THE LIFE OF MILAREPA
Part I Chapter 1 -The Lineage and Birth
The story is heralded by the following preface:
O marvel! While residing at the dwelling cave called Dopapuhk (Stomach Like Cave) in Nyanang, the renowned Master, Mila Zhepa Dorje (Laughing Vajra), a Heruka supreme among all yogins(1), was surrounded by his great disciples and followers, the awakened yogins(1) and great Bodhisattvas: Retchung Dorje Drakpa (Renowned Vajra), Shiwa O Repa (Calm Light), Repa of Ngandzong, Repa of Seban, Khira Repa (The Hunter), Repa of Digom, Repa of Len, Sangye Kyab Repa (Enlightened Protector), Shengom Repa (Hermit of Shen), Dampa Gyakpuhwa (Saint of Gyakpuh), Master Shakyaguna, and others. Also the women devotees: Legse Bum (Hundred Thousand Virtues) and Shen Dormo (Vajra of Shen), together with other lay disciples. Also among the assembly were Tshering Chenga (the Five Immortal Sisters) and other dakinis who achieved subtle bodies. There were still others - gods, men, and women - who had assembled there. The Master was setting in motion the Wheel of Sacred Law in accordance with the teaching of Mahayana.
At that time Retchung was in deep contemplation in his cell. For a whole night he had this dream: In an enchanting country called Ugyen (Abode of the Dakinis) he entered a great city where houses were built and tiled with precious material. The inhabitants of this city were of enchanting beauty, dressed in silk and adorned with ornaments of bone and precious stones. They did not speak, but only smiled joyfully and exchanged glances.
Among them was a woman disciple of the Lama Tepuhwa, named Bharima, whom Retchung had known earlier in Nepal. She was dressed in red robes and seemed to be their leader. She said to Retchung, Nephew, you have come! Welcome. Having said this, she led him to a mansion made of precious stones and filled with a myriad of treasures to delight the senses. She treated him as an honored guest and set before him a great feast of food and drink.
Then she said, 'At this moment, the Buddha Mikyupa, the Immutable, is teaching the Doctrine at Ugyen. Nephew, if you wish to hear him I will ask his permission.'
Longing to hear him, Retchung answered, 'Yes, yes!' And they left together.
At the center of the city, Retchung saw a great high throne of precious materials. Upon this throne sat the Buddha Immutable, resplendent and more sublime than he had visualized Him in meditation. He was teaching the Doctrine in the midst of an ocean of disciples. At this sign, drunk with joy, Retchung thought he would faint. Then Bharima said to him, 'Nephew, stay here for a moment. I will ask the Buddha's permission.'
She went forward and was granted her wish. Led by her, Retchung prostrated himself at the feet of the Buddha. He asked for a blessing and remained before him listening to the teaching.
The Buddha gazed at him for a moment with a smile, and Retchung thought to himself, 'He is thinking of me with compassion.' While listening to the history of the births and lives of the Buddas and Bodhisattvas, the hairs on Retchung's body vibrated, and he believed.
Finally, the Buddha told the story of Tilopa, Naropa, and Marpa,(2) which was even more astonishing than the preceding ones. And those who listened felt their faith grow.
When he had finished, the Buddha said, 'Tomorrow I shall tell the story of Milarepa, a story still more wonderful than the ones I have just told. Let everyone come to hear it.'
Then some of the disciples said, 'If there are works more wonderful than the ones we have just heard, their miraculousness exceeds all bounds.' Others said, 'The virtues which have just been revealed are the fruit of spiritual merits accumulated during innumerable births and through the elimination of delusion and desire. Milarepa, in one life and in one body, reached an equal perfection.' The first ones then said, 'Well, if we do not ask for such a wonderful teaching for the good of sentient beings, we shall be unworthy disciples. We must try to get it with wholehearted effort and courage.'
Another asked, 'Where is Milarepa now?' Someone answered, 'He is either in the Buddha realm of Ngonga or Ogmin.(3)" Then Retchung thought, 'Actually, the Master is living in Tibet. All these remarks have no other aim than to awaken my ardor, therefore I certainly must ask for the story of the Master for the benefit of all beings.' As Retchung was thinking in this way, Bharima took him by the hand and shook him, saying, 'Nephew, you have understood!'
