The precious and wish-fulfilling jewel of Tibet, the great king of yogis, Milarepa (1052-1135), demonstrated through devotion and practice that a sincere student can attain the highest state of freedom in a single human life. Born to a prosperous family in the region of Gungtang, Milarepa was reduced to poverty at an early age when his father died and his uncle took possession of the family's wealth. When Milarepa came of age, his embittered mother sent him away to master black magic so could avenge the wrong done to his family. He returned the day of his cousin's wedding, and while guests gathered in his uncle's house, he cast a spell that made the central support give way. The house collapsed, killing thirty-five of his family's enemies in one stroke.
Filled with remorse afterwards, Milarepa turned toward the Dharma. Upon hearing the name of the great translator, Marpa, he was moved by an overwhelming sense of devotion. Unable to think of anything else, he set out to meet his future master. The night before Milarepa's arrival, Marpa dreamed that Naropa brought him a tarnished jewel vajra. In the dream, he purified the vajra with sacred water and mounted it atop a victory banner, from which its illumination filled all space. Marpa understood the dream as a prophecy about Milarepa, and accordingly put Milarepa through many ordeals in order to purify the sins that prevented him from perceiving his own true nature.
Milarepa worked building stone towers at Marpa's behest until his body was covered with running sores. As soon as each structure was nearly complete, Marpa would order him to tear it down, restore the stones to the earth and start over again. Whenever Milarepa attempted to join the other students, Marpa chased him away with harsh words and blows. After six years of constant fear that he would die without obtaining the instructions that would prevent rebirth in the lower realms, Milarepa fell into despair and prepared to take his own life. In that moment, the trial ended and Marpa acknowledged him as his foremost disciple, granting him the complete transmission of his lineage. Milarepa turned all his energy toward practice, persevering as he had with his earlier challenges.
Milarepa withdrew to desolate mountain valleys where, relying on a scant diet of wild nettles, he immersed himself in meditation. Though his body wasted away, his mind fed on bliss. After years of intense practice, he achieved complete liberation. Disciples soon gathered around him, and he set them to practice as he had in remote mountain caves. He became famous throughout Tibet for singing spontaneous Dharma songs that planted the seed of liberation in all who heard them. Several of his disciples, including his sister Peta, attained the rainbow body, dissolving into light at the time of death. At the age of eighty-four, Milarepa was escorted to the celestial realm by an assembly of dakinis, accompanied by a display of miracles and divine music.