5. Milarepa 1040 – 1123
“In the west, in the Lachi snow range, the supreme being, Shepa Dorje, attained the state of unity in one lifetime.” — JamgonKongtrul Lodrö Thaye, “The Song of Lodrö Thaye”
Milarepa, treasured by millions of followers around the world as the most illustrious poet and saint, was Marpa Lotsawa’s foremost disciple and spiritual heir. He personified the legacy of the Glorious Golden Rosary – the Kagyü Lineage of Inner Realization that is directly transmitted from a Lineage-holder to his worthy disciples.
Milarepa was born in the year of the water-dragon of an aristocratic family living in Kya Ngatsa in Gungthang, West Tibet. His father’s name was Mila Sherab Gyaltsen and his mother’s name was Nyangtsa Kargyen. He was given the name Mila Thöpaga, thös-pameaning “to hear” and ga meaning “joy,” so his name was “Mila Who is a Joy to Hear.” He had a younger sister named Peta Palden.
While on his deathbed, Mila Sherab Gyaltsen summoned his family for a meeting. He also invited all of his relatives, specifically his brother and sister-in-law, who he had once helped build a house on the land that he found for them in the same neighbourhood. In everyone’s presence, he handed a will to both his brother and a copy to his brother-in-law in which he had written that he would give his brother the custody of his lands and goods after his death and until his son came of age. He also asked him and his relatives to protect his wife and children from harm and to care for them. With solemn looks, they promised to respect his last wishes. Mila Thöpaga was 7 years old when his father died.
Mila Thöpaga’s aunt and uncle from his father’s side didn’t wait long to call everything their own, while other relatives snatched whatever they could get their hands on. They forced Mila Thöpaga, his grieving mother, and his little sister to work as their slaves and live in direst poverty. When Mila Thöpaga turned 15 and therefore came of age, his cruel uncle and aunt did not hand over the estate that had only been entrusted to them, so Mila Thöpaga thought it better not to marry Zesay, the young girl his parents had wished he would marry. Nyangtsa Kargyen was helpless, gave her son the money she was able to obtain by selling the farmland that her mother had given her when she married. She sent her son to Ü (the region of Central Tibet) to study sorcery, which is said to be poor people’s weapon against injustice. He did as told and Yungtön Trogyäl of Kyorpo instructed him, but, having become convinced of Milarepa’s tragic fate, he realized that his distraught student was in need of more powerful skills. So he wrote a letter of recommendation and sent Mila Thöpaga to Yönten Gyatso, the greatest master of sorcery at that time. Yönten Gyatso gave Mila Thöpaga the complete set of instructions that he had received from the famous lineage of Sangye Yeshe and that is only transmitted to a few pupils once in a master’s lifetime.
Having become quite skilled in performing magic, Mila Thöpaga returned home and caused lightning and landslides to destroy the house in which his relatives were celebrating his cousin’s wedding party – thirty-seven people were killed. He also brought down a hailstorm that destroyed the villagers’ crops. Not having been able to endure all the suffering and pain that she went through, Nyangtsa Kargyen burst out in glee when she saw that her son had managed to take revenge so efficiently. Yet the boy felt intense remorse for the negative karma that he had brought upon his mother and himself. He followed the advice of Lhabum, the resident Buddhist monk he knew since his childhood who saw how troubled he was. The kindly monk told Mila that the only reliable way to help his mother and all sentient beings was to turn his mind towards the sacred Dharma.
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche tells us that Milarepa then went to the western part of Tsang and studied with the great Nyingma Lama, Rongtön Lhaga. He gave Milarepa the Dzogchen meditation instructions and told him that if one practiced them in the morning, one would achieve enlightenment in the morning, and if one practiced them in the evening, one would achieve enlightenment that same evening. Lama Rongtön also said that fortunate beings would achieve the goal without needing to practice at all. Since he had spiritual pride by thinking that he was very fortunate and remembering that he had learned sorcery in twelve days, Milarepa was very happy and slept for seven days. When Lama Rongtön dropped by to check whether he had achieved any signs of accomplishment, Milarepa responded, “No signs.” The master realized how strong Milarepa’s negative karma was, that the Dzogchen teachings would not do to purify him, and therefore he told Milarepa that he should seek instructions from Marpa Lotsawa. When Milarepa heard the name Marpa, deep faith and sincere devotion arose within him and he immediately set out to find him. Milarepa was now 38 years old.
