Virupa was born a crown prince, the son of King Suvarnacakra of the city off Vesasa in eastern India. The court astrologers predicted at his birth that he would develop tremendous spiritual powers and would illuminate the teachings. He was given the name Rupyacakra . As a young child, he entered the famous monastery of Somapura in North Bengal where he received novice ordination from the abbot Vinitadeva and the Acharya Jayakirti. He mastered all the five major sciences and became a great scholar of both Buddhist and non-Buddhist doctrines. It was here that he built a stone temple in which he installed holy images of the Buddha. He established a tradition of making regular offerings to cleanse the misdeeds of his deceased parents. When the temple was complete, he offered a big celebratory feast to the whole monastic community and dedicated the merits.
Having concluded his studies there, he left for Nalanda where the Dharma was firmly established. There he received Bhikhu ordination from the abbot Dharmamitra also known as Jayadeva of Nalanda University. He was give the name Shri Dharmapala. He
continued his study under the tutorship of his abbot who was very pleased with him and gave him many private teachings on Vajrayana practices in general and on Chakrasamvara Tantra in particular. The abbot left instructions in his will that Shri Dharmapala should be
appointed his successor, and asked the monastic officials to show equal respect and honour to his successor as they had Dharmapala was accordingly appointed abbot of Nalanda. He supervised his predecessor's grand funeral ceremony and arranged to have
the entire remains of the abbot transformed into relics which he carefully distributed amongst the various kings, patrons and monks.
Dharmapala practised Chakrasamvara diligently every night according to the secret instructions he had received from his abbot. His days were devoted to teaching and composition. Although he gave teachings on both Theravadin and Mahayana texts, he devoted most of his own time and energy to the esoteric practices of Vajrayana. He continued to practice Chakrasamvara wholeheartedly year after year. However, at the
age of seventy despite so many years of faithful practice, Dharmapala was yet to experience any signs of spiritual attainment. He also had to contend with all his old diseases which plagued his body and his mind. He was saddened and frightened by the constant harm caused by Yakshas and evil-spirits. To add to his general state of
discouragement and frustration, he had been having the most frightful nightmares. In one of these dreams he saw huge a fire burning at the lower end of a vallery and a flood rising from the upper end. He saw hail-storms, glaciers, icicles and icebergs failing from the sky. He saw his Guru, Yidam and spiritual friends hanging upside
down, or with their faces torn apart, noses cut-off, eyes gouged out and dripping with blood.
Not surprisingly, Dharmapala interpreted these dreams as bad omens. He concluded that he must lack the karmic connection to atain realization through the path of Vajrayana in that lifetime. He decided to give up his Vajrayana practices completely. Accordingly,
on the night of the 22nd day of the four lunar month he relinquished his practice of Deity Yoga, and threw his prayer beads into the latrine.
These dreams were actually indications that Dharmapala was about to achieve a major spiritual realization through his Tantric practices. But he had no way of knowing this at the time, so he completely misread the signs. He was unaware that he had already perfected
the Path of Accumulation, the Path of Preparation and was about to attain the Path of Seeing. At that time his vital energy and his mind had merged in the ksa and ma syllables below the Navel Cakra. This had caused the symbolism which appeared so terrifying in his dreams. He failed to recognise the signs of what was happening to him because his
abbot had died before imparting the complete pith instructions. These would have explained the drastic changes occuring in the subtle energy flows within his psychic body and clarified the dream experience.
Shri Dharmapala decided that from then on he would devote his entire time to teaching, writing and other duties for the Sangha (monastic community) instead of spending many hours a day on Deity Yoga meditation practice. However, on that very night he dreamed
that the Goddess Nairatmya appeared before him in the form of a beautiful blue woman wearing heavenly silk garments, and spoke to him thus:
"O noble son, it is not good that you should behave in this manner when you are about to attain the Siddhi. Although all the Buddhas have non-discriminatory compassion, I am the deity with whom you have strong Karmic affinity and I shall bless you to quickly
attain Siddhi. Go and retrieve your prayer beads, wash them with scented water, confess your misdeeds and resume your practice properly."
