Milarepa, Tibet’s Great Yogi-Sage and Singing Saint

Tibet’s Great Yogi-Sage and Singing Saint, Milarepa (1040-1123)

Biographical text and endnotes copyright © 2006 by Timothy Conway.


Milarepa (repa, “cotton clad”), “by far the most famous saint of Tibet,”[1] established, with the help of his guru Marpa and his own disciples, the strongly meditative, mystical and devotional Kagyü school of tantric Vajrayâna Buddhism in Tibet.[2]

Jetsün Milarepa is universally venerated throughout that country as its most powerful and heroic yogi-sage. He is certainly one of the most interesting and beloved figures in all of spirituality—an outstanding exemplar of Jesus and the Buddha’s commandment to “love thy enemy.” Mila’s case is paradigmatic: he overcame evil—others’ evil and his own evil —to become a superhuman Buddha in one lifetime. His is a life of sincere effort, tireless dedication, and amazing austerity culminating in supremely enlightened wisdom and all-embracing compassion.

Born in southwest Tibet near the Nepal border,[3] Mila Thöpaga (“a joy to hear”) lost his father Sherab Gyaltsen at age seven. Mila’s uncle and aunt were to care for Mila, his younger sister Peta, and their bereaved mother, Nyangtsha Kargyen, but instead the greedy kin took over the family estate and callously subjected Mila’s family to servitude, persecution, and humiliation. Mila’s mother gave her son a terrible ultimatum—either he learn black magic as a means to eliminate the uncle and aunt, or she would commit suicide. And so Mila spent years training among black magicians to the east, eventually returning with new sorcerer skills to wreak vengeance, at the behest of his hapless, vindictive mother, on those who had so disfranchised and hurt their family. With his magic power and the help of some subtle-plane demon allies, he caused a house to collapse, killing 35 persons at a party held by the aunt and uncle for his son—as fate would have it, only the uncle and aunt were spared by the demons. Next, he created a bad hailstorm that destroyed the villagers’ crops.

Now, with their attempts to find and kill him, and his own massive guilt tormenting him over what he had done, a desperate Mila left home in search of a Buddhist teacher who could help him completely atone for and overcome in one lifetime his load of evil karma, otherwise he’d be going to hell for his misdeeds. He met Nyingma Buddhist teacher Rongton, who sent Mila to meet householder sage Marpa Lotsâwa (c.1012-98) at Trowo Lung in southern Tibet (near Bhutan).[4] Marpa had twice bravely journeyed over the mountain passes down into India, spending 21 years in all, to obtain initiations, teachings and texts from the tantric scholar-adept-monk Nâropa (1016-1100).

Nâropa, a Bengali layman, married for eight years, studied Buddhism in the Kashmir valley on and off from age 11 to 17; later, from 1049 to 1057 he served as abbot of prestigious Nâlandâ Buddhist university in north India. He then left to practice tantra for twelve long years of trials as faithful disciple under Tilopa (988-1069), a strange, liminal thaumaturge, a former monk turned itinerant “crazy wisdom” mahâ-siddha Great Adept, whom Nâropa had first met in a vision.[5] Tilopa allegedly was inspired by the primordial Buddha, Vajradhara (Dorje Chang, prime Deity of the Kagyü school) and directly given the mahâmudrâ (Great Symbol/Final Seal) teachings of true awakening to Buddha-nature. Nâropa became deeply enlightened under Tilopa. Marpa, who attended Nâropa for 16 years, brought back to Tibet the mahâmudrâ wisdom and the nâro chodrug, “Six Yogas of Nâropa.”

A hefty, fiery, yet dignified man, Marpa “quarreled with his colleagues and preoccupied himself with building and agriculture.” In their auspicious first meeting, Marpa appeared incognito, plowing as a farmhand, to size Mila up, then formally accepted him as disciple after hearing Mila’s past and testing him to see whether he wanted spiritual instruction or a more comfortable life of food and lodging in the Guru’s home. Mila vowed to do whatever it took to become a Buddha in one lifetime. In their first six years together, Marpa (nearly 30 years older than Mila) treated Mila like a servant: demanding, aloof, harsh, even seemingly cruel—he later admitted he was only purifying Mila’s karma, his earlier sins of sorcery. For instance, a famous episode tells of Marpa making Mila arduously build and then completely disassemble not one but four successive buildings—for no good reason. Finally, a disconsolate Mila, judging himself too evil to be given any teachings by Marpa, after almost committing suicide in despair, left to find another teacher, despite repeated reassurances from Marpa’s gentle wife Damema to stay and be patient. Though she knew that her husband thought extremely highly of Mila, nevertheless, she forged a letter of introduction for Mila to another teacher, Lama Ngogdun Chudor, under whose tutelage he began to meditate.

Not making any progress, he confessed the forgery and the Lâma said that it is futile to aim for spiritual growth without approval from one’s root-Guru. So Mila journeyed back and was this time lovingly received by Marpa, who began to treat him as his most honored spiritual son along with his own son, a saintly young man who unfortunately died within a year or so.

Marpa granted Mila secret, powerful initiations into the loftiest levels of Buddhist tantra view and practice. This tantra system aims to 1) divinize the yogi’s body, speech, and mind through mudrâs/gestures, mantras, meditations and visualizations of Vajradhara and other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; and 2) help the male or female yogin realize the highest spiritual truth: the illusory nature of all appearances and the transcendent-immanent quality of Buddha-nature (buddhatâ, dharmakâya) or Pure Awareness: utterly formless yet pervading all forms. This Awareness or Buddha-nature is the “continuum” or “thread” (the literal meaning of tantra) underlying all phenomena, just as a single thread unifies all the flowers of a garland or the beads of a necklace.

Mila then meditated in virtual solitude for 11 months, supported by Marpa and Damema, coming out only at his Guru’s behest for more teachings. He then returned to the mountains for years of further meditation and austerities, interspersed with visits from his Guru. Marpa made one last arduous trip to India to find Nâropa and get a tantric teaching to benefit Mila’s practice.

In a classic style of thangka or Tibetan sacred painting, Milarepa is shown with his Tibetan guru Marpa above his head, and the Indian tantra sages Tilopa and Nâropa to left and right; Milarepa's disciple Gampopa is to the lower left, and, to the lower right, the first Karmapa (head of the "Black Hat" Kagyü order of Tibetan Buddhists founded or inspired by Milarepa)

The Mila Khabum, the candid autobiographical account given by Mila to his disciple Rechung, tells how Mila was impelled by a sad dream of his mother and sister to go find and comfort them; so, in a bittersweet farewell to Marpa and Damema, reassured by Marpa that they would meet again in another world, Mila set out west for home, but found only an empty house and his mother’s bones. He went into samâdhi (meditative absorption) for an entire week to invoke blessings for his late mother and father. Collecting alms from a few friends in the vicinity (and almost being killed by the aunt and uncle when he chanced near their tents), he retired into the big Dakar Taso cave in the nearby hills, vowing to refuse householder life for a life of total renunciation and perpetual meditation.

