Milarepa, Tibetan Buddhist Saint

Milarepa (Mi-la-ras-pa), Tibet, roughly “Mila who wears the cotton cloth of an ascetic,” 1025- 1135; by far the most famous saint of Tibet. After trials of the utmost difficulty imposed on him by his master, Marpa, he received the complete teachings of the mahamudra and of the Naro chodrug. His diligent and exemplary exertion in the realization of these teachings brought about the founding of the – Kagyupa school. The biography of Milarepa, composed in the 15th century, with all the spiritual songs it contains, is still today one of the greatest sources of inspiration in Tibetan Buddhism.


Milarepa’s Youth

Milarepa was born into the family of Mila-Dorje-Senge in the year 1035. His father was a trader in wool and had become wealthy by the standards of the time when his wife bore a son. The son was named Thopaga which means delightful to hear, and Thopaga, (later known as Mila-repa—Mila, the cotton clad), lived up to his name as he had a beautiful voice and charmed his companions with his singing. The family lived in a large stone house that consisted of three stories held in place by a large central pillar and supporting columns – a mansion in comparison to the modest homes of his neighbors. The brother and sister of Milarepa’s father had also settled in the area along with their families, and the clan would often congregate at the great stone house of Mila-Dorje-Senge.

About this time his father, Mila-Dorje-Senge, became gravely ill and accepting his impending death, called together the extended family and made known to all that he wanted his entire estate and all possessions put into the care of his brother and sister until such time as Milarepa had grown and married Zesay, one of the neighboring girls who had been betrothed to him in childhood according to the tradition of the times.

After his father’s death, however, Milarepa’s aunt and uncle who had been given charge of the property, divided the estate between them, dispossessing Milarepa, his mother, and sister Peta of all their worldly possessions. They were forced to live with them in the lowest accommodations and were given only coarse food and even made to work in the fields. Over the ensuing years their health suffered, their clothes were rough and tattered, the heads of the two children became invaded by lice.

When Milarepa reached his fifteenth year, his mother decided on a plan to recover the lost inheritance. She scraped together whatever resources she could borrow from neighbors and relatives and put on a feast, inviting all who had been present when her husband had died and made known his last wishes. As the assembled neighbors and relatives were feasting and drinking large cups of chang (fermented barley), she stood up and recounted all that her husband had said on his deathbed, reminding her husband’s brother and sister that they were to be only caretakers of the estate. Now that Milarepa had attained his majority, she requested that all the property be restored to them.

But the greedy Aunt and Uncle now claimed that they had been the original owners and had only loaned the property to the Mila-Dorje-Senge family and thus, Milarapa and his mother had no real claim on the property. The aunt and uncle now began indignantly slapping Milarepa’s mother and the two children, calling them ungrateful wretches to act thus after accepting the charity of living with them and eating their food. Thus they drove them out of the large stone house to let the mother and children fend for themselves.

Sorcery and Black Magic

One day Milarepa happened to be singing loudly, proud of his voice, when his mother overheard him and was stung to the quick by his unseemly outburst of happiness. She immediately berated him for his transgression in the face of the relentless misery of their existence. She thought over the situation and decided to take action. She wanted him to learn the black arts of sorcery in order to wreak vengeance on their enemies, the greedy Aunt and Uncle. Milarepa agreed that he would apply himself under a good teacher if his mother provided him with fees for the apprenticeship and living expenses. In order to do so, She sold half of the small plot of property that had belonged to her side of the family before her marriage and sent Milarapa off with money. Before he took her leave she very solemnly told him that she would kill herself in his very presence if he returned without having learned sufficient magic to be able to wreak some havoc on their enemies.

Milarepa traveled a distance away to a Lama who was known about the countryside as one who was proficient in the black arts. Along with some other young apprentices, Milarepa spent nearly a year learning mostly ineffectual magic rites with high sounding titles. At the end of the year, the pupils were sent off and told that if they applied themselves diligently they would succeed in their quest. Milarepa accompanied his companions for a time as they took their leave but then turned back to the Lama’s house. Along the way, he collected a quantity of manure and dug a hole and buried it in the Lama’s garden as a small gift to his teacher. The Lama observed this from his roof, and is said to have remarked that he had never had a pupil more affectionate and industrious as the young lad Milarepa was.


