The Cultivation Story of Buddha Milarepa (Part 1)
(Minghui.org) Throughout history, the Himalayas have been an area with many cultivators. The people there lead a simple, modest life, and everyone sings and dances. They also revere the Buddha Fa. Almost a millennium ago, there was a cultivator in this region named Milarepa. While the multitude of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas had taken many lifetimes and gone through many calamities before cultivating to fruition, Milarepa achieved equivalent mighty virtue in one lifetime and later became known as the founder of the White Sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Milarepa gave a lecture on the Great Vehicle [Mahayana] Dharma in a cliff cave in Nyanam, Tibet, one day. The audience included disciples such as Rechungpa and Gampopa, as well as his female disciples and male and female almsgivers. There were also many dakinis, or, literally, “female sky-goers,” with attainments in rainbow light (in Sanskrit these beings are called dakini, or in Tibetan script MkhaihGro-ma), and yogis.
The night before, Rechungpa had a dream in which he had seemingly traveled to the Dakini Pure Land. It was a big city with glazed, bejeweled buildings. Inside the city, people wore beautiful heavenly clothes with necklaces of jade. Although they all smiled and nodded at Rechungpa, none of them spoke to him.
A young woman dressed in red greeted him warmly, “Young disciple [of the same master], when did you come here? Welcome! Welcome!” Rechungpa raised his eyes and saw it was his classmate Bharima, who had joined him in studying the Dharma under the great master Tiphupa in Nepal.
“You came at the right time,” Bharima said, “Buddha Akshobhya (one of the five Dhyani Buddhas) is teaching here now. If you are interested, I can ask permission for you to join.”
Rechungpa said excitedly, “I have been longing to see Buddha Akshobhya for many years. It is a precious opportunity to listen to him lecture. Please ask on my behalf.”
Bharima invited Rechungpa for a delicious banquet before they walked to the lecture. It was held in a grand, magnificent palace, where Buddha Akshobhya sat on a throne in the center. He looked infinitely holy, beyond human imagination. Countless deities had assembled there to listen, so many that they were like a boundless ocean. It was bigger than any conference Rechungpa had seen previously. Taking in this sight, he felt indescribably happy and excited. His classmate asked him to wait for her to ask for permission. After a while, Rechungpa saw Buddha Akshobhya smile at him. Knowing permission had been granted, Rechungpa prostrated himself in worship [by kneeling down and putting his face to the ground] and then sat down to listen to the lecture.
On that day, Buddha Akshobhya talked about the life journeys of previous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which were very touching. He then lectured on the stories of Tilopa, Naropa, and Marpa [lineage masters from Tibetan or Himalayan Buddhism]. Rechungpa had never heard such detailed, vivid descriptions.
Near the conclusion of the gathering, Buddha Akshobhya said, “Among all the biographies, the most unique, great and touching is that of Milarepa. Please come tomorrow and I will continue my lecture.”
Rechungpa then heard several people discussing the matter among themselves. “It is hard to imagine there are other biographies more special and extraordinary than these!” one person said.
“The stories we heard today about those Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were the result of their cultivation over numerous lifetimes and through numerous calamities. But Milarepa accomplished such mighty virtue in one lifetime. That is why it is so unique!” another replied.
“If such a precious biography is buried, wouldn't it be a loss? If we do not ask the Revered One to lecture on this to benefit sentient beings, wouldn't we disciples be sinful? We must sincerely pray and ask the Buddha to lecture on this biography!” another person added.
“Where is the Venerable Milarepa currently?” the first person asked.
“Venerable Milarepa? He is not in Abhirati (the Pure Land of Buddha Akshobhya). He is probably in the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light,” another person said.
Hearing these words, Rechungpa thought, “Master is clearly in Tibet. Why did they say he is in the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light? But no matter what, these words clearly seem to be aimed at me. I should ask Master to lecture on his biography.” As he thought this, Bharima held his hands warmly and shook them gently, “You have understood, right?” Rechungpa knew it more clearly, and the feeling was so strong that he awoke with a start.
It was dawn already. Rechungpa felt ecstatic, thinking, “Although it is precious to listen to lectures from Buddha Akshobhya, it is more fortunate to be with my Master. I think Master strengthened me to allow me to listen to a lecture from Buddha Akshobhya. The people there said that Master is in Abhirati or the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light, while we thought Master is in Tibet. In fact, Master's “body, speech, and mind” are no different from that of other Buddhas. His mighty virtue is also unimaginable. I used to think that Master is only in Tibet and that he looks similar to us, living an everyday life. I did not know that Master had already achieved Buddhahood with Fashen (Law Bodies) throughout the universe. His manifestations are even more marvelous. It is because of our tremendous karma that we viewed a sage as an everyday person. It was truly an insult to the sage! The dream I had last night was not a common one. It was a hint from my classmate and other dakinis to seek lectures from Master. I must beg Master for it!” With this in mind, Rechungpa had strong faith. With his palms pressed together, he sincerely worshiped his Master.
