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Jetsun Milarepa (Tibetan: རྗེ་བཙུན་མི་ལ་རས་པ, Wylie: Rje-btsun Mi-la-ras-pa), (c. 1052 – c. 1135 CE) is generally considered one of Tibet's most famous yogis and poets. He was a student of Marpa Lotsawa, and a major figure in the history of the Kagyu (Bka'-brgyud) school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Born in the village of Kya Ngatsa – also known as Tsa – in Gungthang province of western Tibet to a prosperous family he was named Mila Thöpaga (Thos-pa-dga'), which means "A joy to hear." His family name, Josay indicates noble descent, a sept of the Khyungpo or eagle clan.
When his father died, Milarepa's uncle and aunt took all of the family's wealth. At his mother's request, Milarepa left home and studied sorcery. While his aunt and uncle were having a party to celebrate the impending marriage of their son, he took his revenge by summoning a giant hail storm to demolish their house, killing 35 people, although the uncle and aunt are supposed to have survived. The villagers were angry and set off to look for Milarepa, but his mother got word to him, and he sent a hailstorm to destroy their crops.
Milarepa later lamented his evil ways in his older years in conversation with Rechungpa: "In my youth I committed black deeds. In maturity I practised innocence. Now, released from both good and evil, I have destroyed the root of karmic action and shall have no reason for action in the future. To say more than this would only cause weeping and laughter. What good would it do to tell you? I am an old man. Leave me in peace."
According to the book Magic and Mystery in Tibet by French explorer Alexandra David-Néel, Milarepa boasted of having "crossed in a few days, a distance which, before his training in black magic, had taken him more than a month. He ascribes his gift to the clever control of 'internal air'." David-Néel comments "that at the house of the lama who taught him black magic there lived a trapa [monk] who was fleeter than a horse" using the same skill. After witnessing such a monk David-Néel described how:
"He seemed to lift himself from the ground.. His steps had the regularity of a pendulum.. ..the traveller seemed to be in a trance."
This esoteric skill, which is known as Lung-gom-pa ("Wind Meditation", lung = "wind", gom-pa = "meditation") in Tibet, allows a practitioner to run at an extraordinary speed for days without stopping. This technique could be compared to that practised by the Kaihigyo Monks of Mt. Hiei in Kyoto, and of Shugendō, Japan.
Tutelage under Marpa
Knowing that his revenge was wrong, Milarepa (Then known by his boyhood name 'Fortuitous') set out to find a lama and was led to Marpa the Translator. Marpa proved a hard taskmaster. Before Marpa would teach Milarepa he had him build and then demolish three towers in turn. Milarepa was asked to build one final multi-story tower by Marpa at Lhodrag: this 11th century tower still stands. When Marpa still refused to teach Milarepa, he went to Marpa's wife, who took pity on him. She forged a letter of introduction to another teacher, Lama Ngogdun Chudor, under whose tutelage he practiced meditation. However when he was making no progress, he confessed the forgery and Ngogdun Chudor said that it was vain to hope for spiritual growth without the guru Marpa's approval.
Milarepa returned to Marpa, and was finally shown the spiritual teachings. Milarepa then left on his own, and after protracted diligence for 12 years he attained the state of Vajradhara (complete enlightenment). He then became known as Milarepa. 'Mila' is Tibetan for; 'great man', and 'repa' means; 'cotton clad one.' At the age of 45, he started to practice at Drakar Taso (White Rock Horse Tooth) cave – "Milarepa's Cave", as well as becoming a wandering teacher. Here, he subsisted on nettle tea, leading his skin to turn green with a waxy covering, hence the greenish color he is often depicted as having, in paintings and sculpture.
Pyenzhangling Monastery, also known as Pelgye Ling Gompa, is a small Tibetan Buddhist monastery in a tiny village called Zhonggang, Tibet that is consecrated to Milarepa. It is built around the cave where he once lived. "It was destroyed but has now been rebuilt and decorated by Nepali artisans. This is one of many caves associated with Milarepa between Langtang and Jomolungma."