The night before Milarepa found Marpa Lotsawa, Dagmema had a dream in which Mahasiddha Naropa gave Lord Marpa a golden vase and a crystal stupa, which her husband cleansed with the water that was in the golden vase. In her dream, Dagmema also saw Marpa place the cleansed stupa on the peak of a mountain and rays of sunlight and moonbeams stream out of it to thousands of world systems. The next morning, Marpa told Dagmema that he had a similar dream, but that his Guru Naropa had given him a golden vase and golden vajra that was also dirty, which he cleansed with the water inside the golden vase. In his dream, he saw himself place the purified vajra on top of a victory banner that radiated light out to the entire universe. Aware of the meaning of these dreams, Marpa went to his fields to keep a lookout for the disciple that he knew would come that day.
In the meantime, Milarepa arrived in Lhodrak and asked a young boy – who was Dharma Dode, Lord Marpa’s beloved son – where he could find the great translator. The boy offered to show Milarepa the way. They came to a field and saw a brilliant looking man just about finished ploughing his fields. He offered Milarepa beer that he had in his flagon, told him to finish the work, and left. Fascinated by the stranger, Milarepa finished the job. He then followed the boy who told him he would show him the way to Marpa Lotsawa’s home. When they arrived and entered the home, Milarepa was overwhelmed when he saw the same man he had met in the fields comfortably seated on a cushion. When Milarepa came out of his daze, he requested teachings to amend all the evil he had committed. Marpa Lotsawa told Milarepa that attaining enlightenment depended upon a student’s untiring diligence.
In order to finance his living and acquire presents in return for the precious instructions that he fervently wished to receive, Milarepa had to go begging in a village quite a distance from Marpa’s home. Once Marpa lifted up the copper pot that Milarepa had given him and, with tears in his eyes, in his mind he offered it to Mahasiddha Naropa. He told Milarepa, “You gave me an empty pot and this means that you may have trouble getting food while you practice in retreat, but the pot gave off a melodious sound when I hit against it with my stick and this means that you will become renowned. The four handles of the pot are a sign that you will have four main heart-sons.” For the Oral Transmission Lineage to prosper, Lord Marpa filled the vessel with melted butter and inserted many wicks so that, when lit, the light glowed more brightly than that of a huge butter lamp.
Then Marpa told Milarepa that his students who had to pass through the village behind his home were always beat up, robbed, and sometimes not let through by the locals. He ordered Milarepa to put a stop to such uncalled-for behaviour. Milarepa visited the villagers and tried to speak with them, but they beat him up too. In response, he made use of his skills and caused discord among them. They understood that their trouble was brought on by Milarepa’s sorcery. They went to Marpa and apologized for their past bad actions, promising to let his students pass through their village without harming them anymore. Lord Marpa then gave Milarepa the name “Great Magician.”
Next, Marpa told Milarepa to send hail on a distant village in which the people there hurt his disciples when they passed by their houses in order to receive the precious instructions that he had brought toTibet. Milarepa travelled to the village and told the old woman he rented a room from about his plans and asked that she mark her land on a map he had of the area. He covered her fields on the map with a pot so that her harvest would be sheltered from destruction by the hailstorm that he caused. After the catastrophe, the villagers asked the old lady why her fields were not destroyed. She suggested that they ask Milarepa, which they did. He suggested they apologize to Marpa for having been so mean to his students. When he returned to Marpa, Milarepa told him that he felt great dismay about having killed so many animals through his intervention, but Marpa still did not give him Dharma teachings.
Another task Milarepa had to accomplish was to build one round building east of Marpa’s home, one building in the shape of a half-moon to the south, and a triangular building to the west. But before any of them was finished, Marpa ordered Milarepa to tear it down, to carry the stones back to the place where they belonged, and to fill the ditches with the earth he had taken to use as mortar. He then promised Milarepa that he would receive Dharma instructions after he built another house.
