Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa
Book notes from October, 2015.
“Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or the other, for lasting good or lasting ill.”
From another web page:
“The beauty of Milarepa’s life can perhaps best be described as a paradigm shift in Buddhist thinking. His life is revolutionary in that sense. For more than 1500 years, Buddhist thought was that a person’s path to enlightenment was hopeless in their own lifetime, rather, the only worthy path to be followed over a vague, indeterminate period of “countless lifetimes.”
Milarepa became painfully aware of the need to achieve perfect and complete enlightenment, not in countless lifetimes, … but rather in this lifetime, in this body. The story of his life takes him to exactly that goal, and establishes the real possibility for any human to take that path.”
Introduction from translator
“[This book is] a nosegay of precepts which can be understood only by putting them to the test of practice.”
The introduction compares the Kargyuetpa system of mystical insight to Christian gnosticism.
Milarepa, the Socrates of Asia, counted the world’s intellectualisms, its prizes, and its pleasures as naught; his supreme quest was for that personal discovery of Truth, which, as he teaches us, can be won only by introspection and self-analysis, through weighing life’s values on the scale of the Bodhi-illuminated mind.
Introduction from Rechung
This introduction expounds Milarepa’s accomplishments and virtues.
Milarepa’s student Rechung dreams that his guru is even greater than he knew. He is encouraged and inspired to ask Milarepa for his story. Milarepa consents and begins with his lineage and the origin of his name.
Mila = Oh Man!
Birthname, Thoe-Pa-Ga = Delightful To Hear
He and his sister grew up in comfort, then his father died.
Milarepa’s aunt and uncle take everything. His mother and sister live a hard life. He knows sorrow for the first time.
His mother asks him to study black magic and seek vengeance. She promises to pay his tuition. Milarepa finds a guru to teach him black magic. The guru listens sympathetically, but double-checks Milarepa’s story before agreeing to teach him magic strong enough for vengeance.
First, Milarepa caused an illusion that stirred up a group of horses. His aunt and uncle were spared, but their family was killed by the stampede.
Second, Milarepa caused hailstorms that destroyed the community’s barley crop just before harvest time.
Milarepa repents and seeks salvation. He finds a new guru, but his guru gives up and refers him to Marpa the Translator. He finds Marpa, who agrees to teach him, or feed and shelter him, but not both at the same time.
Milarepa has a tough time under his guru Marpa. He is instructed to use more black magic, and then he is instructed to pay penance. Marpa sets him on a series of construction projects, and then has him undo his work half-way through. Part of this is a strategem to deceive his neighbors and make it easier to construct a house in a disputed location. Part of it is to make Milarepa work off his karma. Milarepa develops terrible sores until his back is a solid sore. He becomes too sick to work for a while.
Milarepa seemed impressionable. I wonder whether Marpa treated Milarepa harshly to satisfy Milarepa’s desire for penance.
Marpa initiates Milarepa, explains all of his harsh behaviors, and blesses him.
Milarepa meditated in a cave for 11 months, somewhat similar to Swami Rama. At the end, his master asked him to discuss what he learned.
“This, our life, is the boundary-mark whence one may take an upward or downward path. Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or the other, for lasting good or lasting ill. I have understood this to be the chief end of our present term of life.
The ceremony of initiation conferreth the power of mastering deep and abstruse thoughts regarding the Final Goal.
To sum up, a vivid state of mental quiescence, accompanied by energy, and a keen power of analysis, by a clear and inquisitive intellect, are indispensable requirements; like the lowest rungs of a ladder, they are absolutely necessary to enable one to ascend. But in the process of meditating on this state of quiescence, by mental concentration, either on forms and shapes, or on formless and shapeless things, the very first effort must be made in a compassionate mood, with the aim of dedicating the merit of one’s efforts to the Universal Good. Secondly, the goal of one’s aspirations must be well defined and clear, soaring into the regions transcending thought. Finally, there is need of mentally praying and wishing for blessings on others so earnestly that one’s mind processes also transcend thought. These, I understand, to be the highest of all Paths.”
Milarepa has a vision about another religious text. Marpa travels to India to get it. Naropa predicts Marpa’s son’s death and the success of Marpa’s disciples. It comes to pass. Marpa asks his disciples to report their dreams. Milarepa’s dream is taken as a good omen for 4 disciples including Milarepa. Marpa entrusts each of his successors with a different spiritual path.
Milarepa had a bad dream about the fate of his mother, sister, and family property. His guru warns him that if he leaves, he will not meet his guru again in this life. Milarepa feels compelled to part and return home to check on his family. His guru sends him off in style with blessings and gifts.
Milarepa returns home to discover that his dream was true. His mother is dead and the family property is in ruins. Milarepa becomes determined to be a hermit and spend his life meditating.
Milarepa meditates in a cave. When he runs out of food, he begs. He encounters his aunt and uncle, who try to beat and kill him. He saves his life by singing a song to rouse his aunt’s conscience. He saves his life again by faking black magic to intimidate his uncle. He meets his betrothed and makes her the steward of the family land. He instructs her to give the land to his sister, or keep it if his sister dies.
“I am of course opposed to those hypocrites … who, having strong party feelings, strive for the victory of their own party and the defeat for the opposite party. But as for those who are sincere devotees, although they be of different sects and creeds, if their principle be not like the one mentioned above, then there cannot be much disagreement between the aim of the one or the other, so I cannot be opposed to any of them.”
Milarepa’s aunt contrives to gain possession of the family land. She strikes a deal to supply Milarepa with food in exchange for the land. She honors it for a time, and then contrives to scare Milarepa off with threats that the neighbors will be violent. Milarepa sees through his aunt’s deception, but gives her the property anyway. He does this to maintain the peace and to accelerate his own enlightenment by practicing a difficult patience.
Milarepa becomes a hermit and lives off water and nettles. He becomes emaciated and green-skinned. Milarepa’s sister and betrothed discover his location. They visit and give him good food. He has intense pain and cannot meditate. He opens a scroll his guru gave him to open during crisis. It gives him instructions for diet and yogic exercise. He becomes more enlightened and starts to gain psychic powers, including levitation.
He has a number of interesting encounters and conversations.
“Worldly folk regard with shame that which involveth no shame. But that which is really shameful is evil deeds and wily deception; these they do not feel shame in committing. They do not know what really is shameful and what is not.”
“Meditate upon, consider, and weigh deeply the serious facts contained in the biographies of previous saintly lives…”
Summarizes records about Milarepa.
Milarepa has a minor conflict with Pandit Geshe, who persuades his concubine to poison Milarepa. During this conflict, Milarepa exhibits psychic powers. Toward his death he sings hymns and preaches dharma to his disciples.