The great Siddha yogi Kanipa was one of most remarkable personalities amongst the Māhasiddhas of the Tantrik traditions of India and Tibet. In different stories he appearing under various names, as Kṛṣṇācārya, Kṛṣṇāpāda, Kānhupāda, Kānphā, Kaṇha-pa, Kāṇha, ācārya Caryāpa, Kaniphanāth, Kānarī-nāth?, Kānupā and more. It is seems as the established historical fact that he was the chief disciple of the Natha Siddha Jalandhar Nath, and live at the same period of time with the Guru Goraksh Nath, whom he have met few times. He appeared as the remarkable and powerful yogi in the Indian Śaiva tradition of the Nātha yogis and in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of the Vajrayana Māhasiddhas. The both traditions agree that he was prominent Siddha yogi and at the same time paṇḍita (highly learned man), and had lot of disciples.
Legends: There exist three principal legends about him considerably different from each other, one which was circulating as oral tradition amongst the Nātha Yogis and in the form of folklore tales, and second was presented in the book Caturaśīti-siddha-pravṛitti amongst the stories of eighty-four Mahasiddhas under number 17. The third variation of his biography was presented by Lama Taranatha in two of his books ‘The Seven Instruction Lineages’ and ‘The Live of Kṛṣṇācārya/Kāṇha’.
In the natha version of his story he is shown as being very powerful, but arrogant Nātha Yogi, who eventually enters into the conflict with Goraksh Nath and afterwards tries to challenge him few times, but always loosing contest. There exist endless interpretations of this legend, varying in details in bigger or lesser degree, but having the same main line of narration.
In the second story Kānupā has shown as the Vajrayana Siddha, the disciple of Jalandhari-pa, who initiated him into Hevajra mandala sadhana. After practicing it, he achieving extraordinary yogic powers and becomes intoxicated by them, and likes to demonstrate them everywhere indiscriminately. At the end he punished for his arrogance by some sorcery girl, whose fatal curse causing him to die. There is no any mention of Guru Goraksh Nath in the second tale. Both these stories are different from each other, but have some parallel places in them, and it seems that author of one of them was aware of existence of the other story, but it difficult so say which of them preceded other.
As it is common with the biographies of the most Siddhas, there very less reliable information available about his birth place and family he belonged. In accordance with Caturaśīti-siddha-pravṛitti, he was born at the place called Soma-purī, and was from caste of clerks (Brahmin). In the beginning of his career, he became a monk at Somapuri Vihara (modern Pahāṛpur, district Rajshahi of Bengal), built by raja Deva Pāla. Later, he was initiated into Hevajra mandala sadhana by his Guru Jalandharipa, was practicing it for more then twelve years before achieving success. He have lot of disciples to whom he used initiate ‘into mysteries of Vārāhi without head’, or Vajra-vārāhi with her consort Śrī Heruka. The second geographical mention found in the same book is that he has undertaken a missionary travel to Sri Lanka, accompanied by three thousands of his disciples. After this he went to the place called Salaputra, in accordance with the text ‘the place of Jalandhara, where righteous king Dharmapala was ruler.’ About his death it is told that he died at the city situated somewhere ‘in the eastern region from Soma purī at distance about hundred yojans”, at the house of Dakini Mandhe. However there exist many more opinions about the details of his biography expressed by different scholars.
Most extensive account of his life was given by the famous Tibetan historian Lama Tara Natha in two his works, ‘The Seven Instruction Lineages’ and ‘Live of Kṛṣṇācārya/Kāṇha’, which vary in details from above mentioned. In the book The Seven Instruction Lineages author says that popular belive existed at his time among Tibetans was that Kṛṣṇācāri was born in the country called Karṇa, while in accordance with the oral tradition existed amonst Natha Yogis at that time, he was born in the city Pādyanagar, which also was called Vidyānagar (Vijayanagar). ‘Furthermore, as Vidyānagar is quite close to Karṇa, the early Tibetan accounts appear to be quite similar to the Indian oral accounts’. In accordance with old traditions of Indians he was of the Brāhmana caste, and old Tibetan tradition says that he was of Ārya (noble) family. In one of verses of Kṛṣṇācāri, he has conformed this fact himself:
‘Wrestling and striving forward-going is the son of the Brāhmana’.