The fourth house that Milarepa was told to build according to Marpa’s design was meant for Dharma Dode and was to become the famous nine-storied tower called Sekar Gutok (the “Building with Nine Stories for the Son”). Seeing it was to be built on land near the village where it was forbidden to erect buildings, the locals became upset and agreed to tear it down if Marpa did not have it destroyed. In his biography of Milarepa, Bardo Tulku wrote that “building this strong fortress-tower allowed Marpa’s retainers to dominate the valley. It was this dominance by Marpa’s encampment that allowed the KagyüSchool to become established and flourish in Tibet. When they realized that this building would not be destroyed, the villagers attacked and Marpa created an illusory army that prevented anyone from coming near. Seeing that they were up against a force beyond their strength, the villagers apologized and promised that they would not destroy the tower.”
Feeling forlorn, one evening Milarepa let Dagmema look at the open sores he got from carrying so many rocks and stones back and forth in order to receive teachings. She cleansed and bandaged his wounds. Marpa then asked Dagmema to prepare a meal for a feast and on that occasion he gave Milarepa the Refuge Vows and preliminary Dharma instructions.
Dagmema had immense compassion for Milarepa, so one day she wrote a letter of recommendation to one of Marpa’s disciples, Lama Nyoktön Chödor of Shung, asking him to impart teachings to Milarepa. She stamped the letter with Marpa’s seal to make it look like her husband had written it. She also gave Milarepa a ruby mala and bone ornaments that once belonged to Mahasiddha Naropa and sent him to the Lama with the letter and presents. When Milarepa arrived at his home, Lama Nyoktön was teaching hundreds of students. He stood up from his throne in the middle of his talk, took off his hat, and bowed in response to the prostrations that Milarepa had made. Seeing that their Lama had reacted in such an auspicious way, the students celebrated Milarepa’s presence. This made him very happy. Then Lama Nyoktön gave Milarepa instructions and told him to practice. After some time, the Lama saw that Milarepa’s meditation practice brought no results. He realized that his practice lacked Lord Marpa’s blessings and questioned Milarepa, who admitted the wrongdoing.
In the meantime, a letter from Marpa arrived, inviting Lama Nyoktön and all his students to celebrate the completion of the tower that Milarepa had built. The Lama gathered all his valuable things to offer as a present to his Guru Marpa, but he put his lame goat aside. After having greeted Dagmema and Marpa, Milarepa told them that the Lama wasn’t able to keep up with the group and wished to apologize for staying behind in order to rest for a short while. Marpa was furious and let the Lama know that he would need to offer the goat he left at home if he hoped to receive the teachings that he planned to present at the upcoming event. Lama Nyoktön ran back home to get the lame goat and walked all night carrying it on his shoulders as a present for Marpa, who was deeply moved that the Lama did not shy away from this hardship to receive the precious teachings. Then Marpa allowed all students – except Milarepa – to attend the teachings he gave. Milarepa was so depressed that he even thought of committing suicide. Marpa read his thoughts, gave in to Dagmema’s pleas, and told his students to decorate the shrine elaborately for an honoured guest, Milarepa, who had surmounted all hardships in not less than 6 years.
During the empowerment that Lord Marpa imparted on the day of the festivities, Milarepa experienced the deity and saw the entire mandala in space. Marpa prophesied that this was a sign that in the future the Lineage would prosper, that Milarepa would have many excellent students, and through them the Buddha’s teachings would spread. Furthermore, Marpa acknowledged Milarepa as his heart-son and gave him the secret name bZhäd-pa rDo-rje, which means “Laughing Vajra.” He then conferred on Milarepa the full transmissions, instructions, tantric empowerments, the Lineage of Mahamudra, and the Whispered Lineage of the Dakinis. Marpa Lotsawa then told his most beloved disciple that not all of his negative karma was purified since Dagmema had made a few things easy for him.
