MILAREPA: TIBET’S GREAT MYSTIC
Lord! Gracious Marpa! I bow down at Thy Feet!
Enable me to give up worldly aims.
To some a saint, to others a poet of 100,000 songs, the great yogi Milarepa (1040-1123) is one of the most revered figures in Tibetan history. Among all sects of Tibetan Buddhism, all unite in holding Milarepa in the highest esteem. His life has grown into legend, possessing all the elements that make a great story: the death of a young boy’s father, betrayal by his uncle, the boy’s vow of revenge, his training in black magic, his remorse and atonement for mass murder, his education at the feet of a great teacher, and finally, his stunning achievement: enlightenment in the course of a single lifetime.
Revered as an exemplar of the religious life, Milarepa nevertheless avoided the monastic institutions of his time and their systems of scholastic training. After extensive retreat, he chose instead to wander from village to village, teaching the path to Buddhahood through his songs, installing himself as a saint of the people, a folk hero both real and legendary.
Milarepa’s path to sainthood was not an easy one. After Milarepa experienced deep remorse for his murderous actions as a magician of the black arts, he sought out a teacher to show him the way to atonement. The guru he found was none other than the famous translator, Marpa (1012-1097), himself the main disciple of Naropa (1016-1100).
Marpa received him with a host of seemingly futile tasks. One famous story records that Milarepa was instructed to build a large tower out of nearby boulders. Once the tower was complete, he was asked to tear it down and rebuild it in another location. Once this task was complete, he again was instructed to tear it down and rebuild. Other stories record Marpa’s seeming cruelty to Milarepa and have been studied by practitioners attempting to understand the boundaries of guru devotion. Nevertheless, Milarepa’s devotion to his guru enabled him to persevere. The many physical hardships and mental challenges he endured were designed specifically so that he could purify his negative karma and emotions.
This article is an excerpt of the full article printed in Mandala