History of Tibet/Tibetan Culture/Tibetan Yogis

Milarepa: The Great Tibetan Tantric

How Milarepa got Enlightened?



Bhutanese painted thanka of Milarepa(1052–1135), Late 19th-Early 20th Century, Dhodedrag Gonpa, Timphu, Bhutan. (Image is in Public Domian)

Tibet has a unique culture. It has its own spiritual processes. Some of the all-time great people from Tibet became so by following a combination of spiritual processes and occult practices. Of these people, Milarepa stands out.

When Milarepa was young, he lost his father. His father was rich. He lived in a good house, possessed a good amount of land and property. But once Milarepa’s father died, his uncle took control over everything and treated his mother, younger sister and him like slaves in the family. His uncle abused and tortured them in so many ways. Due to this, Milarepa grew up with a lot of resentment and anger within himself.

When he became an adult, he left the family and went away. He wanted to take revenge on his uncle and aunt who made him and his loved ones suffer for such a long time. So, he went to learn the occult and mastered some occult practices. After many years, when he went back to his uncle’s house, he found that his mother and younger sister are dead. Milarepa became angrier on knowing this. He waited for the right opportunity to take revenge on his uncle and aunt.

Soon, the wedding day of his uncle’s son came. His uncle had invited all his friends to attend the wedding at his house. On that day, Milarepa used his occult and brought large hail falling on the house of his uncle. His uncle and aunt died with almost 80 other people on that day. The whole place was heaped with hail. Milarepa felt very happy and satisfied after what he had done. But after some time, this act started bothering him. He realized that he has misused his life and capabilities in a very fundamental way. There is no justification for this act. Something deep inside him got disturbed.

Milarepa decided to absolve himself of all this. He wanted to seek the spiritual process and find a way to be freed in this lifetime. So, he went in search of a master and met many people. All of them were sincere enough to admit that they did not know the way to attain realization in this lifetime. They offered to teach him some practices (like practice love, practice compassion, practice kindness, etc.) which will help him evolve during this lifetime and the next ones. But Milarepa was not satisfied with those things. Still, a certain amount of anger, resentment and regret was within him. At last, somebody told him that Marpa is the man who can help him the way he wants.

Lotsawa Marpa Chokyi Lodro, (1092–1097). (Image is in Public Domain)

So, Milarepa went in search of Marpa. Marpa was known as the Translator because he translated the great Indian tantric texts into the local languages of Tibet. He travelled to India three times, met certain masters and got teachings, methods and texts from them. Then he translated all this knowledge into the local languages of Tibet. When Milarepa approached the town in which Marpa lived, he met a bunch of children. So, he asked them the whereabouts of Marpa, the Translator. One boy told him that he knows where Marpa is and took him to a field where Marpa was ploughing.

When Milarepa reached there, Marpa looked at him and left the plough in the field. Marpa then gave Milarepa a glass of locally brewed beer and told him to drink it and then plough the land. Milarepa followed the instructions, drank the beer and started ploughing. Meanwhile, Marpa left while the boy stood there. After Milarepa completed the ploughing, the boy told Milarepa to come with him. The boy took him to Marpa’s house where Milarepa realized that the boy is Marpa’s son. Milarepa bowed down to Marpa and asked Marpa to give him a process through which he can attain realization and be liberated in this life only. He also asked Marpa to provide him with food and shelter.

On hearing this, Marpa told Milarepa that he can only get one thing from him. Milarepa can either receive food and shelter from Marpa and receive the methods from someone else, or he can arrange his own food and shelter and get the methods from Marpa. Milarepa decided to receive the teachings and methods from Marpa and arrange food and shelter on his own. So, he went out begging. Now, Milarepa was a very spirited man, whatever he did he overdid it a little. He went far and gathered sacks of wheat because he wanted to gather enough food for the whole year so that he can stay in one place and focus on learning the methods. He also brought a copper pot by selling some of the wheat he collected so that he can cook his own food. Then he carried all this heavy load and walked a long distance back to Marpa’s house.

