Tilopa was born into the brahmin (priestly) caste – according to some sources, a royal family – but he abandoned the monastic life upon receiving orders from a dakini (female buddha whose activity is to inspire practitioners) who told him to adopt a mendicant and itinerant existence. From the beginning, she made it clear to Tilopa that his real parents were not the persons who had raised him, but instead were primordial wisdom and universal voidness. Advised by the dakini, Tilopa gradually took up a monk’s life, taking the monastic vows and becoming an erudite scholar. The frequent visits of his dakini teacher continued to guide his spiritual path and close the gap to enlightenment.
He began to travel throughout India, receiving teachings from many gurus:
During a meditation, he received a vision of Buddha Vajradhara and, according to legend, the entirety of mahamudra was directly transmitted to Tilopa. After having received the transmission, Tilopa embarked on a wandering existence and started to teach. He appointed Naropa, his most important student, as his successor.
According to Ken McLeod, the text contains exactly six words; the two English translations given in the following table are both attributed to him.
|First short, literal translation||Later long, explanatory translation||Tibetan (Wylie transliteration)|
|1||Don’t recall||Let go of what has passed||mi mno|
|2||Don’t imagine||Let go of what may come||mi bsam|
|3||Don’t think||Let go of what is happening now||mi shes|
|4||Don’t examine||Don’t try to figure anything out||mi dpyod|
|5||Don’t control||Don’t try to make anything happen||mi sgom|
|6||Rest||Relax, right now, and rest||rang sar bzhag|