Young Milarepa as sorcerer
low level sorcery summons spirts to do one’s bidding

Milarepa went in to the Lama’s presence and told him of his mother’s vow to kill herself in his presence if he didn’t learn some real magic. He then recounted his tale of woe in all its detail to the Lama who was greatly saddened by the story. The Lama decided to confer some real power on Milarepa but he wanted to make sure that the magic would not be used unjustly so he sent a fleet disciple to Milarepa’s homeland to find out if the tale was true. On the disciples return, he agreed to show him the true and potent rituals for invoking the Tutelary deities to take revenge.

Milarepa absorbed all the teachings thoroughly and carefully carried out the prescribed ritual for 14 days. At the end of the ritual the Tutelary deities appeared to him in a vision with the bloody heads and hearts of 35 of the relatives who had most ill-treated him. The Lama informed him that two of the guilty ones had been missed and asked Milarepa if he wanted their lives as well. He replied that he wanted them to be spared as witnesses to the power of his magic. Thus it came to pass that his two very worst enemies, the greedy Aunt and Uncle were spared from harm.

The sorcery took the form of a disaster that occurred at a family wedding. All the relatives and friends who had been most offensive to him had gathered at the great stone house to celebrate the wedding. There was a big commotion outside and some of the horses kept in the yard started kicking and running about violently agitated, until one of them ran into the main supporting column of the three story house with such force that the entire house came crashing down on the wedding party with tremendous noise and force killing everyone inside except for the Aunt and Uncle.

All this was observed by some of those sympathetic to the Milarepa family who were just approaching the house. Milarepa’s mother quickly learned of the catastrophe and was ecstatic with cruel joy. She came gloating over the destruction that her son had caused telling everyone what joy her son had brought to her aging heart by causing so much death and destruction. The relatives of the dead were quite upset at the tragedy and more so to learn of her gloating. They talked it over but were divided on whether to get together and kill her in revenge, or to go after her son Milarepa, who had directly caused the destruction. After due consideration they decided to find and kill the son.

Quest for Salvation

Milarepa hid for a time in a cave, and ran to his Lama-teacher. The Lama congratulated Milarepa on his success but by now Milarapa was deeply repenting all the evil deeds his mother had urged him to commit. He longed for religion and wanted to be delivered from committing further evil acts. He worried greatly over the heavy debts of karma he had incurred through his evil actions and could think of nothing else. He wanted to ask the Lama Guru for religious instruction but didn’t have the nerve to broach the subject so he stayed on, faithfully serving the Lama and waiting for an opportune moment to bring up the subject of his salvation.

The Lama now was called away to attend to one of his followers who had died after a short illness. The Lama returned lamenting that such an excellent man in the prime of his life had died so suddenly. He spoke on the transitoriness of life and the misery of this earthly existence and then started ruminating over his own life. He had spent his entire life up to that point practicing the art of dealing death and destruction and teaching those same black arts to many others. By doing so he had to take at least a portion of the karmic responsibility for all the evil acts that had come out of it.

In his mood of deep remorse, he urged Milarepa to go and seek out a teacher of the Holy Dharma and at least deliver himself and maybe even the Lama into a higher state of existence in a future life. This was precisely the opportunity Milarepa had been waiting for. He prayed to be allowed to take to the religious life and his teacher readily agreed, giving him gifts and a letter of introduction to a well known Lama versed in a doctrine called “The Great Perfection”.

Milarepa finds his Guru

Milarepa went to the Lama and requested to be taught. The Lama gave him some meditation instructions and told him to go practice but after a few days, the Lama had an insight that he was not the proper teacher for Milarepa, so he sent him on to a very learned Lama he knew of named “Marpa the Translator”. Marpa was known widely among other religious centers for his trips to India to procure sacred teachings which he had brought back to Tibet in large bundles of scrolls. Marpa had been initiated by the famed Naropa, a powerful Saint who had fully transferred his exalted state of enlightenment to his disciple Marpa.

The day before Milarepa arrived, Marpa the Translator had a dream in which his own Guru, the Great Saint Naropa appeared to him and gave him a five pointed dorje (i.e. sceptre) made of the precious gem lapis lazuli. The dorje, however, was slightly tarnished and Naropa urged him to wash the dirt off with an elixir of holy water from a golden pot until it shone in splendour and then to raise it up upon a Banner of Victory. In his dream Marpa saw that the dorje, once polished and raised up emitted a brilliant radiance that shone on all the sentient beings in the six Lokas (the physical and spiritual realms or worlds). In his dream, the spectacle of the radiant dorje was blessed with the benedictions of the Victorious Ones (previous humanity who had passed into the state of Buddhahood, or enlightenment).

