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Nāropa (1016-1100?)[1] was an Indian scholar and tantric practitioner whose teachings influenced the trantric lineages of Tibet. His tantric teachings were transmitted to the Tibetan translator Marpa, who brought Naropa's teachings to Tibet.[1][2] Marpa in turn transmitted these teachings to his own students, including the famous yogi Milarepa.[1]

Naropa's teachings are most closely associated with the Kagyu school of Tibet. His instructions called the Six Yogas of Naropa are central to the Kagyu lineage. His teachings are also influential in the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

He was the disciple of tantric master Tilopa. Naropa is considered one of the eighty-four mahasiddhas within the Tibetan tradition.


Ruins of Nalanda Mahavihara

According to tradition, Naropa was born into a Brahmin family in Bengal.[3] His family arranged for him to marry at a young age, but he left the marriage after eight years. In 1049, Naropa entered the famous monastic university at Nalanda, where he studied both sutra and tantra. He gained the reputation of a great scholar and faultless debater. He eventually gained the title "Guardian of the Northern gate", in which capacity he engaged in many debates and won over many students.

According to Naropa's traditional spiritual biography (namtar), one day, while he was studying, a dakini appeared to him and asked if he understood the words of the Dharma, Buddha's teachings. He replied that he did and when she seemed happy with his response, he added that he also understood their meaning. At this point the dakini burst into tears, stating that he was a great scholar, but also a liar, as the only one who understood the teachings was her brother, Tilopa. On hearing the name "Tilopa", Naropa experienced an intense feeling of devotion, and he realised he needed to find the teacher to achieve full realization.

Naropa then abandoned his studies and his position at the university and set out to find Tilopa. Naropa then underwent what is known as the twelve minor hardships in his quest to find his teacher, all the hardships being hidden teachings on his path to enlightenment. When he finally met Tilopa, he was given the four complete transmission lineages which he then began to practice. While studying and meditating with Tilopa, Naropa had to undergo a further twelve major hardships, trainings to overcome all the obstacles on his path, culminating in his full realisation of mahāmudrā. Naropa spent a total of twelve years with Tilopa. At the bank of Bagmati River in Nepal, on the site of the Pashupatinath Temple, there is the cave where he was initiated by Tilopa and attained siddhi.

Later in his life Naropa stayed in Phullahari, where he died aged 85. Phullahari or Pullahari was located most likely in eastern Bihar or Bengal.[4]

Naropa is remembered for his trust and devotion to his teacher, Tilopa.


According to scholar John Newman, "the Tibetans give Nāro's name as Nā ro pa, Nā ro paṇ chen, Nā ro ta pa, and so forth. The manuscript of the Paramarthasaṃgraha preserves a Sanskrit form Naḍapāda (Paramarthasaṃgraha 74). A Sanskrit manuscript edited by Tucci preserves an apparent Prakrit form Nāropā, as well as a semi-Sanskritic Nāropadā (Tucci 1930:150 & 152)."[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Nāropa.
  2. Some traditional Tibetan accounts relate that Marpa was a direct student of Naropa, other accounts suggest that Marpa received the teachings from disciples of Naropa. For example, the Princeton Dictionary states the Naropa died before Marpa made his first journey to Tibet. See Buswell and Lopez (2014); Davidsohn (2005)
  3. Richard Robinson. The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction. 
  4. Davidson, Ronald M. Indian Esoteric Buddhism. Columbia University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-231-12618-2.
  5. The Outer Wheel of Time: Vajrayāna Buddhist Cosmology in the Kālacakra tantra, by John Ronald Newman. PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin—Madison:1987 pg 105 n.97


Further reading

  • The Life and Teaching of Naropa by Herbert V Gunther. Shambhala Publications 1999 Massachusetts. ISBN 1-56957-110-4
  • The Life of Marpa the Translator, Seeing Accomplishes All. Tsang Nyon Heruka Translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee. Shambhala Publications 1995 Boston. ISBN 1-57062-087-3 (pbk.)
  • The Life Story of Naropa by Kenpo Chodrak Rinpoche. Published in Kagyu Life International No's 3 & 4,1995 San Francisco.
  • The Golden Kagyu Garland, A History of the Kagyu Lineage, adapted by Bruce Tarver. Published in Buddhism Today Issue 15, 2005
  • 2nd Dalai Lama. Tantric Yogas of Sister Niguma, Snow Lion Publications, 1st ed. U. edition (May 1985), ISBN 0-937938-28-9 (10), ISBN 978-0-937938-28-7 (13)
  • Naropa by Satyananda Giri. Strategic Publishing Group, 2011. ISBN 978-1-61204-448-4