Milarepa and Me

Milarepa, known by some as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, and certainly one of its greatest saints, has been an important figure to me since my early 20’s. He lived in the 12th century in a mountain cave, a great yogi and poet who ate only nettles for sustenance. My spiritual teacher told me that I was one of his disciples. She said to me, “You lived on the mountain and the mountain was your temple.” I read biographies and writings of Milarepa avidly after that, as well as those of his teacher Marpa, and was very inspired by them. Some 20 years later, soon after resigning from the ministry while teaching a Dialogue workshop in Brattleboro, Vermont, a friend wanted me to talk with a woman there who read past lives in the palm of your hand. I had just met this woman and she didn’t know anything about me. The first thing she said after looking into my palm was, “You were a disciple of a man called Milarepa. You lived on the mountain and the mountain was your temple.” Please tell me, what are the odds of that? This was 20 years later, and she could never have consciously known.

A few years into my journey of living on the mountain from which I am now moving I recalled the words told me two times about living on the mountain, the mountain being my temple. Sheesh. Here I was again. After dissolution of a life in California I ran to the mountains and created a temple there.

Right now, with less than a week to go before the closing, in the very last stages of the process of separating, readying myself to birth the next phase of my life, a lesson from the life of Milarepa is coming to me strongly, profoundly helping me to gather vision and strength. Part of me has been resisting making my little apartment into a home since I realize that it will only be temporary. I haven’t wanted to hang pictures, organize closets and drawers, make it all functional and familiar, but have been living in it more like a campsite. The idea of constructing it all like a home and then having to dismantle it all soon, after I find a more permanent place, sounds too emotionally taxing. Just having deconstructed a whole life on the mountain, more deconstruction of a life too soon scares me a bit.

A couple of days ago a remembrance occurred that is helping me gather the courage to go ahead and make this a home, even if very soon I leave it. When Milarepa first began working with his teacher Marpa, Marpa wanted to teach this strong-willed, strong-minded man the way of obedience to a master. He had him build a house made of stone, and to carry every stone to the site on his own back. After Milarepa completed the house, having suffered much damage to his skin, feet and body from carrying and handling the stones, Marpa instructed him to tear down the house and build it again just a few feet away. Milarepa did so, understanding the value that this exercise was constructing in his own nature. After he finished the task, again suffering much, Marpa instructed him to move the structure yet again. Milarepa did so.

So, I will construct this home, hang the pictures, organize the closets and drawers and make it a well-functioning environment even if right away I have to pull it all apart again. So much self-protectiveness over the emotional cost of this seems ridiculous in the light of Milarepa’s story.

The first night of sleeping in my apartment after seeing my house on the mountain become hollowed out and emptied by the movers, I dreamed a dream. I was at my monastery – a rich, ancient feeling, beautifully tended, gorgeous stone building, with sacred spaces created everywhere in it. The monastery was about to set sail, as though it were a ship. In dream logic this was not strange at all. I was preparing plants to receive what they needed before we pushed off. One plant was situated in a hollow log, open at the top and the bottom. I was trying to pack more soil around its roots. Josi, my daughter who was here with me during the crucial days of this move, was showing me in the dream that the roots of this plant really didn’t need more soil, they thrive in air. The dream has comforted me in many ways. My own roots, now dangling in air, will thrive there just fine.

Milarepa is said to have advanced through stages of enlightenment in a short time in his life, stages that generally were understood to take a yogi many lifetimes to master. He attributed his gift to the ability to control “internal air.”

My master still instructs me. I am thankful.

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