Tara Natha says that there was even existing prophesy of Buddha about the incarnation of Kṛṣṇācāri. In accordance with it, he would be born in country Uruvica (Uruviśa), which is in accordance with Taranātha’s guru Buddhagupta Nātha, the same with Odivica, the country which close to Bengal (modern Urissa). Prophesy further saying that there was not yogi equal to him in Jambu-dvīpa (the Indian sub continent) before, not it will happen in future. It says that he would have six disciples, which would trancend the existence of their bodies and attain Mahāmudrāsiddhi. Few letters of his name were also predicted by that prophesy. Names of those six disciples it is said were Bhadrapāda, Mahila, Bhadala, the novice Tshem.bu.pa, Dhamapa and Dhumapa. Some say that Bhadala, Bhadra or Bhadrapāda were identical. Instead of them they add Eyalā or yoginī Mekhalā and Kamakhalā or Bande. In his other book Five historical Works of Tāranātha, the author gives more detailed biography of Kānhapā. It is said that his birth place to be in Eastern India, in the Kinghdom of Gaura in an area called Oruviśa, near Bengal.
In accordance with book Śrīnāthatīrthāvalī, composed by Raja Mansing of Jodhpur in 19th century, there exist place situated on Kalaśācal mountain in Rajastan, connected with his name. It is told that he performed his penance there. His twelve years long penance were mentioned in Caturaśīti-siddha-pravṛitti, but without defining the exact place where it has taken place.
Kanipa in Vajrayana tradition
While in the Nātha folklore the name of Kanipha kept not in too much veneration, because of his personal rival with the Guru of Nathas, the Vajrayana tradition of Tibet and Sahaja tradition of Bengal place him quite high in the list of their acaryas (teachers) and reverently call him ‘Paṇḍit-ācārya’and ācārya Caryāpa. At some regional legends he even shown as being superior to Goraksh Nath, to whom he sometimes over performs.
His name stands at least in two important lists of Vajrayana acharyas in line of ‘transmission of knowledge’, one is associated with the initiation in Saṁvara and other into Hevajra lineages. First list shows the lineage of transmission which was accepted by Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, in accordance with the book ‘History of Buddhism in Tibet’ by Sumpa-mkhan-po-Yeshes. In accordance with it, first stands name of (1)Dorje Chang, who also known as Deity Vajradhara, after him comes (2)Vajrapāni, who is another celestial Guru. Then comes (3) Mahasiddha Saraha, folloved by names of (4) Nāgārjuna, (5) Śavari, (6) Lūipa, (7) Vajraghaṇtā, (8) Kacchapāda, (9) Jālandhara, (10) Kāṇha, (11) Guhya, (12) Vijayapāda, (13) Tilopa, (14) Nāropa, (15) A newar Phum-mthing the greater, (16) Ngag-dVang-Grags-pa or Ngag-dVang-Phyūg, (17) Ngag-gi-dVang-phyug, (18)gLag-Skya-Shes-rab-brtregs, (19) Sakyapa Hierarh Phag-pa.
There exist one more variation of the same list. In accordance with it first comes (1) Mahasiddha Saraha, followed by names of (2) Nāgārjuna, (3) Śavari, (4) Lūipa, (5) Dārikapa, (6) Vajraghaṇtā, (7) Kurmapa, (9) Jālandhara, (10) Kāṇha, (11) Guhyapa, (12) Vijaya, (13) Tilopa, (14) Nāropa, (15) Śāntipa, (16) Maitripa, (17) Pham thing, (18) Bodhibhadra, (19) Vāgīśvārakīrti and (20) Marpa. This list of succession adopted by Sakyapa Hierarh Phags pa and identified in the Blue Annals as Saraha’s Saṁvara lineage of Mar mdo. In the lineage of Hevajra transmission, in accordance with Taranatha, first comes name Śākyamuni, then Indrabhūti, Mahāpadmavajra, Anaṅgavajra, Saroruha, Indrabhūti yonger, Jālandhara, Kāṇha, Bhadrapa, Tilopa and Naropa. Name of Kāṇhapa appearing in few more lineages of transmissions of the tantrik traditions of Vajrayana; such great siddhas as Tilopa and Nāropa, whose names follow his name in the list of great siddhas and acharyas, recognized amongst founders of another sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Karma Kagyu.
