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Milarepa - Heartfelt Advice to Rechungpa

by Sangharakshita

The "Heartfelt Advice to Rechungpa" seminar

Held at: Padmaloka in September, October and November 1980 (Full Moon Days)
Those present: Sangharakshita, Subhuti, Abhaya, Kovida, Lalitavajra, Sona, Kulananda,
Andy Friends, Colin Millar, Clive Pomfret, Chris Pegrum.
S: If someone reads the whole of the first song and the introductory paragraph then we'll go
through it verse by verse.
Subhuti: "At one time the Jetsun Milarepa was staying at Ramdin Nampu with his
son-disciples, Rechungpa, Drigom Repa and others. One day, while Rechungpa and Drigom
Repa were having a long debate about the teachings of Naropa and Medripa, the Jetsun
commented, 'First listen to my song, then continue your discussion".
My Gracious Guru always sits upon my head,
The realization is always in my mind.
Oh how can one describe this joyful feeling!
Listen you two, one Repa and one priest,
Who still linger in the realm of action.
If you do not understand within,
Your noisy bark will but inflate
Your pride and egotism.
Is not the clearance of misunderstandings
Within called the 'Endless View' - a yogi's glory
Confirming reasons and the Scriptures?
Is not Nhamdog dissolving in the Dharmakaya
Called spontaneous practice - a yogi's glory
Confirming meditation principles?
Is not self-purity of the Six Senses
Called the action of One Taste - a yogi's glory
Responding freely to times and changes?
Is not the Experience of the Bliss-Void
Called the function of the Whispered Lineage ...
A yogi's glory conforming with
The Four Initiations?
Is not the art of brightening Sunyata
Called the Stages and Bhumis of the Path ...
A yogi's glory witnessing
The sign posts on the way?
Is not the consummation of Self-mind
Called the attainment of Buddhahood
In one life - a yogi's glory
Confirming the Four Bodies?
Is not a possessor of the Pith-Instructions
Of reason and the Scriptures called
A Guru with a Lineage - a yogi's glory,
Embodiment of Love and of Compassion?
Is not one with compassion and great faith
Called a disciple with great capacity
A yogi's glory embodying
The merit of veneration?
One must observe the mind to gain a decisive
View. To win progress one must meditate;
One must act to reach the consummation.
Perfection of Mind is the Accomplishment;
The Fourfold Body of Buddha is
A presence and Realization.
He who knows one knows all."
S: All right then, 'At one time the Jetsun Milarepa was staying at Ramdin Nampu with his son
disciples, Rechungpa, Drigom Repa and others'. You notice this phrase "son disciples". What
does that suggest?
___: They're very close to him.
S: Very close to him. Sometimes in these songs heart disciples and son disciples are
mentioned. As far as I recollect son-disciples are closer than heart-disciples. But to go into
that a little bit more heart-disciples are close and son-disciples are close but in what sense do
you think are son-disciples perhaps closer than heart-disciples? What exactly is meant by a
son-disciple? That involves asking what is meant by a son. Clearly there's an analogy here
between biological son-ship, biological fatherhood and the spiritual equivalent. So what is the
point of the comparison?
___: The inheritance.
S: It's the inheritance. It's the same spiritual genes, as it were, transmitted though obviously
it's more than a question of literal transmission. The Buddha in the Pali texts says quite often
to the disciples, to the bhikkhus that is, you are my own true sons born of my mouth, born of
the Dharma. So a son is born as a result of the impregnation of the mother but the spiritual
son is born from the Buddha's love that is to say the Buddha's teaching, from the Buddha's
communication of the Dharma. He goes on to say born of the Dharma so it's a spiritual birth.
So this suggests in a way that [3] the disciple is sort of impregnated by the Buddha's word,
and having been impregnated in that way, gives birth to himself, that is to say his new self,
that resembles the Buddha, resembles the teacher because he's born of the Buddha's mouth,
born of the Buddha's teaching. So there's something like that suggested in this expression, the
son-disciple, in the case of Milarepa in relation to Rechungpa and the others. It's as though
there's not only a sort of biological begetting but also a spiritual begetting. It also suggests
that the disciple is, as it were, feminine in relation to the guru and having been, as it were,
spiritually impregnated through the teaching as I said gives birth to himself, that is to say his
new self, his spiritual self which is of course like the teacher; the guru, hence his son. In other