Then she disappeared. Dharmapala awoke feeling a mixture of regret and joy. He followed her instructions, resuming his practice early that morning. Subsequently the Mandala of the Nirmanakaya aspect of the Fifteen Goddess of Nairatmya appeared before him and gave him
the four complete initiations. He thereupon attained the Path of Seeing of the First Bhumi. He now realised the true significance of his dreams. The rough dreams and visions of Yaksas were
the interdependent manifestations of his mind and vital energies merging into the ksa and ma syllables below the navel Cakra. This was caused by the untying the vein knots which brought about the First Merging of Elements and signs of the vital energies of Candali heat. The
unconventional experiences which appeared to his conceptual mind resulted from the re-adaptation process between the veins and the mind. As a sign of the intermediate Merging of Elements the Candali fire blazes upward and causes the Bodhicitta nectar to flow upward.
Such an interdependent manifestation of internal events would be experienced conceptually by the Yogi as a blazing fire from the bottom of the valley and a flood coming from the upper part of the valley. The forceful circulation of subtle droplets in many minor veins was reflected in the dreams about hail-storms, and the icebergs falling from the sky. The Third and Final Merging of the Elements revealed the bare face of flawless transcendental wisdom. This has the effect of dissolving all attachment to ordinary appearances. These interdependent manifestations were reflected in his dreams as the torn faces of his Guru and Yidams. He came to realise that all those signs had been direct meditative experiences related to the three sequential
mergings of the subtle elements within his body.
Through the timely appearance and guidance of Vajranairatmya, Shri Dharmapala had finally attained realization. From then on, he reached a higher Bhumi each day until in the early morning of the 29th of the same month he attained the Sixth Bhumi. He was now a great Bodhisattva
dwelling on the Sixth Bhumi. His receipt of the four complete initiations confirmed that the continuous flow of the empowerment had not ceased. The attainment of the six Bhumis was confirmation that the lineage of the blessings was unbroken. His failure to recognise previous signs of attainment and his misinterpretation of these signs as bad omens confirmed that he had not received certain pith instructions. This enabled him to realise that the order of the instructions was not wrong. In consequence, Dharmapala's devotion to the teachings was restored and redoubled. He became confident that he would definitely attain the realization of a Fully Enlightened One, as did the Buddha. In this way he was blessed with the Four Whispered
Lineages, which came to be known as the 'Instruction of the Four Whispered Lineages'.
Out of gratitude to his Guru and Yidams, Shri Dharmapala asked his companions to prepare Ganachakra feast offerings. Meat and wine were included amongst the requisite offerings substances. The other monks became apprehensive when they saw the meat and alcohol being
taken into their abbot's quarters. Some of them eavesdropped at his door at night. Depending on the level of purity or impurity of their respective minds, they each saw different things going on in his own room. Some saw the abbot surrounded by fifteen women, others saw only eight. Some saw him surrounded by fifteen lamps, while others could see only eight of them. These nocturnal sightings aroused considerable suspicion within the monastic community. However, the monks dared not speak out for he was their abbot, and his reputation in the wider world was not just untarnished, it was brilliant, like the sun.
In the meantime, Shri Dharmapala had already decided that, in order to avoid any possibility of disparagement to the doctrine which might arise from misunderstandings about his behaviour, he should without delay confess his wickedness. Accordingly he left his room and went before the Buddha image. Removing his Dharma robes and setting down his begging bowl, he declared, "Ame Virupa" which means "I am wicked." Next he went off and adorned his head with flowers and leaves which he took from florists. He snatched radishes from vegetable shops, stuffing some into his mouth and others beneath his armpits. He began frequenting wine bars and brothels. His behaviour caused a scandal and it was not long before the monastic gong was beaten, signaling his dismissal from the monastery for violation of the monastic code of conduct, Virupa responded by singing joyously.
In order to benefit the Buddhadharma and also to rekindle the faith of those who had lost their faith in him, he had admitted his wickedness. After his dismissal he adopted the name "Virupa". He became very famous under this new name and his ordination name "Dharmapala" was virtually forgotten. Hence very few scholars and historians, apart from the Lamdre historians of the Sakyapa tradition, realise that it was the famous abbot Dharmapala who later became Virupa.
Virupa set off Varanasi. When he reached the river Ganges, he spoke the following words:
"I am wicked, so let me pass without touching you, as you are believed to be pure. I do not want to pollute you."
