued Ḍākinīs, just prior to being recognized as Chakramsavara himself, he was challenged by a group of them, where he declares that a Ḍākinī is truth:
“Those in the assembly uttered an embarrassing laugh, making fun of him, and spoke in one voice: “A born-blind looks at, but he cannot see the forms; A deaf man listens to, but he cannot hear the sounds; An idiot speaks, but he cannot understand the meaning. In those deceived by Mara, there is no truth!” The master replied to them: [When] evil is exhausted, false words are not spoken: there would be no cause. There are no ‘demons’; a Ḍākinī is the truth!”
- Campbell, June (1996). Traveller in Space: In Search of the Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism. George Braziller.
- Douglas, Nik and White, Meryl (1976). Karmapa: Black Hat Lama of Tibet. Luzac and Company.
- Simmer-Brown, Judith (2002). Dakini’s Warm Breath:The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Shambhala Publications.
- Thrangu Rinpoche (2019). Tilopa’s Wisdom: His Life and Teaching on the Ganges Mahamudra, Snow Lion Publications.
- Lodro Marpa; Tr. Fabrizio Torricelli and Acharya Sangye T. Naga (1995). The Life of the Mahāsiddha Tilopa. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
- Torricelli Fabrizio (1998), A Thirteenth Century Tibetan Hymn to the Siddha Tilopa, The Tibet Journal, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 3-17, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
- XIIth Khentin Tai Situpa, Tilopa, Some Glimpses Of His Life, Dzalendra Publishing, 1988.
- Tomlin, Adele:
[i] Tilopa was a Bengali mahasiddha who developed the mahāmudrā method around 1,000 C.E. Tilopa gave Naropa, his student (and also a Mahasiddha), this teaching on mahāmudrā meditation called the Six Words of Advice.