Monday, 4 May 2015

Milarepa The Yogi


The Life of Milarepa is the most beloved story of the Tibetan people, a true folk tale from a culture now in crisis. It traces the path of a great sinner who became a great saint. But it is also a powerful folk tale, full of magic, disaster, feuds, deceptions, and humor.

Born in 1052 in the village of Kya Ngatsa, western Tibet, to a prosperous family, he was named Mila Thöpaga (Thos-pa-dga'), which means "A joy to hear." When his father, Mila-Dorje-Senge, grew very ill and he realized he was dying, he called his extended family to his deathbed and asked that his estate be cared for by his brother and sister until Milarepa came of age and married. But Milarepa's Aunt and Uncle betrayed their brother's trsut. They divided the property between them and dispossessed Milarepa, his mother and sister, of everything.

Now outcasts, the little family lived in servant's quarters. They were given little food or clothing and made to work in the fields. The children were malnourished, dirty and ragged, and covered with lice, and the people who once spoiled them as the darlings of the village now ridiculed them.

When Milarepa reached his 15th birthday, his mother tried to restore his inheritance. With great effort she scraped together all of her meager resources to prepare a feast for her extended family and former friends. When the guests had gathered and eaten, she stood up to speak;
Holding her head high, she recalled exactly what Mila-Dorje-Senge had said on his deathbed, and she demanded that Milarepa be given the inheritance his father had intended for him. But the greedy Aunt and Uncle lied, and said the estate actually had never belonged to Mila-Dorje-Senge, and so Milarepa had no inheritance. Then they forced the mother and children out of the servants' quarters and into the streets. The little family resorted to begging and transient work to stay alive.

The mother had gambled and lost. Now she seethed with hatred of her husband's family, and she urged Milarepa to study sorcery.   
I will kill myself before your eyes, she told him, if you do not get vengeance....

So Milarepa found a man who had mastered the black arts and became his apprentice. For a time the sorcerer taught only ineffectual charms. But when he learned Milarepa's story, he gave his apprentice powerful secret teachings and rituals. Milarepa spent a fortnight in an underground cell, practicing the black spells and dark rituals. When he emerged, he learned that a house had collapsed on the family while they were gathered at the wedding of their son, crushing all but two, the greedy Aunt and Uncle, to death. Milarepa thought it right that they survive the disaster so they would witness the suffering their greed had caused.

His mother was filled with delight. She took all the red cloths she had, tied them to the end of a stick, and waving it like a victory banner at the top of the house, she communicated in a loud voice to the whole village: "The son born to Sherab Gyaltsen and myself has come of age and He has given an answer to our enemies and conquered them. My mind is finally satisfied. I am happy. Now if there are others in this village who wish to harm us, please come forth."  With such proclamations, she went around the village. On learning of his involvement in the tragedy, the villagers were enraged and set off to look for Milarepa to kill him, but his mother got word to him, so he sent a hailstorm to destroy their crops and harvest and then fled. 

Realising that his revenge was wrong, Milarepa (at this time known by his boyhood name 'Fortuitous') set out to find a lama to teach him to atone for his evil karma (the taking of life is a terrible wickedness with consequences stretching throughout many lives) and was led to Marpa the Translator. Marpa proved a hard taskmaster. Before Marpa would teach Milarepa he had him build and then demolish three great towers in turn.
When Marpa still refused to teach Milarepa, he went to Marpa's wife, who took pity on him. She forged a letter of introduction to another teacher, Lama Ngogdun Chudor, under whose tutelage he practiced meditation. However when he was making no progress, he confessed the forgery and Ngogdun Chudor said that it was vain to hope for spiritual growth without the guru Marpa's approval. Milarepa returned to Marpa, and was finally shown the spiritual teachings.

Milarepa then left on his own and after protracted diligence for 12 years he attained the state ofenlightenment. Milarepa's long lost sister Peta had heard tales from hunters that had stumbled across Milarepa's camp. They informed her that her brother was there, skinny and green like a caterpillar and looked to e on the verge of death from starvation. She was amazed to hear even that he was alive and took the news to Zesay, who had been betrothed to Milarepa in childhood. Between the two they agreed that the sister should first go to see him and find out if the rumors were true

Approaching the cave, Peta was horrified to see the emaciated, green body of her brother, with protruding bones and eyes sunk in his skull. At first she took it to be some strange being or ghost but recognizing her brother's voice, she ran to him crying and bewailing their fate. She expressed to him that they two were the most luckless people in the whole world. At this Milarepa explained that rather he was the most fortunate person in the world because he had attained to transcendent knowledge and Bodhi mind (the internal vision of a Buddha).

