Six Dharmas of Naropa

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The Six Dharmas of Nāropa (Wylie: na ro'i chos drug), also called the Six Yogas of Nāropa,[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 dharmas were intended in part to help in the attainment of Buddhahood in an accelerated manner.

Six Yogas or Six Dharmas?[edit]

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[edit]

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་ལུས, Wylie: sgyu lus S: māhākāyā) – the yoga of the illusory body.[3]
  • ösel (Tibetan: འོད་གསལ་, Wylie: od gsal, S: prabhasvara) – 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་དོ, Wylie: 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[edit]

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, or is kept secret. The forceful projection of the mindstream into the bodymind of another is a variation that consists of elements of phowa, ösel and gyulu.
  • 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.

Many Gelugpa practitioners including Dalai Lamas are expert in the six dharmas of Nāropa.

Physical exercises[edit]

Before engaging in the actual practices of the Six Dharmas, one begins by doing the "six exercises of Naropa". Trülkhor (Tibetan 'khrul-'khor)

  • Filling like a Vase – a breathing technique
  • Circling like a Wheel – rolling the solar plexus
  • Hooking like a Hook – snapping the elbow into the chest
  • Showing the Mudrā of Vajra Binding – moving the mudrā from the crown downwards
  • Straightening like an Arrow – hands and knees on the floor with the spine straight; heaving like a dog
  • Shaking the Head and Entire Body – pulling the fingers, followed by massaging the two hands[10]

Meditation on the body as an empty shell[edit]

Here the body is envisioned as being entirely without substance, appearing in the mind like a rainbow in the sky. This meditation and the physical exercises should be practiced in conjunction with one another.

Stages of meditating upon the actual path[edit]

Inner Heat[edit]

(Tib. gtum-mo) Visualizing the channels, Visualizing the mantric syllables and engaging in the vase breathing technique. This gives rise to five signs: like a mirage, like a wisp of smoke, like the flickering of fireflies, like a glowing butter lamp, and like a sky free of clouds.

Four Blisses[edit]

(Tib. dga'-ba bzhi) Bliss at the throat chakra, supreme bliss at the heart chakra, inexpressible bliss or special bliss at the navel chakra, and innate bliss at the secret place, tip of the jewel.

This is accomplished by relying on two conditions; the internal condition of meditating on inner heat yoga and the external condition of relying upon a karmamudrā.

The Types of Karmamudrās[edit]

  • Karma Mudrā – A woman possessing the physical attributes of a woman, for dull yogis.
  • Jñāna Mudrā – A woman created through the power of one's visualization, for middling yogis.
  • Mahā Mudrā – The images within one's own mind spontaneously arise as various consorts, for sharp yogis.
  • Samaya Mudrā – The mudra experienced as a result of accomplishing the former three.

The above are usually termed the 'four handseals' with only the last one called mahamudra. There are various lists, usually some combination of the following: Action Mudra (Karmamudra), Wisdom Mudra (Jnanamudra), Phenomena Mudra (Dharmamudra), Pledge Mudra (Samayamudra), and Great Mudra (Mahamudra). An action mudra is a woman, phenomena mudra is all appearance, commitment or pledge mudra is tummo, wisdom mudra is the meditation deity, and non-duality is the great mudra.

While many of the traditional lists of types of consorts to seek out for joint practice to gain spiritual attainments are written for males and from a male point of view, there are some rare instructions for these sadhanas and for consort choice from the point of view of female practitioners.[11]

Pure illusory Body[edit]

(Tib. dag-pa’i sgyu-lus) Meditations on all appearances as illusory, dream illusions, and bardo experience.

Actual Clear Light[edit]

(Tib. don-gyi ‘od-gsal) The four emptinesses lead to the experience of clear light during the waking period and during sleep. The four emptinesses are: Emptiness, Very Empty, Great Emptiness, and Utter Emptiness. They are associated with external and internal signs of the appearance of mirage, smoke, fireflies, butterlamp, cloudless sky; and whiteness, redness, blackness, and the clear light of early dawn which resembles a mixture of sunlight and moonlight, respectively.

Union of Clear Light and Illusory Body[edit]

(Tib. zung-'jug) Actualizing the results. The state of a Buddha Vajradhāra.

Transference of Consciousness[edit]

(Tib. phowa grong 'jug)

The branches of that path.[12] There are two ways to practice the transference of consciousness: with a support and without a support.

Separating the body and the mind without a support is achieved through the emptiness of great conceptlessness whereby the mind is not attached to the body and the body is not attached to the mind.

Separating the body and the mind with a support, on the other hand, requires one to imagine the mind as a substance. With awareness one draws the mind up the central channel and then with force expels the mind into the space of the sky.

There are two methods to separate a body and a mind with support: transference in stages, and transference all at once at the time of death.

Transference in stages involves dissolving the sufferings of the six realms into a bindu which ascends the body and travels upwards in the central channel.

Starting under the sole of the feet, each point radiates colored light. Feet: black-hell, joining yellow-hungry-ghosts together at the secret place. At the navel: gray-animals. At the heart: green-human. At the throat: red-demigods, and at the crown: white-gods.

Once the bindu has reached the crown, it has the nature of five colors, corresponding to the last five stages (black is not counted). This bindu then leaves the central channel through the crown and comes to rest inside the heart of a deity that is one cubit above in space.

The mind is rested in equipoise in this state.

Related traditions[edit]

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.[13] Niguma transmitted her teachings to yogini Sukhasiddhī and then to Khyungpu Neldjor,[14] 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.[15]

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. pp. 5.
  3. ^ a b c d e f 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. ^ Verses on the Path Technology: A Supplement by Pakmo Drupa (Tib. Thabs lam tshigs bead ma'i lhan thabs)
  11. ^ For example see the work of scholar Sarah H. Jacoby, Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro (Columbia University Press, 2014), especially chapter 4
  12. ^ A Book of Three Inspirations: A Treatise on the Stages of Training in the Profound Path of Naro's Six Dharmas by Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa
  13. ^ 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)
  14. ^ khyung po rnal 'byor ( b. 978/990 d. 1127 )
  15. ^ Seeking Niguma, Lady of Illusion

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