Even as he spoke the waters of the Ganges parted and there appeared before him a dry white path. He walked along the path singing joyously. Some monks had followed him as far as the river. When they saw this amazing feat, they realised that Virupa had already
attained the siddhis. They begged their dismissed abbot for forgiveness and requested that he return to the monastery. Virupa forgave them but declined to return.
He wandered through the forests of Varanasi for a long time. Some sources say this went on for six years, other say six months. Because of his nakedness, his complexion turned bluish and he became frightful to behold. Peasants who saw him reported his presence to the king.
Some thought he was a Hindu Yogi, while others suspected he was a Buddhist Yogi. The king of Varanasi, Govindachandala was a staunch devotee and patron of Hindu Yogis. He wanted to offer comfort to the wanderer should he prove to be a Hindu, but feared the man might
bring harm to his citizens if he turned out to be a Buddhist. Accordingly, he ordered his ministers to investigate the Yogi. However, the ministers could find no clue to his identity. The king then ordered that this mysterious Yogi be brought to the palace so that he could examine him personally. On the way, Virupa indiscriminately devoured many worms, pigeons and butterflies
which he then vomited up and resurrected. The king's men labeled him 'wicked'. He told them that he had no idea how he should behave since they labeled him 'wicked' whether he devoured worms or resurrected them. Virupa was finally brought before the king. The king asked him
many questions, but Virupa answered not a single word. Then the king said:
"Since this Yogi has neither any of the qualities of Vishnu nor any noticeable signs of a Hindu Yogi, chain up his limbs and throw him into the river. He must be a Buddhist Yogi."
The ministers had Virupa thrown into the river exactly as the king had commanded. However, before the ministers returned, the magical Virupa had already reappeared and was standing before the king. This process was repeated many times until finally the king became convinced that the Yogi knew a magical spell to control the water element. The king then ordered all the butchers of the city to stab the Yogi. But their knives and axes became blunt as if they had been
striking rock and failed to inflict even the slightest injury. Next the king's men dug a deep ditch. They buried Virupa and poured molten iron and bronze over his body. Then they dumped soil on top and let many elephants trample over it. Even after all this, he appeared before the king unharmed. At this point, the king developed great faith in Virupa's spiritual power and confessed his misdeeds. Subsequently Virupa converted all the citizens of Varanasi to the Vajrayana path.
After that he left for the south to subdue Bhimesara. On his way he asked a boatman to ferry him across the Ganges. The man declined to do so unless he would pay a fee. Virupa told the boatman that he would offer him whatever would make him happy. He asked the boatman, "Do you want this river to be large or small?" "Sometimes I like this river large, at other times I like it small," the boatman replied. Promising to give him the river itself as payment, Virupa reversed the flow of Ganges by pointing at it with a threatening gesture.The river almost deluged nearby houses and lands. The inhabitants became alarmed that
their property would be destroyed. Knowing that this was due to the power of the Yogi, King Calabhadra and the villagers requested Virupa to return the water to its normal channel. They offered him all kinds of inducements, including gold, silver, cattle, grain and flowers. In response, Virupa burst into song. With a snap of fingers he restored the river to its normal channel. He gave all the offerings he received to the boatman. The man refused the gifts. Instead, he touched Virupa's feet and asked to be accepted as a disciple. The boatman, who later became known as Dombi Heruka, is said to have been a fortunate
disciple with ripen Karma suited to liberation by way of the 'sudden path'. Virupa accepted the boatman as his pupil and the two set of for the south, leaving the villagers to collect the abandoned offerings.
The pair reached Daksinipata near Bhimesara and entered the house of a wineseller named Kamarupasiddhi. They asked for some wine and the wine-seller responded by asking whether they could pay for it. Virupa replied, "Serve me until I am satisfied, then I will pay whatever you want." The wine seller, who was highly skeptical, asked, "But when will you pay?" Virupa drew a line on the floor with his dagger and said, "I will settle the bill when the shadow of this house reaches this line." The wineseller served the two men but Virupa used magical powers to restrain the 'day star' from moving along its usual course. He demanded more and more wine and drank until the tavern was dry. Much time passed but the shadow of the house got no closer to the line. The tavern-keeper was obliged to import wine from the taverns of eighteen great cities to fulfill her part of the bargain.