It is belived that he was the author of many books on Tantra, and in accordance with Tibetan sourses his name usualy closely associated with the Cakrasamvara tanra about which it is told that it was lost and later recovered by him. Both he and is guru Jalandharipa have their respected places in the lineage of the Gurus of the Tibetan tantric tradition, as exponents of the Hevajra Sadhana, an important element of the Vajrayana Tradition. As it was mentioned before, in accordance with Caturaśīti-siddha-pravṛitti, Kānhupā was initiated into Hevajra mandala sadhana by his Guru Jalandharipa. Jalandharipa it is said, wrote atleast two comentaries on Hevajra tantra called Hevajra-sadhana and Shuddhipradip. Kṛṣṇācārya credited with composition of few more of them, from which Hevajra-pañjikā or Yoga-ratnamālā most well known. There few more his work collected in Tanjur part of Tibetan Cannon. They are Hevajranāmahā-tantrarājadvikalpa-māyā-pañjikā smṛtinibandha, Hevajra-ṣoḍaṣa-bhuja-sādhana of Kṛṣṇapā, and Śrī Hevajraikavīrasādhana, Hevajra-sādhana-tattvodyotakaranāma, Śrī Hevajra-śāstra-vṛtti-maṇḍala-vidhi, Hevajra-homa-vidhi of Kṛṣṇapāda.
It is said that in Tibetan book collection Tanjur have as much as six works on philosophy and seventy four on Tantric subjects atributed to Kṛṣṇācārya or Kānhupā. From those 74 books, most book written in sanskrit, and six in old Apabhraṁśa dialect. Those which are writen in Apabhraamsa are Kānhapādagītikā, Mahāḍuṇḍanamūl, Vasantatilakā, Asaṁbanddha Dṛṣṭi, Vajragīti and few songs in Dohā koṣa. His commentary Dukhabodha pada nirṇaya on Bodhicaryāvatāra composed by Śāntideva was well known in India and Tibet. A spetial contribution of his was Samputatilaka.
On the basis of existing historical evidence, some researches have expressed the view that there was existing not only one Kṛṣṇācārya, but two or even three of them. In accordance with some of Tibetan sources, Kṛṣṇācārya shown as being direct or indarect disciple of Kānhupā. Lama Taranatha also mentioned existence of ‘yonger Kṛṣṇācāri’ who was dessendant of Kānhupā through lineage of his disciples. In accordance with him, the lineage of transmition was in such order: Kṛṣṇācāri (Kānhupā) – Bhadra-Antara- Kṛṣṇācāri young . In introductiory notes of book Samādhi-saṁbhāra-parivarta of Ācārya Kṛṣṇapā, author exressed view that there were existed as much as three different Kṛṣṇācāryas . He agree that first of them was the same Kṛṣṇācārya, who was disciple of Jālandhari, and who was known under name Kānhupā. It is said that he lived at time of rule king Devapāla (810-851 A.D.). The second Kṛṣṇācārya, also called Kṛṣṇācāri young, lived some time latter then first, and seems was the same with mentioned by Tatranatha. He was also famous as being learned person, but not too much known about him as a yogi. The third who lived at time of King Mahīpāla (988-1038 A.D.), was not actualy Kṛṣṇācārya, but had name slightly simmilar with him - Kṛṣṇa-Samaya-Vajra. Duty this simmilarity of their names, he is sometimes confused for the first one. It is said that he was the disciple of Buddhajñāna, who was born during the end of life of junior Kṛṣṇācārya. He was one of the six eminent schoolars of the monastic university of Nalanda. He worked together with the great translators of Tibet as Lotsava Choekui Sherab, Lotsava Tsultrim Gyalwa and Lotsava Gos Khukpa Lhatse during the tenth and eleventh century .
Kānhupa as a poet
Kānhupa also has promitent place in the Sahaja tradition of Bengal, as being on of its Siddha-Acaryas, first poets who wrote in Old Bengali (Apabhraṁśa dialect) under name Kānhupada. His dohas found in the book called Caryapadas or Caryagiti, which is believed to be one of the oldest books in Bengali, amongst compositions of other Siddha-Acaryas. Out of 50 dohas included in Caryagiti, twelve were composed by Kānhupa. Those dohas presently widely accepted as being original and as written personally by him, and expressing the various aspects of his teching. He became famous in Bengal together with older siddhas, Saraha and Luipa, becouse their mystical songs became popular there, and were widely sung by masses. Those Siddha Acharyas exercised considerable influence on the later development of the Bengali devotional poetry, and recognized as the first writers in the Bengali language.
