A master from the Mahasiddha lineage

08 February 2022

The Way of the Siddha

The way of the Siddha is said to be revealed in Kali Yuga, when people are not able to follow other paths. A sign of Kali Yuga is the impatience of the disciple, and the unwillingness to live through eons of rebirths before attaining liberation, wanting immediate results.

What takes most time on the path to perfection is the purification of the mind, the eradication of vices and inferior passions, and the cultivation of virtue and clarity. In Tantra. all experiences become a fuel in the process of transmutation through inner alchemy, that empowers transformation. The process is faster in this way, but also more “dangerous”, as there is no separation of experiences into good or bad as such – both are considered a source of energy. Even apparently negative or tempting states can be turned into the nectar of superior states of consciousness though the processes of inner alchemy. But the inherent temptation in different life experiences requires an uncompromising inner attitude, so that we do not become lost, and forget our aim of self revelation. Instead, there should be a lucid practice of inner alchemy and the elevation of the consciousness, in every life experience.

The “danger” of this path is justified by its efficacy, but guidance is needed. Otherwise, the equal attitude before “good and bad” can easily become an excuse that leads us astray, to be lost in pleasure and temptation. 

On the siddha path, things that would normally be considered obstacles on the path of transformation, because of distraction or temptation, become tools and opportunities. Here we can mention the sexual energy, unexpected disturbances, fascinations, desires…

On the siddha path, things that would normally be considered obstacles on the path of transformation, because of distraction or temptation, become tools and opportunities. Here we can mention the sexual energy, unexpected disturbances, fascinations, desires…

The Tantric Path

This is an approach characteristic of the Tantric path. The Tantras were transmitted orally for hundreds of years before they began to be written down in the fifth century AD. We can only speculate who formed the early lineages. The Maha siddhas are the masters who shaped the Tantric path.

The Maha siddhas came from every walk of life. What bound them to Tantric yoga was their meeting with a spiritual guide, their initiation into a lineage of Tantric instruction and their practice of Tantric meditation.

The forms of their sadhana, their spiritual discipline, was as varied as their personalities. What they had in common was the attitude of a Tantrika; the aim to integrate their entire life into sadhana – a vow to selflessly devote their entire being to the non-dual experience of enlightenment and liberation. The siddhas developed their own methods of liberation, or release from samsara, that can be characterised as quick, demanding and often “dangerous”.

 

“The siddhas developed their own methods of liberation, or release from samsara, that can be characterised as quick, demanding and often “dangerous”.” 

Tantra accepts eroticism as a valid means by which enlightenment or Maha mudra, “the great seal” can be attained, and several of the Maha siddhas embraced eroticism as part of their sadhana. The mistaken belief, however, that Tantra yoga is only sexual yoga is fostered by the frequent use of erotic analogies, metaphors and symbols in the Tantras, to describe different processes.

The concept of the ‘Absolute’ lies at the heart of the Tantras, giving the Maha siddhas their enormous spiritual energy, godly power and realisation. By its very nature, the Absolute is beyond thought – indefinable, indeterminable, without location – and is the source of everything.

The Maha siddhas path through life is an experience where the knower and the known become unified in the process of knowing – leading to the mystery of Maha mudra. The mystery can be conceived as a two in one union, where both unity and duality become one simultaneous and continuous peak experience. The erotic analogy of two lovers achieving a sense of complete oneness while still in their individual bodies is probably the best if not the only image that can express this mystery. The Maha siddha totally empathises with all beings through this union, giving him or her profound insight and prescience that allows the siddha to be able to guide others in sadhana.

The Maha siddhas are known for their craziness, their lack of emotional inhibitions and utter disregard for social convention – they are the holy madmen and women.

The Maha siddhas are known for their craziness, their lack of emotional inhibitions and utter disregard for social convention – they are the holy madmen and women.

Naropa is one of the more known and loved Mahasiddhas – not only was he an example of spiritual guidance but also a shining example of a disciple and of following guidance. His state of devotion, aspiration and determination was overwhelming and exemplary, and it allowed him to make great steps in a relatively short time.

There are varying accounts of the life of Naropa, but common to them all is his fervent search for his master Tilopa, and his impressive perseverance and commitment to the path.

From an early age, Naropa was devoted to spiritual matters. He was filled with compassion for all   beings, and his primary interest was the study and practice of the buddhadharma. At the age of 28, in 1044, Naropa left worldly obligations and entered the monastic university of Nalanda. He became a renowned and well-respected teacher known for his intellectual powers, and was considered the premier teacher of Buddhism of his time.

Around the age of 40 an event occurred that was to bring Naropa onto the Tantric path. While reading he had a vision of a dakini in the shape of a very ugly woman. She told him that he understood only the words of his book, and not their real meaning. She also revealed that the only way for him to discover the real meaning was to seek a guru named Tilopa.

‘She said to Naropa, “What are you looking into?” “I study books on grammar, epistemology, spiritual precepts, and logic,” he replied. “Do you understand them?” “Yes.” “Do you understand the words or the sense?” “The words.” The old woman was delighted, rocked with laughter, and began to dance, waving her stick in the air. Thinking that she might feel still happier, Naropa added, “I also understand the sense.” But then the woman began to weep and tremble and she threw her stick down. “How is it that you were happy when I said that I understood the words, but became miserable when I added that I also understood the sense?” “I felt happy because you, a great scholar, did not lie and frankly admitted that you only understood the words. But I felt sad when you told a lie by stating that you understood the sense, which you do not.” “Who, then, understands the sense?” “My brother, Tilopa.” “Introduce me to him wherever he may be.” “Go yourself, pay your respects to him, and beg him that you may come to grasp the sense.” With these words, the old woman disappeared like a rainbow in the sky.”