At a later time, Lord Marpa called all of his students together. He asked them to watch their dreams and to tell him the next morning what they had dreamt. In Bardo Tulku’s words: “Milarepa dreamt of four great pillars, one in each major direction. In the eastern direction he saw Tsurtön Wang-nye of Dolpo, one of Marpa’s four main disciples. The snow lion on top of his pillar signified that he had a heart like a lion. In the southern direction he saw Lama Nyoktön; on top of his pillar was a tiger, symbolizing the character of the Lama. In the western direction he saw Metön Tsönpo of Tsangrong; on top of his pillar was the garuda. On the northern pillar was a vulture, which stood for Milarepa of Gungthang.” Bardor Tulku continued: “In Tibet, the vulture is seen as a being that can endure all kinds of hardships. In the dream, the vulture’s feathers were beautiful and in place, a sign that all of the instructions that Milarepa received would perfectly remain within his mind-stream and he would always remember them. The vulture’s nest is usually high up in rocks, a sign that Milarepa would have a long life. Milarepa also dreamt that the vulture had many offspring, a sign that Milarepa would have incomparable disciples. Many different kinds of birds were flying around the vulture in the sky, a sign that the Kagyü Lineage would increase and spread. The vulture’s eyes were turned upwards, a sign that Milarepa had cut his ties to samsara. At the end of the dream, the vulture flew into the sky, a sign that Milarepa would reach the expanse of liberation.” It is recorded in other biographies that Marpa had this dream and told it to Milarepa on the morning that Milarepa returned to his home a last time.
In the teachings he presented in Oxford, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche tells us: “When he had completed his formal studies with Marpa Lotsawa, Jetsün Milarepa went through another hardship. He wanted to see how things were going at home. When he arrived in his village, the first thing he saw was that his house was in ruins. In Tibetan, they say his house resembled donkey’s ears. If you have a pillar standing here and a beam left standing somewhere else, with nothing in between, without anything left of the house except for things sticking up here and there, then it looks like donkey’s ears. Milarepa entered the ruins of his house and found his mother’s bones. He looked all around for his sister, but she was gone and he had no idea where she could be. (Other biographies state that she became a beggar, wandering from village to village.) Then he saw that the holy books of Dharma that his family owned were eaten by mice and what was left of the pages served as their nest, so the sacred texts were completely ruined. There is the tradition of having someone come to one’s house to read the sacred texts aloud and the person who read in Milarepa’s home had left, because there was no work for him now that nobody was there anymore; he became an ordinary servant in someone else’s house. All of this made Milarepa very sad, but it gave him even more determination to practice the Dharma.” In Milarepa’s words that he sang in a doha (“spiritual song of instructions”) to his disciples many years later:
“This also is an example of impermanence and illusion.
With this example, this yogi will practice the Dharma.”
Approximately 45 years old, Milarepa began his formal meditation practice by going into retreat in a walled-in cave. Eleven months later, Lord Marpa and Dagmema came to see him. Milarepa hesitated to come out of his small enclosure, so Dagmema broke down the walls. When Milarepa was in the open, he prostrated to Marpa and Dagmema and received their blessings. Marpa led Milarepa into a circle of disciples and had him drink a cup-full of blessed nectar. Afterwards, Marpa gave Milarepa teachings on the nature of the mind and bestowed the initiation of various deities to all his students. He and Dagmema gave Milarepa the name ”Mila Dorje Gyaltsen,” which means “Vajra Victory Banner.”
Milarepa practiced at White Rock Horse Tooth and other caves. He was very poor and the cloth once given to him by his sister to wear was eaten by insects and fell to pieces. For a long time he only ate pine-like nettles and became very thin, almost emaciated. Thrangu Rinpoche said: “Now, if one considers his external circumstances, the isolation and poverty in which he lived, one would think that he must have been miserable. And yet, as evident from the many songs he composed, because his mind was fundamentally at peace, his experience was one of constant delight. His songs express his utmost state of rapture and joy. He saw every place he went to – no matter how isolated and uninhabitable – as beautiful, and he experienced his life of utmost austerity as extremely pleasant. All he cared about was working on his mind.” At this point in his life, he became known as “Milarepa.” Thrangu Rinpoche added: “Having received the teachings on the Six Yogas of Naropa from Marpa, Milarepa was able to stay warm in the cold climate of Tibet. He did not need a mattress. He did not need warm clothing to protect himself against the icy winds either but only wrapped his body in a thin white cotton cloth, called repa in Tibetan. That is why he became known as ‘Milarepa,’ which means ‘Cotton-clad Mila.’”