The faithful Zesay, to whom Milarepa had been betrothed when they were children, came to see him, and was deeply impressed by his spiritual vow. To her he offered his deserted family home and field until his sister Peta could be found, but she graciously refused. Mila’s conniving aunt then came to see if she could take the property without being cursed by her nephew—he generously agreed and sang spiritual instruction to her, fearless in the face of her insidious hints that he might be killed. He not only forgave his aunt but actually thanked her and his uncle for being the major factor in his turn to spirituality.

For the next several years, Milarepa, dressed in rags and then just a thin white cotton cloth or utterly naked, meditated in the often freezing Himâlaya caves near and on Chomolungma (Earth Mother Mountain, a.k.a. Mt. Everest), not too far from the family home, honing an inner attunement to Spirit. He ate very little, for one whole year subsisting only on nettle-broth amidst long periods of fasting; the nettles turned his skin a greenish hue. It was Mila’s awesome mastery of the Nâropa yoga of tummo that generates great inner heat, which kept him from freezing to death. In a poignant scene, his sister Peta and Zesay came to visit him, shocked at the sight of their emaciated kinsman. He inspired them with high-level spiritual teachings and over subsequent meetings turned them into ardent practitioners. His aunt came to him again, now sorry for her past sins; Mila gave her wise counsel that led her to adopt a pure spiritual life. It was during this period that, near death from extreme austerities, Mila opened an “emergency” scroll from Marpa: it presciently warned him to sustain himself with more food. Doing so, Mila was energized to break through into clear realization of the formless Void (Shîyatâ) at the heart of all existence and master the inner kundalinî yogic process. Various paranormal siddhi powers began to unfold in him. A great desire arose to go out and help liberate souls from their suffering, but his inner Deity counseled him to further hone his meditative mastery. Finally, his one earthen pot broke, bringing to absolute clarity the Buddhist teachings on the impermanence of all phenomena. Milarepa underwent full awakening from the egoic dream into perfect realization of Clear Light Awareness and its boundless, interdimensional capacities.

The extraordinary Mila Grubum text, relating Milarepa’s career after his time with Marpa, tells in its first part of many subtle-plane demons that repeatedly tried to harm or distract Mila during his many years of solitary practice. The fearless Mila compassionately gazed into their disturbed personalities and converted them into Buddhist “guardian angels” by telling them of the law of karma, compassion and true freedom. The Mila Grubum’s three parts feature his meeting, instructing, and enlightening (to various levels of awakening) scores of humans and non-human beings. Wherever Milarepa went, word of the great siddha yogi spread among hunters and herders and then villagers and townspeople. He traveled all over Tibet and Nepal, staying at a large number of caves, sanctifying them as shrines. “If you meditate in these caves you will have solitude and favorable conditions. Go there and meditate and you will have the blessings of my lineage.”

Milarepa manifested astonishing miracles—e.g., healings, control of physical elements, levitation, bodily transformations, flying, bi-locating his form in remote places simultaneously. Once he was challenged by a Bön shaman-yogi to a wonderworking contest; to prove Buddhism a superior spiritual path to authentic awakening, Milarepa agreed and easily “outperformed” him.

What most endeared Jetsün Milarepa in the hearts of the monks, nuns, yogis, laity, royalty, peasants and merchants who visited him was his clear, authoritative spiritual instruction on their behalf. He usually sang these counsels in lilting poetic hymns. A stirring blend of sublimity and earthiness, soulful strength and gentle humor, pervades these teachings. Many of his songs speak of the beauty of this dream-like world, but underline the terrible danger of being enslaved by one’s unwholesome karmas.

Scholar Reginald Ray sees Milarepa—in his penetrating wisdom and compassion, his eccentric “mad yogi” ways and mocking of established religion, his awesome powers, his unpretentiousness and his closeness to the people (often laughing and joking)—as an indigenous Tibetan version of India’s fabled “84 Mahâsiddhas” (Tilopa, Nâropa, et al.). “[He] did not know Sanskrit, and was relatively unlearned in the vast Indian Buddhist academic traditions that so preoccupied many of his Tibetan contemporaries. His songs reflect the amalgamation of indigenous bardic forms with the Indian dohâ tradition [most notably, the songs of the 9th century mahâsiddha Saraha]. His … mountain renunciate life … established a new, major contemplative option in Tibetan Buddhism. Most important, through his … disciples, Mi-la-ras-pa [Milarepa] left as legacy a lineage that has played a central role in the religious life of Tibet.”

In his 84th year, Jetsün Milarepa knew he was ready to leave earth-plane existence. A jealous, rich scholar-lama, Geshe Tsakpûhwa, tried to show he was more learned than Milarepa but was instructed by Mila that mere learning is no great achievement. Feeling humiliated, the Geshe made his concubine go offer Mila some tasty milk-curd that he laced with poison. Mila, staying up at Drin Cave hermitage with disciples, clairvoyantly knew of the Geshe’s intent to kill him, but also knew that it was time for him to pass on—for he was old and his chief disciples were fully enlightened. So, after insuring that the Geshe fulfilled his promise to give the concubine a valuable turquoise, Mila went ahead and drank the poisonous curd. No illness seemed to manifest. The curious Geshe came to see Mila and feigned sympathy when Mila admitted to being quite ill. Mila, by miraculously transferring the toxic energy to the nearby wooden door and shattering it, and then transferring just some of the same energy to the insincere Geshe, stunned the man, reducing him to remorseful tears.

Mila forgave the Geshe, took on his sinful karma and counseled him on living a life of piety and humility. Despite the illness, Mila then walked down to the town of Chûwar, along the way showing a “multi-location” miracle of simultaneously appearing to his disciples in various far-flung places. At the Driche Cave above the town of Chûwar, Milarepa spoke his last spiritual instructions to a throng of devotees, sang a song of gratitude and enlightenment, and then expired.

Spectacular interdimensional phenomena—rainbows, light shows, flower showers, unearthly fragrances and sounds, seen around Milarepa on earlier occasions—this time were seen in abundance as celestials honored him. Mila miraculously revivified his corpse for the sake of his disciple Rechung (1088-1158), who had hastened from afar to see his Master. Grief turned to joy as Mila sang for him one final song of Truth. Then Mila dropped the body, resuming his Formless Dharmakâya Identity and his subtle-energy Sambhogakâya “enjoyment” body for personally blessing and guiding disciples and future followers. Dâkinûs, female deities, flew off with Mila’s remains for themselves, leaving no relics in the cremation area, only a sphere of light. A will left by Mila directed disciples to his “stash of buried gold”: they found just a white cotton cloth, a lump of brown sugar, a cutting knife, and a note explaining how these would be miraculously transformed by him so as to yield unending pieces of cotton and sugar for all his devotees as talismans of blessing. The note also joked, “for me, the entire cosmos has been transmuted into gold; no need have I to tie gold up in hidden packets!” He lovingly, reassuringly promised eternal guidance from on high to all who thought of him.

