Wrinkles in Time: On the Vagaries of Mi la ras pa’s Dates


  • Andrew Quintman




The dates of Tibet’s great eleventh-century yogin Mi la ras pa have long caused confusion. Early literary sources for the yogin’s life largely disagree about the year of his birth—frequently listing the animal but not the element of the sexagenary cycle—as well as his lifespan, which ranges from 73 to 88 years. This study identifies the principal traditions for calculating Mi la ras pa’s birth, death, and lifespan. In doing so, it illustrates the processes of chronological codification that took place within the yogin’s biographical tradition between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries. It begins with a survey of the European and North American scholarship on the yogin’s dates and then turns to the primary Tibetan sources to identify three main traditions: 1028-111, 1040-1123, 1052-1035. It concludes with an examination and English translation of a rare chronological analysis carried out by Kaḥ thog Tshe dbang nor bu (1698-1755), who favors the earliest proposed dates.

Keywords: Mi la ras pa, Milarepa, chronology, Tibetan calendar, birth year, death year