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Many Buddhist lineages go back to Mahasiddha Tilopa who lived in Northern India in the 10th century.  

  • In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there are considered to have been 84 of these Mahasiddhas or greatly accomplished ones.  The Hindu tradition also counts 84 mahasiddhas; some individuals appear in both lists.

Tilopa (988-1069) was born a brahmin in India, but he renounced the world while still quite young to become an ascetic. After a short period, he had a vision of a dakini who gave him an explicit tantric initiation that connected him directly with the Void.  She enjoined him to throw away his monk's robes, to act spontaneously and to practice in secret.

He became a wandering yogi and received instructions from several siddhas.  In Bengal he spent twelve years earning his living by producing oil from sesame seed during the day, and working in the service of a prostitute by night, thus abjuring completely his brahmin status.  (Tilopa was named for the til or sesame seed.) 

Later on, meditating in a seclusion in a tiny grass hut, he came face-to-face with the form of Buddha Vajradhara.  The Kagyu denomination holds the Mahamudra teachings that were received directly from Vajradhara via Tilopa.

Following that realization, this unpredictable and powerful master wandered about the country teaching and performing miracles.  

He is considered a master in the attitude and techniques of four distinct transmissions: 

  1. From Nagarjuna, the philosopher referred to as a Second Buddha, came the Sangwa Düpa (Skt. Guhyasamaj) tantra and the Denshi tantra.  

It incorporates the practices of Illusory Body (Tib. sgyu-lus, pron. jalu) and Transference of Consciousness (pho-ba, powa.) 

  1. From Nagpopa came the Mahamaya (gyuma chenmo) tantra, and a technique for Conscious Dreaming (Tib.: rmi-lam.) 

  2. from Luipa came the Demchok tantra and the practice of Clear Light (Tib. od-gsal, osel.) 
  3. From the woman, Khandro Kalpa Zangmo, came the Hevajra tantra (Gyepa Dorje) and the practice of inner heat generation (tummo.)

All of these including Mahamudra (the Supreme Attitude) were transmitted directly from Tilopa to Naropa (1016-1100,) his long-suffering student.  


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