Enlightenment – Chapter 53: Songs of the Siddhas

A The last centuries of Buddhism in India (roughly the ninth to twelfth centuries) saw the rise of figures called siddhas, a term which might be translated as ‘accomplished ones’ or ‘adepts’. Their name derived from their possession of magical powers (siddhi). The lists of such powers varied, but typically included such things as the ability to extend one’s lifespan, to find buried treasure, to fly, to become invisible and to transmute base metals into gold. These would sometimes be classed as mundane powers, in contradistinction to the supramundane power, buddhahood. They gained these powers through the performance of tantric rites, sometimes performed in cemeteries and other powerful places of pollution. These rites often entailed the eating of flesh, the drinking of liquor, and engaging in sexual acts with low-caste women – all considered contaminating deeds in traditional Indian society. Those who are said to have attained these powers came from all strata of Indian society, including the priestly, princely and merchant castes, but also, and most famously, from outcaste groups such as weavers, fishermen, hunters, sweepers and even tribal peoples. The social class of the siddhas and the deeds they performed suggested, among other things, their disregard for and even transcendence of worldly (and monastic) conventions of propriety and morality. This was the source of their authority, and their powers attracted the patronage of kings and princes. Stories of their lives circulated widely and there developed standard lists of siddhas (some of whom were certainly historical figures), the most famous of which enumerated eighty-four such masters.

Numerous works attributed to the siddhas have been preserved. Some are commentaries on tantric rituals, others are songs. They are often written in the first person, and in a language other than the perfected language of Sanskrit – in vernaculars like Old Bengali and Apabhramsa (as in the selections here). They were also often written in what has been called *coded language’ (sandhyabhasa), in which certain ordinary terms were regarded as having esoteric meanings.

Thus, a river might connote the central energy channel that passes from the crown of the head to the base of the spine. Like all codes, however, some are easier to interpret than others, and traditional exegetes have sometimes used the notion of coded language to discover scholastic doctrines in the most outrageous statements, raising the perennial question of authorial intention.

Selections from two famous siddhas appear here, drawn from texts called the Dohakosa or *Treasury of Songs’ and Caryagiti, the *Songs of Practice ’. The first is attributed to the siddha (and monk) Kanha who, according to one account, died in a violent match of magic with a young girl; he dropped his guard when onlookers protested that Buddhist yogins should not kill others with their spells. More than sixty works are ascribed to him. The other siddha is the famous Saraha, a monk who is said to have been expelled from the monastery for drinking alcohol. He took a young woman of the arrow-making caste as his consort and learned to make arrows himself; he is commonly depicted holding an arrow. He is the author of some two dozen works preserved in the Tibetan canon, the most famous of which are his songs (doha) delivered to a king and queen and to their people.

Although the songs selected below are, compared to others of the genre, relatively straightforward, they require far more commentary than can be provided here. They make mention of many of the most important themes of the genre. These include the recognition of the natural purity of the mind; the description of the ultimate reality as innate (sahaja); the goal of achieving great bliss (mahasukha); and the importance of the sexual partner in the path to that goal. Other songs employ coded language, referring to yogic practices in the vocabulary of the boat and of the chessboard. But much here is also apparently familiar, proclaiming, as in the ancient’Rhinoceros Horn Sutra’ (see Chapter 28), that all fetters are made by the mind. Here, Kanha compares the mind to a camel. When it is bound, it runs in all directions. When it is free, it is still.

From Kanha’s Dohakosa

If the word of the master enters the heart, it will appear like a treasure in the palm of one’s hand. Saraha says, ‘The world is shackled by falsehood. The fool does not look into his own nature.’

Without meditation, without going forth from the householder’s life, one may live in one’s own home in the company of one’s wife. ‘If one is not released while enjoying the pleasures of sense,’ Saraha says, ‘what shall you call perfect knowledge?’

If it can be perceived directly, what is the use of meditation? If it is hidden, one will only fathom a dark abyss. Saraha cries out repeatedly, ‘The nature of the innate (sahaja) is neither existence nor non-existence.’

