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A Quintessential Milarepa

It is better to live alone, there is no companionship with a fool; let a man walk alone . . ." [Dhammapada, v 330]

Milarepa painting. Detail

Milarepa (c. 1052 - c. 1135 CE), is one of Tibet's most famous yogis and poets. He was fond of singing, and composed songs spontaneously. In many of his songs and poems he teaches the path to Buddhahood and gives vent to many opinions, glorying in extreme penances - although the Gentle Middle Path teaches us not to go to extremes. However, Milarepa teaches that too, based on his experiences of unneeded hardship, as amply shown in another text. In it, Milarepa affirms that transcendent knowledge can be got by proper care of the body and without giving up nourishing food and comfortable clothing. [Tm 206-09]

As a grown-up he lamented the sorcery he had taken to earlier in life to revenge himself on hard-hearted scoundrels of his own kin, and started to practice forms of Buddhism that were available. We are told that after practicing alone most of the time for twelve years, the cotton-clad yogi attained complete enlightenment. In time, crowds of people gathered to hear his sweet-sounding voice "singing the Dharma".

Thus, even if your past has been dark, and you have gone to extremes along a good path, but could stand it, you can still gain much on the good path that you have come across.

The Mila Grubum

Milarepa stories are often referred to as the Songs of Milarepa, or The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa - Mila Grubum in Tibetan. The work contains graphic expressions, striking stories, and Tibetan folklore, including fairy tales. They are educational and inspirational to the unenlightened, and canonical Mahayana texts by someone who his honoured by all the four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism. What is more, the Mila Grubum is central to Tibetan culture.

The teaching that Buddhist lore is merely "exaltations" and directions toward inner awakening, is central to Tibetan Tantrism, which Milarepa was schooled in. The Buddhist Tantric practices contain mantra yoga, breathing exercises and much else, and yogic relaxation and effortlessness are stressed too.

As time went by, Milarepa got many disciples of both sexes.

The gifted Buddhist scholar Garma C. C. Chang (1920-88) translated the entire work into English in the 1950s as a labour of love. He says the author of the Mila Grubum was "The Mad Dog from gTsan", a fabulous disciple of a disciple of Milarepa's celebrated pupil and Gampopa (Gambopa) (1079-1161). "Mad Dog" bears many other names too. "Insane Yogi from gTsan" is one of them [688, 690]

Milarepa's Life Story through Tales


Milarepa was a pupil of Marpa the Translator (Marpa Lotsawa) (1012-97). The Tibetan Marpa had sought Buddhist instruction for years in India, where he studied with renowned Indian Buddhist masters. He studied at the Nalanda University in India, where Naropa taught. Marpa spent twelve years studying with Naropa. Naropa finally declared Marpa to be his successor. On his return to Tibet, Marpa spent many years translating Buddhist scriptures. Along with it he gave teachings and transmissions to many students in Tibet, and remained a married householder, landowner and businessman in southern Tibet. He had several sons with his wife Damema (Dakmema).

Milarepa became Marpa's disciple and in time his spiritual heir too. However, Marpa proved a hard task master: he had Milarepa build and then tear down three towers before even accepting him as a pupil. Further details:

Having chhang

Milarepa tells that he deeply repented what he had brought about by sorcery. At night he could not sleep, and earnestly desired the Buddhist doctrine, and eventually set off for Marpa. The night before Milarepa arrived, Marpa had a presaging dream, and when he woke up from it he felt very happy. His wife had had a related dream that night, too.

Then Marpa went to a field and started to plough it, after telling his wife, "Bring me a good supply of chhang [an alcoholic beverage]!" She took a jarful down to him, but he said, "Bring some more". She brought another jar, which he placed on the ground, covering it with his hat. Then, resting after ploughing, he sat down beside the jar and sipped his chhang.

Meanwhile Milarepa approached the place, and being told where to find Marpa, he found a lama of heavy build, rather inclined to corpulence, and with a dignified appearance as he was ploughing. Milarepa fainted when he saw him for the first time. When he recovered he asked, "Where does Marpa live?"

The lama offered him a drink of chhang from the jar under his hat, and said, "I will get you an introduction to him if you will finish ploughing this field for me."

In search of alms for the short-tempered guru

Milarepa so did. Afterwards a lad took him to Marpa, who now was sitting on cushions, after trying to wipe himself clean. His brow and the corners of his nose still bore some traces of dust. He was sitting with his fat paunch protruding prominently in front of him. Milarepa was not perfectly sure whether this was the lama he had bargained with, and looked about, trying to make sure.

The seated lama said, "I am Marpa. You may salute me." Then Milarepa asked Marpa to provide him with food, clothing, and spiritual instruction, and enable him to get Liberated "in this very lifetime", as he formulated it.

The lama said, "Very well, but you are only going to get one of the three things you ask for. Which will it be?" Milarepa chose the latter. The lama then bad Milarepa get rid of the books he had carried along with him, and his wife gave Milarepa nice food and other necessities.

Now Milarepa had to go in search of alms in the Lhobrak Valley, and he got much barley. For some of the barley he got a big copper vessel, and for some more barley he got meat and chhang. He carried it all on his back to his guru's home. When he came there, he happened to throw down his burden a bit heavily. This made Marpa jump to his feet and kick the sack out of his house. Milarepa thought his guru was a bit short-tempered, but was not shaken in his faith in him.

