Offering a modern translation of "The Legends of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas," a 12th-century Tibetan text, translator Keith Dowman shares stories of the spiritual adventurers, rebellious saints, and enlightened tantric masters of ancient India known as "siddhas." He shows how the mahasiddhas arose from the grassroots of society and represented an entire spectrum of human experience. Counted among the greatest of the siddhas are a washerman, a cowboy, a thief, a conman, a gambler, and a whore, all extraordinary men and women who attained the goal of their meditations, as well as enlightenment and magical powers, by disregarding convention and penetrating to the core of life.
Recounting the magical and "crazy" deeds of the mahasiddhas, such as walking through walls, flying, talking with birds, and turning people to stone, Dowman reveals the human qualities of the tantric masters and the vital elements of the siddhas' philosophy of nonduality and emptiness. Richly illustrated with paintings of the tantric saints by artist Robert Beer, these stories of the mahasiddhas show us a way through human suffering into a spontaneous and free state of oneness with the divine.
To release water in the ear, Inject water into the ear. To see truth, Contemplate all phenomena as a lie.
Thaganapa was born into a low-caste family in eastern India. Early on, he showed criminal tendencies, and in time his entire life and livelihood came to depend upon exploitation and deception.
One day, he was sitting on a log at the edge of a town plotting a beautiful con job, when a wise monk chanced to pass by.
“Why are you so deep in thought, my friend?” asked the monk. “It’s a long story, venerable sir,” Thaganapa began.
But the monk interrupted. “You’re about to tell me a lie, aren’t you? Haven’t you learned that the more you lie, the more you believe lying is normal, and the more your habit of lying will be strengthened. If you continue on this way, when your karma matures, you will be reborn in hell.
Thaganapa turned pale and began to tremble.
“Lying has physical effects as well, you know,” the monk went on. “Your tongue gets furrowed, your breath stinks, and your speech becomes ineffectual and unconvincing. A liar’s karma makes all fields infertile and the seeds you sow dry and impotent.”
Thaganapa had not heard the doctrine of karma applied to lying before, and the monk’s apt analysis hit home. “You’ve seen right through me,” he admitted. “They call me Thaganapa because I cannot speak so much as a hundredth part of a hairsbreadth of truth. I lie to everybody--no exception. But what can I do about it?”
“Do you think you’re capable of practicing a sadhana?” asked the monk.
“Well, I suppose I could try,” said Thaganapa doubtfully. “But I’ve been lying for so long I don’t know if I can stop.”
“You’re not the only liar since time began,” said the monk kindly. “There are precepts even for those such as you.”
“All right then,” said Thaganapa, relieved. “Go ahead.”
The monk began to give Thaganapa instruction in the yoga called “removing water in the ear by means of water”--a meditation that uses deception as an antidote to deception. Next, he gave him the initiation that matures the immature mindstream. And then the monk taught him these precepts: “All that you see, hear, touch, think you perceive with the six senses, indeed, all that you experience, is nothing but a lie.”
Ignorant that all phenomena is a lie, You say you are a liar. But if knowledge and the knower, The six senses and all that is sensed, Are lies, then what is truth? Childish ignorance of the universal lie Holds falseness to be true. When we tell ourselves that deception is truth We bind ourselves to the round of existence Like the liquid drops on the rim of a water wheel. Therefore contemplate All experience as inherently deceptive, All form as inherently deceptive, All sound as inherently deceptive. In time, you will discover That even your belief in deception is a lie.
For seven years Thaganapa meditated upon all perceptual knowledge as deception. At the conclusion of his sadhana, he gained the understanding that all experience of the phenomenal world is a fiction.
Gaining perfect detachment, he came to see all phenomena as dream, hallucination, castles in the air, reflections of the moon in water, images in a mirror. And with his detachment he acquired the qualities of clarity, control, and equanimity. Thinking that he had gained the ultimate goal, he sought out his guru for confirmation.
The monk said simply, “Experience is neither deception nor truth. Reality is uncreated, indeterminate. Now you must meditate upon your experience of all things as emptiness rendered empty by its very nature.”
Thaganapa obeyed his guru and returned to his practice. His path was one of resolving paradox, of weaving conflicting thoughts and feelings together into a tapestry of the inherent emptiness of all things.
Gaining siddhi, he was known to all as “Master of the Lie,” and he taught those with good karma how to “release water in the ear by means of water.” After many years of selfless service, he was assumed into the Paradise of the Dakinis.
Robert Beer studied Tibetan thangka painting in India and Nepal with Khamtrul Rinpoche, the greatest living thangka painter of his time, and with Jampa-la, the state painter of Tibet. He currently lives with his family in Oxford.
“Robert Beer is a master. His own story of being rescued by Tibetan art is almost as amazing as the stories of the Mahasiddhas.”
– Frank Olinsky, Tricycle Magazine
“A powerful enticement to Eastern thought.”
– Mensa Bulletin
"These are extraordinary, riveting tales. . . a book of high merit and high adventure, a marvel of inspired creation. . . stories through whose cosmic transparency shines the illimitable Buddha-nature."
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