Milarepa had foretold that among his celestial disciples, goddess Tserinma, and among his 27 fully awakened male/female human disciples, the Kadampa monk-scholar-physician Gampopa (1079-1153) would be the two chief propagators of his mahâmudrâ wisdom and the Kagyü school in Tibet.[6] The teachings were synthesized by Gampopa and his successors (Pakdru Dorje Gyalpo, Jigten Sumgön, et al.) as the “fivefold path of mahâmudrâ”: 1) generating selfless love, compassion and bodhicitta (a mind of enlightenment for benefiting all beings); 2) yidam visualization / Deity Yoga; 3) devotional Guru Yoga; 4) mahâmudrâ wisdom realization; and 5) generous dedication of merit accrued from these practice for the welfare of all beings.

These practices are the heart of the Kagyü school of Tibetan Vajrayâna Buddhism, which has been spiritually led for the last 800 years by Tibet’s longest-running line of tulkus (consciously reincarnating lamas), the Gyalwa Karmapas. (Karma Pakshi, 1206-83, the second Karmapa, was Tibet’s first declared tulku, or reinarnate lama/guru.) All Karmapas and Kagyü practitioners look to Jetsün Milarepa as their great inspiration.

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In this thangka image, Milarepa is shown surrounded by four of his leading disciples; above his head sits Marpa, showering blessings; above and to the left and right are the Indian tantric sages Tilopa and Nâropa. Above them all is Vajradhara, a personification of the primordial Buddha-principle. Note that Milarepa is usually shown iconographically with his hand to his ear. This symbolizes both his reception of the secret tantra teachings/practices from the lineage via Marpa, and also his own inner connection to the Source of all inspirational and liberating wisdom, which, in turn, Milarepa expressed to his followers in his spontaneous songs of enlightenment.

Milarepa’s Songs and Teachings [7]

[A hymn of praise to Marpa when Mila was still practicing under him:] To the impure eyes of those you seek to liberate, / you manifest yourself in a variety of shapes; / But to those of your followers who’ve been purified, / You, Lord, appear as a Perfected Being; obeisance to You! … In the heavenly radiance of Dharmakâya [Absolute] Awareness, / there exists not shadow of thing or concept, / Yet It pervades all objects of knowledge. / Obeisance to the Changeless, Eternal Awareness. (Evans-Wentz, 137)

[Later odes to Marpa:] I pay homage to you, Marpa the Translator. / In the immense sky of your compassion / are gathered from all sides the clouds of mercy / from which fell the productive rain of grace. (59) Oh, my Guru, he who shows / the unmistakable path to Liberation, / Perfect Savior, great Compassionate One, / never leave me, ever remain / above my head as my crest-jewel! (75)

Indomitable perseverance / is the highest offering to my Guru. / The best way to please him / is to endure the hardship of meditation! / Abiding in this cave, alone, / is the noblest service to the Dâkinîs! (4)

I realize all forms are but illusions [mâyâ]. / I thus free myself from the illness of ego-clinging, / I thus cut off the subject-object fetter [e.g., self-other, seer-seen, doer-deed] of Samsâra [rebirth cycle], / and reach the Buddha’s realm, the immutable Dharmakâya. (60)

In his solitary meditations, demons began to afflict him:] Ye local demons, ghosts, and [troubled] gods, / all friends of Milarepa, / Drink the nectar of kindness and compassion, / then return to your abodes. [But they wouldn’t leave, despite his recitation of potent incantations. He finally declared:] Through the mercy of Marpa, I have already fully realized that all beings and all phenomena are of the mind. The mind itself is a transparency of Voidness. What, therefore, is the use of all this [resistance], and how foolish I am to try to dispel these manifestations physically. [He sang:] Though the storm on the snow peak is awesome, / I have no fear. / Though the precipice is steep and perilous, / I am not afraid! / … Though demons, ghosts, and devils multiply, / I am not afraid. / … Ye ghosts and demons, enemies of the Dharma, / I welcome you today! / It is my pleasure to receive you! / I pray you, stay; do not hasten to leave; / We will discourse and play together. / … We will pit the Black against the White Dharma, / and see who plays best! [They all vanished in the face of his confidence.] (4-7)

[On another occasion, a terrible army of hideous, malevolent demons threatened him with destruction:] I take refuge in all gracious Gurus / and pay homage to them. / Through mirages and illusions, / you pernicious male and female devils / can create these fantastic terrors. / You pitiable demons and hungry ghosts / you can never harm me. / Because your sinful karma in the past / has fully ripened, you have received / demonic bodies for this life. / With minds and bodies so deformed, / you wander in the sky [seemingly] forever. / Driven by the fiery kleías [defilements], / your minds are filled with hostile and vicious thoughts. / Your deeds and words are malignant and destructive. / You screamed, “Kill him! Chop him! Beat him! Cut him up!” / I am a yogi who is devoid of [egoic] thoughts, / knowing there is no such thing as mind. / … My body merges with the Body of Buddha, / my words are like the true words of the Tathâgata [Buddha], / my mind is absorbed in the Realm of Great Light [Buddhahood]. / I see clearly the void nature of the Six Consciousnesses [five senses and mind] / … It is distressing and woeful that you ghosts and demons / should not understand the Truth. / … All sentient beings who live by nourishment / are my fathers and my mothers! / … Would it not be a happy and joyous act / if you were to renounce your vicious thoughts? / Would it not be a blessed and joyful thing / if you were to practice the Ten Virtues? /… By renouncing the Ten Evils / know that you will win joy and liberation. / If you follow my teachings, / your accomplishments will increase greatly; / if you practice the Dharma now, / everlasting joy will at last enfold you. (13-16) [Most of the demons were converted to the path of good by this song. A few were not, including the demon leader. So Mila sang:] The Law of Karma never fails to function; / no one escapes from its ripening. / You are only bringing trouble on yourselves, / you hungry ghosts, confused and sinful! / I feel only sorrow and pity for you. / … Your sinful deeds led you / to the depths of the lower path. / Turn back, my friends, from this ensnaring karma, / and try to attain true happiness which is / beyond all hope and fear. / … You cannot understand the meaning / of Ultimate Truth [that only Awareness exists]. / Listen, therefore, to the Expedient Truth. / … All the Buddhas in the past, repeatedly admonished / with the eternal truth of Karma: / every sentient being is one’s kinsman…. Outer hindrances are but a shadow-show, / and the phantasmal world / a magic play of mind unborn. / By looking inward into the mind is seen / Mind-nature—without substance, intrinsically void. / … The inner truth of the Buddha / should be the object of meditation. / … When in one’s own mind one ponders / on the original state of Mind, / illusory thoughts of themselves dissolve / into the Realm of Dharmadhâtu [Absolute Totality]. Neither afflicter nor afflicted can be seen. / Exhaustive study of the Sûtras [scriptures] / teaches us no more than this. [Hearing this, all the other demons converted to goodness and began to honor and bless Milarepa in his work.] (17-19)

