This biography details the struggles of Tibetan folk hero Milarepa as he works toward enlightenment, striving to overcome a crappy childhood and a young adulthood spent killing people with black magic. It reads a little like Harry Potter for the Buddhacharita set, illustrating religious principles against a backdrop of epic conflict and magical pyrotechnics. Its accessibility has made it a major part of the Tibetan Buddhist canon.
Milarepa has the perfect childhood— until his father dies. Then his evil aunt and uncle seize all his family assets, forcing him into a life of hardship and sorrow. Seething, his mother White Jewel encourages him to learn sorcery so he can take his fantastic revenge. Ever the dutiful son, he brings his Tear Jerker of a story to a powerful lama, who takes pity and schools him in The Dark Arts accordingly.
With his new powers, Milarepa returns home and collapses his uncle's house, killing thirty-five people. White Jewel rejoices (a little too gleefully, people say), but the terrified villagers insist his revenge was over-the-top and start plotting to kill him, forcing him to flee. Meanwhile, seized with disgust and remorse, Milarepa discovers religion. He starts hunting for another lama— one who will teach him the dharma, liberating him from the stain of his misdeeds. The yogin Marpa seems an answer to his prayers. But as far as this no-nonsense guru is concerned, nirvana doesn't come cheap.
The Life is told using a complicated framework-tale structure. Milarepa himself regales a crowd of followers, one of whom is the actual narrator, with the events of his youth. He's also known for randomly bursting into song— sometimes in front of people who'd like nothing better than to kill him. They don't call him the Singing Saint for nothing.
The Life of Milarepa contains examples of:
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Milarepa experiences this eventually, like all yogins.
- The Atoner: Milarepa, after his stint as a dark wizard.
- Backup from Otherworld: Milarepa shows up something like five times after his death to advise his disciples.
- Black Magic
- Charles Atlas Superpower: How Milarepa becomes skilled in magic.
- Closer to Earth: How Milarepa's sister Peta Happy Protectress sees herself, in contrast to his Cloud Cuckoo Lander. She just doesn't get his religion.
- The Dark Arts
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Milarepa dreams that his house is in disarray, his mother dead, and his sister a wandering beggar. Then he goes home.
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- The Everyman: Milarepa insists he is this because he doesn't come from an epic Buddhist lineage.
- HeelFace Turn: Milarepa's aunt undergoes one eventually.
- HeelFaith Turn
- The Hero's Journey
- Hysterical Woman: White Jewel, sometimes.
- An Ice Person: Milarepa can summon hailstorms.
- Jerkass: The aunt and uncle.
- Meaningful Name: Milarepa is called Good News.
- Training from Hell: What Marpa subjects Milarepa to before he'll give him initiation.
- Trickster Mentor: Marpa
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Milarepa's betrothed, Zesay. He opts to meditate in various caves instead of marrying her.
- Widow Woman: White Jewel.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Milarepa casually mentions that his hair was turquoise and his sister's blonde. This is before their uncle kicks them out— then both of them go gray from sorrow.