The following article is from the Spring, 1997 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


Translated, edited and introduced by Glenn H. Mullin
200 pp. #RESIYO$ 16.95 May

This collection of readings on the six yogas contains important texts on this esoteric doctrine, including original Indian works by Tilopa and Naropa, and Tibetan writings by Tsongkhapa the Great, Gyalwa Wensapa, the First Panchen Lama and Lama Jey Sherab Gyatso.

The following text by Tilopa is the earliest known work on the Six Yogas of Naropa.


by the Indian Mahasiddha Tilopa

Translator's Preamble

The Indian master Tilopa is regarded as the formulator of the Six Yogas system. He was born in 988 in Bengal to a brahmin family and as a youth helped support his family by tending buffaloes. This work gave him plenty of spare time, and as he sat in the fields with his herds he passed the hours first by learning to read and write, and then by studying and memorizing many of the great Buddhist scriptures. By the time he reached his teens he had become self-educated in the classics.

After he reached adulthood he journeyed to Oddiyana (the present-day Swat Valley of Pakistan), where he received numerous transmissions from a group of female mystics. Later he traveled widely and studied under many different Buddhist masters. He spent years in the intensive practice of meditation and eventually achieved enlightenment.1

His biography states that the main lineages he received and emphasized in his personal practice were the Madhyamaka doctrines and the Guhyasamaja Tantra transmissions descending from the mahasiddha Nagarjuna; the clear light and bardo doctrines of the mahasiddha Lawapa; the Heruka Chakrasamvara lineages descending from the mahasiddha Luipada; the Mahamudra lineages of the mahasiddha Shavari; and the inner heat doctrines of the Hevajra Tantra as transmitted through Krishnacharya.

In his later life Tilopa manifested countless miraculous activities in order to inspire and enlighten trainees. He could stop the sun in its path, shape-shift by changing himself into animal forms, fly through the sky, and visibly manifest tantric mandalas in space. Sometimes he lived quietly as a monk, and at others dwelled with corpses in charnel grounds. To provide conditions by which beings could collect merit he sometimes sustained himself by begging for alms, sometimes by operating a whorehouse.

Tilopa's name, in the colophon to our text spelled Tillipa, means Sesame-seed Man. He earned this name because as a part of his enlightenment path he worked as a pounder of sesame seeds for producing oil, taking his work as a metaphor for how the oil of enlightenment is extracted from the seed of mundane experience. He had many disciples, but the greatest of all was Naropa, to whom he transmitted the Six Yogas that he had formulated.

Several short texts on the Six Yogas that are attributed to Tilopa exist in Tibetan, but only the verse work herein translated was considered authentic beyond question, and therefore was the only one to be included in the Tibetan canon of Indian commentaries, the Tengyur.

Tilopa's text is only a few verses in length but is nonetheless important in that it is the earliest known work on the Six Yogas. It mentions four important lineage masters from whom the Six Yogas had come to him: Krishnacharya, Nagarjuna, Lawapa and Sukhasiddhi. These four are the sources of the longer list given above, as gleaned from his biography.

In the translation I have added subheads giving the name of each of the six yogas. This may perhaps break the flow created by Tilopa's continuous style, but as compensation clarifies the ideas embodied in the work.

Tilopa's arrangement of the Six Yogas seems to be slightly different from that which became popular in Tibet in the Pakmo Drupa Kargyu school and subsequently in the Geluk. He lists them as (1) inner heat yoga from Krishnacharya, whom he refers to as Charyapa; (2) illusory body yoga from Nagaijuna; (3) dream yoga from Lawapa; (4) clear light yoga, also from Nagarjuna; (5) bardo yoga from Sukhasiddhi; and finally (6) the consciousness transference and forceful projection yogas, also from Sukhasiddhi. My subheads indicate how they are grouped in the Pakmo Drupa Kargyu and Geluk schools.

The Oral Instruction of the Six Yogas

by the Indian Mahasiddha Tilopa

Homage to Glorious Chakrasamvara.3

Take advantage of the karmic process4

And extract the essence of the human potential.

Inner Heat Yoga

The yogic body, a collection of energy channels,

Coarse and subtle, possessing the energy fields,

Is to be brought under control.

The method begins with the physical exercises.

The vital airs [i.e., energies] are drawn in,

Filled, retained and dissolved.

There are the two side channels,

The central channel avadhuti,

And the four chakras.

Flames rise from the chandali fire5 at the navel.

A stream of nectar drips down

From the syllable HAM at the crown,

Invoking the four joys.

There are four results, like that similar to the cause,

And six exercises that expand them.

This is the instruction of Charyapa.6

Illusory Body Yoga

All animate and inanimate things of the three worlds

Are like the examples of an illusion, a dream and so forth.

See this at all times, both in movement and in stillness.

Contemplate an illusory deity reflected in a mirror;

Take a drawn image of Vajrasattva, and consider

How the reflected image vividly appears.

Just as that image is an illusory appearance,

So it is with all things.

The yogi thus contemplates the twelve similes

And sees the reality of how all things are illusory.

This is the instruction of Nagarjuna.7

Know dreams as dreams, and constantly

Meditate on their profound significance.

Visualize the seed syllables of the five natures

With the drop, the nada and so forth.

One perceives buddhas and buddhafields.

The time of sleep is the time for the method

That brings realization of great bliss.

This is the instruction of Lawapa.8

Clear Light Yoga

The yogi working with the central channel

Places the mind in the central channel

And fixes concentration on the drop at the heart.

Visions arise, like lights, light-rays, rainbows,

The sunlight and moonlight at dawn,

The sun, the moon, and then

The appearances of deities and forms.

In this way the myriads of worlds are purified.

This most wondrous yogic path

Is the instruction of Nagarjuna.

Bardo Yoga

The yogi at the time of death withdraws

The energies of the senses and elements, and

Directs energies of sun and moon to the heart,

Giving rise to a myriad of yogic samadhis.

Consciousness goes to outer objects, but

He regards them as objects of a dream.

The appearances of death persist for seven days,

Or perhaps as much as seven times seven,

And then one must take rebirth.

At that time meditate on deity yoga

Or simply remain absorbed in emptiness.

After that, when the time comes for rebirth,

Use the deity yoga of a tantric master

And meditate on guru yoga with whatever appears.

Doing that will arrest the experience of the bardo.

This is the instruction of Sukhasiddhi.9

Yogas of Consciousness Transference and Forceful Projection

By means of these yogas, at the time of transference

And also of forceful projection into another body,

The yogi can utilize the mantric seed syllable of the deity

And train in the deity yoga practice in conjunction

With the exhalation and inhalation [of the breath], long and short,

And project consciousness to wherever is desired.

Alternatively, those desiring to transfer to a higher realm

Can apply themselves to two syllables of YAM, and also


Consciousness is thrown to the heart

Of the deity inseparable from the guru,

And from there to whatever buddhafield is desired.

This too is the instruction of Sukhasiddhi.

The colophon: Written from the words of the Mahasiddha Tillipa; translated by the Indian sage Pandit Naropa and Marpa Lodrakpa Chokyi Lotru at the Kashmiri holy site known as Mount Pushpahara. ä_æ