 Milarepa now removed to Lapchi-Kang (Everest) and continued his meditation in caves amidst the snows and isolation there. It is said that besides his many human converts he also brought to enlightenment to some non-embodied beings, including the Goddess Tseringma (one of the twelve guardian deities of Tibet who reside at Mt. Kailas) who came to tempt him with her powers during his meditations but was instead herself liberated.

During his travels over the 84 years of his life he met many disciples that were destined to come under his tutelage, including Dvagpo Rimpoche (Gambopa) and Rechung who entreated him to tell the story of his life, which was recorded for the benefit of all beings. For a fuller account of Milarepa's life and journey please look here *~

Because Milarepa traveled about singing songs to facilitate understanding in the people, he became known as the Singing Yogi.

His songs are characterized by an amazing love of life and joy for everything that he encounters. He had no money or home but he was happy. He often commented that he didn’t want money or things because then he would spend too much time worrying about maintaining or protecting them. Instead he opted for a cave in the mountains, sunshine on his face and wind in his hair....

His name, 'Milarepa' also shows his devotion to good deeds and simplicity, as 'Mila' is Tibetan for; 'great man', and 'repa' means; 'cotton clad one.' At the age of 45, he started to practice at Drakar Taso (White Rock Horse Tooth) cave – now known as 'Milarepa's Cave', where, he subsisted on nettle tea, leading his skin to turn green, hence the greenish color he is often depicted as having, in paintings and sculpture .

Milarepa the yogi and poet, is a captivatingly human figure who developed from an avenging black magician to become a supremely powerful and compassionate yogi.

Buddhism in Tibet developed a unique tradition of its own,
a technology of enlightenment, that has no parallel in Indian Buddhism but does trace its ancestry back to the yogic traditions of India. This is the tradition of crazy wisdom. A similar transformation happened to Indian Buddhism in China. Influenced by its native Taoist traditions, Chinese Buddhism gave birth to Ch'an (Zen); the wandering, iconoclastic figure of the Zen monk dominated the golden age of Buddhism in T' ang China.
As Surya Das, the author of The Snow Lion's Turquoise Mane points out in his preface,
. . . the gnostic tradition in Tibet originated with the enlightened yogic adepts and 'divine madmen' of ancient India. These inspired upholders of 'crazy wisdom' were holy fools who disdained speculative metaphysics and institutionalized religious forms. Carefree iconoclastic yogis called siddhas . . . expressed the unconditional freedom of enlightenment through divinely inspired foolishness. They vastly preferred to celebrate the inherent freedom and sacredness of authentic being rather than cling to external religious forms and moral systems. Through their playful eccentricity, these rambunctious spiritual tricksters served to free others from delusion, social inhibitions, specious morality, and complacence-in short, from all variety of mindforged manacles.
The crazy wisdom of the Tibetan siddhas finds resonance in the mystical Zen and Sufi traditions which likewise rejected institutionalized religious forms in favor of an authenticity of enlightened experience. ( more here ) Perhaps they are not so crazy after all....

 ''Accustomed, as I've been, to contemplating both nirvana and samsara as inherent in myself,
I have forgotten to think of hope and fear.''

Milarepa avoided the scholarly institutions and academic debates of his time, wandering from village to village, teaching enlightenment and the path to Buddhahood through his spontaneously composed songs. Wherever he went, crowds of people gathered to hear his sweet sounding voice 'singing the Dharma.' Tibetans accord The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa a classic status comparable to that of the Mahabharata and the Bible, and revere its author as an exemplar of spiritual life. 

Most of all I think that Mliarepa demonstrates in his life and his teachings the importance of action over words...
''Accustomed long to knowing the meaning of the Wordless,
I have forgotten the way to trace the roots of verbs, 
And the sources of words and phrases.
You, 0 learned one, may trace out these things in your books
[if you wish].''


Perhaps we dont all have to sell our homes, retreat into the woods and live on nettles to be as happy as Milarepa. But we do need to start enjoying the simple things in life. It is extremely important to realize that you don’t NEED anything to be happy other than a roof over your head, a meal to eat and a place to sleep. The rest is a bonus. If you want to be the happiest person you know start getting back to life’s simple pleasures. Make it simple, but make it happen - at least once a week find a way to reflect and enjoy the beauty of this life, this world, your family and your friends.

~ ''May I be far removed from contending creeds and dogmas'' ~
~* Milarepa *~