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Marpa Lotsawa
1st Tibetan Patriarch of the Karma Kagyu Lineage

This page on Marpa  2nd part of Marpa hagiography  3rd part of Marpa hagiography  4th part of Marpa hagiography

is considered to have been an emanation of Hévajra, one of the profoundest vajrayana aspects of the buddha mind. Hévajra is a wrathful form, often depicted with a consort. His aspect of enlightenment conveys mahamudra, the heart-essence of all the Buddhist teaching.

Marpa's human manifestation, like Hevajra, was a daunting and wrathful one. Never a monk, he lived with his consort, Damema (whose name, tellingly, is the Tubetan translation of Nairatmya, Hevajra's consort, and means non-ego). Marpa was responsible for conveying the mahamudra teachings from India to Tibet. He is therefore the Tibetan founder of the Kagyu lineage, which is often called the Marpa Kagyu in his honour. As his life work involved translating - both in the narrow linguistic sense and in the larger sense of creating a bridge between the Indian and Tibetan cultures - he is known as Marpa Lotsawa: Marpa the Translator. He was born in 1012 in the southern part of Tibet known as Lhodak. His father was Wangchuk Oser and his mother Gyamo Sa Dode. He was one of four sons. From birth Marpa was very strong of character, powerful in presence and full of energy. His overwhelming, natural magnetism made even his own parents unable to look him directly in the eyes.

His clarity of mind and innate wisdom showed even as a child. He understood and immediately memorised whatever his first teacher, Lugyepa, taught him. His presence is said to have been not only awesome but also quite aggressive. The local villagers were frightened of him and kept their distance. This aggressiveness, fearful appearance and unpopularity led his father to send him far away to continue his education, to a teacher known as Drokmi the Translator. Marpa learnt Tibetan grammar, poetry and drama from him over a period of some 15 years and became a master not only of Tibetan but also of Indian languages and dialects. Marpa then returned home. He had decided to go to Nepal for further study, even though the journey would be long, hard, and dangerous. He persuaded his father to give him his share of the family wealth, in return for a promise to stay forever away from the family and the village. He travelled to nepal and remained there for some three years (near present-day Parping), learning more about India and its languages. He also heard of Naropa, one of the most famous scholars and masters of meditation, who was living in India and determined to go to him. It was a difficult business travelling from small kingdom to small kingdom in India (which was not a single country at the time but many independent areas ruled by local rajas ]. There were thieves, wild animals and 'customs' officers who demanded heavy tolls before giving the right to leave a territory. Despite all these difficulties, Marpa prevailed and met his teacher, studying 16 years and 7 months at his feet. For some 40 years, of which half were spent travelling in India, he translated the teachings he discovered into Tibetan. Moreover, he practised them until full attainment of their meaning was achieved. This made him able to translate them in every sense, across cultural barriers, in a way which would implant them authentically into their new land. Because of the hardships that Marpa was willing to go through, all the Kagyu traditions and teachings went to Tibet and are now filling the world. Without him they would not be available; without him the Kagyu tradition would not exist. In all, Marpa visited India three times.