Six Yogas of Naropa

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The Six Yogas of Nāropa (Wylie: na ro'i chos drug), also called the six dharmas of Naropa,[1] are a set of advanced Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices and a meditation sādhanā compiled in and around the time of the Indian monk and mystic Nāropa (1016-1100 CE) and conveyed to his student Marpa Lotsawa. The six yogas were intended in part to help in the attainment of Buddhahood in an accelerated manner.

Six Yogas or Six Dharmas?

Peter Alan Roberts notes that the proper terminology is "six Dharmas of Nāropa", not "six yogas of Nāropa":

"Tilopa briefly described these six practices in a short verse text entitled Instructions on the Six Dharmas. In Tibet these practices became known as the six Dharmas of Nāropa. In English they became known as the six yogas of Nāropa through their being first translated in 1935 by Evans-Wentz in Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, even though Evans-Wentz only referred to them as "six doctrines," which is the equivalent of six Dharmas. The term yoga (sbyor ba) is never used for this set of practices in Tibetan, and they should not be confused with the Kālacaka tradition's group of six practices that are called yogas."[2]


The six dharmas are a synthesis or collection of the completion stage practices of several tantras. In the Kagyu traditions by which the six dharmas were first brought to Tibet, abhiṣeka into at least one Anuttarayoga Tantra system (generally Cakrasaṃvara and/or Vajrayogini/Vajravarāhi Tantras) and practice of its utpatti-krama are the bases for practice of the six dharmas; there is no particular empowerment for the six dharmas themselves. The six dharmas are ordered and progressive, each subsequent set of practices builds on previous attainments.

The Six Dharmas

Though variously classified in up to ten dharmas, the six dharmas generally conform to the following list:

(Tibetan, Wylie transliteration and Sanskrit in parentheses)

  • tummo (Tibetan: གཏུམ་མོ་Wylie: gtum mo S: caṇḍālī) – the yoga of inner heat (or mystic heat).[3]
  • gyulü (Tibetan: སྒྱུ་ལུསWylie: sgyu lus S: māyākāyā) – the yoga of the illusory body.[3]
  • ösel (Tibetan: འོད་གསལ་Wylie: od gsal, S: prabhāsvara) – the yoga of the clear light or radiant light.[3]

These next three are considered the main practices of the completion stage (Wylie: dzog rim, S: saṃpannakrama) in the anuttarayoga tantra.[4][5]

  • milam (Tibetan: རྨི་ལམ་Wylie: rmi lam, S: svapnadarśana) – the yoga of the dream state.[3]
  • bardo (Tibetan: བར་དོWylie: bar do, S: antarābhava) – the yoga of the intermediate state. This is well-known through the Bardo Thödöl. Bardo yoga as the yoga of liminality may include aspects of illusiory body and dream yoga and is therefore to be engaged as an extension of these disciplines.[3]
  • phowa (Tibetan: འཕོ་བ་Wylie: pho ba, S: saṃkrānti) – the yoga of the transference of consciousness to a pure Buddhafield.[3]

Alternate Formulations

Other dharmas, sometimes grouped with those above, or set as auxiliary practices, include:

  • Drongjuk Phowa – Keown, et al. (2003) list a "seventh dharma" that is a variation of phowa in which the sādhaka, by transference (Wylie: grong 'jug), may transfer their mindstream into a recently deceased body.[6] This technique may no longer be extant.
  • Karmamudrā or "action seal" (Wylie: las kyi phyag rgya, erroneously: S kāmamudrā or "desire seal") .This is the tantric yoga involving sexual union with a physical partner, either real or visualized.[7] Like all other yogas, it cannot be practiced without the basis of the tummo yoga, of which karmamudrā is an extension.
  • Self-liberation – Nāropa himself, in the Vajra Verses of the Whispered Tradition, adds the practice of self-liberation in the wisdom of non-duality,[8] which is the resolved view of mahamudra and dzogchen. This is always considered as a distinct path.
  • Yantra – There are many practices and physical exercises called yantras preliminary to tummo yoga. A good example of this is the visualization on the body as being hollow: "here the body and the energy channels (nadis) are to be seen as completely transparent and radiant".[9] This essential technique releases tensions and gives suppleness to the prana channels.

As Nāropa is regarded as a Kagyu lineage holder, the six meditative practices are strongly associated with the Kagyu lineages of Vajrayana Buddhism. The teachings of Tilopa (988-1069 CE) are the earliest known work on the six dharmas. Tilopa is said to have received the teachings directly from Cakrasaṃvara. Nāropa learned the techniques from Tilopa. Nāropa's student Marpa taught the Tibetan Milarepa, renowned for his yogic skills. Milarepa in turn taught Gampopa. Gampopa's student, Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama, attained enlightenment while practicing the six dharmas.[citation needed] The Karmapa, the first figure in Tibetan Buddhism whose reincarnation was officially recognized, has been strongly associated in certain tulkus with particular yogic attributes.

Related traditions

The six dharmas of Niguma are almost identical to the six dharmas of Nāropa. Niguma who was an enlightened dakini, a Vajrayana teacher, one of the founders of the Shangpa Kagyu Buddhist lineage, and, depending on the sources, either the sister or spiritual consort of Nāropa. The second Dalai Lama, Gendun Gyatso has compiled a work on these yogas.[10] Niguma transmitted her teachings to yogini Sukhasiddhī and then to Khyungpu Neldjor,[11] the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage. A translator and teacher in the lineage, Lama Sarah Harding, has published a book about Niguma and the core role her teachings such as the six dharmas of Niguma have played in the development of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage.[12]

In the lineage of Machig Labdron, the practice of Mahamudra Chöd begins with The Yoga of the Transference of Consciousness.


  1. The Tibetan term choe or chos is often translated as "dharma" and has a cognate meaning. The term six yogas or six-branch yoga (ṣaḍaṅgayoga) applies more properly to the sixfold stages of the completion stage of Kālacakra tantra.
  2. Roberts, Peter Alan (2011). Mahamudra and Related Instructions. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p. 5. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 The Art of Dying: Esoteric Instructions on Death and Liberation
  4. Philippe Cornu, Dictionnaire encyclopédique du Bouddhisme. Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2001. 843 p./ p.541.
  5. And also: Readings on The Six Yogas of Naropa. Translated, edited and introduced by Glenn H. Mullin. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca (USA), 1997. 175p./ p.14. This latter is also the main source of the other informations contained herein.
  6. Keown, Damien (ed.) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 270. ISBN 0-19-860560-9
  7. The Six Yogas of Naropa: Tsongkhapa's Commentary by Glenn H. Mullin (Editor, Translator) Snow Lion Publications: 2005. ISBN 978-1-55939-234-1 pg 69[1]
  8. Keown, Damien (ed.) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 0-19-860560-9
  9. Keown, Damien (ed.) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-19-860560-9
  10. 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)
  11. khyung po rnal 'byor ( b. 978/990 d. 1127 )
  12. Seeking Niguma, Lady of Illusion

See also


Further reading

External links

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