Understanding Milarepa’s Painful Journey to Self-Awareness

A painting of Milarepa.

Milarepa was a supreme yogi, a practitioner of Buddhism, and a poet from Tibet whose life teachings have been invaluable to Buddhists for centuries. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

The life of Milarepa is one of the most interesting and enlightening stories from Tibet. It is the story of personal growth, showcasing the randomness and extreme situations that human life presents along the journey from utter confusion to complete clarity. It also reveals the power of the human spirit to work through seemingly insurmountable obstacles and to realize evil influences, overcome them, and achieve the ultimate enlightenment.

One of the most important aspects of Milarepas’s teachings, and his life’s story as well, is that whatever bad choices you may have made in the past and whatever situations they may have led you to, there is always hope for redemption.

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There have been various theories about the timeline and the authenticity of the events depicted in the story. Regardless of historical accuracy, the story of Milarepa continues to be an inspiration for Buddhists all over the world and the concepts hold significant relevance even in the current times.

Milarepa is believed to have been born into a rich, aristocratic family in Western Tibet sometime between 1040 and 1052. Originally named Mila Thopaga, the young man was well known in his village as he had the sweetest singing voice. He also had a little sister. Mila lost his father to severe illness when he was still young.

Milarepa is believed to have been born into a rich, aristocratic family in Western Tibet sometime between 1040 and 1052.
Milarepa is believed to have been born into a rich, aristocratic family in Western Tibet sometime between 1040 and 1052. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

On his deathbed, Mila’s father arranged for the estate to be entrusted to his brother and sister until Mila came of age, at which point, he would inherit everything his father had left behind.

Unfortunately, after his father died, Mila’s uncle and aunt disregarded his instructions and took possession of all properties. They treated Mila, his mother, and his sister as servants. When he turned 15, Mila’s mother requested his father’s inheritance be given to him. Her request was denied and, after being subjected to a great deal of humiliation, she and her two children were forced out into the streets to live as beggars.

In a fit of rage against her husband’s treacherous relatives, Mila’s mother vowed to seek revenge and instructed her son to study the dark arts so that he could cause grievous harm to their enemies. She even threatened to commit suicide if he didn’t follow her wishes.

Milarepa’s mother threatens to kill herself if he doesn’t learn the dark arts and take vengeance on their treacherous relatives.
Milarepa’s mother threatened to kill herself unless he learned the dark arts and used them to take vengeance on their treacherous relatives. (Image: via Pixabay)

Milarepa pursued the black arts

Thus, Milarepa pursued the study of black magic and with his newly acquired powers, wreaked havoc on his uncle and aunt, killing a party of 35 who had come for a wedding feast. Among those killed were his uncle and aunt’s sons and their wives. Having satisfied his mother’s thirst for vengeance, Milarepa’s conscience drove him into a dark pit of remorse.

The story then follows Milarepa taking the first step toward his spiritual transformation as he searches for a master who will help cleanse his soul of the evil he committed. It is on this journey that he finally meets with Marpa, the teacher who sets him on the path of self-realization.

He goes on to encounter severe hurdles in an attempt to clear his enormous karma, and eventually receives enlightenment following a lifetime of emotional, mental, and physical pain. Milarepa went on to become a great teacher himself and provided spiritual guidance to many disciples before he died.

The main concept highlighted through the life story of Milarepa is that the path to enlightenment can be achieved by ordinary individuals if they are willing to undergo extreme difficulties, make sacrifices, study arduously, and sever attachments. Milarepa undergoes struggles, mental conflict, turmoil, and physical pain to finally achieve his goal — enlightenment in one lifetime.

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