The Legacy of Naropa


One of the most remarkable figures of all the times within the Tibetan Buddhism is the Indian guru Naropa, of the XI Century, whose life and teachings marked the end of a long tradition of yoguis. As heritage, this great scholar left some of the most advanced spiritual practices for the attainment of the ultimate realization through a genuine inner experience.

Born in 1016 in the state of Bengal, located at the northwest of India, Naropa grew in the bosom of a real rich family. When he was eleven, he went to study to the mountain region of Kashmir, in that time the main settlement for the study of Buddhism. He remained there for a period of three years, when he was in contact with the content of the main ramifications of this doctrine.

In his return to his natal place, the Indian master was accompanied by a large number of students, who carried their studies with him for three consecutive years, until Naropa met his wife, of Brahmin family, with whom he married in a short time. However, of mutual agreement, after eight years of conjugal cohabitation, both of them decided to dissolve the union. After the separation, following the imposed traditions by the caste to which they belonged, the wife of Naropa received the new name of Niguma. Since then and due to her purity, she was known for ever as “the sister of Naropa”, because, within her lineage, the ideal state for the married women was to become sisters of their consorts.

After this unexpected turn of his live, Naropa went again to Kashmir, from where three years later he left towards Pullahari, place where during his mature age he would give his definitive instructions to his disciple Marpa, nicknamed “the Translator”, who accompanied him during more than ten years. It was Marpa who later would bring the legacy of his teacher to Tibet, giving emergence to the Kagyu Linage there.

After six years of staying at Pullahari, Naropa went to the famous university of Nalanda, near the Indian locality of Bodhgaya, place where the prince Siddhartha became the Buddha. At Nalanda, Naropa studied deeply the Buddhist doctrine, becoming an eminent scholar, up to the extent to be designated as one of the four abbots of the university.



The teachings of his teacher Tilopa

The year 1057 was a decisive date in the life of Naropa and his spiritual development, as he renounced to his position and high intellectual reputation and, following the revelations of a transcendental vision, he left in search of his Guru. In this vision, lived as a tangible experience, an ugly older woman showed him through a set of questions and answers his true psychological state and with it his ignorance. In this form, Naropa recognized the transience and superficiality of the human live in the world, and since then he pursued as priority the development of his subtle and spiritual qualities as a mean to attain the inner perfection and with it the higher realization.

This vision was followed by another eleven visions that, in a symbolic form, revealed to him the steps that he should follow in order to gain the maximum potential of his inner being. Each new vision, more terrible than the previous one, was confronting him with his deeper fears and obscurations. This led him to an inner disintegration of such magnitude, that Naropa was near to committee suicide. It was then when finally he found his master, the yogui Tilopa, who was well-disposed to throw light over the inner confusion of his disciple.

Tilopa comforted Naropa, explaining to him that the destructive inner processes born from the confrontation with oneself and the attentive observation of one´s own mind constituted indispensable steps in the knowledge of the inner being. He also explained him that thanks to them there was attained the extinction of the undesirable mental impressions, transformed in well established habits, source of suffering and bondage. At the same time, he gave him the necessary instructions to dissolve the conceptual duality, which constitutes the foundation of Tantrism. In this way, Naropa acquired the maturation of his knowledge, up to then of theoretic type, getting an intuitive comprehension of the mental phenomena and attaining the most pure transcendent state.

Originally imparted by teachers as Nagarjuna, Charyapa and Lawapa, the teachings that, until his death in 1069, Tilopa gave to Naropa during twelve years were formulated as “The Four Transmissions”. These constitute a group of tantric practices that later were known as The Six Yogas of Naropa and that became also popular as “the Six Yogas of Niguma”, as it was his wife who contributed in a grand extent to their divulgation. Naropa passed away in the year 1100 and his mortal remains, turned into relics of veneration, are preserved in the monastery of Kanika (Kaniska) located in the locality of Zangskar, in the Indian state of Kashmir.



The legacy of Naropa

Naropa had a big impact during the time in which he lived. Not only thanks to his teachings many aspirants acquired the realization, but also his knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation, giving place to a new lineage of yoguis, who systematized the knowledge acquired in a methodology of great precision, transmitted in a secret way and in an environment of retreat.

As it is mention in the Sutras and the Tantras, the main texts of the Buddhist Cannon, Naropa had thousands of disciples of great value to whom he led to the full transcendental maturation, some of them practitioners of Buddhism and other mere scholars in search of the Truth. Together with Marpa, the Translator, his main students were Maitripa, Sri Santidbhadra, Dombhipa, Santita, Phyter of Nepal, the novice Prajnasinha and Akarasiddhi of Kashmir, although also there were notable as acolytes 800 siddhas, 54 yoguis with specific vows and 100 yoguinis with evident sings of spiritual attainment.

Likewise, Naropa is considered as one of the patriarchs of the Kagyu Lineage, which was originated in the Tibet in the X Century. His contribution was united to those of other eminent figures of the Tantric knowledge, such as Milarepa, Gampopa o Dusum Khyenpa, who was the first Karmapa, supreme guide of this tradition. At the present, its leader is the XVII Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, exiled from Tibet when he was 14 years old and today residing in the north of India.


The six yogas of Naropa

Although the transmission of the techniques of Naropa was assigned to different master yoguis, as it is recorded in various biographies of Tilopa, in all of them appear formulated as the Inner Heat Yoga (Tummo), the Illusory Body Yoga, the Dream Yoga, the Transference of Consciousness Yoga (Phowa), the Intermediate States Yoga (Bardo) and the Clear Light Yoga, whose development facilitates the inner realization of Mahamudra, in other words, of the supreme knowledge.


The Inner Heat Yoga works with the inner spiritual fire through the prana or vital energy that, through yoguic exercises, is transformed into wisdom, extinguishing with it the mind activity. In regard to the Illusory Body Yoga, is basically based on the use of meditative techniques that, with the transmutation of the mundane thoughts into spiritual thoughts, attaints the arising of an illusory body of supreme wisdom. In its hand, through specific periods of intuitive meditation that allows the full control among the oneiric experiences, the Dream Yoga attains the recognition of the illusory and impermanent phenomenical manifestation, including the awake and dream states.

At the same time, with the Transference of Consciousness Yoga the impressions accumulated through successive incarnations are extinguished, what helps to face the time of death as a unique opportunity to attain the definite realization. The Intermediate States Yoga is directed towards the mental purification with the aim to use in a useful way the space between the moment of death and the moment of the next birth. Lastly, following the teachings included in the Clear Light Yoga, it is attained the perfect enlightenment.

In this way, through the acquirement of siddhis or mystic powers, the final aim of the practices developed by Naropa is the absolute transcendence of the phenomenical world, until it is acquired the definitive comprehension of the Being that one always is. It can be said that the mastery of the Six Yogas as whole results much more efficient in the attainment of the objectives, as the techniques in them included are closely related between them.


(Article wrote by Trikaya and published in the Spanish magazine “Cuadernos del Budismo” in the year 2010)