“Life is short and the time of death is uncertain; so apply yourself to meditation. Avoid doing evil, and acquire merit, to the best of your ability, even at the cost of life itself. In short: Act so that you have no cause to be ashamed of yourselves and hold fast to this rule.” – Milarepa
Milarepa (1052-1135 AD) is one of the most widely known Tibetan Saints. He is considered one of Tibet’s most famous yogis and poets, and was a student of Marpa Lotsawa, and a major figure in the history of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. In a superhuman effort, he rose above the miseries of his younger life and with the help of Marpa took to a solitary life of meditation until he had achieved the pinnacle of the enlightened state, never to be born again into the Samsara (whirlpool of life and death) of worldly existence. Out of compassion for humanity, he undertook the most rigid asceticism to reach the Buddhic state of enlightenment and to pass his accomplishments on to the rest of humanity. His spiritual lineage was passed along to his chief disciples, Gambopa and Rechung. It was Rechung who recorded in detail the incidents of Milarepa’s life for posterity. The narrative of his life has thus been passed down through almost a millennium of time and has become an integral part of Tibetan culture.
In addition to Rechung’s narrative of his life, Milarepa extemporaneously composed innumerable songs throughout his life relevant to the dramatic turns of events of himself and his disciples in accordance with an art form that was in practice at the time. These songs have been widely sung and studied in Tibet ever since and have been recorded as the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. His faithful devotion, boundless religious zeal, monumental forbearance, superhuman perseverance, and ultimate final attainment are a great inspiration today for all. His auspicious life illumined the Buddhist faith and brought the light of wisdom to sentient beings everywhere.
Milarepa’s Initial Realizations
- I have understood this body of mine to be the product of ignorance, composed of flesh and blood and lit up by the perceptive power of consciousness. To those fortunate ones who long for emancipation it may be the great vessel by which they may procure Freedom. But to the unfortunates who only sin, it may be the guide to lower and miserable states of existence. This our life is the boundary mark whence one may take an upward or downward path. Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or other, for lasting good or lasting ill.
- One who aims only at his own individual peace and happiness adopts the lower path (Hinayana), but he who devotes the merits of his love and compassion to the cause of others belongs to the higher path (Mahayana).
- In meditating on the Final Goal, one has to discover the non-existence of the personal Ego, and therefore the fallacy that it exists (i.e. because everything in the universe with name and form is basically illusory in nature).
- To realize the state of non-existence of the personal ego, the mind must be kept in quiescence. In that state, thoughts, ideas, and cognition cease and the mind (awareness) passes into a state of perfect tranquility so that days, months, and years may pass without the person perceiving it; thus the passage of time has to be marked for him by others.
- The visions of the forms of the Deities which appear in meditation are merely signs attending the perseverance in meditation. They have no intrinsic worth or value in themselves.
- All the efforts put forth during this path must be made in a spirit of compassion with the aim of dedicating the merit of one’s efforts to the Universal Good. There is a need of mentally praying and wishing for blessings on others so earnestly that one’s mind processes also transcend thought.
- Just as the mere name of food does not satisfy the appetite of a hungry person but he must eat food, so also a man who would learn about the Voidness (i.e. Universal Awareness) must meditate so as to realize it, not just learn of its definition.