Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching on The Life of Milarepa




December 27, 2009Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgayareport by Michele Martin, photos taken by Karma Lekcho, Karma Norbu, Pema Orser Dorje



Before teaching, His Holiness recited his prayers, and at the end held his palms together in front of his bowed head for a long time. He then continued to read from the Ninth Chapter of Milarepa’s life story, which covers the last deed of Milarepa, his passing into nirvana.

Knowing that he would be dying soon, Milarepa called his disciples to him and taught them for some days.  During this time, many miraculous appearances filled the sky–parasols, banners, and a rain of flowers, all in five clear colors. Some saw the gods and dakinis who had come to listen. He encouraged his students to follow his teachings as closely as they could and sang a song of blessing for those who had given him provisions. The verses included:

        May I meet again in the Buddha’s Pure Land
        All those who saw or heard me,
        Those who remember my story,
        Those who have only heard of it and of my name.
        May those who emulate my life and meditate,
        Those who ask for, narrate, and listen to my story,
        Those who read and venerate it,
        Those who follow my example in their lives,
        May they find me in the Buddha’s Pure Land....

        May the wishes of the devotees
        Be fulfilled in harmony with the Dharma
        May all living beings, even the least of them,
        Be guided by me toward liberation.

Milarepa’s followers had different reactions to learning that he was passing away.  Some did not believe it; many prayed to him to live longer; others wanted to make offerings to lamas, yidams and dakinis to prolong his life; several offered medical treatment.  But Milarepa replied that his time had come and further: “Since my inner consciousness is not a separate entity from all-embracing emptiness, there is not need for any prayers for longevity.”
He continued to give them advice: “Concerning the way of purifying your inner search, reject all that increases self-clinging and inner poison, even if it appears to be good.”  He sang them the Song of Spiritual Gain, of which the third verse reads:

        Without the guidance of a lama who holds a lineage,
        What benefit is there in seeking liberation?
        Without the inner consciousness of the Dharma
        What is the use of memorizing the tantras?
        What is the use of meditating according to instructions
        If you do not renounce worldly aims?
        What good are ceremonies
        Without attuning your body, speech, and mind to the Dharma?

Geshe Tsakpuhwa, who out of jealousy and pride had given Milarepa poison, came for a visit.  He asked crafty questions to Milarepa and finally pushed him to transfer his final illness to the Geshe himself.  When he experienced this tremendous pain, the Geshe felt remorse and begged forgiveness. Milarepa replied with a song, which included:

        May all your sufferings
        Be assumed and transformed by me.
        I have compassion for him who offends
        His master, teacher and parents.

The Geshe gave Milarepa’s disciples all his possession, which were later used to commemorate Milarepa’s death, and then he devoted his life to practice.

The final stanza of Milarepa’s last song summarizes his teachings and the depth of his realization:

        The practice of the secret path is the shortest way.
        Realization of emptiness engenders compassion.
        Compassion abolishes the difference between oneself and others.
        If there is no duality between oneself and others,
        One fulfills the aim of all living beings.

Milarepa then entered a deep state of meditation and passed into nirvana at the age of eighty-four.

Before His Holiness gave his talk on this section, tea and bread were offered to everyone while the names of sponsors were read out. He then said he would like to talk about how Milarepa dedicated the positive results of his practice with the wish to take on all the fears and suffering of every being and be able to purify all their negative actions.

There is a famous aspiration that states: If I am happy, I dedicate this happiness so that all beings may be happy; if I am unhappy, I take on the unhappiness of all beings so that they may be free of suffering.  All of us who are practicing the Dharma are trying to free ourselves from the suffering of samsara and help others to be free of this suffering as well.  Our main aspiration, then, is that whatever we may practice, whether it is one mani mantra or a profound meditation on the nature of the mind, we give up every positive result and dedicate it to all beings.  And we do this fully, not like some of us who let our minds wander around when our voices are chanting.

We all have a precious human life, which is extremely hard to attain, but most of us are wasting it.  When we were young and our faculties were clear and functioning well, we did not practice, and now that we’re close to the end of this life, still we do not seriously dedicate ourselves to transforming our minds. As I said yesterday we should not waste our life when we have met the genuine Dharma and authentic teachers, and also have the opportunity to practice Dharma. If we do not do this, it’s just like being crazy.  We do not know if we will have a human rebirth in our next life, so in this one we should devote our body, speech, and mind to practicing the Dharma.  This is extremely important.

This does not mean, however, that everything will be perfect.  In our lives there are ups and downs; sometimes we are happy and sometimes not; sometimes we are sick and sometimes healthy. It is not the case that practicing Dharma will prevent anything negative from happening to us.  Life has many facets. For those of us practicing the Mahayana, we should have the capacity to be joyful if everything is going well and joyful if it is not. If we are sick, this is a way to cleanse and purify ourselves. If we can understand this, then our mental suffering will diminish. We can learn to see all of our suffering as an ornament and integrate it into our practice.  Suffering can become happiness because it has become meaningful as a part of our path to full awakening.

