He's first teacher was of the old school, the Nyingma, who assured him that his system would give certain and immediate results. After a period of fruitless practice, the teacher told Mila that his karmic connection was stronger with another lama named marpa Lotsawa, " The Translator of Mar," and sent Mila to find him.
Marpa was an unusual person. He was a married householder, a great tantric teacher, and the translator of many Sanskrit Buddhist works that have become a standard part of the Tibetan canon. He survived several difficult and dangerous trips to India on which many of his fellow Tibetans had died.
In India his principal Guru was Naropa, and Naropa;s in turn was Tilopa, who had received his teachings from their originator, the transhistorical buddha Vajradhara, the primordial Buddha of the Kagyu sect. Thus Marpa was the direct successor of the Kagyu lineage. Back in Tibet marpa translated the works he had learned in India and transmitted their teachings to his disciples.
In teachings, he projected a stern and forbidding personality over his basically warm and compassionate nature. The method of working with his disciples proved especially appropriate for Milarepa, whose many negative elements and great karmic obstructions had to be purified. Marpa subjected Milarepa to several years of frustrating trials before he taught him directly.
After such intense purification and appetite-whetting, Mila devoted himself wholly to the task of practicing these teachings newly transplanted from India onto Tibetan soil. He was successful, or so the Tibetan believe, and achieved his goal of full experiential verification of the Buddhist system of liberation, leaving in his wake generations of accomplished practitioners and a wealth of teaching in song.
Once Mila had left Marpa and was on his own, he pursued his practice continually, staying mostly in caves in the more desolate mountains of southwestern Tibet and western Nepal. His austere practice of wearing just a single cotton robe year round earned him the title "repa," which when added to his family name forms "Milarepa."
Occasionally he would visit a village or encampment of herders to beg food, and in return would sing extemporaneous teaching songs, a custom already established in his day. Things were hard at times, but Mila always exhibited indomitable courage in facing the hardships of practice and adverse conditions. Eventually word of him spread among the people, and some believed him to be an accomplished siddha.
Fame didn't please him, however, and he wasn;t easy to meet. One might think he was a yogi so concerned with his own welfare that he has lost all interest in human relationships and viewed social contact as unnecessary trouble. Mila did state such feelings in his songs, and it seems as if he was always rejecting would-be disciples and their offerings; but this is just one of the many paradoxes of his unique personality--paradoxes he used with great skill in training people. Mila had a wry sense of humor tending to sarcasm and was absolutely candid and direct in dealing with people.
But he was not without method, differing on the surface from Marpa's but, judging from the number of his accomplished disciples, even more effective. He had a lot of followers for someone who made such an effort to avoid people. They were drawn to him, like satellites succumbing to the irresistible pull of a great planet: loners, scholars, disciples of other teachers. And their drive for transcendence was kindled on meeting this great yogi.
In getting to know Milarepa, then, weigh his words against his actions; it is in their contradictions and complements that Milarepa's skillful handling of personality and relationships is brought to light.
Reference: Drinking The Mountain Stream-Songs of Tibet's Beloved Saint Milarepa.
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