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THE RISE OF A SAINT. Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint, a feature film about the life of Tibet’s greatest mystic, follows Milarepa’s (pictured) youthful rage and study of black magic, his revenge against those who harmed his family, and his remorse and enlightenment in a Buddhist temple. (Photo courtesy of Shining Moon Productions)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #45 (November 6, 2007), page 13.

From murderer to saint: Film explores early life of Tibet’s honored Milarepa

Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint

Directed by Neten Chokling

Produced by Shining Moon Productions

Distributed by Luminous Velocity Releasing

By Maileen Hamto

A young man avenges the trials and tribulations of a childhood lived in abject poverty by learning black magic. His mastery of the black arts nearly destroys a village, yet brings about an existential crisis. Accomplishing an act of vengeance against his family’s transgressors, he concludes that he has achieved nothing.

Neten Chokling’s feature film Milarepa follows the early life of one of the most widely known Tibetan saints. Born to a wealthy and nurturing family, Thopaga’s (who grows up to become Milarepa) fortune took a dive upon his father’s death. Thopaga, his mother, and younger sister found themselves at the mercy of a ruthless uncle and aunt, who robbed them of every possession and forced them into servitude.

Years of living in poverty caused Thopaga’s mother to seek vengeance. At her urging, Thopaga travelled far from the village to seek the teachings of a sorcerer. Once he acquired the adequate powers, Thopaga returned to his village, murdered most of his aunt’s and uncle’s family, and then fled.

The strongest aspect of Milarepa is its quiet dignity and integrity. Shot in the remote and majestic Spiti Valley on the Indo-Tibetan border, the film showcases breathtaking landscapes.

The people are equally beautiful; the cast and crew were handpicked from Tibetan communities around India. By involving actors and crew members who are familiar with the oral histories of Milarepa’s journey, the movie excels in remaining faithful to the story of the yogi-turned-saint.

Director Chokling is the spiritual head of an important Tibetan Buddhist lineage, with a monastery of 150 monks in the Indian Himalayan foothills, and an ancient monastery in Tibet housing another 100 monks. Milarepa is played by Tibetan monk Jamyang Lodro, who was born and raised in a Tibetan refugee settlement and studies at Mindrolling Monastery in Dehradun, India.

Orgyen Tobgyal takes on the role of Yungton Trogyel, the powerful sorcerer who teaches Milarepa black magic in his quest to avenge the injustice done to his family. It is interesting to note that many young lamas consider Tobgyal to be one of the true bridges between the old and new generations of Tibetan Buddhist culture. In his work as chief preceptor of Chokling Monastery, he represents the paradoxical tensions in contemporary Tibetan society — strongly traditional in some matters, and surprisingly liberal, even radical, in others.

The movie concludes with the beginning of the next chapter of Thopaga’s life, which leads to the sequel, scheduled for release in 2009.

Milarepa is playing at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd. in Portland. For more information, including complete dates and show times, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <>.