Naropa: His Personal Teaching of Obedience


The Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen

I. The Obedience To His Inspired Personal Knowledge In Spite Of His Book Knowledge

  1. When he was a little boy he put his trust in the Right Dharma. In spite of being forbidden by his parents to read and write, he did it in secret. The foundation of becoming a Buddhist scholar was well established in him by the time he was eight. At so early an age he realized the impermanence of worldly things and decided to study Buddhism concentratedly with heart and soul.

  2. When he was eleven he asked permission from his mother with the following poem:
  3. "To gain a human body from you is very rare, my Mama! It is ungrateful to you if I do not follow the Dharma. As you are loving your son with the whole of your pneuma, So permit me to leave you for the Buddhist Karma."

    On the condition of returning quickly, he received permission to go to Kashmir where he studied all of the Panchavidya with thirteen teachers within only three years. He then returned home at which time he learned the six eminent works of Madhyamika exoteric doctrine and the Hevajra and Abhidharma Uttaratantra of esoteric doctrine. Hence he mastered all the most important knowledges of the three Yanas.

  4. At Pullhari he spent six years writing several works such as a commentary on the Abhidharma Uttara Tantra, on the Hevajra Tantra and other works on Sutras and Mantras. He became a professor of Nalanda University. When one of the four head professors died, he was asked by the 500 scholars in that University to take the place of the latter. Many Hindu scholars were converted by him and shaved their heads after a great meeting of debate was held.

  5. Once when Naropa was studying with his back to the sun, he saw a wonderful shadow fall on the ground. He then found that an old woman with 37 ugly lineaments was standing behind him. When they caught sight of each other, she immediately asked, "Do you understand what you read just now? Naropa replied, "Yes, I understand the words." She then danced with delight. Again Naropa said, "The sense also!" She began to weep. "Why were you so happy when you knew I understood the words, but so sore when you knew I understood the senses?" She explained that he did not understand the sense and she was weeping for his lie. Then Naropa asked, "Who does understand the sense if I dont?" Then he was introduced by the woman to Tilopa and was advised to go eastward to seek him out.

  6. He read such a personal book in the appearance of the old woman that he was inspired more deeply than from reading all those books of Hinayana. He decided to leave Nalanda University to seek out his Guru Tilopa. All the 500 scholars and their patrons, the king and his ministers begged him to have mercy on Nalanda and to stay for a long duration. He refused with the following poem:
  7. Though I do know how the words are meant,
    Yet I never see the Reality.
    Without seeking a Guru competent,
    How could I get the perfect attainment.

    He then wore his robe, took his alms-bowl, grasped his staff and left Nalanda.

II. The Obedience To The Guide For Seeking The Guru And The Obstacles Caused By His Book Knowledge

  1. On his journey although there was no exact address of Tilopa which he could aim at, he was guided by Holinesses through his inspirations which were in fact a book of realization and not just knowledge of words. In fact book knowledge was sometimes his only obstacle.
  2. A voice declared to him that he should rely on Chakrasamvara (Great Pleasure Vajra) Hearing this instruction he bowed to the east with tears. He built up a grass hut and repeated the incantation of Chakrasamvara Om Sri Ha Ha Hung Hung Pei, for 700,000 times. When his repetition was integrated, the earth trembled, light shone, and a sweet fragrance pervaded everywhere.

  3. He then went eastward for a whole month but found nothing. A voice from his natural nobility [ed note: Yidam] Vajra Chakrasamvara assured him that he would find Tilopa who was the incarnation of Buddha. He was consoled by this voice and proceeded eastward again. There he found a leper woman without limbs blocking his path. He asked her to move from his path which she refused. Closing his nose with his fingers he moved over her. The leper woman flew up into the sky in a halo like a rainbow and said:
  4. The ultimate in which all become true.
    Is quite free from any habit old or new,
    If you are still fettered by them,
    How could you find your holy Guru.

  5. On a narrow path he met a female dog stinking and crawling with vermin. He closed his nose and jumped over it at which point it suddenly appeared in a rainbow halo in the sky. He was reproached as of no compassion in the following poem:
  6. Our parents are every being,
    To whom one should have compassion.
    If you have not developed this,
    How could you find your Guru within.

