Marpa: A Guide for Readers


Marpa, by Chris Banigan from The Supreme Siddhi of Mahamudra

Indestructible truth
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The following is the beginning of a several page profile of Marpa from Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism:

Marpa, the Tibetan founder of the Kagyu¨ lineage, represents yet another type of person. Born in 1012 of relatively prosperous parents in southern Tibet, as a young boy Marpa is depicted as possessing a fearsome temper and a violent and stubborn disposition. He is what one might call a holy terror, and while he is still young his parents send him off to be trained in the dharma with a variety of teachers. Marpa soon realizes that one has to make a lot of offerings in order to receive even basic teachings, let alone more advanced ones. Moreover, Tibetan teachers often guard their transmissions jealously, and Marpa is repeatedly rebuffed when he seeks the higher initiations.

Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that to receive the full measure of dharma instruction, he will have to journey to India. His parents capitulate, and Marpa sets off over the Himalayas on a long, tedious, and dangerous journey to India, the first of three trips he will make to the holy land. While staying in Nepal before descending to the Indian plains, Marpa hears of the siddha Naropa. His biography states, ‘‘A connection from a former life was reawakened in Marpa and he felt immeasurable yearning.’’

While many of his Tibetan contemporaries arrived in India and went straight to one or another of the great Indian monasteries for tantric instruction, Marpa takes a different course, bypassing the monastic scene, seeking for his yogin teacher in the forest. Marpa eventually finds Naropa, is accepted as a disciple, and receives extensive instruction and initiation from him.

From the first Marpa Kagyu volume of the Treasury of Precious Instructions:

Marpa Chökyi Lodrö of Lhodrak traveled to India three or four times. He received the sūtras and tantras in their entirety from many scholar-siddhas, Nāropa and Maitrīpa being the foremost among them. In particular, if his earlier and later journeys are added together, he studied with Nāropa for sixteen years and seven months. Through the combination of his listening, reflection, and meditation, Marpa came to dwell in a state of attainment. During his last journey, Nāropa had departed for [the practice of yogic] conduct. Nevertheless, enduring great hardships, Marpa searched for and supplicated Nāropa, finally actually meeting him in Puṣpahari in the North. He spent seven months with Nāropa and received the complete Aural Transmission of Cakrasaṃvara, male and female consorts. In Tibet, the principal disciples upon whom Marpa bestowed his profound dharma were known as the four great pillars. Among them, Mai Tsönpo, Ngok Chödor, and Tsurtön received the entrusted transmission of the explanatory tradition, and Jetsun Milarepa received the entrusted transmission of the practice tradition.

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The Life of Marpa the Translator: Seeing Accomplishes All

By Tsangnyon Heruka, translated by Chogyam Trungpa amd the Nalanda Translation Committee

Marpa the Translator, the eleventh-century farmer, scholar, and teacher, is one of the most renowned saints in Tibetan Buddhist history. In the West, Marpa is best known through his teacher, the Indian yogin Naropa, and through his closest disciple, Milarepa. This lucid and moving translation of a text composed by the author of The Life of Milarepa and The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa documents the fascinating life of Marpa, who, unlike many other Tibetan masters, was a layman, a skillful businessman who raised a family while training his disciples.

As a youth, Marpa was inspired to travel to India to study the Buddhist teachings, for at that time in Tibet, Buddhism has waned considerably through ruthless suppression by an evil king. The author paints a vivid picture of Marpa's three journeys to India: precarious mountain passes, desolate plains teeming with bandits, greedy customs-tax collectors. Marpa endured many hardships, but nothing to compare with the trials that ensued with his guru Naropa and other teachers. Yet Marpa succeeded in mastering the tantric teachings, translating and bringing them to Tibet, and establishing the Practice Lineage of the Kagyus, which continues to this day.

