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Mila the “Cotton Clad”: the wonderful story of Milarepa, nice singing sage of the Tibetan Buddhist Custom

Milarepa (Mi la ras pa in Wylie [Wylie is a method of turning Tibetan script into Roman characters]) was an extremely clever Tibetan yogi, grasp, and poet who reached enlightenment in his lifetime. Extensively thought of to be the founding father of the Kagyü faculty of Tibetan Buddhism. His life story is among the many mostly identified and shared narratives in Tibetan tradition, not just for its Buddhist profundity however for the way attention-grabbing, shifting, and wonderful it’s as nicely.


Buddha Weekly Milarepa feature image Buddhism
Milarepa portray, Nepal


There may be a lot to the story of Milarepa — an epic story of grand scope — the essence and great thing about his story stay undiminished by time. With themes of evil and redemption, perseverance, and doing what’s proper, Milarepa’s story grips each religious Buddhist and informal readers alike.

The historical past that got here earlier than Milarepa

The dates of the start and dying of Milarepa are notoriously troublesome to pinpoint. Milarepa’s most well-known biographer, Tsangnyön Heruka (gtsang smyon heruka) stated that Milarepa was born in a water dragon yr and handed in a wooden hare yr so his time on Earth was from 1052-1135, however different sources push again the dates by one 12-year cycle to 1040-1123. Each time precisely he was born or died, Milarepa positively lived within the eleventh and early-twelfth centuries.


Buddha Weekly Cave of Milarepa in Nepal dreamstime l 119062171 Buddhism
The cave of Milarepa.


In historic in addition to current instances, life excessive up on the Tibetan plateau might by no means be described as simple; one needed to do no matter they may to earn a dwelling and survive. Certainly one of Milarepa’s early ancestors was a Nyingma tantric practitioner whose identify was Jose (jo sras). He was well-known for his exorcism rites and had a sizeable fortune and identify for himself. As soon as, Jose encountered a very highly effective and fierce spirit, however managed to defeat it. 
In its defeat the demon cried out, “mila, mila (mi la, mi la)!”, which is an admission of defeat and submission.

As a badge of honor and may, Jose took this submission as his new clan title; and so all of his descendants got here to be identified by the identify “Mila”. He went on to have kids and grandchildren. Certainly one of his grandchildren, Mila Dorje Sengge (mi la rdo rje seng ge) had a penchant for playing and ended up dropping his household’s fortune.


Buddha Weekly Milarepa 20926 Buddhism
Very outdated portray of Milarepa (Himalayan Artwork.org)


They have been pressured to discover a new life elsewhere, ultimately settling in Kyangatsa (skya rnga rtsa), a village near the modern-day Nepalese border. They managed to regain some wealth by buying and selling, and ultimately Dorje Sengge married and had a son, Mila Sherab Gyeltsen (shes rab rgyal mtshan), who in flip additionally married (a girl named Nyangtsa Kargyen [myang rtsa dkar rgyan]) and had a son who would go on to develop into Milarepa.

When Sherab Gyeltsen heard of the start of his baby, he was delighted to listen to it was a boy and so named him Töpah Gah, which implies actually “pleasant to listen to”. The boy went on to show a lovely and pleasing voice, and so lived as much as his identify.

Tough instances, troublesome decisions

When Töpah Gah turned seven, his father got here down with an sickness that proved to be deadly. Sherab entrusted his property together with his spouse, kids, and all his wealth and belongings, to his brother and his brother’s spouse, however solely till Töpah Gah grew to become an grownup, at which period they’d all go to him.


Buddha Weekly Statue of Milarepa at the monastery in Kathmandu Nepal dreamstime l 117087675 Buddhism
Statue of Milarepa within the iconic pose. Monastery in Khatmandu, Nepal.


The uncle and aunt nonetheless, determined they’d merely take all the pieces for themselves and hold it, with out taking good care of Töpah Gah and his household. In some accounts, this wasn’t totally fallacious as native marriage customs did dictate that the property ought to have rightfully stayed with the brother of the deceased.

