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23 November, 2012

Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa: Life

Bhutanese painted thanka of Milarepa (1052-1135),
Late 19th-early 20th Century, Dhodeydrag Gonpa, Thimphu, Bhutan
Overlooking Pelgyeling Gompa at Milarepa's Cave, Tibet

The nine storey tower
that Milarepa single-handedly built,
Sekhar Gutok, Lhodrag, Tibet


       About five centuries after Bodhidharma arrived in China from India, a man from Tibet called Marpa travelled to India.  And whereas Bodhidharma came to teach the Way, Marpa went to learn it.  He spent two decades at a school, and became enlightened; then he returned to his home.  He soon gained a reputation for great wisdom, and attracted disciples from throughout that mountainous land.  The greatest of these disciples - who became even greater than Marpa himself - was called Milarepa.
       Milarepa's father was one of the wealthiest men in Tibet, with a large estate and a fine mansion; his mother was renowned for her beauty.  At the age of six Milarepa was betrothed to a cousin called Zessay.  A year later Milarepa's father caught a fatal disease.  He summoned his relatives to his bedside, and declared: Until my son reaches adulthood, I entrust my property to my brother and his wife.
       As soon as the funeral rites were over, Milarepa's uncle and aunt moved into the mansion.  They forced Milarepa and his mother to live in a small but nearby, and to work as servants in  the mansion.  And they employed ten large men to protect themselves.  When Milarepa reached adulthood, they claimed that his father had intended that they should keep the mansion and estate permanently.
      Milarepa's mother was furious, and poisoned by hatred.  She sent her son to the great magician Yung, to learn how to destroy the wicked uncle and aunt.  And she gave him her own small inheritance, in order to pay Yung.


       Yung taught Milarepa his most deadly magic, and Milarepa began to cast spells.  His uncle and aunt suffered two terrible misfortunes: a hailstorm destroyed all their crops; and one night soon afterwards a fire broke out in the wing of the mansion where their children were sleeping, and burnt them all to death.
       Milarepa's mother was delighted to see her enemies suffer.  But, Milarepa was filled with remorse.  When Yung saw Milarepa's reaction, he said: 'You are too good to be a magician.  Go to the great sage Marpa, and learn the Way.'  Milarepa had heard of neither Marpa nor the Way; and he asked Yung for directions to Marpa's house.
       Milarepa walked for several days across the mountains.  When he reached the region where Marpa lived, he saw a fat, ruddy-faced man plowing a field.  'Where is Marpa's house? he asked.  'If you finish plowing this field; the man replied, I shall show you.'  Milarepa took the plow; and the man immediately walked away.  Milarepa felt obliged to finish plowing the field.  Then he followed the man.
       He came to a small white house, and went inside.  He was surprised to find that the man was now dressed in a yellow robe.  'I am looking for Marpa', Milarepa said, 'I am he', the man replied.  'I wish to follow the Way'.  Milarepa said, 'I can only teach you', Marpa said, 'if you submit yourself to me in body, as well as in mind'.  Milarepa agreed.
       The next day Marpa said:  'I want you to build me a tower, six stories high.  When you have completed it, I shall teach you all the wisdom I learnt in India'.


       So Milarepa began to build a tower, collecting large stones and laying them one on top of the other.  when it was three stories high, Marpa came, and said:  'This is the wrong site; it should be on the western crest of the mountain'.  so Milarepa pulled down what he had built, and repeated his work on the western crest.
       When the tower was three stories high, Marpa came, and said:  'You are building it the wrong shape.  It's round, and it should be square'.  So Marpa pulled down what he had built, and reconstructed it on square foundations.  As soon as it was finished, he went to Marpa, and begged to be taught.  'How tall is it?'  Marpa asked, 'Six stories', Milarepa replied.  'I want it ten stories high', Marpa declared; 'only then shall I teach you'.
       Milarepa was now utterly miserable; his hands were covered in sores from lifting stones, and every joint in his body was aching.  So he decided to leave; and that might he slipped away.  But at dawn the next day he said to himself:  'I made a vow to submit myself to Marpa in body as well as in mind.  I cannot break it'.  So he turned round, and slowly trudged back.
       As Milarepa reached the house, Marpa came to the door, smiled broadly, embraced him, and declared:  'My son!'  During the following weeks Marpa taught Milarepa all that he knew.  Then he said to Milarepa:  'You must now go and live in a cave, and meditate alone'.  He directed Milarepa to a cave halfway up a steep cliff, gave him food for a year, and promised to visit him each year with more food.


