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Milarepa - Heartfelt Advice to Rechungpa

by Sangharakshita

... All we have to do is read but that Tipitaka has been handed down
through generations of disciples. You can't be sure that you've got a correct and accurate
record, you can't be sure that they've all understood. Even if they have understood and even if
a correct record has been transmitted to you how can you be sure that you really do
understand in the absence of some spiritual experience on your part. So the Vajrayana would
say that even if you do have the actual scriptures, even if you do have the words of the [5]
Buddha himself you can't usually be safely trusted to understand and interpret them yourself.
You need to study them with a teacher, with a guru who's got a deeper understanding of them
than you do yourself. So this is one point of difference say between the Hinayana and the
Mahayana on the one hand and the Vajrayana on the other. It's as though in the Vajrayana the
guru represents the living spiritual tradition, not just the words in which that tradition is
embodied. It's not enough to have the words of the tradition, you need the living spirit of the
tradition, here represented by Milarepa as well. The scriptures contain teachings of say
general significance or teachings that were addressed to other people and not to you. But the
guru is in contact with you, he sees what your specific need is. So in the light of his own
experience, in the light of the general principles laid down in the scriptures he can give you
the teaching that you actually need. This is again why the Vajrayana stresses the importance
of the guru so much.
So he says, 'First listen to my song, then continue your discussion.' He's not saying that they
shouldn't discuss the teachings of Naropa and Medripa but they've got to have a proper basis
for discussion. So he's asking them to listen to him, to listen to the voice of actual spiritual
experience and then in the light of that continue their discussion. One has probably often had
this experience of hearing people discuss this or that aspect of the Dharma and you can see
that neither of them have really got a clue but they're having a vigorous discussion. Maybe
they're agreeing, maybe they're disagreeing but perhaps neither of them have got much
understanding of what it is that they are talking about.
Then in the first verse of Milarepa's song he says, 'My gracious guru always sits upon my
head, the Realization is always in my mind. Oh how can one describe this joyful feeling!'
What does he mean by saying that his guru always sits upon his head?
Clive: He's always with him.
S: He's always with him, yes.
___: He looks after him.
___: There's that influence always there.
S: Yes, but basically it means he always remembers his guru. The basic meaning from which
all the others develop is that. He never forgets his guru. There is a Vajrayana visualization
practice where you visualize the guru immediately above one's head - this is part of the guru
yoga practice. So this is a very specific form of remembering the guru. So you get this sort of
idiom of keeping the guru always on the top of the head. So this means always remembering
the guru and feeling the presence of the guru in a very vivid, concrete sort of way. Not just
remembering him in a casual way. Since he's on the top of the head it means remembering
him with respect, [6] remembering him with veneration, remembering him with devotion etc.
as you do when you actually visualize the guru as being immediately above the head. You
understand the significance of the top of the head, the crown of the head, the topmost part of
the body, the most honourable part of the body. So it's with that part, as it were, that you
come into contact with whatever is above, in this case the guru.
When Milarepa says my gracious guru always sits upon my head it is not that the guru is
taking the initiative so to speak and coming and sitting on his head, it means that he himself
always keeps the guru sitting on his head, that is to say he always visualizes the guru as sitting
on his head. He always remembers the guru and he remembers him with respect, devotion,
veneration etc., remembers him with all that is best in himself and establishes constant
contact with his guru at that highest level of himself. The guru of course not representing
simply the human personality but the embodiment of the ideal. So Milarepa you may
remember always begins his songs with this sort of invocation or this sort of mention of the
guru but here it's especially appropriate in view of the circumstances under which he is
singing this song because Rechungpa and Drigom Repa have been just debating the teachings
of Naropa and Medripa without apparently as far as we know being in spiritual contact with
them whereas in the case of Milarepa he is maintaining his contact, his spiritual contact with
his guru Marpa all the time - that is part of his general experience one could say. That is with
him all the time and it's out of that recollection at least in part that he is giving the teaching
contained in the song. So in a way there's a contrast between their attitude of being concerned
simply with the words of the dharma and Milarepa's attitude of being concerned with his guru
and with his own actual spiritual experience. So he says my gracious guru always sits upon
my head, I never forget him. It also means something like he is a constant source of
inspiration, it also has that sort of connotation. Elsewhere he refers to the guru as the crest
jewel because in ancient India sometimes if you had a sort of top knot you tied it up with a
string or a thread and you could tie a jewel in that as a sort of ornament or decoration so you'd
select a particularly precious jewel for that purpose especially if you were a wealthy person or
a king. So the most valuable jewel that you have, the most valuable object that you had would
be placed right at the top of your head. So the guru is compared with that very often , just like
a precious jewel that you keep right at the top of your head and it also as I said has the
connotation of a source of inspiration. The crest jewel is a sort of idiom in Indian literature
generally of what is most precious and what you most highly value or what you respect or
look up to or which gives you happiness. So when Milarepa speaks of Marpa always sitting
on his head there are all these sort of suggestions and connotations.
So 'my gracious guru always sits upon my head, the Realization is always in my mind.' So
what does he mean by that exactly? The [7] 'Realization', and in the translation it has a capital
'R', 'is always in my mind.' It's slightly ambiguous in English. It can mean either that he
constantly enjoys that higher spiritual realization, that higher spiritual insight or it can mean
that he never entirely forgets it. He may not always be in full enjoyment of it. His experience
may fluctuate but he never entirely loses touch. The realization is always in his mind at least
to the extent of his always bearing it in mind, of never forgetting that he's had it. So to the
extent that he really remembers it to some extent at least he is then actually experiencing it.
So in this opening verse he describes or rather he refers to two things. He refers to his own
constant recollection of his guru and his own perpetual realization. He refers to the fact that
he never forgets his guru and also that he's never altogether out of contact with the higher
spiritual realization. In contrast to his two disciples who are at least for the purposes of this
story only in contact with the words of the teaching.
And then he says, 'Oh how can one describe this joyful feeling.' In other words, there's a
feeling of constant inspiration and encouragement because he always remembers his guru and
a feeling of constant attainment one could say, because he's always in touch at least to some
extent with the higher spiritual realization. So he feels that he's got everything he needs - he's
in contact with his guru, he's in contact with the Dharma in the truest sense, the Dharma in
the sense of an actual spiritual experience so he's perfectly happy, he's got nothing to worry
about. He's joyful, not only joyful, he's indescribably joyful. He says oh how can one describe
this joyful feeling. Perhaps that also is meant to suggest that Rechungpa and Drigom Repa are
not joyful in the way that he is. They don't have those two sources of joyful feeling.
Anyway he goes on and says, 'Listen you two, one Repa and one priest, who still linger in the
realm of action.' So the Repa is of course the cotton-clad ascetic or yogi of the Kagyupa
tradition. Priest presumably translates Bhikkhu, that is to say there are these two kinds of
spiritual practitioners, one following the tradition of the sutras and the other following the
tradition of the Tantras. But they're in much the same position. One of them is a freelance
yogi, the other is an orthodox monk but here they are having this long debate about the
teachings of Naropa and Medripa and not getting anywhere apparently. So the fact that one is
a freelance yogi not ordained as a monk and that the other is ordained as a monk and is
following the rules very strictly is coming to the same thing in the end for both of them.
They're both involved in this rather useless discussion. So one could sort of paraphrase it and
say well whether you're technically a follower of the Hinayana or technically a follower of the
Mahayana or technically a ...

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