That through which one dies, is reborn, and moves from one life to another, through that indeed one attains the supreme great bliss. Although Saraha speaks these profound and mysterious words, this feral world seems to lack all understanding.

What is the use of meditating on that which exists apart from meditation? What is the use of explaining that about which one cannot speak? The whole world is shackled by the forms of existence, so that no one can penetrate his own nature.

Not only the mantra or the tantra, meditation or concentrated states of mind, rather all of these, O fool, lead you astray. Do not sully with meditation a mind that is already pure. In a condition in which you are already happy, do not cause yourself so much torment.

Eating, drinking, enjoying pleasures, bringing offerings again and again to the wheel of the mandala – with the practice of these dharmas one reaches the world beyond. The world of becoming is crushed under the feet of the master!

Where neither mind nor wind roam, where neither sun nor moon enter, there, O fool, bring your mind to rest. This is the teaching imparted by Saraha.

Make it be one, do not make it two. Make no distinctions between the vehicles. Paint all of the threefold world with the single colour of great pleasure.

In it there is no beginning, no middle, no end; no process of becoming and no nirvana:, in this supreme great bliss there is no self or other.

In front, behind, in the ten directions, everything you see is reality. If you become free from error today, ask nothing more from others.

There where the sense faculties dissolve, where the innate self nature is shattered, there, my friend, is the body of the innate. Ask clearly of your venerable teacher.

Where mind dies, where breath stops, there you will find the supreme great bliss. It is not found elsewhere, says Saraha.

One does not know anything but himself. Oh! Make no mistake about this. Existence and not existence are the bonds and the good path as well. O yogin, know your own mind exactly as it is; it is like water mixed with water.

Oh! Why search in vain liberation through meditation? Why do you take on the net of illusion? Believe in the truth of the instruction of the best among the masters. This is the teaching imparted by Saraha.

Look at the sky and at first it seems clear, but the more you look at it the more your sight becomes blurred. In the same way effort is useless, the fool does not realize that the problem is in his own mind.

The flaw of pride does not allow you to see reality. This is why, like a demon, you vilify all the vehicles. Everyone is led astray by meditation. No one looks into his true nature.

One cannot see the ground of mind. In the innate, all three are false. My son, dwell where this arises and ceases.

The one who meditates on this groundless reality, will attain it through the instructions of his master. Saraha says: ‘You must see that the variegated forms in the circle of existence are a form of mind.’

Words cannot grasp its true nature. It cannot be discerned by the eye, except with the aid of the master. It does not have an atom of impurity, both dharma and what is not dharma are made pure and enjoyed.

When one has purified his mind, the master’s good qualities enter the heart. Saraha has known all this in his mind, and sings paying no attention to tantra or mantra.

One is shackled by karma. When one is free from karma, the mind is free. And he whose mind is free surely gains the supreme nirvana.

Mind is the seed of everything, from which sprouts both existence and nirvana. Pay obeisance to it, for, like the wish-fulfilling gem, it gives you the fruit that you desire.

If the mind is shackled, one is also shackled. When it is free, one is also free. There is no doubt about this: that which shackles the ignorant liberates the wise immediately.

When bound it runs in all directions, but released it stays still. Consider the camel, my friend, to see the same paradox.

Saraha Caryaglti 22

People of the world on their own again and again construct existence and nirvana, creating non-existing shackles for themselves.

We cannot understand the inconceivable: how birth, death and existence come about.

As birth is, so is death; between the living and the dead there is no difference.

If one is afraid of birth and death, then one should base his hope on the elixirs of immortality.

Those who wander on this earth inhabited by moving and unmoving creatures, and those who wander in the heavens will not be free in any way from old age and death.

Does karma arise from birth? Or is it birth that arises from karma? Saraha says: ‘This dharma is beyond understanding.’

Caryaglti 38

The body is the boat, mind is the oar. Hold steady the rudder that is your good teacher’s instruction.