Retchung awoke as dawn was breaking. He felt his inner perception had never been more lucid or his contemplation firmer. Recollecting the dream, he continued to reflect. 'I have heard the Buddha Immutable teaching among the dakinis of Ugyen. That is indeed marvelous. But it is still more marvelous to have met my venerated Master, Mila. To have heard the Buddha Immutable is a blessing from the venerated Master. It was said that the Master lives in Ngonga or Ogmin.' And Retchung berated himself saying, 'How stupid to think that the Master lives in Tibet! That is placing yourself on his level and already showing disrespect. First of all, since the Master is Buddha in body, speech, and mind, his actions are inconceivably great and profound. And you, ignorant fool, forgot that wherever the Master is, that place is always Ogmin and Ngonga. He who was teaching the Doctrine in my dream and those who listened to him, Bharima and the others, indicated that I should ask the Master for his story. And so I shall ask.'
Feeling extraordinary veneration for the Master, he prayed to him from the depths of his heart and from the very marrow of his bones. While he was absorbed in contemplation for a few moments, in a mixture of torpor and lucidity, he saw five beautiful young girls standing before him wearing the diadem and robes of Ugyen, one white, the others blue, yellow, red, and green. One of them said, 'The story of Milarepa will be told tomorrow, let us go and listen.'
A second said, 'Who will ask for it?' Another answered, The great spiritual sons will ask for it.' At the same time, their eyes were smiling at Retchung.
The young girl added, 'Everyone would be happy to hear such a marvelous teaching, so it is fitting that each of us ask for it with prayers.' And another continued, 'It is up to the elder disciples to ask for the story. Our own task is to propagate and protect the teaching.' After these words the girls vanished like a rainbow.
Then Retchung awoke from his trance. The dawning sun rose resplendent in the sky. He thought in his heart, 'I understand the dream as a direction given by the Five Immortal Sisters.'
In an active state of awareness, Retchung prepared his meal. When he was satisfied and cheerful, he went to find the Master and saw him surrounded by monks, disciples, and lay devotees, forming a colorful throng. Retchung prostrated himself and asked the Master about his health. Then, remaining on his knees and joining the palms of his hands, he addressed this prayer to the Master:
'Venerable and precious Master, long ago for the good of sentient beings, the Buddhas of the past told the story of the twelve labors of their lives and other inconceivable works of liberation. In this way the teaching of the Buddha has spread throughout the world. In our day, fortunate seekers have the possibility of being guided on the way to liberation because Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, and other saints have told their own stories.
'O Precious Master, for the joy of your disciples, for the fortunate ones who will be your disciples in the future, and finally for the sake of guiding other sentient beings on the way to liberation, tell us, O Compassionate Master, the origin of your family, tell us your story and your works.' So he pleaded.
Then, with smiling face, the Master answered, 'Because you ask, Retchung, I shall grant your prayer.
'The name of my clan is Khyungpo, my family name is Josay, and my name is Milarepa. 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.'
So he spoke. Retchung prostrated himself and said this prayer:
'O Precious Master, at first through terrible asceticism and determination, you penetrated the hidden truths. By applying yourself wholly to meditation you have attained awakening to the real nature of things and to the state of emptiness. Free from the bonds of karma, you are beyond future suffering. This is common knowledge to us all. That is why there is an incomparable interest in your descent from Khyungpo, in your family Josay, in the reason you were called Mila, and in why the black deeds you committed at first and the good deeds of your maturity may cause tears and laughter. Thinking with compassion of all sentient beings and not remaining in the depths of equanimity, please tell us the whole of your story. All of you, brothers and sisters of the Path, and lay disciples brought here by your faith, join me in my prayer.'
Having spoken thus, Retchung made several prostrations. And when the foremost disciples, spiritual sons, and faithful followers had prostrated themselves, all voiced the same prayer as Retchung, asking that the Master turn the Wheel of the Law.
