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The Six Dharmas of Nāropa (Wylie: na ro'i chos drug), also called the Six Yogas of Nāropa, 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.
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."
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.
Though variously classified in up to ten dharmas, the six dharmas generally conform to the following list:
Other dharmas, sometimes grouped with those above, or set as auxiliary practices, include:
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. The Karmapa, the first figure in Tibetan Buddhism whose reincarnation was officially recognized, has been strongly associated in certain tulkus with particular yogic attributes.
Before engaging in the actual practices of the Six Dharmas, one begins by doing the "six exercises of Naropa". Trülkhor (Tibetan 'khrul-'khor)
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.
(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.
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 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.
(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.
(Tib. zung-'jug) Actualizing the results. The state of a Buddha Vajradhāra.
(Tib. phowa grong 'jug)
The branches of that path. 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.
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.
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. Niguma transmitted her teachings to yogini Sukhasiddhī and then to Khyungpu Neldjor, 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.