Marpa was a member of the Kargyutpa sect and one of the specialties of the lineage was to divine future events through the reading of omens. From the dream he knew that a momentous meeting with his chief disciple was about to take place and that his task was to expiate some evil karma by which the disciple had been tarnished and then to bring him to the state of enlightenment.

Marpa left his house telling his wife Damema that he was going to plough his field that day, a thing he had never done before. Marpa walked down the road a ways and kept busy at the ploughing until he spied Milarepa coming up the road towards him. As soon as Milarepa approached and laid eyes on the Lama Marpa, an inexpressible bliss gripped him and for a few moments he lost consciousness of his surroundings swept up in an ecstatic state. As soon as he had recovered he addressed Marpa as Reverend Sir and asked him where he might find the faithful disciple of the famous saint Naropa who was called Marpa the translator. Milarepa added that he wanted to learn the True Doctrine by which he might obtain Deliverance in one single lifetime. At this Marpa was inwardly pleased but he showed no emotion and only said that he would procure an introduction to the Lama Marpa if only Milarepa would finish the task of ploughing the field.

Marpa offered Milarepa some chang (barley beverage) as refreshment. Milarepa thanked him and drank the entire quantity of chang offered. Milarepa then ploughed the field with enthusiasm and even when one of the disciples came to call him to the Lama’s presence, Milarepa asked him to wait until he had finished ploughing the field thoroughly and completely as requested by Marpa. Marpa took these two omens as signs of his new disciple’s thoroughness and willingness to work towards the spiritual goal.


Milarepa and Marpa

A Path of Discipline

After that initial meeting began a period during which Marpa held out the goal of spiritual instruction and kept Milarepa busy at strenuous physical labours building various stone edifices. By nature Marpa was outwardly a rough and tyrannical teacher but inwardly he was all love and compassion. By the previous omens and Milarepa’s recounting of his evil deeds, Marpa knew there was a great deal of evil karma to be worked out so he pretended to be always short tempered and demanding with the sincere and faithful lad.

He had Milarepa build a stone structure on a high rocky ridge only to have him tear it down again, and take all the rocks and boulders back to where they were found, telling him he had changed his plans and now wanted a new structure built in another place. This was repeated on three different ridges until finally he had Milarepa build a grand many-storyed edifice on yet a forth ridge. Throughout the tasks, Milarepa never lost faith that he would receive the instructions he was looking for and put forth a Herculean effort, moving stones that ordinarily could only be moved by the combined strength of three men. He put forth such strenuous effort that he wore his body out until his back was one great sore from carrying rocks and mortar. His arms and legs were all cracked and bruised. Yet he continued working on, every day hoping at last to be favored with some religious instruction. Out of sympathy with his wounds, Marpa showed him how to pad his back and allowed him to rest while his body healed, but never did he allow Milarepa to avoid any of the building work that he had set out for him to complete.

During the years when all this building was going on, Marpa continued giving instruction to his other students. On several different occasions, various individuals among the disciples underwent initiations to receive the sacred instructions and Milarepa would try to join them but the Lama would drive him away with angry shouts and fierce beatings, causing him great mental distress. Each time Milarepa would be plunged into deep despair thinking that Marpa’s actions were due only to the evil he had previously done. Sometimes Milarepa considered taking drastic action but each time he was on the verge of either taking his own life or running away, Marpa’s wife, Damema, would give him sympathy and comfort, telling him the Lama would surely soon favor him with some instruction.

Soon another opportunity for instruction presented itself with the grand initiation of some disciples into the Mandala rite of Gaypa Dorje’. Marpa’s wife Damema secretly gave a rare coloured turquoise which had been in her family to Milarepa as an offering of the initiation fee and then urged him to take his place once again with the other participants to the initiation. When the time came for the ceremony, Marpa approached Milarepa, carefully examined the turquoise and asked him how he came to possess it. Milarepa had to confess that the Reverend Mother (Damema) had given it to him. In reply Marpa merely told him that if he had anything of his own to offer he could stay. Thinking that maybe the Lama would soften and allow him to take initiation, Milarepa stayed on a while and waited. But this only made Marpa furious (at least outwardly) and he threw young Milarepa to the ground with great force and made as if to beat him with a stick. At this the young lad felt as if his heart was breaking, and weeping openly he left the house.

