Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kanha Name Confusions

Virupa had two main students, Kanha and Dombhi Heruka, to whom he taught the Lamdre (Margapala) system based significantly but not exclusively on the Hevajra Tantra. Kanha (black) is the principal student in the lineage. In Western texts and Tibetan translated material this and similar names can appear in Sanskrit as Kanha, Kanhapa, Kanhavajra, Krishna, Krishnapa, Krishnavajra, Krishnacharin, Krishnacharya and Kala Virupa. The Tibetan name for Kanha is 'nag po pa' which means the black one. In the two most popular and most documented systems of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas translated into the Tibetan language, the Vajrasana and the Abhayadatta systems, several Nagpopas are mentioned with various associated spellings.

Why is this important and why do we care? We care because there is another mahasiddha named Krishnacharin (Nagpopa Chopa, or Nagpo Chopa) associated with the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras and also, like the Lamdre Kanha, very important in Sakya. This siddha is represented in both the Vajrasana and Abhayadatta Systems of Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. Kanha of Lamdre is found only in the Vajrasana System and not in the Abhayadatta System. They both have their own stories and unique hagiographies. Sakya practitioners need to be able to name and differentiate the siddhas and teachers in the various important lineages of practice. That is why this subject is important.

How do we know what to call these siddhas? Basically we can only rely on common convention over time. However, we do have early writings from teachers such as Chogyal Pagpa where he refers to the 'black' student of Virupa as Kanha using the Sanskrit term. This is how we know that there is early precedent for distinguishing between these two 'black ones,' Kanha and Krishna. There is less confusion with Krishnacharin because he is represented in all of the New Schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is really only the Lamdre Lineage Kanha that has become confused because he essentially is only known in the Sakya Tradition and the Pagmodrupa Lineage of Lamdre.

For practitioners ultimately what is important is not the names and which name is used for which siddha but rather to understand that there are two different mahasiddha figures with names that have often been used interchangeably and furthermore that of these two one belongs to the Lamdre Lineage (Kanha) and the other belongs to the Chakrasamava Lineage (Krishnacharya).

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