At one time, Milarepa became so weak that he fainted while meditating at Red Rock Agate Mansion Fortress of Garudas. When he woke up, he looked in the direction of his Guru’s home and, seeing a white cloud in the sky, he sang the song of remembrance. In “The Rain of Wisdom,” the first lines are:
“I supplicate the Lord Guru. Accept me with kindness and make this lowly one’s longing vanish.
Beneath this cloud that floats above in the east, at the monastery of Trowo Valley of the south dwells my Guru. If one utters his name, it is Marpa the Translator. What joy if he were there now. What happiness if he were there now. Although he is far away, I long to see him. Although it is a hard journey, I long to see him. So mo! I remember the Guru once again. Thinking further, I remember the Jetsün more.”
In this song, Milarepa sang more verses in which he described Dagmema as “the lady who pleases the Buddha” and expressed his wish to be with her and with his Dharma brothers to compare notes and have discussions again. He recalled having built the tower that pleased the Guru and wished he could build it anew. He longed to repay the kindness of his father and mother and wished he could serve them. The white cloud in the sky then stretched out and when it was directly above him, Milarepa saw his Guru seated on its upper rim. Lord Marpa told his heart-son, “You and I are beyond meeting and parting.” Milarepa was joyous and sang the following song of devotion that is in “The Rain of Wisdom”: “Having seen the face and heard the voice of the Lord Guru, this lowly one’s sadness turns into meditative experience. Thinking about the Guru’s kindness, the devotion of realization arises from my depths. Because you bestowed your kind blessings in person, non-Dharmic appearances are completely cut off. Although this lamentation in an empty un-peopled valley irritates the ear of the Father Guru, this lowly one could be satisfied by nothing other than the Guru’s appearance. This practice of perseverance and asceticism is service pleasing to the Father Guru. This solitary retreat free from sickness is service pleasing to the Mother Dakini. This ascetic life of bearing hunger and accepting death is a gift to sentient beings who have no protector. This perseverance, alone and without friends, is the broom which sweeps away karma and its ripening. These dharma provisions of inexhaustible nettles are the favourable condition for the arising of experience and realization. The kindness of the Father Guru is repaid by practice. Lord Guru, please keep me in your kind heart. Grant your blessings so that this lowly one may keep to retreat.”
In “The Life of Shabkar” we learn that Jetsün Milarepa spent many years meditating in the caves of the valley of Lapchi, which is situated in the Kumbu Snow Mountain Range that lies between Central Tibet and Nepal. The name of the principal cave where he meditated is bDüd-’dül-phug (“Cave of Subjugation”) and there he subdued the local spirits who live in mountains, rocks, clouds, lakes, and streams. He spent six months in the Cave of Subjugation in complete seclusion and survived on one measure of tsampa(“roasted barley flour”) the entire time he was locked in by the heavy snow. In all, there are four known caves of Milarepa at Lapchi, where he not only subdued the local demons but also performed miracles. The other three caves are Ze-phug (“Crest Cave”), sBas-pa-kun-gsäl (“Revelation of All Secrets”), andLung-bstän-tshäl-chen-phug (“Prophesied Cave of the Great Forest”).
While meditating, five sisters appeared to Milarepa. The five sisters were worldly mountain spirits and, although all spirits in and around Lapchi were subjugated by Padmasambhava in the 8th century, they were still mischievous until Jetsün Milarepa opened the sacred area. Then they became known by the name Tseringma in Tibetan (“Goddesses of Long Life”) and Dakinis in Sanskrit (“Sky-goers”). Lama Kelzang Wangdi taught that before they were tamed, they appeared to Milarepa in the form of vicious demons in order to disturb him and disrupt his meditation practice. They wanted to compete with him and sang songs in which they used harsh words, like telling him that he looked like the desolate mountains in that area due to living in total poorness in the solitude of his cave for so long. But they couldn’t harm Milarepa, who told them, “You are outer demons. I have overcome the inner demon of grasping and clinging to a self. I don’t care if outer demons try to get hold of an inner demon that I am free of.” Milarepa continued, “Your way of trying to deceive me is an illusion. I meditate on the nature of my mind ever since I have realized it. So, it doesn’t matter what you do or what kind of tricks you come up with. You cannot harm me, because illusions don’t disturb and move me.” The five sisters were so humbled by Jetsün Milarepa that they experienced deep devotion for him. As a result, their chief, Tashi Tseringma, asked him to accept them as his disciples. Milarepa responded, “I live in utter poverty and solitude and there’s nobody else around. Can you live like that?” She again requested that he please accept them as his disciples, and so the Lord of Yogis imparted instructions to them in the form of a spiritual song. Having practiced the instructions diligently, the five Tseringmas became protectors of the Dharma, specifically of the Mahamudra Lineage. And ever since then, they protect and help anyone living in that area who prays to them with ardent faith and devotion.
