“If my corpse is not surrounded by people,
And no one mourns the death
When dying in this mountain retreat
A yogi’s intentions are fulfilled.”
ངའི་རོ་ལ་འཁོར་མི་མེད་པ་དང་། ཤི་ན་ངུ་མི་མེད་པ་རུ། །
རི་ཁྲོད་འདི་རུ་འཆི་ནུས་ན། ། རྣལ་འགྱོར་བསམ་པ་འགྲུབ་པ་ཡིན། །
-excerpt from the Milarepa’s Song ‘Intentions Fulfilled’
“To those people who thought that Milarepa had gold, go and eat sh*t!”.
In this post, for the full moon today, I offer the write-up of a hilarious and sad story about Milarepa’s Last Testament/Letter to his students after he passed away, as well as miraculous gifts and events afterwards (never-ending candy, melodies, showers of flowers) , as told by 17th Karmapa in his Spring 2022 Teachings (Day 9 ). The story comes from the collection of Milarepa’s Songs called ‘The Black Treasury’ compiled by the 3rd Karmapa. For more on the Black Treasury see here.
Secondly, the story of how Milarepa was seen as inhuman by others and his sister but how he did not care what others thought of him. This story includes my new translation of a Milarepa song ‘Intentions Fulfilled’ (which the 17th Karmapa shared yesterday (Day 12 ). This song translation can be freely downloaded here: A YOGI’S INTENTIONS FULFILLED.
Music? Fool’s Gold by Stone Roses, Gold by Spandau Ballet, and The Candyman by Sammy Davis Jr ‘who can take the rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie, the candyman can!’
May we all see the ‘funny side’ of life and appreciate it’s endless golden candy, flowers and sounds!
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 16th April 2022.
BEFORE MILAREPA’S PASSING – GIFTS TO HIS STUDENTS
The 17th Karmapa explained that although there are many liberation stories of Milarepa, the most well-known one written by Tsangnyon Heruka:
“When we talk about the Life of Milarepa, people think of this one. The oldest and one of the best sources is not necessarily the one by Tsangnyon Heruka. He used the following as his sources, called The Twelve Great Students, prepared by twelve of his great disciples. This is the one we should consider the most reliable source on Milarepa. He added that there was also one called the Black Treasury, compiled by the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje.
When Milarepa passed away, he told his students, “I don’t have many important possessions to give away. Please give this black aloeswood staff, cloth hat, and piece of cloth to the Physician from Dakpo (Gampopa). Before, I had told to Rechungpa to come here, so if Rechungpa arrives on time, please give him these, and if he does not arrive, send him this walking stick and piece of cloth.”
There was also a flint and steel that Milarepa had used to light fires and requested them to give it to Drigom Repa. His old and tattered pandita hat was for Seben Repa. He also instructed his students to cut the cotton robe that he wore himself into pieces, and to give a bit to each of the repa. “
MILAREPA’S LAST LETTER ABOUT HIS SECRET STASH OF ‘GOLD’
“Milarepa then explained,
“These are not of great monetary value, but they will bring each of you siddhis (accomplishments). Now, I do have a little bit of gold that I have saved up. I’ve hidden it in the back wall of my retreat hut, so after I’ve passed away, you should take it out and distribute the gold amongst all of the students.”
There were various opinions regarding this, some suspected that Milarepa must have had a lot of gold. Others wondered, “How could Milarepa have gold? He didn’t even have clothes that covered his entire body”. There was a student called Legse who said: “Don’t listen to what others say; doing so will just end up in committing misdeeds.”
Later after Mila had passed away, the disciples gathered together to look for the gold and went to the place where he had told them it was hidden and found something wrapped up in cotton fabric. They opened it up and there was no gold, but there were three pieces of unrefined cane sugar candy nuggets, a letter from Milarepa himself, and a special multi-purpose tool/flint that could also be used as a knife, spoon, fork, and awl. If you are nomads then you know what a flint and sugar candy is like.
Here are some photos of these objects:
These were objects one had to have when travelling. Later, they became more like an ornament. I think the raw sugar was like this. They have this kind of hemispherical shape. The flint tool Milarepa had was a bit different because it had many different uses. When he travelled he needed a tool that lighted fires and so on. So he needed one tool that could do a lot of things.”
MILA’S FINAL JOKE TO HIS DOUBTERS TO “GO EAT SH*T!”
