Definition - What does Mahasiddha mean?

Mahasiddha is the name given to a yogi who cultivates and embodies the “siddhi of perfection” through their sadhana practice of yoga and tantra. This was said to give them psychic and spiritual powers and magical abilities. The name Mahasiddha comes from the Sanskrit maha meaning “great” and siddha meaning “achiever.”

Mahasiddhas are important in Tantra and are found in both Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. There are 84 Mahasiddhas in the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, but although many of the recogised names of Mahasiddhas on the lists are the same, the two lists are not identical.

Yogapedia explains Mahasiddha

Mahasiddhas are bodhisattvas, that is those who have achieved enlightenment and can enter nirvana at will, but instead choose to stay on earth and help others on their spiritual path. They are connected with the highest levels of spiritual enlightenment and know for their unusual ways of thinking.

The Mahasiddhas had vast influence through the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayas. They were the founders of traditions and lineages, such as Dzogchen and Mahamudra. The 84 Mahasiddhas are often depicted in paintings in Tibetan Buddhist art, very commonly around the border of a thanka, a painting on cotton or silk.

Each Mahasiddha has certain characteristics and teachings that they are particularly known for. Some of the best known Mahasiddhas are:

  • Virupa: a beloved saint of the Sakyapa sect known for his great attainments.

  • Marpa: known as the “great translator” and the first native Tibetan guru, who brought Buddhist teachings from India.

  • Milarepa: Marpa's student, who is often depicted with his hand cupped around his ear in order to better listen to the teachings of his guru.

Of the 84 Mahasiddhas, four are female.

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