Milarepa – who would become one of the greatest meditation masters of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition – was born to a wealthy family in Tibet in the year 1040. Even today, the life story of Milarepa is a striking example of how, through effort and determination, it’s possible to overcome immense difficulties and achieve great things.
When Milarepa was only seven years old, tragedy struck when his father died suddenly. The family estate passed into the care of Milarepa’s uncle and aunt – who promptly seized the family property for themselves, forcing Milarepa and his sister and mother into humiliating domestic servitude.
Milarepa’s Ugly Quest for Revenge
Milarepa’s mother was furious at such degrading treatment and became determined to exact revenge. Milarepa, at his mother’s encouragement, went to learn the skills to bring about their downfall. Finally, after over a year of training in dark arts, he managed to cause the collapse of his aunt and uncle’s house at a celebration, killing 35 people.
Getting Back on Track
Milarepa was soon overcome with great regret at the terrible suffering he had caused by his selfish act of revenge. He became determined to turn his life around, and sought the instructions of various Buddhist masters whose practices he tried, but without success. Finally, one of his teachers told him about the great master Marpa – a highly accomplished meditation master who had himself studied under great teachers from India and Nepal – and became determined to travel to meet him to receive teachings on how to achieve enlightenment.
Finding a Buddhist Teacher
Finally, Milarepa found and recognised Marpa, who would become his principal master. Milarepa felt great devotion to Marpa on seeing him and explained to Marpa that he was a great sinner, who now sought the spiritual instructions which lead to Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.
Marpa eventually accepted Milarepa as his spiritual disciple, and bestowed a number of profound teachings on Milarepa, amongst which were certain special meditation instructions of the Vajrayana.
After the completion of his studies under Marpa, Milarepa left to enter into secluded meditation – but on his way discovered that his mother had died some time ago. This loss spurred his endeavours and, following the advice of his master Marpa, he entered into retreat in caves high up in the snowy mountains of Tibet.
Through deep meditation, Milarepa encountered many profound and sometimes terrifying appearances. Through his practice and contemplation, he gained deep insight into the true nature of mind and the appearances he saw, and developed the profound meditative realisation that all appearances are simply the manifestation of one’s mind.
Teaching Buddhism Through Poetry and Song
At the request of his own disciples, Milarepa transmitted his insights and realisation with others. He shared his teachings through the traditional formal methods, but also through poetry and song, and thus he continued a great tradition of previous masters before him.
Through these and other immense efforts, meditating for many years in solitude in very extreme conditions, Milarepa was able to overcome his troubled beginnings to achieve the level of Buddhahood in this very lifetime. His extraordinary example and accomplishments have made him a famous example whose fame continues to this day.