Black Arts again

Later during Milarepa's training Marpa feigned anger, ill-will, cruelty and much else to test Milarepa and make him do penance for practicing the Black Arts. But still Marpa asked him to launch a plague of hail on certain shepherds of Yamdak and Talung, and the Lingpas, for they had robbed some of Marpa's devoted devotees on the way to him, carrying supplies and other presents. Milarepa launched hail storms in the places, and asked for his spiritual instructions. But again Marpa sent him off to launch hail; this time on a number of Lhobrak hill-men, who had often robbed his disciples on their way to him, and offered indignities to Marpa too.

Milarepa did as he was bidden, and the magical curse took effect, he holds. A feud broke out among the hill-men, and in the fighting many of them were killed.

Milarepa felt deep remorse and anguish at the sight of the bloodshed, but Marpa just said, "It is quite true that you are an adept at sorcery." Then Marpa went on to give him the title of Great Sorcerer.

Milarepa asked to be initiated once again, but Marpa told him to go and restore to life the killed Lhobrak men. "If you can do that, well and good."

Building houses as a futile undertaking

Milarepa wept bitterly. But next morning Marpa came to him and gave him another task instead. Milarepa was to build a house for one of Marpa's sons. But after Milarepa had built half of it, Marpa came and asked him to tear it down and take back the stones and the earth used in the building, to the place he had taken them from.

Now the lama, who looked intoxicated, took Milarepa to a ridge and ordered him to build another house there, and described once again how he wanted it built. But when Milarepa has built half the house, Marpa came to him while he was working and said that even that house would not do, and that Milarepa must restore the clay and the stones to the places he had taken them from. Milarepa obeyed.

For the third time Marpa took him to a ridge and asked him to build him a really nice house there. Milarepa entreated him to consider matters well this time and only then to give him the orders.

Marpa: "I have thought well over the matter."

So Milarepa started to build a triangular-shaped house, as directed, but when he had built one third of it, Marpa came down and said, "Who gave you the order to build a house like this? See that you demolish it and do as bidden with the materials."

By this time Milarepa was much grieved. He had a big sore on his back, but kept his misery to himself, not daring to tell the lama and his wife about his condition. That motherly lady said to her husband, "Your useless building undertakings are only wearing out the poor youth's life. Marpa then agreed to impart four formulas to Milarepa.

A few days after that Marpa took Milarepa to another spot and told him to build a four-angled building there, nine stories high, with an ornamental upper part forming a tenth story.

Milarepa asked that Marpa's wife came to be witness to his words, and she did, saying, "of course I can stand as witness; but the guru will not pay any attention to us. Besides, he is doing an altogether needless thing. Besides, this site is not ours by right."

Her husband said, "Merely do what you are asked to do, to stand witness and then get away home. You don't need to raise questions no one asked you to raise."

See if there was not a secret plan

Others who witnessed the building project, said, "It seems as if Marpa really means to build on this spur."

Still others said, "He has got hold of a novice from the Highlands, one with a mania for building, and he keeps the poor young man busy all the time building houses of unapproved patterns on every ridge, spur, and knoll round here. Then, when the building is half finished, he gets the young man to to pull it all down again and carry the materials back to where they came from. Let us wait and see."

But the house was not pulled down this time, and Marpa's relatives said, "The pulling down of the others was only a feint to mislead us, and prevent our objecting at the onset. Let us pull it down now!"

But Marpa produced troops by magical power. They filled would-be attackers with fear. They did not dare to fight with them. Instead they became Marpa's followers.

Repeated beatings and bad sores for asking to be initiated

Now Milarepa asked Marpa for his initiation again. Marpa responded by striking him and dragging him by the hair to the door, and flung him out. Milarepa cried the whole night through.

Next morning Marpa came to him and told him to build a dwelling-house of twelve pillars. Once more Milarepa laid the foundations for a building. By now Marpa's wife pitied him so much that she supplied him with very good food and condiments daily, together with a little chhang. She consoled him and gave him good advice too.

When the building was nearly completed, Marpa's wife provided Milarepa with gifts to present to Marpa for getting initiated, and told Milarepa to go and take his seat among those who were about to get initiated. Milarepa did, but he only managed to make Marpa furiously angry, it seemed. Marpa drove him out with blows from his foot, and Milarepa wept and went on with his building operations. His whole back come nothing but one big sore. Marpa's wife looked to his sores and promised to speak for him to her husband.

"Have some mercy on the lad," she said.

"I would give him the instructions, but where are the ten stories of the ten-storied building? Has he finished them yet?"

Marpa's wife urged, "But he has just built another building that is much larger."

"Much talk, little work," retorted her husband. "Is his back really broken out into sores?"

"Not only has he a sore back, his whole back is nothing else but one big sore," she said severely and hurried away from him.

Now Marpa took a look at Milarepa's back and said, "If you are really in search of the Truth, do not boast so about your services, but continue to work steadily till your building task is wholly finished." And then he showed how ponies and donkeys are padded when then they get a sore back, and advised Milarepa to pad his back similarly.

Milarepa felt he had to go on and do as commanded. His sores grew more and more aggravated and inflamed. He suffered so much pain from them that he could no longer go on working. Marpa then allowed him to rest if he was unable to work, and in any case do as much work as was possible for him to do. Then, when the sores were partly cured, the lama had him resume his building work quickly.

A conspiring, merciful lady

At that point Marpa's wife said in privacy to Milarepa, "Let us do something that will make him give you the teachings." Then the two of them made a little scene where it was pretended that Milarepa would leave, since he only incurred displeasure and got beatings for trying to get the Saving Truths.