Regardless of the case, the actions of the uncle and aunt left Sherab’s spouse and kids poor. With nothing to their identify, Töpah Gah, his mom, and his sister have been pressured to work as servants for his uncle and aunt. Töpah Gah himself wrote about this a part of his life as follows:

“Our meals was meals for canine, our work was work for donkeys… Pressured to toil with out relaxation, our limbs grew to become cracked and uncooked. With solely poor meals and clothes, we grew to become pale and emaciated.” [1]

When Töpah Gah got here of age, his mom Nyangtsa Kargyen pleaded to her lifeless husband’s brother and spouse to honor his final needs and provides her household what was rightfully theirs. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.

In hysterics, grief, and desperation, she despatched Töpah Gah to coach in the dead of night arts in order that he may take revenge upon their grasping kinfolk. In some variations of the story, Töpah Gah pleaded together with her to not make him go, hesitated and dissented. She remained adamant that this was the one method ahead.

Regardless of the case, Töpah Gah did go away, studying black magic underneath Nubchung Yonten Gyatso (gnubs chung yon tan rgya mtsho), and he did kill his aunt and uncle – nonetheless, he additionally murdered the 35 individuals who have been attending a marriage feast at their home.

When the opposite villagers threatened to reprise him for his actions, Töpah Gah’s mom insisted he conjure up a hailstorm to destroy their crops and shut them up. He could have completed what he got down to do, however in doing so additionally destroyed a lot of the encompassing countryside.

It was quiet after that. The villagers realized what a terrific and horrible sorcerer the as soon as quiet, mild, and golden-voiced boy had develop into.

However as Töpah Gah beheld the place he known as house and the those who he grew up with, he realized the extent of his wrongdoing and the stain that he had put upon the world. He wrote:

“Through the day I forgot to eat. If I went out, I wished to remain in. If I stayed in, I wished to exit. At night time I used to be so stuffed with world-weariness and renunciation that I used to be unable to sleep.” [2]


Buddha Weekly Statue of Milarepa in cave in Marshyangdi river valley Nepal dreamstime l 219048736 Buddhism
One other statue within the collapse Marshyangdi river valley Nepal.

The trail out of darkness

Töpah Gah got here to make sure that the Buddhist path was his solely method out of the deep struggling he was experiencing, so he got down to discover a grasp to show him. The primary guru he met determined that Töpah Gah was far too complicated and troubled, and so would show too troublesome a pupil for him. No, who this boy wanted was Marpa the Translator, and so Töpah Gah got down to discover Marpa.

Marpa Chokyi Lodro (mar pa chos kyi blo gros) was a terrific translator who lived in Lhodrak (lho brag) in Southern Tibet, and was well-known for his fierce mood.


Buddha Weekly Marpa and Milarepa Buddhism
The Nice Marpa the Translator.


Töpah Gah reached Lhodrak after a while and met a plowman standing in his area. This was truly Marpa, who had a imaginative and prescient that Töpah Gah would develop into his most fervent and excellent disciple and subsequently wished to fulfill him in a disguise first.

Marpa didn’t instantly educate Töpah Gah something, as an alternative showering him with relentless verbal and even bodily abuse. Töpah Gah was subjected to quite a few ordeals and trials, one in every of which had him assemble a large stone tower, solely to tear it down and begin over – thrice. Nevertheless, when he constructed the tower for a fourth time he didn’t should tear it down, and that tower of stones that Töpah Gah constructed nonetheless stands within the heart of Sekhar Gutok Monastery right this moment.


Buddha Weekly Painting of Milarepa Tibets singing yogi in Tukang Helambu Nepal dreamstime l 19224133 Buddhism
Milarepa, the singing yogi.


The coaching that Marpa gave Töpah Gah pushed him to his utmost emotional and bodily limits. Each time Töpah Gah requested for dharmic teachings, his trainer would berate and infrequently even beat him.

In time, however solely when Töpah Gah’s desperation had reached its absolute peak, Marpa revealed to Töpah Gah that Marpa’s personal grasp, the nice Indian grasp Nāropa, had prophesied Töpah Gah’s coming to him. He additionally informed Töpah Gah that these trials and hardships have been a method of penance for Töpah Gah’s horrible actions and sins.

Years of solitude and meditation

After this, Marpa started instructing Töpah Gah extra formally. He began with the lay and bodhisattva vows, and gave Töpah Gah the identify Dorje Gyeltsen (rdo rje rgyal mtshan). Dorje Gyeltsen acquired many tantric directions that Marpa himself realized in India, and was thereafter commanded to spend the remainder of his life meditating in solitary mountain retreats.