Milarepa plunged into despair

The next day the Lama summoned him and asked him if his refusal to confer initiation on him had shaken his faith. Milarepa replied that he only considered that it was the result of his own evil deeds which had prevented him from taking his place in the ceremony, whereupon he burst into tears anew. At this, the Lama ordered him out in an angry voice, asking him how he dared try to blame the Lama for this by his weeping so in his presence. Again Milarepa was sunk into the utmost despair feeling as if his heart were being torn out.

Milarepa went off by himself to another monastery in despair, seeking the teachings he desired elsewhere. He found another Lama nearby, and was conducted to a solitary cave where he was walled up inside of it with a stone wall held in place with mud as mortar. Now he was to commence his meditation practices. A small aperture was left for handing in food and water. Milarepa followed the Lama’s meditation instructions with great zeal but despite a prodigious effort on his part, he failed utterly to experience any kind of spiritual development.

After a while the Lama came to him and asked him if he had experienced such and such to which Milarepa replied in the negative. The Lama was greatly puzzled as even the least advanced pupil should have had at least some measure of experiences by that point. Milarepa was inwardly alarmed by this and guessed that it was because he did not have Marpa’s blessings. He was afraid to say anything though so he kept quiet and the Lama directed him to continue with his practices.

At about this time, the Lama received a summons from Marpa to join him for a great religious event. The letter also stated that Milarepa should also attend. The Lama went to Milarepa’s cave and read the letter to him. At this Milarepa confessed that indeed, it was not Marpa that had sent him there for instruction, but his wife, the Reverend Mother Damema. The Lama then stated that in that case, they had been engaged in totally profitless work.

There was high drama and despair when Milarepa and the Lama returned to Marpa’s monastery. The Lama was castigated on account of his giving tutelage to Milarepa. After reparation, a feast was engaged. Milarepa was sent out, exiled and sat out in dark, weeping with despair. Milarepa was repeatedly plunged into despair by Marpa.

Purpose of Discipline Explained:

Now Marpa made a detailed recounting of all that had occurred from the time he first met his worthy disciple. He first said that he had set Milarepa at hard labor building various edifices to help absolve him of his sins. His own anger, he said was not common anger, but spiritual or religious anger and it had as its aim to incite repentance and contribute to the spiritual development of the recipient. If he had had the chance of plunging his spiritual son (Milarepa) into abject despair nine times he would have been able to cleanse him completely of all his sins. But owing to the misplaced pity and narrow understanding of his wife Damema, who had interfered with his plans, he was only able to do this eight times. However, the sufferings that Milarepa had undergone had cleansed him of his major sins and his other chastenings had cleansed him of most of his minor sins leaving him with only a residual amount of demerit to be worked off.

Now Marpa announced that he was going to finally confer on Milarepa those initiations and teachings of his sect that bring liberation in a single lifetime and then he planned to shut him up in a cave to begin his meditations.

The next day, Marpa erected the Demchog Mandala and through mantras, invoked the presence of the deities who presided over the succession of gurus in the Kargyutpa Sect of which Marpa was now the current youngest lineage holder. Milarepa now had the vision of the presiding tutelary deities invoked by the Mandala, thus receiving their benediction on his initiation. Then Marpa gave him instruction in the methods of meditation and explained the meanings of all the omens and events that had occurred since the initial meeting of the two. He told Milarepa that he in his turn would have disciples full of faith, intelligence, and energy, owing to his own patience, faith and acceptance in all the trials he had undergone during his cleansing period.

Milarepa commences Meditation

Milarepa then began his meditation training. Marpa shut him up in a cave with a supply of provisions. Milarepa used to start his meditations each day by putting a lighted lamp on his head. He would continue meditating until the lamp went out. After eleven months of this Marpa and Damema came to take him out of isolation and assess his progress. Milarepa was reluctant to take a break from his meditations because of the great progress he was making but he followed his Guru’s dictates. Marpa now asked him what understandings he had obtained from his meditations. Milarepa first sang a song which he extemporaneously composed honoring his Guru and his wife and the teachings he had been given. In his song he requested that Marpa remain in the world until “The Whirling Pool of Being is emptied“. After that he summarised his realisations.