– The Life and Teaching of Naropa, trans. Herbert V. Guenther (Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, 1986), pp. 24–25]

Upon hearing the name “Tilopa”, Naropa felt an intense state of devotion. Then and there he knew that Tilopa was his guru and that he would not rest until he had found him. Naropa immediately left the university in search of Tilopa and set out on a journey that would last for years and take him all over India following every hint, every whisper of where Tilopa might be. Naropa had to undergo what is called the twelve minor hardships or tests before finding his master; illusions that made his limitations obvious; confronting habit forming thought patterns, the need to develop unconditional compassion and cracking the ego shell, cutting the ties of Samsara, or illusion, Maya, and having a perfect detachment.

When Naropa finally found Tilopa and was accepted as his disciple the trials were not over. Tilopa was not friendly or forthcoming but often tough, demanding the most outrageous sacrifices and actions from Naropa. The first initiations were given after Tilopa showed Naropa different attitudes through the use of signs and symbols. For instance, Tilopa would hold a crystal in his hand and show it to Naropa and ask him what he understood. Naropa answered that he understood that the disciples mind should be completely pure; there should be no broken commitments in the relationship between teacher and student. Tilopa then handed Naropa a string full of knots and asked him to untie them. Naropa did so and gave the string back. Tilopa threw it aside and asked him what he understood. Naropa replied, “All beings are tied by worldly dharmas and we need to untie them. Once we have done so we must remain natural and rest in the mind itself, without being artificial. We have to get rid of all our expectations, hopes and fears.” Eleven such signs or symbols constituted each of the first three initiations Naropa received. Tilopa never told Naropa if he had answered correctly or not, he just left each answer as it was. Later, Tilopa began to smile and laugh. Then he said to Naropa, “You know, it is exactly as prophesised by the dakinis, you understood everything in the right way.”   

Naropa, the spiritual disciple of the Guru Tilopa
Naropa

But Naropa’s trials were still to come. He had to endure twelve major hardships in order to overcome all obstacles on his path to obtaining Mahamudra.

When Naropa asked for the initiation in Maha Mudra one day, Tilopa looked at him in a special way and left. Naropa followed him. They went to a temple with many levels – when they reached the top, Tilopa sat down resting his back against the wall. He said, “If I had a devoted student he would jump from the wall.” Immediately, Naropa jumped, breaking all his bones as he landed. As he lay dying, he thought he would not reach enlightenment this life after all, and began praying that he would again meet Tilopa in his next life. As he was praying, Tilopa appeared next to him and by his touch, healed Naropa’s body completely. Tilopa said, “You must understand that the idea that things exist is false, and the idea that things do not exist is also false. You should focus on the continuity of consciousness to see beyond illusion.” Naropa meditated on this for one year, and then Tilopa appeared and asked him if he was ready to ask for more instructions. Immediately Naropa offered Tilopa a mandala and asked for instructions. Again Tilopa walked away and Naropa followed him. They came to a field in which a great fire burned. Tilopa went to the fire and said, “If only I had a student who was really devoted he would jump in the fire.” Naropa immediately jumped into the fire with no hesitation, and stayed there though he was burning alive. Tilopa asked him what was happening to him. Naropa answered, “My body is burning and my mind is suffering.” “Well, it burns your ego, and your attachments – and I have the practice and instruction on the equality of the elements.” He touched Naropa’s skin and healed him completely, and the fire disappeared. Tilopa instructed Naropa to realise there is no difference between pleasure or misery, health or sickness.

Naropa underwent another nine tests involving being beaten half to death on several occasions, nearly drowning in ice cold water, being pierced by ten pieces of hardened bamboo. Each time he was healed by the touch of Tilopa. He also married a woman to learn about erotic practices, before his wife was taken away by Tilopa.

Because of the rigid concepts Naropa had formed in his education, looking for answers in logic and clear definitions, he had to go through twelve stages of extremely difficult and challenging experiences that broke all his mental concepts and limited sense of self.

It took immense devotion, aspiration and faith for Naropa to embrace the hardships requested of him, but he stayed true to the feeling in his heart upon first hearing the name Tilopa, and he never gave up.

It is said that it was because of Naropa’s ability to follow Tilopa without any doubts, that he was able to reach full realisation within one lifetime.

After twelve years of hardship and intense practice Naropa’s faith paid off. One day Tilopa and Naropa went to the river together and Naropa asked for more instructions. He had come to the last instruction. Tilopa took off his shoe and slapped Naropa on his forehead. At that moment the last veils dissolved from Naropa’s mind, and he realised his true nature. He had accomplished Maha Mudra.

It is said that it was because of Naropa’s ability to follow Tilopa without any doubts, that he was able to reach full realisation within one lifetime.

Naropa gave the world the six yogas or the six dharmas – “oral instruction transmission for achieving liberation in the bardo” – including tummo and phowa. Among his disciples was Marpa who became the master of Milarepa, passing on his teachings to the present day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles