THE LIFE OF MILAREPA
Part I Chapter 2 - The Tasting of Sorrow
Then Retchung asked, 'O Master, you are said to have suffered many misfortunes after the death of your father. How did these evils come upon you?' Thus he pleaded, and the Master continued:
When I was about seven years old, my father, Mila Banner of Wisdom, was wasting away with a terrible disease. The doctors and magicians predicted that he would never get well and so abandoned him.
His relatives and friends also knew that he would not live. He himself was certain he would die. My uncle (Eternal Banner of Victory) and aunt (Glorious Contestant of Khyung) and all our relatives, close and distant friends, and prominent neighbors gathered together.
My father agreed to put his family and affirs in the care of a trustee. Then he made a detailed will to insure that his son should later take possession of his patrimony. And he read the will aloud for everyone to hear:
'To sum up clearly, since I shall not recover from my present illness and since my son is still small, here are the arrangements by which I entrust him to all his relatives and friends and especially to his uncle and aunt.
'In the mountains: my animals - yaks, horses, and sheep; in the valley, first of all, the field, Fertile Triangle, and several other parcels of land of which the poor are envious; under the house: cows, goats, and asses; in the loft: implements, gold, silver, copper, and iron, turquoise, fabrics, silk, and a granary. All of this makes up my wealth. In short, I have so much that I need not envy anyone. Take
a part of these riches for the expenses which will follow my death, as to the rest, I entrust everything to all of you assembled here until my son will be old enough to take care of his property. I entrust him completely to the care of his uncle and aunt.
'When this child is of an age to assume the family responsibilities let him marry Zessay, to whom he has been betrothed since childhood. Then let them receive all my goods without exception, and let my son take possession of his inheritance.
'During this time let the uncle, aunt, and near, relatives be aware of the joys and sorrows of my two children and their mother. Do not lead them into misery. After my death I shall be watching you from the realm of the dead.' Having thus spoken, he died.
Then the funeral rites were performed. All the relatives came to an agreement on the remainder of the possessions, and all, particularly the well-wishers, said, White Jewel, take charge of the property yourself. Do what you think is good.' But the uncle and aunt said, 'All here are your friends, but we, your near ones, will be better than friends. We shall do no wrong to the mother and children. In accordance with the will, we shall take charge of the property.
Without listening to the arguments of my mother's brother or of the family of Zessay, my uncle took the men's goods and my aunt the women's. The rest was divided in half. Then the aunt and uncle said: 'You, mother and children, will take turns to serve us.' We no longer had any control over our possessions. In summer, at the time for work in the fields, we were the servants of the uncle. In winter, while working with wool, we were the servants of the aunt. Our food was fit for dogs, our work for donkeys. For clothes, some strips of rags were thrown over our shoulders and held together with a rope of grass. Working without rest, our limbs became raw and sore. Due to bad food and poor clothing, we became pale and emaciated. Our hair, which at one time had fallen in curls of turquoise and gold, became sparse and gray, filled with nits and lice. Those with feeling, who saw or heard of this, shed tears. They spoke bluntly behind the backs of my uncle and aunt. As we were weighed down with misery, my mother said to my aunt, You are not the Glorious Contestant of Khyung, but rather Dumo Takdren, Demoness Equal of Tigers.' This name, Demoness Equal of Tigers, remained with my aunt.
In those days there was a well-known proverb: 'When the false master is master, the true master is driven out of the house like a dog.' This proverb aptly desclibed us, mother and children.
In the days when our father, Mila Banner of Wisdom, was there everyone, strong or weak, watched to see if our faces were smiling or sad. Later, when the uncle and aunt were as rich as kings, it was their faces, smiling or sad, which people regarded. The men said about my mother, How true is the proverb: To a rich husband, an able wife: from soft wool, good cloth." Now that the husband is no longer there, it is as the proverb says. In times past, when her husband was master and held up his head, White Jewel was courageous and wise, as well as a good cook. Now, she is weak and timid.' Even those who had served us mocked us. Thus they acted according to the proverb 'One man's misery is another man's fun.'
The parents of Zessay gave me boots and new clothing, and said, 'Do not think you are poor when riches pass away, since they are said to be ephemeral like the dew in the meadow. In the past your ancestors did not become rich until quite late. For you also the time of abundance will come again.' And speaking in this way, they consoled us.
At last I reached my fifteenth year. There was at this time a field given to my mother as a dowry by her parents, called by the not very beautiful name of Trede Tenchung (Little Fur Carpet), which nevertheless produced an excellent harvest. My mother's brother had cultivated it himself, and had done everything he could to store away its yield.
Thus he had secretly collected a surplus of grain which he sold to buy a great quantity of meat. With white barley, flour was made. With black barley, beer was made for a feast, which he said was to reclaim the patrimony of White Jewel and her children. Then my mother borrowed carpets and put them in my house called Four Columns and Eight Beams.