If one doesn’t practice Dharma, / however learned in the Doctrines one may claim to be, / one is only self-deceived. / … For those who don’t guard their morals, / prayers are but wishful thinking. / For those who don’t practice what they preach, / oratory is but faithless lying. (16-7)

Mind has no substance; / it is void, less than a smallest atom. / When seer and seen are both eliminated, / the View is truly realized. / As for the Practice—in the Stream of Illumination, / no stages can be found. / Perseverance in Practice is confirmed / when actor and acting are both annulled. / In the Realm of Illumination, / where subject and object are one, / I see no cause, for all is void. / When acting and actor disappear, / all actions become correct. / The finite thoughts dissolve in Dharmadhâtu; / the eight worldly winds [loss-gain, pleasure-pain, praise-blame, health-illness] bring neither hope nor fear. / When the precept and the precept-keeper disappear, / the [moral] disciplines are best observed. / By knowing that the Self-mind is Dharmakâya— / Buddha’s Body Absolute— / deed and doer disappear. / Thus the glorious Dharma triumphs. / In answer to his disciples’ questioning, / this is the happy song the old man sings! / … Perfection is attained through the Guru’s grace; / this bounty is repaid by Dharma practice. (29-30)

The limits of the definite / limit understanding. / Drowsiness and distractions / are not meditation. / … A constant flow of thought / is not Yoga. / If there be East and West [the idea of direction], / it is not Wisdom. / If birth and death, / it is not Buddha. // … Great faith, / reliance on a wise and strict Guru, / good discipline, / solitude in a beings are eternally hermitage, / determined, persevering practice, / and meditation— / these are the Six Ways leading to Liberation. // The Original Inborn Wisdom is / the Primordial Sphere. / Without “exterior” or “interior” is the sphere of Awareness; / Without brightness or darkness is the sphere of Insight; / Omnipresent and all-embracing is the sphere of Dharma; / Without mutation or transition is the sphere of Tig Le (Skt.: Bindu—here meaning the Essence or Absolute Truth); / Without interruption is the sphere of Pure Experience / These are the Six Unshakable Realms of Essence. / … May all at this delightful meeting [of disciples] / drink the heavenly nectar of my song. / May everyone be gay and full of joy. / May your pure wishes be fulfilled. / This is the silly song sung by this old man; / do not belittle it, this gift of Dharma, / but with joyous hearts stride forward / on the Path of the Blessed Doctrine! // … At the feet of the Translator Marpa I prostrate myself, / and sing to you, my faithful patrons. / How stupid it is to sin with recklessness / while the pure Dharma spreads all about you. / How foolish to spend your lifetime without meaning, / when a precious human body is so rare a gift. / … How ridiculous it is to beautify and deck the body, / which is a vessel full of filth. / How silly to strain each nerve for wealth and goods, / and neglect the nectar of the inner teachings! (31-4)

[Milarepa converted the clever but karma-caught demoness Draug Srin Mo with a song; here are excerpts:] When I contemplate the rainbow-like [illusions of existence], / I clearly realize the identity of Form and Voidness. / Of the nihilistic and realistic wrong-views [heresies identified by the Buddha: thinking Emptiness means mere nothingness and thinking beings are eternally existent], / I have no trouble. (43-4) Habitual-thinking, clingings, and desires, / arising as they do from the Âlaya Vijñâna [Storage Consciousness], / all vanish and return to the Âlaya. / … Phantasms, hallucinations, and visions of demons, / all are produced from Yoga, / and all go back and vanish into it again. / Should one cling to the reality of visions, / he would be confused in his meditation. / If he knew not that all obstacles / reveal the Void, the manifestation of Mind, / he would be misled in his meditation. / The very root of all confusion / also comes out of the mind. / He who realizes the nature of all outer forms, / he realizes that they are but illusory visions of mind. / He sees also the identity of the Void and Form. / Moreover, to meditate is an illusory thought; / not to meditate is illusory, too. / It is the same whether or not you meditate. / Discrimination of “the two” is the source of all wrong views. / From the ultimate viewpoint there is no view whatsoever. / This is the nature of Mind. / … Enter the non-distracted realm in meditation; / act naturally and spontaneously, / ever conscious of the Essence. / Beyond words is the Accomplishment, free from hope and fear. (52-3)

[Mila accepted from a patron some food, but refused a fur coat, despite the cold. He sang:] As a child who loses his way home, / the confused mind wanders in the six delusive realms [human, animal, deva heavens, demonic asura realms, ghost and hell realms]. / By the force of illusory karma, / one sees a myriad visions and feels endless emotions. / Sometimes I have illusory feelings of hunger, / therefore I prepare my food and dinner. / … Sometimes I eat the food of Shûnyatâ [Voidness]; / or I change my ways and do not eat at all. / At times when I feel thirsty, I drink pure blue water; / at others, I rely on my own secretions. / Frequently I drink the flow from the Fountain of Compassion; / quite often I sip enchanting nectar of goddesses. / Sometimes I feel cold, so I wear the clothes of the Two Channels [the polar energies of inner kundalinî yoga]; / at others, Heat Yoga (tummo) gives burning bliss and warmness. / … I am the Yogi Milarepa—an eagle among men. / … I soar to the sky of Two-in-One [nondual] Suchness, / I sleep in the cave of transcendental Truth. / … I am a man who cares not what may happen. / I am an almsbeggar who has no food, / a nude hermit without clothes, / … I have no place to lay my head; / I am the one who never thinks of external objects / —the master of all yogic action. / Like a madman, I am happy if death comes; / I have nothing and want naught. / … To a yogi, all is fine and splendid! (62-3)

[To his sister, offended by his nudity:] Since I was born naked, I have no cause for shame. Worldly people do not know how to feel shame. They feel ashamed of things which are natural [e.g., a naked body] while unashamedly indulging in evil deeds and hypocrisy that are truly shameful. (Lhalungpa 139) (see a song on this in Chang, 176)

Deep in the forest by man untrod, / I, Milarepa, happily practice meditation. / With no attachment and no clinging, / Walking and tranquility [seated meditation] are both pleasing. / Free from sickness and disorder, I willingly sustain this body of illusion; / never sleeping, I sit in the comfort of quietude. / … Continuance in Heat-Yoga without cold is indeed felicitous. / … Joyfully I follow the Tantric practice; / with no effort I perfect the cultivation; / with no distraction whatsoever, / remaining in solitude, I am truly happy. / … Happy is the illumination with no thought and no mutation! / Happy the great bliss in the purity of the Dharmadhâtu [Infinite/Totality]! / Happy the non-ceasing Realm of Form! / This little song of great happiness / that flows freely from my heart, / is inspired by meditation, by the merging of act and knowledge. [Disciples asked him how this happiness resulted. Mila replied:] By the realization of Mind. (70-1)

Here is the Bodhi [Awake] Place, quiet and peaceful. / The snow mountain, dwelling place of deities, stands high above; / below, far from here in the village, my faithful patrons live; / surrounding it are mountains nestling in white snow. / In the foreground stand the wish-granting trees; / in the valley lie vast meadows, blooming wild. / Around the pleasant, sweet-scented lotus, insects hum; / along the banks of the stream / and in the middle of the lake, / cranes bend their necks, enjoy the scene, and are content. / On the branches of the trees, the wild birds sing; / when the wind blows gently, slow dances the weeping willow; / in the treetops monkeys bound and leap with joy; / in the wild green pastures graze the scattered herds, / and merry shepherds, gay and free from worry, / sing cheerful songs and play upon their reeds. / The people of the world, with burning desires and craving, / distracted by affairs, become the slaves of earth. / From the top of the resplendent Gem Rock, / I, the Yogi, see these things. / Observing them, I know that they are fleeting and transient; / contemplating them, I realize that comforts and pleasures / are merely mirages and water-reflections. / I see this life as a conjuration and a dream. / Great compassion arises in my heart / for those without a knowledge of this truth. / The food I eat is the Space-Void; / my meditation is Dhyâna —beyond distraction. / Myriad visions and various feelings all appear before me— / strange indeed are samsâra’s [worldly life's] phenomena! / Truly amusing are the dharmas [events] in the Three Worlds [Desire, Form and Nonform; or physical, subtle, causal], / Oh, what a wonder, what a marvel! / Void is their nature, yet everything is manifested. (65)

Manifestation, the Void, and Non-differentiation, / these three are the quintessence of the View. / Illumination, Non-thought, and Non-distraction / are the quintessence of the Meditation. / Non-clinging, Non-attachment, and complete Indifference / are the quintessence of Action. / No Hope, no Fear, and no Confusion / are the quintessence of Accomplishment. / Non-attempt, Non-hiding, and Non-discrimination / these three are the quintessence of Precepts. (69-70)

[To Buddhist nuns wanting instruction:] If you wish to become a Buddha in one lifetime, / you should not crave the things of this life, / nor intensify your self-longing, / else you will be entangled between good and evil, / and you may fall into the realm of misery./ … When you engage in study and learning, / do not attach yourself to words with pride … / When you have acquired Experience and Realization, / do not display your miraculous powers, nor prophesy… / Be humble and modest and you will find your way. / […] Turn inward your mind, / and you will find your way. / When you meditate with perseverance and determination, / you should think upon the evils of samsâra [the rebirth cycle] / and the uncertainty of death. / Shun the craving for worldly pleasures; / courage and patience will then grow in you, / and you will find your way. / … Beyond all else remember, at all times and places, / never be overweening, nor of yourself proud, / else you will be overbearing in your self-esteem / and overloaded with hypocrisy. / If you abandon deceit and pretense, / you will find your way. / The person who has found the way / can pass on the gracious teachings to others; / thus he aids himself and helps the others, too. / To give is then the only thought / remaining in his heart.// […] All the manifestation, the universe itself, is contained in the mind; / the nature of Mind is the realm of illumination / which can neither be conceived nor touched. / These are the key points of the [right] View. / Errant thoughts are liberated in the Dharmakâya [Absolute]; / the awareness, the illumination, is always blissful; / meditate in a manner of non-doing and non-effort. / These are the key points of Practice. / In the action of naturalness / the Ten Virtues spontaneously grow; / all the Ten Vices are thus purified. / By corrections or remedies / the Illuminating Void is never disturbed. / These are the key points of Action. / There is no Nirvâna to attain beyond [as a special state]; / there is no Samsâra here to renounce; / truly to know the Self-mind is to be the Buddha Himself. / These are the key points of Accomplishment. / Reduce inwardly the Three Key-points to One. / This One is the Void Nature of Being, / which only a wondrous Guru can clearly illustrate. / Much activity is of no avail; / if one sees the Simultaneously Born Wisdom [innate, eternal Wisdom, always with oneself before and after birth], / he reaches his goal. / … It is my direct experience from yogic meditation. / Think carefully and bear it in your minds, / Oh, my children and disciples. (76-80)

[To some bejeweled young girls passing by, offended by his sight:] In these dark days of the Kali-Yuga period, / deceitful people are honored like gods, / hypocrites are prized more than gold; / true devotees are cast aside, like stones from off a path. / Pity these poor ignorant beings. / … False teachers are preferred, authentic teachers are ignored. / In the dreg-like remainder of these evil times, / good men are not prized, but the wicked are. / In the eyes of gay young women, / not the hermit, but the handsome is prized. / Unto the ears of youthful maidens, / prosaic sermons on religion sound not sweet, / but love songs do. (Evans-Wentz, 218-9 and Lhalungpa, 133-4)

I, the Yogi with the wish-fulfilling gem, / feel happiness and joy wherever I stay. / Because of the fear of cold, I sought for clothes; / the clothing I found is the Vital Heat. / Now I’ve no fear of cold. / … Because of the fear of hunger, I sought for food; / the food I found is the Samâdhi of Suchness. / Now I’ve no fear of hunger. / Because of the fear of thirst, I sought for drink; / the heavenly drink I found is the wine of mindfulness. / Now I’ve no fear of thirst. / Because of the fear of loneliness, I searched for a friend; / the friend I found is the bliss of perpetual Shûnyatâ [Void, Openness]. / Now I’ve no fear of loneliness. / Because of the fear of going astray, / I sought for the right path to follow. / The wide path I found is the Path of Two-in-One [Wisdom / Compassion]. / Now I do not fear to lose my way. / I am a yogi with all desirable possessions, / a man always happy wherever he stays. (84-5)

The tigress howling with a pathetic, trembling cry, / reminds me that her helpless cubs are innocently playing. / I cannot help but feel a great compassion for them, / I cannot help but practice more diligently; / I cannot help but augment thus my Bodhi-Mind. / The touching cry of the monkey, / so impressive and so moving, / cannot help but raise in me deep pity. / The little monkey’s chattering is amusing and pathetic; / as I hear it, I cannot but think of it with compassion. / The voice of the cuckoo is so moving, / and so tuneful is the lark’s sweet singing, / that when I hear them I cannot help but listen— / when I listen to them, I cannot help but shed my tears. / … With joy flowing from my heart, I sing this happy song. / May the dark shadow of all beings’ sorrows / be dispelled by my joyful singing. (85)

