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Milarepa's World

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Milarepa's World

The Indian master Phadampa Sangye once told Jetsun Milarepa, "your lineage is like a river stream- it will flow a long way." And it has, remaining vital and alive up to the present day. It's no coincidence that Milarepa's extemporaneous teachings in song are receiving attention now from the western world's practitioners., for our religious situation is much like that of Mila's time.

Until the event of Buddhism in Tibet, the people were for the most part religiously naive, following a cult of elaborate ahamanism. As Buddhism began to be assimilated through the teachings of repesentatives of many diverse schools, a process of evaluation, adaptation, and the integration was begun, leaving in its wake a newly awakened religious consciousness.

Likewise in the West, our religious traditions have been established for many centuries as a tacit acceptance of certain beliefs and codes rater than a practice of self-liberation. And here also the impact of the religious systems of the East has lent impetus to the birth of a more comprehensive awareness of our spiritual nature and its potential.

A major element in any time of profound transition is confusion. faced with so many alternatives in belief and practice, the Tibetans brought into paly their basic sense of perspective and inclination toward unity, just as we, with our characteristic drive to ascertain the unifying principles of things, always push forward an integrated, well-ordered view of the universe.

Both cultures have succumbed at times to the same mistakes in assimilating this new material: oversimplification to the point of uselessness, mixing divergent elements instead of integrating them into a unified system, unproductive intellectual speculation, and dogmatic adherence to one interpretation over all others.

During such transitional periods persons of practical bent are primarily concerned with evaluating the various systems of thought to ascertain the "right practice." Milarepa appeared at such a time when a good number of practitioners were so engaged. Some pursued their quest in the large or small groups of monastic institutions, while others, like Milarepa, wandered the mountains and country side in the lifestyle of the Indian sannyasin-long haired, socially aloof, homeless and without possessions, begging in the streets of the villages and meditating in isolated retreats. This is the most significant difference between Milarepa's cultural environment and ours. 

In the Tibet of Milarepa's day as in India before that, there was a social acknowledgment  and even respect for the pursuit of self-realization.  Though it was beyond the scope of most people, a space existed outside the confines of social forms for those who were willing to give up home and possessions for the slim chance of gaining realization. Even with social acceptability life wasn't easy for a yogi of Milarepa's time.

There was competition from other hungry mendicant's and from more established religious institutions. It wasn't always easy to beg a meal from poor peasant who were tired of tending the needs of wild-eyed strangers in their villages. For these villagers Milarepa was a constant wonder and challenge. He entertained them with song, scolded and criticized, cajoled, played sarcastic jokes, and encouraged them with his compassion.

He taught them the straight Dharma, and through all of it shone the uniqueness of his personality, the penetrating intensity of his intellect, and the radiance of his realization. Mila's life and his many exploits are best told in his autobiography and in the Hundred Thousand Songs

He frequently had to explain to himself, and he told his life story many times , as in the first selection in this volume. He was born in 1952 in a small town in provincial Tibet. His family name Mila descended from a paternal ancestor  who was credited with powers of exorcism, and he was given the surname Thopa Ga Joy-to Hear.

Because of his father's successful trading business , his family was wealthy by village standards, but his father's death, while Mila and his younger sister were still children, left them homeless. They were victimized by a paternal aunt and uncle, who forced the mother and her two children  to work as servants and laborers.

Mila left, and on his mother's instruction, went to study with a shaman  skilled in supernormal powers. Mila had a natural bent for mystical things and quickly acquired powers of a destructive nature, particularly that of causing devastating hailstorms. Thus equipped, Mila returned to his village to satisfy his mother's desire for vengeance. He committed the murder of his aunt's entire family and then fled.

Eventually he regretted his actions and the enormous karmic obstruction they perpetrated.

Realizing that this action had to be corrected in this same lifetime to prevent a very unfavourable rebirth, he sought religious instruction in Buddhism.


Reference: Drinking The Mountain Stream-Songs of Tibet's Beloved Saint Milarepa.

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