Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: A New Translation by Christopher Stagg

TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTION

Milarepa (ca 1051–ca 1135), Tibet’s great singing yogi, is arguably the most renowned figure in Tibetan culture, the quintessential Tibetan folk hero. Milarepa committed grave crimes at an early age, then later had a radical change of heart. He sought out and followed a spiritual master, finally attaining the ultimate state of awakening within a single lifetime. Though Milarepa’s own practice tradition was the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, followers and practitioners of all the Buddhist lineages in Tibet reflect and meditate upon Milarepa’s life story and songs. Copies of Milarepa’s Life and Songs can be found in nearly every Tibetan-language or dharma library.

The version of Milarepa’s life story and songs most widely read today was compiled by Tsangnyön Heruka (1452–1507) approximately 350 years following the protagonist’s death. Tsangnyön composed the work in two parts intended to be read consecutively. The first is a shorter volume recounting the overall narrative of Milarepa’s life first published with the full title . It now has at least three widely circulated translations in English, the most recent two with the short title . The second part of Tsangnyön’s work is much more extensive and primarily concerns Milarepa’s teachings and songs following his own attainment of, this larger volume was published in English for the first time more than fifty years ago as by the great scholar and practitioner Garma C. C. Change (1920–1988). Although other translations of excerpts from the are available, Chang’s work has been the only complete English translation to be published. While it is now well known that there are mistakes in Chang’s work, given his personal experience in Milarepa’s practice tradition and his command of both Tibetan and English, the translation he produced was a great contribution. The importance of Chang’s groundbreaking work cannot be overstated; it was foundational in the development of this new translation.

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