The Life of Milarepa
Published: Jan 01, 2006
Every religion has saints who perform miracles and thus convince lesser believers of the rightness of their faith. Tibetan Buddhism is a particularly astringent discipline, fit only for the hardiest of souls — meditating in caves in a cold climate at high altitude is not for wimps. So if you do not know the story of Tibet’s greatest saint — Milarepa (1052-1135) — prepare to be amazed.
Milarepa was born rich. But his aunts and uncles were treacherous, and they exploited his family and took their land. When Milarepa was 15, his mother devised a plan: She would give Milarepa the rest of the family’s money, send him to a lama who taught magic, and have her son learn how to cast spells. Upon completion of Milarepa’s studies, he would take revenge for his mother. And if he failed? She’d kill herself.
Milarepa was a gifted student. After 14 days, he had a vision of the bloody heads and hearts of 35 relatives. He’d missed only two: his evil aunt and uncle. He decided to spare them, so they could tell the tale of his powers.
The actual vengeance took place at a family wedding. The house collapsed, killing all but two relatives. Next Milarepa learned to fly. And by flying over his relative’s fields, he cast a shadow that ruined their crop of barley.
All this was terrible karma. Milarepa wanted to repent. He found a guru, Marpa the Translator, who couldn’t have been more of a tyrant. First, he had Milarepa build him a stone house. Then he had him tear it down and put the rocks back where they came from. Then he had him build a second house. And tear it down. And then a third…
Next came meditation training: a long stint in a sealed cave. Marpa opened it eleven months later and asked Milarepa what he had learned. Milarepa spontaneously composed a song.
More time in the caves taught him how to sit in snow and melt ice. His diet was nettles. His chest hair turned green. People who saw him thought he was a caterpillar. His one possession, a bowl, cracked. Milarepa blessed God for showing him the folly of possessions. When he died, the sky was filled with angels.
It’s a magical life, a rollercoaster of an existence; it takes you from darkest evil to absolute purity. Inspiring? Very much so. And memorable. In fact, indelible — to read the story of Milarepa’s life is to know it forever.
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