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Jetsun Milarepa
Tibet's most famous meditator

First page of Milarepa hagiography  This section: 2nd part of Milarepa hagiography  3rd part of Milarepa hagiography  4th part of Milarepa hagiography


Finding the True Way

Although Milarepa's mother was delighted with what he had accomplished, Milarepa himself was disappointed. He knew it was wrong to kill and cause such destruction to the crops and this knowledge worried him. While staying with the teacher who taught him magic, he began to think: I have fought my enemies and achieved renown through it but I have also committed extreme;y negative actions. The only possible outcome of these actions for myself and for my mother is rebirth in a hell realm. The only way to free us from this is to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. There is nothing else that can help. Milarepa was bothered by these thoughts day and night but dared not mention anything to his teacher, keeping his thoughts to himself. One day the teacher came to Milarepa, looking uneasy but trying to put on a brave face. Milarepa enquired what was a matter. The teacher replied: An excellent sponsor died last night. All created things are impermanent. Through practising magic and makng hail, I have been able to accumulate a bit of wealth in this life but this will be of little help when I die. The only thing that can help us is the practice of Dharma, and that is what I would like to do. But I am old now and it is difficult to practice, yet since there is no other way to liberate myself from the evil consequences of my deeds, I must do it. You, on the other hand, are not as old as I. You have a lot of energy and diligence and could practice genuine Dharma. Doing this, you would be able to attain buddhahood in one life. You could liberate the consciousness of all the beings we have killed.

Milarepa was very happy to hear this: That is exactly it. I have been thinking like that myself, but dared not mention anything. I will practice Dharma but which lama who can give me the teachings that lead to liberation in this very life. The teacher replied: Excellent. You practice dharma and I will provide you with what you need and help to create favorable conditions for your practice. I know of a wonderful lama, Rongton Lhaga, who teaches the Great Perfection tradition. Go and study with him. Milarepa was delighted to hear the name of this lama, and thanked his teacher for his advice. Milarepa then went to the western part of central Tibet, to lama Rongton Lhaga. Having bowed to him, he said: I have committed great negative actions. I have tremendous fear of samsara; therefore, please teach me the Dharma which will allow me to liberate myself in this life. The lama replied: If you can practice from the depths of your being, if you can totally involve yourself in this practice, then if you meditate for one day, this Dharma of the Great Perfection that I teach will bring liberation in one day. If you meditate only one night you will be liberated in one night. For fortunate beings, merely hearing this Dharma will bring liberation. Milarepa thought he must be one of the fortunate beings who, once they hear such a teaching will be able to realize liberation in one life. If in only twelve days of studying and practice, I was able to achieve the magical powers that allowed me to destroy the house and produce hail, as no one else was able to, I am sure I can accomplish this practice. All you have to do is hear it and your mind becomes happy. I have heard this, and I feel pretty happy. Thinking in this way, Milarepa went and slept for seven days.

A week later, the lama came and inquired: What kind of experiences did you have? What kind of realizations arose? Milarepa replied: My mind is most peaceful and happy. I've had a fine time sleeping here. The lama replied: I probably gave you this teaching a little bit too early. You are someone who has accumulated a lot of negative actions, and although this teaching has great qualities, I am not the one who will be able to train you. We don't have the karma to be teacher and disciple. You should go to a country called Drowolung, in southern Tibet where Marpa the Translator lives. He is skilled in the secret mantrayana. You should go and study with him. When Milarepa heard the name of Marpa, an inexpressible experience of joy arose within him.

He set out on the road to Marpa's house and came to a place called Dharma Ridge, where children were playing. A man, who was covered with the dust of the road, stood nearby. Milarepa asked him: Where is the house of the King of Translators, Marpa? The man replied: I don't know where the King of Translators is, but a Marpa lives over there. He pointed down the road, which Milarepa followed. The night before Milarepa arrives at Marpa's house, Marpa's wife Dagmema had a dream in which Naropa presented a crystal stupa, slightly soiled, and a golden vase. With the water in the golden vase, Marpa purified the crystal stupa and placed it on the peak of a mountain. From this peak, luminous rays of the sun and the moon filled the gigacosmos (a thousand sets of a thousand sets of a thousand world systems). That night as well, while Marpa was resting in clear light, a dream came to him in which Naropa appeared and gave Marpa a golden dorje, which also had some dirt on it, and along with it, a vase. With the water of that vase, the stains were washed away from the golden dorje, and it was placed on top of a victory banner from whence light radiated to the whole world. The next morning Marpa awoke feeling there was something beneficial and good to accomplish. When Dagmema came to bring him his morning meal, they told each other of their dreams. Dagmema asked Marpa: Are these dreams good omens? Do they foretell something positive? Marpa replied: They are dreams, and dreams aren't true. Nevertheless, I am going out to plow the field today. Get me some good beer. Dagmema was surprised: You never plow the fields. You are a great lama. Why are you going out and plowing fields? People in the town will talk and I'll be embarrassed.