Marpa, who had watched and overheard the scene that was made for him, came down from his seat and gave Milarepa several blows, crying, "No one could hinder me if I chopped your body into a hundred pieces!" Then he went back into the house, and Milarepa lay down weeping.

But Marpa's wife taught him a system of meditation there and then, and which helped him greatly. He also tried to repay her by doing little services to her. At the same time he began seriously to make up his mind to seek another guru. However, one more chance to get initiated by Marpa came, seemingly. Marpa's wife gave him some of her private properties to present to Marpa as initiation gifts. The lama took one of the gifts, a turquoise, and how he had come by it, and when his wife came, he asked her, "How did we get this turquoise?"

She said, "It was my private property given to me by my parents when we two married. Seeing that you were rather short-tempered, they gave it to me to serve as a provision for me in case we got separated."

But Marpa said, "Damema, your folly had very nearly lost me this valuable turquoise."

Now the lama lost his temper and shouted angrily at Milarepa, threw him down on his back, and took up his stick to beat him. Milarepa jumped out of the window.

Next morning the lama summoned him. Milarepa burst into tears in front of him.

Marpa exclaimed, "What reason do you have, by your weeping, to blame me in this manner?"

Milarepa had enough of bad treatment

Milarepa was in a plight, and wondered what he should do. In the end he set forth in search of either gold or the Doctrine. But after earning some money by reading the sutras to an old man, he started to hope that Marpa would impart the teaching to him anyway. So he went back to him. Marpa's wife welcomed him, saying, "That was the best thing you could have done." She went indoors and told her husband, "He is back."

Marpa: "You may let him come in and pay his respects."

To Milarepa he said, "Don't be vacillating in your aims. Now complete the three remaining stories of the building."

Milarepa felt sure that Marpa would not give him the teaching, but would make up hard-headed excuses again. So he told Marpa's wife that he wished health and long life to both of them, and then asked for permission to return home.

Marpa's wife said, "You are quite right." Then she directed him to a pupil of her husband's, one who had the same precepts and teachings as him. Then she made extra strong chhang for her husband and his followers, and saw him fall asleep from it. While she lay asleep, she took certain things from his room, including Naropa's garlands and rosary of rubies, wrote a letter in Marpa's name, and enclosed the gifts in the letter. She also sealed the letter with Marpa's seal, and told Milarepa where to go.

Milarepa trying his luck in Central Tibet by crooked means

About two days later Marpa asked her what Milarepa was doing. She answered he was probably on the road somewhere, but exactly where she could not tell. Marpa's face turned black.

Meanwhile, Milarepa had arrived at the Central Province of Tibetan and found the pupil with the teachings. The pupil, Lama Ngogpa, had become a head lama at the time, and was expounding such as, "I am the Blissful One," when Milarepa approached at his monastery. The man felt favoured.

Milarepa offered the letter-packet and the relics, and was told, "I request you to go and punish those lawless folk who rob my pupils on their way to me here. Launch a hail-storm on their lands. When you have done this, I will give you the initiation you desire."

Hail-storms again, and missing progress under a head lama

Milarepa took off and took lodgings in the house of an old woman in the Yepo country. Just as hail-storms were about to burst and lightnings flashed and the thunder growled, she began to beat her breast and weep, saying, "Alas! What shall I have to live on if my crops are destroyed by the hail?"

Milarepa could not bear to be so cruel to the poor old woman, and used magical means to protect her land. And when the storm was over, all the fields but hers lay waste, and the people of the two places involved became devoted followers of the head lama and served him.

The lama told the remorseful Milarepa, "Do not despair." After a few moments he snapped his fingers, and dead birds lying in front of him, revived. Milarepa found it delightful!

Then he was given a certain initiation, and shut himself up in a cave, leaving only a small opening in the side of it, for the passage of food and water, and so forth. Milarepa did not get the experiences the head lama expected from any his initiates, and wondered why. But Milarepa did not confess his fraud, and went on practicing meditation as best he could.

Then Marpa sent a written message to his disciple Ngogpa, asking him to send some loads of small branches and bring a certain "wicked person" along with it.

Milarepa prancing and dancing

Ngogpa came to the mouth of Milarepa's cave to speak about the matter, and Milarepa confessed: "It was his wife who furnished me with the letter and directed me to you."

Ngogpa said, "Ah, so we have been engaged in profitless work. From the way he writes it seems you have not got his permission to get the Truths. It is no wonder you don't develop any of the signs." Then he decided that Milarepa should remain in his cave some time more.

When those who had carried the branches to Marpa returned, Ngogpa handed over a die to him from Marpa's wife. Milarepa was grateful for the gift, but next reasoned himself out of that fit attitude, and threw the die on the ground, infuriated with some suspected motive of hers, which he made up. The die split asunder and revealed a small roll of paper wrapped up inside. The message in it was "Son, your guru is now disposed to give you the necessary initiation and scriptures. Therefore come with Lama Ngogpa."

He pranced up and down his little cave and danced for joy.

Marpa demanding an old, lame she-goat

Soon Ngogpa, his wife, Milarepa, and a large retinue, set out for Marpa's monastery. Milarepa entered first. Marpa was sitting on the topmost story of the house and burst into a rage when Milarepa entered. He snapped his fingers and shouted, "Must I, a great translator, go and receive Ngogpa just because he his bringing me a few straggling cattle? No, it cannot be."

Milarepa left him there and asked Marpa's wife to for a little chhang to run back to Ngogpa with. But she would go herself, and ordered some pupils to bring a large amount of chhang as well.

There was a general feast, and when Marpa had sung a blessing on those present, Ngogpa asked him for one more scripture. Marpa said he would have the desired scripture if Ngogpa gave him his last she-goat, fetching it himself.

Ngogpa set forth to get his lame she-goat, and carried it on his back to Marpa, who said, "But I have little use for a lame old she-goat." In a short time he then initiated Ngogpa into various Truths and mandalas [concentric diagrams as aids to meditation].

The finger

One day later, when he was sitting with a large staff by his side, Marpa looked with fierce eyes at Ngogpa and pointed at him with his finger, saying, "Why have you initiated this wicked person (Milarepa)?"

Ngogpa was terrified and stammered he had received a letter signed by Marpa, to do so. The letter had Marpa's own seal. Along with the letter were Naropa's garlands and rosary of rubies. So he had obeyed the written instructions.

Marpa then turned his angry finger on Milarepa and asked where he had got those things, and was told that his own wife had furnished them. Marpa jumped up and it looked like he was about to beat her with his staff when she ran out and shut the door. Marpa tried to open it in vain, and came back to his seat. Ngogpa was told to bring him Naropa's garlands and rosary at once, which he did.

Guru-honoured at last, but only after contemplating to commit suicide

At the same time Milarepa contemplated suicide on the spot, but Ngogpa caught hold of him and said, "Do not!" trying to comfort him. But after a while Marpa recovered from his sulkiness and became quite mild. He called for his wife Damema, and, when asking, was told by someone that Ngogpa was comforting the bitterly weeping Milarepa.

Marpa said, "Damema, go and invite Great Sorcerer (Milarepa) as the chief guest."

Milarepa went in quite diffidently, and Marpa explained his doings far and wide to him and the others who were gathered. He told about his foreboding dream, and that he now would give Milarepa those teachings and initiations that he had tried to get. All were beaming with smiles and laughter and had cakes. Now Milarepa's hair was cropped and he was ordained a priest, and was told that his name was to be Mila-Dorje-Gyaltsen (Mila, Diamond-Banner) from now on. Milarepa was initiated too, and the assembly was told what Marpa's dream meant by symbol-interpretation.

Happy days of meditation and good food

Milarepa's happy days begun. He was taught that yogic, tranquil rest was a state to go for, and that visions were to be taken as expression of states that were reached in meditation [more likely than not].

Marpa told him, "I rely on omens and dreams."

Now according to Marpa's command, Milarepa shut himself up in close retreat in the Copper Cave. Marpa and his wife sent him food, and in this way Milarepa passed his time in delightful meditation.

A morning dream and what it led to

After some years Milarepa slept very long one morning and had a dream. On waking up, he saw that his pillow was quite wet with tears, and in grief went out to ask leave of his guru, for his dream had purported that his mother was dead, and his only sister was roving friendless in the world.

Marpa answered, "You will be sustained by spiritual food. I can let you go. But try to get other [specified yogic] scriptures from India, you too."

Milarepa sang a song to him, Marpa sang a song to Milarepa, and Marpa's wife sang to Milarepa too, as tears choked her voice. Milarepa tore himself away from them, impelled by a very sad dream. He set out and found that conditions back home were as the dream had shown him. He arranged for a ceremony for his departed mother. Then, deeply affected, he sought the contemplative life of meditating in solitude, wanting to scatter aims and objects of ordinary living to the wind.

Horribly insulted

"I walked on and found a spot where fine nettles were growing, and a little brook ran by. There I could practice the given teachings and meditate. I had a cave there.

I lived on nettle soup only and was without clothes. My body was like a skeleton, but green as the nettles I ate and drank, and over this skeleton grew green hair. Now and then I let the scroll I had brought with me, cool my forehead, and the feeling it gave me, saturated me and soothed my stomach. I starved and had nothing to eat.

I was given signs not to open the scroll yet. Then there came some coarse hunter comrades to where I sat and meditated. They lifted me up so gruefully that I was insulted. "Well, now we lift you up again unless you give us your food," they said. And then they did so. I cried of pain in my weak body. I also pitied them so much that I cried.

One of the men said: "Stop it now; this is a true lama. It is not his fault that we are starving." And to me he said: "It is admirable - I have nothing against you; remember me."

The others added for fun: "Remember to pray that we be protected." Then they went of laughingly, and were arrested, all three. Their leader was executed, and all the others were blinded, except the one who would not offend me anymore."

Really praiseworthy?

A year afterwards Milarepa believed it was best to continue his meditation practice. Now he thought that he had refused himself creature comforts long enough, and twined rags of cloth around his emaciated body to have some shelter in the Himalayan heights.

Tough old hunters found him next year. "Here's an evil spirit!"

They could not find other than nettles around that "skeleton", and then they were stirred to respect and said: "This is worthy of praise."

They even left food for him. Then he was overwhelmingly glad, so glad than he had not known anything better before during all the time he had laboured and meditated.

He enjoyed the hunter's menu till it became infested with worms. Then he considered that the rest of the meat was not for him to eat, and thought, "When I eat the meat now, sharing it with the worms, it is like robbing them. It is not worth robbing anyone."

In this way he fell back on his nettle soup.

Who is the most miserable?

After another year new hunters dropped by when he was sitting in deep meditation. They picked him with the edged points of their bows to make sure whether it was an evil spirit or something living that was sitting there, meagre and green. They thought it most likely was a bad spirit. But then he taught them to make nettle soup.