Essential Texts by and about Marpa

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Marpa Kagyu, Part One - Methods of Liberation: Essential Teachings of the Eight Practice Lineages of Tibet, Volume 7

The Treasury of Precious Instructions

By Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye

The seventh volume of the series, Marpa Kagyu, is the first of four volumes that present a selection of core instructions from the Marpa Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. This lineage is named for the eleventh-century Tibetan Marpa Chokyi Lodrö of Lhodrak who traveled to India to study the sutras and tantras with many scholar-siddhas, the foremost being Naropa and Maitripa. The first part of this volume contains source texts on mahamudra and the six dharmas by such famous masters as Saraha and Tilopa. The second part begins with a collection of sadhanas and abhisekas related to the Root Cakrasamvara Aural Transmissions, which are the means for maturing, or empowering, students. It is followed by the liberating instructions, first from the Rechung Aural Transmission. This section on instructions continues in the following three Marpa Kagyu volumes. Also included are lineage charts and detailed notes by translator Elizabeth M. Callahan.

The pieces by Marpa in this volume include:

  • Vajra Song on the Meaning of the Four Points: Instructions on the Ultimate Essence, the Mahāmudrā of Nonattention Heard by the Lord Marpa Lotsāwa from the Glorious Saraha
  • Trulkhors for the Path of Method and the Caṇḍālī of the Saṃvara Aural Transmission
  • Eighteen Trulkhors for Caṇḍālī
Rain of Wisdom
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The Rain of Wisdom: The Essence of the Ocean of True Meaning

Translated by Nalanda Translation Committee under the guidance of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

The art of composing spontaneous songs that express spiritual understanding has existed in Tibet for centuries. Over a hundred of these profound songs are found in this collection of the works of the great teachers of the Kagyü lineage, known as the Practice Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

The chapter on Marpa, entitled The Grand Songs of Marpa, is 35 pages long and includes Marpa's first departure from India, his dream of Saraha, his third trip to India, his final farewell to Naropa, his  third return to Tibet, and the many songs these incidents inspired.

Great Kagyu
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The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury

Compiled by Dorje Dze Öd, translated by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche

The Golden Lineage Treasury was compiled by Dorje Dze Öd a great master of the Drikung lineage active in the Mount Kailasjh region of Western Tibet.  This text of the Kagyu tradition profiles and the forefathers of the tradition including Vajradhara, the Buddha, Tilopa, Naropa, the Four Great Dharma Kings of Tibet, Marpa, Milarepa, Atisha, Gampopa, Phagmodrupa, Jigten Sumgon, and more.

The profile Marpa is 25 pages long.

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The Supreme Siddhi of Mahamudra: Teachings, Poems, and Songs of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage

Translated by Gerardo Abboud, Sean Price, and Adam Kane

The Drukpa Kagyu lineage is renowned among the traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism for producing some of the greatest yogis from across the Himalayas. After spending many years in mountain retreats, these meditation masters displayed miraculous signs of spiritual accomplishment that have inspired generations of Buddhist practitioners. The teachings found here are sources of inspiration for any student wishing to genuinely connect with this tradition.

These translations include Mahamudra advice and songs of realization from major Tibetan Buddhist figures such as Gampopa, Tsangpa Gyare, Drukpa Kunleg, and Pema Karpo, as well as modern Drukpa masters such as Togden Shakya Shri and Adeu Rinpoche. This collection of direct pith instructions and meditation advice also includes an overview of the tradition by Tsoknyi Rinpoche.

This includes a chapter on Marpa's A Vision of Saraha The Essential Importance of the Uncreated Meaning of the Four Syllables of Mahamudra: A Pith Instruction Expressed in a Vajra Song. The pith instruction, the essence of the uncreated found in the meaning of the four syllables of Mahamudra, was revealed to Lord Marpa by the song of Saraha.

Combined with guidance from a qualified teacher, these teachings offer techniques for resting in the naturally pure and luminous state of our minds. As these masters make clear, through stabilizing the meditative experiences of bliss, clarity, and nonthought, we will be liberated from suffering in this very life and will therefore be able to benefit countless beings.

Translator on Gerardo Abboud on The Supreme Siddhi of Mahamudra

Image of Marpa by Chris Banigan

Marpa, from the Buddhist Art Coloring Book 2

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Additional Resources on Marpa

Lotsawa House hosts at least eight works by Marpa as well as several where he features.  lotswa house

BDRC has a set of associated works related to Marpa