Although to the amazement of all the tavern-keepers, Virupa drank more than five hundred elephant loads of wine, there was no indication that his thirst was quenched. In the meantime, the town of Daksinipata was plagued with continual daylight and everyone lost track of time. All the inhabitants were exhausted, crops withered in the
fields, lakes and rivers began to shrink and no one had any idea of the order in which events had occurred. Unaware of Virupa's magical powers, the king ordered his ministers to investigate what was stopping the sun. When he found out that all this was
due to the power of the Yogi, the king requested Virupa to let the sun resume its course. Finally Virupa assented, on condition that the king adree to settle his bill. Then he released the sun. By then it was mid-night of the third day after he had stopped
Virupa became known as one who had not only parted the waters of the Ganges on two occassions but had also halted the sun in its course for three days. His fame spread far and wide. Meanwhile he continued his journey to subdue Bhimesara in the south and to find Krishnacarin, a future disciple who it is said was a suitable candidate for the
'gradual path'. Bhimesara was ruled by a Hindu king named Narapati who was a devotee of five hundred Yogis with plaited hair. They worshipped at a massive Shivalinga and at an image of Mahadeva which had been installed by a previous king named Bhayasena.
They sacrificed ten of thousands of buffaloes and goats every year. Virupa arrived among them and wrote many eulogies to the Shivalinga in Sanskrit. The king was greatly impressed with his scholarship. He asked him to become the leader of the five hundred Yogis, an offer
which Virupa found difficult to refuse.
During the regular worshipping ceremonies the Yogis bowed down to the image of Mahadeva and made flower offerings. While this was going on, Virupa would pull out a volume of the Prajnaparamita text which he kept tucked in his hair, and pay homage to it. He never bowed to the image of Mahadeva. The Yogis became suspicious and reported this behaviour to the king. Instead of paying heed to their allegations, the king accused the Yogis of jealousy. "He is such a great scholar and master of the Vedas. It is impossible that such a man does not pay homage to Mahadeva, the king of the gods. You must be jealous of him," the king replied. However the Yogis kept on reporting Virupa's behaviour until at last the king decided he must observe the truth himself by attending one of these ceremonies personally. When he did, Virupa paid his homage to the Prajnaparamita text as usual. The king was amazed. He addressed Virupa, saying, "Why are you not bowing down to the image of Mahadeva?" "Why should I?" replied Virupa. "He cannot bear my homage." The king then said, "There is no one more
powerful than he in the whole desire realm. Why do you say he cannot bear your homage? You must show your respect." "Since I have no choice but to do what the sinful king demands of me, you must forgive me," Virupa said to the image. As soon as he placed his hands together to pay homage and said, "Namo Buddhaya" (I pay homage to the
Buddha), one third of the gigantic image cracked to pieces. When he said, "Namo Dharmaya" (I pay homage to the Dharma), two thirds of the image cracked and when he said, "Namo Sanghaya" (I pay homage to the Sangha), the entire figure crumbled into pieces and fell to the ground.
The king was shocked. With a mixture of fear and faith, he requested Virupa to restore the statue. Thereupon Virupa instantly restored it and placed upon a black stone image of the Great Compassionate One, Avalokiteshvara. He then said to the king, "The statue will remain intact so long as no one removes the image of Mahakarunika. Should anyone remove this, this statue will instantly crumble to bits." Then he left. Amongst the five hundred Yogis was one who was dissatisfied with the behaviour of Tirthikas (heretics). Having witnessed Virupa's wondrous qualities he developed deep devotion to him and became his disciple. This was Krishnacharin of the East who, although never previously a follower of the Buddhadharma, now decided to enter the path.
Virupa and his two disciples, Dombi Heruka and Krishnacharin, wandered further into the south to a district ruled by devout Brahmins. They reached a place where there was a huge image of Shiva, which stood one hundred and twenty feet high. It had been built
by King Jomgi. It was known as 'Tambrapratima'. It had three faces, six hands and was made of bronze. This shrine attracted hundreds of devotees who sacrificed thousands of animals in order to offer meat and blood. As the trio pushed their way into the crowded
gathering at the worshipping ceremony, someone was heard to say, "There is no room for you inside. Wait outside and we will give you your share of the feast." Ignoring this, Virupa entered forcibly and commanded, "If there is no room, it is you who should get
out of this place." So saying, he kicked the statue. The figure followed him, taking seven wobbly steps outside the shrine before crashing down on its face. The terrible devotees then requested Virupa not to take the image away but to leave it behind. Virupa threatened
to remove it unless they gave up animal sacrifices. He said that he would leave it behind on condition that they agree to make only vegetarian offerings in future, and vow never to sacrifice any more animals. The devotees agreed, and vowed as Virupa had commanded.