Dorje Gyeltsen wished terribly to take action, however not earlier than returning to his homeland for a short while. After so a few years he longed to see his mom once more, however when he arrived he discovered his home in ruins and his mom … lifeless.

A translation of The Lifetime of Milarepa (by Shambhala Publications, 1977) reads:

“Then I walked throughout the doorstep and located a heap of rags caked with dust over which many weeds had grown. Once I gathered them up, quite a few human bones, bleached white, slipped out. Once I realized they have been the bones of my mom, I used to be so overcome with grief that I might hardly stand it. I couldn’t suppose, I couldn’t communicate, and an awesome sense of longing and disappointment swept over me… However at that second I remembered my lama’s oral directions. I then blended my mom’s consciousness with my thoughts and the knowledge thoughts of the Kagyu lamas… I noticed the true chance of liberating each my mom and my father from life’s spherical.” [3]

At this level, Dorje Gyeltsen realized the impermanence of life. It was a profound realization that impacted him deeply, and it served as the ultimate push he wanted to start his mountainous retreats.


Buddha Weekly Malarepa Buddhism


Probably the most well-known of his retreats is one known as Drakar Taso (brag dkar rta so), the place he stayed for a few years consuming nothing however wild nettles. He was there for therefore lengthy that his garments turned to tattered rags and his bones caught out of his pores and skin. It’s stated that as a result of he ate solely wild nettles, his pores and skin turned inexperienced. Throughout this time, some ravenous hunters stumbled upon him and thought him a ghost, till he spoke to them and taught them about happiness.

It was this era of meditation that gave Dorje Gyeltsen the identify everyone knows him by: Milarepa, that means Mila the cotton-clad, as a result of rags he wore.

Milarepa wrote many poems and songs that stay nice treasures of Tibetan literature throughout his retreats and meditative durations. Milarepa mastered the Mahamudra teachings and obtained nice enlightenment. He by no means actively sought out college students; as an alternative, college students discovered him and he sang and taught them many nice wisdoms.

The poems and songs of Milarepa

The sutras, a style of historic Indian texts discovered not simply in Buddhism however Hinduism and Jainism as nicely, inform of how the disciples of the Buddha would generally provide you with verses spontaneously throughout his classes.

Various Buddhist traditions have emulated this however maybe none extra notably than the Tibetan Vajrayana custom.

The spontaneous creation of those devotional songs is named nyams mgur in Tibetan.
These songs are modelled after these of Indian tantric practitioners, who wrote songs within the sixth-century songs often known as mahasiddhas. The nyams mgur describe each the key practices of Vajrayana in addition to realizations by way of each complicated symbolism and allegories.

Tibetan translators corresponding to Milarepa’s grasp Marpa himself (therefore his title, the nice translator) introduced this practice of composing nyams mgur again to Tibet, amongst different tantric teachings.

Milarepa is well-known as The Singing Sage. A mixture of things, corresponding to his grasp Marpa being one of many best

Tibetan translators and inheriting the lineage of tantric practices originating in India, mixed to make Milarepa a prolific composer of those nyams mgur. His expertise, knowledge, golden voice, honesty and humility attracted crowds of individuals to hearken to his musical teachings.

Tsangnyön Heruka was the one answerable for the compilation and association of Milarepa’s most well-known songs 4 hundred years after he had handed away.

Garma C.C. Chang translated this ebook, in English known as The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, in 1999. It serves as a biography of Milarepa’s life, a set of gripping fairy tales and Tibetan folklore, and an perception into Tibetan Buddhism.
A more recent translation of the ebook was printed in 2017, by Christopher Stagg.


Buddha Weekly Milarepa cave where the great Mahasiddha spent years in solitary meditaiton in Tsum valley near Lamagaun with Milarepa foot in the rock dreamstime l 152383516 Buddhism
The cave the place the nice Mahasidda Milarepa spent years in solitary meditation.


A music in regards to the choice to stay in solitude

When Milarepa visited his homeland earlier than his mountainous retreats, he had by no means thought to search out his mom lifeless. This excerpt of one in every of his earliest songs exhibits the depth of his grief, the poignancy of the scenario, and the conclusion that his life had modified perpetually.

This was a really pivotal second in Milarepa’s life. We see him reconcile the life he as soon as knew with the life he now leads in addition to the life he’ll lead sooner or later. It’s worded merely sufficient, and but the extent of his feelings is felt astoundingly.

