A Girl’s Lament: Songs of Saley O to Milarepa

I have been working on a new translation of Milarepa’s Songs to the Hunter: the Chira Kagyu Lineage (which will be published here soon).  While looking at the Tibetan text and the first published translation in English of Milarepa’s Songs (see bibliography), I discovered there is a whole chapter entitled ‘Women’s Role in Dharma’ and also one entitled ‘Saley O and her Understanding’ (a title not in the Tibetan text but coined by the male translator) as well as other songs sang by and for females.  Reading the songs, it is clear that these girls and women were realised and sang songs of great profundity and spiritual depth.

For Guru Rinpoche day today, I offer an excerpt of a new translation (closer to the original Tibetan) of one of these songs by Saley O and a new section of this website ‘Songs of Milarepa‘ dedicated to two translation projects: 1) Chira Kagyu and 2) Female Disciples.  The translations will also include the Tibetan and phonetics.  First, a little about the female disciples themselves.

The female disciples of Milarepa

According to Dan Martin, in his article ‘The Woman Illusion’ in Women of Tibet, Sangye Dharpos’ sixteenth century history text lists five women, Peta, Dze-Se, Drichama, Sale O and Peldar Bum as among Milarepa’s disciples that ‘entered the sky life’ without leaving physical bodies behind, a traditional sign of saintly death. It also lists separately a group of disciple, termed the ‘four sisters’ as:

  1. Rechungma of Tsonga – doubted Milarepa’s realization upon their first meeting, but she later gained complete faith in him. Milarepa imparted to Rechungma all the pith-instructions without reserve. She practiced in complete silence for eight years and attained enlightenment through the practice of gTum-mo. At the time of her passing, she had become a leading exponent of Milarepa’s teachings.
  2. Saley O of Nyanang – rebujked Milarepa when first meeting him but after meditated in solitude for many years, achieving enlightenment. She later taught the Dharma to many disciples throughout Tibet.
  3. Paldar Bum of Chung – similarly achieved complete enlightenment in a single lifetime. After first scorning and belittling Milarepa upon their encounter, she was converted to the Dharma by his beautiful songs. Paldarbum succeeded be able to enter into higher dimensions while in her human body. Playing a drum for all to hear, at the time of her death she is said to have bodily vanished, ascending into the pure realm of the Dakinis.
  4. Chamo Beta (his real sister Beta)

The history by Nyang-ral (1988: 493) mentions, unfortunately without listing the individual names, a group of nine women disciples of Milarepa who were siddhās (grub-thob-ma).

Tseringma, is also said to be tamed by Jetsun Milarepa, became a tenth-level Bodhisattva and is now frequently prayed to as a holy protector of the Dharma.

Songs of Sale O to Milarepa

In this post I share my new translation of one of the songs Saley O (Sa-le-‘od) sang to Milarepa. This will form part of a new translation/booklet I am producing on the Female Disciples of Milarepa: Lives and Songs (which will be published for free download here).  Saley O was one of the four main female disciples of Milarepa who became a fully enlightened mahasiddha in her own right, under his tutelage.

Saley O, is said to be around sixteen years old and physically pretty, on the brink of womanhood, when she meets Milarepa after he comes down from his meditation cave and goes to Nyanong where she scolds and rebukes his request for food. That same night she has an auspicious dream and believes it must be due to him. Sale O seeks him out and this song is one she spontaneously sung  to Milarepa when she meets him, requesting him to teach her and offering him some gold.  When Milarepa, testing her depth of renunciation, tells her that “I do not want your gold. It is very seldom that the rich can practice the Dharma, though they may have great ability in other things. Since you are still very young, I think it is better for you not to renounce the world completely. Now, listen to my song”. He then sings to her and she replies back in song.

Considering her young age (in numbers), her song is an extraordinary (and spiritually mature) lament about the sadness and suffering of woman’s life, from birth, to being a child, a lover, a mother and more. After singing it, she pleads with Milarepa to teach her and take her as his student, which he does giving her the name Saley O and advising her to meditate in solitude.

The Tibetan text I used for this translation is in The Biography and Thousand Songs of Jetsun Milarepa (rje btsun mi la ras pa’i rnam thar dang mgur ‘bum, TBRC W1KG4276:2:620). The chapter about Sa-le-‘od was composed by Ngendzong Tonpa (Ngan-rdzong Ston-pa), himself a disciple of Milarepa.

A Girl’s Lament on Samsara
Song of Salhe O

རྗེ་རས་པ་ཆེན་པོ་སྙན་གསོནི་དང་། །                བདག་མོས་པའི་ཞུ་བ་འབུལ་བ་འདི།།

རྫུན་ཁ་ཚིག་ཡིན་མིན་ཐུགས་ཀྱིས་མཁྱེན། །           རང་ལ་རང་ཉིད་ཡི་མུག་ཆེ། །

ཅི་དྲག་སེམས་ཀྱི་བསམ་མནོ་ལ། །                   མི་རྟག་འཆི་བ་གཏིང་ནས་དྲན། །

རང་མ་ལ་སྐྱེས་ནས་ད་བར་ལ། །                    རྒན་གཞོན་མང་པོ་ཤི་བ་མཐོང་། །

ཚེ་མི་རྟག་རྩྭ་ཁའི་ཟིལ་པ་འདྲ། །                    དེ་ཞག་དང་ཟ་མས་མ་ཚོར་འཛད། །

གང་དུ་གནས་ཀྱང་མི་འཆི་བའི། །                  ས་ཕྱོགས་གང་ནའང་མེད་པར་གོ། །

བདག་ལ་ངེས་པར་འཆི་དགོས་ཤིང་།                ས་ནས་གར་སྐྱེ་རང་དབང་མེད། །

ངན་སེང་སྡུག་བསྔལ་བསམས་ཙ་ན། །               སྡུག་བསྔལ་རྙེད་སྙམ་ཤིན་ཏུ་འཇིགས། །

Great Repa, please listen!