At that moment, his surroundings suddenly lit up. Several beautiful, elegantly-dressed dakinis appeared in front of him and walked toward him. One said, “There will be a lecture tomorrow on Milarepa's biography. Let's go and listen.”
“Who will be the one that asks for the lecture?” another one asked.
A dakini smiled at Rechungpa and said, “Of course it will be Master's principal disciple!”
Several other dakinis also looked at Rechungpa and smiled. One said, “Asking Master to talk about his biography will benefit both us and others. We are not only very eager to listen to the biography, but we will also help pray that Master would bestow his compassion to lecture on this to us. Later, we will also protect this teaching to benefit future generations of sentient beings.” With those words, the dakinis disappeared.
When Rechungpa woke up again, it was already broad daylight. “It’s clear the dakinis are encouraging me to ask Master for the lectures.” He happily went to the Venerable Milarepa for the conference. After prostrating himself in worship, he knelt before the Venerable and begged with his palms pressed together in front of his chest, “Dear Master, countless Buddhas in the past had various manifestations and all kinds of unimaginable accomplishments to save people. Their precious biographies have been circulating in this world to bless people and promote the Buddha Fa. Masters including Tilopa, Naropa, and Marpa have also articulated their biographies, which were passed on to worldly people for them to cultivate. We now hope Master would extend your compassion to lecture on your past to benefit disciples as well as the sentient beings of the future.”
The Venerable Milarepa heard this and peacefully said, “Rechungpa, you already know a lot about me. But since you asked, I will answer you.
“I am a descendant of a tribe in Kyungpo, and my ancestor is Jose. I used to do bad deeds, and later I did good deeds. I have now stopped doing good or bad deeds. All things with intention are now in my past, and I will not do them in the future, either. If these things were explained in detail, many would make people cry bitterly, and many would bring people great joy. It is very long, and we can skip it. Let an old man like me have some leisurely rest.”
“Master!” Rechungpa knelt down on the ground and continued begging.
“Could you explain to us how you cultivated diligently, sought the Buddha Fa, and improved until completion and enlightenment? You were a descendant of Kyungpo, and your ancestor was Jose. Then why did your surname become Mila? Why did you first do bad deeds and later do good deeds? Please also tell us those stories that would move people to tears or joy. This is a request not only from me but also from fellow disciples, as well as the almsgivers, who are all thirsty to hear. Please extend your compassion.”
“Since you are begging like this, I have no secrets, and I will tell you,” the Venerable said slowly with a smile. “My ancestors were nomads of the Kyungpo clan from the northern region. My great great great grandfather was Jose, son of a Red Sect Lama. As a mantra practitioner supported by deities, his incantations had great powers. One year he made a pilgrimage to Back Tibet. He traveled to a place in northern Tibet called Chungpachi, where he found people suffering from a plague caused by demons. Because his incantations were extremely powerful and eliminated many demons, more and more people started to believe in him. The locals asked him to stay there, so he settled down there and later started a family.
“Another year, a ghost went there to harm people. There was one family who did not believe in Jose Lama at all. The ghost stirred up trouble for the family: their livestock died or ran away, and people became sick and saw ghosts during the daytime. These menaces occurred every day. None of the doctors invited by the family could cure their illnesses. None of the lamas invited to subdue the ghost succeeded, and they were instead left exhausted after battling the ghost. In the end, there was nothing the family could do. A friend said to them, 'You need to go look for Jose Lama. Others cannot do it!'
“A family member said, 'As long as the ulcer can be cured, even dog oil may be considered. All right, we will invite him.'
“The family then sent someone to invite Jose Lama.
“Before Jose Lama reached the family's tent, he saw the ghost from far away. The ghost saw Jose and began to flee. Jose Lama's divine power came forth, and he called aloud, 'Ghost! I, Kyungpo Jose, specialize in drinking demons' blood and pulling their tendons. If you have the guts, stay there and don't run away!'
“With these words, he rushed to the ghost. The ghost trembled with fear and cried out, 'Terrifying! Terrifying! Mila! Mila!' (The phonetic rendering “Mila” in Tibetan expresses one’s foreboding feeling of seeing a giant.)
“Jose reached the ghost, and it shrank into itself, daring not to move. It said in a trembling voice, 'Dear Lama, I did not dare go to places that you had been. You never visited here, so I dared to come. Please spare my life!'
“Jose Lama ordered the ghost to promise not to harm people anymore. The ghost had no choice but to make the vow. Jose Lama then let him go.
“The ghost later possessed another person's body and said, 'Mila! Mila! This person is too powerful! I was never so scared in my entire life. He is so mighty! Mila! Mila!'
“Because of this, Jose Lama became more famous, and people gave him the nickname of Mila Lama to show respect. Later it became the family's surname. The name of Mila Lama thus came to be well known.