"If I had had the meat, bones, marrow and fat, I would have had tasty food, but I have not had that for many years. Use nettle as spices, to thicken your soup, and finally salt it with," he told them.

The hunters thought the matter through and then said that living on such food and not having anything but rags wrapped around one's body, did not look human at all.

They went on: "If you had become a servant to someone, you would have had food. You are the most miserable wretch in the world!"

Milarepa said: "Don't say that. I am one of the most fortunate ones; I have been able to meet Marpa the Translator. And now I sit far from where people live and dwell. But you, on the other hand, collect sins by competing with each other, subjected to far too stupid and unclean goals."

So he sang this to them: "To be clear of mind is indeed comfortable."

His sister Peta finds him

Milarepa had a sister, Peta. To her the hunters said when they got away from there: "Whether it is an animal or a human, "To be clear of mind is surely comfortable" is from your brother who sits and starves himself and is about to die from his sufferings. It forms part of a song he sang for us."

Then she screamed: "My brother fled, and I was weakened by being alone. Now I am a suffering beggar." Then she screamed on till someone asked her in a nice way to stop it.

In the end Peta carried a sack of meal to her brother. When she caught sight of him, she became terrified. His eyes lay deep in their sockets beneath the brows, and the body was skin and bone and bluish-green from nettles. The muscles were shrivelled away, and his bluish-green hair was stiff and matted. His limbs appeared as if they were about to break. She believed it was a bad spirit, but mustered up courage and said: "Are you a human?"

"I am Milarepa," he said.

She recognised his voice and fainted. He felt happy and sad at the same time. Could there be anyone on earth more wretched than the two of them, she asked when she woke up, wailing bitterly. Her brother tried to console her, singing:

Listen to your brother's song.
I am sure to win Eternal Happiness.
The food I eat, is fit for dogs and swine.
My body has become a skeleton.
I'm like a madman with a green body summer and winter, in and out.
But by meditating right I should get Transcendent Experience and be born again and win Buddhahood.
Give yourself to penances, you too, sister.

When his sister heard this this, she said: "If this had been true, it would have been admirable." And she gave him chhang [an alcoholic beverage] and the food she had brought. He felt very much strengthened and refreshed by partaking of it. She now wanted her brother wanted him to stop meditating in the forest, but he sang:

The Guru is the relative if I die as his pupil.
If I get ill and die from hunger and my sister does not know of it,
Birds of prey will come and eat the little that is left.
My putrid flesh will be sucked by the flies,
My dissolving muscles eaten by the worms
Yes, I would be contented if I should die like that.

Be careful with what you wish for; you might get it.

A woman who accompanied his sister, said: "That song is worthy of admiration." His sister said: "I for my part cannot bear to see you in such utter want of clothes and food. I will bring you some sort of cloth that I will try to get."

The two women left, and Milarepa was sitting alone again and greatly disturbed. In his predicament he opened the scroll his guru Marpa had given him and which Milarepa had carried with him unopened. There he found the means of dealing with his present condition, increasing his earnestness and energy, and preparing his nerves for deep, inner transformations.

From chrysalis to butterfly

Milarepa concentrated on his training even more to get clear and calm. Supersensible knowledge awoke in him, and he was also helped by wholesome food that Peta brought him. At this point of his training he realised that proper, supernatural knowledge could be gained by taking well care of one's body and health too, without giving up nourishing food and comfortable clothes. These fine realisations his sister helped him towards, by helping him with food which made him healthier. To do it, she had to live as a beggar. He sang as best he could:

What is good, sprouts best on its roots when the body and mind are allowed to grow by good food.
It is the best for all beings. Useful, indeed.
And in sincere prayers lie golden opportunities dormant
if they are not violated.

Milarepa went on and told:

"Afterwards, in some of my dream I could become many hundreds, and all of these persons were endowed with the same wonder gifts as myself. All of these dream person could travel through space and go to one of the Buddha heavens, listen to what was taught there, and then come back and preach the right teaching to many persons.

I could also turn my body into a fiery light mass, or a running or calm mass of water. Yes, I found out that I had won endless gifts (although while dreaming). It made me so happy that it encouraged me!

I went on, and then I could do these things. I could actually fly without wings of any kind. Sometimes I flew to a castle to meditate. At other times I flew to the water source where I had a good cave."

A relative catches sight of him flying over the village

Once when Milarepa was out flying like that, he happened to pass over a small village, called Long-da. A remote relative there was ploughing a field as Milarepa was flying over. The son said: "See, a man is flying!"

His father said: "There was once a mischievous woman who had a very wicked son, Mila, who caused a lot of pain, It is that good-for-nothing starveling. What is there to marvel at or be amused about in the sight?"

But the son said: "There can be nothing more wonderful than a man flying." So saying, he continued looking at Milarepa.

Milarepa: "Now I thought I could efficiently help all beings if I liked, but I had a direct command from my Tutelary Deity to go on devoting my whole life to meditation as my Guru had commanded. I could do nothing better than just to meditate for myself. For now I had got transcendent knowledge and siddhi (super-normal powers) and human beings had seen me flying by. If I continued there, worldly folk would flock to me, praying for protection from harms and the fulfilment of selfish desires. I did not want such things to happen. It might even tempt me. So I left."

