Shakya Statues Trade

Guru Tilopa

Guru Tilopa - Master of Mahamudra

Tilopa was an acclaimed spiritual teacher who lived in the Bengal region of India/Bangladesh around 1000 A.D. Although born into the Brahmin priestly caste, he adopted the lifestyle of a wandering mendicant upon the direction of a celestial dakini who advised him throughout his life. After traveling and practicing for twelve years, he received a vision of the Buddha Vajradhara during a solitary meditation retreat. Vajradhara blessed Tilopa with a direct transmission of the entire Mahamudra teachings. These teachings describe a set of profound spiritual practices designed to shorten the path to enlightenment. After receiving these instructions, Tilopa began to teach and to accept disciples. His most important student was Naropa, to whom Tilopa gave a number of famous lectures, including the Six Words of Advice and the Ganges Mahamudra. Tilopa's teachings still survive today, handed down via Naropa to Marpa and then to the Kagyu lineage.

Tilopa is a somewhat eccentric, though brilliant, character in the history of Buddhism. He did not adhere to any prescribed school of spiritual training, although he studied with most of the great teachers of his time. He is one of the 84 recognized Mahasiddhas - a human, but also a supernatural being, due to his demonstrated attainment of miracle powers. He is a powerful and mysterious figure who unraveled the secrets of life, death and rebirth largely through his own determination, earning him the assistance of several celestial Buddhas.

His profound insights come down to us today via his dedicated and long-suffering student Naropa. In order to instruct Naropa and demonstrate truths that are beyond words or descriptions, Tilopa placed Naropa in several shockingly difficult situations. One such situation is the basis for a widely recognized symbol of Tilopa - the golden fish - which he holds in his left hand in this sculpture.

Gestures and Attributes

Although the fish is universally recognized as a symbol of the spiritual life, in this case a specific legend also applies. It is said that Tilopa was once cooking a fish when his disciple Naropa arrived on the scene. Naropa reproached his teacher for killing a sentient being, causing Tilopa to respond by restoring the fish to its original state. Tilopa then relaxed his grip on the fish, whereupon it rose heavenward and disappeared in a shower of rainbows. Tilopa's point was not only that things are not always what they seem, but also that the fish is a profound metaphor for sentient beings caught in the ocean of samsara. As an enlightened teacher, Tilopa has the ability to guide disciples out of the samsaric ocean to escape suffering and rebirth. Thus the symbolism of the fish in this statue will be especially meaningful to students of Tilopa's teachings.

In his right hand, Tilopa holds a skull bowl or kapala. This traditional Buddhist implement symbolizes Tilopa's miracle powers and spiritual attainments, and specifically indicates that he has conquered death and rebirth. It also serves as a constant reminder of the truth of impermanence.

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