The Legends of the 84 Mahasiddhas 

Buddhist Digital Resource Center

A selection from the Biographies of the 84 Mahasiddhas, as recorded by twelfth century Indian scholar Abhayadatta Sri and translated into Tibetan By Möndrup Sherab. This beautifully illustrated text displayed in this exhibit tells the stories of the 84 great masters, their paths to enlightenment and the miraculous occurrences that marked their lives.

The Legends of the 84 Mahasiddhas
 The Mahasiddhas are those who have, in a single lifetime, achieved direct realization of the Buddha's teachings. They come from all walks of life– they are kings and slaves, daughters and sons, monks and laymen. Their tales suggest that, no matter the conditions of one's life, total realization can be attained in a single lifetime.  This manuscript is made available to TBRC by the Cultural History of the Western Himalaya Project,"Tibetan Manuscripts," at the University of Vienna. 

Tilopa is credited as the historical founder of the Mahamudra method of meditation. According to his hagiography, It was while working in a brothel as a solicitor at night and grinding sesame seeds during the day that he had a vision through which he received, instantaneously, the entirety of Mahamuda.

Naropa was the main disciple of Tilopa, in whom he had infallible faith and devotion. Like his teacher, he made a significant contribution to the system of Vajrayana. Here he is depicted wearing a robe of human flesh.

As an offering to their teacher, Mekhala and her younger sister decapitated themselves with the “sword of pure awareness” and sang from their disembodied heads a beautiful song for their guru. Their teacher, Krsnacarya, replaced their heads squarely and the sisters came to be known henceforth as the Headless Yoginis.

Nagarjuna was the founder and main expositor of the Madhyamaka school of Buddhist philosophy. He is also recognized as a tantric siddha and alchemist, deriving his name - “Naga Master”- from his jouney into the Naga (snake-being) underworld to recover the Prajñāparamitā scriptures which, according to legend, had been left with the Naga kings for safe keeping. Here he is depicted with his characteristic iconographical halo of snakes.

In the legend of the Siddha Kukkuripa, it is his compassion and love for a starving dog (a dakini in disguise) that serves as both the impetus and the demonstration of his profound realization.

After years living as both a dedicated practitioner and laywoman, Manibhadra attained sudden realization upon the shattering of a clay pot.

Mīnapa - sometimes called the "Hindu Jonah" - was a fisherman swallowed by his own catch. While in the belly of the fish, he happened upon his guru who was giving secret initiations at the bottom of the sea. Through no intention of his own, Minapa was given initiation and took up the practice with vigor, practicing for twelve years inside the leviathan before being cut free by a fellow fisherman, whereupon he was greeted as a saint and Siddha.

Samudra derived his livelihood by combing the beach for pearls which he sold at the market. One day, unable to find a single pearl, he wandered dejected to the charnel grounds where he encountered the yogin Aciṅtapa, who reminded Samudra of the state of things – ubiquitous and relentless suffering – and instructed him in the four boundless states of mind, and the four internal joys.

Thaganapa was a crook and a compulsive liar. Through the intervention of a mendicant monk, who explained to him impact of his lies - the ripening of his karma and inevitable rebirth in the hell realms - Thaganapa set out to undertake spiritual practice. He was given initiation in the teachings called "removing water in the ear by means of water" - a "like-cures-like" method of tantric practice by which he realized emptiness, and that ultimate reality was neither deception nor truth.

Godhuripa was a bird catcher who, ashamed for his violent means of livelihood, released the songbirds from his catch and sought initiation from a wayfaring yogin. The yogin instructed him in the meditation that gathers all the sounds in the world into a single bird-song.

Shantideva lived during the 8th century and composed such seminal Buddhist works as the Śikṣāsamuccaya and the Bodhicaryavatara.

Credits: Story

Curatorial Team:

Emma Lewis
Devin Zuckerman

This manuscript is made available to TBRC by the Cultural History of the Western Himalaya Project,"Tibetan Manuscripts," at the University of Vienna.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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