Then the Venerable Master spoke as follows:
Since you ask me with such pressing insistence, I will no longer hide my life from you, but will reveal it now. My tribe descends from the great clan of herdsmen in the Northern Center. Its name is Khyungpo. My ancestor was a yogin named Josay, the son of a Nyingmapa(4) lama. Inspired by his yidam, he acquired great powers through mantra(5). He also visited the holy places of the country and their shrines.
In the north, in Upper Tsang, he was welcomed in the village of Chungpachi. In this region he subdued evil demons. His powers made him very useful, so that his influence and the importance of his work increased. He was named Khyungpo Josay and lived in this region for several years. Whoever fell ill called upon him.
Once there was a terrible demon who could not come near Josay, but whom no one else could withstand. The demon persecuted a family which had little faith in Josay. This family called upon another lama to perform the exorcisms. But the demon only laughed and mocked, continuing to torment them.
At this point a relative who believed in Josay secretly advised the family to send for him. He quoted the proverb One even uses dog fat if it cures the wound.' And they sent for Khyungpo Josay.
When he came near the demon, Josay drew himself up proudly and cried out with a loud voice: 'I, Khyungpo Josay, have come. I shall eat the flesh of demons and drink their blood. Just wait!' As he spoke he lunged forward. The demon was panic-stricken and screamed out with terror, Papa Mila! Papa Mila!(6) When Josay approached him, the demon said, 'I have always stayed out of your way, so spare my life.' Josay made him swear never again to hurt anyone and sent him away.
From this moment on, everyone called him Mila to illustrate the power of Josays virtues, and Josay kept Mila as the family name. Since the demon did no more harm, everyone assumed he had been born into another realm of existence.
After this, Khyungpo Josay took a woman and had a son. This son had two sons and he called the eldest Mila Dhoton Senge (Lionlike Master of Sutras). The latter had a son called Mila Dorje Senge (Vajra Lion). From this time on, each descendant had only one son.
Mila Vajra Lion was a very clever dice player and was able to win much by it. Now in this region there was a man from a powerful family, a cheat, who was also clever with dice. One day, to test the strength of Mila Vajra Lion, he began by playing a little game to take the measure of his adversary. On this particular day he did what was necessary to win. Displeased, Mila Vajra Lion said to him, Tomorrow, I will get even with you.'
'Very well,' said the other.
The cheat raised the stakes, and let himself be beaten three times. Then he said, 'Now, I must get even.' Both having agreed to the stakes, they wagered irrevocably their fields, their houses, and their entire fortunes. They bound themselves by a written contract and played. The cheat won and took possession by placing his family in charge of the fieds, the house, and all the goods.
Thereupon the two Milas, father and son, left the region. Arriving in the village of Kya Ngatsa, in Gungthang near Mangyul, they settled down. The father, Mila Lionlike Master of Sutras, was called to the houses of people living there to read the sacred books. Offer sacrificial effigies(7), protect them from hailstorms, and save children from evil spirits. Much in demand, he accumulated many gifts. In the winter, Vajra Lion traveled to do business in the south of Nepal; in the summer, he went among herdsmen of the north. On minor business, he traveled between Mangyul and Gungthang. In this way the father and son amassed great wealth.
At this time, Mila Vajra Lion loved a village girl and married her. They had a son whom they named Mila Banner of Wisdom. When this son was nearly grown up, his grandfather, Mila Lionlike Master of Sutras, died. After he had concluded the funeral ceremonies. Mila Vajra Lion increased his wealth still more through trade, and became richer than before.
In the neighborhood of Tsa(8), there was a man named Worma who had a field of good earth, triangular in shape. After procuring gold and merchandise from the north and from the south, Mila Vajra Lion bought this field and naimed it Fertile Triangle.
On the edge of this field, there were the ruins of a house belonging to their neighbor. Mila Vajra Lion bought that also and laid the foundations of a manor house. During the construction of the house, Mila Banner of Wisdom reached his twentieth year.