On reaching there, he dropped the load on the floor with one big boom. Marpa was having lunch at that time. He left it halfway through and came out. Marpa told Milarepa that he looks very angry and his wheat and vessel have shook the whole house. Marpa also told Milarepa that it looks like he has come to destroy this house just as he destroyed his uncle’s house, therefore, he is not a suitable candidate to receive the teachings. Milarepa then explained the whole situation to Marpa but Marpa told him to just stay out of the house, plough the field and do other chores.

For almost eight years, Milarepa did all this. Other students periodically came and received the teachings. They stayed for a day and left after being given the methods for attaining realization. But Milarepa did not get single teaching despite doing all the hard work. Then one day he sneaked into a Satsang (spiritual discourse/a sacred gathering) where he is not supposed to be. Marpa was sitting with his eyes closed so Milarepa hoped that he would also get teachings like other students. Marpa stood up and walked towards Milarepa with his eyes closed. He thrashed Milarepa and threw him out of the place. This happened again and again, Milarepa sneaked in multiple times over the years in the hope of getting initiated into the spiritual process. More than 13 years passed, he did not get anything.

Then one day Milarepa pleaded with Marpa’s wife, who was like his mother, to ask Marpa to give him teaching. So she used her good offices with her husband. Marpa was convinced but he told Milarepa to first build a three-cornered house for his son, all by himself. Milarepa built the three-cornered house and took two years to do it. Marpa looked at the house and said that this house is not suitable for his son. He told Milarepa to build a four-cornered house. Milarepa followed the instructions and built a four-cornered house. But Marpa was still not satisfied, so he asked him to build a five-cornered house. Milarepa built the five-cornered house. This time, Marpa was satisfied with the house but he told Milarepa that he needed 60 feet high tower on each corner of the house. By the time Milarepa completed all this, he was ageing.

Then one day he crawled at the mother’s feet and asked her to do something as his life was passing away. Milarepa told her that he knows he has done horrible things in the past and misused the occult in a very fundamental way. But at the same time, he has done enough to make up for it. So the mother decided to do something out of compassion. She took Marpa’s letterhead and wrote a letter to another monk who was also empowered to initiate people into the spiritual process. She made the letter as if Marpa has written it himself. She gave the letter to Milarepa and Milarepa went to that monk and got initiated into the spiritual process, but nothing happened. The monk was shocked on seeing this because some changes should happen after the initiation.

In utmost remorse, Milarepa was about to commit suicide. Then Marpa called Milarepa and told him that he will give him the teachings now. Marpa told Milarepa that he was just giving him the methods to work out the things which he had done in the past. If Milarepa just went by the words of Marpa, this would have been over a long time ago. But Milarepa did every task and took one sneaky way out of the process by disobeying Marpa. Due to this, everything got postponed for many years. Then Marpa told Milarepa that now his remorse is touching the core of his being in such a way that he is willing to die. Therefore, Milarepa is ready and Marpa initiated him into the spiritual process.


On the very third day, Milarepa had a vision of Dakini. In tantric technology, one goddess is created for every chakra (centers of spiritual power) in the body. A female form is consecrated and made alive that can be called forth to do certain things. So, Dakini came into Milarepa’s vision and told him that Marpa has given him the teaching except for one fundamental aspect, which Marpa does not know himself. Then Milarepa went back to Marpa. On seeing Milarepa, Marpa asked him the reason behind coming back to him. Milarepa told Marpa that Dakini came into his vision and said so and so things. He does not know whether this is for real or just his imagination. Marpa bowed down to Milarepa and told him that he does not know the missing thing. He asked Milarepa to travel with him to India to find out what is missing.

So, they both travelled to India to Marpa’s guru who lived on the border of modern Nepal and Bihar. When they met him, Marpa told his guru that Dakini said so and so things in the vision. On hearing this, Marpa’s guru told Marpa that this could not happen with him. He asked Marpa to tell him from where did he come to know about the fact that one fundamental aspect is missing. Marpa told him that this whole thing was experienced by one of his disciples.

Then the guru turned towards Tibet, bowed down, and said that at last one source of light has emerged in the dark north. He gave Marpa and Milarepa the whole teaching for attaining full enlightenment in this life. After that, both of them came back to Tibet. Marpa, who started as a guru, became a disciple of Milarepa. Milarepa became the source of light in the Tibetan culture. A lot of things that have been done in Tibetan culture in the last 300–400 years are on the base set up by Milarepa.