A pot and hunters

One day Milarepa happened to stumble outside his meditation cave Dragkar-taso while he was quite naked and carried an earthen pot - he was almost always quite naked. He slipped on a stone right outside the cave and fell down. The handle broke, the pot rolled away from him and broke asunder, but then another pot emerged from inside of the broken pot. The new pot was green and made of encrusted nettle soup that had fastened on the wall of the earthen pot. Now Milarepa understand how little lasting earthly things were, and sang a song:

The pot of clay once existed, but now it does not.
This is how all things must pass sooner or later.
Therefore I shall carry on.
The pot was all I owned.
By breaking into a thousand pieces, it has become my guru (teacher).

While he was singing, some other hunters passed by. They tried to get a meal at the cave, and said:

"Oh, how green and thin you are!"

They asked him for food, and while they ate, the youngest of them said, "Well, you appear to be strongly built, so why undergo such troubles and privations and denying yourself almost everything? If you take up a worldly career, you might be riding a horse, sting like a thorn-bush in combat, and subdue your enemies. By accumulating wealth you would be protecting your affectionate kindred, and you would be happy. Or you could get rich and happy from trading. At worst you could be a servant and get good food and clothing, and would be far better off than this. You don't seem to have known these things earlier. So set about it now."

One of the old hunters said, "He seems to be a very good devotee, and it is not likely that he will mind our worldly counsel. Better keep quiet." He turned to me: "Please sing us a song which will do good to our minds."

Milarepa answered, "You all seem to think me very miserable. But no one in the whole wide world is as happy as I am. And no one can boast of a nobler life. Listen," he said, and sang:

From a hymn by Milarepa (A rendering)

"This body owns my own altar: it is the chest.
There, within the alerted heart I see a triangle.
The mind's a horse in that inward land; it prances about and moves like the wind.

A lasso must be used to catch this horse,
Use "singleness of purpose" as that lasso.
Tie it, when caught, to the post of meditation.
Feed it with suitable teachings when it is hungry.
When it's thirsty, give it the stream of consciousness to drink.
When it's cold, keep it in the enclosure of sunyata.
Use the will for its saddle and intellect for its bridle.
Tie it to a fixed purpose.
Strengthen its vitality.

Its rider is keen watchfulness.
Mahayanic altruism is his helmet.
Learning and deep meditation are his coat of mail.
On his back he carries the shield of patience.
He holds aims in his hand like a long spear.
The sword by side is being astute and intelligent.
Lack of hate and wrath are his slim arrows,
And intellect made keen are their arrowheads.
Spiritual wisdom is the pliant bow.
Arrows that are shot forth, fall down among the nations.
They strike the faithful ones and slay [stupid, insolvency-bringing] selfishness.
Thus are our kindred protected.

This horse courses along the plain of happiness.
Its goal is to attain the Buddha state.

By running such a race, I'm carried on to Buddhahood.
I don't covet worldly happiness."

A talking-to

After this song, Milarepa went to a place that is called Tingri. Some merry lassies went on the road and caught sight of the lucky one. They said:

"How terrible and horrible! The mere sight makes us nervous."

But Milarepa thought they were just ignorant, poor creatures. He went over to them and said:

"Girls, don't talk like that. It is praiseworthy to pity, but pity and self-conceit are opposed to each other. Listen to a song of mine."

So he sang:

"I pity these poor ignorant beings!
Their self-conceit burns as hot as fire.
Pitiable to see.

In these dark days,
Mischief-making knaves are worshipped
And impostors are prized.
True devotees are cast aside.

You group of merrily dressed maidens,
Let us se who wins in the end.

This truthful sermon answers senseless talk.
It's returning good for evil."

The girls asked him pardon, and he sang:

"Spiritual truths are not prized, but scientific truths are.
Profound truths are not prized, but riches are.
The wise and learned are not prized.
Meditation is not prized, but exposition is.
Merry young women prize the rake, not the devotee.
To youthful maidens, love-songs sound sweet, but sermons not,
In this world."

Resembling a caterpillar

Milarepa went on to Sunny Castle (also called Pleasant Cave) and spent some months there. People with gifts visited him frequently there, so he found it best to go to Lapchi-Chubar, a most solitary region, and seek a cave there. When he had settled there, his sister Peta found him, for she had a woollen blanket-cloth for him, and had been told that a hermit who resembled a caterpillar and fed on nettles had gone to that region.

On her way she noted how a certain lama, Bari-Lotsawa, was seated on a high seat at Tingri, with an umbrella over him, dressed in silks of five different colours, and surrounded by disciples. Some of them blew conchs, cymbals, clarinets, and flutes, with a great throng around them, offering him tea and chhang. At the sight, Peta thought, "My brother's religion is a source of misery and trouble to himself and shame to his relatives."

And when she saw him, she said at once: "Brother, it will never do to go on in this starving, naked condition. You are past shame and decency!"

Then she wanted him to the celebrated lama she had passed by, serve him and follow him as his disciple. "That would be better," she found. Then she began to weep bitterly, deploring their lot.

Milarepa tried to console her, saying, "There is no shame in being a man, a naked man. I was born naked; therefore there is no shame in it. But there are covetous others who end up hurting themselves.

But if you speak of shame at seeming my body, then you should feel shame because your breasts have developed so prominently. Besides, I'm not meditating because I cannot get food or clothing. I regard acquisitions with loathing, as murderers of my father. I desire Buddhahood, and therefore I am devoting myself to meditation and devotion."

Then he sang a song:

My sister, immersed in worldly wishes as you are, your elder brother [meaning himself] could procure Chinese silk, teak-wood things, a brick building, a well-stocked store of food and wealth for you, retinue, servitors, a powerful horse, a jewel-bedecked saddle inlaid with gold, and an armed escort, conquering enemies and protecting friends.

