Dombipa: The Tiger-Rider

The philosopher's stone
Turns iron into gold;
The innate power of the Great Jewel
Converts passion into pure awareness.

Dombipa was a king of Magadha. He was initiated by the Guru Virupa into the mandala of the Buddha-deity Hevajra. Through practice of the meditation rites of Hevajra he experienced the deity's reality and attained his realization and magical power.

The enlightened king regarded his subjects as a father treats his only son, but his people had no idea that their king was an initiate of the mysteries. However, they all agreed that he was an honest man with an innate propensity to treat his subjects kindly.

The king conceived a scheme to drive fear and want from his kingdom. He summoned his minister, charging him in this way: "Our country is plagued by thieves and bandits, and due to past neglect our karma has burdened us with much poverty. To protect it from fear and want, cast a great bronze bell [symbol of the feminine sexual organ] and hang it from the branch of a strong tree [of knowledge: sexual mysteries]. Whenever you see danger or poverty, strike the bell." The minister fulfilled the king's command, and while the king reigned. Magadha was free of crime, famine, plague and poverty. [The establishing of the mysteries brings his consort, next].

Some time later a wandering band of minstrels arrived in the city to sing and dance for the king. One of the minstrels had a twelve year-old daughter*, an innocent virgin untainted by the sordid world about her. She was utterly charming, with a fair complexion and classical features, and to glance at her was to fall in love. She had all the qualities of a padmini, a lotus child, the rarest and most desirable of all girls. The king decided to take this girl for his spiritual consort, and in secret he commanded the gypsy to give her to him.

"You are the great king of Magadha," the man replied. "You rule eight hundred thousand households in such luxury and style that you are left completely ignorant of the other side of life. We are low caste wretches, reviled and shunned by all. How could you even think of such a thing?"

The king insisted. He gave the minstrel the girl's weight in gold and took her to serve as his mystic consort. For many years he kept her hidden, but in the twelfth year her existence became known. "The king is consorting with an outcast woman," was the rumor that spread like wild-fire across the kingdom, and despite his previous benevolence the king's conduct was not tolerated by the establishment. He was forced to abdicate. Entrusting his kingdom to his son and ministers he departed for the jungle with his low-caste mistress, and in an idyllic hermitage in solitude they continued practicing their tantric yoga for a further twelve years.

Meanwhile the kingdom was misgoverned. The quality of life diminished as virtue ebbed to a low level. A council agreed to request the old king to return to govern, and a delegation was sent into the jungle to find him. When they eventually found the hermitage, from a distance they saw the king sitting under a tree while his consort walked upon lotus leaves to the middle of a pond, where she drew cool nectar from a depth of fifteen fathoms before returning to offer it to her lord. The watchers were amazed, and returned immediately to the city to report what they had seen. Then another delegation was sent with the people's invitation. and the king accepted it, agreeing to return.

The king, in union with his consort, came riding out of the jungle on the back of a pregnant tigress [the sexual power], brandishing a deadly snake [ kundalini , the bronze serpent of Moses] as a whip. After the people had overcome their fear and astonishment they begged him to take up the reigns of government again.

"I have lost my own caste status by consorting with an outcast woman," the king told them. "It is not proper for me to resume my original position. However, since death ends all distinctions, burn us [a symbol of mystical death]. In our rebirth [resurrection] we will have been absolved [of all karma]."

A great pyre of cow-head sandalwood was constructed, and after the king and his consort had mounted it, it was fired. The huge pyre burned for seven days, and when it was cool enough to approach, the people caught sight of the two of them shimmering, as if covered in dew drops, in the spontaneously arisen illusory form of the Buddha-deity Hevajra in union with his consort, in the heart of a fully-blown lotus. At this point the last vestiges of doubt were removed from the minds of the men of Magadha, and they began to call their king the master Dombipa, which means Lord of the Dombi.

Stepping out of the fire the king addressed the ministers and all of his people of the four castes. "If you emulate me [by "denying yourselves"], I shall stay to govern you. If you will not help yourselves, I shall not remain to govern you."

The people were shocked, and remonstrated, saying, "How is that possible?" "How can we give up our homes and families?" "We are not yogins!"

Then the king addressed them again. "Political power is of little benefit and the retribution is great. Those who wield authority can do little good, and more often than not the damage that flows from their actions leads to misery for all in the long run. My kingdom is the kingdom of truth!"

He spoke, and in that instant of immortality he arrived in the Dakini's Paradise, where he remains for the sake of perfect awareness and pure delight.


In India it is universally believed that the sound of a bell has the power to exorcise demons and to purify the mind; a bell is always sounded before entering a temple. The bell that Dombipa had erected was multifunctional: it called prudent attention to thieves and approaching natural disasters, for example; it exorcised the area of any demons responsible for plague and famine; and by purifying the minds of the populace it improved their karma; the all pervasive sound of the bell is also an auditory symbol of female wisdom and emptiness. After this initial anecdote illustrating the king's benevolence, the bulk of Dombipa's legend concerns his sexual sadhana and caste problems.