[To a group of heavenly maidens initially disguised as a flock of pidgeons:] Merging the Self-mind with the Guru is indeed a happy thing. / Manifestation itself is the essence of Reality. / Through the realization of this unborn Dharmakâya, / I merge myself in the Realm of Non-effort. / … The nature of Mind is the Light and the Void. / By realizing the awareness of Light-Void, / I merge myself in the original state of Non-effort. / To good and bad experiences am I indifferent. / With a mind of Non-effort, I feel happiness and joy. / The Six Senses and Sense Objects of themselves dissolve [into the Dharmadhâtu], / where the Non-differentiation of subject and object is realized. / I merge happiness and sorrow into one; / I enter the original state of Non-effort. / … The very nature of the Dharmakâya / is identified through its myriad forms; / the myriad forms are the Nirmânakâya [physical body] of Buddha. / With this understanding in mind, / whatever circumstances I may encounter, / I am free in the happy realm of Liberation! / To return to the home of Buddha [Formlessness] / I have no longing! Happy indeed is this mind of Non-effort. // (88-9) […] Though worldly happiness and pleasure seem delightful and pleasing, / they soon will pass away. / Though high-ranking ladies are proud and exultant / in their lofty dignity, / what refuge and shelter do they have? / To dwell in the fiery home of samsâra / sometimes seems pleasant, but is mostly misery. // You must know that Heaven is far from dependable; it is not eternal, and one should not rely on it. To be born in Heaven is not necessarily a wonderful thing. […] Even though one reaches the highest Heaven of the White Devas, / it has no permanent value and meaning! / … However pleasant it may seem to be, / in the end comes separation. / Although the bliss in Heaven seems to be very great, / it is merely a deceitful mirage, a bewildering hallucination; / in fact, it is the very cause of the return to suffering! [Because one did not get fully enlightened, one must eventually return to another realm, as dictated by one’s other, non-deva karmic tendencies.] / Thinking of the miseries of the Six Realms in samsâra, / I cannot help but have a feeling of … anguish and distressed emotion! // (90-1) Should you intend to practice the teaching of Buddha, / take refuge in the Three Precious Ones [Buddha, or awakening; Dharma, the wisdom teaching; Sangha, the community of practitioners]. / Sentient beings in the Six Realms / you should consider as your parents. / Give to the poor, and offer to the Guru! / For the benefit of all, dedicate your merits. / Always remember that death may come at any moment. / Identify your body with Buddha’s body. / Identify your own voice with Buddha’s mantra. / Contemplate the Shûnyatâ [Void] of self-awakening Wisdom, / and always try to be master of your mind! // Inwardly practice concentration and contemplation. / The renunciation of external affairs is your adornment. / … With self-composure and mindfulness, remain serene. / Glory is the equanimity of mind and speech! / Glory is the resignation from many actions! / Should you meet disagreeable conditions, / disturbing to your mind, / keep watch upon yourself and be alert: / keep warning yourself: / “the danger of anger is on its way.” / When you meet with enticing wealth [or pleasure], / keep watch upon yourself and be alert; / keep a check upon yourself: / “the danger of craving is on its way.” / … Whatever you may meet in your daily doings, / you should contemplate its void and illusory nature. / Were even one hundred saints and scholars gathered here, / more than this they could not say. / May you all be happy and prosperous! / May you all, with joyful hearts, / devote yourselves to the practice of the Dharma! (92-3)

[To a tantric yogi:] To cling to the actuality of mind is the cause of samsâra [rebirth cycle]; / to realize that non-clinging and illuminating Self-awareness / is unborn and immanent, / is the consummation sign of the Stage of One-Pointedness. / If one talks about the Two-In-One / but still meditates on from, / If one acknowledges the truth of Karma / but still commits wrong-doing, / he is actually meditating with blindness and passion! / Things, as such, are never found / in the true Stage of One-Pointedness. / … The non-differentiation of manifestation and Voidness / is the Dharmakâya / in which Samsâra and Nirvâna are felt to be the same, / It is a complete merging of Buddha and sentient beings. / These are the signs of the Stage of One Taste [one Absolute Awareness comprising all experiencing]. (98-9)

Easy it is to glimpse the Dharmakâya, / but hard to stabilize its realization. / If the realization is stable, / the organs and senses move freely but do not cling. / … See that all appearance / is like mist and fog; / though one has vowed to liberate all sentient beings, / know that all manifestations / are like reflections of the moon in water. (101-2)

[To a young shepherd interested in the mind, who became Milarepa’s disciple Repa Sangje Jhap:] Clinging to the notion of ego is characteristic of this consciousness. / If one looks into this consciousness itself, / he sees no ego; of it nothing is seen! (126) … Those who practice the Dharma with their mouths / talk much and seem to know much teaching, / but when the time comes for the perceiver to leave the deadened body, / the mouth-bound preacher into space is thrown. / When the Clear Light shines [for a precious moment in the intermediate bardo state, a chance for anyone to awaken to the Absolute], it is cloaked by [the ignorant one’s] blindness; / the chance to see the Dharmakâya at the time of death / is lost through fear and confusion. / Even though one spends his life in studying the Canon, / it helps not at the moment of the mind’s departure. / Alas! Those proficient yogis who long have practiced meditation / mistake the psychic experience of illumination / for Transcendental Wisdom, / and are happy with this form of self-deception. / [At death] they are still in danger of rebirth in lower realms. / When your body is rightly posed, and your mind absorbed deep in meditation, / you may feel that thought and mind both disappear. / Yet this is but the surface experience of Dhyâna [meditation]. / By constant practice and mindfulness thereon, / one feels radiant Self-awareness shining like a brilliant lamp. / It is pure and bright as a flower, / it is like the feeling of staring / into the vast and empty sky. / The Awareness of Voidness is limpid and transparent, yet vivid. / This Non-thought, this radiant and transparent experience / it but the feeling of Dhyâna. / With this good foundation, one should further pray to the Three Precious Ones / and penetrate to Reality by deep thinking and contemplation. / He thus can tie the non-ego Wisdom / with the beneficial life-rope of deep Dhyâna. / With the power of kindness and compassion, / and with the altruistic vow of the Awake-Heart, / he can see direct and clear / the truth of the Enlightened Path, / of which nothing can be seen, yet all is clearly visioned. / … Without arrival, he reaches the place of Buddha; / without seeing, he visions the Dharmakâya; / without effort, he does all things naturally. (128-9)

