Milarepa – The student who forged his teacher’s signature


In this blog, until now we have seen stories of valiant kshatriyas, learned brahmanas, devoted bhaktas and ardent patriots, from various parts of India. This post is about a Buddhist monk from Tibet which also a part of the Akhanda Bharath. Sanatana dharma instills righteousness in all facets of life, irrespective of whether a person’s predilections are towards karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga or any other path. Every person is allowed to follow a path most suited to him and he can still reach the ultimate destination. Some people know their propensity right from a very young age. For example, Khudiram Bose knew he had to fight for the freedom of India since he was 3 years old and that was the way he fulfilled his karma. Meerabai knew that Krishna was her beloved husband since the tender age of 5 and she spent the rest of her life serving him and singing his glories. Some other people try out several things before they ultimately discover their true propensities. Sometimes people need to fulfil the actions of their past karma, before the destination begins to reveal itself. For one such person called Milarepa, he had to switch through 3 different gurus, before he could attain his Nirvana. Despite the fact that he made mistakes in his life and got carried away by Maya, one cannot deny the fact that he was a great yogi and tantric in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.

Milarepa was born is a rich and aristocratic family in Tibet in 2nd century C.E. The family was prosperous until Milarepa’s father died. Following the father’s death, the family fortune was swindled away by Milarepa’s uncle and aunt, who left Milarepa, his sister and his mother homeless, without any possessions and begging. Milarepa was a very young child, and instigated by his mother to learn sorcery, he left home to learn sorcery under the greatest sorcerer in Tibet. After mastering the art, Milarepa returned to his hometown, filled with intentions of revenge towards his aunt and uncle. During one of the festivities in their home, Milarepa appeared. With his powers he turned the sunny day into a dark and cloudy day and summoned a huge scorpion that jumped out of the sky, created a lot of havoc and killed many people who were participating in the celebration. Except the aunt and the uncle, everyone else in their family was killed and their beautiful house was also destroyed. When the villagers came to know about Milarepa’s sorcery tricks, they set out to find him and kill him. Milarepa again used his magical powers and created a huge hailstorm that destroyed the entire village’s crops. Now after Milarepa had got his revenge, he still felt empty. He felt that he has wasted many years in his life acquiring futile powers that took him no closer to understanding the Brahman. Milarepa repented deeply. He decided to leave his mother and sister behind, and set out to begin a new life. He knew that his evil actions had incurred him much negative karma and he also knew he would have to take millions of re-births to repay that karma. He decided that the only way for him to escape that cycle of birth and death would be to attain nirvana in the present birth. With his mind made up, he set out to find a spiritual guru who could lead him to nirvana.

Milarepa had heard about the famous guru Marpa, and in his mind, he was determined to be Marpa’s student. However Marpa was a very hard taskmaster. Despite Milarepa’s constant imploring, Marpa would not give him the secret mantras that could liberate Milarepa’s soul. Marpa made Milarepa work as a menial laborer for several years, yet gave him no spiritual learning. Marpa’s wife took pity on Milarepa when she found Milarepa dejected and crying about his cruel fate. Now, Milarepa had another brilliant idea. He had heard of another guru called Lama Ngogpa in a faraway place near the Himalayas. He had also heard that Lama Ngogpa was not as hard a taskmaster as Marpa. But as per practices, Lama Ngogpa never took disciples without a recommendation letter. After much coaxing, Milarepa convinced Marpa’s wife to write him a recommendation letter that he could take to Lama Ngogpa. This would end his suffering and he would finally be able to receive some spiritual training at last. Since the current state of Milarepa was rather sad, Marpa’s wife took pity on him and forged the recommendation letter.

With a recommendation letter from one of Tibet’s greatest gurus, Milarepa easily got admission into Lama Ngogpa’s school. He was getting a lot of spiritual instruction, but despite meditating, Milarepa was not getting any results. When in deep contemplation, Milarepa realized that the reason for this may be because of his forged recommendation letter. Again he had spent several years of his life trying to start over afresh, and he had failed. He confessed this mistake with Lama Ngogpa, who asked him to return to Marpa to seek his forgiveness. Milarepa once again packed his belongings and left for Marpa’s hermitage. On seeing the dejected and repentant Milarepa return, Marpa just gave a kind smile. Marpa accepted Milarepa’s apologies and told him that he was ready to be given spiritual instruction now, because he had finally gotten rid of the consequences of his bad karma. Marpa gave Milarepa a small piece of parchment with a mantra written on it, blessed him and sent him to meditate. Milarepa was to go to the Himalayas to meditate sincerely, and Marpa promised that Milarepa would attain realization. If Milarepa found himself in the most excruciating circumstance in his life, he was to only then, open the parchment.

Milarepa paid his obeisance to his ultimate guru, Marpa and set out to the Himalayas. Here, he meditated sincerely despite extreme weather conditions. He neither ate nor slept. He meditated for many many years. Finally, his body began to decay and his bones began to protrude from his skin. Just when Milarepa thought that he was about to die without attaining nirvana, he opened the parchment and read the mantra out aloud. At that instant, immediate peace engulfed his disturbed soul and he became one with the Brahman. His decayed body regained its full vigor and Milarepa became a realized Buddha.

Milarepa was alive for several years later and he spread Mahayana Buddhism far and wide into Tibet. He initiated many men and women into his order and helped them all achieve nirvana through rigorous spiritual instruction. Here ends the story of a great Buddhist saint who started off being a wicked sorcerer, spent several futile years trying to attain nirvana, and finally attaining nirvana, after having exhausted the fruits of his bad karma. It is the belief of Sanatana Dharma, that every soul finds a propensity and through that propensity, lives out its karma, until it is fit to become one with the Brahman. These great saints and sages have left behind a rich legacy of dharmic practices that can lead us to our ultimate goal. These great saints and sages have also left behind powerful vibrations that we can tune in to, to achieve our spiritual instruction. Therefore, there is hope for us all.

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