4. Marpa 1012-1097
“In the south, in the land of herbs, the
the translator, (who) emanated from Hevajra, established the source of the river of all siddhas.”
-- Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great, The Song of Lodrö Thaye
Hagiographies, rnam-thar in Tibetan, are spiritual life-stories of Buddhist sages and saints. Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche presented life-stories of Shri Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa and on those occasions taught that hagiographies deal with motivation, faith, trust, enthusiastic endeavour, the aspects of wisdom that arise from specific practices, and the benefits that such practices bring. They were written to inspire and encourage disciples to mature spiritually.
Marpa Chokyi Lodrö was one of four sons born of a well-to-do family living in Lhodrak Chukhyer, southern
It was a common practice to offer gold to great Mahasiddhas for sacred teachings. Marpa could not bring up the amount he needed, so he asked friends for help and finally approached a man named Nyur, who told him that he would not receive any teachings if he did not have any gold. Thrangu Rinpoche said that “this Nyur was not a good guy.” Nyur told Marpa that he would give him some gold if Marpa became his servant while travelling. Marpa agreed and they set out for
Shri Paindapa accompanied Marpa to Pullahari, situated near
On their way back to
After having given the teachings he had received from his Gurus to his disciples, Marpa sold his property, so he had the funds he needed in order to return to his Gurus in
“His joyous face was beaming. ‘Welcome, my son!’ he said. Seeing the lord, I was overwhelmed with joy. The hairs of my body stood on end, and I was moved to tears. I circumambulated him seven times and I offered a full prostration. I received the soles of his feet on the top of my head. ‘Father, accept me with kindness,’ I supplicated.”
Having been blessed and after having received instructions from Mahasiddha Saraha, Lord Marpa exclaimed:
“The exhaustion of all Dharmas is the essential truth, the summit of views, Mahamudra. This sign meaning, which captures the essence of mind, I heard from the mouth of the Great Brahman. At that instant, I awoke. I was caught by the iron hook of this unforgettable memory. Within the dungeon of ignorant sleep, the vision of insight-wisdom opened up and the sun dawned in a cloudless sky, clearing the dark forest of confusion. I thought, ‘Even if I met the Buddhas of the three times, from now on, I would have nothing to ask them.’”
At home, the Dakinis told Marpa that he needed to return to
“The Gurus Naropa and Maitripa live in
Travelling alone, he met Atisha on this occasion. Pälden Atisha (985-1054), also known as Dipamkara Shrijnana, was abbot of the
Mahasiddha Naropa greeted his beloved disciple with the words: “I am now going to reveal a teaching that is unknown in the
“Now, Marpa, your realization is equal to mine. There is no need for you to obtain further instructions or empowerments from me. You must go back to
His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Third often spoke about the Guru-disciple relationship. In the instructions he presented on “Calling the Guru from Afar,” Jamgon Lama taught: “Marpa Lotsawa was sitting in front of Mahasiddha Naropa. Through his miraculous ability, Naropa manifested the meditation deity Hevajra above his right shoulder. He asked Marpa to prostrate to either the one or the other, so Marpa was free and prostrated to Hevajra. Naropa then pointed out to him that the Guru is the source of all inspiration and everything is simply the display of his wonderful activities. The Kagyü Tradition developed from the deep Guru-disciple relationship between Naropa and Marpa.” And so, due to the slight mistake Marpa made, Naropa told him that there would be no continuity of the tradition through the sons he and his wife, Dagmema, had. Then Marpa asked Naropa if his disciples would need to live as monks or as householders. This was an important question for Marpa, because his plan was that the tradition would pass on from father to son. Naropa answered that this was impossible and told Marpa:
“The sky flower of your family lineage will vanish, but your Dharma lineage will flow on like a wide river. Your desires are vivid, like a carving in rock, but the ripples of samsara’s waters will vanish by themselves.”
The metaphor “ripples of samsara’s waters” refers to Dharma Dode, who Naropa prophesied would die before becoming a sage and saint. However, Naropa told Marpa that the lineage would continue into the future through his disciples, saying:
“Your sons will be like the children of lions and garudas. Later disciples will be even better than the previous ones. Having realized the meaning of the great yana, those of good karma will be ripened and freed. You are the king of those worthy students.”
When Mahasiddha Naropa heard that Marpa’s closest student was Milarepa, he folded his hands in reverence, bowed toward the north, and predicted that Milarepa would be like the sun radiating upon the stainless snow, dispelling the darkness of those beings living in darkness. It is said that because of Naropa’s gesture of deepest respect, all the trees in that area bowed in the same direction.
“The Grand Songs of Lord Marpa” records that when Marpa took leave of Naropa, his “Dharma brothers and sisters escorted him away, carrying all his belongings and gear. Lord Marpa himself, walking backwards and prostrating until he reached the bottom of the stone steps of Pullahari, prostrated to the Guru at each step. At the bottom of the stone step he prostrated many times with intense yearning. At that place, Lord Marpa left a footprint in the stone, which is still there now.” Marpa then offered farewell prostrations to his Gurus: Lord Maitripa, Shri Shantibhadra, Jnanagarbha, Chitherpa (who had died), Paindapa, Simhadvipa, Asamavajra, and many others. He returned to
Lord Marpa did not have many disciples, because only a few people saw how highly realized he was. In “A Spiritual Biography of Marpa,” Thrangu Rinpoche tells us: “Marpa Lotsawa not only received and integrated the sacred teachings fully in his life, but he also made sure that they were transmitted to his pupils flawlessly. He not only gave everything he possibly could to his students, but he also made sure that they understood and practiced the teachings correctly so that they would be able to pass them on to others perfectly. He inspired his students to integrate the precious teachings in their lives.” His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama spoke about the Kagyü Lineage Masters and explained that “because the teachers were qualified, their actions had meaning. In such situations, it is necessary that from the disciple’s side all of the actions of the teacher be respected. But this cannot be compared to the case of ordinary people.” It was after Lord Marpa’s Parinirvana that he was given the praise he deserved. At the time of his passing in the year 1097, he showed that he was inseparable from the Buddha.
Four of his outstanding students who spread the teachings came to be known as the “Four Pillars.” Ngok Chöku Dorje was Marpa’s principal student to receive and master the Tantras. Tsurtön Wangi Dorje was the main student to receive and master Pho-wa (“transference of consciousness”). Metön Chenpo was the main student to receive and master the practice of Öd-säl (“clear light”). Milarepa was the principal student to receive and master the view, meditation, and conduct of Mahamdra, which is the culmination and synthesis of all sacred teachings. Milarepa became the most celebrated and accomplished of
“Of all the Buddhas of the three times,
the Guru is the source of all accomplishments.”
The Golden Rosary, in: Official Website of H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, 2008.
The Rain of Wisdom. The Vajra Songs of the Kagyü Gurus, transl. under the direction of Chögyam Trungpa by the Nalanda Translation Com., Boston & London, 1980.
The Dalai Lama, Answers: Discussions with Western
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, The Life of Marpa, in: Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (Lineage History), N.Y., 2008.
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, A Spiritual Biography of Marpa the Translator, Colorado & Auckland, 2005.
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, The Life & Spiritual Songs of
Simhananda, Lineages – Marpa Lotsawa, 2006.
Ken Holmes, Lineage Masters, in: Kagyu
May goodness and virtue increase!
Compiled and written for students of Karma Lekshey Ling in