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This section Mahamudra and the Six Yogas, the sublime content of the Kagyu lineage
The Tibetan masters of the Karma Kagyu lineageThe Gyalwa Karmapas, supreme masters of the Karma Kagyu lineage

Mahasiddha Tilopa

This page, first of three on Tilopa  Life of Tilopa, part 2, the Dakini  Tilopa's life: becoming Vajradhara and teaching

was one of the mightiest figures ever of vajrayana Buddhism. He is the Indian forefather of the Kagyu lineage and, in effect, Buddha Vajradhara in person. His life falls into four main periods:
 .. becoming heir to over 100 of the greatest gurus of his day,
 .. receiving teachings from the dakini,
 .. becoming Vajradhara and then
 .. teaching through enlightened miracles.

There is an interesting parallel between the conception of Tilopa and that of the present Karmapa. In both cases, the parents turned to a holy man in their attempts to secure the child they wanted, had their wishes fulfilled by the birth of a son, born amid unusual signs, and then turned out to be the parents of a wonder child, whose life, even from an early age, was to be guided by the greatest spiritual teachers of his time.

In Tilopa's case, the guidance came from the commanding appearance of a dakini ("sky-flyer" - female spiritual being), who manifested at important moments in his life to set him in the right direction. From the very outset, she made it clear to him that his real parents were not his worldly ones, but primordial wisdom and universal voidness:
"...your father is Cakrasamvara and your mother is Vajravarahi .."
On her advice, he frequented monasteries and gradually took up a monk's life, eventually becoming an erudite scholar and an exemplary monk, known as Prajñabhadra. Following a vision, he discovered a text hidden in the base of a statue in the monastery. Not understanding its meaning he prayed to his dakini mentor, who sent him to the illustrious gurus Matangi and Saryapa to study tantra. Returning some time later to the monastery, he furthered his classical studies. Another critical encouter with his celestial dakini teacher initiated him further and definitively closed the gaps that existed between his theoretical knowledge and his experiential insight.

Following this, he travelled widely in India, going from guru to guru until he had assimilated the very quintessence of each major strand of vajrayana teaching of the day. In particular, he received from Saryapa the teachings on purification of chakra and subtle body, best known these days through their Tibetan name of tummo. From Nagarjuna he received the illusory body and radiant light teachings; from Lawapa the dream yoga; from Sukhasiddhi the teachings on life, death and between-life states (bardo) and consciousness transference; from Indrabhuti teachings on insight (prajna) as the balancing of energies and from Matangi the teachings on resurrection of the dead body.

This page, first of three on Tilopa  Life of Tilopa, part 2, the Dakini  Tilopa's life: becoming Vajradhara and teaching