At Tsa, in the noble family of Nyang, there was a very beautiful girl named White Jewel. She was skillful at housekeeping and as extreme in her love for her friends as in her hatred of her enemies. Mila Banner of Wisdom married her and called her Nyangtsha Kargyen (White Jewel Of Nyang).
Thereafter the construction of the manor house was continued. On the third floor they built a courtyard with a granary and a kitchen along one side. This house was the most pleasant in Kya Ngatsa. Since it had four columns and eight beams, it was called Four Columns and Eight Beams. The father and son lived there, joining happiness with a good name.
Some time later, at Chungpachi, after hearing of the fame of the father and son, the son of the first cousin of Mila Vajra Lion, named Yungdrung Gyaltshen (Eternal Banner Of Victory), left his part of the country and came to Kya Ngatsa with his wife, children, and sister, Khyung-Tsha Peydon (Glorious Contestant Of Khyung).
Mila Banner Of Wisdom, having brought many goods from the south, had gone to sell them in the north near Tiger Point and was away for a long time. White Jewel was then pregnant. It was in the middle of autumn in the year of the Water Dragon(9) under the star Victorious of the eighth constellation, on the twenty-fifth day of the moon, that my mother gave birth to me. She sent a message to my father. The letter said: 'Here at the time of harvest, I have given birth to a son. Come quickly to name him and celebrate his name day.' When he delivered the letter, the messenger told him the whole story.
My father was filled with joy. He exclaimed, 'Marvelous! My son already has his name. In my family there has never been more than one son in each generation. This son born to me I shall call Good News, since the news brings joy. Now that I have finished my business, I shall leave.' And he went home. This is how I was given the name Good News, which was celebrated by a joyous name-day festival.
I was raised with love and, hearing only gentle voices, I was happy. So all men said, 'This Good News has been well named.'
When I reached my fourth year, my mother gave birth to a girl who was named Gonkyi (Happy Protectress). Since her nickname was Peta, she was called Peta Gonkyi (Peta Happy Protectress). I remember our silken hair, hers of gold and mine of turquoise, falling on our shoulders.
In this region our words were listened to with respect and we were all-powerful. Therefore the nobles of the region were our allies and the peasants were in our service. Although we had all these privileges, the villagers in their secret meetings used to say, 'These foreigners were immigrants to this region and now they are greater and richer than any of us. The farmhouse and field implements and the jewels of the men and the women are a sight to behold.'
All his wishes fulfilled, Mila Vajra Lion died. His funeral ceremonies were lavishly performed.
Thus spoke Milarepa, and this is the first chapter, which is that of his birth.
1. Yogin is Sanskrit and yogi is Hindi.
2. Tilopa, Naropa and Marpa. The two main lineages of the Kagyupa Order are Ringyu (Ring-bryud), the long line of teachers in the exoteric tradition, and Nyegyu (Nye-bryund), the short line of teachers (otherwise described as the direct lineage). This latter lineage descends from the great teacher Tilopa, who received the secret oral transmission concerning the esoteric teachings, particularly those that later came to be known as the Six Doctrines of Naropa.
3. Ngonga and Ogmin: names for the Pure Land of Buddha.
4. Nyingmapa. The ancient Order, known also as the school of the Old Translations, originated in the eighth century under Guru Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra, both of whom came to Tibet from India. It is one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism still existing today outside Tibet.
5. Mantra. A mantra is either a single syllable or set of syllables looked upon as sacred.
6. Papa Mila! Father, what a man! Father, what a man! In Tibetan, mi means man and la is a necessary reinforcing exclamation. Thus the expression, Father (papa), what a man!
7. Sacrificial effigies. The use of sacrificial effigies originates in the ancient customs of Tibets native religion called Bon, a form of nature worship. Effigies of men, women, and even domestic animals formed from wood-blocks or made out of soft dough glazed with colored butter are offered to gods and spirits as ranson to secure release of the victims from their evil influence. Rites are performed at homes either by lay spiritualists or sometimes Buddhist tantric monks.
8. Tsa. Abbreviation for Kya Ngatsa.
9. The year of the Water Dragon. The year is 1052 of the Christian era.
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