You will come across the name "Milarepa" quite often when you are traveling in the Tsum Valley, Manang, Lapchi, and all throughout Tibet. Who was he and what did he do to earn such affection from the people?
The unique peaceful nature of these places can be directly linked to his work here nearly 1000 years ago. This famous Buddhist yogi not only brought Buddhism to these valleys but created its peaceful nature of a warlike people who had come to inhabit these fertile lands between the mountains.
Tibetan Buddhists know St. Milarepa as one of their greatest poets and yogis. He was born Mila Thopaga in 1052 AD to a wealthy family in the village of Kya Ngatsa in western Tibet. His family name was Josay, which indicated that he came from a noble heritage. Life was good for the young Mila Thopaga until his father died, and the family wealth was stolen by an uncle.
His mother had the boy leave home and study sorcery with hopes of revenge against the uncle. The opportunity came when his greedy uncle was throwing a party to celebrate the upcoming marriage of his son. Young Mila was able to call down a great hailstorm that demolished his uncle's home and killed 35 people. Unknown if it was part of his plan, his wicked uncle and aunt did survive the catastrophe.
The villagers obviously weren't very happy with his magic and went looking for him. His mother got a warning to him about the villager's anger. He responded by causing another great hailstorm, which destroyed the village's fields. He certainly was not working to endear himself to anyone at this point.
In time, remorse overtook him. No doubt some of it came from his study of Buddhism under the greatest teacher of the time, Marpa Lotsawa. "In my youth, I have committed dark deeds. In maturity, I practiced virtue," he noted later in life. His life changed from a man of violence to a man of peace, devoting himself entirely to the teachings of Buddhism.
He had studied sorcery under the tutelage of a lama but was now gripped with a reality that it was wrong. Under Lama Lotsawa, he studied for 12 years. Lotsawa was a demanding teacher, and Mila was a dedicated student. In a record time of 12 years, he attained the state of Vajradhara (complete enlightenment) and was the first one of the Lotsawa lama's students to do so in one's lifetime.
Once he achieved the state of enlightenment, he took the name Milarepa. He became a wandering teacher, meditating in caves of the Tsum Valley area (present-day Lamagaon), Manang, and Lapchi (Rolwaling). He subsisted on nettle tea to the point that his skin took on a greenish tint. Much of his teachings and songs have been preserved, and he is revered not just in Nepal, but all throughout Tibet. He died at the age of 83 in 1135 AD.
For the people, he tamed the wildness of the residents and brought them into a relationship with nature that was a way of peace and harmony. St. Milarepa's work survives today, a testimony to the power of his teachings.