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The Legend of Kukkuripa, the Dog Lover

The Legend of Kukkuripa, the Dog Lover

The Great Adept, or Mahasiddha, is the ideal figure for the Apocalyptic or Tantric Vehicle, as the individualistic Arhat is for the Monastic Vehicle and the messianic Bodhisattva is for the Universal Vehicle. Each figure symbolizes the goal to be attained by the practitioner of that instrument of Buddhism. Great Adepts are Arhats and they are Bodhisattvas but they are also living Buddhas. Using the purified spiritual technology of the tantras, they have discovered a technique to live as perfect Buddhas on the subtle plane, within their old everyday bodies, within their old communities, and within their old macrocosm. They are exemplars of the tantric stimulation of evolution all the way to Buddhahood, not accepting the fate of the flow of time of ordinary history. Thus their vehicle is truly apocalyptic, in the sense of immediate, or prophetic. They are mystics in the Western perception of the term. Beyond traditional religious denominations, some of them are considered saints of Hinduism, with slight modifications in biography.

Mahamudra arose from Madhyamaka thought, which remains enigmatic, especially during the period when Buddhist concepts were first introduced to Tibet.The noted keepers of the Yamantaka lineage of the Madhyamaka School of Indian Buddhist thought include siddha Saraha, siddha Lawapa, siddha Virupa and siddha Kukuri (also known as Kukkuripa), who was a master of the dream yoga practice of the Mahamaya that is an integral part of the four-fold ancestry fundamental to the ‘Lineage of the Four Commissioners’ (Ka-bab-shi-gyu-pa) from which the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu Order has had its genesis. Kagyu, also known as the “Oral Lineage” or Whispered Transmission school, is today regarded as one of six main schools (chos lugs) of Himalayan or Tibetan Buddhism. Its four-fold lineage is:

  1. The illusory body and transference yogas of the Guhyasamaja and Chatushpitha Tantra, transmitted through Tilopa, Nagarjuna, Indrabhuti, and Saraha;
  2. The dream yoga practice of the Mahamaya from Tilopa, Charyapa, and Kukkuripa;
  3. The clear-light yoga of the Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, and other Mother Tantras, as transmitted from Hevajra, Dombipa, and Lavapa; and
  4. The inner-heat yoga, Kamadevavajra, Padmavajra, Dakini, Kalpabhadra, and Tilopa.

The Mahamaya Tantra text was popularized in India between the 9th and 11th centuries and is most frequently associated with the mahasiddha Kukkuripa, also known as the “dog lover.” A famous thangka portrays Kukkuripa as a “wild yogi” at play among feral dogs.

One of the traditional eighty-four Indian Adepts, eccentric yogi Kukkuripa (recognized in Tibet as Shiwa Sangpo) is a popular character in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism. Both cultures hold the dog in high regard, believe that dogs are closest to humans in reincarnation and that high lamas in particular often reincarnate as dogs. Tibetans adopted dogs like the Lhasa Apso as holy temple guards or good luck charms for monasteries. The Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama often kept dogs as pets and sent dogs as tributes to other kings. It is within this cultural environment that the legend of Kukkuripa, the dog lover, unfolds.

In the Nepalese district of Lumbini called Kapilavastu, near where the Gautama Buddha grew to manhood, there once lived a Brahmin named Kukkuripa. In a quest for enlightenment, by and by he practiced the Buddhist tantra and followed the ascetic path of self-sacrifice, consuming only what little food was donated to him in his begging bowl as he wandered from village to village, soliciting charity from those he met on a plodding journey toward the caves of Lumbini. In the course of his wayfaring one day he heard a faint whimpering emanating from a thicket by the side of the road and upon investigating discovered an infirm and emaciated young dog too ill to raise even her head. Filled with compassion, he gently lifted the sickly dog in his arms and took her with him, gradually nursing her back to health with the meager scraps collected in his begging bowl. In no time at all the dog endeared herself to him with her warmhearted devotion and fidelity. Kukkuripa found an empty cave adequate to both their needs and took up residence therein with his new companion, begging in the country during the day and returning to the cave and his patient guard dog every evening to share with her that day’s sparse offerings.

