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Milarepa-s First Meeting with Rechungpa

by Sangharakshita

Sangharakshita in seminar

"Milarepa's First Meeting With Rechungpa"
from "The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa".
Held at: Padmaloka July-August 1980Those present: The Venerable Sangharakshita: (The following were not all present for the
whole seminar which was held over two weekends) Subhuti, Abhaya, Sona, Kovida,
Kulananda, Lalitavajra, Virabhadra, Ray Chipps, Mike Keogh, Chris Pegrum, Campbell
McEwan, Colin, Andy Friends, Clive Pomfrett.
S: All right let's begin. Go around the circle reading. Would someone like to read those first
two prose paragraphs and Milarepa's first song?
"As prophesied by Marpa, Milarepa went to the upper part of Gung Tang. When he arrived at
the Castle there, he found that many people were building a house and asked them for some
food. They replied "We are working on this building. You can see that we are very busy and
have no time for that sort of thing. It looks as though you have plenty of time to spare, so why
don't you join us in the work?"
Milarepa said, "Yes, I now have plenty of leisure, but I have earned it by finishing the
construction of my 'house' in my own way. Even if you do not give me any food, I will never
work on a worldly building which I would most certainly abandon". The men asked him,
"How did you build your house, and why do you spurn our work so strongly?"
Milarepa sang in reply:
Faith is the firm foundation of my house, Diligence forms the high walls, Meditation makes
the huge bricks, And Wisdom is the great cornerstone. With these four things I built my
castle, And it will last as long as the Truth eternal! Your worldly homes are delusions, Mere
prisons for the demons, And so I would abandon and desert them."
[2]
S: So let's have a look at that. What is the general impression one gets from this particular
passage? What does one learn from it about the attitude of the people who are building that
house towards Milarepa? How do they see Milarepa, how does he appear to them?
Chris: They resent the fact that he's not working when they're all hard at work. He appears to
be lazy.
S: He appears to be lazy. He appears to have nothing to do, and also don't forget that he
approaches them and he asks them for some food. What do you think is the significance of
that? I mean in their eyes, how do you think they take it. How do they seem to take it?
: That food should be earned.
S: Yes it's almost as though they're saying that food should be earned. He's not a monk, he's
just a sort of wandering yogi and he has no visible means of support as far as they can see. He
doesn't do any work and he's approaching them begging for some food. So they say "We are
working on this building. You can see that we are very busy and have no time for that sort of
thing." What do you think they mean by that? By "that sort of thing", what are they actually
referring to?
Clive: Sort of meditation.
S: Possibly.
Kulananda: Earning merit.
S: Possibly. It depends upon whether they recognize him as a yogi or whether he just looks
like a beggar. It could mean that they've no time to stop and give him food. It could mean
that. It seems a little bit ambiguous. And then they go on to say. "It looks as though you have
plenty of time to spare, so why don't you join us in the work?" You see the work that they are
doing is visible, it's obvious, but the work that Milarepa is doing or the work that Milarepa
has done is not so obvious. So to those who are occupied or to those who are preoccupied
with quite mundane, visible, tangible things, it's as though those who are occupied in some
other way are not doing anything.
You remember this famous story that I sometimes tell from the biography of Osbert Sitwell.
Some of you have heard it I'm sure. The Sitwells were a very famous literary family in the
20s, 30s and 40s - there [3] were two brothers and a sister and they came of a quite well-to-do
family and they had an enormous family house, I think it was in Yorkshire somewhere, and
Edith, the sister, lived in one of the wings; Osbert, one of the brothers lived in another wing
and there was about half a mile apparently between these two wings, and in those days it was
I think either just before or just after the First World War, there were plenty of servants
around. So servants used to go to and fro with messages between the two wings. So one day
Osbert gave a maidservant a message to be delivered to Edith but only if she was not doing
anything, only if she was not working. If she was working, if she was doing something, she
was on no account to be disturbed and the maidservant should just quietly bring the message
back without delivering it. So anyway half an hour later the maidservant came back and
Osbert asked her, 'did you deliver the message', and she said 'Oh yes, I delivered the message'
'My sister wasn't doing anything then' 'Oh no she was doing nothing at all, she was just
writing'! You see. So in the eye of a person like that to be writing is not to be doing anything,
is not to be working. If she'd been washing dishes that would have been work, if she'd been
bricklaying that would have been work, but she was sitting at her desk and writing, that was
not work. She wasn't doing anything.
So very often people who are preoccupied with tangible things think that to be preoccupied
with intangible things is to be not doing anything. So it could have been that if these people
building the house had seen Milarepa as a yogi, even if they'd recognized him as a yogi, in
their eyes a yogi would not have been doing anything. What does a yogi do? Well nothing at
all, he just spends his time meditating, and so in the eyes of people of this sort to be
meditating is not to be doing anything and we do come up against this sort of attitude don't
we, in the case of many people who hear about meditation or who hear that you are
meditating. In their eyes you are not doing anything. Meditation is not work.
So one can look at it in this way that even though these people could see that Milarepa was a
yogi they couldn't appreciate the fact that a yogi also worked. On the other hand - the passage
is a bit ambiguous - they might have just seen him as an idle beggar whom they just didn't
have time to stop work for and give some food. So they're not altogether unkindly or perhaps
it's meant a bit ironically, they say "We are working on this building. You can see that we are
very busy and have no time for that sort of thing. It looks as though you have plenty of time to
spare, so why don't you join us in the work?" All right so Milarepa says, "Yes, I now have
plenty of leisure, but I have earned it by finishing the construction of my 'house' in my own
way" So what do you think Milarepa means by that? "I now have plenty of leisure but I've
earned it by finishing the construction of my 'house' in my own way" - what is he talking
about? What is he referring to? What is this 'house'? Well he'll tell us in a [4] minute so
there's no need to go into that, but why does he say that he now has plenty of leisure?
Kulananda: He's finished his work.
S: He's finished his work. In Pali texts when the Arhant's attainment of Arhantship, of
Enlightenment, is spoken of, there are various stock phrases. One is "He has laid down the
burden", He has done what was to be done Kavan Karaniyam - he has finished his work. So
Milarepa is in that sort of state one might say, he has gained Enlightenment so to speak. He's
done his work. He's got nothing further to do, but again how literally can one take that? Is it
that one ever sort of reaches a fixed point where everything has been done and there is in fact
nothing more to do? Can Milarepa's words be taken quite literally in this respect? Is it that he
had nothing more to do.
Virabhadra: Is it that he didn't have anything to do in the sense that of practising skilful
action. Maybe he's now at the point where he can act skilfully, attain...
S: In Hinayana terms one could say he's passed the point of no return or one might say in
terms of the Mahayana that he had traversed the eighth of the Bodhisattva's ten bhumis, there
was no danger of him falling back from that. But whatsoever the context there is this notion
of irreversibility, of reaching a point having reached which you cannot fall back into the
purely reactive process. Whatever you do henceforth can only be creative. You can go only
from one level of creativity to another, from a lower level of creativity to a higher, from a
narrower sphere of creativity to a wider sphere of creativity and so on. One could also say that
Milarepa has done, he's finished doing whatever was needed for himself, one could look at it
in that way. He had as it were done whatever he needed to do just for his own sake but he still
has a lot to do for other people out of compassion, and this is of course why he was
approaching these people in the first place. It wasn't just that he wanted food. Milarepa didn't
bother about food, we know that, but he was approaching them apparently for food just so as
to establish contact with them, to get into communication as we would say. To give them an
opportunity of talking to him, to give him an opportunity of talking to them, because he knew,
perhaps without thinking about it consciously, that some good for them could come ...

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