Marpa the Translator, or Marpa Lotsawa (ca. 1012 - ca. 1097), was a founding father of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He is credited with translating many Buddhist teachings into Tibetan - teachings of Vajrayana and Mahamudra. He also worked to transmit teachings of value to disciples in his lineage.
Marpa's full name was Lhodak Marpa Choski Lodos. He was born as Marpa Chökyi Lodrö, in Lhodrak Chukhyer in the southern part of Tibet.
He was born into a quite prosperous family, began studying at a young age, and came to master Sanskrit. He travelled to India to study with renowned Indian Buddhist teachers, and then came home to Lhodrak, where he traded away his entire inheritance for gold to fund his travel expenses and to be better able to offer gold to teachers to pay for their teachings and initiations.
First he went to Nepal. There he studied with two students of Naropa. One of the students later accompanied Marpa to somewhere near Nalanda University, where Naropa taught. Marpa spent twelve years studying with Naropa and other Indian gurus that Naropa sent him to to study beneath, or get instructions from, and most prominently Maitripada. After twelve years he travelled back to Tibet to teach and carry on. He now married Dagmema, and they prospered as farmers.
After some years, he went south again to study for a further six years with Naropa. Before leaving to go home again, he promised his guru he would return to complete his training. And finally, well into middle age and against objections of his family, he set out for a third and final journey to India.
In India, he learned that Naropa had disappeared into the jungle and that his whereabouts were unknown. However, eventually Marpa found him and got the final teachings and instructions from him. On this occasion Naropa foretold that Marpa's lineage would be carried on by his disciples; not by his kin, although , Marpa and Dagmema had seven sons.
Marpa now had received the full transmission of teachings, and therefore Naropa declared Marpa to be his dharma successor, that is, successor in the teachings and lineage holder. Naropa had other major followers too, and Maitripa was one of them.
Back in Tibet, Marpa lived with his wife Dakmema and their sons in Lhodrak, southern Tibet. He translated Buddhist scriptures for many years, and also founded a Buddhist Monastery in Zanskar in 1052 CE, presumably. He continued to practice and give teachings and transmissions to many students. Milarepa [next page] was one of them, and also became his spiritual heir in the lineage of Nalopa.
Marpa is also credited with the tradition of dohas, songs of realization that his disciple Milarepa made very famous, after producing large numbers of them. Marpa had many other disciples too. One of them specialised in Tantras, another in phowa practice (consciousness-transferral), a third mastered the practice of luminosity, ösal.
Marpa died at eighty-four. People reported seeing a rainbow and showers of flowers at that moment, hearing the sound of music, while there were delightful scents in the air.
The following is rooted in a book by Dr, W. Y. Evans-Wentz, and so far augmented with just a little from other works (including those in the literature list).
Marpa recounts, "One night while I was dreaming in a light sleep, two beautiful damsels came up me up to me and said: "You must go . . . !"
I said: "I don't know the way."
The two girls said: "We shall bear you on our shoulders."
They took me to a place where the joyful face of a God was smiling. "Welcome, my son!" he said. The hairs of my body stood on end. My body was intoxicated bliss. From a vase of precious song he sang, showing the meaning of an empty sky free from clouds." (Etc. And the above is abridged.)
I am a man, who has travelled a long way
Chang, Garma C. C., tr. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, London: Shambala Books, 1999. ⍽▢⍽ There is a partial view of an earlier 2-volumed edition at Google Books
Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling, ed. Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1969. ⍽▢⍽ First published in 1928. A partial view of the 2000 edition is at Google Books.
Heruka, Tsang Nyön and the Nalanda Translation Committee. The Life of Marpa the Translator. Reprint ed. London: Shambala, 1995. ⍽▢⍽ The same as the illustrated edition that is accredited the editor-head of translators of the same book (Boston: Taylor and Francis, 1982). Partial view at Google Books.
WP (Wikipedia), s.v. "Marpa Lotsawa".
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