However, your talks of worldly things disturb my meditation,
I know I must die, but not exactly when,
So I will meditate until that time comes.
But you, sister, cling to worldliness and acquire sins."

Peta weeping bitterly and shaming her hermit brother

Peta said, "Brother, I see that by worldliness you mean ease and comfort. Fine-sounding truths and sermons are merely excuses. Now instead of rushing about and clinging to cliffs and rocks where no one live, like an animal pursued by dogs, remain permanently in one place. And please sow yourself an undergarment from this blanked."

Then she left on a begging errand, while he cut up the blanket and sewed a cape to cover his whole head, a cover for each of his fingers, and a pair of coverings for his feet, and a cover for his male organs, and kept them ready.

A few days later Peta came back, and then he put on the coverings one by one. She said, "O brother! You are no longer a human being! And you have spoiled the blanket. Even though you speak of devoting much time to meditation, you seem to have had ample leisure!"

He answered, "I am the worthiest, and engaged in turning a blessed human life to the best account." He had made a covering of all his main "protrusions", he said, since she felt it was a shame to see one of them (his penis). So the blanked had not been wasted, he said, but made to serve some ends that she intended with it.

Then he asked her to do away with her own shameful things (breasts and the like). She found it best to keep quiet then, but her face was sullen. He added, "What is really shameful is evil deeds and wily deception. Listen to a song." And then he sang,

Gurus, grant me the knowledge of what is really shameful,
Harsh shame is born of ignorant conventionalities,
The devotee knows what shame truly is.
Each has certain organs (there is absolutely no shame in that).
But deceiving friends who confide in one,
Are acts filled full of shame and meanness.
Hermits need not hold to conventional codes of shame.
Therefore, let your understanding flow.
When he had sung this, she handed over to him the provisions she had got by begging, and said, "It is quite clear that you won't do anything I wish you to do, but I cannot give you up. So please use these."

He persuaded her to stay a little longer with him, and managed to turn her heart a bit toward Buddhism too.

Peta and an aunt are taught of pious acts and the Mantra Way

At this time their aunt came in search of Milarepa. She and her husband were the ones who had wrong him, his sister and their mother and made him take to sorcery to avenge it. Now the aunt had lost her husband and repented her cruel, former ways.

Peta recognised the aunt before she had reached their spot, and lifted away the little bridge which spanned a yawning chasm between them there.

The aunt came to the brink of the chasm on the other side and said, "Niece, don't lift up the bridge; it is you aunt."

Peta answered, "That's why I am lifting it up."

"At least tell your brother that I have come here," the aunt pleaded.

Just then Milarepa arrived there, and seated himself on a little knoll on his side of the bridge. His aunt bowed down and pleaded to meet him.

He sang, "I have ceased to think of you all as relatives. Attachment to kith and kin was sundered. My mother is dead. I almost lost my life. But Peta here is kinder than I can say. Better go. In repentance be sincere."

She said: "Please grant me an interview, or I shall kill myself." Milarepa let the bridge be lowered, and his aunt said to him when she came to his side of the chasm: "What are we to do?"

He answered: "Those who have not realised, are [most likely] unable to renounce worldly aims and things. But it is most important to adopt pious acts and meditate on solid truths. I was enabled to follow mantrayana [meditation on syllables, etc.], to gain the Buddha state. Believe firmly in karma. Devote yourselves to the study and practice of the Mantrayanic Doctrines."

His first disciples

"My first disciples were non-human beings who had come to torment me. Afterwards I gained a few human disciples. Then came the goddess of the Kailasa Mountain, Tseringma, to test me by displaying various supernormal powers. Now human disciples began to gather round me.

His cave at Lapchi-Chübar became his chief hermitage. Other hermitages were in other caves. He got one in Nepal, and in addition had six known ones, six unknown ones in high cliff, and six hidden caves - in all eighteen, and then two more. Besides, he meditated in various other smaller caves and solitudes, and "now I do not know how to meditate," he said. Meditation had become second nature to him.

Milarepa imparted his doctrine to disciples in an easy and impressive manner. His recounts had a vein of humour, but on the whole were so pathetic that disciples could not help shedding tears. Thereby they believed they could grasp true meanings, and did not fear misconceptions.

Heading for Nirvana

Milarepa, who got many excellent disciples, said, "I have never valued or studied the sophistry of word-knowledge set down in books in conventional form to be committed to memory; these lead but to mental confusion. I forgot word-knowledge long ago, if I ever knew it. But I have had my reasons for forgetting book-knowledge. And then he sang:

May I be far removed from arguing creeds and dogmas.
I have forgotten all difference between myself and others.
I have forgotten all those who rule by power.
Accustomed long to meditating, I have forgotten all that is said in written and in printed words.
I have forgotten to think of hope, I have forgotten the dread of birth.
I have forgotten all creeds and dogmas.
I have forgotten all definitions, all man-made meditations, and all artificial usages.

When Milarepa had sung this, a learned lama, Tsaphuwa, felt slighted and said, "I thought you were a highly advanced person!" and sat down in sulky silence, thinking: "Milarepa does and says eccentric things and get numerous alms and gifts from it. Something must be done to put an end to this!" He made one of his concubines to go and offer Milarepa some posioned curds while Milaarepa was at Brin-Dragkar, and she did.

