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date: 29 March 2023

Marpa Lotsawa Chökyi Lodrölocked

Marpa Lotsawa Chökyi Lodrölocked

  • Cécile DucherCécile DucherEcole Pratique des Hautes Etudes - Sciences Religieuses


Marpa Lotsawa Chökyi Lodrö (Mar pa chos kyi blo gros, 1000?–1085?) is one of the most famous intrepid translators of the 11th century, who traveled from Tibet to India and brought back to his homeland many of the Buddhist teachings that would decline in India over the following centuries. Marpa is the Tibetan founder of the Kagyü school, one of the main religious orders of Tibetan Buddhism. He was the disciple of some of the greatest luminaries of India such as Nāropa (d. 1040) and Maitrīpa (986–1063), and the master of the yogin and poet Milarepa (1028?–1111?).

Marpa lived during the period of the second spread of Buddhism in Tibet, a period of cultural renaissance that followed the collapse of the Tibetan Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries. At that time, many Tibetans traveled south to Nepal and India in order to receive, practice, and translate the various Buddhist traditions, sutra and tantra, that were blossoming in India. Marpa specialized in Highest Yoga tantras (Sanskrit niruttaratantras) and transmitted in Tibet cycles associated with the tantras of Hevajra, Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, Mahāmāyā, and Catuṣpīṭha. He is well known for the potency of his key instructions related to the perfection phase of these tantras, known as the Six Doctrines of Nāropa (nā ro chos drug). With the success of his disciples’ practice, the Six Doctrines of Nāropa and Mahāmudrā became central teachings in all subdivisions of the Kagyü lineage.

Marpa’s life is mostly known through a long biography composed in the early 16th century by Tsangnyön Heruka (Gtsang smyon he ru ka, 1452–1507), but there are many other biographies written before and after that date. Despite basic inconsistencies in the narratives, it can be concluded that Marpa first left home at twelve. He went to study with Drokmi Lotsawa (’Brog mi lo tsā ba, 992–1074) in Tibet, and then continued on toward Nepal and India, where he spent about twenty years in total, making several journeys in Tibet, Nepal, and India. In India, he mostly traveled off the beaten track and lived the life of an Indian yogin, far from the main institutions of the time. Although he met famous masters such as Nāropa and Maitrīpa, he attended on them in jungles, mountains, and charnel grounds, and mostly traveled alone, sometimes accompanied by his friends, the Tibetan Nyö (gnyos) Lotsawa or the Newari Paiṇḍapa. During his first journey to India (in the 1020s and early 1030s), he received all the transmissions for which he became famous in Tibet, and he deepened his understanding during a second journey in the late 1040s. At that time, he is said to have visited most of his teachers again, and to have had visions of Nāropa, who was then either dead or considered to be engaged in tantric practice.

In Tibet, he settled in the southern region of Lhodrak, where he became an important landowner and tantric master. Although he often traveled elsewhere in Tibet in the earlier part of his life in order to accumulate gold and disciples, in the later part he mostly stayed in his estate of Drowolung, where his disciples came to meet him. As a lay practitioner, he had children, but his family lineage did not continue after his death. His religious lineage continued with Milarepa, who transmitted the “lineage of practice” (Tibetan sgrub brgyud), which further flowed through Gampopa and all the Kagyü sub-lineages. Ngok Chödor (Rngog chos rdor) and Tsurtön Wangngé (Mtshur ston dbang nge) were other important disciples who held Marpa’s “lineage of exegesis” (bshad brgyud), especially with regard to the Hevajra and Guhyasamāja traditions, respectively.


  • Buddhism

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