El·e·na [el-uh-nuh, uh-ley-nuh; It. e-le-nah] /ˈɛlənə, əˈleɪnə; It. ɛˈlɛnɑ/ –noun a female given name, form of Helen // A proud student of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche // Personal assistant with a BSc (Hons) Psych from Uni of Warwick // These are snapshots of my life, in words and pictures

Milarepa

June 12, 2016 2

ང་འཆི་བས་འཇིགས་ནས་རི་ལ་ཕྱིན། །
ནམ་འཆི་ཆ་མེད་བསྒོམས་བསྒོམས་པས། །
འཆི་མེད་གཉུགས་མའི་བཙན་ས་ཟིན། །
ད་འཆི་བའི་འཇིགས་པ་བོར་ཏེ་ཐལ། །

In horror of death, I took to the mountains –
Again and again I meditated on the uncertainty of the hour of death,
Capturing the fortress of the deathless unending nature of mind,
Now all fear of death is over and done.

~ Milarepa. I include this here because my teacher, Tsem Rinpoche likes to refer to this quote

Ever since I read the story about Milarepa a few years ago (here), something about him has really appealed to me in a way I find difficult to explain. It’s not so much about his earlier life that moved me, but it is more about how committed Milarepa became when he went into retreat. In fact, absolute commitment was a feature in everything Milarepa did, even if it was the nasty black magic stuff. When he set his mind on something, he went all the way with it.

During his meditations, Milarepa for a time subsisted solely on nettles because he didn't want to waste meditation time begging or scavenging for food. Because of this, his skin took on a greenish hue and he grew to be so gaunt that when some game hunters chanced upon him, they were initially horrified, thinking that the skeletal figure they had just encountered was a ghost!

During his meditations, Milarepa for a time subsisted solely on nettles because he didn’t want to waste meditation time begging or scavenging for food. Because of this, his skin took on a greenish hue and he grew to be so gaunt that when some game hunters chanced upon him, they were initially horrified, thinking that the skeletal figure they had just encountered was a ghost!

The part that stuck with me the most was how he meditated until and even after his clothes fell apart. Even his sister was embarrassed for him, but he himself felt no shame. The thought came to him that even to maintain clothes would be a waste of precious meditation time, where it came to him that “If I were to die this evening, it would be wiser to meditate than to do this useless sewing.”

And of course everyone knows the story of how he turned green from eating nettles close to his cave, because he didn’t want to waste too much time foraging for food instead of engaging in practice.

A line drawing of Milarepa. Milarepa is often depicted with a deer to his right, a reminder of the time he calmed a deer and hunting dog down, before imparting Dharma to the hunter who had been chasing after the deer.

A line drawing of Milarepa. Milarepa is often depicted with a deer to his right, a reminder of the time he calmed a deer and hunting dog down, before imparting Dharma to the hunter who had been chasing after the deer.

Some would call that level of commitment extreme but I think there’s an element of hypocrisy in that accusation. After all, if an entrepreneur was that committed to his business, where he skipped meals, attended meetings, neglected family commitments, would he be called extreme or would he be admired for his dedication? (Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, anybody?)

The statue of Milarepa which I was fortunate to invite home from the pre-loved sale in February 2016.

The statue of Milarepa which I was fortunate to invite home from the pre-loved sale in February 2016.

So when it comes to Milarepa, something about his dedication, which the uninformed might call obsessive, really appealed to me. In him rejecting all the ‘assistance’ offered by those around him, I saw just how much time we waste on small, trivial matters in our day-to-day lives. How much mental effort goes into things that, at the end of our lives, don’t really matter. For example, clothing. That’s not to say we should all go wandering about as naked yogis but the amount of time we put into selecting the right outfit? Will it really help us when we are on our deathbeds? “In horror of death, I took to the mountains. Again and again I meditated on the uncertainty of the hour of death…”

Of course, I would never have connected to the story of Milarepa without Rinpoche’s kindness. It was Rinpoche who encouraged us to watch the movie about his life, Rinpoche who encouraged us to read his songs and Rinpoche who quotes Milarepa in teachings.

One night, a group of us were with Rinpoche having a meeting. We were just wrapping up when Rinpoche showed to us a Milarepa thangka. Rinpoche was thinking out loud about what he should do with it, then asked which of us wanted it. Immediately, and without so much as a feeble attempt to restraint my greed, I have to admit, I said, “Me!!!”

Rinpoche thought about it for a split second and said, “Hmmm okay. You can have it.”

Oh.

My.

God.

If you guys can recall, it was only a couple of months ago when a Milarepa statue became available in the pre-loved sales and I was fortunate to invite him home. And now I had a thangka of him!

After Rinpoche said I could have the thangka, I got teased by a few people asking me where I’m going to hang it hehehe because I actually have a few framed items that have not yet been hung. I blurted out, “I don’t know but for this I’ll find a place!” before Rinpoche told them to hush and told me to take the thangka before he changed his mind haha after that, it was in my hands pretty sharpish!

I like gifts (duh), I like Buddhas (duh!) but more than anything, I like gifts related to attained practitioners. They remind me that if a nobody like me applies myself to the teachings, good things can come from my delusion-filled mind. It may take many lifetimes but Milarepa had to start from somewhere right? Better late than never! But the fact I even have an opportunity to start, and the fact I have a thangka to drool over is thanks to my teacher so really, thank you Rinpoche for this wonderful reminder of the benefits and results of practice.

Oh yeah, and I know you read through all of that to check out the thangka so without much further ado…

Milarepa-2

Tsem Rinpoche, Gifts

2 Comments → “Milarepa”

  1. gary foo 11 months ago   Reply

    Wow! that thangka..It looks so alive…gosh first time a thangka caught me off balance a bit…very blessed to receive this Thangka Pastor Jean Ai..indeed as you have written the eyes are steel of determination..
    In a way, i am ashamed to say my own is hardly near a minute fraction of Milarepas but it gives me hope and a goal to set and achieve.
    Thanks for posting and sharing this Pastor Jean Ai :)

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