“When students saw the letter, they exclaimed, “Milarepa said he had gold! Where’s the gold? We’d better look at the letter…” The letter read,
“Take these cubes of sugar, cut them with this knife into little pieces, and give a piece to everyone who is here. Then cut this square of cloth into little pieces and distribute it to people. The cloth will not run out until it has all been distributed.”
The letter continued:
“I think there are a few people who said that Milarepa has gold, Tell them to go eat sh*t!”.
Everyone had been grief-stricken and sad after Milarepa’s passing, but at that moment everyone laughed at the funny joke and felt much lighter.”
MILA’S MIRACULOUS GIFT OF NEVER-ENDING SUGAR CANDY
“After they finished the rituals for his passing away, all the students and sponsors gathered and divided the candy and cloth as instructed. It was really miraculous, they cut the pieces of candy in half, but the two pieces did not get any smaller. They were exactly the same size. They were further split into four, and then into eight, the eight into sixteen, and the sixteen cut into thirty-two, but they were endless. There was no end to the sugar. Likewise, when they cut the square of cloth with the knife, the pieces of fabric didn’t get any smaller. Each of them was like a full square of fabric.
Everyone there got a piece of raw candy and a piece of the fabric. They immediately started to eat the candy, as they felt it must have great blessings from Milarepa. No matter how long they ate it, the candy never ran out. So they would put it in their pockets and carry it back to their homes for their family members, but the pieces never got any smaller. Everyone in Dring and Nyanam, the region where Milarepa passed away, was able to eat the candy for a whole year. This became renowned and people exclaimed, “There’s nothing more amazing than these pieces of sugar candy!”
MIRACULOUS MELODIES AND SHOWERS OF FLOWERS FROM THE SKY
The 17th Karmapa then outlined some other miraculous events that happened after Mila passed away:
“There are many other events related to that. For example, a year after Milarepa’s passing, there were always beautiful melodies around. This was a very remote place but there were always these sounds from the sky. Also, there were showers of flowers raining down from the sky. The little boys and girls ran off to catch the flowers, and the ones who caught flowers were chased by those who did not. This was another miraculous event.
Why would Milarepa leave the candy and the cloth? Even though Milarepa was worse off than most beggars, he did not have any possessions of value staying in mountain retreats. But at the end, he gave the candy and fabric as gifts to everyone with whom he was connected. It was like a souvenir, a support for them to remember him in the future. What this shows is that Milarepa was kind and always thinking of other people. Sometimes people think being a practitioner is someone having a rigid, inflexible character who never listens to anyone. Some practitioners are like that, but Milarepa was not.”
MILAREPA’S INTENTION NOT TO LEAVE ANY REMAINS OR RELICS BUT STUDENTS DID NOT LISTEN
The Karmapa then suggested the reason why Milarepa had left this letter and gifts:
“One reason he left these souvenirs, is because when he passed away according to old liberation stories, Milarepa said,
“After I pass away, don’t disturb my body for seven days. I will have something to say after that.”
His students followed instructions and sealed it off and waited. When it came to the fifth day, some people could not wait and wondered what might have happened, but the disciples would not permit them to take a look. They said: ‘Don’t disturb him and don’t come looking’. Eventually, they could not wait any longer and so they went to look at him on the sixth day, and discovered that Milarepa’s remains had become very tiny, around one cubit in size, about half an arm.
At that time, many people had different visions of the corpse; some saw it as Chenrezig, some felt it was a vase. Afterwards, they all thought, “If we leave him alone, there won’t even be any remains left, and we won’t have any relics or other supports for faith to worship.” So everyone decided to cremate the remains. Usually relics appear during the cremation, but there was nothing left at all. The remains had disappeared, like rainbows. Neither was there the normal smell of burning flesh during the cremation. It seemed like Milarepa’s original intention was to not leave any remains or relics but that did not happen. So he left the sugar candy and fabric as a support for faith.
When Milarepa said “I have gold,” it showed that he was no different on the outside or the inside. He did not have any attachment to sensory pleasures, and that was the type of practice he did. After he had passed away, there was nothing to be found. Saying he had gold was a test to see how much belief his students had in him.”
PEOPLE SAW MILAREPA AS INHUMAN AND DESTITUTE
On Day 12 of the teaching, the Karmapa related another story about Milarepa and how people did not see him as human.