“Kyungpo Jose had only one son and two grandchildren. The first grandchild, Mila Doton Sengge, had only one son named Dorje Sengge.
“Dorje Sengge had a natural talent for gambling, and he especially enjoyed throwing the dice. His gambling skills were superb, and he always won when he threw dice.
“One year, a wandering impostor came to Chungpachi. He was good at gambling and made a living from it. After winning lots of money and hearing that Dorje Sengge liked gambling, he invited him for a game of dice.
“On the first day, to test Dorje Sengge's skills, the impostor only made a small bet and intentionally lost to Dorje Sengge. The next day, he displayed his skills and easily beat Dorje Sengge. Never having experienced such a loss, Dorje Sengge was very upset and said to the impostor, 'I will win back all of my money tomorrow. Do you dare to bet with me again?'
“'Of course!' The impostor replied casually.
“On the third, fourth, and fifth day, the impostor lost each time, either intentionally or because of bad luck.
“The impostor then challenged him to a decisive battle, 'Dorje Sengge! I have lost every day these last few days, so I propose that tomorrow we both bet all our property, livestock, land, wool, money, and jewelry. With the villagers as witnesses, we will sign an agreement for a final battle, and neither of us is allowed to go back on it, no matter who wins. Do you want to do it?'
“Dorje Sengge agreed without hesitation.
“The next day, the villagers verified their bets and watched them. Both of them were very nervous when throwing the dice. In the end, Dorje lost everything.
“Under these circumstances, Dorje Sengge had no choice but to leave his hometown and clansmen and roam outside. His father, Doton Sengge, took him to resettle in a small village called Kyangatsa. Skilled in incantations, Doton Sengge was able to subdue demons and cure illnesses. He made a living from these skills and had a stable income. Dorje Sengge changed and completely stopped gambling. He worked hard at his business, transporting wool to the south to sell in the winter and trading livestock with northern nomads in the summer. He also traveled between different places for small business transactions. The hard work paid off, and he managed to accumulate a new fortune.
“Dorje Sengge later married a beautiful local girl. They had a son named Mila Sherab Gyeltsen (Milarepa's father).
“At that time, Doton Sengge was already very old. He fell ill and passed away. As a result of many years of hard work, Dorje Sengge gradually became wealthy. He spent a large sum to purchase a fertile triangle-shaped field, which he named Orma Triangle. He also bought a big house nearby.
“When Sherab Gyeltsen turned 20, he married Nyangtsa Kargyen (Milarepa's mother). Nyangtsa Kargyen was from an affluent local family. She was smart and capable. The entire family led a happy and affluent life.
“After a while, they built a three-story mansion next to Orma Triangle with four pillars and eight beams. Next to the mansion, they added a big barn and a kitchen.
“By then, Mila Doton Sengge's relatives in the hometown had heard about Dorje Sengge's wealth in Kyangatsa. Sherab Gyeltsen's cousins, Yungdrung Gyaltsen and Khyungtsa Paldren, who were brother and sister, also moved to Kyangatsa. Sherab Gyeltsen really cherished his relatives and did his utmost to help them. He lent them money and taught them how to do business. Not long after that, the cousins also became wealthy.
“Time passed quickly. Several years later, Nyangtsa Kargyen became pregnant. At the time, Sherab Gyeltsen had purchased plenty of goods from the south and gone north to trade them with nomads.
“I was born on August 25 (in 1052 AD). Mother immediately sent someone to deliver a letter to father, Sherab Gyeltsen. She wrote, 'I have given birth to a boy. Please return home, give him a name, and prepare for a feast with the villagers. The autumn harvest is also approaching. Please come home soon.'
“The messenger delivered the letter in a short time. The messenger also gave a detailed description of the newborn baby and the family's situation, urging father to come home to give me a name and celebrate. Father was especially pleased. He said with a smile, 'Great! Great! I already have a name for the baby. Each generation of our Mila family has always had only a boy. I am extremely glad to hear we have a son again. His name will be Topaga (a joy to hear)!'
“Therefore, father hurriedly finished his business and returned home, naming me Topaga. After I grew up, I liked singing. Anyone who heard my voice would love it. They said 'Topaga, a joy to hear. This name is perfect for you!'
“When I was four, mother gave birth to a girl and named her Peta. I remember that when we were young, my sister and I were always dressed in the best satin clothes with decorative jewelry all over our hair. The people who visited us were rich and powerful. We also had many servants.
“At that time, the people in Kyangatsa often talked among themselves, 'These wanderers from far away are now so wealthy. They have livestock and a field outside, and inside they have more grain than they can eat and more clothing than they can wear. They're so lucky!' They admired us and envied us. But this blissful life did not last long before father Mila Sherab Gyeltsen passed away.”
Rechungpa asked, “Master, after your father passed away, did you suffer a lot? We heard your experience was the toughest. Could you tell us about it?”
(To be continued)