Milarepa Day

After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s, a chain of human communication was threatened with breaking.

Two thousand five hundred years of continual communication of a spiritual tradition.  Twenty-five hundred years ago when Buddhism arrived in Tibet, the native spiritual tradition, Bon was not discarded by the great teacher Padmasambhava, an Indian spiritual adept who is credited with transmitting Buddhism to Tibet (and, according to the linked Wiki, Bhutan as well).

Transmitted.  That is an important word.

But first, today is Milarepa Day.

Milarepa

The link is to the Shambhala website (and the Shambhala organization), and will figure into all this later.

So back to the idea of transmission.  Because I don’t think I could dig Milarepa in a meaningful way without having even a small understanding of what transmission means in Tibetan Buddhism.

Fortunately, I only have a small understanding of what transmission means, so hopefully this essay won’t be too long.

So this is 2,500 years ago and a new spiritual tradition (well, because it was new, it wasn’t yet a tradition, of course) is melded with the shamanistic tradition of Bon, and all this information must be transmitted accurately to future generations and there’s no electronic media or even a written language yet.

To make a long story short, there were a group of folks 2,500 years ago who set up a system by which spiritual information could be transmitted from person to person and that system became part of the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, which are Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug (the Dalai Lama is Gelug, the Karmapa is Kagyu).

To my view, these lineages are not different “sects” or anything like that.  From my own Jewish tradition, I am aware of masters and disciples who transmitted information down through the generations, so I had some bit of knowledge to understand the concept when I first became aware of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

Milarepa was of the Kagyu lineage.  The “transmission” was still really fresh, as he was only a couple generations removed from Padmasambhava and he had superior teachers.  According to his legend, he went through all sorts of trials and tribulations before achieving enlightenment.

Milarepa wrote many “dohas,” which are songs of realization, spontaneous creative, poetic expressions … well I’ll defer to a famous Twentieth Century Kagyu master, Choygam Trungpa (the founder of the Shambhala lineage, btw) to describe a doha (this excerpt is from Trungpa Rinpoche’s introduction to The Rain of Wisdom, translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee under the direction of Choygam Trungpa):

… these songs should be regarded as the best of the butter which has been churned from the ocean of milk of the Buddha’s teachings.  Reading these songs or even glancing at a paragraph of this literature always brings timely messages of how to conduct ourself, how to discipline oneself, and how to reach accomplishment.  Furthermore, these songs are pithy and direct.  Their wisdom is both old and new.  It is old because it is a tradition of twenty-five hundred years; it is new because it directs itself to one’s very moment of mind, at this very second.

These songs should not be regarded as ordinary poetry, as a purely literary endeavor.  They are the insight of our forefathers, conceived, described and proclaimed.  The reason we refer to them as songs is because they are based on the melody of circumstance, and on meditative experience.  They are cosmic onomatopoeia, the best expression of sanity.  Traditionally, they are known as vajra dohas.

One of those “forefathers” of Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche is the Kagyu master, Milarepa.

The book “The Rain of Wisdom” is a collection of these songs from the first Tibetan masters who studied under the Indian Padmasambhava, to the final doha, a song from Choygam Trungpa himself, who under great hardship was able to transmit the meaning of the Kagyu lineage not only through the generations, but to transplant it from one land and culture to another (I’m typing this from the book itself, as they are not online).

These are not short songs, but if anyone is interested, I’m going to post one by Milarepa and, 2,500 years later, the closing doha of the book from Choygam Trungpa.

The Virtues of Realizing the Futility of Samsara


Kye ma, kye ma, kyi hu, kyi hu, ang!

For those who rely on the dharmas of samsara:

Thinking and thinking, sadness arises again and again;

Doing and doing, suffering is stirred up from the depths;

Whirling and whirling, they are cast into the depths of samsara.

Depressed like this and caught by karma,

What should I do?  What should I do?  There is nothing

    better than the dharma.

Vajradhara, lord whose essence is Aksobhya,

Grant your blessings so that this lowly one may keep to retreat.

In the city of impermanence and illusion,

The traveler on a long journey becomes depressed.

In the Got valley of Kungthang, a wonderful land,

The pasture, food for yaks, sheep, cows, and goats,

These days is owned by ghosts.

This also is an example of impermanence and illusion.

With this example, this yogin will practice the dharma.

The home of four pillars and eight beams

These days is like the upper jaw of a lion.

This house of four corners and four walls, which make

    eight, and a roof which makes nine

These days looks like donkey ears.

This is also an example of impermanence and illusion.

With this example, this yogin will practice the dharma.

