Monthly Archives: June 2012
I pay homage to Marpa the translator.
I see the essence of being
and sing this song of the seven adornments.
You mischeivous demons assembled here
lend me your ears and listen closely.
Beside Mount Sumeru
The sky shines blue over the southern continent.
The firmament is the beauty of the earth.
The blue of heaven is its adornment.
Above the great tree of Sumeru,
radiance shines from the sun and moon
lighting the continents.
With love and compassion the king of the nagas
wields his miraculous power.
From the vastness of the sky
he makes the rain fall.
This is the adornment of the earth.
From the great ocean, vapors rise
up to the sky
where they form clouds.
A causal law governs the transformations of the elements.
In midsummer, rainbows appear over the plains
resting gently on the hills.
The rainbow is the adornment of the plains and hills.
In the West, when rain falls on the ocean,
bushes and reeds flourish.
These for all the creatures living there
the beauty and adornment.
I, a yogi who wants to remain in solitude
meditate on the emptiness of mind.
Amazed by the power of my concentration
you jealous demons practice magic.
For a yogi, demonic distractions are the beauty and adornment.
You nonhuman beings, listen closely.
Do you know who I am?
I’m the yogi Milarepa.
From my heart grows the flower of mind, enlightenment.
With a voice of clarity I sing you metaphor.
With sincere words I preach the dharma.
With a generous, kind heart I give you the following advice.
If, in your hearts, bodhicitta sprouts,
although you may not be able to help others,
you will gain joy and liberation.
Do this by renouncing the ten unvirtuous acts.
If you follow my teachings,
your accomplishments will grow and grow.
If you practice dharma now,
endless joy will finally appear.
At this point, I’m just working on the songs of Milarepa. These songs are couched in stories, the events in the life of Milarepa. The basic story is that he had a rough childhood, had to work very hard for some cruel relatives, did some bad stuff to get revenge, and then sought redemption for his bad deeds (black magic, in his case). Soon enough, he’d found a teacher who put him through various trials. Milarepa did not give up. He persisted just to get dharma instruction. That’s worth keeping in mind- these days it’s impossibly easy to pick up a book on meditation, or read it for almost free online. So, two thing- there have been times when people sweated blood just to get basic instructions. There may be something of value to that (the ease of superficially absorbing the teachings versus what is really earned through hard work).
Once Milarepa finally convinced his teacher to instruct him, after many trials (and I’m not totally clear on this part, it may actually have been the teacher’s wife, Dagmema, who convinced the teacher, Marpa, to relent and teach the student). Then Milarepa basically spent the rest of his life in retreat, practicing, often in caves.
Looking briefly at the life of Milarepa, he has a few types of songs that come up again and again. Obviously, this work should just be taken literally. Milarepa speaks to his patrons and common people who admire him, and want to make offerings to him. Maybe this is something like how people revere some politicians, or political activists. So clearly the culture gap is at play here: reading about Milarepa you’re in medeival Tibet. Obviously there’s something to be learned, but the antiquity of it can be an obstacle.
But speaking to patrons and ordinary people is one kind of song. Speaking to his close students is another kind of song, similar to the former. Finally, we have interactions with spirits, ghosts, demons, and so forth. There’s a lot of that as well. Without knowing much about the life of Milarepa, it’s safe to say that interacts a lot with ordinary villagers, some rich patrons, students, and nonhuman beings. Usually the nonhuman beings threaten him, bother him, try to disrupt his meditation or cause problems for him. Often once he sings to them, or once they’ve sung back and forth to each other, he will convert the spirits, who will renounce their evil ways and become dharma practitioners in their own right.
Now there’s a lot going on right there, to be looked at. When Milarepa sings to someone or something, he’s singing to us, as we read it. That means you are the rich patron, or the ordinary farmer, being admonished to give up attachment to worldly life, or being given instruction. It means you’re the demon or ghost, a turbulent and neurotic being dead set on causing chaos for others (but also capable of turning it around). On the other hand, as you read the songs, you’re also Milarepa, which is something of a miracle. In spite of the fact that most Western yogis and/or dharma practitioners don’t do a lot of retreat time (even the months some people rack up in a lifetime, which is considerable and very beneficial and worthwhile are nothing compared to the decades or austere practice Milarepa accomplished). But, somehow, through language, you’re able to become in some sense this vastly accomplished ascetic yogi.
That’s an interesting point too- you hear often when Western teachers talk about the Buddhist path how it is NOT ascetic, how the Buddha turned away from asceticism and discovered a way to live a basic lifestyle and become awakened without torturing himself or putting his body through the mill. But somehow ascetics and yogis are part the Buddhist pantheon or path. The first thing I get from that is that Buddhism is really vast. There’s room for the beings who can meditate for fifty years in a cave, and there’s room for people who want to just bow to a shrine as they walk past on the way to work. Buddhism constantly implodes oversimplification.
In the following song, Milarepa is speaking to some spirits. I don’t see myself including the prose parts of the story for most of these. Just doing some of the songs will be enough of a challenge.
I take refuge in all the gurus
and pay homage.
By using mirages and illusions,
you demons create fantastic terrors.
You sorry beings, hungry ghosts,
you’ll never harm me.
Because your bad karma has fully ripened,
you’ve become demons in this life.
You’ll wander in space the entire time
with hideous minds and bodies.
Driven by fiery kleshas
your minds are filled with aggressive and vicious thoughts.
Both your deeds and your words are poisonous and destructive.
Take, for example,
when you screamed that you would kill me,
chop me up into pieces, cut me up!
I am a yogi free from thoughts,
knowing that there is no such thing as mind.
