The Cultivation Story of Buddha Milarepa (Part 8)
(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.
(Continued from Part 7)
Rechungpa asked, “Master, how did you cultivate in ascetic practice? Where did you practice?”
Milarepa replied, “The next morning, the teacher's son prepared a bag of roasted barley flour for me and a pack of good food as an offering. He told me, 'This is for your practice. Please promise not to forget about us.' I took this food and went to meditate in a cave in the mountain behind my house. I very sparingly mixed the flour with water to eat. After quite a while, my body became weak, but my practice improved significantly. I cultivated like this for several months and eventually consumed all the food. My body was too weak to continue. I thought, 'I need to ask for some yak butter from a farm and some roasted barley flour. I need to keep this body from starving to death so that I can continue cultivating.'
“I went down the mountain and to a nearby pasture where I saw a yak-hair tent. I stood in front of the tent and asked, 'Almsgiver, would you please give some butter to a yogi?' It turned out to be my aunt's tent, and she recognized my voice. Out of fury, she sent a violent dog to attack me. I hurriedly threw some stones at the dog in self-defense. Aunt took down a pole that supported the yak hair tent and ran toward me, starting to scold, 'You spendthrift! Enemy of relatives! Demon of the village! Shame on you! What are you doing here? I never thought a family would have a son like you!' She kept scolding me and swung the pole to hit me. I started to run away, but my body was weak from malnutrition. I stumbled on a stone and fell into a small creek. Aunt continued yelling and started hitting me with the pole. I kept struggling and was able to stand up. With a hand on a walking cane and in tears, I began to sing to her.
“The girl who came out with aunt heard my song and was unable to hold back tears of sympathy. Aunt also felt embarrassed and returned to her tent. She asked the girl to give me a leather pouch of butter and cheese. I left aunt's tent limping and continued begging, tent after tent. I did not know who these people were, but they all knew me. Seeing me coming, they all looked at me carefully and gave me lots of good food. Thinking of how aunt treated me like this, I was afraid uncle would give me a hard time too, so I thought I'd better go somewhere else to ask for food. I carried this thought of asking for more food to the next village.
“Who would have known that because uncle's old house had fallen down, he had moved to this village many years earlier. I walked up to his door unknowingly. Uncle saw me and jumped up, 'You bastard! Spendthrift! I am so old and only have a few bones left. But you are the one I have been waiting for my entire life!' He then picked up stones and threw them at me. I hurriedly ran away. Uncle dashed back home and grabbed a bow and arrow. He came out yelling, 'You unscrupulous spendthrift! Haven't you harmed this village enough?! Hey neighbors and relatives, come out quickly! Our enemy is here!' Hearing uncle's shouting, many young people came out to help him throw stones at me. They had all suffered losses in the past because of me. Seeing this bad situation, I was afraid they would beat me to death. So I pretended to gesture in wrath and shouted, 'Masters and deities! This cultivator has encountered enemies who want to take his life! Divine custodians, please return these stones with dark arrows! Even if I die, the divine custodians will not die!'
“Hearing these words, everyone became scared and restrained uncle. Some people who were sympathetic toward me came over to help mediate the disagreement. Those who threw stones at me also came close to ask for forgiveness. All of them gave me lots of food, except for uncle, who refused to compromise or give me any alms. I took the food and slowly returned to the cave. Thinking that my presence near this village would cause them anger and discomfort, I wondered whether I should leave this place soon.
“That night I had a dream in which an omen seemed to tell me to stay for a few more days before leaving. So I decided to do so.
“A few days later, Dzese came with very good food and wine. Seeing me, she just hugged me and began to cry loudly. While sobbing, she described in detail how mother died and how sister wandered far away from home. Hearing their tragic experiences, I could not help but cry in pain too.
“After a while, I held back my tears and asked Dzese, 'You still have not married?'
“'People are afraid of your divine custodians, and no one dares to marry me. In fact, even if someone wanted to marry me, I don't want to get married! You are practicing righteous dharma, and that is so marvelous.'
“Dzese stopped speaking for a while and then asked me, 'Do you have a plan for your home and land?'
“I knew what was on her mind. I thought to myself, 'Me leaving this worldly life and relinquishing family to follow righteous dharma was completely the result of master Marpa's benevolence. Dzese needs to have a positive understanding of Buddhist dharma. This would be best for her. She needs to decide by herself how to handle these worldly issues. I should explain these clearly to her.'