On the other hand, if we have a truly difficult and hard time, we understand that this is a result of negative karma from this or past lives; we also see that it is possible to have even worse suffering. So we think to ourselves, “This is something I can work on.” Suffering can help us renounce worldly pursuits and spur us to try more intensively to transform ourselves. We can look at suffering in different ways.  For example, it can bring us to understand impermanence and the nature of things more clearly.  The Buddha did not give us suffering: he taught us how to see it and carry it onto the path. For this teaching we should feel truly grateful.

When we cut an onion, we cry. Our practice is a bit like this: we’re engaged in it and suffering will come, but it can be transformed into something different through practice; for example, the suffering can become lighter. Aryadeva taught in The Four Hundred Stanzas that when someone has a very vast and spacious aspiration, even if they have tremendous suffering, it does not have the power to overwhelm them. For bodhisattvas with great aspiration, there is not much difference between samsara and nirvana.  Why is this?  Having understood the nature of samsara, they can be joyful for that is samsara’s deeper nature.

Some bodhisattvas accumulate merit for three countless kalpas; this is not because they failed to finish their job. The main objective of a bodhisattva is to work for the benefit of living beings, and becoming fully awakened is also for their benefit. Helping others is the main goal of a bodhisattva; getting enlightened is not their primary focus.  Therefore, it does not matter if they are enlightened or not; their main purpose is to benefit others so they do not see samsara as a burden, for they can work to benefit others while residing there.

The great bodhisattva Thogme Zangpo, who wrote The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, said that for the sake of one being, I can enter the hell realms like a duck into water.  If entering into enlightenment does not help one being, I would resist it just as someone would flee the hell realms.  It’s clear that for Thogme Zangpo, what counts is benefiting others.

We should think, “If I’m happy, I dedicate this happiness to all beings. If I am unhappy, I take on the suffering of all beings.”  So we give up thinking about what benefits us personally and take on the suffering and negativity of all beings. Some people hesitate to take on the suffering of others, fearing that they might get sick or suffer themselves.  Bodhisattvas do not think like this. On the contrary, they seek to take on the suffering of all beings.

Our main problems are due to our afflictions and negative karma  If these two are cleared away, then suffering is eliminated because these two are its cause.  We can make a strong commitment not to indulge our afflictions and not to engage in negative actions. Going for refuge, reciting the Seven-Branch Prayer and working with The Seven Points of Mind Training are very helpful as well. In this context of mind traning, mind means “bodhicitta” and training means “to train in bodhicitta.” The main point of mind training is to develop bodhicitta so that, for example, we can wish that our enemy is as fortunate as we are.  If we can feel peaceful when people we do not like are successful, that means that our mind is a little trained. Our practice is not just for us or our friends, but for everyone equally, for all living beings—friends, enemies, people we know and do not.

His Holiness then read again Milarepa’s dedication of merit to Geshe Tsakpuhwa, which was quoted above.  He commented that if we have a positive result from some activity, we should dedicate it to all living beings.  If this dedication has a further positive result, then we dedicate that as well to all living beings; continuing in this way, we can make a dedication that becomes limitless. It is said that if a bodhisattva’s activities were to have form, the whole universe could not contain them.

In the last century, we Tibetans did not know much about the world outside Tibet. We knew something about America and a little about Russia, but they were more like fairy tales than a reality to us.  We were told that people would come from Russia and we thought they were rakshas, (a kind of demon, and “Russia” and “raksha” sound similar to Tibetan ears). This was the quite limited extent of our knowledge about the world.  But practitioners always had in mind the wish that as far as space extends and for as long as beings exist, may my loving-kindness and compassion reach all of them.  So in spite of their limited knowledge about other places, they had clear and vast intention that bodhicitta spread throughout all space.
We should take Milarepa’s example to heart and make our dedications for the benefit of all, even those who have given us poison, wishing for them to attain full awakening, too.  This way of dedicating is important training for our mind. 

His Holiness then gave the following meditation instruction. Sit in the correct posture and look into your body, focusing on your heart center.  Then bring to mind all the suffering of living beings, allowing it to be as real as if you were and actual witness. For example, you might have seen a car hit and severely injure a dog.  Bring to mind an experience from your life that has really touched your heart.  Then remember other occasions when you saw suffering.
In the beginning, our compassion is rather small but with time and practice, it becomes stronger; first there’s a glimmer of light and then it brightens, finally extending beyond your body. Then visualize in front your teacher as Chenrezik, radiating luminous waves of white light. The right hand is in the mudra of generosity and the left holds a flower at his heart.  Chenrezik is standing and adorned with jewels and silks. Your white light radiates to Chenrezik and becomes increasingly powerful. Meditate like this for five minutes.

Finally, for this teaching, we should make our dedication as vast as Milarepa did, offering all our virtue form now until enlightenment so that all living beings attain supreme and full awakening.  We say this not just with our mouth, but with our whole being, our body, speech, and mind, while knowing clearly the reasons why we are doing it.

This ended the morning’s teachings on the life of Milarepa.






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