Article

Milarepa

Andrew Quintman

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online December 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0103
Milarepa

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Milarépa (Mi la ras pa, b. c. 1040–d. 1123) is one of the most famous figures in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. Although considered an early founder of the Kagyu sect that traces its origins back to the Indian siddhas Nāropa and Tilopa, he is equally revered throughout the Tibetan Buddhist world as an exemplar of religious dedication, perseverance in yogic practice, and meditative mastery. Little of his life is known with historical certainty, and calculations of the dates for his birth and death vary widely in the Tibetan sources. Yet it is clear that he lived during the 11th and early 12th centuries, at the outset of the formative period known as the later dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet. The most famous account of his life (the Mi la ras pa’i rnam thar, or Life of Milarepa) and collection of his songs of realization (Mi la’i mgur ‘bum, or The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa) are extremely popular throughout the Himalayan region. The themes associated with his life story—purification of past misdeeds, faith and devotion to the guru, perseverance in meditation and yogic practice, and the possibility of attaining buddhahood in a single lifetime—have influenced the development of Buddhist literature, doctrine, and practice in Tibet and continue to do so. He studied briefly under several masters before meeting his principal guru, Marpa Chokyi Lodro (Mar pa Chos kyi blo gro, b. 1012–d. 1097), who had trained under several great Indian tantric masters. Marpa bestowed numerous tantric initiations and instructions, especially those of mahāmudrā and the so-called Six Yogas of Nāropa (Nā ro chos drug), which includes the practice of tummo, or “yogic heat.” Milarépa spent the rest of his life practicing meditation in seclusion and teaching small groups of yogin disciples through poetry and songs of realization. These songs, together with their brief framing narratives, were eventually collected and published in an independent volume as The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. He was active across southern Tibet, and dozens of locations associated with the saint have become important pilgrimage sites and retreat centers. Foremost among Milarépa’s disciples were Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (Sgam po pa Bsod rnam rin chen, b. 1079–d. 1153), from whom many Kagyu lineages descend, and Rechungpa Dorje Drak (Ras chung pa Rdo rje grags, b. 1084–d. 1161).

Article.  6718 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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