Hold your mind motionless, while steadily steering the ship, O boatman. There is no other way to reach the other shore.

The boatman tows the boat with a rope. Leave it behind. Otherwise you cannot approach the innate.

This is a dangerous crossing: powerful pirates await. We are flooded by the waves of existence.

There is one that sails against the swift current by following the shore. Saraha says: ‘He has reached the heavens.’

Caryaglti 39

Even in dreams, O my mind, you delight in ignorance by some inherent flaw of yours. As the master’s words blossom, how can you remain in this state?

How wonderful! The heavens arise from hum! You have taken a wife in Bengal, and consciousness has gone to the other shore.

Oh, the illusion of existence is marvellous! It appears as both self and other. Indeed, the world, like a reflection on water, is an inherently empty self.

Although you have ambrosia, you swallow poison. O mind, you are a self at the mercy of others. At home or across the sea, oh, what have you understood? I shall devour the evil ones.

Saraha says: ‘It is better to have an empty stable than a bad ox. Oh, alone after I have destroyed the world, I will roam freely.’

From Kanha’s Dohakosa

The whole world is intertwined with body, speech and mind; it is pervaded from afar. The secret is that the great bliss and nirvana are one and the same thing.

One should not chant mantras nor carry out the rituals of the tantras when one takes one’s own wife and makes love. Waiting for the wife to enter the house, how much can one enjoy the five colours?

Chanting and making fire offerings, carrying out the mandala consecration, in which practice do you dwell day after day? Without your constant love, O young maiden,

For one who awakens and understands that which is innate in this very instant, what good will the Vedas and the Puranas do? He has broken open the whole expanse of the world of the senses.

He makes the jewel of the mind immobile when he takes his own wife. Indeed he is the master Vajradhara. This I have said is the ultimate goal.

Just like salt dissolves in water, in the same way dissolves the mind of him who takes his own wife. Each instant has the same taste, if he is always with her.

From Kanha’s Caryas Caryaglti 7

The path is blocked by vowels and consonants. Seeing this Kanha feels dejected.

Where shall Kanha go to dwell? The field where the mind walked is now indifference.

‘They are three. They are three and they are not different,’ says Kanha, for whom existence has been cut off at the root.

The very same that came, are now gone. Kanha feels dejected with this coming and going.

O Kanha, you must see that the city of the conquerors is near. Kanha says, ‘It has not entered my heart.’

Caryaglti 9

Shattered are the solid pillars of the word evam [thus]. Cut off are the many bonds.

Kanha frolics, drunk with wine. He has entered the lotus bed of the innate, he is at peace.

As when a bull elephant lusts for the female elephant, the elephant of the mind in rut pursues suchness.

Beings in the six destinies of rebirth are all inherently pure. In being and non-being not even a single hair is disturbed.

Stealing the jewel of the lord of the ten powers, tame the elephant of knowledge. You will meet no hindrance in the ten directions.

Caryaglti 12

On the board of compassion play chess with the pawns of existence. With the words of the true master the pawns are defeated.

With a double move you crush the king. Moving towards the castle, O Kanha, the city of the conquerors is near.

First, the pawns are destroyed. Then, defeated by the elephant, five pieces are thrown away.

The minister keeps the king in check; rendered powerless, the pawns of existence are overcome.

Kanha says: ‘I have the upper hand. I have moved through all sixty-four squares, and have gained possession of the board.’

Caryaglti 13

He takes the three refuges as a ship with eight compartments. His own body is compassion, emptiness his consort.

He crosses the ocean of existence, like a magical apparition or a dream. In the middle of an ocean current he perceives no waves.

He takes the five tathagatas as his oars. Kanha raises the body from a net of magical apparitions.

In the stern of emptiness, mind is the helmsman, with him at his side, Kanha has gone to great bliss.

Translated by Luis O. Gomez, from the apabhramsa text edn., in M. Shahidullah, Les chants mystiques de Kanha et de Saraha (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1928), pp. 87-8,111-16, 131-9, 229-32.

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

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