She first invited my uncle and aunt, then close relatives, intimate friends, and neighbors, and finally those who had knowledge of the will written by my father, Mila Banner of Wisdom. To my uncle and aunt she presented a whole animal; to the others, according to their rank, a quarter of an animal or a third of a quarter. And she gave them beer in porcelain cups.
Then my mother stood up in the middle of the assemblage and said, 'When a son is born he is given a name. When one is summoned to a beer feast this means it time to talk. I have something to say to all of you gathered here, both uncle and aunt, and the older ones who remember the last words of Mila Banner of Wisdom at the moment of his death.' So she spoke. And my mother's brother read the will. Then my mother continued, 'I do not need to explain to the older people who are here the terms of this will. Until now, the uncle and aunt have taken the trouble to direct us, both mother and children, in all things. Now my son and Zessay are old enough to have their own home. This is why I beg you, restore to us the goods which were entrusted to you, let my son marry Zessay and take possession of his patrimony according to the will.'
Thus she spoke. The uncle and aunt, who almost never concurred, became united in their greed. On our side, I was an only son. On their side, they had many children.
And so my uncle and aunt retorted with one voice, You have goods? Where are they? In former times, when Mila Banner of Wisdom was in good health, we loaned him a house, fields, gold, turquoise, dzos(1), horses, yaks, and sheep. At the time of his death he returned these goods to their owner. Do you possess a single piece of gold? A single ounce of butter? A single garment? A single scrap of silk? We have not even seen the hoof of an animal. Who has written this will? We have had the goodness to nourish you when you were orphaned and destitute, so that you would not die of hunger. The proverb "As soon as they have power, greedy men will even measure out water" is indeed true.
Haying said this, the uncle snuffled, blew his nose, got up quickly, snapped his fingers, shook the panel of his skirt, stamped his foot, and said, 'What is more, even this house belongs to me. So, orphans, get out.' Saying this, he slapped my mother and struck my sister and me with the sleeve of his chuba(2).
Then my mother cried out, 'Father Mila Banner of Wisdom, see the fate of your family. You said you would watch us from the realm of the dead. Look at us now.' Thus she spoke and, weeping, she fell and rolled on the ground. We children could do nothing for her but weep. My mother's brother, fearing my uncle's many sons, could not fight back. People of the village, who loved us, said they felt sorry for us and there was not one of them who did not weep, the others present sighed deeply.
The uncle and aunt said to me, 'You demand your goods, but you already have a great deal. You prepared a feast for the neighbors and the people of the village without regard for the beer and the meat you squandered. We do not have such wealth. Even if we did, we would not give them to you, miserable orphans. So if you are many, make war on us. If you are few, cast spells.' With these words, they went away. Afterward, their friends also left.
My mother wept without ceasing while her brother, Zessay's parents, and our friends remained to console her, saying, 'Do not cry; tears serve nothing. Ask for something from each one who has come to the feast. Everybody here will give you what you need, even the uncle and aunt may give you something good.'
My mother's brother then said, 'Do as they say and send your son to learn a skill. Then you, mother and daughter, can live with me and work in my fields. It is always good to occupy yourself with something useful. In any case, you must do something so as not to be helpless in front of your uncle and aunt.' My mother replied, Dispossessed of all my goods, I have never begged for anything to raise my children. I will not accept from the uncle and aunt a single piece of my own property. Persecuted by the uncle and aunt we will run at the sound of the drum, and run when the smoke rises(3). We shall put them to shame. After that, I myself will till my field.'
In the region of Tsa, in the village of Mithogekha, there was a master magician of the Nyingmapa Order, very much in demand in the villages, who knew the cult of the Eight Nagas(4). My mother sent me to him to learn how to read. At the same time, our relatives, offering us their own goods, gave each of us a few things. The parents of Zessay brought me supplies of oil and firewood and, to console me, they even sent Zessay to where I was learning to read. My maternal uncle fed my mother and sister and thus they did not have to beg or work somewhere else.
Because her brother would not allow her to become destitute, my mother did work at home, one day spinning, the next day weaving. In this way she obtained some money and what was necessary for us, her children. My sister worked for others as much as she could to earn food and clothing. She ran at the sound of the drum and ran when the smoke was rising.
Suffering from hunger, our clothing in tatters and spirits low, we were not happy.
Thus the Master spoke. As he said these words all the listeners were deeply moved and, with grief in their hearts, remained silent for a moment, shedding tears. This is the second chapter, laying bare to the highest degree the reality of sorrow.
1. Dzo. Cross-breed of the yak and the common cow.
2. Chuba. The sleeves of the Tibetan chuba, when they are folded back, go from the elbow beyond the hands and can serve as a whip.
3. We will run at the sound of the drum, and run when the smoke rises. This expression refers to the condition of destitutes and beggars looking for alms, especially from homes where religious rites are taking place with sounds of music, such as drums, and where smoke is rising from the kitchen climney. On such occasions patrons distribute cooked food.
4. Cult of the Eight Nagas. The Eight Nagas as the eight Serpent-Gods.
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