Chöje Lama Namse Rinpoche taught in Hamburg: “While Milarepa was meditating in a cave, a hunter passed by. It so happened that from a distance Milarepa saw him and his hound chasing a deer he had already shot with his arrow and devouring the poor animal after it had collapsed and died. One day the hunter ran into Milarepa, who told him that there would be no end to the mental and physical suffering he would experience in a next life due to his sordid actions and that he should stop harming living beings right away. The hunter dropped his bow and arrow and immediately dedicated his life to the Dharma.” Chöje Lama Namse added: “It is recorded in another text that the deer that was wounded and chased by the hunter and his bloodhound came to Milarepa. The story tells us that Milarepa was sitting on a cliff outside his cave and meditating quietly. The wounded deer came to Milarepa and lay down at his feet, breathed peacefully, and experienced relief. Then the hunter’s hound arrived, panting frantically from having run up the mountain, foaming at the mouth, the blood of other animals it had devoured still dribbling from its jaw. The hound was very aggressive, suddenly became timid, and lay down at the side of the deer. Shortly afterwards, the hunter managed to climb up the steep path to Milarepa’s cave, sweating and totally out of breath. When he saw the wounded deer and his vicious bloodhound lying side-by-side at the feet of Milarepa, he was furious, pointed his bow and arrow at Milarepa, and shouted, ‘You disgraceful magician. You have turned my hound into a gentle lamb that is supposed to kill animals for me. Who do you think you are?’ He was about to shoot Milarepa, who remained calm and said, ‘This deer and hound are not enemies. You are the one who sets them against each other. When they are free of their fear of you, then they can live together peacefully. Don’t you see how wicked you have turned out to be because of your past evil deeds and how mean you are when you hurt others so cruelly? Don’t you see their pain? How would you feel?’ It took a while for the hunter to realize that he had wasted his life by only causing defenceless living beings horrendous pain. He finally realized and regretted his actions. He then said, ‘Yes, you are right. I have been bad. What can an uneducated person like me do to purify all the negative karma that I amassed and to pursue freedom?’ Milarepa answered, ‘I can give you the instructions. They are called Mahamudra. You have to take advantage of the opportunity right away. Just telling you about them will not help. You have to practice the teachings until the end of your life.’” The hunter did as told and became one of Milarepa’s close disciples. He attained realization in that very same life and came to be known as Sherab Dorje.
In Oxford, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche taught about a song that Jetsün Milarepa had composed and presented a verse that the Great Ascetic sang in which he described his practice. It is:
“When I’m going, I take appearances to the path,
going with six consciousnesses, free all by themselves.
When I’m resting, I rest in uncontrived naturalness;
this is the way to rest in the heart-essence.
When I’m eating, I eat within emptiness;
this is the way to eat without perceiver or perceived.
When I’m drinking, I drink down mindfulness;
this is the way to drink that never ever ends.
Going, wandering, sleeping, resting, I look at mind;
this is virtuous practice without sessions or breaks.”
Having meditated for 12 years, Milarepa became inseparable from Vajradhara, the Primordial Buddha.
In the instructions on “The Buddha Nature,” Thrangu Rinpoche tells us that Lord Buddha knew the inclinations of human beings and taught students capable of realizing that the Noble Doctrine is true through knowledge, and/or miracles, and/or discipline. Milarepa saw that without the support of knowledge, it would be difficult for others to trust what he said and so he spoke of scripture and reasoning as “an adornment to realization.” Having joined knowledge with experience, Milarepa had all three abilities and spontaneously performed innumerable acts in order to turn the minds of uncountable sentient beings towards the sacred Dharma and guide them on their spiritual journey to enlightenment. His abilities were such that he reached the summit of Mount Kailash in an instant, held an entire region in the palm of his hand, slipped inside a yak horn without becoming smaller, and left his handprint on rocks. During his visit to the U.S. in 2008, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa taught at Boulder: “In Tibet, there are many stories about highly accomplished Masters who left handprints on stone and performed other feats that seemed miraculous. They really were not miraculous. The Masters do this to teach us about the powerful connection between our mind and the world. A heart full of love can transform something as hard as rock into something malleable.” And all along, Milarepa perfectly upheld the teachings he offered his pupils in the short song:
“Maintain the state of undistractedness and distractions will fly off.
