The Life of Buddhagupta-nātha

The following post is titled, A Brief Sketch of the Life of Buddhagupta-nātha. By Thomas Roth, a contributing author to the Jonangpa blog.

Jonang Jetsun Rinpoche, better known as Jonang Tāranātha (1575-1635), is well known for the many histories that he authored. Especially his famous History of Buddhism in India, The Seven Instruction Lineages and the Origin of the Tārā-Tantras, as well as his Kālacakra and Vajrabhairava histories, give us a fairly good idea of the development of many siddha lineages in India and their continuation onto Tibetan soil. The source for many of these accounts was an Indian master whom Tāranātha met around the year 1594 near Narthang in Central Tibet, while he himself stayed in a hermitage called “Mahābodhi.” That master was none other than the Mahāsiddha Buddhagupta-nātha, who was a disciple of the very famous Mahāsiddha Shanti-Gupta. Shanti-Gupta’s biography is added as an appendix to Tāranātha’s Seven Instruction Lineages, whereas his biography of Buddhagupta-nātha appears as a separate text.[1]

Buddhagupta-nātha, known as Sangs rgyas Sbas pa’i mgon (16th/17th cent.) in Tibetan, was probably the last Indian siddha of whom we have a detailed account. His two main teachers were Tirtha-nātha and the Mahāsiddha Shanti-Gupta, though he studied under many others. The fact that an Indian siddha should appear so late in Tibet, shows clearly that the often repeated statement of Buddhism, having become completely extinct in India after the 12th century Muslim invasions, is quite incorrect.

Also the famous scholar and yogin Vana-Ratna (Nags kyi Rin chen, 1384-1468), the teacher to such famous Tibetan masters as Gö Lotsawa Shönu Pal (‘Gos Lo tsā ba Gzhon nu dpal, 1392-1481) who was the author of the Blue Annals, and Thrimkhang Lotsawa Sönam Gyatso (Khrims khang Lo tsā ba Bsod nams rgya mtsho, 1424-1482), who traveled to Tibet three times in the 15th century, is further proof of the ongoing practice and study of Buddhism in India after the onslaught of these invaders.

Vana-Ratna was known as “the last great Indian Paṇdita” to visit Tibet. Therefore one could certainly say that Buddhagupta-nātha was “the last great Indian Mahāsiddha” to do so.

Buddhagupta-nātha was the youngest of eight sons of a rich merchant. Already as a child he attended upon his guru Tirtha-nātha and soon resolved to become a yogin himself. He received many empowerments, oral transmissions and liberating instructions from him and spent many years in solitary retreats, focusing particularly on the practices various of Vajrayoginī and Tārā. Later in his life, he also studied under the famous Mahāsiddha Shanti-Gupta. Thus he became an expert in many tantras, their exposition and practice.

He traveled all over India repeatedly, always in search of masters and teachings. Whenever he had received new empowerments and instructions, he undertook intensive solitary retreats in order to master the associated practices. His travels took him as far as Shri Lanka in the south, Indonesia in the southeast and Uddiyana in the northwest.

Buddhagupta-nātha also traveled to many of the small islands off the southern and eastern coasts of India. There he visited Mt. Potalaka where he beheld visions of Ārya Tārā, Avalokiteśvara and Manjuśri.

He then describes the Indonesian archipelago as a thriving center of Vajrayana Buddhism. Tāranātha writes:

From this island (Potalaka) he embarked again and went over a great distance north, till he reached Java-dvipa, Barley island. On that island there are numerous saṇgha communities belonging to the Sendhava Shravaka (i.e. Theravadin) class. He did not stay among them. Also there, in the center of a small lake, was a tiny island by name of Vanadvipa, Forest Island, on which is located a sacred spot blessed by Master Saruroha-Vajra; on the outside appearing like a rocky mountain, and as a square shaped temple within. At its center there is a naturally formed stone image of a two-armed Hevajra.[2]

In one (other) cave there are numerous volumes of Secret Mantra, and it is further stated that it contains copies of five hundred thousand tantras. It is known as an extremely turbulent (place) and hence impossible to inspect, so he told me.

Also Buddhagupta-nātha’s account of his visit to Uddiyana is of great interest, being in all likelihood the last eyewitness account of this fabled land. Tāranātha writes:

Next he moved east to Uddiyana, in the Sanskrit language Omdiyana, in our (Tibetan) language Orgyen (Or gyan). Since in their pronunciation there is no distinction between DA and SA, it sounds like “Oryana.” This has been a source of major confusion in Tibetan writings. Yet since (here is a case of someone) who personally traveled to Orgyen, it is out of the question to counter (his statements) by any compulsive reference to arguments existing in Tibetan. Moreover, in that area itself, the country, in the barbarian language understood there by all, is known as Gadzani. There he reached the great sacred spots: the cave that still contains the robe of Lawa(pa), the ruins of King Indrabhuti’s palace, and Ilo-parvata. Next he resided for one month at Dhuma-sthira, in the very heart of sacred Uddiyana, a town literally meaning “Residence of Smoke.”