       Milarepa remained for eleven years in the cave; and each year Marpa brought him food.  At the end of that time Milarepa said to Marpa:  'Will you release me from my vow?  I feel impelled to return home'.  'You are destined to become a great teacher', Marpa replied; 'and your return home is part of your preparation.  therefore I release you'.
       Milarepa walked across the mountain for several days until he reached the place of his childhood.  The mansion was now a ruin, and a herdsman was sheltering in it; he told Milarepa that his uncle and aunt had been so stricken with grief at the death of their children, that they had given up farming, and now lived in a small hut.  Milarepa then went to his mother's house.  It too was a ruin; and a neighbor told him that his mother had died some years earlier.
       He now visited the home of Zessay's parents, to inquire about her; and he found Zessay still living there.  'Why have you not married?' he asked her.  'Since you went off to learn magic', she replied, 'no man dared to marry me, for fear that you would cast an evil spell on him'.  Milarepa was filled with guilt.  He did not know what to say; so he turned his back, and left.
       Nearby was one of the highest mountains in Tibet.  He climbed almost to the top, where he found a cave.  As a penance for the harm he had caused to Zessay, and to his uncle and aunt, he vowed to remain on the mountain for the rest of his life.  He ate only the nettles that grew on the mountain slopes; and gradually his skin turned green.


      One day a group of hunters passed by the cave, and went inside for shelter from the cold wind.  They were astonished to see inside a naked, green man, so thin that every bone was visible under his skin.  He was deep in meditation, so he did not notice them.  After staring at him for several minutes, they left.  when they returned home, they mentioned to friends what they had seen; and soon the story of the green man on the mountain spread throught the region.
      Zessay knew in her heart that the man was Milarepa; and despite the harm he had done to her, she overflowed with love for him - and wanted to look after him.  So she wrapped herself in her warmest clothes, filled a bag with food, and climbed the mountain.  When she arrived, she called out:  'Milerapa'.  Even though he was meditating, the familiar sound of her voice alerted him; and he came to her.  She was aghast at his appearance.  'You are no more than a skeleton!;  she exclaimed.  She offered him one of her tunics, but he refused.  'At least you must wear a cloth over your penis', she said.  'I have no cause for shame', he replied; 'I am as I have been made'.
       'Are you happy?'  Zessay asked.  'When I came to this cave, I was deeply troubled', Milarepa replied; 'but now I am numb, both in my mind and in body - I feel nothing'.  Then he asked Zessay if she was happy.  'No', she replied; 'I can find no peace'.  With these words she opened her bag of food, and they both ate.  And when they were satisfied, they embraced.  Then Milarepa took Zessay to a cave nearby, where she could make her home.


       That evening Milarepa passed on to Zessay all that Marpa had taught him about the Way; and then he went back to his own cave.  They both spent the night meditating; and at dawn they both attained enlightenment.  At midday they emerged from their caves.  Milarepa's skin was no longer green, but was brown and shiny; and Zessay's complexion gleamed in the bright sunshine.
       Meanwhile Zessay's parents were anxious at their daughter's failure to return.  So they too climbed the mountain.  when they saw Zessay, they were astounded at her appearance.  'For years your face has been darkened by sadness', her mother exclaimed; 'but now it is bright.  What has happened?'  When Zessay explained, they immediately went to Milarepa, and asked him about the Way.  And he repeated to them Marpa's teaching.  They decided to remain on the mountain; and a few weeks later they too became enlightened.
       News soon spread that Zessay and her parents had joined Milarepa on the mountain.  Others began to come, some out of curiosity, and some to learn the Way.  Like Marpa, Milarepa required his disciples to submit to him in body and in mind; then he told them to find a cave on the mountain, as near to the summit as possible.  By learning to endure the bitter cold, his disciples gained the same benefits that he had gained from building towers.  With a few years every cave on the mountain was occupied by a disciple - and then his school spread to other mountains throughout  Tibet.
Source: Excerpts from the Book on "366 Readings from World Religions" by Robert Van De Weyer.

1 comment:

Celestial Elf said...

Great Post about an inspirational teacher, thank you !!
Please enjoy my animated introduction to the life and poetry of Milarepa The Yogi -
Best Wishes ~