words you're not his son, Rechungpa is not Milarepa's son before that sort of spiritual rebirth
takes place. He's not just his son by going along and listening to him and spending a lot of
time with him etc., etc. But only after he's been spiritually reborn as a result of listening to
Milarepa's teaching and being deeply influenced by it so a son-disciple presumably is one in
whom this process has taken place. Others are just disciples, even heart-disciples but they're
not son-disciples.
So 'One day while Rechungpa and Drigom Repa were having a long debate about the
teachings of Naropa and Medripa.' Medripa is Maitripa, Naropa of course is the guru of
Marpa who was Milarepa's guru, and Medripa or Maitripa is another great spiritual, Tantric
master of the same family, so to speak. So Rechungpa and Drigom Repa were having a long
debate, discussion, about their teaching and the Jetsun commented, 'First listen to my song,
then continue your discussion'. So what do you think that means? First listen to my song, then
continue your discussion.
Kovida: He's telling them that they're wasting their time.
S: Because the text says, 'were having a long debate.' They'd been discussing a long time.
Maybe they weren't getting anywhere, so what does that suggest? What do you think might
have been happening?
Kulananda: The process was somewhat reactive.
Subhuti: Taking sides.
S: Taking sides almost or it could have been just rather theoretical, rather dry, rather
academic, not based on any experience. So then he says, 'First listen to my song.' Well
obviously Milarepa's song will be based upon his own experience. It's as if he is saying listen
to my song, listen to the voice of someone with experience, because after all have Rechungpa
and Drigom Repa met Naropa and Maitripa? Have they actually met them as far as one
knows? No. So what have they got, they've got their teachings. So what does that suggest?
They're not in personal contact with either Naropa or Maitripa but they've got certain
teachings of theirs. We're not told how they've got them or in what form they've got them.
Maybe they've [4] got them in the form of written texts or maybe they've just heard about
them. But they're not in contact with Naropa and with Maitripa themselves. No doubt their
teachings whether written down or not written down are expressions of their inner realization
but then Rechungpa and Drigom Repa are not directly in contact with the authors of those
teachings, they've only got the teachings to go by so there is a possibility of, as it were,
misunderstanding, of them preoccupying themselves only with the letter of the teaching
because the teacher is not actually there to check them at every stage but Milarepa himself is
there. So when he says first listen to my song it's as though he is saying listen to the song,
listen to the voice of someone who has the actual spiritual experience and then interpret the
teachings of Naropa and Medripa in accordance with that. Because since they've only got the
teachings of Naropa and Medripa, they haven't got Naropa and Medripa themselves they're
interpreting those teachings just in accordance with their own limited understanding, their
very limited understanding, with no possibility of that being checked or corrected if necessary
by either Naropa or Medripa so it's important that they are in contact with someone like
Milarepa who is able to teach them directly in accordance with their needs from his own
actual experience.
Kovida: In a sense they're not in contact with the tradition.
S: They're not in contact, you could say, with the living tradition, they're only in contact with
the words of the tradition, the teachings, that is to say in verbal form whether written down or
not written down but they're not in contact with the people from whom those teachings
originate from, whom they emanate, so they've got a stage further removed. Maybe those
teachings have been handed down through several generations of disciples so there's room for
misunderstanding on the way. So it's necessary for those teachings to be illuminated by
someone who has got some personal experience. So this little episode illustrates the whole
difference between you could say the Hinayana and even the Mahayana on the one hand and
the Vajrayana on the other and this is why the Vajrayana emphasizes the importance of the
guru because the guru is the person with personal experience, with personal understanding
who enables you or helps you to understand the written records of the teaching which is very
difficult for you to do by yourself. So the Theravadin will say well we've got the Pali texts,
we've got the Tipitaka. ...

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