From the Gungthang province of Western Tibet, close to Nepal, Milarepa (1052-1135) had a hard childhood and a dark youth. He was only seven when his father died. Relatives had taken over his father's property and mistreated the bereaved family. His mother, bitter, sent Milarepa to train in black magic, to wreak revenge on those who had blighted her life. She was given her wish – Milarepa proved at the practices he was taught, and unleashed a tide of destruction, killing many.
But he came to regret his actions, and looked for help in shedding the bad karma he had acquired during his vengeful adolescence. He first attached himself to the Nyingmapa Lama Rongton, who, observing that Milarepa had a karmic connection to Marpa, sent him to learn with him. Marpa, being aware that Milarepa had first of all to purify himself from the negative karma he had accumulated, exposed him to an extremely hard apprenticeship. Among other trials, he had to build towers out of rocks to Marpa's specifications with his bare hands, only to be ordered to tear them down again. But finally, Marpa gave Milarepa full transmissions of all the Mahamudra teachings from Naropa, Maitripa and other Indian masters.
Practicing these teachings for many years in isolated mountain retreats, Milarepa attained enlightenment. He gained fame for his incredible perseverance in practice and for his spontaneous songs of realization. Of his many students, Gampopa became his main lineage holder.
His story of hardship, errant paths, disciplined training, heartbreak, devotion, and ultimate liberation have been told in many places. Stories of his life, as well as teachings on his songs, abound—dozens of Shambhala Publications and Snow Lion books feature him. His example and teachings appear across all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
Milarepa's poetic teachings have touched the hearts of his students and admirers for nearly a thousand years. His life represents that of an ideal Bodhisattva, as his deep compassion created the wish of Bodhicitta and motivated him to obtain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The Song of the Snow
On this auspicious, glorious day,
You male and female benefactors who welcome me with
Along with myself, the yogi Milarepa:
We didn't perish, and have met. Oh how joyful!
I'm an old man with a treasury of songs,
So I'll answer your query of my health with this tune;
Listen carefully with focused, attentive minds.
At the very end of the tiger year
And at the beginning of the year of the hare,
On the full moon of the Wagyal month,
Disillusioned with the things of samsara,
I went seeking a secluded retreat
In the remote pastures of the Lachi snowy range.
The land and sky conferred together
And sent down a messenger, a strong wind.
With the elements of water and wind astir,
Black southern clouds gathered in front.
The sun and moon were put into prison.
The twenty-eight constellations were strung on a wire.
The eight planets were put into shackles by edict.
The great Milky Way was tethered down.
The morning star was completely wrapped in mist.
Wind with sleet blew, and finally,
Snow fell for nine days and nine nights;
With the days and nights together totaling eighteen.
The big flakes were big; they fell like thick layers of wool,
Like birds in flight that plummeted down.
The small flakes were small; they fell like tiny wheels,
Like bees flying around, then dropping down.
Other small flakes the size of mustard seeds and beans,
Lumped together and fell like balls of sleet.
Snow fell in more sizes than one could count.
High above, the snowy white peaks touched the sky.
Below, the plants and trees were matted and pressed.
The mountains of black donned a blanket of white,
An ocean with waves that were frozen over.
The blue rivers' waters were put in a shell.
The contour of the land was evened to a plain.
Because this snowfall was so great
The black-haired people became socked in.
The four-legged creatures were stricken with famine:
Especially the old, weak ones' sustenance was cut.
Above, the birds' food source was depleted.
Below, the pikas and mice hid in their stores.
The meat-eating animals were unable to eat.
As for the fate of such sleet and strong wind
And particularly the fate of me, Milarepa:
That blizzard that came down from above
The strong winter wind of the new year,
And I, the yogi Milarepa's cloth, these three,
All fought on the side of the high snow mountain.
But I was victorious over the snowfall, and it melted to water.
Though the wind roared powerfully, it naturally subsided,
And my cloth, like fire, was blazing strong!
Two wrestlers contended there in a life-or-death match.
I gave it the edge of my kingly sword.
I was victorious in that fight where the valiant ones were overthrown;
Thus, all dharma practitioners earned some clout
Especially meditators, twice as much;
In particular, my single chandali cloth showed its greatness.
The four gatherings of illness were put on the scale.
Then, inner disturbances were completely vanquished.
Both cold and hot pranas were fully cast out.
Later, the [elements] listened and heeded what was said.
The demon of snow and sleet was suppressed.
Then, everything was resolved and completely still.
Though samsara's brigade tried, it didn't succeed.
Thus, this yoga won the fight.
I'm my grandfather's descendant, with the coat of a tiger;
I've never fled wearing the coat of a fox.
To my father was born a son of the class of champions;
I've never lost in the face of a foe.
I'm of the family of lions, the king of beasts;
I've never lived in a snowless land.
Fate has once again played its joke.
If you trust that what this old man says has any power,
The practice lineage teachings will spread in the future,
A few siddhas will also come,
And I, the yogi Milarepa,
Will be renowned throughout the lands.
You disciples will have faith
And fame of you will later spread.
I, a yogi, am very well.
You benefactors, how are you?