[The monk-disciple Shaja Guna asked Mila about his realization:] I realized that nothing is; / I freed myself from the duality of past and future; / I apprehended that the Six Realms do not exist. / I was delivered once and for all from life and death, / and understood that all things are equal. / … I realized as illusion all that I perceive, / and was freed from taking and leaving. / I realized the truth of Non-difference, / and was freed from both Samsâra and Nirvâna. / I also realized as illusions the Practice, Steps, and Stages. / My mind is thus devoid of hope and fear. (131) If one sees something happen, it is merely clinging. / The nature of Samsâra is the absence of substance; / if one sees substance therein, it is merely an illusion. (133) Is not this life uncertain and delusive? / Are not its pleasures and enjoyments like a mirage? / Is there any peace here in Samsâra? / Is not its false felicity as unreal as a dream? /… Are not all forms the same as the Mind-nature? / Are not Self-mind and the Buddha identical? / … The enlightened one knows that all things are mental. / Therefore, one should observe one’s mind by day and night. / If you watch it, you can still see nothing. / Fix then your [attention] in this non-seeing state…. All things are of the Self-mind, which is void. / He who never departs from the Experience and Realization [of the Void], / without effort has accomplished all practices of worship and discipline, / in this are found all merits and marvels. (134-5)

[To the 15-year-old farm-girl Barbardom, soon a devoted disciple, one of his four female heirs:] The Guru who indicates the true knowledge from without / is your Outer Guru. / The Guru who elucidates the Awareness of Mind within, / is your Inner Guru…. The illumination of the self-recognition of Mind-Essence / is the real Initiation. (140) Meditate on the Vastness with no center and no edge…. Like the ocean, infinitely great and unfathomably deep, / absorb yourself in deepest contemplation. / Thus meditate on your Self-mind. (146) [She later came to him and complained of being distracted by thoughts. Mila sang:] If you felt fine in meditating on the sky, so be it with the clouds. / Clouds are but manifestations of the sky; / Therefore, rest right in the sphere of the sky! / … Waves are but the movement of the ocean; / if you can meditate well on that, why not on the waves? / Therefore, dissolve yourself right in the ocean! / The disturbing thought-flow manifests the mind; / if you can meditate well on that, so be it with the thought-flow! / Therefore, dissolve yourself into the very Essence of Mind! (147-8)

[To some scholar-monks chiding him at a wayside inn for not outwardly saying Buddhist prayers, etc.] The Three Precious Ones, supporting all / in the realm of Non-doing Awareness— / I realize them all! / Why then should I pray to them? / Happy is the practice of Yoga / without mantra and muttering! / … In the realm of Great Illumination, / I have completely realized the Buddha of Non-existence, / and so I need not practice the Arising Yoga! / … In the realm of Self-essence … / I have no need to make the ritual offering. / Happy is the Yoga / in which the six sense-organs relax at ease! / … The words and writing, the dogmas and logic / I absorb in the Realm of Illuminating Consciousness. / For me, there is no need of learning. / Happy is the experience of Yoga, / the source of all the Scriptures. (153-4)

[A rich young man, later Mila’s close disciple Repa Shiwa Aui, offered all he had to Mila after seeing him walk on water; but Mila wouldn’t accept his clothes, his temple, his angelic sister, or anything:] Do you not know that this world is transient and unreal? / When you come before the King of the Dead / your rich man’s money is of no avail. / The temple wherein I dwell is the inner unborn Mind… The experiences of Bliss, Illumination, and Non-thought / are the lovely flowers in my garden! / Encircling the pagoda of Ten Virtues / is my ditch of Voidness. / This is mine, the Yogi’s temple. //… To have angelic [female] company on the Bodhi Path / is a wonder and a marvel; / Yet … my wonder woman is the lust-free Shûnyatâ [Void]. / There is compassion on her face, / and kindness in her smile. … This is my wife, the yogi’s mate. / I have no interest in your samsâric women. //… Delight in pleasures is the devil’s rope; / think, then, of death to conquer your desires. (173-82) [Mila later taught Shiwa Aui:] Yearn not to become a Guru; / be humble and practice diligently; / never hope quickly to attain Enlightenment, / but meditate until you die. / … Seven dangers you should watch: / falling into the [egoic] blissful peace; / using your Buddhist knowledge to get food [or money]; / inflating yourself with pride of priesthood; / falling into yogic madness; / indulging in empty speeches; / falling into the trap of nothingness. (185)

The foundation of all Dharma practice lies in belief in the law of karma [what you reap, you sow], and therefore it is very important for you to devote yourself wholeheartedly to the elimination of harmful deeds and to the practice of virtue. Even though I was at first incapable of understanding the meaning of Emptiness, I trusted the law of karma. This is why, after having accumulated many crimes, … I was compelled to venerate my lama and dedicate myself to meditation. [A disciple: “I beg you to tell us if you are the incarnation of a Buddha or Bodhisattva.”] … Maybe I am the incarnation of a being from the three lower realms, but if you see me as Buddha you will receive his blessing by virtue of your faith…. Actually, there is no greater impediment to your practice [than this kind of belief]. The fault lies in not recognizing the true nature of the achievement of great yogins. The Dharma is so effective that even a great sinner like myself has reached a stage not far from [Buddha’s perfect] Enlightenment due to my belief in karma, my subsequent renunciation of the aims of worldly life, and due especially to my single-minded devotion to meditation.… It is possible for every ordinary person to persevere as I have done. To consider a man of such perseverance [a Buddha reincarnate] is a sign of not believing in the [Dharma’s] short path. Put your faith in the great law of cause and effect. Contemplate the lives of enlightened teachers; reflect upon karma, the misery of the rebirth cycle, the true value of human life, and not knowing the hour of death. Devote yourselves to the practice of the Vajrayâna. (Lhalungpa 144-5)

As a result of my [years of] meditation, I have achieved total awakening wherein the object meditated upon, the action of meditating, and the subject who meditates merge into one, so that now I no longer know how to meditate. (Ibid., 146)

[A song to the jealous Geshe who later poisoned Milarepa:] [Since] the blessing of my Lama penetrated my mind, / I have never been overcome by distractions. / Having meditated on love and compassion, I forgot the difference between myself and others. / Having meditated on my lama, / I forgot those who are influential and powerful. / Having meditated constantly on my yidam [Deity], / I forgot the coarse world of the senses. / Having meditated on the instruction of the secret tradition, / I forgot the books of dialectic. / Having maintained pure awareness, / I forgot the illusions of ignorance. / Having meditated on the essential nature of mind as Trikâya [3 Bodies of Buddha: Absolute, subtle, physical], / I forgot my hopes and fears. / Having meditated on this life and the life beyond, / I forgot the fear of birth and death. / Having tasted the joys of solitude, / I forgot the need to please my relatives and friends. / Having assimilated the teaching in the stream of consciousness, / I forgot to engage in doctrinal polemics. / Having meditated on that which is non-arising, non-ceasing, and non-abiding, / I disregarded all conventional forms. / Having meditated on the perception of phenomena as the Dharmakâya [Absolute Buddha-body], / I forgot all conceptual forms of meditation. / Having dwelt in the unaltered state of naturalness, / I forgot the ways of hypocrisy. / Having lived in humility in body and mind, / I forgot the arrogant disdain of the great. / Having made a monastery within my body, / I forgot the monastery outside. / Having embraced the spirit rather than the letter, / I forgot how to play with words. (Lhalungpa 154-5)

