20. Milarepa
(cat. pl. 43)
c. 15th century
Parcel gilt silver Lotus base in gilt copper
h. 12.8 cm


Although Milarepa is a progenitor of the Kagyu lineage, he is perceived by Tibetans of all orders as the archetypal yogin and is held in the highest esteem for his heroic quest for knowledge.352 In his youth, he mastered the arts of black magic, but became disillusioned by these destructive practices and resolved to seek the dharma, His first Buddhist teacher was unable to impart effective instruction and referred him to a man called Marpa from Wheat Valley in Lhodrak. His trials while apprenticed to Marpa are legendary, Frustrated by his lack of progress and unable to understand why Marpa seemed to be withholding teachings, Milarepa gave up and left on several occasions. Finding no satisfaction elsewhere, he always returned. For his persistence, he was finally granted the teachings he so desperately sought. Milarepa had suffered greatly during his training; yet, once enlightened, he achieved a sublime perception:

In harvesting of evil deeds, the human
race is busy;
And the doing so is to taste the pangs
of Hell . . .
The piling up of wealth is the piling up
of others' property;
What one thus storeth formeth but
provisions for one's enemies . . .

I wash off human scandal by devotion
And by my zeal, I satisfy the Deities.

By compassion, I subdue the demons;
All blame I scatter to the wind,
And upward turn my face.353

Milarepa's sublime state is captured in this portrait, Parted lips suggest the singing of the songs for which he is famed throughout Tibet. The skullcup that he holds in his left hand is a symbol of the transient nature of existence, which Milarepa came so profoundly to understand. (cat. pl. 43)

352. An inscription along the lotus petal base may be translated, 'This silver image of Mila[repa], king of the sacred doctrine, was set up at Ny�g Peak by the monk Gagi Wangpo. Through this virtuous act may [all beings] who have been my mother realise the abiding nature of the mind, and may they achieve [the level of] Vajradhara, embodiment of the four Buddha bodies! May good auspices prevail!' (chos kyi rgyal po mid le[la]'I dngul sku 'di/ dge slong dga' gis dbang pos smyug lar gzhengs // dge des mar gyur sems kyi gnas lugs rtogs// sku bzhi'I bdag nyid rdo rje 'chang thob shog// mang ga lam/) An inscription on the baseplate may be translated, 'Homage to the venerable Mila Zhepei Dorje! May my kind mother Sonam Zemo attain Buddhahood!' (rje mid la gzhad pa rdo rje la na mo/ drin can gyi ma bsod nams bzad mo sngyas [sangs rgyas] thob par gyur cig/)
353. Evans-Wentz (1958), pp. 190-1.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer