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Milarepa - Rechungpa-s Departure

by Sangharakshita

Sangharakshita in seminar

From "The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa"
(translated by Garma C.C. Chang. Published by Shambala, Boulder Ca., 1977)
Chapter 35: Rechungpa's Departure
Held at: Padmaloka
Date: November 1980Those Present: The Venerable Sangharakshita, Brian Duff (now Dharmavira), Suvajra,
Mangala, Vajradaka, Adrian Macro (now Shantiprabha), Clive Pomfrett (now Kevala), Peter
Shann (now Vajrananda), Asvajit, Aloka, Pete Hayes (now Bodhivajra), Atula, Malcolm
Webb (now Sudhana)
Sangharakshita: All right. Would someone like to read that first prose paragraph, or perhaps
the first two, they do go together.
"Rechungpa the heart-son disciple of the Jetsun Milarepa, had difficulty because of his
affiliation with the noble woman Lady Dembu. In order to free him from this hindrance,
Milarepa transformed himself into a beggar and came to Rechungpa for alms. Now
Rechungpa possessed at that time a very large piece of jade, obtained from a ravine in the
valley of Yagder. This he gave to the "beggar", saying,
"Use this jade to buy your food." Milarepa thought, "My son
has no attachment to material wealth, but has great compassion."
As a consequence of this almsgiving, Rechungpa separated from the Lady Dembu.
Disheartened and wearied of her, he left, and returned to the Jetsun."
S: We're not told in this chapter at least how this state of affairs came about. Apparently
Rechungpa, the heart-son disciple of Jetsun Milarepa is, at the beginning of the chapter,
living with the [2] Lady Dembu, and the text begins by saying that he had difficulty because
of his affiliation with the noble woman Lady Dembu. This term 'affiliation' in the translation
isn't really very appropriate here. I don't know what the original Tibetan is, but obviously it
should be something like 'connection'. Affiliation means, it is, of course, from filius, son, it
means connecting yourself with somebody as a son, but clearly that is not the real meaning
here. We talk about an association, being affiliated with another association. Here it clearly
stands for just a connection. "So in order to free him from this hindrance Milarepa
transformed himself into a beggar and came to Rechungpa for alms. Now Rechungpa
possessed at that time a very large piece of jade, obtained from a ravine in the valley of
Yagder." The Tibetans, like the Chinese, value and prize jade very highly, and it is used for
ornaments. "This he gave to the beggar," the supposed beggar "saying, "Use this jade to buy
your food". Milarepa thought, "My son has no attachments to material wealth, and has great
compassion". As a consequence of this almsgiving Rechungpa separated from the Lady
Dembu; disheartened and wearied of her, he left, and returned to the Jetsun." Now this is
really quite extraordinary isn't it? As a consequence of this almsgiving Rechungpa separated
from the Lady Dembu. Well how on earth could that particular almsgiving, that giving of that
piece of jade to the beggar have this sort of effect on Rechungpa's mind? How did it work so
to speak? What was the psychology of it?
Malcolm: Would it be that, because he had no material wealth left, he was no use to her.
(Laughter)
S: Well, that is a possibility, it suggests a slightly cynical view of, you know, the opposite
sex, but perhaps there's an element of truth in that. But it ... Yes?
Clive: Could it be that he experienced a heightened state of consciousness by this act of
compassion, that he saw his ...
S: Yes, because Milarepa says, or Milarepa thought, "My son has no attachment to material
wealth, but has great compassion." So that seems to, you know, have some connection with it.
It's as though the sight of the beggar aroused Rechungpa's compassion to such an extent that
he gave the beggar a very large piece of jade, saying 'Use this jade to buy your food.' It's
mentioned that it was a very large piece, so that suggests it must have been quite valuable.
The beggar could have sold it for quite a lot of money, so it would not have been possible for
Rechungpa to give that piece of jade if he hadn't been activated by very strong feelings of
compassion. So it's as though the mere sight of that beggar and the beggar's request for alms,
activated, I was going to say all, but at least some, of Rechungpa's dormant spiritual qualities
which had not been active during the period of his relationship with Lady Dembu, because I
mean usually one finds if you enter into a relationship of this sort you become very self
centred, you become very selfish, you forget about other people, you've no interest in other
people, you've no compassion. So as it were, compassion for other people is a sort of enemy
to this type of relationship, it makes you aware of the wider context.
So it's as though the sight of the beggar, the experience of compassion, the act of generosity,
all helps to awaken Rechungpa's nobler side, the nobler side of his character, the nobler side
of his nature and as a result of that he separated from the Lady Dembu. "Disheartened and
wearied of her he left and returned to the Jetsun." But it is quite interesting perhaps to notice
that Milarepa didn't sort of preach him any sermon, he didn't say, well it's really wrong of you
to be involved in this way, and to forget your meditation and your spiritual life, you ought to
leave her, you've got yourself entangled in a relationship. He [3] didn't say all that. He just
took on the guise of a beggar and he went to him for alms. Rechungpa didn't recognize
Milarepa, that's also perhaps significant. He didn't recognize him, all he saw there was a
beggar, but the sight of the beggar aroused his compassion. So this suggests that if you want
to help somebody extricate themselves from a relationship of this sort, it's not enough, at least
not in all cases, just to point out to them how unskilful it is and what harm they're doing
themselves, one has to arouse their positive emotions. One has to give them a wider
perspective, one has to enable them to experience a better part of themselves, and that will do
its work. Because that is very difficult. I mean this was a very special situation, Milarepa had
very special powers, but he was able to awaken Rechungpa's positive emotions, especially his
compassion, in such a way that the positive emotion broke through his attachment you know,
for the woman, and he went back to Milarepa.
Adrian: Could you say that Rechungpa's sort of brought face to face with his own
inadequacies, he sees a beggar and all he feels he can give him is a large piece of jade and
when he sort of turns it over in his mind a bit he realizes, well how can I give more, he
realizes he's got to get back to his teacher.
S: Yes.
Vajradaka: Its an accumulative process too isn't it, once you've experienced one kind of surge
of compassion, then it, well it develops and other experiences don't seem satisfactory.
S: Because it says "disheartened and wearied of her he left", it didn't seem, it seems he didn't
at that point experience much difficulty in leaving her.
Asvajit: In other words the attachment isn't really broken until one's vision has been
broadened, so that one can actually see what's taking place.
S: Yes; I mean the important thing here seems to be the part played by positive emotion, a
sort of intellectual conviction that you ought to extricate yourself from the situation, that is
not enough. Your skilful positive emotion needs to be aroused.
Well, any further point arises in connection with this particular passage?
Malcolm: I mean, a point that does seem obvious, that the positivity of the spiritual
community should attract people I suppose, rather than just convictions.
S: It's also as though what is important is that if you have an opportunity of, as it were, going
out and being of some help to others, well this decreases your self centredness and makes it
less likely that you'll become involved in this kind of way.
Vajradaka: I think a very big danger is when you actually begin to attach your young shoots of
compassion, and wanting to help, to the person in the relationship. Then you get a kind of
double bind situation. You feel you're in the relationship to help them. You feel that you're
actually practising your compassion when in fact it's completely misguided, and that just
catches you in a double bind situation.
S: Yes; well enables you to rationalize; so in the case of a beggar, maybe an old, ugly looking
beggar, well there can't be anything else except compassion.
Kevala: This is often a rationalization people use isn't it? They can't help everyone, so they
start to get involved in the one [4] person so they can really help.
Malcolm: Sorry, did you say that's the rationalization?
Kevala: That is a rationalization.
Malcolm: Yes, a lot of people use that don't they. I mean you can't take all the world's
troubles on your shoulders, kind of thing.
Kevala: Except one person.
S: So you just look after your own family.
Adrian: But in a sense I mean, you do help to create the world's problems. It's your mind that's
part of like a collective mind which is creating the world's problems, so in a sense you are
responsible.
S: Yes, you've got one six billionth part of the responsibility.
Adrian: Sounds quite insignificant, but it's ...

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