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The Life of Milarepa (Biography)

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Item Code: NAY295
Author: Lobsang P. Lhalungpa
Publisher: Book Faith India
Language: English
ISBN: 9798173030467
Pages: 254
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 290 gm
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I recall the childhood experience of listening to Milarepa’s life in the form of folktales from the south of Tibet, the home province of Marpa. Deep admiration rose up in me at his will to give his whole life for the sake of his mother and at his undying determination later to save the sinking ship of his own destiny, the ship that sub- sequently carried innumerable people to safety across the sea of Samsara.

To the people of Tibet and to fellow Buddhists in the Asian high- lands and the Himalayas, Mila, although he lived in the twelfth century, is not a myth but still a vital figure - the embodiment of supreme excellence as well as the father of awakened masters. Never, in the thirteen centuries of Buddhist history in Tibet, has there been such a man, who not only inspired an intellectual elite and spiritual luminaries, but also captured the imagination of the common people.

To those of us who read his life and songs as the true account of liberation, and who have also received the secret transmission of. higher teachings to which he contributed so much, Milarepa has great significance in our lives. The experience of illumination is being quietly repeated in an almost unbroken order in the tradition up to the present, even extending to many parts of the modern world.

Throughout pre-Communist Tibet Milarepa was held in universal veneration. It was so in the past and is still so among the thousands of refugees in the settlements of northern India, Bhutan, and Sikkim. Figures of Milarepa, in the form of icon and painting, were wor- shipped in temples and private homes. Wandering storytellers sang the life of Milarepa, illustrating their stories with painted scrolls. Both the narrative and the songs were simple, full of folk idioms, homely metaphors, and humorous expressions. Repas — the ‘cotton- clad ones’ — sang the songs of Milarepa as they wandered through villages across the country. Folk operas depicting the main events of his life were acted. Milarepa’s delicate, gentle features and pale complexion in the tankas and paintings contrasted strangely with his extraordinary physical tenacity and loyalty to the Truth.

In some important aspects the autobiography of Milarepa re- sembles the life of the Buddha, whose twelve major events corre- spond to the twelve chapters of Milarepa’s life. Both teachers resorted to dramatic acts of renunciation and to asceticism of an ex- treme kind as supports for their quest, though for different reasons and under contrasting circumstances. The Buddha’s purpose was to seek a new, practical way of eliminating the miseries of humanity and their karmic causes. Milarepa’s, at least initially, was to save himself from fear of the natural consequences of his crimes.

Besides being ‘the greatest of (Buddhist) saints,’ Milarepa fills a central place in the history of Buddhism in Tibet. Until the ninth century A.D., the hold of the Buddhist religion over the sorcery of earlier religions was precarious. With Milarepa the swing began toward the realization of inner power through meditation. The Kagyupa, the Order of Oral Transmission, has faithfully main- tained this meditational tradition up to the present time. The Nyingmapa, the Ancient Mystic Order, also emphasizes the practice of meditation.

On the other hand, there were teachers who considered an intellec- tual foundation in Buddhist training to be indispensable. One such was the great Sakya Pandita, one of the founders of the Sakyapa, the White Earth Order. And three hundred years after Milarepa the incomparable Tsongkhapa gave Tibetan Buddhism new intellectual depth and dynamism when he elevated Buddhist studies to un- precedented profoundity through the revival of monastic discipline and moral purity. This movement, which came to be known as Gelukpa, the Order of Excellence, is the one to which the Dalai Lama belongs.

The Life, on the whole, is genuine autobiography, a ritual drama recounting significant events in Mila’s apprenticeship rather than his comments on them. The unfolding story shows profound know- ledge of human psychology but there is no analysis of Milarepa’s feelings, no explanation of the paradoxes in, for example, Marpa’s behavior toward his pupil, which is allowed to speak for itself until Marpa provides a brief summation, such as conventionally appears in the final pages of a detective story.

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