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Milarepa - The Shepherd-s Search for Mind

by Sangharakshita

The Shepherd's Search for Mind Seminar

held at Broomhouse Farm, Norfolk, on 12th and 13th June 1976. Present: Sangharakshita (S),
Asvajit, Lokamitra, Padmaraja, Padmapani, Sagaramati, Vessantara, Gary Hennessey,
Richard Hutton, Alan Angel, Mark Barrett, Roy Campbell, Graham Stephen, and John
Rooney.
Text: "The Shepherd's Search for Mind", from The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa,
translated by Garma C.C. Chang.
tape one (B)
S: All right, let's go round the circle reading a paragraph at a time and then discuss any points
that need to be discussed in that particular paragraph. It's "The Shepherd's Search for Mind".
If anyone has the volume it's page 38 of the Select(?) edition. So maybe Lokamitra will start.
Before we begin I take it everybody's got some idea who Milarepa was? I take it everybody's
heard of Milarepa at least? Has got some idea that Milarepa was a great Tibetan yogi - some
say the greatest of all Tibetan yogis - and that he sang songs, and that he was a somewhat
unconventional but deeply spiritual character, as no doubt we shall see in the course of this
particular chapter.
"One day, Jetsun Milarepa descended from the Great Light Cave to the Happy Village of
Mang Yul for food and alms. Seeing many people in the centre of the village, he said to them,
'Dear patrons, please give me some food this morning.' They asked, 'Are you the
much-talked-about yogi who formerly resided at Ragma?' He replied, 'Yes, I am.' Then a great
respect for him arose within them and they cried, 'Oh, here comes the wonderful yogi.'"
S: So you get an impression of the actual scene, yes, that Milarepa is living in a cave up on
the mountainside. He's staying there meditating in Great Light Cave and every now and then
he comes down, apparently, to the little village, which presumably is situated at the foot of
the mountain. It might have been a market day because there were many people about,
gathered, apparently, in the centre of the village. So he approached them and said, "Dear
patrons, please give me some food this morning." This in a way is a bit unconventional. If
you're a monk you're not supposed to ask for alms, you conventionally just stand there with
your begging-bowl. But Milarepa wasn't a conventional monk. [2] In fact, actually, he wasn't
a monk at all. I raised this question with a Kagyupa incarnate lama and he said as far as he
knew, according to the Kagyupa tradition, Milarepa might have been a sramanera, he might
have received a sramanera's ordination, but they weren't sure. But certainly he had never
become a monk in the technical sense. He had never become a bhikkhu or gelong, he was just
- oh, 'just' isn't really the word - but in the technical or ecclesiastical sense he was just a yogi;
perhaps an upasaka, but certainly no more than a sramanera. So he didn't bother about the
formalities of monastic life apparently; he didn't even have a begging-bowl. So when he saw
all these people gathered in the centre of the village he just approached them and said, "Please
give me some food." He was a very simple, direct and almost childlike sort of person: "some
food". So he just went up to them and said, "Please give me some food." So they must have
seen he was rather unusual and rather odd. He was probably virtually naked; he probably just
had some piece of cloth on him somewhere or other, but not very much. He apparently never
wore any monastic robes or red robes or anything of that sort - at the most just a bit of cotton
cloth. That's why he was called Milarepa, repa meaning one who wears a piece of cotton
cloth. And he just went up to them in this very sort of unconventional and very simple and
direct way and asked for food, asked for alms. And apparently they'd heard about him. He
was quite well known in that part of Tibet. They'd heard there was this mad sort of crazy yogi
who was just living up in various caves, often above the snow line, with no clothes virtually,
and just singing songs when people come to see him. So they'd heard about this, so they
suspected when he approached them - when they saw this wild, crazy, bizarre-looking figure -
they suspected that it might be the much-talked-about yogi. In Tibet, in the old days, there
wasn't much to talk about. Nothing much happened. If you had a yogi living in your
neighbourhood - well that was something to talk about, especially if he was someone rather
[3] eccentric and strange like Milarepa. So they asked, "Are you the much-talked-about yogi
who formerly resided at Ragma?" He replied, "Yes I am." No false modesty; he said, "Yes I