  7. As he prayed on his journey, he met a man carrying a heavy load. When this man was asked by Naropa about where he could find Tilopa, he replied that he should ask the man who lived behind this mountain and who always played tricks on his parents. When he met this man he was asked to help cut his mothers head off. He refused and thought to himself, "I am a prince and a Professor of Nalanda, I should not associate with such a villain who wants to kill his mother, even though I should not find out where Tilopa is." This was one of those so called obstacles caused by his book knowledge. He had to listen to the following poem by that man:
  8. How could you find your Guru,
    When you keep your pride in your skull.
    Crack it with the mallet of voidness,
    From Mahayana it comes this rule.

  9. Naropa repented on his journey and found a man who was tearing out the intestines of a corpse who asked Naropa to help in this matter as a precondition to telling him the place of Tilopa. Naropa refused and was reproached again by this man who flew into the sky:
  10. You cut not the Samsaras ties,
    Upon which does your faith rely.
    As you do not know the Truth,
    You miss so many Gurus.

  11. Later on the bank of a river, he met a man who was washing the stomach of a living man and asked Naropa to help him if he wanted to know the address of Tilopa. He refused again. The rebuke to Naropa was in a poem which said:
  12. Though the dirty Samsara was pure by nature,
    Yet your past habitual thoughts within are matured.
    Without the water of Truth cleansed not,
    How could you find out your teacher?

  13. On Naropas journey there was a city which was controlled by a king who liked Naropa so much that he wanted to marry his daughter to Naropa and said he would tell him the address of Tilopa after the marriage was performed. Everything which Naropa had met before he refused, but to the marriage he was agreeable. Although he divorced his wife when he was very young, yet the root of lust remained in his heart and now it had a chance to rise up. How difficult it is to renounce the sorrow of lust! After a long time passed, the king took his daughter back. Naropa still wanted the aid of his natural nobility to force his wife to come back. He then heard a voice saying as below:
  14. Are you not deceived,
    By such a magic wife?
    Could you find the Guru
    If fall in such a bad life?

  15. Naropa met a dark man with a pack of hounds and a bow and arrows and was asked by the dark man to help him to first kill a deer and then he would tell him the place where Tilopa was. Naropa refused and heard a poem as below:
  16. A hunter, I have the arrow,
    Kill those phantoms of sorrow.
    In the bow there is full of light,
    Subdues all delusions to Right.

  17. The next evening he met a fisherman and his wife. They were killing and eating fish and frogs on the shore of a lake. He was invited to share them. But according to book knowledge he should not do so in the evening, hence he refused. The fisherman threw all the meat of the fishes and frogs from the pan into the fire and suddenly all the fishes and frogs flew up into the sky. The fisherman rebuked Naropa with a poem:
  18. You gathered habitual thoughts long ago,
    Think only of this as fish, that as frog.
    If you want to meet your Guru and keep your ego,
    You will fall, even you have one myriad miles to go.

  19. The next day on his journey he met a man who was killing his parents and who asked him to help in this matter. Naropa thought to himself, should a Bhikshu do evil or agree with such an evil person? He refused and again he was advised with a poem which read:
  20. How can you know your Gurus address and arrive,
    If you do not know how the three poisons derive.
    From the parents - the Avidya & Samsara
    Youre freed not, you would get no Guru to receive.

  21. Then he came to a hermitage in which there was a beggar who claimed he himself was Tilopa. Both Naropa and the hermit saw the real Tilopa sitting by the fire and frying living fishes. They asked, "Why?" Tilopa snapped his fingers and said, "Fishes go away!" All the fishes flew up to the sky. Naropa then folded his hands and begged for instruction. Tilopa passed him a handful of lice and asked him to kill them. Naropa still kept his book knowledge and refused. Tilopa disappeared after saying as below:
  22. If you kill not the louse,
    Which is your habit thought;
    How could you find Guru,
    Who has not any source.

  23. On the next days journey Naropa came to a wide plain on which he found one-eyed people and blind men who could see, earless who could hear, tongueless who could speak, lame who could run, and corpses who could run. They were asked where was Tilopa. They said as below:
  24. Free yourself from merit and sin,
    Blindness sees as seeing nothing,
    Deafness hears as hearing nothing,
    Such Mahamudra you will gain.

