What is a mahasiddha?
During the eighth century in India, in a very complex situation for hiduism, a new form of Buddhism appear to regenerate and suffocate society. That was the third and the latest development of Buddha Sakyamuni’s teaching, called Tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism. Tantra grew to dominate the religious life of India and spread into Central Asia, China , Japan and Tibet.
Practitioners of this new Buddhism were called siddhas. They represented a pure and fresh example of spirituality for the society. In an environment where Buddhist practice was based on renunciation, the ethos of their belief showed them antiestablishment, unorthodox and antischolastic.
Siddhas stressed a simple and free life rather than institutional discipline. They militated against empty ritual, charlatanism, specious philosophizing, the caste system and Brahminical ritual purity. Siddhas were iconoclastic rebels. They taught existential involvement rather than metaphysical speculation.
The Sanskrit word siddha does not have an english translation. It means saint, magus, magician or adept, but this is not sufficient, because siddha evokes an entire lifestyle. A siddha is a practitioner of Tantra who is successful in attaining the goal of his meditation. This achievement is known as siddhi.
The achievement of a siddhi is related to a magical power like walking in the air, through walls, healing, read minds. When a yoguini or yogui achieves these powers, they are called siddhas.
You could find siddhas working in an office, in a farm or in a factory. A siddha may be a king, a monk, a servant or a whore. Many siddhas were normal people, musicians, poets, farmers or prostitutes who used their normal lives to transmit through metaphores of home, family, farming, love or sex.
The tantric tradition speaks about eighty four siddhas who achieved enlightenment starting from a normal life, having the fortune, or karma, of meeting with a master, having their initiation into a lineage of tantric instruction, and their practice of tantric meditation. They were called the eighty four mahasiddhas.
The eighty-four Mahasiddhas came from every walk of life and represented the whole spectrum of the human experience. The word “Maha” means great or sublime, thus the mahasiddhas were the best practitioners of the siddhas.