After twelve years of concentrated introspection, self-examination and chanting of the tantras, Kukkuripa at last attained the mysterious capabilities of foreknowledge and spiritual wisdom. The gods of the Thirty-three Sensual Heavens couldn’t help but notice his high attainment, and persuaded him to banquet with them and partake of the immeasurable joys of their celestial dimension in the Kechara Paradise. Despite all the myriad of pleasures that surrounded him in this ethereal world, still Kukkuripa could not erase the image of his distant affectionate canine companion from his mind, and his heart woefully grieved at the thought of her anguish in his absence. When he attempted to explain the reason for his sad distraction to them, the gods tried to turn him from those thoughts and admonished him for considering the feelings of a lowly animal when he could enjoy infinite utopia with them in heaven. Although they did manage to tempt him to stay a little longer, ultimately he could not bear the incessant heartache and thought of the dog suffering alone without him and so eventually descended from the exalted realm of the gods to return to her and the dingy cave.

The dog was ecstatic upon his return, running tight laps around him and whining with joy as she twisted and lept in the air, wagging her entire body. But no sooner had an overjoyed Kukkuripa clasped his hands to her to scratch and caress her resolute head than she abruptly disappeared before his astonished eyes and in her place was the magnificent Enlightened Dakini Niguma circumscribed by an incandescent angelic aura that illuminated the entire cavern! She spoke to him and congratulated him upon giving up heaven for a lowly dog as it demonstrated his renouncement of attachments and of projections of pleasant and unpleasant sensations. As a reward for his mastery, she assisted him in releasing the final subtle attachment to the non-existent self and attaining the supreme realization of the ultimate paradise of enlightenment.

Thereafter his fame and reputation grew and many came to seek and venerate him for his humanitarian service and teachings. His entourage of disciples grew to a large size before he finally ascended to Kechara the second and final time. He was forever after known as Guru Kukkuripa, the dog lover. Thus Kukkuripa returns to samsara for the sake of all beings.

Kukkuripa is one of the eight iconographically identifiable siddhas inhabiting the charnel grounds, which is entirely a Kagyu and Sakya Tradition phenomena. The Eight Siddhas of the Kagyu Tradition (Kagyu system) are:

  1. Indrabhuti
  2. Nagarjuna
  3. Padmavajra
  4. Kukkuripa
  5. Saraha
  6. Dombi Heruka (not to be confused with Dombipa)
  7. Ghantapa
  8. Luipa

In Tibetan Buddhism and Himalayan art there is no universal system of eight siddhas. The Kagyu and Sakya traditions both have systems of eight siddhas which they occasionally depict in mandala art, but not consistently. In the Sakya and Kagyu systems identifiable siddhas are not always depicted in the same cemetery or direction. Several mandalas exist depicting the Eight Great Charnal Grounds (cemeteries) of India. In the past and present these eight cemeteries were and are considered very auspicious when petitioning wrathful Tantric deities. Although no longer commonly used, the eight cemeteries can still be located and are often destinations for pilgrims from Tibet and Nepal. These Eight Great Charnal Grounds are frequently artistically portrayed with another ring representing the five colored flames of pristine awareness completely surrounding the mandala circle containing the cemeteries.

Kukkuripa figures prominently in the education and enlightenment of Marpa, a Tibetan Buddhist master credited with the conveyance of many Buddhist teachings to Tibet from India. After having crossed a lake of poisoned, agitated water, Marpa arrived on an island of mountains, where terrible monsoons ravaged the land. In this formidable place he encountered the yogi Kukkuripa who appeared to him in human form covered with feathers.

Marpa received from him the tantra of Mahamaya and the three yogas:

  1. The inferior yoga of the indifferentiation of appearance and form;
  2. The profound yoga of the mantra; and
  3. The ultimate yoga of the dharma.

At the moment of his farewell Kukkuripa told Marpa: “The path to meet me was very difficult. By coming here you gave deep meaning to your life.” Kukkuripa prophesied that Naropa (an Indian Buddhist mahasiddha who was either the brother or partner and disciple of Tantric yogini Niguma of 10th century Kashmir) would make Marpa his regent and that he would tame the people of the land of snow (Tibet).