When Buddha Shakyamuni transmitted the teachings on the ultimate nature of mind in the Samadhiraja Sutra, he asked his assembled disciples which of them would vow to take rebirth in the future to serve as guardian of this precious wisdom. The bodhisattva Dawu Shunnu vowed to do so, and many years later took rebirth as the Lord Gampopa-who obtained full transmission from Milarepa and spread the teachings on Mahamudra, the essence of mind, throughout Tibet.
Gampopa¡]1079-1153, also called Dakpo Lhaje, meaning the doctor from Dakpo¡^was born in Nyal, in eastern Tibet. His father, a doctor, trained him to be a skillful doctor and to release suffering of many people. Yet during a severe epidemic he was unable to save his own beloved wife and children. Renouncing worldly life, he took the vows of a monk and devoted himself to studying the stages of the path as taught in the sutras, and cultivated the aspiration to benefit all beings impartially. Various signs presaging liberation arose in his dreams, and he would remain absorbed in an unwavering state of meditation for many days.
One day, Gampopa overheard three beggars discussing the miraculous qualities of Milarepa. When he heard the great yogi's name, Gampopa was overcome with devotion and fainted. When he awoke, he set out to find the great master, who at the time was staying in an isolated mountain retreat. Gampopa traveled like a man possessed, sometimes fainting from exhaustion and weakness. Finally, he reached the feet of Milarepa, who accepted him as a disciple.
Milarepa bestowed on him the essential instructions of the Kagyu lineage, including the Six Yogas of Naropa. He then sent Gampopa to meditate in a desolate cave, where various experiences of the path swiftly arose. On one occasion, he perceived his cave to be filled with deities. On another, he saw his body as a net of veins and bones, devoid of flesh. On yet another, the valley in which he sat practicing became filled with smoke, and he was forced to grope his way back into Milarepa's presence. Each time, Milarepa taught him not to cling to what appeared, saying "It's neither good nor bad. Keep practicing." Due to the high level of realization he had achieved in former lives and to his reliance on Milarepa, Gampopa progressed rapidly. At last, Milarepa transmitted to him all the precious teachings and empowerments, then sent him to central Tibet to develop his practice.
After meditating in hermitages and wild mountains for many years, Gampopa achieved enlightenment and clearly saw his teacher was Dorje Chang. As Milarepa had prophesied, local deities invited Gampopa to establish a monastery at Dagpo, where vast numbers of disciples gathered to receive the Kagyu teachings he expounded. During this period, Gampopa frequently displayed supernormal powers, often manifesting as Buddha Shakyamuni or the bodhisattva Chenrezig. Many people reported seeing him simultaneously presiding over a feast at one place, performing a consecration in another, and teaching in yet another. When at last he entered the realm of ultimate reality, the sky was filled with countless rainbows, images of white stupas, and a rain of flowers to mark the passage of a fully enlightened being.