“Milarepa got very emaciated and his body was getting kind moldy. When people saw him, they would think ‘is he human or not?’ At that point, there was a large group of people looking for feathers, which are found at the caves where there are bird nests. So they went there and got to Milarepa’s cave and they immediately thought ‘it’s a ghost!’ and got scared and ran away. He then told them ‘I am human.’ Is he really they thought? They were uncertain and did not come close and were observing him from afar. ‘How can that be a human? It looks like someone who should have died already’. They didn’t dare get close to him and so they left.
A few days later, among those people, there was an older person, probably someone who was doing Dharma practice and who had a little courage. He brought a little bit of tsampa for Milarepa and gave it to him. Milarepa didn’t have tsampa, he had nothing. So he put the tsampa in his nettle soup. When he ate it, he had a feeling of becoming really clear and well. Then he sang the song of interdependence that we know very well. For Mila, just a little bit of tsampa made him feel really bright and clear. For us, we are just eating without thinking all the time, we won’t get that kind of feeling when eating a bit of tsampa.
The man who brought the tsampa was called Zhen Dorma and he left. After that, there was a beer festival, maybe a wedding, and that man was speaking with a lot of people there. And he said ‘there is a man called Mila Topaga up in the caves there, he is amazing and only thinks about Dharma and is a real hard-core practitioner. If we want to gather accumulations, we should make offerings to him’. Among the wedding guests was the aunt and uncle of Milarepa, who had treated him so badly. When the man heard she was his aunt, he told her to go up and see him. She could not refuse.
So the aunt took a servant, a little bit of meat and butter and went to see him. At that point, Mila was in a meditation session. So he would not leave the session. She didn’t really like Mila and had a short temper and so thought it was pointless. She threw the meat and butter on the grass and stomped off. When she left, Milarepa didn’t see that his aunt had come and that she had chucked the meat and butter on the floor like that. So what happened is all the oxes and wolves came and ate it all up. There was nothing left for him.”
VISIT BY MILA’S SISTER AND HER SCOLDING HIM FOR HIS POOR AND NAKED DEMEANOUR
“So his little sister, Peta heard the rumours he was up in the cave and she went to see her aunt who told her that she had gone to see him, but that he did not pay any attention to her and did nothing at all. She said: “He did not treat me well. As you are his sister, he will probably meet you.”
So the sister went up to the cave. Outside she was shouting ‘Topaga!’ Milarepa slowly came out of the cave, when she saw him, he was so emaciated that she thought how could this be my brother? He looked like a scary person and she did not recognise him. Mila told her to come back up. Even though she did not recognise his face, she recognised his voice and saw that all his body hairs had turned green because he had been eating nettles. He was like a skeleton, he had no muscles, his nose had caved in, his eyes were sunken, he was not even able to speak well. He did not have enough energy to speak and had muddled speech. When she saw him, it looked sad to her. So she began to cry and said ‘there is no one in this world more miserable as us this brother and sister’. She hung her head between her knees and started sobbing. Mila took her by the hand and sang some songs to console her.
His sister said ‘I am a beggar and I have nothing to give you, so what shall I do? It’s not great, but she started to make the nettle soup. She thought that you need to put salt and flavouring in it so she thought maybe there was something left from what the aunt brought. She asked him, you need to put a little meat and fat, and asked him where is the salt? Milarepa said ‘if there is salt, then there would be food, I do not have any food! So as a substitute for salt put in more nettles, as a substitute for barley flower put in more nettles, I don’t have anything else to give any flavour to the food.’
When eating the soup she made, Mila thought it was really delicious. The sister was a beggar and even she was revolted by his food. But for Mila it was really delicious. She began to cry again, and said ‘It is better if you go and beg for some alms’. Mila said ‘I will stay and practice, so I don’t have time to go for alms’. So she went up and down the whole valley and managed to get a little bit of tsampa they give to beggars. She then offered it to Mila, he did not have any clothes to wear and so when he came out he was totally naked. She scolded him and said ‘you are not even embarassed in front of your sister. You are not human anymore, you call yourself that’. Then he sang some other songs.”