“I said to her, 'If you meet my sister Peta, please give the house and all the land to her. Before that, you can enjoy these family properties. If Peta is confirmed to be dead, then I give the house and land to you.'
“'Don't you want them yourself?'
“I replied, 'I cultivate in an ascetic practice and live like a rat or bird, so the land is not useful to me. Even if I were to own all the property in this world, I would still not be able to take any with me at my death. If I abandon everything at this moment, I will be happy in the future and also happy now. What I do is the opposite of what worldly people do. So, from now on, please do not regard me as you would an ordinary person.'
“She said, 'So do you disapprove of all other people who practice dharma?'
“'If a person learns dharma for the purpose of becoming famous, he would teach scripture and explain dharma. He is happy when his sect wins and joyful when others lose. That is, he is only pursuing fame and personal gain. They merely wear a yellow robe and only claim to be studying dharma. I am against people like that. On the other hand, if a person's motive is pure and sincere, then no matter which sect he is in, he is heading for Bodhi, and I am absolutely not against him. Therefore, I disapprove of those whose intentions are fundamentally impure.'
“Dzese said, 'I have never met or heard of someone as impoverished and ragged as you learning dharma. Which branch of Mahayana are you following?'
“'This is the most sacred one among all the methods. That is to forsake the eight worldly concerns and attain Buddhahood in one lifetime.'
“'Your words and conduct are different from all other masters. It looks like one of the two must be wrong. Assuming both are dharma, I still like theirs better.'
“I replied, 'I don't like those masters that you worldly people are fond of. The content of their dharma is the same as mine. But if one wears a yellow robe and is still driven by the eight worldly concerns, it is essentially meaningless. Even if this person is not moved by the Eight Worldly Winds, the relative time that it takes for that person to attain Buddhahood is poles apart. You may not understand this point. In short, if you could be determined, it would be best that you strive to practice dharma. If you cannot, you should just go take care of the land and home.'
“Dzese said, 'I don't want your house and land. You can just give them to your sister. I will practice dharma, but I can't practice your kind of cultivation method.' She left after saying this.
“Several days later, aunt heard that I no longer wanted the house and land. She was astonished and thought, 'Though he said he follows his master's words and does not want the property, I need to go see if it's true.' So she came to see me with food and wine. When she saw me, she said, 'Nephew, I was wrong a few days ago. You are a dharma practitioner, so please have patience and forgive me. I want to cultivate your field for you and pay you rent each month. It would be pitiful for your land to lie barren otherwise. What do you think?'
“I said, 'Great! I only need one khal (about 25 to 30 pounds) of grain flour every month. You can keep the rest.' Aunt left happy and satisfied.
“Two months later, aunt returned and said to me, 'People all say that if someone cultivates your field, your divine custodians will get angry and cast a spell. Please don't cast a spell!'
“I replied, 'Why would I cast a spell? You have virtue, so please don't worry. Just cultivate the field and bring me food.'
“She said, 'If that's so, I feel reassured. Can you make a promise?'
“I thought, 'Why does she want me to do that? Even if she has bad intentions, this adverse condition could become an agreeable one.' So I made a promise, and she left joyfully.
“I continued practicing in the cave. Although I tried my best, I still could not gain the virtue of inner heat. As I was thinking about what to do, that night I had a dream. In that dream, I saw I was cultivating a field that was extremely hard. It was difficult to dig no matter how hard I tried. Just as I was about to give up, master Marpa appeared in the sky and said, 'Son! Work hard at plowing! As long as you courageously forge ahead, no matter how hard it is, you will succeed.' With those words, master Marpa plowed in the front, and I plowed in the back. Sure enough, the field was later covered in hearty seedlings.
“I woke up and was very happy. But thinking about it further, I realized a dream is just a manifestation of my habits. Even a worldly person may not take it seriously. If I am joyful because of a dream, isn't it too foolish? Nonetheless, I knew this was a type of omen and that I would definitely gain virtue if I continued my efforts to forge ahead.
“At that time, I already had the intention of practicing in Drakar Taso cave (White Rock Horse Tooth cave). Right then, aunt came to visit me with three dous of roasted barley flour (each dou is about ten liters), a worn-out coat, a piece of cloth, and a ball of butter and fat. She said to me resentfully, 'These things are what you get for selling the land. Please take these and go to a place far away where I cannot hear or see you, because the villagers are all saying, 'Topaga has harmed our village so badly, and now you have called him back. He will probably kill everyone in the village. If you do not drive him away, we will kill both you and him!' So I especially came here to tell you that. Please, it's best if you go to a place far away. Suppose you have to stay here, they may not kill me, but they will kill you for sure.'
