The Mahasiddhas, literally the ‘Greatly Attained Ones’, lived in India between the 8th and 12th centuries and were the instigators of the highly esoteric Yoga Tantra systems that were finally transmitted into Tibet. The Mahasiddhas came from all walks of life, and the diversity of their often-outlandish legends reveals much about the different approaches to enlightenment.
A practitioner who has attained the high level of realization of an Arhat is said to acquire at least six siddhis or powers. These powers include such seemingly miraculous abilities as the power to fly, to levitate, to make oneself invisible, to possess another person’s body, to decrease or increase one’s size at will, and to assume other forms at will. There are said to be 84 siddhis that one can attain through the ultimate realization of emptiness and the attainment of enlightenment. These 84 siddhis are exemplified in the popular stories of the 84 Mahasiddhas, each of whom represents one of the siddhis. These stories are very popular and well-known throughout Tibet and India as well as the other Buddhist countries of Asia.
One thing that stands out when reading the stories of the 84 Mahasiddhas is how different each of them are from the others. Some were kings, some monks, some itinerant ascetics, some fishermen and butchers. The one common thread throughout all the stories, however, is that these individuals all broke free of the limits and boundaries imposed on them by their circumstances and livelihoods. Monks, kings, householders, having accomplished the subtle practices of the highest tantric yogas, all abandoned their robes or their crowns or their families and wandered the mountains and charnel grounds free of attachment to anyone or anything. They often appeared as crazy hermits, unbound by any rules and living seemingly as they chose. Yet all remained true to their realization and their wish to liberate all beings from suffering.
Bhandhepa was from the land of Sravasti, an icon-painter and his guru was master Krsnacari. One day, while he was abiding in the sky, he saw a holy arhat walking through the sky dressed as a monk, radiant and majestic. Bhandhepa was amazed at this sight, and when asked who the wondrous man was, Visvakarman told him the man is a holy arhat who has abandoned the defilements.
Bhandhepa, inspirted to be just like the arhat, returned to Jambudvipa to request the Dharma from Krsnacari, who initiated him in the Guhyasamaja and gave him instructions on the Four Immeasurables as methods of yogic protection.
After developing compassion, happiness, friendliness, and equanimity in meditation, he purified all the poisons of delusions and wrong views. He then obtained Mahamudra siddhi. For 400 years Bhandhepa worked for the welfare of living beings in the six great realms of Sravasti. Then went to the realm of the Dakas with 400 followers.