At a young age, Mila lost his father and his family's estate passed into the hands of his father's brother and sister. His uncle, with his wife virtually enslaved Mila's mother and family, making them work in the field. He, along with his mother and sister, went through tremendous suffering because of the ill treatment of his uncle and aunt.
At his mother's request, when Mila grew up, he studied magic from two different teachers in order to take revenge through the use of magical powers. Through a spell, he killed thirty-seven people, including his uncle's family, and destroyed most of the crops of the village. After this was done, great remorse arose in him for the heavy karmic consequences he had caused himself, and his mind turned towards the sacred dharma.
Mila first went to study with the great master, Rongtön Lhaga. The latter eventually advised Mila to go and study with Marpa. When Milarepa heard the name Marpa, deep faith and sincere devotion arose within him and he immediately set out to find him.
Mila spent over six years studying with Marpa, who made Mila build the famous nine-story tower as part of his journey on the path. After putting Milarepa through many tests and hard work, Marpa transmitted to Milarepa the complete lineage teachings.
After practicing very diligently for twelve years under Lord Marpa, Milarepa attained the inseparable state of Vajradhara (the complete state of enlightenment) in one lifetime. He then became known as Milarepa, which means the "Mila, the cotton clad one." At the age of forty-five, he started to practice at well known caves like Drakar Taso (White Rock Horse Tooth) and began to wander and teach at various places.
Milarepa had countless disciples such as Rechung Dorje Drakpa, Gampopa or Dhakpo Lhaje, the eight-heart-sons, and many others. Among them, his spiritual successor who continued his lineage and became one of the main lineage masters in Milarepa's tradition was Gampopa.