He generated bodily heat at will, had extraordinary physical strength and traveled faster than seemed humanly possible. Known as Milarepa, this eleventh-century superman was born in Tibet around 1038. His father died when the boy was seven, and his family lost everything they owned to cruel relatives. Ten years later his mother told Milarepa to find a sorcerer, learn the black arts and take revenge on their enemies. This he did, and magically destroyed their house and crops.
At the age of 38, to atone for his evil deeds, Milarepa became a pupil of Marpa, a great guru of Tibetan Buddhism, and pursued the path to enlightenment through a number of rigorous tests of faith and devotion. Marpa made Milarepa build, tear down and rebuild a stone house over and over again before finally initiating him at the age of 44.
When his mother died Milarepa retreated to a cave in the hills to devote himself to a life of meditation. The sage survived on nettle broth and, although wearing only a cotton robe (Milarepa means “Mila, the Cotton Clad”), he managed to endure harsh winters by generating psychic heat, or tumo.
In 1981 Herbert Benson of Harvard University examined this ability at Dharmsala, India, testing three Tibetan lamas. He discovered that, while meditating, the lamas could raise the heat of their fingers or toes by as much as 8 degrees Centigrade. The only explanation, Benson concluded, was the use of voluntary vasodilation, the expansion or contraction of blood vessels controlled through yoga.
Milarepa reportedly developed awesome psychic powers during his years as a hermit and attained a state of pure intellectual light. He was said to travel out-of-body, sometimes to other worlds, and to transform himself into a bird, flame or running water – a practice resembling lung-gom. The Tibetan word lung means air or energy, and gom is meditation on something until identity with it is achieved. The adept or lung-gom-pa, can supposedly travel rapidly by becoming extremely light. Observers report that such people do not actually run, but appear to leave the ground by rhythmic leaps and bounds while in a kind of trance. A similar ability is attributed to Australian Aboriginal people, who can walk long distances at great speed. They say the air is softened and solidified, enabling the traveler to be carried along with it.
Milarepa died at the age of 84. The cremation of the Great Yogi of Tibet was apparently accompanied by comets blazing across the sky and flowers falling from nowhere. He is still venerated by his people.
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