Tilopa is a very interesting character.
He was born in the 10th century in India of royal descent, and lived as King, but was dissatisfied with that life. He had a vision of a dakini who told him to go and seek enlightenment so he became a wandering Yogi.
He met the famous sage Nagarjuna, who saw his capacity, and told him to return and serve his people as King. This he did, but later re-adopted the life of a mendicant and even went so far as to chain his legs together for 12 years while meditating in a cave, so as to persist with his practice.
After that, still not fully awakened, he was informed by one of his teachers, a dakini called Matongha, that because he still had kingly pride, arrogance and a sense of separation from the ordinary people, that he must to go work for a local prostitute. During the day he worked in her business grinding sesame seeds, and in the evening he solicited clients for the prostitute.
One day while pounding sesame seeds to extract oil he attained full enlightenment and levitated above the palm trees in the village. News spread of the wonder and one of the first villagers on the scene was the prostitute, who having expressed her shame to him was given a flower by him, and became instantly enlightened herself and levitated also.
Tilopa used the metaphor of the sesame seed in his teachings….indeed the word Til means sesame seed and that is how he got the name he is known by…
”Tilopa explained that although a sesame seed contains oil, it cannot produce oil by itself; without the hard work of grinding the seed, the oil cannot be extracted. So although buddha nature is within every living being, without the hard work of practicing the Dharma, there is no way to realize our inherent buddha nature.”
He is famous for the quote…
No thought, no reflection, no analysis, no cultivation, no intention; let it settle itself.
But his most famous teaching are the 28 verses on Mahamudra which is one of the most important Vajrayana Buddhist texts. It is basically advaita…non-dualism, and states that the mind as we experience it is not real…
Tilopa’s Mahamudra Instruction to Naropa
Homage to the Eighty Four Mahasiddhas!
Mahamudra cannot be taught. But most intelligent Naropa,
Is space anywhere supported? Upon what does it rest?
Gazing intently into the empty sky, vision ceases;
Like the morning mist that dissolves into thin air,
Pure space has neither colour nor shape
The darkness of a thousand aeons is powerless
Although space has been designated “empty”,
It pervades and embraces all things under the sun.
The body is essentially empty like the stem of a reed,
Free of intellectual conceits, disavowing dogmatic principles,
The fool in his ignorance, disdaining Mahamudra,
KYE HO! Listen with joy!
In the transcending of mind’s dualities is Supreme vision;
Beyond all mental images the mind is naturally clear:
KYE MA! Listen with sympathy!
Cut away involvement with your homeland and friends
A tree spreads its branches and puts forth leaves,
A single lamp dispels the darkness of a thousand aeons;
KYE HO! Listen with joy!
Allow the muddy waters of mental activity to clear;
The unborn omnipresent base dissolves your impulsions and delusions:
The highest vision opens every gate;
At first your karma is like a river falling through a gorge;
If the mind is dull and you are unable to practice these instructions,
When serving a karmamudra, the pure awareness
Then gaining long-life and eternal youth, waxing like the moon,
May this pith instruction in Mahamudra
It is longish…but well worth the reading.
OM TAT SAT