“I knew the villagers would not say anything like that. Had I not been a true dharma practitioner, I would not have allowed her to seize the land by vowing to her earlier. Though I promised not to cast a spell, that did not necessarily mean she could seize my land through deception. I thought this way and told aunt, 'I am a cultivator, and it is critical for a cultivator to endure humiliation. If one cannot tolerate adversity, how could it be called enduring humiliation? If I were to die tonight, not only this land but everything in this world would be useless to me. Enduring humiliation is most critical for a dharma practitioner, and aunt, you are my opponent to cultivate my endurance of humiliation. The reason I was able to encounter righteous dharma was also because of you and uncle's favors. To return your favors, I vow that I hope both of you attain Buddhahood in the future. Not only do I not want the land, I can also give you the house.' I then sang a song:
'Relying on master' grace, I reside in the mountain free and unfettered;'The disciple's blessings and calamities, are all known to master completely.
'Earthly people are pulled by karma, unable to escape life and death;'If greedy for worldly concerns, there would be no hope as my soul is lost.
'Earthly people are busy committing karma, leading to suffering in lower realms;Greed and infatuation, leads one into a fiery flame.
'Seeking property and wealth, conflicts often arise creating enemies;Good wine is like poison, the one who drinks finds liberation difficult.
'My aunt likes money a lot, greedy in collecting property tirelessly;Stingy with earthly belongings, may end up as a hungry ghost in the end.
'What aunt said, is mostly gossip spreading;Speaking more words like these, causes yourself real harm...
'All my house and land, are given away to aunt;I learn dharma with a pure mind, Buddhahood will be attained.
'Offering salvation to those who are suffering, as hardship comes from karmic meddling;I forge upward as a practitioner, with intrinsic nature remaining unmoved.
'Blessed with compassion, I pray for support from masters;Free and unfettered, here I live in the mountain.'
“Aunt heard my song and just said, 'Nephew, people like you are true cultivators!' Satisfied and happy, she descended the mountain.
“After being subjected to these kinds of irritations, my loathing and desire to leave this earthly world became stronger than ever. Therefore, giving away the house and land was almost nothing to me. I thought about going to Drakar Taso immediately to meditate. This cave was the place where I started practicing until reaching completion, so later everyone called it 'Setting Off Cliff Cave.'
“The next day, I took the goods I obtained from selling the land, along with some scrappy personal belongings that I normally carried with me, and walked to Drakar Taso at dawn, before everyone woke up. Drakar Taso was a suitable cliff cave to reside in. After arriving, I laid out a hard piece of felt and placed a small mat on it as my meditation seat. After arranging everything necessary, I sang a vow:
''Before attaining Buddhahood, I vow to stay here;Regardless of cold or hunger, I will not leave for clothes or food.
'If sickness comes, I will not go down for treatment;Enduring suffering I would rather risk my life, than walk down the mountain to seek medicine.
'Even for a brief moment, no worldly benefits for this physical body;Only through body, speech, and mind, can one strive for great enlightenment.
'I sincerely pray to master, and all Buddhas in ten directions;Please bestow great support, so this vow is not violated.
'I sincerely pray to all dakinis, along with divine custodians;Assist me with this predestined affinity; make this vow my ultimate destiny.'
“I then vowed, 'Before my completion and great realization, I will not go down the mountain for food even if I starve to death; I will not go down the mountain for clothing even if I die from the cold; I will not go down the mountain to look for medicine even if I lose my life to illness. I resolutely forsake anything and everything related to this life and the earthly world. My body, speech, and mind will remain steadfast, solely pursuing Buddhahood. I hope masters, dakinis, and divine custodians will help me achieve this. If I were to violate this vow, I would rather die than keep a human body that does not cultivate righteous dharma. Therefore, if I disobey my vow, I hope Buddhas and divine custodians will end my life immediately; after I die, I also wish master could help me be reborn as a human that can practice righteous dharma.'
“After making the vow, I only ate a tiny amount of roasted barley flour every day. Day after day, I continued the ascetic practice.