Dwell alone and you shall find a friend.
Take the lowest place and you shall reach the highest.
Hasten slowly and you will soon arrive.
Renounce all worldly goals and you shall reach the highest goal.”
Milarepa’s last teachings offered in “The Rain of Wisdom” address Paldarbum, a young maiden he met at a fair in Gungthang. In Thrangu Rinpoche’s words: “Paldarbum asked good questions and therefore she received good answers.” In the beginning, she questioned him about his country, father, mother, and relatives. The Lord of Yogis replied:
“I prostate to the Lord Gurus.
I ask to grant your blessings.
My father is the all-good.
My mother is the good being.
My elder brother is the king of learning.
My aunt is the luminous torch.
My sister is the lady of faith.
My friend is the self-existing wisdom.
My son is the little child of insight.
My books are the natural existence of the phenomenal world.
I ride the stallion of the wind of consciousness.
My patrons are the four provinces of Ü and Tsang.
I myself am the little white offering attendant.”
In an explanation she requested, Milarepa resumed his teachings and sang: “‘Offering’ means that I offer worship to the Three Jewels. ‘Attendant’ means that I attend to my Guru. ‘White’ means the white of the Dharma. ‘Little’ means that my defilements are few. This is why I am the little white offering attendant.”
Paldarbum was more than grateful to hear this song and asked him if he had a good Dharma lineage.
Milarepa replied: “Samantabhadra, the all-pervading Dharmakaya,
great Vajradhara, the Sambhogakaya ornamented with the marks,
Shakyamuni, the Nirmanakaya who benefits beings.
This yogi possesses these three lineages.
Do you have the good fortune to have faith in those three lineages?”
She responded, “Your lineage is good, but do you have a good Guru?”
Milarepa replied: “My outer Guru manifests outwardly as the wisdom lineage.
My inner Guru manifests internally as the insight lineage.
My ultimate Guru arises in my mind as the ultimate lineage.
This yogi possesses these three Gurus.
Would the young lady have faith in these three Gurus?”
Paldarbum always answered in the affirmative and Milarepa offered her profound instructions to more questions she asked on how to place and resolve her mind. Milarepa then sang the song of four encouraging counsels to her. They are teachings that give practitioners antidotes to hindrances on their journey to spiritual maturity. The first verse is:
“The next life’s journey is longer than this one.
Have you prepared provisions?
The provisions are generosity; do you have this?
The enemy known as miserliness causes obstructions;
it works seeming benefit, but will bring harm.
Do you know miserliness to be the enemy?
If you know this, cast it behind you.
If you understand this, cast it behind you.”
The next three verses are in the same style. Summarized: The torch that dispels the darkness of delusion is luminosity; the guide that dispels attachment to relatives and friends is the Dharma; the stallion that dispels laziness and sloth is exertion. Paldarbum meditated, had excellent experiences, achieved realization, and became a holder of the Oral Transmission Lineage.
During a visit to Malaysia, Thrangu Rinpoche taught: “Because of Milarepa’s great achievement in attaining realization, many of his disciples thought that he was an emanation of a specific Bodhisattva or a Buddha and wanted confirmation from him. They thought that if it were not the case, Milarepa could not have attained enlightenment in a single lifetime. On the one hand, Milarepa’s disciples were worthy of praise, for they held their Lama in the greatest regard and respect. On the other hand, they held a wrong Buddhist view. They doubted the Buddha’s teachings by thinking that Milarepa could not attain enlightenment in a single lifetime and therefore they claimed that he was a special emanation or reincarnation. In order to correct these thoughts of his disciples, Milarepa told them all the negative deeds he had done. Some disciples still did not believe him. He recounted the details of his negative deeds to prove to his followers that he was an ordinary human being. He stressed that if one practiced diligently what one had learned from one’s Lama and had great faith and devotion in all the Lineage Lamas, then anyone could achieve enlightenment. If one were to think that only extraordinary beings of such and such an emanation could attain enlightenment, then one held the wrong view, which contradicted the Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, if any of his disciples practiced with diligence, then he would attain enlightenment.” Thrangu Rinpoche added: “For that, there is no doubt.”
