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The Great mystic Virupa, approx. 1400-1450

The Great mystic Virupa, approx. 1400–1450

The Great mystic Virupa, approx. 14001450. China, Beijing; Ming dynasty (13681644). Gilded bronze. The Avery Brundage Collection, B62B20.

Virupa is shown as an unorthodox figure with bulging eyes, a bushy beard, a large nose, and an expressive face. He wears flowers in his hair and a meditation band around his knee to keep his limbs in place during prolonged meditation. His right hand once held a skull bowl and his left hand is pointing at the sun, giving it away as a pawn for ale. When Virupa first came to Varanasi to preach, he wanted to attract people's attention, so he went on a drinking spree at a local tavern. He told the proprietor that he would pay his bill at sunset; meanwhile Virupa stopped the sun, and the heat was so unbearable that the local king paid his bills instead.

Virupa is one of the eighty-four mahasiddhas"great adepts," or teachers, of Vajrayana Buddhism. Mostly Indians, the mahasiddhas were spiritual mavericks. They meditated in cremation grounds among charred corpses until they were beyond every fear of life and death. Their life stories are filled with tales of magic and miracles.