Generally speaking, the heartland of Uddiyana, entirely surrounded as it is by mountains, valleys and thick forests, at its center from east to west takes two days to cross, and four from south to north; having Dhuma-sthira for its only town. By Indian standards it is to be viewed as a small town. He (Guru Buddhagupta) further stated that it is similar to Ghama-ghama (?). Not counting the center of the sacred area, its four approaches (‘gates’) as well as the outer regions of Uddiyana are extremely vast. Although they are all barbarian regions, even including the center of the sacred land, and although there are no saṇgha communities there at present, there are groups of yogins without any fixed residence, also lay practitioners, tīrthikas, barbarians and so forth. It further appears that the majority of the women belong to the ḍākinī class, some of whom have achieved great magic power by means of mantra, both for helping and for harming. They assume all kinds of shapes and possess the magical gazes. As they display their miraculous interventions, one notices that those of the ‘bird class’ are extremely numerous. He further said that in lands such as the former Upper Hor, Akaparawa and elsewhere, there are still some people with the magic power for protecting people and transmigrators (in general) by mantra.

In his mid-seventies Buddhagupta-nātha traveled to Tibet where he met the young Tāranātha, upon whom he conferred many transmissions of teachings and tantras which had until then been unknown in the land of snows. Among them were the transmission of the tantras and instructions of Tārāyoginī, the Guhyasamaja according to the tradition of Jñana-pada, the Dohas of Jalandhara, Varahī according to the tradition of Jalandhara, the oral instructions of Kusali and its six branches on the perfection process for Hevajra, and several heretofore unknown Mahāmudrā instructions, to name just a very few. Tāranātha composed a wonderful biography of this master. It ends with his leaving Tibet again via the Kyirong area, where he spent about three months in retreat, and Dolakha in Nepal, back to India.

Tāranātha adds how he later heard from travelers how Buddhagupta-nātha also visited many sacred sites in the Kathmandu valley, before returning to India. There, he was then reunited with his own Guru Shanti-Gupta, staying with him for some time. Buddhagupta-nātha then continued to travel, together with his own students, all over Magadha (present-day Bihar and Uttar-Kandh) and Bhangala (present-day Bengal and Bangladesh). They then moved on to the land of Tripura (present-day Assam and northern Burma) where they stayed for many years.

The last sentence of Tāranātha’s in Buddhagupta-nātha’s biography proper, composed in about 1601, reads:

After that, and up to the present day, he took up his residence in the vicinity of Devikota, so I heard. There are many reports about the wonders occurring on the occasion of (his visits to) each of these countries; but as an overlengthy sacred biography might become a hindrance for one’s understanding, I prefer not to write about them here.

Earlier on Tāranātha describes the siddha thus:

The signs and marks of his accomplishment as a yogin were plainly visible to ordinary eyes. Half the day he remained (in a state) whereby he cut off the flow of his breath, and at practically all times he stayed naked (throughout his stay in Tibet!). Not only did he not experience any harm from this, but his immediate entourage, within a two meter radius, could feel an intense heat, by means of which he was able to protect others from the cold. By cutting off the flow of his breath through mouth and nostrils, he was able to make appear to his eyes and ears whatever he wanted. Also, his feet did not sink on water. He was standing about two fingers above the ground and his bodily splendor would touch every object and remain there for a long time. He possessed the power of seeing others’ secret designs, in a supernatural way knowing others’ minds. His body was light: he would jump down from (a height of) two or three storeys, and like a skin that had been flung down, he landed gently like a feather. He would climb up a steep mountain as if it were flat land. Poison, quicksilver and the like were unable to harm his body. As his mind was abiding in steady loving kindness, dogs and even ferocious carnivores would lick his body and in other ways show their affection. Ravens, little birds and so forth would alight on his lap or onto the tips of his fingers. They didn’t flee when he patted them, but remained where they were, obviously happy. At the time of bestowing an empowerment, he was able to make the wisdom actually descend. In the presence of worthy candidates he would show miraculous occurrences of various kinds, such as radiating light into the maṇḍala. He stood in no need for the food of (ordinary) humans. He lived on (intangible) foods offered to him by non-human beings. When he was engaged in one-pointed deity yoga, the appearances of the present were really cut off and he was one endowed with the wisdom of at all times viewing everything outer and inner as devoid of any basis and as self-liberated. We with the scope similar to that of mayflies, how could we possibly evaluate the limit of his outstanding qualities of body, speech and mind?


1. The two versions at my disposal are titled, The Sacred Biography of Mahāsiddha Buddhagupta: A Straightforward Account Directly from the Majestic Lord’s Own Lips, Unpolluted by Even a Whiff of Things Made-Up,” Grub chen bud+dha gupta’i rnam thar rje btsun nyid kyi zhal lung las gzhan du rang rtog gi dri mas ma sbags pa’i yi ge yang dag pa. Included in the two available redaction of Jonang Tāranātha’s Collected Works: ‘Dzam thang, 17, 279-320 and sTog, 17, 531-575. See also the related posts, Tāranātha’s Descriptions of Tārā and Tārāyogīni Tantra & Practice and the short biography of Buddhagupta in the Masters Database on the Jonang Foundation main site.

2. Most interestingly, such an image has relatively recently been discovered in the course of archeological excavations. It is now kept in a museum in Djakarta.

Blog Category: Research Articles


  1. S.Sooksawasdi on January 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Nihar-Ranjan Ray said in his book, Sanskrit Buddhism in Burma, about the travelling of Buddhagupta in the KOKI LAND. Many old cities of Southeast Asia was pointed out in the KOKI LAND, for example: Pukham (Pagan), Pegu (Bago),Campa (Champa) and Kamboja (Cambodia) etc. But an importance city is HARIBHANJA. Tucci suggested that it should be HARIPUNJAYA in Lan Na, the northern Thailand.
    Do you agree with Tucci suggestion?