Initial Realisations

I have understood this body of mine to be the product of ignorance, composed of flesh and blood and lit up by the perceptive power of consciousness. To those fortunate ones who long for emancipation it may be the great vessel by which they may procure Freedom. But to the unfortunates who only sin, it may be the guide to lower and miserable states of existence. This our life is the boundary mark whence one may take an upward or downward path. Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or other, for lasting good or lasting ill.

One who aims only at his own individual peace and happiness adopts the lower path (Hinayana), but he who devotes the merits of his love and compassion to the cause of others belongs to the higher path (Mahayana). In meditating on the Final Goal, one has to discover the non-existence of the personal Ego, and therefore the fallacy that it exists (i.e. because everything in the universe with name and form is basically illusory in nature)

To realize the state of non-existence of the personal ego, the mind must be kept in quiescence. In that state, thoughts, ideas, and cognition cease and the mind (awareness) passes into a state of perfect tranquility so that days, months, and years may pass without the person perceiving it; thus the passage of time has to be marked for him by others.

The visions of the forms of the Deities which appear in meditation are merely signs attending the perseverance in meditation. They have no intrinsic worth or value in themselves.

All the efforts put forth during this path must be made in a spirit of compassion with the aim of dedicating the merit of one’s efforts to the Universal Good. There is a need of mentally praying and wishing for blessings on others so earnestly that one’s mind processes also transcend thought.

Just as the mere name of food does not satisfy the appetite of a hungry person but he must eat food, so also a man who would learn about the Voidness (i.e. Universal Awareness) must meditate so as to realise it, not just learn of its definition.

After the recounting, Marpa was exceedingly pleased and told Milarepa that he had expected much but that his expectations had all been exceeded. Milarepa was then allowed to go back to the cave for more meditation.

A Vivid Dream of Home

Usually Milarepa never slept but meditated continuously, however one particular day he had slept for a long time and had a vivid dream wherein he saw the house he had lived in as a child all in ruins. He saw his sacred books within the fallen house being wasted by rain water, his old mother had died, and his sister was roving about the countryside with no attachments and no friends. In his dream he was weeping with great sadness and longing for his mother and sister and he woke up feeling very sad. He tried again to meditate but could not shed his sadness; instead the feeling grew stronger and stronger until he vowed to himself to go out into the world and try to find his family. So he pulled down the rock wall and went to see his guru Marpa.

As he entered Marpa’s quarters he found him asleep with the rising sun just lighting his head like a halo. Just at that moment, Damema came in with his morning meal. Marpa awoke, alarmed to find Milarepa had left his cave retreat. Milarepa explained that he was overcome with sadness thinking of his beloved mother and sister he had left behind many years ago. He explained to Marpa his great longing to see them once more. Although Marpa felt there was little chance in finding the mother alive and little merit in making the search, he agreed to allow him to go. But, he warned, the fact that Milarepa had entered his quarters and found him asleep was an omen that they would not see each other alive again in this life.

Milarepa journeys home

Marpa was much grieved at heart thinking he would not again see his spiritual son alive but knowing this was the way of all the perishable things of the world, he requested Damema to deck the altar with offerings for their parting ceremony. He then gave Milarepa the final and highest initiation as well as the sacred ear-whispered tantric doctrines. These doctrines he gave only to Milarepa, among all his disciples. He charged Milarepa in his turn to hand them down to his most worthy disciple and so on for thirteen generations. Then in a final ceremony with the entire assembly of Lamas and disciples, Marpa occultly manifested himself in the forms of Gaypa Dorje and other of the tutelary divinities of the Kargyutpa sect and also other divine shapes and forms along with the various symbols associated with each deity such as bells, gems, lotuses, swords, etc.

He then explained that these were various psycho-physical powers obtained after enlightenment and that they should never be manifested for an unworthy cause. This was his parting gift to Milarepa, and this, his spiritual son, greatly exalted in his heart to see that his Guru Marpa was veritably a Buddha himself. He vowed that he himself would gain such powers and show them in his turn to his own disciples. Marpa then told him that he could now depart since he had demonstrated the mirage like nature of all existing things. He instructed Milarepa to meditate in various caves made holy by previous saints in the locale of Mount Kailas, Lapchi Kang (Mt. Everest), and other sanctified places. He then gave to Milarepa a sealed scroll that was to be opened only on dire threat of imminent death. With great sadness, knowing they would not meet again in the present life, Milarepa took leave of his beloved Spiritual Father and Mother with the thought that they would all meet again in the celestial realms.

