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This section: the Tibetan masters of the Karma Kagyu lineageThe Gyalwa Karmapas, supreme masters of the Karma Kagyu lineage

Marpa Lotsawa
1st Tibetan Patriarch of the Karma Kagyu Lineage

Part 1 of this story  This section: 2nd part of Marpa hagiography  3rd part of Marpa hagiography  4th part of Marpa hagiography


Marpa's first visit to India was marked by a strange relationship with a sometime travelling companion, Ngo the Translator. Having different karmas, they were attracted to different teachers but saught out similar teachings (Guhyasamaja, Hevajra etc.). From time to time they met to compare notes. In the end, Marpa's understanding and inner realisation always proved superior.

They accompanied each other for some of the way back to Tibet. Ngo, jealous of his companion, conspired to have Marpa's sacred texts and translations fall irretrievably into a large river they were crossing by boat. This proved a powerful moment for Marpa, who at one and the same time saw the work of many years lost in a few seconds but also knew that there was no loss since he held all the teachings in his heart and had achieved realisation of their innermost meaning through meditation.

Marpa had needed to return to Tibet to disseminate some of the teachings he had gathered in India and which had not yet reached Tibet at the time. He also needed to raise funds, to give to his Indian gurus on behalf of the Tibetan people, thereby involving them karmically/dharmically in his historic journeys. Over this and his other two visits to India, Marpa studied, perfected and brought back to Tibet the following teachings, among others:

  the samatta & vipasyana aspects of mahamudra
  the dohas (profound spiritual poems, sung as instruction)
  the father, mother & non-dual tantras of the anuttara yoga tantra class,
  some of the 9 formless dakini teachings,
  the 6 yogas of Naropa (tummo, ilusory body, dream, clarity, bardo, powa)
  the powa drunjuk teachings
  mahamudra as a synthesis of the above

He received these from gurus Naropa, Maitripa, Sukhasiddhi, Kukuripa and others.

Marpa had already visited India twice when the dakinis predicted that he must visit India again, to receive the formless dakini teachings from Naropa. This coincided with a powerful dream that his disciple (Milarepa) had, concerning a special form of consciousness transference (po-wa). Marpa did not have teachings on this and knew he should get them from Naropa. But Marpa was by now quite old and his students in Tibet were very concerned about his undertaking such a rough journey. Since he was not very strong or in very good health, they suggested that he might send his son, Dharma Dode, in his place. Not listening to the advice of his students, Marpa left Tibet for India, according to the predictions of the dakinis. On his way, he met great master Atisha, who told him that Naropa had already "left" (a euphemism like "passed away"). He gave Marpa no hint as to the pure realm in which Naropa could be found. Atisha proposed that Marpa accompany him to Tibet, as his interpreter, but Marpa declined. When the latter arrived in India, he met friends and senior disciples of Naropa, who told him that Naropa had just disappeared, again suggesting that he had passed on, in a 'rainbow body', to another realm. One after another, they expressed their opinion that Marpa had such deep faith and devotion for his guru that he might be able to meet him again if he looked for him. Marpa saught his teacher, without any clear idea of where he was or how to find him. He began searching in some very remote regions. Then at one point he recognized the footprints of Naropa on a rock. This filled him with new confidence and devotion. Making prayers and supplications, he went once again in search of Naropa. Inhis search, Naropa appeared under many guises, each designed to confront Marpa with whatever preconceptions about reality and good-and-evil still remained, preventing his mind from experiencing total, perfect enlightenment. Once, Marpa came near a tree known as ashik and saw a vision of Naitarmya, the consort of Hevajra. The image of her in the ashik tree was as clear as a mirror, as were the precise garlands of swirling mantras at her heart.