Marpa did not listen to her. He drank a full measure of beer, got a little bit drunk, and took another flagon with him while keeping a sharp eye out for whoever was coming along the road. Milarepa was walking along the road and came upon a group of children playing. Among them was a child who was well cared for and had long hair that was slicked down with oil. This was Dharma Dode, Marpa's son. Milarepa inquired of this young child: I am looking for the King of translators, Marpa, who is supposed to live in this area. The child replied: You are probably looking for my father. I will lead you to him. They walked along the path and came to a field where someone was plowing. This person had a well filled-out body, with a certain brilliance radiating from it. The field was all plowed, but for a small part that was not yet finished. As soon as Milarepa saw this person, he was filled with such an intense emotion that he was unable to speak for awhile. When words came, Milarepa asked: Do you know where the palace (the polite way of saying house in Tibet) of the king of translators, Marpa, is? Marpa took a long, slow look at him from head to foot, and said: Stay here. Drink this beer, plow the field, and I will introduce you to Marpa. Milarepa finished off the pot of beer and plowed the field. Before long the child whom he had met before came to him and said: Follow me. The lama said to come, and I will lead you there. Milarepa did not leave right away but finished plowing the field and then went to Marpa's house. There Milarepa found, sitting on two cushions covered with a rug, the same man who was plowing the field. Marpa said to him: I am Marpa, so you can make your prostrations now. Milarepa offered his prostrations and said: I am a great sinner who has committed tremendous negative actions. I offer you, however, my body, speech, and mind. Please give me food, clothing, and the teachings of Dharma so that I can attain buddhahood in this very life. Marpa replied: It doesn't really concern me that you have committed all these negative actions. What is important is that you have offered me your body, speech, and mind. Now as for food, clothing, and Dharma: If I give you Dharma, you will have to get your food and clothing elsewhere. If I give you food and clothing, you will have to get your Dharma elsewhere. So this depends on you. Whether you attain enlightenment or not--that depends on you.

Milarepa decided to receive Dharma from Marpa and to find his own food and clothing. In order to gather the latter, Milarepa had to leave for a tour of local villages. Wishing to leave his texts in a safe place, he put them in Marpa's shrine hall. When Marpa saw them there, he exclaimed: Take those books away right now! They are covered with obscurations. They stink of your negative practices and will pollute all my texts. Remove them immediately from the shrine hall. Milarepa thought: Marpa probably thinks these are my black magic texts and so took them out of the shrine hall. By begging, he amassed twenty-one measures of grain, fourteen of which he used to buy a large copper pot with four handles. Milarepa had to go a long way on his begging rounds, and the road back was very difficult for him shouldering the big pot and heavy load of wheat. When he returned to Marpa's house, he was very relieved and quickly let his burden drop onto the floor of the house. It shook. Marpa left the meal he was eating to come and speak to Milarepa: Young man, you are very strong. Dropping this load of grain you carried has shaken the whole house. Perhaps you are getting ready to kill me. (Marpa was recalling Milarepa's black magic that had caused his aunt and uncle's house to collapse and kill many people.) Don't leave this grain here. Take it out! Milarepa thought Marpa a little quick to anger. He's the wrathful type, he thought and took his sack of grain outside and left it there. He then offered Marpa the copper pot with the four handles, saying: Please give me the secret oral instructions that will allow me to free myself from suffering in this lifetime. Marpa lifted up the cooper pot and said, I offer this to the great master Naropa. Tears came to his eyes and he made a prophecy: You gave me an empty pot and this means that in this life while you are practicing in retreat, you may have a bit of difficulty with food, but when I hit the pot it gave off a wonderfully resonant sound. This is a sign that you will become very famous. The four handles facing the four directions are a sign that I will have great spiritual sons. (Milarepa would be one of them.) Finally, so that the lineage that Marpa was carrying would be rich and prosperous Marpa filled the copper pot with ghee (liquid butter) and inserted many wicks so that it glowed with the warm light of a great butter lamp. In the future, this copper pot should be placed within a great stupa, he said.