Milarepa journeyed quickly to his homeland, crossing several high and dangerous mountain passes to get there. When he arrived he found things just as he had seen in his dream. His mother had died, his house was in ruins and all the neighbors were afraid to go near it thinking it inhabited by evil ghosts. His sister wandered homeless, none knew where. His field was choked with weeds.

He entered the ruin that was his house and found a mound with grass growing thickly over it. Moving the dirt he found the bones of what he knew to be his mother. He had the unbearable thought that he would never see his mother again and a deep sadness gripped his soul. He wept bitterly in his loneliness. Remembering his Guru’s teachings on the transient nature of reality, he laid down using the mound as a pillow and entered into deep meditation. He soon passed over into the samadhi state in which he remained for seven days. On returning to normal consciousness, he reflected that the world now had nothing left to tempt him or bind him to it. He vowed again and again to himself that the life of solitary meditation was the only path for him. Exchanging his house and land for some food, he left his former homeland forever and proceeded to the Draktar-Taso Cave, the first of many caves he was to inhabit during the remainder of his life.

There he settled in the spacious comfortable cave, not even sleeping, but meditating continuously except for a single break once a day to prepare a meal of flour and water mixed with whatever root or edible he might find. At about this time Milarepa gained proficiency in the yogic power of Tum-mo, the generation of the Ecstatic Internal Warmth, in which the body generates a great deal of heat. This allowed him to stay relatively warm through the cold Tibetan winters with nothing but a thin cotton covering whereas most people had to wear thick wool and leather hides. For this reason he came to be called Mila – repa or Mila the cotton clad.

Nettle Soup

His daily routine of meditation continued for four years until his supply of flour ran out. This caused him great concern because he had vowed to himself not to return to the world for any reason – but with no food, he was afraid he might die without having attained liberation. He decided to walk about outside the cave in search of some kind of food. Not far from the cave he found a sunny spot with springs of fresh water, an expansive view of the area, with a large quantity of nettles growing all about. He made a soup of nettle broth and found it to be somewhat palatable. This was now to become his sole source of food for some time to come. He continued his meditations on his new diet, but without any nurturing food, his body soon became emaciated and the hair on his body began to take on a greenish tinge from the nettles. He became very weak and often thought of opening the scroll that Marpa had given him for a time of dire need. But he continued to make progress in his meditations.

About this time some hunters chanced to be in the area after failing to find game. When they first laid eyes on Milarepa’s pale green form, they fled in terror thinking he was not a man but some kind of evil spirit. But on assuring them he was indeed a human like themselves they lost their fear of him. They demanded that Milarepa share some of his provisions with them as they were out of food but Milarepa told them he had none to share. They did not believe him, so they searched the area and not finding any began to ill treat him. Three of them picked him up several times and dropped him causing him great pain but in his misery he only pitied them and shed tears thinking of the evil karma they were creating for themselves. The fourth hunter entreated the others to stop ill-treating him and leave him alone as he did indeed seem to be a real lama for showing such forbearance over his ill treatment. Before leaving, the fourth man requested Milarepa to remember him in his prayers since the man had done nothing to offend him, and then the group of them left, laughing boisterously. Later Milarepa learned that Divine retribution had overtaken them as they were arrested by the Governor of the province.

The meditation continued and Milarepa grew even thinner. The hair on his body took on a more greenish color. Again some hunters chanced upon his cave and also wanted provisions but seeing that he was living only on nettles, they left him the remainder of their own provisions and a large quantity of meat. Milarepa was very grateful to have some real food and he began to take some daily. The food gave him a sense of bodily comfort and spiritual zeal which he had not experienced in a long time and his meditations took on a new intensity. But eventually the food ran out and once again he fell back on his nettle broth for sustenance.