Poet: Kanhupada, Raga Kemod
Taking three refugees in a boat I captured eight.
In my body resides karuna and the chamber is empty.
I crossed the river of existence like a dream.
In mid-river I came to know the waves.
I used five 'tathagatas' as oars.
Kanhai rows the boat like a dream.
Smelling, touching and tasting as they are
like a dream without sleep.
The mind is the boatman in a Great Void.
Kanhu goes for Union with Great Happiness.
Kānhupada was advocating the doctrine of the male–female union called Yuganaddha (in Tibetan Yab-Yum) in the Tantrik Vajrayana tradition. It seems that he was one of the pioneers, who were trying to introduse the Śaiva idea of the union of Shiva and Sakti in the Buddhist circles, for which it was new at that time as Yuganaddha (union) of Śrī Heruka and Vajravārāhi or Prajñā and Upāya.
Poet: Kanhupada, Raga Patamanjuri
The strength of the artery is firmly held in bed.
Spontaneous drums rise in heroic volume.
Kanhu, the Kapali, is engaged in yonic joining
through the city of the body.
Knowledge and wisdom are tied to his feet
Like ankle bells of the hour.
Day and night are turned into ornaments of pleasure.
Wearing ashes from burnt-out anger-hatred-and illusion
be adorns a necklace with salvation pearls.
By killing his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and his mother,
Kanhu thus became a kapali.
Elements of Nātha and Kapalika worship in Hevajra Tantra
While in the cases of Goraksh nath and his Guru Matseyndra nath it is obvious that they were the worshipers of Śiva, it is not so easy with Kāṇhapa and Jālandharipā. The most puzzling question about these two yogis is: ‘How is it happened that they became famous as being two of the most prominent Śaiva yogis and Vajrayana Mahasiddhas at the same time? If we will try to separate them from one of these traditons, after some time it becomes obviously that they so deeply rooted in both of them that it is impossible to do this. It sems that key point to settlle this matter can be found in the Hevajra Tantra, the practises of which both of them were practicing. The text of this tantra presently available in form of many different manuscripts, few of which were published by different schoolars. One of most famous of them is the text of Hevajra Tantra, with commentary by Kanhupa called Hevajra-pañjikā or Yoga-ratnamālā, which was published in 1959. After closely examining it, one can see that this Tantra, although being Buddhist by declaration, in reality incuding many Śaiva elements of worship, and those of them which were related to Kapalika practices in particular.
In Caryapada 10 of Dohakosha, Kānhupada calls himself ‘naked Kapali yogi who has no hatred’. Later in the same text he saying:’ I am the Kapalik (who)wears a necklace of bones for your sake’ (of Dombi).
Poet: Kanhupada, Raga-Deshakh
Outside the lies your hut, Dombi woman.
Shaven headed Brahmins, come and touch you.
Dombi woman, I shall make love to you
Kanhu is naked Kapali yogi who has no hatred.
There is a Lotus with sixty-four petals.
On it dances the Dombi nari.
Hello Dombi, let me ask you a question.
On whose boat do you come and go?
You sell the loom to others
While you spread the flat bamboo mat for me.
For you I have discarded the basket of reeds.
You see Dom-nari.
I the Kapalik wear a necklace of bones for your sake.
O Dombi, you have churned the sea and eaten the roots of the Lotus.
I shall kill you and take your life.
The Life story of Guru Kāṇha-pa
(In accordance with Caturaśīti-Siddha-Pravṛitti, number 17)
The story of Guru Kaṇhapā is in such manner: Kaṇhapā and Kṛṣṇācārya pada (Black acharya) are the two names by which he was recognized. He was born at Somapuri, and was from the caste of clerks. His Guru was Jalandharipa.
