Ten Teachings from the 100,000 Songs of Milarepa – Thrangu Rinpoche

Chapter 4
The Rock Sinmo in the Lingpa Cave

Marpa had told Milarepa that he should meditate on Palbar mountain. Milarepa went there and discovered the Lingpa Cave to be very pleasant, and so he meditated in that cave. One day he heard a loud voice coming from a crack in the rock. Milarepa got up and looked but decided it was just a meditator’s illusion and sat down again. Then a bright light shone out from the rock. Inside the light there was a red man astride a musk-deer that was being led by a woman. The man gave Milarepa a slight blow and then disappeared in a gust of air. The woman changed into a red female dog that seized Milarepa by the big toe of his left foot and would not let go. Milarepa, understanding that this was a manifestation of a Rock Sinmo sang her a song.

    Rahula, who is the deity of the eclipse, please do not be an enemy to the sun and moon that shine their light from the sky down onto beings.
    Snow blizzards, please do not attempt to harm the white lion when he is wandering on the snow-mountains.
    Concealed pit filled with pointed stakes, do not harm the tigress who dwells within the jungles, who is the champion amongst the beasts of prey.
    Hooks, do not harm the golden fish that Swim in lake Mapam.
    Hunter, do not harm the vulture in the sky, that seeks for food without killing anything.
    I am Milarepa, practicing for my benefit, and benefit others. I have forsaken this life’s wealth and possessions, food, and clothes. I have developed the bodhichitta and I am attaining Buddhahood within one lifetime. Therefore, Rock Sinmo, do not harm me.

The Rock Sinmo still wouldn’t release Milarepa’s foot and replied to Milarepa with a song delivered by a disembodied voice using practically the same poetic images, and concluding with:

    You say that you accomplish the welfare of yourself and others, that you have developed the bodhichitta, and that you are achieving Buddhahood within one lifetime so that you will become a guide for all the beings in the six realms of existence.
    However, when you meditate one-pointedly, strong tendencies from your previous lives cause illusions to appear. The tendencies are causes, the illusions are conditions and the result is that your own thoughts appear to you as enemies, as demons. If your own thoughts did not appear as your own enemies, I, the Rock Sinmo, could not appear to you. The demons and spirits appear due to negative tendencies, and come from the mind.
    If you do not know the nature of your own mind, even though you tell me to leave, I won’t.

Milarepa thought that what the Rock Sinmo had sung was very true. He replied to her with a song using eight images:

    Your words are very true. Nothing could be more true. I have wandered through many places but have never heard anything as beautiful as your song. Even if I questioned many scholars, I would never hear a higher meaning. The eloquent words from your mouth are like a golden needle, that pressed onto the heart dispels the heart-air.30 and dispels the darkness of delusion and ignorance, causing the lotus of the mind to blossom, causing the torch of self ­knowledge to blaze, and causing wisdom to awaken.
    When I look up into the sky, I think of emptiness that is the true nature of phenomena. Therefore I have no need to be afraid of material phenomena.
    When I look at the sun and moon, I think of the fundamental clarity of the mind. Therefore stupor and agitation cannot harm me.
    When I look at a mountain’s peak, I think of the stability of meditation. Therefore loss or change in meditation cannot harm me.
    When I look at a river, I think of the unbroken continuity of meditation experience. Even if a sudden condition appears, it can cause no harm.
    When I look at a rainbow, I think of the unity of appearance and emptiness, in which emptiness does not harm appearance, and appearance does not harm emptiness. As I have realized the union of appearance and emptiness I am not afraid of eternalism and nihilism.
    When I look at the reflection of the moon on water, I think of ungraspability, so that thoughts of grasped and grasper cannot harm me.
    When I look inwards at my own mind, I think of a naturally radiant butter-lamp in a bowl. Therefore the dullness of ignorance cannot harm me.
    Because I listened to your instructions my meditation and self-knowing wisdom has become clear. I am free of obstacles from demons and obstructing spirits. You have given many teachings, and clearly understand the nature of the mind, so why have you become a demon? You have become a demon because you harmed beings and ignoring the law of karma. Therefore you should now contemplate karma and the harmfulness of samsara, and abandon all evil actions. I was only pretending to be afraid of demons. I was playing a trick on you. Don’t think that it was real.

The Rock Sinmo now had faith in Milarepa, and stopped trying to harm him. She answered him with a song in which she says:

    I am fortunate to have met Milarepa. It has been good to hear the Dharma being taught. I am what I am because I harmed many people.

