There are few figures more beloved in the Buddhist Himalayas than the 11th century yogi-hero Milarepa.

His story of hardship, errant paths, disciplined training, heartbreak, devotion, and ultimate liberation have been told in many places. Stories of his life, as well as teachings on his songs, abound—dozens of Shambhala Publications and Snow Lion books feature him. His example and teachings appear across all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

Milarepa's wisdom has likely reached more people through Pema Chödron's When Things Fall Apart than all these books combined. In one section, Ani Pema relates:

"Over the years, as I read and reread Milarepa’s story, I find myself getting advice for where I am stuck and can’t seem to move forward. To begin with, Milarepa was a murderer, and like most of us when we blow it, he wanted to atone for his errors. And like most of us, in the process of seeking liberation, he frequently fell flat on his face. He lied and stole to get what he wanted, he got so depressed he was suicidal, and he experienced nostalgia for the good old days. Like most of us, he had one person in his life who continually tested him and blew his saintly cover. Even when almost everyone regarded him as one of Tibet’s most holy men, his vindictive old aunt continued to beat him with sticks and call him names, and he continued to have to figure out what to do with that kind of humiliating squeeze."

This is a great example of how Milarepa matters to us practitioners today.

Below you will find a set of other resources to learn more about Milarepa, and be inspired by his example.


Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa

Milarepa's Life

Jetsun Milarepa was first introduced widely to the English-speaking world in 1928 by Walter Evans-Wentz, an anthropologist and theosophist, through his idiosyncratic translation of Milarepa's life. Since then there has been a sizeable body of work devoted to him.

Two superb guides are the recent Penguin Classics translated by Andrew Quintman of Tsangnyon Heruka's biography, The Life of Milarepa, and its companion volume, The Yogin and the Madman, which dives into the rich and fascinating story behind this biography. Quintman also wrote an excellent biography on Milarepa on the Treasury of Lives site.

For a shorter biography of Milarepa, it would be hard to beat the one included in Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen’s Great Kagyu Masters.

We also publish Milarepa’s life story in the form of a graphic novel illustrated by Eva van Dam. Originally published in the 1990s, it has recently been re-released with new material. There is a large cohort of people—including some in our office—who were deeply influenced by this work as youngsters.

The Great Kagyu Masters

Taught by: Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche & Victoria Huckenpahler

$22.95 - Paperback


Taught by: Milarepa & Eva Van Dam

$16.95 - Paperback

Mila Interior

When Things Fall Apart

Taught by: Pema Chödrön

$24.95 - Hardcover

The Songs of Realization

There is a large corpus of songs of realization, many included in the collection The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. The “Hundred Thousand” is a gloss of the Tibetan word “bum,” which can mean 100,000 or just a collection, as is the case for this work, which includes not only songs but lots of dialogue that are themselves profound teachings.

There are two translations of this work, one done in the ‘60s by C. C. Chang and a newer and generally far more readable edition by Chris Stagg, a superb young translator who unfortunately passed away in an accident in 2018.

Here is Chris discussing his work and also giving a bow to Chang's pioneering translation.

The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa

Taught by: Tsangnyon Heruka & Milarepa & Christopher Stagg

$45.00 - Paperback

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught extensively using Milarepa's life and songs. In Milarepa: Lessons from the Life and Songs of Tibet’s Great Yogi, these teachings have been collected. As teacher Judy Lief, who edited this volume, put it:

Although this book is filled with stories about Milarepa’s life as a student, a practitioner, and a teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche emphasized that he did not tell these stories simply because they are colorful and entertaining (though they are). He pointed out that his approach was not that of a historian, a biographer, or an academic; he was focused on bringing out the relevance of Milarepa’s life and teachings for modern-day dharma practitioners.

The focus of the first half of this book is on Milarepa's teachings of Mahāmudrā.

Milarepa is featured throughout Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso’s Stars of Wisdom. In particular, there is a long section where Rinpoche explains Milarepa’s songs “The Seven Ways Things Shine Inside” and “Out and The Eighteen Kinds of Yogic Joy.” This includes step-by-step instructions on how to meditate on the true nature of mind.

More songs are included in Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen's Opening the Treasure of the Profound.  While most of this collection are songs by the founder of the Drikung Kayu order, Jigten Sumgon, the first two, “Distinguishing Happiness from Suffering” and “The Eight Bardos,” are by Milarepa.

Several of Milarepa’s songs are included in Thupten Jinpa's Songs of Spiritual Experience. The book and a video of him discussing it are available here.

Translations of many of Milarepa's songs are included in Rain of Wisdom, a collection of the songs of the Kagyu.


Taught by: Judith L. Lief & Milarepa & Chogyam Trungpa

$19.95 - Paperback

Songs of Spiritual Experience

Taught by: H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama & Jas Elsner & Thupten Jinpa

$22.95 - Paperback

Other Sources on Milarepa

Several works by and stories of Milarepa are included in Straight from the Heart: Buddhist Pith Instructions.

This collection, in your author's opinion, is one of the best anthologies of teachings of this type available in English. It is edited and translated by Karl Brunnhölzl and includes several sections.

