Tilopa (988-1069) was born into a noble family of Sategawu, a town in the country now known as Bangladesh. From the time he was an infant, Tilopa was visited regularly by a dakini, a divine manifestation in female form, who appeared as a very old woman. One day, while Tilopa was reciting a Buddhist text and tending water buffalo, the dakini appeared before him and asked his name and parentage. When he told her, the dakini retorted, "No! Your father is the Buddha Khorlo Dechog, and your mother is the Mother of All Buddhas, Vajravarahi! To understand how to tend the herd of experiences in the expanse of enlightenment, you must internalize the meaning of the Dharma. Otherwise, you will not be able to understand the books you are reading!"
Taking her words to heart, Tilopa visited temples and requested explanations of Buddha's teaching. His appreciation of the underlying significance of the Buddha's words deepened, and he chose to become a monk in order to devote all his time to learning. His strict observance of monastic vows and personal integrity earned him great respect.
One day, while Tilopa was chanting the Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom, the dakini appeared and asked if he wished to know what the sutra really meant. When he replied that he would, the dakini taught him the tantra of Khorlo Dechog, which suddenly revealed to him the inexpressible inner meaning of the Buddha's teaching.Raving and shouting, Tilopa climbed to the roof of the monastery, and hurled the sacred text of The Pefection of Wisdom into the river. His fellow monks, thinking he'd lost his mind, thereafter relieved him of monastic responsibilities.
Left to himself, Tilopa traveled throughout India seeking yogins who held the transmitted wisdom of tantra. Because of his faith and devotion, his compassion for beings, and his accumulated merit, he fully received the nectar of their blessings, collecting the four streams of oral lineage, which constitute the heart of the Kagyu teaching. With intense dedication, Tilopa devoted himself to perfecting the practices he'd received, going so far as to meditate for twelve years in a charnel ground near Somapuri, keeping his legs chained in the meditation posture.
At the end of this period of intense practice, the dakini reappeared and promised Tilopa that he would attain enlightenment if he entered the service of a certain prostitute named Barima, who lived in the city of Pensalna. Tilopa accordingly went to Pensalna, where by night he procured clients for Barima, and by day earned a living pressing oil from sesame seeds. After six years, he achieved enlightenment, and with Barima he rose into the sky above the town, enveloped in rainbow light. Ripening the mind streams of the people of Pensalna, Lord Tilopa established them in various degrees of realization and liberated countless beings. The primordial Buddha, Dorje Chang, and Vajravarahi, the embodiment of wisdom, manifested directly to him and bestowed on him the same transmissions he had received from his human masters, to ensure that all his future disciples would benefit from the full potency of their blessing.