This low-lying field called Ormo

These days is the homeland for weeds.

My family and kin from whom I had hoped for help

These days are the troops of the enemy.

This also is an example of impermanence and illusion.

With this example, this yogin will practice the dharma.

Good father, Thopa Sewa,

These days is a handful of bone powder.

Mother, Nyangza Kargyen,

These days is just a rib cage.

This is also an example of impermanence and illusion.

With this example, this yogin will practice the dharma.

Lhabum, the resident monk,

These days is the servant of other people.

The holy dharma book, the Ratnakuta,

These days has become nest material for birds and rats

This also is an example of impermanence and illusion.

With this example, this yogin will practice the dharma.

My neighbor, Uncle Yungpal,

These days has joined with my hostile enemies.

Sister, Peta Paldrenma,

There is no way of following where she has wandered.

This also is an example of impermanence and illusion.

With this example, this yogin will practice the dharma.

Vajradhara, lord whose essence is Aksobhya,

Grant your blessings so that this lowly one may keep in retreat.

And here is a doha from Choygam Trungpa.

Sad Song of the Four Remembrances

As I look constantly to the Great Eastern Sun,

Remembering the only father guru,

Overwhelming devotion blazes like a bonfire–

I, Chokyi Gyatso, remain alone.

Having been abandoned by my heart friends,

Though my feverish mind feels great longing,

It is joyful that I am sustained by this great confidence

Of the only father guru and the Great Eastern Sun.

Having seen the beauty of a mist covering the mountain,

The pines moving gently in the wind,

The firm power of rock-hard earth,

I am constantly reminded of the splendor and beauty

Of the only father guru and the Great Eastern Sun.

Wild flowers extend everywhere

On mountain meadows filled with the sweet smell of

    fragrant herbs.

Seeing the gentle deer frolicking from place to place,

I constantly remember the compassion and gentleness

Of the only father guru and the Great Eastern Sun.

Fighting enemies in the chasm of love and hate,

Having sharpened the weapon’s point of joy and

    sorrow, hope and fear,

Seeing again and again these cowardly hordes,

I take refuge in the sole confidence

Of the only father guru and the Great Eastern Sun.

Fatherless, always dwelling in foreign lands,

Motherless, not hearing the speech of my own country,

Friendless, tears not quenching my thirst,

Remembering the warriors of the father and mother

    lineages,

I live alone in the sole blessing

Of the only father guru and the Great Eastern Sun

Amid all the smoke and mirrors of what Buddhists call “samsara,” there is the light of truth which cannot be extinguished.  Happy Milarepa Day to all.

9 comments

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  1. … of Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche:

    choygam trungpa

  2. Born in the village of Kya Ngatsa – also known as Tsa – in Gungthang province of western Tibet to a prosperous family he was named Mila Thöpaga (Thos-pa-dga’), which means “A joy to hear.” The name of his clan was Khyungpo, his family name was Josay. When his father died, Milarepa’s uncle and aunt took all of the family’s wealth. At his mother’s request, Milarepa left home and studied sorcery. While his aunt and uncle were having a party to celebrate the impending marriage of their son, he took his revenge by summoning a giant hail storm to demolish their house, killing 35 people, although the uncle and aunt are supposed to have survived. The villagers were angry and set off to look for Milarepa, but his mother got word to him and he sent a hailstorm to destroy their crops.  …snip

    Milarepa later lamented his evil ways in his older years: “In my youth I committed black deeds. In maturity I practiced innocence. Now, released from both good and evil, I have destroyed the root of karmic action and shall have no reason for action in the future. To say more than this would only cause weeping and laughter. What good would it do to tell you? I am an old man. Leave me in peace.”

    Bon still exists in Nepal and Tibet.  I have a friend who is a Bon Khenpo.  Anyway, Tibetan Buddhism contains much of Bon, and Bon has been influenced by Buddhism, too.

    The sorcery Milarepa was engaged in was not Bon.  It was “black magic,” something disapproved of in Bon.  It involved the use of allies who were dangerous, like most other kinds of sorcery.

    Thanks for essay.    

  3. Padmasambhava is said to have transformed himself into a flying Tiger to reach the monastery at Long Tan. That, they say, looked like this.

    • banger on February 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    We live in such paradoxical times that cannot be easily understood or even encompassed by our conventional Western methods. Only the cultivation of the inner life can keep the psyche refreshed. This should always be our first task — anything else, particularly focusing on the shortcomings of others will cause us to lose our power.

    We must work in the world by trusting our inner promptings that come from that dharma “place”. I try to do this everyday.

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