    When all these wondrous persons disappeared, Naropa then decided to commit suicide with the hope of finding the Guru in a subsequent life. Just at the moment the razor was about to cut his throat, Tilopa came dressed in cotton trousers, with hair knotted in a tuft and protruding blood-shot eyes and said, "Since you met me in the form of a leper woman, we have never been apart, like a body and its shadow!! He was then accepted as Tilopas disciple.

III. The Obedience Directed To His Guru Under Manifold Great Temptations For The Tantric Instructions

  1. Tilopa climbed to the top of the monastery on which there was a tiled roof straddled by the [ed note: possibly one word missing] an ornamental bird. Tilopa pointed to the top and said, "If you want instruction, you should have jumped down from there without procrastination." Naropa immediately leaped down and was like a corpse lying on the ground overcome by intolerable pain. Tilopa cured him and imparted the Tantra of the Ordinary Wish-Fulfilling Gem which enabled Naropa to cut off the four kinds of birth.

  2. Once Tilopa sat near a blazing fire and Naropa asked for instruction. Tilopa said, "If you want instruction, you should have jumped into the fire." Naropa did so without hesitation. His whole body was burned. After healing him, Tilopa gave him the Tantra of the Oneness Harmonized From Many, the result of which is that the four initiations, the four paths, the four performances and the four Buddha bodies all are identified with the four descending joys and the four ascending joys also being identified into this oneness, and several other groups are also identified with the same.

  3. On another day when Naropa asked for instruction again, he was given a pitcher full of water and a wooden sword and told by Tilopa: "Try to get more food for me; if they do not five willingly, pour water on the food and come back. If they pursue you, draw the symbol for water in the dust and a lake will appear. If they do not return, brandish this wooden sword." Naropa did all as Tilopa commanded. When he brandished the wooden sword, he found himself in an iron room. But the pursuers made a great fire outside and he could do nothing but rush out. Though he ran almost up to his Guru, yet he was beaten with sticks and stones and only a little breath in him remained. After he was cured, he received the Tantra of Vajra Love and Mahamudra which enabled him to obtain full enlightenment in this life time.

  4. As Tilopa sat near a dark and deep pool full of water with many leeches, Naropa asked for instruction and was commanded to build a bridge over the pool. He did so and his blood was taken by many leeches. After curing him, Tilopa gave him the Tantra of Mystic Wisdom Fire (Tumo). Many kinds of supernatural powers may be obtained through this kind of practice.

  5. The next time Naropa asked for instruction, he was commanded to bring fire, reeds and fat which Tilopa then toasted against his back until the pain became unbearable. He then was given the Tantra of the Maya Body of Buddha. Through such a kind of practice, one may obtain the realization of the Sambhogakaya.

  6. A man carrying a load passed on a wide plain. Tilopa asked Naropa to pursue him but he was unable to catch the man. Though Naropa was urged to run after this mirage-like vision, he kept falling behind a great distance and got only tiredness. He then got the instruction of Dream Yoga which may rid one of his illusory hallucinatory nature of the awaking state and that of the mediate state between birth and death.

  7. When both Guru and disciple met an official conducting his bride home on an elephant, Naropa was commanded by his Guru to pull them down and drag them about. Naropa did so and was beaten almost to death. He was cured and then got the Tantra of Holy Light Yoga which enabled him to realize the Dharmakaya.
  8. When they met a King with his Queen and retinue, Tilopa asked Naropa to do the same as before. He was beaten again by the retinue until only a little of his breath was left. He then got the Yoga of Transferring Consciousness which would enable him to get holy rebirth in any Buddha Pure Land if so desired.

  9. When they met a royal Prince adorned with gems, riding a chariot, surrounded by his army, Tilopa ordered Naropa to drag the Prince from the chariot and push him around. Naropa obeyed and he was beaten by the army with stones, sticks, spears and swords. He almost died. After being cured, he got the instruction of Resurrection. It enabled him to prolong his life with a new body if he chose.
  10. Once Naropa was prescribed to get a girl. When their honeymoon passed, they quarreled and he was forced to be a blacksmith and suffered by being constantly engaged in working. Tilopa then gave him the Eternal Delight Yoga which increased his four blisses.

