Within the Tibetan tradition, there is a great emphasis on studying the biographies of past practitioners. I often go through different study periods, where I concentrate on certain topics for several months. In between these periods, I read biographies and find that their inspiring lives provides great inspiration and skillfully moves the mind away from the hindrance of doubt.
Below are a list of a few biographies that I’ve found interesting. Since there’s so many great biographies, I’m going to start mainly with those within the Tibetan tradition. I’ll move onto the others at a later time.
The Life of Milarepa: Milarepa is one of Tibet’s most celebrated yogis. Early in his life, he was a mischievous person, learning black magic and wiping out an entire village. Having generated regret, he turned to practice and spent years meditating in caves. Most of the time he wore tattered clothing and lived off boiled nettles. After years of austere practice, he attained enlightenment in one life time.
The Life of Marpa the Translator: Marpa was the teacher of Milarepa, and this book was one of the first biographies I had ever read. What made Marpa’s life appealing to me was that he was a householder who had a family and ran a business, but still attained enlightenment in one lifetime.
Cave in the Snow: This biography is based on the life of Tenzin Palmo, a British woman who was one of the first westerners to ordain in the Tibetan tradition. The story talks about her journey into spiritual practice, and her 12 years meditating in solitary retreat on a mountain snow top in the Himalayas.
Buddha’s Lions: The Lives of the Eighty-Four Siddhas: The 84 Mahasiddas were great practitioners from India who had attained enlightenment in one lifetime. Many of them were uneducated, low-caste people who were on the brink of giving up on life. Through yogic methods they incorporated into their daily lives, they gained realization. One mahasidda gained enlightenment by pounding a pestle during the day, another through sewing. I think this is the ideal for many of us, complete integration into daily life.
The Lawudo Lama: Stories of Reincarnation from the Mount Everest Region: A biography about Lama Zopa Rinpoche, one of the founder’s of FPMT: The first section is research done by Jamyang Wangmo about Zopa Rinpoche and the Everest region he grew up in. There are stories about yetis and reincarnated tulkus. The 2nd part is written by Rinpoche himself.
Brilliant Moon: Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was one of the great rime practitioners of his time, having practiced all the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. He was a main teacher to many influential teachers like the Dalai Lama and Trulshik Rinpoche. The 1st part is a traditional Tibetan biography written by Dilgo Khyentse, recalling his life, teachings and initiation he received and his teachers. The second half are amazing anecdotes by people who knew him.