Milarepa's lama was Marpa, a.k.a. 'Marpa the Translator,' whose guru (teacher or lama) was Naropa, who's guru was, in turn, Tilopa. Milarepa is famous for many of his songs and poems, in which he expresses the profundity of his realization of the dharma. His songs were impulsive, not contrived or written down, and came about while he was immersed in enlightened states of consciousness. His life represented the ideal Bodhisattva, and is a testament to the unity and interdependency of all Buddhist teachings – Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. He showed that poverty is not a deprivation, but rather a component of emancipating oneself from the constrictions of material possessions; that Tantric practice entails discipline and steadfast perseverance; that without resolute renunciation and uncompromising discipline, as Gautama Buddha Himself stressed, all the sublime ideas and dazzling images depicted in Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism are no better that magnificent illusions. He also had many disciples, male and female, including Rechung Dorje Drakpa (Ras-chung Rdo-rje Grags-pa) and Gampopa (Sgam-po-pa, Dhakpo Lhaje). His female disciples include Rechungma, Padarbum, Sahle Aui and Tsheringma. It was Gampopa who became Milarepa's spiritual successor, continued his lineage, and became one of the main lineage masters in Milarepa's tradition.
Milarepa lived around 950 years ago at the northern slopes of the Himalayas, overlooking the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra river basin, in what is now known as southern Tibet. Buddhism had come to those regions earlier, and it was mixed with the even-older Bon beliefs of that region. At that time, there were lamasaries at some locations regionally. Several years after Milarepa had attained spiritual enlightenment, his long-lost sister, Peta, found him at one of the secluded caves where he meditated alone. She was aghast at his very thin, greenish, and unclothed body, and pleaded with him to take nourishment, which he did. Peta gave him some cloth and thread to make clothes. She then pleaded with him to quit being such a recluse, and come down the mountain and join a monastery or lamasery. That way, he could wear proper clothes and obtain meals. He kindly rejected her suggestion, and described how such trappings of convention would restrict his spiritual development.
Milarepa, Tempera on cotton, 21x30 cm, 2008 Otgonbayar Ershuu
- Gtsaṅ-smyon He-ru-ka (Tsangnyong Heruka Rüpägyäncän), The life of Milarepa, tr. Lobsang Phuntshok Lhalungpa, Viking Press, 1979, p.12
- The Life of Milarepa: A New Translation from the Tibetan translator Lobsang P. Lhalungpa written by He-Ru-Ka
- The Life of Milarepa: A New Translation from the Tibetan translator Lobsang P. Lhalungpa written by He-Ru-Ka p.12
- David-Neel, Alexandra. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1971 (ISBN 0-486-22682-4)
- David-Néel, Alexandra (1932). Magic and Mystery in Tibet. pp. 202, 203. ISBN 141797754 Check
- Magic and Mystery in Tibet p.212
- The run of a lifetime
- prm.ox.ac.uk: Sekhar Gutog monastery in Lhodrag near Bhutan
- Dowman, Keith. 1988. The Power-places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim's Guide. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London & New York. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0, p. 282.
- The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: The Life-Story and Teaching of the Greatest Poet-Saint Ever to Appear in the History of Buddhism
- Women in Tibet
- Website of Gyalwa Karmapa, see: Women Disciples of Milarepa
- Life Story of Milarepa, by Ken Albertsen, adapted from the translation by Lobsang P.Lhalungpa, Adventure1 Publications, 2008, ISBN 9781879338074 also available as audio-book.
- The Life of Milarepa, translated by Andrew Quintman, Penguin Classics, 2010, ISBN 978-0-14-310622-7
- The Life of Milarepa, translated by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa, Book Faith India, 1997, ISBN 81-7303-046-4
- Milarepa: Songs on the Spot, translated by Nicole Riggs, Dharma Cloud Press, 2003, ISBN 0-9705639-3-0
- Milarepa, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, translated by Garma C.C. Chang, City Lights Books, 1999, ISBN 1-57062-476-3
- Tibet's Great Yogī Milarepa: A Biography from the Tibetan. Edited by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. 1928. Oxford University Press. Paperback reprint 1974.
- The Yogi's Joy: Songs of Milarepa Sangharakshita, Windhorse Publications, 2006, ISBN 1-899579-66-4
- The Shadows of the Masters, Leonardo Vittorio Arena, ebook, 2013.
- Drinking the Mountain Stream: Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-063-0repa/10-1/mila1-0.htm Milarepa the great Tibetan saint] Dharmapala Thangka Centre, School of Thangka Painting
- Milarepa in the Treasury of Lives
- Biography on Kagyu website
- The life of Milarepa
- Milarepa meets Padampa Sangye
- The Magic life of Milarepa in comic book form.
- The sixty songs of Milarepa
- Text, The Essential Songs of Milarepa in English
- Inviting the demon. (Milarepa, Tibetan Buddhism)(The Shadowissue) Judith Simmer-Brown, Parabola Vol.22 No.2 (Summer 1997) pp. 12–18
- Movie, Milarepa, 1 of 2
- Gallery of Milarepa Thangkas by Dharmapala Thangka Centre
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