Mar 01 2017

Milarepa – The Song of Food and Dwelling

Published by at 10:20 am under Poetry

The Song of Food and Dwelling
by Milarepa

English version by Garma C. C. Chang

I bow down at the feet of the wish-fulfilling Guru.
Pray vouchsafe me your grace in bestowing beneficial food,
Pray make me realize my own body as the house of Buddha,
Pray grant me this knowledge.

I built the house through fear,
The house of Sunyata, the void nature of being;
Now I have no fear of its collapsing.
I, the Yogi with the wish-fulfilling gem,
Feel happiness and joy where’er I stay.

Because of the fear of cold, I sought for clothes;
The clothing I found is the Ah Shea Vital Heat.
Now I have no fear of coldness.

Because of the fear of poverty, I sought for riches;
The riches I found are the inexhaustible Seven Holy Jewels.
Now I have no fear of poverty.

Because of the fear of hunger, I sought for food;
The food I found is the Samadhi of Suchness.
Now I have 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 have no fear of thirst.

Because of the fear of loneliness, I searched for a friend;
The friend I found is the bliss of perpetual Sunyata.
Now I have 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.
Now I do not fear to lose my way.

I am a yogi with all desirable possessions,
A man always happy where’er he stays.

Here at Yolmo Tagpu Senge Tson,
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 tears.

The varied cries and cawings of the crow,
Are a good and helpful friend unto the yogi.
Even without a single friend,
To remain here is a pleasure.
With joy flowing from my heart, I sing this happy song;
May the dark shadow of all men’s sorrows
Be dispelled by my joyful singing.

— from The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: The Life-Story and Teachings of the Greatest Poet-Saint Ever to Appear in the History of Buddhism, Translated by Garma C. C. Chang

/ Image by worldpilgrim /

We are in the midst of Losar, the Tibetan New Year festival. It is a multi-day festival that began on Monday, February 27. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a poem by the Tibetan folk hero, saint, and poet Milarepa.

This poem gives us several very specific esoteric references to vital heat, the “Seven Holy Jewels,” samadhi, sunyata, even the wild animals referred to are symbols. But rather than focus on those yogic details, let’s look more broadly at what Milarepa is doing with this song of enlightenment…

He worries about cold, and finds through spiritual practice inner heat. He worries about poverty, and discovers through spiritual practice the inexhaustible wealth of seven jewels. He worries about hunger, and he finds fulness in the perfect meditation of samadhi. He worries about thirst, and he discovers the wine of mindfulness. He worries about loneliness, and he finds in the bliss of sunyata (emptiness) a perpetual companion. He worries about losing his way, but then in the realization of the nondual truth of “Two-in-One” he recognizes the Path everywhere.

Milarepa is showing how, through deep spiritual practice, one’s basic desires are satisfied and all lack is filled… But notice that he is not talking about material providence. He is not saying, ‘I want food so I am given food.’ He is showing how, instead, the awakened energetic body satisfies the desire for psychic fulness which is the root of hunger. The process is not necessarily providing for him in a material sense; instead it is going right to the root of the desire, satisfying the spiritual seed of the desire. It is an acknowledgment that all desires, even for the basic necessities of life, ultimately are a spiritual hunger.

Then Milarepa shifts to a discussion of how the sounds of wild animals awaken profound compassion in his awareness. It must be understood that these animals are representations of forces within his own mind. Their “pathetic” cries, their yearning, their calling out is evidence that the mind is not yet absolutely settled. But you’ll notice that Milarepa has reached a state in which he no longer thinks of those mental forces as being himself, his true nature. Instead, they are lost animals that cannot help their hunger. And he feels compassion for those forces within his mind. And that compassion strengthens his determination to deepen his practice, to bring the mind to complete resolution:

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.

Here, alone, in the wilds (of his own awareness), with his fears calmed, his desires satisfied, he is utterly content. “With joy flowing from my heart, I sing this happy song…” And it is through this song itself that he offers compassionate action to the world, for the vibrations of enlightenment the poem embodies have the potential to dispel “all men’s sorrows.” Milarepa knows this because he has just described how his own sorrows have been dispelled.

And may you feel a sense of awakening and renewal. Happy Losar!

Recommended Books: Milarepa

Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: The Life-Story and Teachings of the Greatest Poet-Saint Ever to Appear in the History of Buddhism Songs of Milarepa: (Dover Thrift Edition) Drinking the Mountain Stream: Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa The Life of Milarepa: A New Translation from the Tibetan
More Books >>

Milarepa, Milarepa poetry, Buddhist poetry Milarepa

Tibet (1052 – 1135) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

Milarepa (often referred to as Jetsun Milarepa, meaning Milarepa the Revered One) is the central figure of early Tibetan Buddhism. He was a Buddhist saint, a yogi, a sorceror, a trickster, a wanderer, and a poet. He is both folk hero and cultural preceptor, the embodiment of the ideal in Tibetan Buddhism.

The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, an extensive collection of stories and poetry from the life of Milarepa, is a central text of popular Tibetan Buddhism, in some ways comparable to the Bhagavad Gita in Hinduism and the New Testament within Christianity. His life stories and poetry are read devoutly even today to inspire determination in meditation and spiritual practice.

Milarepa’s father died when he was still a boy, and the land that should have passed to him was seized by relatives who treated the young Milarepa and his mother and sister as slaves. After several years of this cruelty and hard labor, Milarepa’s mother convinced the teenaged boy to study magic with a local sorceror in order to take revenge on their relatives. Milarepa was so successful in this purpose that, it is said, a great hailstorm occurred, destroying the house during a wedding ceremony, killing several members of the family. In the aftermath of this incident, Milarepa felt such guilt for his actions that he vowed to cleanse himself of the evil karma he had accumulated.

In his search for a pure spiritual teacher, Milarepa eventually met his guru, the Buddhist yogi and translator, Marpa, who was himself a disciple of the famous Indian Buddhist master Naropa. Marpa, seeing Milarepa’s great potential mixed with dark karma, put Milarepa through many years of severe trials and tests before he would formally accept Milarepa as a student.

Milarepa then spent several years meditating in seclusion in remote mountain caves, struggling, at times, against the demonic forces of the mind, until he achieved the ultimate enlightenment.

Rejecting the formalism of religious position and the endless squabbles of theological discourse, he adopted the life of a mendicant, traveling from village to village, speaking directly with the people he met, singing spontaneous songs of enlightenment and wisdom.

More poetry by Milarepa

No responses yet

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply