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The Tibetan masters of the Karma Kagyu lineageThe Gyalwa Karmapas, supreme masters of the Karma Kagyu lineage

Mahapandita Naropa

This page, first of three on Naropa  Life of Naropa, part 2  Naropa's life: third part

NAROPA WAS BORN A PRINCE in India. From the day of his birth, he was a very exceptional being endowed with special qualities. As an infant, Naropa was so pleasant to behold that simply to gaze at him was to experience joy and a sense of happiness. Even in childhood, he possessed profound wisdom and a sense of loving-kindness and compassion for others.

The king, queen, and all the attendants agreed that the most appropriate place for such an extraordinary son of a noble family would be a monastery. Just as precious jewels should not be kept in filthy water but placed upon an immaculate shrine, it did not seem befitting for Naropa to dwell in the midst of worldly people. His rightful place was to be among practitioners of the Dharma.

When he came of age, Naropa was most happy with the decision for him to go to a monastery, and he went off to study with many scholars and become properly educated. Naropa's wisdom became so profound that he surpassed all of his teachers all of the time. He became one of the most famous and world-renowned scholars of his day and went to Nalanda University in India.

It was the custom at that time in India for different traditions to debate with each other, with the beliefs of the winner declared supreme. Hundreds of scholars of different traditions would come to Nalanda University to debate with Buddhist scholars. At that time, Nalanda had four gates at each of the cardinal directions. At each gate there were five hundred world-renowned scholars known as "gate keepers." Naropa became one of the scholars at the northern gate. In that capacity he debated daily with many scholars of various schools, and each day he further proved himself to be one of the most learned among them all. In this way he became very famous.

One day as Naropa was sitting quietly in his room reading a Buddhist sutra text, a very fearful shadow fell upon the floor. He immediately looked up to see what it was. To his great surprise he saw a very ugly, wrinkled, old woman without a single tooth in her mouth standing in front of him. She was so old that she was not able to stand without the aid of a cane. She asked Naropa, "What are you reading?" Naropa replied, "I am studying the teachings of the Buddha." The old woman then asked, "Do you understand the teachings?" Without any hesitation Naropa replied, "I understand every single word of the teachings of the Buddha." This response elicited great joy and happiness in the old woman, and she laughed and giggled, and danced in an ecstatic manner. She said, "It is very fortunate for this earth that such a scholar as yourself exists!"

The ugly woman next asked Naropa, "You might understand the literal meaning of the teachings of the Buddha, but do you understand the inner and ultimate meaning of the teachings?" Since the old woman had displayed such great joy and happiness at his merely saying that he understood the literal meaning of the sutras, Naropa thought that she would be even more joyful if he said that yes, he understood the inner, essential meaning of the Dharma. So Naropa replied, "Yes." As he replied yes, the expression of the face of the ugly old woman turned from one of joy to one of sadness, and she fell to the floor and beat it with both her hands and cried, "To think that such a great scholar as you knows how to tell lies!" This embarrassed Naropa, who inquired," Is there anyone who really understands the inner meaning of the Dharma?" The old woman replied, "Yes, my brother, Tilopa."

The instant that she uttered the name "Tilopa," devotion arose in the mind and heart of Naropa and tears came to his eyes. Naropa asked the old woman,"Where can I find this master? In which direction does he reside?" The old woman replied, "There is no particular direction for Tilopa or his residence. He could be anywhere. If your mind is filled with devotion and confidence, and you yearn to meet him, this is the right direction." Having spoken thus, the old woman, who was actually Vajrayogini, disappeared like a rainbow fading in the sky. Because his negative karma was not completely purified, Naropa was only able to see her as a very ugly, old woman. His mental stains prevented him from seeing her true form.