I offer with devotion this sincere request!

You will know if the words I say are true or not.

I have seen myself the huge despair

And thought about what can be done.

Remembering death and fleeting life,

From the moment one is born, until now.

Life is impermanent, like dew on the grass.

Wherever one stays there is neither a place

Nor person who has not died.

Knowing for sure, I have to die,

And having no choice or power where I will go.

Thinking of the suffering of the lower realms, and

Becoming extremely fearful of the suffering I will find.

འཁོར་བ་གཞན་གྱི་ཚུལ་ལ་བསམས། །                   ལས་ངན་ཁྱིམ་ཐབ་བྱེད་དོ་ཞེས། །

འཁོར་བའི་གཡོས་སྦྱོར་བྱས་ཙ་ན། །                 ཕ་མ་དྲིན་ཙོ་རྒྱབ་ཏུ་བོར། །

རང་གཉའ་དྲིན་མེད་མི་ལ་བསྐྱལ། །                 ངན་སོང་གསུམ་གྱི་འགྲམ་གཞི་བཏིང་། །

མཐོ་རི་གོ་ཐར་པའི་སྡོང་པོ་སྒྱེལ། །                  ཕ་མའི་ཟས་ནོར་ཁུར་ནས་སུ། །

དོན་མེད་མི་ཡི་གཡོག་ལ་གའ། །                    གསོར་བར་མཆོང་བའི་གཉའ་གྲོགས་དེ། །

Considering the ways of samsara,

The miserable householder family life,

To use the kitchen utensils of samsara

Casting aside one’s kind parents.

Yoked and carried away by an unkind person

Laying the foundation for the lower realms,

Cutting down the tree of opportunity for liberation and higher realms.

How can I enjoy carrying the load of parents’ wealth?

To a meaningless life as a servant,

For the hook that plunges my neck into the yoke!

དང་པོ་ལྷ་བུ་འཛུམ་བག་༅། །                བར་དུ་བདུད་པོ་ངོ་ནག་པོ། །

ཐ་མར་གླང་བུ་བརྡུང་སྙིང་༅། །              བསམས་ཤིང་སྐྱོ་བ་ནང་ནས་སྐྱེས། །

དེས་ན་བུ་མོ་ལྷ་ཆོས་བྱེད། །                  གྲོགས་སུ་རྡོ་རྗེ་སྤུན་དང་འགྲོགས། །

At first, a smiling, divine man,

In the middle, a demon, with a black face,

At the end, a bull that destroys you,

Thinking thus, I feel melancholy.

So, this girl shall practice divine Dharma

And accompany her vajra-sibling friends!

དེ་ནས་ལུས་ལ་སྐྱེས་པའི་བུ། །                     བསོད་ནམས་ལྡན་པ་རེ་རེ་ལ། །

ལས་ཅན་རེ་ཙམ་བྱུང་བའང་སྲིད། །            ཕལ་ཆེར་ལན་ཆགས་འདེད་མཁན་དེ། །

དང་པོར་ལུས་ཀྱི་མདངས་འཕྲོག་པོ། །              བར་དུ་ཁ་ཡི་ཟས་འཕྲོག་པོ། །

ཐ་མར་ལག་གི་ནོར་འཕྱོག་པོ། །                  བསམས་ཤིང་སྐྱོ་བ་ནང་ནས་སྐྱེས། །

དེས་ན་བུ་མོ་ལྷ་ཆོས་བྱེད། །                          སྲས་བུ་རིག་པའི་ཁྱེའུ་ཆུང་གསོ། །

Then, the sons borne by the body,

Who possess merit are few and far between,

Most are chasing after karmic debts.

First, they rob the body’s radiance

In the middle, they rob food from the mouth,

At the end, they rob jewels from the hands.

Thinking thus, I feel melancholy.

So, this girl shall practice divine Dharma, and

Nourish the small child of awareness.

གཙུག་ལག་ཁང་དང་མགྲོན་ཁང་སོགས། །         བརྩིགས་པ་དོན་ར་ཡོད་རེ་རེ་ཙམ། །

འཁོར་བའི་བཙོན་དོང་ས་མཁར་དེ། །             དང་པོ་སེམས་ལ་སྡུག་བསྔལ་བསྐུར། །

བར་དུ་ལུས་ལ་ངལ་དུབ་བསྐར། །                 ཐ་མར་ཞིག་རཔ་་ཕུང་ལ་བཏང་། །

བསམས་ཤིང་སྐྱོ་བ་ནང་ནས་སྐྱེས། །               དེས་ན་བུ་མོ་ལྷ་ཆོས་བྱེད།།

འཇིག་མེད་བསམ་གཏན་མཁར་བུ་རྩིག །

Temples, houses, hotels and so on

Are like prison cell walls,

Fortress dungeons of samsara,

At first, they invite mental suffering,

In the middle, they hang you up with fatigue,

At the end, they leave you in despair.

Thinking thus, I feel melancholy.

So, this girl shall practice divine Dharma, and

Erect an indestructible castle of ‘concentration’.

–an excerpt from ‘The Songs of Salhe O’ in Female Disciples of Milarepa: Life and Songs. Translated, edited and compiled by Adele Tomlin (2020).  Copyright Dakini Publications. All rights reserved.

Bibliography/Further reading

The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. Shambhala Publications, 1962. Tr. Garma CC Chang.

‘The Woman Illusion’  by Dan Martin (2006).

Milarepa: Lessons from the Songs and Life of Tibet’s Great Yogi, by Chogyam Trungpa. Shambhala Publications, 2017.