[Excerpts from one of his last songs to disciples, at which the evil Geshe who had poisoned him was present:] 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? / What good is meditating on patience / if you will not tolerate insult? / What use are sacrifices if you do not overcome attachment and revulsion? / What good is giving alms / if you do not root out selfishness? / What good is governing a monastery / if you do not regard all beings as your parents? / … What good to lament my death / if you do not heed my instructions? / … Without learning to love others more than oneself, / what good are sweet words of pity? / Without uprooting delusion and desire, / what profit in serving the Lama? (Lhalungpa 166)

[His last song:] … Without being guided by the true meaning of the Tantras, / all your practices will lead you astray. / Without meditation according to the profound instruction, / he who practices asceticism only torments himself. / He who does not subdue desire and illusion / only speaks sterile and empty words…. / He who accumulates no merit and seeks only his own liberation, reaps rebirth. / He who doesn’t give up what he has accumulated for the sake of the Dharma / won’t achieve perfection, however much he meditates. /… Selfish desires stir up the five poisons. / … Humility leads to the highest goal. /… 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 sentient beings. / He who recognizes the need of others will discover me. / He who finds me will achieve Enlightenment. / To me, to the Buddha, and to the disciples / you should pray as one, considering them as one. (ibid. 171-3)

[The concluding section of his very last words, sung to Rechung:] Lama [Guru], Yidam [Deity], and Dâkinîs, three united in one—/ invoke them! / Perfect seeing, contemplation, and practice, three united in one—/ master them! / This life, the next, and the intermediate [the bardo states], three united in one— / unify them! (Lhalungpa 182)

1. See W.Y. Evans-Wentz (Ed.), Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarepa: A Biography from the Tibetan, being the Jetsün Kahbum or Biographical History of Jetsün Milarepa (Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup, Tr.), Oxford U. Press, 2nd ed., 1951; and Lobsang Lhalungpa (Tr.), The Life of Milarepa, Boulder, CO: Shambhala ed., 1984, a more readable version largely based on Jacques Bacot’s French translation of the Jetsün/Mila Khabum. This wonderful Tibetan work purports to be Milarepa’s autobiography recorded by his close disciple Rechung. For a complete translation of another important text, “perhaps the most outstanding masterpiece of Tibetan literature,” the Mila Grubum, with its 61 stories of Mila and extensive teachings, see Garma C.C. Chang (Tr. & Ed.), The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: The life-story and teachings of the greatest Poet-Saint ever to appear in the history of Buddhism (2 vols.), Shambhala ed., 1977 (now in a new edition by Kessinger Publ., 2006; first publ. in 1962 by University Books). Both the Mila Khabum and Mila Grubum apparently were written by an unknown author, the “Mad Yogi of Tsang” (1452-1507). See also Lama Kunga Rimpoche & Brian Cutillo (Tr.), Drinking the Mountain Stream: Further Stories & Songs of Milarepa, Yogin, Poet, & Teacher of Tibet, NY: Lotsawa, 1978, and Miraculous Journey: New Stories & Songs by Milarepa, Lotsawa, 1986 (the first has 18 selections, the second has 35 selections of songs and stories of Milarepa not found in the Mila Khabum or Mila Grubum). A beautifully illustrated children’s book is Eva Van Dam’s The Magic Life of Milarepa, Tibet’s Great Yogi, Shambhala, 1991, excerpts at Reginald Ray, “Mi-la-ras-pa,” Encyclopedia of Religion (Mircea Eliade, Ed.), NY: Macmillan, 1987. Milarepa’s story is told at several websites: e.g.,

2. In addition to the Kagyü, three other major schools of Tibetan Buddhism persist: 1) the oldest, the Nyingma school (founded by the legendary Padma Sambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyel in the 8th century); 2) the Kadam / Gelug school (founded by Atisha, 982-1054 and Tsong Khapa, 1357-1419), which the Dalai Lamas have led; and 3) the Sakya (f. by Konchok Gyalpo and son Kunga Nyingpo in the late 11th century, based on the teachings of the yogin Drokmi).

3. The town of Kya Ngatsa or Tsa is in the highlands of Gungthang, a bit west of the north side of Mt. Everest.

4. Nalanda Translation Committee, The Life of Marpa the Translator, Boulder, CO: Prajna Press, 1982.

5. On Tilopa and Naropa, see Herbert Guenther, The Life & Teachings of Naropa, Oxford U., 1972; Keith Dowman (Tr.), Masters of Enchantment: The Lives & Legends of the Mahasiddhas (Robert Beer, illus.), Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1988 / London: Arkana, 1989.

6. See Gampopa, The Jewel Ornament of Liberation (Herbert Guenther, Tr.), Berkeley, CA: Shambhala, 1971. Descriptions of the meetings and exchanges between Milarepa and the 27 enlightened disciples can be found throughout the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. Mila’s travels and meetings with disciples are very briefly synopsized in Ch. 8 of the Jetsün Kahbum autobiography. An anthology of hymns of gratitude and enlightenment by later Kagyü masters, read annually to celebrate Milarepa, is the Kagyü Gurtso, “Ocean of Songs of the Ka-gyüs,” composed by the 8th Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, c.1542; an English transl. by the Nalanda Translation Committee is The Rain of Wisdom, Shambhala, 1980. Of the many works on the “fivefold path of mahamudra,” see Kunga Rinchen’s (1475-1527) Clarifying the Jewel Rosary of the Profound Five-Fold Path, translated as The Garland of Mahamudra Practices (Khenpo Könchog Gyaltsen & Katherine Rogers, Tr.), Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1986. A fine short synopsis of Kagyü mahamudra teachings is by Garma C.C. Chang’s mentor, Lama Kong Ka, in “The Essentials of Mahamudra Practice as given by the Venerable Lama Kong Ka,” in Chang (Tr.), Teachings of Tibetan Yoga, University Books, 1963.

7. Except where a different translator is noted (e.g., Evans-Wentz or Lhalungpa’s translation of the Mila Khabum), all translations are by Chang from the Mila Grubum, with page numbers identified.

Note: I have only excerpted passages from the first 180 pages of the Grubum’s 675 pages. The interested reader does well to procure and read in its entirety this great classic of world spirituality. You can buy the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa (Garma C.C. Chang, Tr.) in its new reprint edition by Kessinger Publ. at at this link.