“Even with the support of Mahamudra meditation, my physical strength was inadequate due to lack of food, and my energy and breath were not harmonized. As a result, I could not generate inner heat and felt very cold. So I prayed to master for help. One night, with bright sensations I seemed to see master Marpa in a worship ritual surrounded by many ladies. One person asked, 'What should Milarepa do if he cannot generate inner heat?' Master Marpa replied, 'He should practice in such and such a way.' He then demonstrated a special meditation position. Upon waking up, I followed his instruction to perform the six furnace seal (a type of special sitting style). After adjusting the energy, controlling my breathing, and suppressing random thoughts, my mind relaxed, and inner heat was produced.
“After a year, I thought about going out for a walk and visiting the village. As I was about to leave, I remembered the vow I had made earlier.
“So I encouraged myself and thus continued bravely forging forward diligently, without rest, day and night. I gradually made more and more progress, and in this way three more years passed.
“Although I consumed only one khal of roasted barley flour per year, it gradually diminished over several years. In the end, I had nothing left to eat, and I saw that if I continued this way I would starve to death. I thought that worldly people pursue money tirelessly with this precious human body. They are joyful over a little gain and frustrated over a little loss. They are so pitiful. Even with the gold throughout the three thousand worlds, it is nothing compared to attaining Buddhahood. If I cannot succeed and lose this human body in vain, it would truly be such a pity. So should I go out for a little food to continue my life? I then recalled the vow I had made earlier. Should I go down the mountain or not? After thinking it through back and forth, I realized that going out now was not for leisure; rather it was to obtain food for my cultivation. Thus, it would not count as breaking the vow but rather was something I should do. To get some food to practice dharma, I walked out of Drakar Taso.
“That place was an open field where I could see for a great distance. The sunlight was warm, there was a clear stream, and everywhere was covered in luscious grass and green colored nettles. Seeing this, I was very happy, thinking, 'I can now survive on eating nettles and no longer need to go down the mountain for food.' From then on, by means of eating nettle I lived a meager existence and continued my cultivation.
“After a long time, the clothes I had were all worn out with nothing left. Because I ate only nettles, I was emaciated, and my hair and pores had turned green.
“Thinking of the letter from master, I put it on the top of my head, feeling very happy. Although there was nothing to eat, I felt happy and conceited, as if I had just eaten some delicious food. I felt very cozy and satisfied. I thought of opening the letter to read it, but an omen indicated that it was not yet time, so I didn't open it. In this way, another year passed.
“One day a group of hunters came by with hunting dogs. They had not found any prey and somehow walked into the entrance of my cave. Seeing me, they were frightened and shouted, 'Are you a human or a ghost?'
“I replied, 'I am a human. I am a human practicing cultivation.'
“'How come you came to look like this? Why is your body green all over?' one of them asked.
“'I have been eating nettles for a long time, so I became like this.'
“'Where is your food for practicing cultivation? Lend us your food to eat, and we will pay you back with money later. If you don't give us your food, we will kill you!' They looked all over the cave and threatened me viciously.
“I have nothing aside from nettle. If I did, I would not hide it, because I believe that people only give food to cultivators as an offering, and they certainly don't rob cultivators of their food.'
“One hunter asked, 'What good is there in giving offerings to cultivators?'
“'Giving offerings to cultivators will bring you blessings,' I replied.
“He just laughed and said, 'All right. Great! I will come and give you an offering!' He picked me up from seat and threw me onto the ground. He then lifted me again and dropped me, once again dumping me. Being lifted and dumped like this, my thin and weak body of course could not take it, and it was incredibly painful. Though they were humiliating me like this, a compassion for them arose in my heart. I felt they were incredibly pitiful, and I could not hold back my tears.
“Another hunter who had been sitting off to the side and had not insulted or tossed me said, 'Hey! Don't do that. He is indeed an ascetic practitioner. Even if he weren’t, bullying such an emaciated person won't make you a hero. And our stomachs are not hungry because of him. Stop doing such unreasonable things!' He then said to me, 'Yogi, I truly admire you and did not disturb you. Please protect and bless me.' The hunter who bullied me said, 'I already gave you an offering, up and down. You should bless me too!' He laughed and left.
“I did not cast spells on them. Maybe it was punishment from the Three Jewels [the Buddha, the dharma, and the monastic order of Buddhism] or retribution for his own evil deeds; I heard that a judge sentenced that hunter to death not long afterward. Other than the hunter who told the others not to bully me, everyone else received severe punishment.”
(To be continued)