Milerapa knew that his end was drawing near even if he did not take the poison, so he said to the woman, "Right now I won't accept the food you offer me. Bring it later on and I will then accept it."

When she came home to the geshe, he persuaded her to try a second time, when Milarepa was at Trode-Trashi-Gang. Smilingly he took her offering in his hand, but said, "You have got the turquoise as your fee for doing this."

The woman sobbed and confessed, and begged him not to eat the poisoned food she had offered him. She wanted to drink it in his stead, she said. But he declined, saying, "My life has almost run its course. The time has come for me to go." Then he had some poisoned food.

Milarepa now sent word to the people of Tingri and Nyanam to come and see him, each with a small offering. They assembled at Labchi-Chübar, and he preached to them. Some followers saw the skies filled with gods listening to him, and others felt it. They asked, "Why should the divine beings be invisible to most of us?"

He said, "Those who desire to see divine beings, must devote themselves to that (by spiritual development)." He chanted: "Who does not know, yet presumes to pose as guides for others, do injury both to themselves and others, and need repentance."

Now Milarepa addressed the congregation, saying, "I am grateful for the faith you have manifested in me."

The congregation dispersed, and the heavenly rainbows and other phenomena at the place vanished. Milarepa was asked to come to Brin by the people there, to preach to them. He did,. A few days later he showed signs of illness, but he would not take medical or other treatment.

He said, "A yogi that falls ill should use his illness as an aid to progress on the Path, and even death. My time has come. When His time had come, Gautama Buddha passed away too. I will not have recourse to medical treatment or any sort of ceremonies for my cure. There is no need of stupas or of clay tsha-tshas. As I own no monastery or temple, I need not appoint anyone to succeed me. I could transfer this illness, but there is no need for that."

The geshe that had schemed to kill him by poisoning him, thought, "I am quite sure he cannot transfer the illness." So he said, "If you can transfer it, please transfer it to me."

Milarepa: "If I did, you would be unable to endure it even for a moment, so I won't transfer it."

But the geshe insisted, "Do transfer it!"

Milarepa: "Very well then. I won't transfer it to you, but to that door over there." At once the door began to emit sounds of cracking and splitting. It throbbed and vibrated, and seemed on the point of crumbling away. At the same time Milarepa seemed to be free from pain.

The geshe thought it was a magical illusion, and went on, "Most wonderful! Please, transfer it to me!"

Milarepa: "I will show you a little of its force, geshe." He took back the pain from the door and transferred it to the geshe, telling him that it was one one-half of the pain, and asked the geshe what he thought it, and whether it was bearable.

The geshe was about to faint away and wailed, "It was I, obsessed by selfishness and jealousy, who brought this illness on you."

Milarepa saw that he truly repented, and forgave him. He said, "As the fruit of my sojourn, a hardened sinner has been converted. To me there is no reality either in illness or in death. I must go to die at Chubar."

The geshe felt greatly comforted.

Now Milarepa said to disciples, "Pray earnestly and with firm faith," and divided his properties among them: a bone-spoon, flint and steel, a wooden bowl, and his cotton mantle. "And be informed that all the gold that I have amassed during my lifetime lies hidden here beneath this hearth."He spoke figuratively then. He went on, talking and singing,

Carry on the practice in your everyday life.
The selfish keep up the hypocrisy of hankering after the rich juices of this world while outwardly appearing pious and devout - watch out.
Drink not the venom of desire for worldly fame and name.
Works performed for the good of others seldom succeed if not wholly freed from self-interest.
One should not be over-anxious and hasty in setting out to serve others.
This and much else Milarepa sang. Afterwards he passed away in yogic trance, samadhi. He was eighty-four years old.


Milarepa Milaraspa life-story, of Tibetan Buddhism, Jetsun Milarepa, Vajrayana, Mi-la ras-pa stories, Mila Grubum selections, Literature  

The Milarepa stories in the first chapter are retold from Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa [Tm]. Some selections of the Mila Grubum are at Google Books. And a selection of his teachings are on the next page in this collection.

Hts: Chang, Garma C. C., tr. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, London: Shambala Books, 1999. ⍽▢⍽ Partial view of an earlier 2-volumed edition at Google Books]

Som: Clarke, Sir Humphrey, tr. Songs of Milarepa. Reprint ed. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2003.

Tm: Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling, ed. Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1969. ⍽▢⍽ It was first published in 1928. A partial view of the 2000 edition is at Google Books.

Lma: Heruka, Tsangnyön. The Life of Milarepa. Tr. Andrew Quintman. London: Penguin Books, 2010.

Secondary sources

Lama Kunga Rinpoche and Brian Cutillo, trs. Drinking the Mountain Stream: Songs of Tibet's Beloved Saint, Milarepa: Eighteen Selections from the Rare Collection: Stories and Songs from the Oral Tradition of Jetsün Milarepa.. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Wisdom Publications, 1995. ⍽▢⍽ Partial view at Google Books.

Seaton, Paul K. The Essential Songs of Milarepa. Booklet 87. Grand Rapids, MI: Quiet Mountain, 1995-2000. Online.

Chögya Trungpa, ed. The Life of Marpa the Translator: Seeing Accomplishes All. Ill ed. Boston: Taylor and Francis, 1982. ⍽▢⍽ Partial view at Google Books.

Heruka, Tsang Nyön. The Life of Marpa the Translator. Reprint ed. London: Shambala, 1995.

Riggs, Nicole. Milarepa: Songs on the Spot. Eugene, OR: Dharma Cloud Press, 2003.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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