Walking valiantly as a lion,
being fearless and brave
my body merges with the body of the buddha.
My words are true like the words of the tathagata.
My mind is absorbed in the realm of the primordial buddhahood.
I clearly see that the six consciousnesses and the six sense objects
are empty by nature.
A yogi such as myself simply ignores
the abuse of spirits.
If the law of cause and effect is valid,
and you do things deserving of it,
the force of ripened karma will drive you
down the path of suffering, misery, and grief.
It is really distressing that you spirits don’t understand!
Now let me, Milarepa,
tell you- let me preach the dharma to you.
All sentient beings are my mothers and fathers.
To hurt those we should be grateful to
is truly senseless.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful
if you were to renounce your negative thoughts?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful
if you were to practice the ten virtues?
Remember this, ponder the meaning.
Exert yourselves and carefully consider it.
Note that Milarepa uses his own name a lot, and the name is mentioned quite a bit by others. It just shows up a lot. This might not be an accident. Note also that he is always telling students and spirits alike to remember and think about what he is saying. The latter could be expanded a lot, I think. Meditation is sometimes translated as “remembering.” Mindfulness as remembering.
One very good way to learn about meditation, or deepen an already-established practice is workshops. Longer retreats, say, a week, are excellent. It can be hard to find the time or money to attend such long retreats, though. Shorter workshops are a good option in this case.
I’m offering a three-day workshop on karma in July.
Thurs July 12 7-8
Friday July 13th 7-9
Saturday July 14th 10am-6pm
We’ll do two main things: learn about karma, and practice mindfulness-awareness meditation. The latter is a meditation practice fundamental to Tibetan Buddhism. Of course, you don’t need to be a Buddhist to try it out.
So what is karma? That’s what we’ll find out. The focus will be on habits and patterns in our lives: what they mean, and how they work. For anyone frustrated with trying to start doing something new, or trying to stop a negative habit, these teachings can be useful. Although “karma” is sometimes used in a way that seems mystical or strange, the approach we’ll take will be more common sense, and down to earth.
Call or email to register. The classes are taught at a yoga/dance studio in Newbury MA. The cost for the three days will be $75. Discounts apply.
Father guru, who has conquered the four hindrances,
I bow down, to you Marpa.
I, the son of Darsen Gharmo,
the man you see before you,
was nurtured in my mother’s womb
and accomplished the three nadis.
As a baby, I slept in my cradle.
As a boy, I watched the door.
As a man, I lived on a mountain.
Although mountain storms are terrible,
I am without fear.
Although cliffs are steep and dangerous,
I am without fear.
I, the man you see before you,
am the son of the garuda, king of birds.
I grew wings and feathers in the egg.
As a baby I slept in the cradle.
As a boy I watched the door.
As a man I flew in the sky.
Although the sky is vast I am without fear.
Although the way is steep and narrow,
I am not afraid.
I, the man you see before you,
am son of Nyuchen Yormo, king of the fishes.
In my mother’s womb, I rolled my golden eyes.
As a child I slept in the cradle.
As a boy I watched the door.
As a man, I swam in the great ocean.
Although the waves are terrible,
I am without fear.
Though fishhooks are everywhere, I am not afraid.
I, the man you see before you
am the son of the Kagyu.
Faith grew in me as I was in the womb.
As a baby I entered the door of the dharma.
As a child I studied the buddha’s teachings.
As a man I lived alone in caves.
Although demons, ghosts, and spirits are everywhere
I am fearless.
Since last time, a new class (the poetry one) has started. There’s a workshop coming up in July. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of longer retreats, if that could work somehow (at the Newbury location).
I’ve been working a little on reworking Milarepa’s songs. Here is some.
This lonely spot where my hut stands
is pleasing to the buddhas, a place where realized beings live,
a refuge where I live alone.
Above Red Rock Jewel Valley
white clouds glide by.
Below the Tsang river gently flows.
Vultures soar between the two.
Bees are humming among flowers,
intoxicated by their fragrance.
In the trees, birds play,
filling the air with their song.
In Red Rock Jewel Valley
young sparrows learn to fly,
monkeys enjoy leaping and swinging,
and other animals running and racing.
I practice relative and ultimate bodhicitta and love to meditate.
All you local demons, ghosts, and gods,
drink the nectar of kindness and compassion,
and then go home.
A reminder about new classes:
Tuesdays: Meditation 101
This class will start again. An introduction to Buddhist meditation, with some discussion. We’ll focus on the “mindfulness-awareness” technique as taught in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s a wonderful style of meditation, and one you can keep practicing for years (forever more or less) and keep learning about it, and deepening it.
(June 12-July 10, 8-915 PM) $75
Wednesdays: Beyond the Basics
This class follows Med. 101. We’ll spend a bit longer meditating. We’ll learn some new meditation practices, including contemplative meditation. You must have completed Meditation 101 to take this class, or have been practicing for a while. This class is required for the third meditation class in the series. Confusing? There are a total of three meditation training classes, beginning with “one oh one.” The third will begin at the end of the summer, or in early fall.
(June 13-July11, 8-915 PM) $75
Thursdays: Poetry of the Sages
We’ll meditate some in the beginning of class, and then read and discuss poetry. Authors will come from a wide range of times and places. We’ll explore how magic and wisdom manifest in the written and spoken word. The arts have been a part of the meditator’s path for a long time. As this tradition takes root in the West, art is one area where the wisdom and blessings of the tradition can be uncovered.
(June 14-July 12, 8-915 PM) $75
As always, there are student and senior discounts. Vets can take class free of charge. No one will be turned away due to financial hardship.