MILA’S SISTER MEETING BARI LOTSAWA
“Mila’s sister then went out begging again for him, and she met Bari Lotsawa (1040-1111), who she thought was doing really well for himself, he had a lot of horses, a big cloak and a big hat and when she saw him she thought, ‘that is how a Dharma practitioner should be!’ This is someone who has a lot of merit, my brother is on the verge of dying, we cannot say he is a Dharma practitioner’. So she begged up and down the valley, she met some nomads there and there was a little bit of wool and some dog hair and she made some fabric from it, and she said you need something to wear. She said ‘Bari Lotsawa has wealth and influence. Your Dharma is not going to work out. It is better to be an attendant of Bari Lotsawa, the way you are doing Dharma nothing will come back to you’. Then Mila sang many songs about the eight worldly concerns and so on.
So then Mila’s sister went begging again and got some tsampa and some chang and they had a Ganachakra. He then told his sister, ‘you do not have to come back again, if you keep on coming it is interrupting my practice, so you do not need to come and he sang the song about his intentions being fulfilled.”
The 17th Karmapa then shared the version of Milarepa’s song ‘Intentions Fulfilled’ from ‘The Black Treasury’ compilation. After checking it, I saw it is slightly different from the one in Tsangnyon Heruka’s version, such as instead of saying ‘completed/perfected’ (rdzogs) says ‘accomplished/fulfilled (‘grub). The verse that begins ‘If my cold is not felt by father…’ also does not seem to be in the Tsangnyon version. Here is my new translation of it:
NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO OTHERS’ EXPECTATIONS AND OPINIONS OF US
The 17th Karmapa observed this about Milarepa’s dying prayer:
“This is the prayer Milarepa sang. if we look at this, he has given up everything, all ties. No friends, family or no one. So even birds would not know his corpse was rotting and so on, it was fine with him.
For a Dharma practitioner, we cannot live only within the way other people see us and what they expect. We cannot pay attention to whatever others think as important or whether they pay attention to me or not. Your level of Dharma practice, or level of skills is not about whether or not someone thinks you are important or whether they accept you, or pay attention to you. That is not important. The level of how good or bad you are cannot be decided by other people alone. As it says in the Seven Points of Mind Training,’ of the two judges hold the principal one’. Whether you are good or not can only be decided by the authority of your own mind/your own witness. Whether you are good or not is the authority of your own mind/your own witness and how they measure up to the true Dharma and the guru’s advice. Not how other people see you. Our belief in ourselves should come from the true Dharma and our practice.
Actually, if we have bodhicitta and pure motivation, then we can have confidence in ourselves. Realising that we have that precious jewel is important. In brief, there is no reason to be upset if people ignore us or do not pay attention to us. It is about whether our own intentions accord with Dharma, not how others see us. The way people see us and how they look at things, there is no way it can always go the way we want.
Some people will see us as good, and some people as bad. If we lose our inspiration when people see us as bad, then there is no way our life can be stable. In particular, if you have one hundred people seeing you as good, and just one person seeing you as bad, then you will immediately think that person is not good even if all those others speak good about you. And think that everyone in the world sees you as bad. There are one hundred people who see you as good but they are not saying anything about it. They do not have to say you are good. If one person says you are bad then we get upset about it.
If we are practicing Dharma from the bottom of our hearts, the way people see us in society is not the true Dharma and is irrelevant. Everyone is thinking about external things, in the way that Mila’s sister Peta thought about things. They look at what clothes they have and what food they eat to decide whether or not a Dharma practitioner has merit or not. If we look at it from the point of view of Milarepa, it is not a question of having good food to eat or what you wear on your back.”
REALISED YOGIS AND PRACTITIONERS CAN EAT ALL FOOD WITH “ONE TASTE’
The Karmapa went on to explain that realised yogis and Dharma practitioners do not make any distinctions between tasty and untasty food. They accept all with equanimity and one taste:
“Most people from beginningless samsara up until the present have taken birth many times in the three realms of samsara and have experienced many different types of suffering and in the future will continue to experience the suffering of birth, sickness, old age and death. We do not really think about this. We still continue to cherish our own body. We are unable to sever the ties and craving for food and clothing. To sever the pleasures of desire and cut through the craving for that. Even when practicing the Dharma, we say we must not let our body go to waste, as say the body is very important and spend all our energy of body, speech and mind getting busy looking for food and clothing. This is what happens.”
[Author’s note: all genuine yogis and realised practitioners can eat poo but that’s not to say all beings that eat poo are realised yogis though! Ma yin pai khyab! :-)]