In this way, all who had heard the name of Virupa placed a Buddhist image on top of their Hindu images, for fear that Virupa might come and destroy them. The very name of Virupa, Baleshvara, the Lord of Power or Yogeshvara, the Lord of Yogis, brought great benefit to limitless living beings. When Virupa saw an image of Goddess Tara placed on top of a Hindu image, he circumambulated the image which turned her face towards him as he walked. This became known as the 'Turning Face Image of of Tara'.
Virupa and his companions continued traveling south. They arrived at a place where there was a self-arisen image of Goddess Chandika, named Sahajadevi which was worshipped by many Hindu Yoginis. This shrine had a Trishula (a three pointed ritual knife) which of its own accord without any human intervention would pierce through the neck of pilgrims killing them as soon as they entered the shrine. The Yoginis would then make offerings of flesh and blood to the image. Virupa knew about this and had come purposely to subdue it. He instructed his two companions to remain outside and perform special breathing meditation. The Yoginis were delighted to see Virupa and asked him to bring his two companions inside with him. Virupa said that they could invite in themselves, if they wished. The Yoginis went and asked the pair to
enter. But neither of them replied. The Yoginis felt the stomachs of the two meditating disciples. Excrement emerged from wherever they touched. The Yoginis concluded that the two were already dead and rotten, so left them undisturbed. Virupa had seen the Trishula knives ready for slaughter and moved very fast as he entered the shrine. He clapped his hands and the knives were instantly pulverised. Immediately the image started jumping towards onto its shoulders. All the Yoginis began vomiting blood and fainting as they saw this unexpected tragedy befall their god. "Aren't you Buddhists meant to be kind and compassionate to other living beings? Please do not do this to us," said the Yoginis when they recovered. "It is due to compassion that I am doing this," replied Virupa.
He placed a small votive stupa on top of the image and admitted all the Yoginis to the practice of Buddhadharma. At this time, the boatman Dombi Heruka, who had been with Virupa since the second parting of the Ganges was blessed to attain the realization of a Bodhisattva at the level of the Sixth Bhumi. Virupa then sent him to Rada province in eastern India to subdue an evil Hindu king named Dehara, who
had a palace named Kangkana. Mounted on a pregnant tiger and brandishing a deadly snake bridle and whip, Mahasiddha Dombi Heruka subdued the king and his subjects. They were all admitted into the path of Vajrayana.
Meanwhile, Viruapa and Krishnacharin traveled to Devikota in south eastern India where an Upasaka named 'Iron-legged', sometimes also identified as the teacher of Acharya Maitreyagupta, had an image of Khasarpani which he had imported from the Potala realm.
Virupa paid homage to Khasarpani and made an offering of all the activities in which he had been involved from the time of his ordination up to the defeat of Sahajadevi. The Great Compassionate One said:
"O! Noble son! You have the magical power to pulverise even Mount Sumeru. Nevertheless there are varieties of sentient beings whose karmic propensities are inconceivable, so you should
cultivate great compassion to the Tirthikas instead of frightening them."
Virupa replied, saying, "There is a place called Sovanatha in the west where thousands of animals are sacrificed every year. I must first of all go there to subdue it. After that I shall
do as the Great Compassionate One has order." The Great Compassionate One advised Virupa to subdue them without force using skillful means. As Virupa and Krishnacharin journeyed towards the west to subdue Sovanatha, the god had discovered Virupa's intention by means of his contaminated clairvoyance.