am." Then a great respect arose within them and they cried, 'Oh, here comes the wonderful
yogi.'" So what do you infer from all this, especially from what they say? What can you infer?
And from the fact that he addresses them as dear patrons? Patrons means lay supporters, more
like (?), those who give alms to the monks and the meditating people. So what can we infer
from that? They seem to be quite familiar with the idea that there should be a yogi around,
and they seem to have some idea of what yogis do, or what they are like. It's natural that he
should address them as dear patrons, dear lay supporters - yes? So what do you infer from
that?
Voice: He seems to be their spiritual father.
S: No, I wasn't thinking of that.
Richard: Does it mean that there's a lot around, a lot of yogis around, or rather that maybe that
they've got a lot of respect for yogis?
S: The argument ... how does that arise? After all, this is Tibet. The Dharma hasn't been
established there for very long. It suggests that Buddhism is as it were established among
these people, otherwise what significance would a yogi have? Just be some mad naked fellow
living in a cave. Well they knew it's a yogi and they've an innate respect for yogis, and he
addresses them as "dear patrons". So it suggests that in that part of Tibet the Dharma was
fairly well established and people knew what a yogi was. They therefore knew, presumably,
what meditation was, and they've been sufficiently interested in this whole idea of yogihood
to be talking about this yogi. Maybe the word had spread in the area that there is this fellow
Milarepa who moves around from cave to cave, mountain-peak to mountain-peak, meditating
and singing songs. So the ground has been prepared: they were Buddhists, they [4] knew
about yogis, they'd heard about this particular one. So when he when he turned up and asked
for alms they were quite prepared as it were and they said, "Oh, here comes the wonderful
yogi." You can't imagine that sort of thing happening nowadays; even in India it might not
always happen. They'd think you were wasting your time, or you ought to be doing some
work, engaging at least in social work, something of that sort. So we do get indirectly a
glimpse of the actual situation. There might even have been a little gompa. There might have
been a Nyingmapa-type priest or performer of ceremonies in the village. We are not told, but
it may be so. But, anyway, they are Buddhists, they are familiar with the idea of yoga, and
they're quite prepared to welcome Milarepa, they're glad to see him.
Alan: That suggests that the Bon tradition didn't have ascetica.
S: They didn't have yogis ... they certainly had ascetics, in a sense. They had shamans, who
used to go into trances and maybe levitate and project their bodies or project their soul into
other worlds - but that was a different kind of thing. In some of the songs there are
competitions between Milarepa and the representatives of the Bon magic. But it seems they
had a definite idea about yogis, about meditation, in the Buddhistic sense. So then, "a great
respect arose within them." This is significant: the spontaneous reaction of their response.
They don't say, 'Well, what a crazy looking fellow,' or 'How stupid to pass your time like that.'
So they must have had some appreciation or idea of what meditation is all about, or what
yoga is all about - yoga in the sense of meditation - for it to be possible for them to feel that
spontaneous respect and reverence for him when he actually appeared. So the ground is
prepared. Any other queries on that paragraph?
Mark: Through reading the book about his life it seems that Milarepa didn't go begging for
alms very much. It seems he would stay in his cave and refuse to go begging, wasting time.
[5]
S: Yes. So this is a sort of special occasion, as it were. Maybe he felt drawn to that village;
maybe he felt (we are not told, but it is possible) that there are people in that village who are
ready to hear more of the Dharma. So down he went. Perhaps the going for alms, the asking
for food, was only a sort of, as it were, pretext. In another of the chapters, the one called 'The
Meeting at Silver Spring', Milarepa meets a young man on a horse and asks the young man to
give him a lift across the river. Actually, he is able to cross the river as it later transpires, by
his magic power, but he asks the young man to give him a lift just to get onto conversation
with him. Then he can start talking about the Dharma. So something of that sort might have
happened here. All right, let's carry on.
"Among them was a married couple who had no children. Inviting Milarepa to their house,
they served him and said, 'Dear lama, where are ...

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