Marpa Lotsawa

SEARCH     Home     Site Map    Symbolism    Calendar     Karmapa     News    DONATE

Life of Marpa

Marpa, the first Tibetan founder in the Kagyü lineage, was born in 1012 in southern Tibet of relatively prosperous parents.  A young man with a violent temper, he was sent by his parents to study the Dharma.  However, he became frustrated by his experiences with various teachers, and decided to go to India.

After an arduous trek through the Himalayas, in the forest of what is now Nepal he found the siddha, Naropa.  For twelve years, he studied with him and also with others, such as Maitripa, from whom he also received instruction on Mahamudra.  He learned the local languages and so, was able to translate essential texts into Tibetan.

He then returned to Tibet where he married Dagmema, and they prospered as  farmers.  After some years, he went south again to study for a further six years with Naropa.  Before leaving to go home again, he promised his guru he would return to complete his training. 

Back in Tibet, he attracted a group of students including Milarepa.  Finally, well into middle age and against the objections of his family, he set out for a third and final journey to India.

Marpa's last stay in India was full of difficulty.  He learned that Naropa had disappeared into the jungle and that his whereabouts were unknown.  Just as he was feeling frustration and despair, and ready to give up, his guru appeared.  Then Marpa ccompleted a further three years of training, and taking a large number of texts with him, he returned home to Tibet to stay. 

Later Years

Now, Marpa and Dagmema had had seven sons, but only one, Darma Dode, was particularly gifted.  He was mortally injured while riding on his way to a festival. As he lay dying in his parents' house, he performed phowa, the ejection of consciousness.  His consciousness entered the body of a pigeon, that flew to India just in time to enter and revivify the body of Tipupa, a brahmin boy who had died.

After Darma Dode's death, Milarepa became Marpa's primary dharma heir.  The 9-storey tower he constructed at Marpa's request was dedicated to Darma Dode. 

Marpa died at age 84 amidst many auspicious signs.  People reported seeing a rainbow and showers of flowers.  They experienced the sound of music, and delightful scents on the air. 

It is said that Naropa escorted him to a celestial realm accompanied by hosts of dakas and dakinis, just as he had promised. 

Marpa brought to Tibet the lineage of Tilopa and Naropa.  He translated many important Indian texts, and he also is credited with the tradition of dohas, songs of realization later made famous by Milarepa.   (Khenpo Tsultrim continues that doha tradition, today.)

Marpa's Legacy

A recent edition of Dharmachakra, the magazine published by New Zealand Karma Kagyu Trust, includes a letter from the Gyalwa Karmapa concerning the Kagyu curriculum.  He requested that Kagyu monasteries practice the 13 tantras of Marpa. 

Called Kagyu Ngak Dzod, they consist of a group of vajrayana teachings and empowerments transmitted by Kagyu lineage master, Marpa Lotsawa. The collection was compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul the Great (1813-1899.) 

They were being done in retreat, but now they will be part of regular practice in order to preserve, and derive benefit from, the tantras that Marpa had instituted.  In this way, the lineage continues to flourish.

Each one is a yidam, or deity, practice. In addition to the practices of Dorje Phagmo, Demchok Lha Nga, and Gyalwa Gyamtso that are performed by all Kagyu monasteries, HH Karmapa assigned the pujas as follows:

  monastery                                                deity, -ies


Chakjor Tumchen Vajrapanjara


Sang Dupa  Guhyasamaja

Sangye Thopa



Den Zhi Yabka & Yumka Vajrachatuhpitha

Palchen Chokling

Denzhi Mahamaya


Jampel Sangden Manjushri-namasangiti


Jyedor Yabka & Yumka  Hevajra- Nairatmya mandala


Shemar Lha Nga  Red Yamantaka

Delyak Monastery



Jigje Lha-Gu Vajrabhairava


Jyedor Rigdu Hevajra

Sonam Dar 

Dorje Phagmo Vajravarahi

Karma Legshe 

Demchok Shiwa Peaceful Chakrasamvara

Dorsem Rigdu



Jamgon Kongtrul Yonden Gyatso Lodro Thaye's full name as spelled in transliteration is  Jam-mgon Kong-sprul Yon-tan rgya-mtsho Blo-gros-mtha'-yas.  He was the second holder of the Kongtrul title. He was one of the sponsors of the Ri-may (ris-med) or ecumenical  movement of the late 19th-century.

Back ] Home ] Up ] Next ]

Tilopa ] Naropa ] [ Marpa Lotsawa ] Milarepa ]

Copyright 1998-2018 Khandro.Net All rights reserved. This Web site is designed with Firefox as browser but should be accessible to others. However,  if you eliminate underlining in your Preferences you could miss some of our links.