Milarepa, deciding that she must be bound to an oath, replied to her with a song in which he said:

    These elevated words you speak will be of no use to you. You are in this body because you have harmed others. You must abandon those negative actions, practice what is good, and be of assistance to yogins.
    What you need now is to pay careful attention to cause and effect, and you must promise to support all Dharma practitioners, and be a friend to all yogis in particular.

The Rock Sinmo, now that she had true faith in Milarepa, manifested her body to him and sang a song in which she said:

    I have committed many negative actions, I had strong defilements and extreme malevolence and intolerance. I am fortunate to have met you and to have received the Dharma from you. I repent creating an illusion and attacking you. I vow that I shall no longer harm others and that I will be a friend to yogins practicing Dharma in retreat.

Milarepa then taught her the Dharma and in particular he sang a song in which he said:

    There is a demon that is greater than you-attachment to the self. There is a demon that is more evil than you-evil intent. There is a demon that is wilder than you-thoughts.
    Take an oath to subdue them and enter the Dharma. If you do not break your word all will be well with you.

When Milarepa had completed his song, the Rock Sinmo took that vow and disappeared. At dawn the Rock Sinmo, with her entourage of beautiful males and females wearing beautiful jewelry, appeared to Milarepa, bringing him many offerings. The Rock Sinmo said, “I have a spirit’s body because I harmed beings in a’ previous life. I request that you to teach me the Dharma” singing the following song:

    I have met many siddhas, but you are the one who had the greatest kindness and blessing for me. I request the Dharma from you. Some give the teachings containing provisional meaning and some give the hinayana teachings and these are unable to subjugate the mind’s defilements. Others speak many words and give many teachings, but cannot provide refuge from suffering and the conditions for suffering. You are a nirmanakaya of the Buddha, and therefore you have realized the true nature of phenomena. Please bestow upon us the profound teachings that come from your own mind.

In reply, Milarepa sang her a song with twenty-seven images (three for each of nine verses) in which he said:

    I don’t usually sing on the ultimate truth, but some as you have asked me to, I shall.
    (1) Thunder, lightning, and clouds appear from the sky and merge back into the sky.
    (2) Rainbow, mists, and fog appear from the air and merge back into the air.
    (3) Honey, fruit, and crops arise from the earth and
    merge back into the earth.
    (4) Forests, flowers, and leaves arise from the hillside and merge back into the hillside.
    (5) Rivers, foam, and waves arise from the ocean and merge back into the ocean.
    (6) Latencies, clinging, and attachment arise from the ground consciousness and merge back into the ground consciousness.

The mind has latencies, that have been laid down throughout beginningless time. These latencies result in our perceptions. The mind also clings to the perceptions of things that we desire. Finally, there is an attachment to phenomena which mind takes as being truly real. These latencies originate arise from the ground consciousness.

The seventh consciousness is the afflicted consciousness which is a continuous attachment to the self whether we consciously think of it or not. Whether these seven consciousnesses are presen1 not, the continuity of the mind never ceases. There is always non-apparent consciousness-the ground consciousness from, which all the latencies of appearances originate. Therefore latencies, clinging and attachment arise from the ground consciousness, and when they disappear, they merge back into t ground consciousness.

Whether these seven consciousnesses are present or not, t continuity of the mind never ceases. There is always a no apparent consciousness, that is, the ground consciousness from which all the latencies of appearances originate. Therefore: latencies, clinging, and attachment arise from the ground consciousness, and when they disappear, they then merge back into the ground consciousness. Milarepa continues:

    (7) Self-knowledge, self-clarity and self-liberation arise from the mind and merge back into the mind.

When meditating on the true nature of mind, the mind knows itself, it has natural clarity, and it naturally liberates itself from the kleshas. These three qualities of the self-awareness of mind, the natural clarity or luminosity of mind, and the natural liberation of mind are not newly created from meditation, but arise from the nature of the mind itself and then merge back into the nature of the mind.

    (8) Non-arising, non-cessation and indescribability arise from the true nature of phenomena (Skt. dharmata) and merge back into it.

First there is non-arising, at the end there is non-cessation, and in-between these there is indescribability. These are the characteristics of the true nature of phenomena.

