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The Epitome of Devotion

Mahasiddha Naropa

One of the greatest Buddhist scholars of ancient India, Mahasiddha Naropa is today primarily remembered for being the father of the Vajrayogini Tantras and for his unwavering devotion to his guru. His relationship with his spiritual teacher continues to be upheld as an exemplar of guru devotion for those on the Buddhist path.

Born the prince of an ancient East Indian kingdom, Naropa descended from a notable and respected royal family. Like many exceptional beings before him, his birth was heralded by many auspicious signs and dreams.

Upon his birth, a brahmin examining the infant prophesied that he would be like the son of King Suddhodana, the father of the Buddha. This meant that if Naropa took up the religious life, he would be a ‘Lord of the Earth’ just like Prince Siddhartha who later became Buddha Shakyamuni.

Indeed, from a very young age, Naropa’s mind was already set on Buddhist practice and every action he took was motivated by this. By the time he was eight years old, he was already urging his attendants to practise the Dharma and would remind everyone of the truth of impermanence. He was just eleven when he left the cocoon of the royal palace, travelling to Kashmir to study Buddhism. Given his desire to pursue a spiritual life, it came as no surprise that Naropa eventually entered the world famous Nalanda Monastery.

Some time later, out of hundreds of accomplished scholars living in Nalanda at the time, Naropa was chosen as one of its four gatekeepers. As the northern gatekeeper, he was charged with debating whoever entered the monastery’s northern gate to challenge the Buddhist philosophical system. If defeated, as per the custom of the time, the entire monastery and all its monks would have to assume the challenger’s philosophical view. It was therefore not a responsibility that could be borne by just anybody; it was a particularly prestigious position, awarded only to those who had mastered the study of scriptures and the art of debate.

But Naropa’s story does not end here for he eventually left Nalanda, at the behest of none other than Vajrayogini herself. The dakini, appearing as an old lady, told Naropa to go in search of his guru, the Mahasiddha Tilopa. Upon hearing his would-be teacher’s name, deep faith spontaneously arose in Naropa. So he left Nalanda, to the disappointment of the monastic community who were saddened to lose such a great mind from their midst.

Naropa’s search for Tilopa was not an easy one. He scoured the length and breadth of India to find his teacher but came up against obstacle after obstacle — manifestations of his negative karma and obscurations which had not been completely purified. These obstacles came to be known as the Twelve Minor Trials of Naropa.

Having finally found Tilopa, Naropa then had to undergo the Twelve Major Trials over the next twelve years under his Guru’s tutelage before he attained complete enlightenment. Despite these difficulties, Naropa never lost faith in his guru; doubt never arose in his mind and he remained single-pointedly steadfast in his practice of guru devotion, regardless of whatever his teacher asked of him.

After these trials were over, Tilopa initiated his student into the practice of Vajravarahi and instructed him to enter a meditative retreat on the deity. Within six months, Naropa gained a vision of Vajravarahi in the form of Vajrayogini Naro Kechari who initiated him into her practice. He is therefore known as the progenitor of the Vajrayogini practice in the Naro Kechari form.

The legendary Mahasiddha Naropa has since become synonymous with pure guru devotion, an essential attitude for Vajrayana Buddhist practitioners everywhere. His legacy to the world is the great tantric tradition of Naro Kachö Vajrayogini and the Six Yogas of Naropa.

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