In response to Milarepa's request for the Dharma, Marpa replied: I've heard that you killed a number of people with your magic by sending hail. Is this true or not? Milarepa had to admit that it was true. Marpa then told him: In the village behind you, there is a place where my students must pass when they come to see me and the villagers treat them terribly. They beat them, they steal from them, and sometimes they don't even let them through. I want you to go there and send hail onto this village. If you can do it, there is no way that I could not be able to give you this precious, profound lineage of Naropa I have received with such hardship. Milarepa walked to the village and spoke to the people there, telling them how poorly they had treated Marpa's students and that there was no reason for this. He berated them severely and they responded with anger, attacking and beating him. As they were ready to kick him out of town, Milarepa said, You've made problems for the lama and his students, and now I will make trouble for you. Through my magic, I will send a powerful sign to you. It will not be pleasant. Milarepa left to perform his magic, and this time the result was to make the villagers fight, beating and knocking each other down. They finally realized that this was the result of Milarepa's magic, so they came to see Marpa and apologized. They offered their good will and promised not to hurt his disciples as they came through the village. Afterwards, Marpa gave Milarepa a new name, Great Magician.

Having fulfilled this task for Marpa, Milarepa again asked for the teachings. Marpa said: There is another place a little bit distant from here, where they also give my students a difficult time. Go and send hail on their harvest. And then once you have done that, I will give you teachings. With the thought that in accomplishing the commands of the lama he would obtain Buddhahood in this life, Milarepa left for this second village. When he came to the countryside nearby, he stayed with an old woman. The harvest was growing very well and crops were flourishing. Milarepa told the old women that he was going to send hail and it would not only destroy the crops but also, when the hail melted, carry away the topsoil. The old woman was upset at the thought of losing her land and harvest. Milarepa suggested that she draw a picture of her land. He took a metal pot and covered the part of the map that was the old woman's land except for a little piece of it. He then performed his magic and the hail came. The harvest was destroyed and the topsoil was carried away, except for the small piece of land that belonged to the old lady. The small portion that was not covered by the pot was also carried away, but all that was covered was saved, while the rest of the village was devastated. The villagers were stunned and surprised that everything was destroyed except for the old woman's land. They came to speak with her: Why is it that your land was not destroyed? She replied: I kept by me a young monk who was very clever. I gave him food and lodging. You should ask him. They went to Milarepa. Why did this happen? they asked. He answered: You have made a lot of trouble for the students of my lama, Marpa. If you go to him and confess, then in the future such things will not happen. So they went to Marpa and confessed, promising not to harm his disciples. Afterwards, thinking about what he had done, Milarepa became depressed and discouraged. In the past he had killed human beings and he now realized that in sending hail he had killed a lot of small sentient beings as well. If I think of the causes and conditions for rebirth in a future life, I have killed many people, and now I have killed small sentient beings as well. I haven't been able to practice the Dharma properly and certainly I'll be born in the hell realms. He went to Marpa and begged him: My negative activity is increasing and certainly in the next life I will be born in a burning hot hell. Please, through your great compassion grant me the teachings of the Dharma. Marpa said: Indeed you have committed many negative actions and the antidote for the karma you have accumulated is the Dharma. However, if you think right now you are ready to get the precious Dharma for which I had to accumulate much gold to offer Naropa, and then travel along the hazardous route to India, if you think you are ready to get this now, you are overstepping yourself. Whatever work I have set out for you, you have done earnestly and well; however, in order to receive my Dharma, you must be someone who is willing to put their whole heart into it. Only that kind of person can truly receive my Dharma. Now I am going to test you to see if you have that kind of heart. I want you to build a house for my son Dharma Dode. Once you have completed the house, I will give you the Dharma, and not only will I give you the Dharma, I will give you food and clothing as well. Milarepa asked, What happens if I die building this house before I can receive the Dharma? Marpa promised: I guarantee you will not die in building this house. You will receive the Dharma.