  11. When Tilopa asked for Naropas wife, he immediately offered her and was given a practice by which he could obtain the Ultimate Truth.
  12. When Naropa asked for instruction again, he was ordered to follow Tilopa to a desert in which there was neither water nor grain available. Tilopa bade Naropa to give his own blood for water and flesh for grain both as an offering to the Mandala which he did. At this time he gave Naropa the Tantra of the Liberation from the Intermediate State. He could then identify the mother light and the child light through this practice.

IV. The Consequence of Obedience

When Naropa got all the instructions of Tantra and practiced, he accomplished many kinds of supernatural powers such as eating a razor as butter, killing an elephant with only a look, getting the Mahasukha face to face, converting many people, among them some well known sages, 800 Siddhas, 50 Yogis, 100 Yoginis. In the Tibetan Tantric tradition he was the grand-guru of Milarepa. At his death he obtained Vajrakaya, resplendent in a five-fold light. Finally, his body became more and more subtle and completely identified with the Dharmakaya. If he had remained a professor Nalanda, at his death he would have had no such great achievement.

V. Conclusion and Advice

Certainly if a practitioner keeps his blind faith and neglects to study the whole system of Buddhism he would not be able to attain full enlightenment. But if a Buddhist stops half-way, with only the first two knowledgeshearing and thinkingwithout the advancement of practicing knowledge, he is even worse than those practitioners without any learning.

Could a bookworm or a pedant or a bibliomaniac save himself or others from running after transmigration? You should know the proverbs which run: "Few words are best", "Fools and madmen speak the truth but the sages realize it", "You should practice what you preach" and "It is only practice which makes perfect".

A map is not the same as the very country it refers to, a finger is not the same as the moon it points to, a portrait is not the same as the very person it depicts. Food is used by eating not by talking, a path by stepping on it not by looking at it, the Bible by walking out into life not by holding it in ones hands; Jesus washed his disciples?feet, not their hands.

Furthermore, fact-knowledge is more effective than bookknowledge. Learning is obtaining by doing not be reading. Buddha Gautama really learned about the facts of life by only one appearance at the four gates of representatives of birth, old-age, illness and death and from this one experience determined to renounce everything; those who read many books, many times in which are many statements and commentaries dealing with the same four things never renounce. The sage Naropa read so many doctrines of Hinayana but did not actually renounce; but only once did he need read the old womans countenance with the 37 ugly marks and he eventually renounced. The sages?supernatural magic instructions were of fact-knowledge unlike that of book-knowledge. In the bookknowledge it is always written "You should not kill". But the fact-knowledge may say you should kill which is meant in a profound sense. Book-knowledge does not guide you vividly to the realization, but the fact-knowledge of a sage does. Bookknowledge is always of likeness but the fact knowledge of a sage is of the exact reality. In reality there is no good or bad; bad may be transcended into the truth, good may be an obstacle to reality. Scholars always hold to the goodness, but the practitioner of obedience holds to nothing but his Guru and his instruction.

Readers of this booklet should get the personal teaching of Naropa and be aware of the importance of the fact-knowledge of the sage and drive themselves away from scholarship to the position of a practitioner and learn from the facts of the supernatural magic instructions. Naropa and his Guru Tilopa both are alive; we may seek them with the same attitude that Naropa had. The Tantric doctrines and instructions which our Guru Naropa had. The Tantric doctrines and instructions which our Guru Naropa [ed note: possibly some redundant words] received through manifold great temptations at the risk of his own life are still available at present. Some of these have been translated into English and we may get them very easily. If we treat this as important to our life, we may get the realization as well as that of Naropa. If we treat it as a common thing which may be gotten as easily as something we can get out of our pocket we will not practice it diligently. No pain, no gain; lightly come, lightly go. One should examine oneself and take the hard way instead of the easy one. It is never too late to mend ones ways. Full enlightenment is open to everyone. Naropas grace is always fresh and plentiful.

Editing notes in square brackets added by Stanley Lam on Oct 31, 2000.

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