Naropa (1016 – 1100 CE), an Indian Scholar-Saint, heralded the beginning of a rich tradition in Buddhist philosophy. His legacy and lessons traversed the Himalayas and shaped the identity and culture of many people. His life is upheld as an example of determination, perseverance and endurance and his teachings of the Six Yogas of Naropa are one the fundamental pillars of Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. His legacy of experiential learning and active compassion helped civilization flourish far beyond its immediate Buddhist community and continues to have a lasting impact.
Naropa was born into a long line of kings and noblemen at the turn of the first millennium. He embraced a spiritual life at an early age and became Chancellor of Nalanda University. Because of his intellectual agility and fierce oratory skills, he became the “Northern Gatekeeper” of Nalanda – a moniker of great distinction.
Naropa taught throughout the region emphasising a tradition of experiential wisdom, the Six Yogas of Naropa which include milam (dream yoga), tummo (the yoga of inner heat), bardo (the yoga of the intermediate stage), gyulu (the yoga of illusory body), osel (the yoga of clear light) , phowa (the yoga of transference of consciousness) and devotional practice.
Today, these teachings are considered the core tenets of Buddhism. From Naropa, several Buddhist traditions flourished throughout India, Central Asia and beyond.
His life and teachings marked the beginning of a new era of Buddhism that continues to thrive in all corners of the Himalayas and the world.
Despite his worldly success, Naropa encountered Varja Yogini who appeared as an old ugly woman and humbled him by pointing out his spiritual misconceptions and urged him to find his destined guru, Tilopa. Under the tutelage of Tilopa, Naropa underwent twelve major and twelve lesser hardships to purify his karma, which also tested his determination. Each of these legendary hardships broke down Naropa’s misconceptions and furthered his understanding of the universe which ultimately led to the state of Varjradhara and Perfect Enlightenment.
Upon receiving enlightenment, Naropa was offered the Six Bone Ornaments by Dakinis and flew into the sky.