Milarepa turned green; surrounding Milarepa are subtle forms of tutelary deities; a mendicant prays before him

Several more years passed in this way and Milarepa’s long lost sister Peta heard tales from hunters that had stumbled across his camp. They informed her that her brother was there and looked on the verge of death from starvation. She was amazed to hear even that he was alive. Approaching the cave, Peta was horrified to see the emaciated green body of her brother, with protruding bones and eyes sunk in his skull. At first she took it to be some strange being or ghost but recognizing her brother’s voice, she ran to him crying and bewailing their fate. She expressed to him that they two were the most luckless people in the whole world. At this Milarepa explained that rather he was the most fortunate person in the world because he had attained to transcendent knowledge and Bodhi mind (the internal vision of a Buddha). But his sister felt he was only deluding himself.

A few days later his sister returned him bringing cured meat, flour, butter, and chang. He finished the chang that Peta had brought and was eating well from the extra food left but he found that his mind was now disturbed and his body was experiencing various pains. No matter how hard he tried to meditate he could no longer enter the samadhi state. Feeling there was no greater danger than not being able to continue with his meditations, he opened the scroll that Marpa had given him for just such a time of dire emergency. In the scroll he found the exact instructions needed for treating the present emergency and he immediately put the instructions into effect with the result that his meditations now increased as never before because of the healthy food he was now eating.

The knot of the central spinal column along which the psychic energy flows was now cleared at the plexus (i.e. chakra center) below the naval and the psychic energy current rose up his spine in its fullness. He now experienced a supersensuous calmness and clearness that far exceeded in its ecstatic intensity any of the states he had previously reached. He attained to new heights of realisation in which he saw that the highest state of Nirvana and the ordinary state of Samsaric consciousness were but opposite and inseparable states resting on the base of the Voidness of Universal or Supra mundane Mind (ie Ultimate Awareness). In his new realisation he could clearly see that the samsaric or phenomenal existence results when the Universal Mind is directed along the path of self centered and self oriented awareness, and that the Nirvanic state of transcendence results when it is directed on the path of selfless or altruistic awareness.

Milarepa Manifesting Occult Powers

Greatly encouraged by this new development, Milarepa redoubled his zeal and began to develop the siddhis or yogic powers that accompany full enlightenment. A few of the people he had encountered now knew about his siddhis (psychic powers) and so Milarepa determined to go to even more isolated caves to prevent a steady flow of people coming to him with selfish aims.

As he was about to leave the area, his sister Peta came once again bringing him some cloth for him to fasten into a garment for his unclothed body. She remained a while and he tried to talk her into taking to a life of meditation with him. But the very thought was repugnant to her and she saw only his great deprivation. To her, he was the most miserable person on the earth and she felt that even though she had to beg for her own food and clothes, her life was far better than his. She tried to talk him into becoming a lama of the people so that they might bring him offerings in return for religious blessings. Milarepa saw that he would not be able to convert her to a religious outlook so he at least explained to her the doctrine of karma (i.e. the law of retribution) so that she would at least refrain from incurring any fresh debts from harmful actions.

Milarepa now removed to Lapchi-Kang (Everest) and continued his meditation amidst the snows and isolation there. Altogether he meditated in and made holy twenty caves covering the region from Mount Kailas and Lapchi-Kang in Tibet to far off Nepal. It is said that besides his many human converts he also brought to enlightenment some superhuman (ie non-embodied) beings as well, including the Goddess Tseringma (one of the twelve guardian deities of Tibet who reside at Mt. Kailas). The Goddess came to tempt him with her powers during his meditations and instead was herself liberated.

During his travels over the 84 years of his life he met many worthy disciples that were destined to come under his tutelage. Highest among the disciples was Dvagpo Rimpoche (Gambopa). The most well known among them was Rechung who entreated him to tell in detail the story of his life.

Milarepa is one of the most revered figures in Tibetan history, and his story has inspired seekers all over the world. Milarepa: Lessons from the Life and Songs of Tibet’s Great Yogi (Shambhala 2017), edited by Judith Lief, presents Chögyam Trungpa’s seminars on Milarepa’s life and songs of realization. Conducted in the U.S. between 1970 and 1976, these lectures cover a range of topics, including the teacher-student relationship, materialism, and Mahamudra nonmeditation, revealing again Trungpa’s extraordinary gifts as a teacher and making Milarepa’s example immediately relevant to our life and practice.

Milarepa – The Movie: A legendary tibetan story of revenge and redemption. A story of an ordinary boy Topaga who goes on to become Tibet’s greatest saint Milarepa.



This work recently appeared on and is © Chris Parnell