I bow down on the ft of most wonderful Marpa.
Bless this beggar to show from clinging to issues.

Alas. Alas. Ay me. Ay me. How unhappy.
Individuals invested in issues of life’s spherical—
I mirror and mirror and time and again I despair.
They interact and interact and fire up from their depths a lot torment.
They whirl and so they whirl and are solid within the depths of life’s spherical.

These dragged on by karma, bothered with anguish like this—
What to do? What to do? There’s no remedy however the dharma.
Lord Akṣobhya in essence, Vajradhara,
Bless this beggar to remain in mountain retreat.

Within the city of impermanence and phantasm
A stressed customer to those ruins is bothered with anguish.
Within the environs of Gungtang, a wondrous panorama,
Grasslands that fed yaks, sheep, cattle, and goats
Are these days taken over by dangerous spirits.
These too are examples of impermanence and phantasm,
Examples that decision me, a yogin, to follow.

This house of 4 pillars and eight beams
These days resembles a lion’s higher jaw.
The manor of 4 corners, 4 partitions, and a roof, making 9
These too are examples of impermanence and phantasm,
Examples that decision me, a yogin, to follow.

This fertile area Orma Triangle
These days is a tangle of weeds.
My cousins and household relations
These days stand up as a military of foes.
These too are examples of impermanence and phantasm,
Examples that decision me, a yogin, to follow.
My good father Mila Shergyal
These days, of him no hint stays.
My mom Nyangtsa Kargyen
These days is a pile of naked bones.
These too are examples of impermanence and phantasm,
Examples that decision me, a yogin, to follow.

My household priest Konchok Lhabüm
These days works as a servant.
The sacred textual content Ratnakūṭa
These days serves as a nest for vermin and birds.
These too are examples of impermanence and phantasm,
Examples that decision me, a yogin, to follow.

My neighboring uncle Yungyal
These days lives amongst hostile enemies.
My sister Peta Gonkyi
Has vanished with out leaving a hint.
These too are examples of impermanence and phantasm,
Examples that decision me, a yogin, to follow.

Lord Akṣobhya in essence, compassionate one,
Bless this beggar to remain in mountain retreat. [4]

The top of Milarepa’s time on this world

Milarepa’s life modified fully and perpetually when he left his homeland to retreat to the mountains; he achieved his aim of enlightenment and ideal realization. He went on to win not solely the admiration of virtually all of the individuals in his land, however their love and religion as nicely.

Nevertheless, it was to not final. There have been some dharma academics who have been jealous of Milarepa. They noticed how individuals thronged to him and wished the recognition and adoration that he acquired for themselves.


Milarepa closeup


Certainly one of these academics, Geshe Tsakpuwa (rtsag phu ba) posed as Milarepa’s pupil in order that he might get shut sufficient to kill him. He conspired to provide his grasp poisoned curds. It’s believed that Milarepa knew of this plot all alongside, however went with it anyway as he felt that it was time for him to move away at his age (about 84).

There are accounts of Milarepa’s funeral which embody many miracles, corresponding to goddesses showing to hold away his relics, forsaking solely a lump of rock sugar, a knife, some flint metal, a bit of his gown – and naturally, his hundred thousand songs.


Buddha Weekly Milarepa with gold leaf beautiful Buddhism


The sorcerer who grew to become one of many best yogins of all time

Milarepa was a boy that grew up in relative wealth and luxury, after which misplaced all the pieces at a younger age. His father’s dying didn’t simply carry grieving for a misplaced guardian, however it plunged his world into the type of instability, ache, and struggling that nobody ought to ever should undergo.

He made unhealthy decisions and did extremely unhealthy issues. And but, he modified his methods. He sought out assist and did no matter it took to pay for his sins and develop into a very good individual once more. He went on to not solely develop into beloved by almost all who got here throughout him however he grew to become a saint as nicely and continues to encourage, educate, and lead lengthy after his passing.

Milarepa was only a human. His story teaches us that anguish and battle can come our method, however that with resolve comes triumph. He was nothing however a person who realized his personal pure, pre-existing greater self and his untapped knowledge, and who realized how one can deal with himself and others with compassion.

The Singing Sage invitations each atypical individual to acknowledge their greater selves as nicely. If even he, a assassin and sorcerer might develop into a saint by doing nothing however repenting and placing within the work – we will as nicely.



[1] [2] [3]

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