Women in Indian Tantric Buddhism, Part Two

Women in Indian Tantric Buddhism, Part Two

Dombipa and Dombi Yogini. Drawing by the author

Tantric women who are mentioned in the biographies of the great mahasiddhas as their spiritual wives or teachers share their spiritual achievement. Among them are the female partners of Dombipa, Ganthapa, Babhaha, Karbaripa, Saraha, Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Maitripa and others.

Dombi Yogini. Drawing by the author

Dombipa was a king from Assam who received instructions for the practice of the fierce protective deity Hevajra from his teacher Mahasiddha Virupa. He met Dombi Yogini when she was twelve years old and took her as his wife. Dombi Yogini received numerous Buddhist teachings and reached a high level of spiritual achievement together with her husband. They are depicted sitting on a tigress, brandishing a venomous snake instead of a whip, proof of their magical powers (Fig. 1). Due to their practice, they transformed into the deities Hevajra and Nairatmya. After Dombipa’s death, Dombi Yogini became a Tantric teacher and taught instructions related to esoteric yoga. Part of her spiritual realization was also her ability to dance on the water of a lake (Fig. 2).

Mahasiddha Ganthapa with his wife. Drawing by the author

Mahasiddha Ganthapa was a prince born near Orissa. He abdicated to become a monk in the famous Nalanda Monastery. Ganthapa abandoned the monastic robes and took the path of a yogi. He received initiation from his teacher Darikapa for the practice of Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi. Together with his wife they realised the practice and achieved siddhis of levitating in the sky (Fig. 3). They attained enlightenment together, demonstrated numerous miracles, and at the end of their lives they reached the Dakini paradise.

Karbaripa with his wife. Drawing by the author

Karbaripa was a mahasiddha from the Himalayan region of Chamba. He was known for his magical power to petrify people. He is usually depicted with his spiritual wife, flying together across the Himalayas sky (Fig. 4). He holds a kapala in his left hand, and his wife grabs his curly hair.

Mahasiddha Babhaha with his wife. Drawing by the author

Mahasiddha Babhaha was a prince of Dhanjur, known as the “free lover.” He was enchanted by the thrills of sensual pleasures. Inspired by a wandering yogi to follow Dharma, he received instructions from him on the practice of Tantric union. Thanks to the practice, he purified the defilements of his mind and attained supreme siddhi in the period of twelve years. Babhaha helped many of his followers and reached the Dakini paradise. His spiritual wife is depicted in a smaller size, smiling and sitting on his left thigh (Fig. 5).

Saraha’s wife. Drawing by the author

Saraha was an eighth century mahasiddha, founder of the Mahamudra tradition in Tantric Buddhism. He was born in East India into a Brahmin family and completed his Buddhist education at Nalanda Monastery. After getting drunk with beer, he received a vision with a bodhisattva telling him to look for a woman who makes arrows. When he met this woman, Saraha was amazed at her meditative concentration in making the arrows. She accepted him as a Tantric partner and transmitted him the teachings that help to see reality as it is. His mystical wife and teacher can be seen depicted in a sitting, royal pose, holding an arrow with both hands (Fig. 6).

Niguma. Drawing by the author

Tilopa was a mahasiddha from Bengal who realised the Mahamudra teachings. His biography mentioned three yoginis as his teachers: Sukhasiddhi, from whom he received Bardo teaching; Matangi, who gave him the practice of resurrecting the dead, and the prostitute Barima. His main disciple was Mahasiddha Naropa, whose wife Niguma (Fig. 7) was one of the most important yoginis in Tantric Buddhism. She passed on her teachings, the Six Yogis of Niguma, to the yogini Sukhasiddhi and then to her Tibetan disciple Khyungpo Naljor, the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu School. Naropa was a teacher of Marpa, a great Tibetan teacher and translator, thanks to whom the teachings of the Indian mahasiddhas were transmitted to Tibet. His student, the great Tibetan yogi and poet Milarepa also helped for this transmission. Marpa and his wife Dagmema lived in southern Tibet. Another teacher of Marpa was Mahasiddha Maitripa, also associated with the teachings of Mahamudra. His wife and teacher Gangadhara was also a notable yogini who had magical powers to transform her body into various animals.

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