(In the beginning) he was a monk at built by raja Devapala Somapuri Vihara (monastery). But later the Guru Jalandharipa has initiated him into the Hevajra mandala sadhana, and ordered him to practice in accordance with his instructions. After twelve years have passed in practice, one day after trembling (earth) he has got site of (complete) Hevajra Deva-mandala, and after becoming greatly exited duty this, entered into the state of absolute satisfaction. At the same moment, Dakini appeared there and told him: ‘O son of Kula! This is not as great achievement (as you imagine). Don’t become overconfident duty this, because this is not realization of Supreme State (Param Pada).
One day when he stepped on a big block made of stone, his foot entered into it (as if it was made from wet mod). (Again) he felt great proud, and thought that now he has achieved all possible kinds of magical powers, but (in this very moment) the Dakini appeared and cooled him down (by saying that this also not a big achievement). When he came outside, he noticed that he was moving in air without touching earth by his feet, about ten centimeters above. Once more, he felt proud, but again was rebuked by the Dakini.
(He continued his practices, and after some time he reached such state) that wherever he moved, he was accompanied by the seven umbrellas flowing in air over his head, followed by the seven drums (damaru), which were sounding by themselves without being put in motion by any one. When he saw it, he thought that now he reached ultimate end of his sadhana, accomplished his perfection and achieved all possible kinds of powers.
(After it), he has told to his disciples, that he has completed his sadhana, (has reached Buddha hood, or reached state of Maha-Mudra), and now he was intended go into the country of the wicked demons- Sri Lanka, for preaching Dharma there. He invited his disciples to accompany him. Then he started for Lanka, taking with him family of three thousands of his disciples. When they have reached the bank of an ocean, he left all his disciples to stay there and started moving (towards Sri Lanka) stepping on surface of water. While doing this, again proud thoughts came into his mind: ‘Even my guru ji would be unable to do this, but it not big matter for myself.’ At the moment, this though came to his mind, he went deep under the surface of water. (After struggle with waves and filling great shame), at last, he was thrown by waves on the dry land. When he looked in the sky, he saw there his Guru Jalandharapada. Guru ji asked from him: ‘O, Kanipa, where you was going and why?’
Kanipa, filling great shame answered, “For the welfare of the world I was going into Shree Lanka, but after filling proud than I am greater than you, all my powers vanished at once, and now I am sinking in water (can't walk on water).”
On what his guru replied to him: ‘In this situation, even I myself can’t help you. You should go into the country of my original, where righteous king Dharmapala is ruler, at the place called Salaputra. There you should find one of my disciples, who is weaver by profession, and you should act in accordance with his instructions.’
The moment when Kanipa has taken a vow to do in accordance (with the words of guru), his knowledge (and powers again) returned to him. A once, he became able to move without touching earth, the seven umbrellas and sounding drums have appeared over his head, and his feet were leaving imprints into stone, and so on.
After this, he accompanied by his three thousands disciples arrived at the township Salaputra. There he left his disciples (to stay in the camp outside of the city), and started looking for the weaver (he was told about). On the way, he has met many weavers, but when he examined them, he noticed that when the threads (they were weaving) were broken, they have to join them themselves. On seeing this, he thought that no one of them was a person for whom he was looking for. After he crossed the town and nearly has reached another end, at last he has found the house where one more weaver was living. When he entered in, he saw that while that weaver was weaving closes, he was not joining the threads after they got broken, but both ends were joining by themselves. (On seeing) this Acharya (Kanhapa) decided that he found the man Guru ji was telling about, and he did obeisance to the weaver, and humbly touched his feet.
(After Kanhapa has told him about the matter), the weaver asking him: ‘Will you follow what I am going to tell you?’
On what Krisnacharya answered:’ Yes, I will obey your commands.’ Then the weaver took him at the burning ground (shamashan). There they saw a body of a dead man. Weaver asked: ’would you be able to eat the meat from that corpse? If you can do this, then start right now.’
When Kaṇhapā came near the dead body intending to do what he was told, and started cutting away a piece of meat with knife, the weaver stopped him from proceeding further by saying, ‘Stop! Wait for while.’ Immediately he turn himself into a jackal and started eating the meat (of that corpse). After (he returned to his normal form, he told to Kaṇhapā that) only after you will become able to produce such transformation, than you will be qualified for eating that meat.
After this, he excrete, and taken away three fourth parts out of his excrement. One fourth part of it he has given to Krishnaacharya, and told him to eat it. Krishnapa expressed his unwillingness to do it, by saying that people will be criticizing him for this act. The weaver has eaten one part of his own excrement himself, one was taken by the celestial Devas, and last part was taken by the Nagas living under ground (in netherworld).
