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“I just heard on Facebook,” Dahl tells me, “that he was seen at Tso Pema, which is a famous pilgrimage site in northern India, and I heard someone else say they had an unconfirmed sighting in Ladakh. I have no idea if they really did see him. But if anybody did, and he got the sense that people knew he was there, I’m sure the first thing he would do is pack up and head somewhere else.”

Milarepa, whose life is the stuff of legends, is Tibet’s most famous wandering yogi. About a thousand years ago, he was born into a prosperous family. But then his father died and Milarepa’s aunt and uncle took control of the estate, forcing Milarepa and his sister and mother into servitude. This twisted Milarepa’s mother into wanting revenge and she manipulated him into studying the black arts. Then one day, when his aunt and uncle were having a party to celebrate their son’s engagement, Milarepa brewed up a storm that destroyed their house, killing thirty-five people. The villagers were furious and they set off to hunt him down, but Milarepa got word of their approach and conjured up a hailstorm. Later, however, the full force of his terrible deeds hit him and he was desolate with remorse.

It was at this point that Milarepa met Marpa, a powerful householder yogi, who recognized Milarepa as his future heart son, yet did not tell him. Instead, Marpa was hard on Milarepa. He yelled at him and hit him and refused to teach him until he’d built and demolished three stone towers, one after another. In this way, Marpa helped Milarepa to quickly burn away his negative karma, and then Milarepa was able to dedicate himself to practice. Later, after he attained enlightenment, Milarepa assumed there was no longer any need for him to stay in the mountains and decided to go to cities and villages to teach. Before he could depart, however, he had a dream that Marpa told him to stay in retreat. If he did that, Marpa said, he would touch the lives of countless people through example.


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