Tilopa also known as Tillipa, Telopa or Tailopa (Tib. ཏི་ལོ་པ་) (988-1069) — the most important source of the Kagyü lineage is traced back to the great Indian yogi Tilopa and one of his main disciples, Naropa (1016-1110).
He is also counted among the eighty-four mahasiddhas.
- Abhayadatta, Buddha's Lions: Lives of the Eighty-four Siddhas, Emeryville, Dharma Publishing, 1979
- Fabizio Torricelli and Ācārya Sangye T. Naga, The Life of the Mahāsiddha Tilopa, LTWA, New Dehli, 1995
- Nālandā Translation Committee, 'The Life of Tilopa' in Donald S. Lopez (ed.) Religions of Tibet in Practice, Princeton University Press, 1997
- Roger R. Jackson, Tantric Treasures: Three Collections of Mystical Verse from Buddhist India, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Thrangu Rinpoche, Life of Tilopa & The Ganges Mahamudra, Zhisil Chokyi Ghatsal, 2002.
- XIIth Khentin Tai Situpa, Tilopa, Some Glimpses Of His Life, Dzalendra Publishing, 1988.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments:
He spared no effort in confronting his disciple Naropa with what was necessary. Naropa’s ability to receive transmission was obstructed by a welter of concepts as to what constituted spirituality and Tilopa manifested in the guise of whatever conflicted with Naropa’s conditioning.
Tilopa was entirely politically incorrect from the point of view of Brahmanic society, and Naropa was locked into the Brahmanic paradigm. This was an explosive situation and one that led to Naropa’s realisation."
- "People often think that Naropa’s trials at the hands of his teacher Tilopa are allegorical – but this may be a mistake, because the allegory is real.
The stylistics of our confusion are different from those of Naropa and so the vajra master will approach our confusion as it is. The similarity is that the Mahasiddha vajra master will always offend our duality.
Tilopa was born into the (priestly) brahmin Caste – according to some sources, a royal family – but he adopted the monastic Life upon receiving orders from a Dakini Buddha whose activity is to inspire practitioners) who told him to adopt a mendicant and itinerant existence.
Advised by the Dakini, Tilopa gradually took up a Monk’s Life, taking the monastic vows and becoming an erudite scholar. The frequent visits of his Dakini teacher continued to guide his spiritual path and close the gap to Enlightenment.
- from Nagarjuna he received the radiant light (Sanskrit: prabhasvara) and illusory body (Sanskrit: maya deha, Tib. gyulu) teachings (refer Chakrasamvara Tantra), Lagusamvara tantra, or Heruka Abhidharma);
- from Lawapa, the Dream yoga;
- from Sukhasiddhi, the teachings on Life, Death, and the Bardo (between Life states, and consciousness transference) (phowa);
- from Indrabhuti, he learned of insight (Prajna);
- and from Matangi, the resurrection of the dead Body.
In Tibetan, the teaching is called gnad kyi gzer drug – literally, “six nails of key points” – the aptness of which title becomes clear if one considers the meaning of the English idiomatic expression, “to hit the nail on the head.”
According to Ken McLeod, the text contains exactly six words; the two English translations given in the following table are both attributed to him.
|First short, literal translation||Later long, explanatory translation||Tibetan (Wylie transliteration)|
|1||Don’t recall||Let go of what has passed||mi mno|
|2||Don’t imagine||Let go of what may come||mi bsam|
|3||Don’t think||Let go of what is happening now||mi shes|
|4||Don’t examine||Don’t try to figure anything out||mi dpyod|
|5||Don’t control||Don’t try to make anything happen||mi sgom|
|6||Rest||Relax, right now, and rest||rang sar bzhag|
- The fool in his Ignorance, disdaining Mahamudra,
- Knows nothing but struggle in the flood of Samsara.
- Have Compassion for those who suffer constant anxiety!
- Sick of unrelenting pain and desiring release, adhere to a master,
- For when his Blessing touches your Heart, the mind is liberated.
Attachment and enjoyment
Although as a king he had always possessed wealth and title, his mind was not completely satisfied, and he left his kingdom to find a teacher of the Dharma. He searched India in all directions for such a master.
Tilopa promised that he would carry him to the other side. Nagarjuna replied that since he was very big and Tilopa was very small, how could he possibly be able to carry him to the other side of such a huge river?
Nagarjuna predicted that because Tilopa's courage and willpower were so effective, he would be able to work to benefit living beings, and told him to return to his kingdom and become a king once again.
When Tilopa ordered, "Charge!" they all ran toward the enemy.
There he obtained teachings from the dakinis and went to meditate in a cave. After making a commitment to meditate there for twelve years, he chained both his legs together so he would not be able to come out of the cave. In this way he meditated for twelve years.
After twelve years passed, the chains that were tied around Tilopa's legs broke of themselves; he had achieved some realization as a result of his diligent meditation but had not yet accomplished the ultimate realization of Vajradhara. He wished to go out and wander and lead the simple life of a siddha.
The dakinis witnessing this saw that he was a highly realized being and gave him permission to wander as a simple siddha, just as he wished. His goal was to travel to the eastern part of Bengal and find Nagarjuna.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In his song, Tilopa explained that although a sesame seed contains oil, it cannot produce oil by itself; without the hard work of grinding the seed, the oil cannot be extracted.
As Tilopa sang this song, the king and all his people immediately understood his teaching and came to complete realization. At the instant of their enlightenment, the village appeared to be momentarily empty of all its inhabitants.
After that day, Tilopa became very famous. His great renown came about not only because of his profound realization, but also because, as he sang in many of his songs, he had no human guru. This was to show that he had received his transmission directly from the Vajradhara aspect of enlightenment.