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche tells us: “Before Milarepa died, he gave his final instructions to the assembled students. He said, ‘When I die, don’t build statues or stupas in my memory. Instead, raise the banner of meditation. Reject all that increases ego-clinging or inner poison, even if it appears good. Practice all that benefits others, even if it appears bad. This is the true way of Dharma. Since life is short and the time of death unknown, devote yourselves wholly to meditation. Act wisely and courageously according to your innate insight, even at the cost of your life. In short, act in a way that you will not be ashamed of.’” His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa said in the teachings he presented in Boulder that Jetsün Milarepa attained enlightenment in one body, in one lifetime, and implied what might happen if Milarepa lived today. His Holiness said that if he offered Milarepa a laptop computer, showed him the features of a mobile phone, and offered that to him as well, it might well delay Milarepa’s enlightenment. His Holiness taught that engaging too extensively with possessions and possible possessions can divert one from the path.
Jetsün Milarepa composed the following aspiration prayer before he entered Paranirvana:
“Father Protector of wanderers, you who’ve fulfilled your heartfelt wish,
at your feet oh Marpa the Translator I bow down with gratitude.
All your students whose lives have brought you here,
all of you have been so kind to me. And I have also been kind to you.
Equally kind we are, teacher and students.
I pray we meet in True Joy’s pure domain.
All you good people who live here at this place,
may you enjoy long life and merit full.
And may wrong thinking not come to you,
your wishes be fulfilled to Dharma true.
This country, too, may it enjoy prosperity, be free of sickness and of fighting free,
enjoy good harvests, the good grain growing well.
May everyone be happy and may all of their endeavours
be ways of living Dharma through and through.
May those who’ve seen my face or heard what I have had to say
and those who keep my story in their minds,
those who’ve only heard of it or only heard my name,
may we meet in True Joy’s pure domain.
Anyone who lives by this story of my life or uses it to practice Dharma by,
or writes it down, explains or listens to it being told; or reads it through,
makes offerings, or lives up to its spirit,
may we all meet in True Joy’s pure domain.
And what of all those people yet to come in future times,
if they can also learn to meditate in weathering the hardships and
managing hard times, may they be free of hindrance and not stray.
Those undertaking hardships for the Dharma’s sake build up merit far too great to tell.
Those who inspire others to take up this call, their kindness stretches far too far to tell.
For those who hear of this austere way to live, blessings gather far too high to pile.
These are three qualities beyond all measurement,
and through the blessing of these three may merely hearing set them free.
By merely wishing may their wish come true.
May all of the places where I’ve settled for a while be sites of joy and comfort for the mind, and all of my possessions, however few they be,
wherever they end up, may they bring joy.
And just as the elementary principles of earth and water, fire, wind, and space
are everywhere you go, may I be just like that as well.
May I be everywhere that you go.
May nagas, gods, and so on, in their eight battalion ranks, and lokapalas
and all hords of fiends, may they not wreak their havoc even for an instant’s time,
their every wish fulfilled to Dharma true.
May every creature down to the smallest worm fall into samsara never more.
For each and every one without a single one left out,
may I be there to lead them on their way.”
Jestün Milarepa, Laughing Vajra, had many accomplished disciples, specifically his four main heart-sons and his eight closest students, who in scriptures are described as “star-like.” Milarepa’s disciple Rechungpa was the moon-like disciple and Gampopa, the physician monk, was his sun-like disciple. In“The Songs and Stories of Lord Gampopa,” Milarepa sang: “I am a yogi, but many of my followers will be monks. This physician monk will benefit innumerable sentient beings. Thus I have fulfilled the teaching of the Buddha.” And so, the glorious Lineage of the Golden Rosary that is blessed by Mahasiddha Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Jetsün Milarepa, and his wonderful disciples continued unbroken and is flourishing to this day.