Sovanatha disguised himself as a pure Brahmin and when he met the two travelers on the road, he asked them knowingly, "Where are you two Yogis going?" "We are going to subdue Sovanatha," Virupa replied, also knowingly."If you are a kind an compassionate Buddhist, why do you have to subdue him?" asked the disguised Sovanatha. "That is the very reason why I need to subdue him," replied Virupa. "He is not there now. He has gone to Purvavideha, the eastern continent," Sovanatha advised. "I will also go there as I must subdue him come what may. Wherever he has gone, whether to one of the four continents or to the realms of the Brahmas, I must go there and subdue him," said Virupa. Hearing this Sovanatha became very afraid and admitted, "I am Sovanatha." He revealed his ordinary manifestation and requested Virupa not to subdue him forcefully. Virupa replied, "In that case you must establish Sangha communities and build Buddhist monasteries. On top of their doors, draw my image and make regular offerings.You can first make rice flour and vegetarian food offerings to the Triple Gem, then to me and finally to yourself if there is any left over. If you abandon the sacrifice of animals and replace that practice with the offerings I have described, I will let you remain there. If you
fail to do this, I will reduce everything to dust."
Sovanatha happily vowed to do all of these things. He requested Virupa to remain in the world until the sun and moon ceased to exist and Virupa agreed. In a dream Sovanatha revealed to King Candradeva of Tishala in western India that the king must see to the accomplishment of all the promises he had made to Virupa. If the king should fail to
fulfill all of Sovanatha's vows within three months, his kingdom would be conquered. Seeing this in the dream, the frightened king hurriedly arranged to give effect to all the promises. Accordingly, the king built a monastery about a half day's journey from Sovanatha in the region of Gujarat, in beautiful surroundings with luxuriant shrubs, waterfalls and flower-filled meadows. About a hundred monks were settled there. He forbade the slaughter of goats and buffaloes,
and made it illegal to kill or harm any animal. With mixed feelings of excitement and curiosity, the king offered a grand reception to Virupa whose power could frighten even Mahadeva.
By this time, Virupa had give the 'Vajra Verses' to his disciple Krishnacharin, who had not yet gained realization equal to that attained by Virupa, and blessed him with this level of realization. He then asked Krishnacharin to fulfill three main tasks:
1. To subdue an evil Hindu king in eastern India;
2. To accept Acharya Damarupa as his disciple and to pass on the whispered lineage
knowledge to him; and
3. To bring out the five scriptures of 'Vajra Verses' from Uddiyana in the west.
There are two versions of Virupa's passing away. Some say he dissolved into a stone image, other says he became a stone image. The image's right hand was in the gesture of holding the sun while the left, in the gesture of granting supreme realization, was holding a container of gold paint capable to transmuting all base metals into gold. The gold paint was said to be the size of a medium sized arura fruit. There are several legends about this stone statue. It is said that:
1. One who approaches the image respectfully, even a small child, can reach high
enough to place flower garlands around its neck;
2. One who approaches disrespectfully, even the tallest person, cannot reach high
enough to place anything on the image;
3. In front of the image is a stone skull-cup which never overfills even if one pours
hundreds and thousands of jars of wine into it;
4. There is a dumb boy believed to be an emanation of Vajrapani in front of the
5. There is a manifestation of Vajra Varahi in front of the image which appears
alternately as a leperess or a dumb girl.
It is said that, at the request of a Brahmin, Virupa (who had transformed into a stone image)
gave the stone paint to a Brahmin, who subsequently made a lot of gold. When the local king,
heard the news, he tried to rob the Brahmin. The Brahmin hurriedly returned the gold paint
stone to the hand of the image and said to the king, "Since it is not mine, I cannot give it to you. I have returned it to the hand of the owner. You can go and get it from his hand if you want it."
The statue closed its fist and did not give the stone to the king. The king, frustrated in his greedy endeavour, ordered his men to cut off the hand of the image. However, the man who attempted to do so vomited blood and died immediately. Following this incident the local people became afraid that the stone image might bring them harm. They consequently enshrined the statue in gold which they obtained by pushing wires through the fingers. This became a most sacred shrine where both non-Buddhists and Buddhists would come to worship. It became known as Punyahara, the robber of merits to the non-Buddhists and Shri Balanatha, the glorious master of Power to the Buddhists. The Hindu god Kumara Karttika was bound by oath to maintain the offerings to the sacred image. This shrine of Sovanatha is said to be situated in the Saurastra district of the modern Gujarat state in western India.