    (9) The appearance of demons, the belief, and the concept of demons, arise from yoga and merge back into yoga.
    The appearances, belief, and concepts of demons may arise on the conventional level or relative level and from the practice of yoga they merge back into it. Obstacles and obstructing spirits are just manifestations of the mind. If one doesn’t realize that they are empty, one will believe them to be demons. If one does realize that they are empty, there is a natural liberation from demons.
    There are many delusions that occur in samsara: outer delusions, inner delusions, defilement delusions, and so on. The mind is the source of all these delusions. All delusions naturally cease when there is the realization of the nature of the mind. The true nature of the mind is a natural fundamental clarity that is empty, beyond coming or going. Though we perceive numerous external phenomena, they are all delusions manifested by the mind. They are empty by nature, but nevertheless appear. Though they appear, their nature is empty. This is the inseparability of empti­ness and appearance.
    Even meditation is just a thought, even non-meditation is just a thought. Whether one meditates or not, the nature of the mind does not change. Therefore even a belief in meditation and non meditation is a cause of delusion.
    Phenomena have no reality, they are like space. Their emptiness must be understood. If you wish to have the correct view, you must see the emptiness that transcends the intellect. If you wish to have correct meditation, you must meditate without distraction. If you wish to have correct conduct, it must be effortless and natural. If you wish to gain the full. result, hope and fear must- be abandoned.
    This is my teaching to you.

This ends the teaching of Milarepa on the absolute or ultimate View.
Chapter 10
The story of Gampopa

When Gampopa finally met Milarepa, Gampopa offered him sixteen ounces of gold in a mandala offering. He also made a request that Milarepa tell his life-story. Milarepa sat with his eyes half-closed for a little while and then took a pinch of gold from the center of the mandala offering and scattered it into the air, saying, “I offer this to you, Marpa Lotsawa.” Milarepa had been drinking beer from a skull bowl. He handed this to Gampopa, saying, “Drink this.” Gampopa hesitated, but Milarepa said, “Don’t think so much, drink!”

Gampopa thought, “This lama is omniscient. He knows whatever is in my mind. So this must be a very auspicious thing to do,” and he drank the beer to the last drop, which was indeed very auspicious. Milarepa said, “That you had faith in me and have come here is a wonderful thing, so I shall tell you the story of my life.” Milarepa then sang a song:

    Naropa and Maitripa’s instructions contain all that is taught by the Buddhas in the three times. Marpa Lotsawa possessed these instructions. I felt faith in him on just hearing his name and I received all these instructions from him.
    Marpa Lotsawa. told me, “This is the age of degeneration; life is short and uncertain. There are many causes of death, therefore do not make the error in believing the instructions are the mere acquisitions of knowledge because practice is their essence.” Due to the kindness of the guru, that has been my view. I meditated upon the fear of death; I meditated with diligence in caves; my meditation transformed my thoughts and wrong views into merit.
    The three poisons of anger, desire, and ignorance appear to be the powerful causes of the accumulation of bad karma. But when their essence is seen to be emptiness, those poisons are recognized to be the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya.
    The blessings, experiences and realizations of Naropa and Maitripa are transmitted through the lineage to the worthy pupil. I shall give their profound instructions to you. Practice them correctly, and spread the Buddha’s teachings for the benefit beings.
    I have no need for the gold you have offered me. Gold does not agree with this old man. If you want to practice the Dharma properly, observe my conduct and my practice, and do as I do.

The monk who had come with Gampopa came to receive a blessing from Milarepa. Milarepa asked the monk to offer him everything that he had in order to receive a blessing. The monk said that he didn’t have anything to give. But Milarepa said, “You have a lot of gold concealed about your body, so your statement that you don’t have anything is truly wonderful. If you have no faith you are incapable of receiving a blessing. If you have no faith, the instructions that you receive will not be benefit you. Your inner thoughts are of going to Nepal to do business, so that is the best thing for you to do. I will pray that you meet no obstacles.”

Gampopa thought, “This lama knows what people think. It is impossible to deceive him. I will have good control over my mind and think carefully before I ask him anything. He truly is a Buddha.”

Milarepa asked Gampopa, “Have you received any empowerments? What instructions have you been given? What ‘practices have you done?” Gampopa answered Milarepa’s questions and described his success in meditation, but Milarepa just laughed and said, “You can’t get oil by grinding sand, you have to use mustard seeds. These empowerments you have received are useless for seeing the true nature of your mind. If you meditate on my tummo instructions you will see the true nature of your mind.” Milarepa then gave Gampopa the Vajravarahi empowerment, using a sindhura mandala. Then he gave Gampopa the instructions and Gampopa put them into practice.

Gampopa had good experiences and realizations, and had many thoughts on view, meditation, and conduct. He asked Milarepa to explain them, and in answer, Milarepa sang a spiritual song describing the view, meditation, conduct, commitment and result, in terms of the true nature as the basis of the path:

    The ultimate view is to look at your own mind.

