Recognized as “the highest abbot among all…scholars,” Virupa was an acclaimed yogi who lived in seventh- and eighth-century India (Trizin 20, 23). Virupa was known as an important master of the Sakya linage, but his lifestyle and teachings were, at times, met with criticism and bewilderment (Trizin 20). Although Virupa’s actions were considered unethical or unconventional, we can make sense of his actions by viewing them through the lenses of the Two Truths.
Virupa understood the uncontaminated reality through the Ultimate Truth, which led him to “perceive things as they really are” and to be “free [from] the latent potentials for ignorance” (Garfield 236). After experiencing self-doubt and ominous visions, Virupa achieved the sixth level of realization and became “a perfectly and fully enlightened buddha” (Trizin 22). Given his enlightenment and newfound perception of the world, Virupa did not “see objects that were seen by those affected by the cataracts of ignorance,” and consequently, acted in ways that were beyond the comprehension of non-enlightened individuals (Garfield 236). Following his spiritual enlightenment, “Virupa wore [flowers] around his head” and “went to bars and houses of prostitution, astonishing everyone by his behavior” (Trizin 23). Because of his actions, the Sangha attempted to expel him from the monastic compound (Trizin 23). But once Virupa parted the sacred Ganges River, many members of the Sangha realized that “Virupa had achieved high attainment” and apologized for their actions (Trizin 24). Because of Virupa’s attainment of the Ultimate Truth and its incomprehension by non-enlightened beings, many individuals could not conceive the spiritual merit let alone the rationale behind Virupa’s actions.
Ordinary people viewed reality through the Conventional Truth, and therefore, perceived Virupa’s actions as unconventional. According to the Life Story of Mahashiddah Virupa, “[Virupa] continued to mediate on his realization and remained in his room. Some people noticed him bringing meat and liquor…some perceived him to be sitting with eight burning oil lamps” (Trizin 23). The contradictions show that non-enlightened individuals failed to see reality as it truly is. Under the conventional truth, one’s ignorance “fabricates the essential existence of phenomena that do not inherently exist” (Garfield 228). Consequently, the world that non-enlightened beings see is one that is fixed on their mind’s projections (ignorance), not true reality – leading many people, at times, to perceive one event/thing differently (Garfield 229). Unlike Virupa who was able to escape from the ignorance of the Conventional Truth, many individuals were subject to illusions that they perceived to be truly and ultimately existent (Garfield 231).
Virupa’s actions and their reception by non-enlightened beings show that the perception of reality as understood by an individual was dependent on the perspective with which one viewed the world. By realizing the Ultimate Truth, Virupa no longer perceived nature by a conventional cognitive agent and consequentially acted in ways that were socially unacceptable by society (Garfield 233). The inability of non-enlightened beings to perceive the Ultimate Truth prevented them from initially acknowledging – let alone understanding – the compassion behind Virupa’s perceived vulgar actions.
Garfield, Jay L. “Understanding the Two Truths.” Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. 228-229, 231, 233, 236. Print.
Trizin, Sakya. “The Life Story of Mahasiddha Virupa.” Freeing the Heart and Mind: Introduction to the Buddhist Path. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2011. 20, 22-24. Print.