Inter-caste miscegenation was forbidden for the twice-born castes, and the penalty for breaking this taboo was loss of caste, which meant social ostracism. But the evident anti-caste bias of Buddhism in general, and Tantra in particular, does not manifest as social rebellion and zeal to reform society - unless ordination and initiation into an outcast sect is viewed as an anti-caste act - as everybody recognized caste as an immutable, divine dispensation. Rather, for the tantrika, the mind-set, preconceptions and prejudices of caste- consciousness, comprise a paradigm of the social conditioning that must be eradicated if Buddhahood is to be achieved. just as we can lose our racial prejudice by marrying a partner belonging to another race, the siddhas took consorts from outcast communities to cultivate the awareness of nondiscrimination. Further, in the same way that pride is destroyed by entering into the essence of humiliation, passion dissolves by cultivating sexual desire in the framework of a fulfillment yoga and penetrating its essence. It should be said that the popularity of Dombi, Sabara and Candala consorts depended to some extent upon availability. No matter what the original caste status of a bone-garlanded yogin, few women of high caste would be associated with him. The Dombis were wandering minstrels and musicians. [*] The age of Dombipa's consort, twelve, signifies maturity, or perfection; sixteen is the actual age when a girl is ripe according to the Kamasutra, which places padmini at the top of a fourfold classification of the ideal girl's physical attributes. Mudra is the term used to describe Dombipa's "mystic consort." On the sensual plane she is the "other body", the karma-mudra, employed in sexual yoga. On the non-dual, ultimate level she is the jnana-mudra, the "seal of awareness" stamped upon every experience of body, speech and mind.

Dombipa's consort was Vajra Varahi to his own Hevajra (although another source calls her Cinta, the sahaja-yogini of Hevajra's retinue). The precise nature of their jungle meditation is omitted, but probably it was the yoga of uniting pleasure and emptiness. Practicing a form of coitus interruptus and retention of semen, the energy generated is sublimated, vitalizing the psycho-organism's focal points of energy, raising the level of sensual pleasure to the point where dualistic functions of mind are overwhelmed and the non-dual pure awareness of the Buddha shines through. The kundalini rises from the sexual cakra, through the four levels of joy and the four higher cakras, to consummate Buddhahood in the fontanelle center.

The vignette of Dombipa's purification by fire is a common enough motif in tantric legend (e.g. Padmasambhava's burning with Mandarava); fire may indicate the fierce passion that is transmuted into pure awareness by meditation upon its essential nature as mind pure in itself; imperviousness to fire indicates a yogin's control of the elements and may signify that his body has become immaterial, in his own vision, like a rainbow body; the halo that surrounds the wrathful deities in Tibetan iconography is the fire of wisdom that burns away the veils of thought and emotion. The "cow-head" sandalwood of the pyre upon which they were burnt is a highly scented, sacred wood usually employed for carving images and anointing saints.

It is interesting to consider the implications of Dombipa's final judgement upon political involvement. In his early years as an enlightened king like Lilapa, he used his situation to fulfill the Bodhisattva Vow of selfless service, and, like the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, he took upon himself the misfortunes of beings and the negative karma of wielding authority and power. Finally, however, when his people plead incapacity to emulate the master he refuses to rule them and dissolves into the Dakini's Paradise. We may infer from this that the renunciate yogin s path is ultimately superior to living in the world - if the choice is possible. In the same key, Dombipa could have claimed that he never indulged in sexual pleasure, his practice with his consort being a highly ascetic practice in which transcendence of sexual involvement was the path to mahamudra-siddhi.


Taranatha's extensive account of Dombipa's life begins in Tripura, in Assam, where Virupa was born. Dombi was the king (or a lord) of Tripura. His account is substantially the same as our legend until Dombi returns to his kingdom at the insistence of his people. After teaching his own people he wandered afar with his consort, demonstrating his magical power for the benefit of others. In Radha he flew across the city mounted on his tiger, threatening the king and citizens with venomous snakes, forcing them to take refuge in the Buddha (thus the descriptive epithet Tiger-Rider). In Karnataka, in South India, he taught five hundred yogins and yoginis in a cremation ground, and all except one, who violated the samaya, gained siddhi. Also in the South, he coerced a people who built sacrificial mounds of animals' hearts as offering to renounce animal sacrifice.

Taranatha lists Dombipa's ten disciples: amongst them are Alalavajra, Garbaripa, Jayasri, and Rahulavajra. G(h)arbaripa has been identified with Dharmapa (48). Vilasyavajra and Krsnacarya are also given as Dombipa's disciples, but evidence of the Guru's relationships with all these disciples is sparse. Virupa was undoubtedly Dombi's Guru, but it appears that Luipa also taught him. Far less probable are the references in all but one of the texts of the legends that make Krsnacarya his Guru, although Dombi would have been alive to meet Krsnacarya. There is room for some confusion in identifying Dombipa's lineage as there was a second Dombipa of less importance, who was a disciple of Naropa and Vyadhalipa (see p. 285) and taught Virupa the Younger and Kusalibhadra the Younger Atisa and 'Brog mi.

Dombipa is better known as Dombi Heruka. "Dombipa" means Lord of the Dombi, Dombi being his outcast consort's caste name. Heruka is both the name of a form of Samvara and Hevajra, and also an epithet of a siddha who embodies those deities' qualities; since Dombi is Hevajra, according to our legend, the name is most fitting. Dombi Heruka wrote few works, but some of significance. His Sri-sahaja-siddhi is an oft-quoted short form of the Hevajratantra; he revealed the Kurukulla-kalpa and Aralli-tantra. He also wrote an Ekavira-sadhana. Most of his writing concerned the mother-tantra, and he is to be considered an important exemplar of woman worship (str-puja). He must have been born in the second part of the eighth century and lived a long life through the first half of the ninth.

Excerpted from The Legends of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas (Grub thob brgyad bcu tsa bzhi'i lo rgyus) by Mondup Sherab orally dictated by Abhayadatta Sri (12th c.) and Vajra Songs: the Heart Realizations of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas (Grub thob brgyad bcu rtogs pa'i snying po rdo rje'i lu) by Vira Prakash, translated by Keith Dowman with Bhaga Tulku Pema Tenzin.
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