What does Milarepa mean by that line? If one has never practiced that may seem a simple thing to do, but this is the ultimate view in vajrayana practice. The sutra tradition teaches emptiness and selflessness which are to be understood through analysis by searching vainly for the self from the crown of the head to one’s toenails. Deduction brings conviction that the body and all phenomena have no reality. This is the understanding of emptiness. Meditation upon this conviction will then lead to the ultimate goal. The sutra path is therefore called “the path of deduction.” The vajrayana, however, does not use deduction, but uses the direct perception of emptiness, of the true nature of phenomena. So it is called “the path of direct experience.”

The true nature cannot be seen directly in outer phenomena, but by looking into one’ own mind and seeing that the mind cannot be found. The mind is the embodiment of emptiness, the essence of emptiness, but throughout beginningless time we have never looked at our own mind. The emptiness of the mind is not a vacuity but a clarity. It is a mistake to try and find emptiness I elsewhere than in the mind.

To illustrate this there is a story of a man who had a jewel inset into his forehead. Whenever he was tired the skin on his head sagged. One day when he was very exhausted and the skin sagged and covered the jewel completely. The man felt his forehead and thought he had lost the jewel, and ran around anxiously trying to find it, only becoming more tired in the process, so that the jewel was more deeply hidden.

In the same way, Milarepa says, “to search for the true nature anywhere other than our own mind, is like a blind monster looking for gold.”

Milarepa then described meditation to Gampopa in a single I line of song:

    The ultimate practice is not to consider lethargy and excitability as faults.

A beginner of meditation, of course, does need to work on eliminating lethargy and excitability in meditation, but the nature of lethargy and excitability is the nature of the mind and this nature never changes. If you see these two qualities of mind as obstacles or faults, you will not be able to see the essence of the mind. Therefore you should not attempt to eliminate them, which I would as Milarepa says “be as pointless as lighting a candle in the daylight.” Next, Milarepa described conduct:

    The ultimate action is to cease to accept and reject.

The usual Buddhist practice is to accept what is positive and to reject what is negative. In terms of the true nature there should be no adoption of good actions or abandonment of negative actions.

Whatever arises in the mind has the ultimate nature of the clarity (Tib. salwa) and emptiness of the mind, so we should not think “this is good and has to be cultivated or this is bad and has to be rejected.” If we attempt to adopt and reject, we will be like a fly struggling in a cobweb, which only binds itself tighter the more it does.

Next Milarepa describes commitment:

    The ultimate discipline is to rest in the ultimate view.

Discipline is usually made by promising to keep all our commitments and vows. But remaining in the realization of the true nature of our mind is truly keeping the commitment. If we strive to maintain a commitment that is other than the mind, we will always fail. It is just as Milarepa says, “we can’t stop water’s natural propensity to flow downward.” Next Milarepa describes the accomplishment or result of our practice:

    The ultimate accomplishment is full conviction in one’s mind.

The ultimate result is the true nature of the mind manifest. If one seeks a result that does not already exist, that would be like as Milarepa says, “a frog. jumping up into the sky” who is inevitably going to fall back onto the ground. The result can only be found in the mind itself.

The Buddha’s wisdom is described as “the sudden result” even in the sutra tradition, because the wisdom spontaneously appears as soon as the defilements are eliminated without having to be created. In the vajrayana tradition, the result is described as the manifestation of the true nature of one’s mind. This nature is primordially present, but unrecognized, within all beings. Once the nature of the mind is recognized, the ultimate result is attained.

In the next verse Milarepa describes the guru:

    The ultimate guru is one’s mind.

On the relative level one has a root guru whose instructions one follows. On the ultimate level the guru is one’s mind. If one can look at and question one’s own mind, the instructions of the ultimate guru will be received. If one seeks a guru that is other than the mind, it is as Milarepa says, “trying to leave one’s mind” which is impossible. All appearances are nothing other than one’s mind, so there is no greater guru than the true nature of the mind.

On hearing this song, Gampopa felt great faith. He then meditated with diligence practicing the tummo meditation. On the first night, his body filled with warmth and bliss. At dawn he fell asleep briefly and when he woke up his body was cold as stone.

After seven days of meditation he had a vision of the five Buddhas of the five buddha families. He thought this was very important and told Milarepa. Milarepa said, “If you press your eyes you see an illusion of there being two moons. In the same way, the particular movement of airs in your body cause your experience, which was neither good or bad. Just carry on with your meditation.


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