Milarepa (1052-1135) is one of the most famous
figures in Tibetan history. In his youth he had been a magician but
having seen the futility of that pursuit, he became a yogi under the strict
guidance of the translator, Marpa of Lhodrak (1012-97.) He went on to live as a
cave-dwelling hermit, and became known as a singer of many dohas,
or songs of devotion and wisdom. Also an accomplished teacher, he
attracted students who later also went on to found important
biography, in which he overcomes the adversity of pride and self-concern
that led to vengeful destructive acts of magic to finally achieve
enlightenment, has been told many times.
After years of self-imposed
isolation to atone for the murder and mayhem committed to avenge wrongs done his
mother and sister, he persevered in the practice of Mahamudra and the Six
Yogas of Naropa which culminated in his achieving profound
He expressed that attainment in thousands of poems and
songs he composed many of which Tibetans know by heart.
They are found in
100,000 Songs of Milarepa.
<2000 photo of one of Milarepa's caves
by P. Hayward.
W. Y. Evans-Wentz first brought
Great Yogi Milarepa to the English language in 1928. It has since
been republished many times.
Here is the account
of an incident that gave rise to the doha known as Five Comforts.
"One night, a person, believing that I possessed some wealth, came
and, groping about, stealthily pried into every corner of my cave. Upon my
observing this, I laughed outright, and said, 'Try if thou canst find anything
by night where I have failed by daylight.' The person himself could not help
laughing, too; and then he went away.
About a year after that, some hunters of Tsa, having failed to secure any
game, happened to come strolling by the cave. As I was sitting in Samadhi,
wearing the above triple-knotted apology for clothing, they prodded me with
the ends of their bows, being curious to know whether I was a man or a bhuta.
Seeing the state of my body and clothes, they were more inclined to believe me
a bhuta. While they were discussing this amongst themselves, I opened my mouth
and spoke, saying, 'Ye may be quite sure that I am a man.'
They recognized me from seeing my teeth, and asked me whether I was Thopaga.
On my answering in the affirmative, they asked me for a loan of some food,
promising to repay it handsomely. They said, 'We heard that thou hadst come
once to thy home many years ago. Hast thou been here all the while?' I
replied, 'Yes; but I cannot offer you any food which ye would be able to
They said that whatever did for me would do for them. Then I told them to
make fire and boil nettles. They did so, but as they expected something to
season the soup with, such as meat, bone, marrow, or fat, I said, 'If I had
that, I should then have food with palatable qualities; but I have not had
that for years. Apply the nettles in place of the seasoning.'
Then they asked for flour or grain to thicken the soup with. I told them if
I had that, I should then have food with sustaining properties; but that I had
done without that for some years, and told them to apply nettle tips
At last they asked for some salt, to which I again said that salt would
have imparted taste to my food; but I had done without that also for years,
and recommended the addition of more nettle tips in place of salt.
They said, 'Living upon such food, and wearing such garments as thou hast
on now, it is no wonder that thy body hath been reduced to this miserable
plight. Thine appearance becometh not a man. Why, even if thou should serve as
a servant, thou wouldst have a bellyful of food and warm clothing. Thou art
the most pitiable and miserable person in the whole world.'
I said, 'O my friends, do not say that. I am one of the most fortunate and
best amongst all who have obtained the human life. I have met with Marpa the
Translator, of Lhobrak, and obtained from him the Truth which conferreth
Buddhahood in one lifetime; and now, having entirely given up all worldly
thoughts, I am passing my life in strict asceticism and devotion in these
solitudes, far away from human habitations.
I am obtaining that which will avail me in Eternity. By denying myself the
trivial pleasures to be derived from food, clothing, and fame, I am subduing
the Enemy [Ignorance] in this very lifetime. Amongst the World's entire human
population I am one of the most courageous, with the highest aspirations . .
I then sang to them a song about my Five Comforts:
- Lord! Gracious Marpa! I bow down at Thy Feet!
- Enable me to give up worldly aims.
Here is the Draghar-Taso's Middle Cave,
On this the topmost summit of the Middle Cave,
I, the Yogi Tibetan called Repa,
Relinquishing all thoughts of what to eat or wear, and this life's aims,
Have settled down to win the perfect Buddhahood.
Comfortable is the hard mattress beneath me;
Comfortable is the Nepalese cotton-padded quilt above me.
Comfortable is the single meditation-band which holdeth up my knee,
Comfortable is the body, to a diet temperate inured,
Comfortable is the Lucid Mind which discerneth present clingings and the
Nought is there uncomfortable; everything is comfortable.
If all of ye can do so, try to imitate me;
But if inspired ye be not with the aim of the ascetic life,
And to the error of the Ego Doctrine will hold fast,
I pray that ye spare me your misplaced pity;
For I a Yogi am, upon the Path of the Acquirement of Eternal Bliss.
The Sun's last rays are passing o'er the mountain tops;
Return ye to your own abodes.
And as for me, who soon must die, uncertain of the hour of death,
With self-set task of winning perfect Buddhahood,'
No time have I to waste on useless talk;
Therefore shall I into the State Quiescent of Samadhi enter now.
Two of Milarepa's Dharma Heirs
- About Gampopa, who established the Kagyu
Rechungpa, another of Jetsun Milarepa's prominent
students, became a translator in the spirit of
south to India to bring back several important texts.
"Due to Rechungpa’s great effort we have the Red Chenrezig Practice which is central to the
Karmapas, the protector Vajrapani’s teachings, the Amitayus practice for long life and health, and the complete Chakrasamvara practice.
Chakrasamvara, along with Hevajra and Vajrayogini, are the three main meditational practices of the Kagyu lineage. Without Rechungpa bringing back these practices, it is difficult to imagine the Kagyu path as being complete." ~ Clark Johnson's introduction to Thrangu
Rinpoche's Reaching Wisdom.
Mila Khabum (Gnu.bum) is the Tibetan
for The 100, 000 Songs of Mila, the most famous collection of the
words of Milarepa (Mi.la.ras.pa) Besides the songs, it contains the
biographical details that give context to them. The collection is attributed to
"The mad yogi from gtsan," who lived in the late 12th, or early 13th
century. It was translated into
English by Garma C. C. Chang as
The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa (New
York: University Books, 1962/1999.)
bhuta a ghost.
(1052 - 1135) The dates for his life have been
revised since the time of Evans-Wentz in 1920's when they were given as