“Padampa Sangyé’s Meetings with Milarepa” tells of the extraordinary meeting between these two accomplished yogis and the spiritual fireworks that followed, which involved Milarepa severing his own head.

In “Lord Milarepa’s Instructions to Master Gampopa,” with a commentary by the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje recounts one of the final songs sung to Gampopa. There is a wonderful story that follows the song included here:

Milarepa called him back again. Gampopa returned to the feet of the guru and Milarepa said, “If I don’t give this precious instruction to you, to whom should I give it then? So I will teach it to you.” Gampopa was very happy and asked, “Do I need a mandala to offer?” “No, you don’t need a mandala, but never waste this pith instruction! Here it is!” Milarepa turned his back to Gampopa and lifted his cotton cloth, thus revealing his buttocks, which were completely covered with hard calluses from all his extensive sitting on the stony grounds of caves. He said, “There is nothing more profound than meditating on this pith instruction. The qualities in my mind stream have arisen through my having meditated so persistently that my buttocks have become like this. You must also give rise to such heartfelt perseverance and meditate!” This final instruction remained in the depths of Gampopa’s mind forever.

This anthology also includes works by Milarepa’s students Gampopa and Rechungba, and their teacher features prominently throughout.

Straight from the Heart

Taught by: Karl Brunnholzl & Jamgon Mipham

$32.95 - Paperback

In addition to the dedicated volume on Milarepa, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote about him extensively in other places. In volume V of his Collected Works, he has three pieces:

"Milarepa: A Warrior’s Life”: This includes the last instructions given by Milarepa to his students as he lay on his deathbed.

"Milarepa: A Synopsis”:

From the Translator's Introduction: "[This section] presents a series of scenes from Milarepa’s life, with little commentary on their significance. The writing is quite vivid, however. Excerpts from a number of Milarepa’s songs are included, based on the translation of The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa by Garma C. C. Chang. Although it was impossible to definitively confirm this, it is likely that this article is actually an early treatment prepared by Chogyam Trungpa for a movie on the life of Milarepa, which he began filming in the early 1970s. He and several of his students, including two filmmakers from Los Angeles—Johanna Demetrakas and Baird Bryant—traveled to Sweden to film some exquisite thangkas of the life of Milarepa, which were to be featured in the movie. More information about the film itself—which was also to be an exploration of the qualities of the five buddha families—appears in the introduction to Volume Seven, which presents Rinpoche’s teachings on art and the artistic process.

“The Art of Milarepa”:

From the Translator's Introduction:

"The title is somewhat misleading in that the article has little to do with Milarepa’s artistic expression—his songs—in and of themselves and more to do with his art of life. The opening part of the article is a discussion of how the secret practice of Buddhist yoga evolved in India, especially in the ninth century in the great universities of Nalanda and Vikramashila. The connection that Marpa (Milarepa’s main teacher) had to this tradition is also discussed. In this article, one sees Trungpa Rinpoche’s brilliant insight into Milarepa’s journey through life, the obstacles he encountered, and his final attainment. Throughout, Rinpoche brings together immense appreciation for Milarepa as a highly developed person on the one hand, with a down-to-earth insight into the humanness and ordinary quality of his practice on the other.

After he met his guru, Milarepa lived an austere, ascetic life and spent many years in solitary retreat in caves in the wilderness of Tibet. His lifestyle might seem distant from that of most people, especially in this modern age. Yet Trungpa Rinpoche makes Milarepa’s experience accessible by demystifying it, while maintaining his tremendous appreciation for the attainment of his forefather. He tells us that Milarepa remained an ascetic simply because ‘‘that physical situation had become part of his makeup. Since he was true to himself, he had no relative concept of other living styles and did not compare himself to others. Although he taught people with many different lifestyles, he had no desire to convert them.’’ Milarepa’s asceticism is treated here as an ordinary but very sacred experience, one that really does not have much to do with embracing austerity per se. As Rinpoche concludes, ‘‘Simplicity is applicable to the situation of transcending neurotic mind by using domestic language. It becomes profound without pretense, and this naturally provokes the actual practice of meditation."

Gampopa, the direct heir to much of Milarepa's teachings, wrote the famous Jewel Ornament of Liberation.  Ringu Tulku presents Gampopa's most famous teachings in Confusion Arises as Wisdom: Gampopa’s Heart Advice on the Path of Mahamudra, and Milarepa unsurprisingly appears throughout—over 80 times.

The story of Milarepa pacifying a hunter and his ferocious dog, demonstrating a reverence for life, is included in Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism.

Another good source is Lotsawa House's section on works related to Milarepa.

To close, here is a video of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talking about Milarepa

The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa: Volume Five

Taught by: Carolyn Rose Gimian & Chogyam Trungpa

$49.95 - Hardcover

Confusion Arises as Wisdom

Taught by: Ringu Tulku

$22.95 - Paperback

Dharma Rain

Taught by: Kenneth Kraft & Stephanie Kaza

$34.95 - Paperback

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The Life of Gampopa

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The Life and Teaching of Naropa

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Instructions of Gampopa

Taught by: David McCarthy & Lama Yeshe Gyamtso & Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

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