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Marpa the Translator

1012 - 1096


The holy lama Marpa Chökyi Lodrö, greatest of translators and father of the Kagyu Lineage, was born in 1012 into a wealthy farming family in Lodrak, Drowolung, situated at the South-Tibetan border with Bhutan. As a child, he was aggressive and stubborn, and therefore his father decided to steer his energy in a wholesome direction - religion. After learning to read and write, Marpa studied and mastered literary Sanskrit and some of the colloquial languages of India. Yearning for further teachings, he decided to continue his studies with the great masters of India. He converted most of his possessions into gold and set out on the long and dangerous journey with a traveling companion. In Nepal, he met two disciples of the great Mahasiddha and Pandita Naropa. He stayed with them for three years, studying and getting used to the different altitude and climate. Then he continued on to India to meet and supplicate Naropa, with whom he shared a karmic link. Naropa gave him initiation and instruction immediately and welcomed him as his future lineage holder.

Marpa Lotsawa made altogether three trips to India, spending over sixteen years with Naropa. Besides attending his main guru, Marpa studied with many other masters, particularly Maitripa, and Jnanagarbha and Kukkuripa, thus receiving teachings from the most realized siddhas living at that time. He translated and practiced the teachings with great diligence and energy and, having realized their meaning, transmitted them to his own disciples in Tibet. Of his four main students, it was especially the holy yogin Milarepa who became the holder of the Practice Lineage.

It is said that Marpa is the chief of all Tibetan siddhas, equal to the Indian Saraha, yet for all his mastery Marpa Lotsawa lived an ordinary life as head of his family - husband, father, householder and farmer. Except for his disciples, hardly anyone recognized him as an enlightened person. But it was precisely through this ordinariness - unifying his life and his realization - that Marpa demonstrated the ground, path and fruit of Mahamudra, the special teaching of the Kagyu Lineage, which has been handed down from guru to disciple as a living tradition to this present day.

Marpa said:

Samsara and nirvana are both self-liberated,
Everything is just that which it is,
Therefore nothing is gained or lost.
Because samsara and nirvana are naturally self-liberated,
They are united in mahasukha (great bliss).
Asking the Buddhas of the three times,
They would answer no more than this.

By Rigdzin Khandro

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Last Updated August 12, 2007