Today, I decided to write some about the famous meditator Milarepa. I just discovered that on the “Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa” website a new series of talks has been posted. It’s about Milarepa! Very auspicious.
That’s the link. The first talk is just audio, but there are videos too.
The first talk is mainly about lineage, the Kagyu lineage. There’s also a lot about the levels of a teacher: how you relate to a teacher, and how this can change along the path. These things might not be of interest to someone just starting out, getting interested in meditation or Buddhism. Committing to a teacher, or one specific tradition can seem scary, old fashioned, or not necessary. It’s actually not necessary unless you want to go “all the way,” in my opinion. You can learn to meditate and leave it at that. That could be beneficial. Of course if you get into it, and start get intrigued by the whole culture of the thing, or if you start to get attracted to the path in some ways, you might keep going, and then find yourself in a tradition. So making a choice about this kind of thing is not completely either/or.
I set out trying to write about Milarepa. It looks like I won’t really get to that today, without writing a lot. Just very briefly, Milarepa is an example of a person who had a difficult early life, did some very bad things, and went to the dharma to try to find redemption. He was a “confused person,” just like all lineage holders were, before they reached enlightenment. Eventually, he found a teacher, went through all sorts of trials and tribulations just to get teachings, and went off to practice. This is interesting in light of how easy it can be to get instruction these days in the West. Some people have had to struggle a lot to just get the teachings. And then Milarepa didn’t leave it at that. He went off to retreat, often in caves, to meditate and practice, to change his mind, to discover the truth. You get the idea.
He expressed his realization in songs. These spiritual songs, or teaching songs, have been revered and studied for hundreds of years. I have been reading them, very on and off, for a little while. I don’t like the translation that’s out. It’s flower and unneccesarily archaic sounding, as I see it. I’d like to post my “versions” of the songs. This is very very arrogant in a sense. I don’t speak Tibetan. I can’t translate the Tibetan text. I have no real basis for disagreeing with the style of the translations (Garma C.C. Chang translations), and moreover, of course, I wouldn’t even be able to read Milarepa, without the extant translation. So there. But still, I’m extremely picky about the way the dharma is translated and expressed. So that’s my project- to rework the Milarepa translations, to a form I’m happy with.
“As I think of you, my father Marpa,
my suffering is relieved.
This hermit will now sing you a song of devotion.”
Marpa was Milarepa’s guru, his teacher. The guru is often referred to as “father” in traditional texts. Milarepa was a hermit, at this point in his life.
“Above the Red Rock Jewel Valley, in the east,
There floats a bunch of white clouds.
Underneath like an elephant rearing up
there’s a huge mountain.
Next to it, like a lion leaping, there’s another peak.”
This is a description of the landscape. There are many of these. I don’t find these very interesting. I do think they have some symbolic meaning, but am not sure of what it is. Elephants and lions are traditional images used in metaphors. If it is a snow lion, a mythical beast, it could mean certain things, although I don’t know if that’s the case, could be an ordinary lion. The elephant is often associated with strength. The Buddha compares the mind to an elephant at one point. Elephants are strong and can be good workers, or can rampage and destroy everything in their path. In another song, one of the siddhas, could be Maitripa, says “let your elephant mind wander free.” The idea there is that there’s a seeming contrast between training the mind, disciplining it, and allowing it to be, allowing oneself to wander, to let go. I think that’s the general idea.
Now, these landscape descriptions show up constantly in Milarepa. I’ll offer for now some very general thoughts and associations with the caveat that I’m not translating the Tibetan, and these are just some very basic generalizations and mental doodlings. I may ask other more experienced folks in the near future with help, help with translating, and help with interpreting.
Also, there is just the sense, I think, that Milarepa loves and appreciates nature. He is a hermit, and reaches a point where he loves solitude, meditation, and his surroundings. In terms of us ordinary folk, appreciating nature where you can, the idea of renunciation in the midst of life are relevant there.
More than enough for now. Thanks for reading!
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