Then both of them returned to the town. The weaver picked up wine and some food, by the way, and paid for it with five small cooper coins. He told to Krishnapa, “Now call family of your disciples and we will make feast (one circle) with them. Kaṇhapā thought that food which they have got was not enough even for feeding one man, then how they would feed three thousands of his disciples? But (it was too late), when he thought so, he saw his disciples approaching them.
By the magical power of yogi (weaver), the pots which were empty before, became filled with sweets, boiled rice and lot of others tasty things. After feast has started, it continued for seven days, but food still was not finished yet. (Being tied from all this) Kaṇhapā has told to the weaver: ’Your eatable items are like an ocean and we were unable to consume it’, so he ordered to distribute remained food outside between masses of people.
When he prepared to leave with the family of his disciples, the weaver has expressed his wonder about it: “Oho! As addicted to his power man (of indiscriminate mind) at last becomes reason for his own destruction, same may happen with the yogi who have no proper understanding how to use his powers in appropriate way. All these your umbrellas and flying drums, are not big achievements for a yogi. (You are preparing to leave, but you are not accomplished task for which you came here) and your moral state is still far away from perfection. Stay here with me and complete your sadhana, (as Guru ji told you).
But Kaṇhapā was not willing to accept his persuading, so he started towards the place called Samadhokara (and in such way, he has broken the vow given by him to his Guru). He reached jungle, situated near of some city, which was located in the east region from Somapuri at distance about hundred yojans. There he saw the tree bearing fruits called the rose-apple (black plum) and there was a girl sitting under it. He told her to give some fruits to him, but she refused to do it. Acharya fixed his stare at the tree for while, and all fruits from it felt on the ground. But immediately the girl looked on the tree, and all fruits returned to the places they were before. On seeing this Kaṇhapā became very angry and he spelt mantra over the girl, so that she immediately felt on the ground bleeding from all over her body.
Soon people collected around, and they started abusing Kaṇhapā for done by him. They were saying that the Buddhists are filled with compassion towards all living beings, but this yogi seems, going to kill this poor girl. On listening this, he started worry (that this will ruin his reputation), so he kindly pronounced another mantra for bringing the girl to her previous state. But while doing this, he has forgotten to apply the mantra for his own protection. When the girl stood up, first what she did was cursing Kaṇhapā with her mantra. As result of this, now it was his turn to be stroked with the terrible disease, when blood was flowing all over from his body, from head to feet.
Kaṇhapā told to Dakini Mandhe that medicine for this blood-vomiting disease can be obtained only from the mountain Sri Parvat, situated far away in the South of India. He asked her to bring it to him. The way to that mountain from the place where they were, was six month long, but Mandhe reached there in one day only. On the seventh day, when she was about to reach back to the the city with the medicine for him in her hand, the same girl who applied her magic to make Kaṇhapā seek, has accepted the appearance of an old women and was sitting on the way Mande was about to pass and crying.
On reaching the place she was sitting, Mandhe asked her, “Why are you crying?”
The old women has answered: “What are reasons of my cry? The yogi Kaṇhapā has left us, he has died little time ago”.
On listening this, Mandhe has thrown the medicine on the ground. (After she gone), the old women picked it up and disappeared. When Dakini Mandhe has reached her house (where Kaṇhapā was waiting), she saw that he was still alive. When Kaṇhapā asked her where medicine was, she narrated him all what happened, and told that medicine disappeared.
(Now, Kaṇhapā has realized that there was no more hope for him to remain alive). For seven remained days, he was giving his last lessons to his disciples and at the last day he initiated them into the mysteries of Varahi without head. There only he left his physical, and by then useless body, and entered into the realms of the Absolute Void.
The Dakini Mandhe became furious on that girl, and she started looking for her everywhere in the Tin Lokas (on the earth), but she couldn't find her. At last, she discovered her sitting in the hollow of a tree, and she killed her by spelling a mantra.
In such way proud and jealousy becoming obstacles on the spiritual path, and this should be remembered by all.
On this the life story of the Guru Kaṇha-pā is finished.
The same story narrated by Keith Dowman, with his commentary.