The life of Milarepa is one of the most beloved stories of the land of Tibetan, and a beautiful example of the contemplative life. By learning about this great Lama one can also glean an introduction into Tibetan Buddhism. It presents the quest for purification and attainment in a single lifetime, tracing the path of a great sinner who became a great Saint. It is also a powerfully evocative narrative, full of magic, miracle, suspense, and humor, while reflecting the religious and social life of medieval Tibet.
I will share a scene from his life here. One that shows his harsh aesetic lifestyle as well as his sense of humour and compassion for mankind.
“One night a man came looking for any food or belongings I might have. He scoured the entire cave but I burst out laughing and said, ‘see if you can find something at night in this place where I can find nothing by day.’ He laughed too and then went away.
About another year had passed when several hunters from Tsa who had failed to catch any game appeared. I was clothed in three cloth sacks tied with a jute rope and resting in meditative equipoise. They prodded me with the ends of their bows and said, ‘is this a man or a ghost? Judging by its looks and its garb, it probably a ghost.’
I opened my mouth and said, ‘I am most definitely a man.’ Recognising the gap in my teeth, they asked, ‘are you Topaga?’ ‘I am’ I replied. ‘In that case we request some food for now, which we will not fail to repay later. It was said that you once returned to the village, but that was many years ago. Have you been living here all the while since then?’
‘I have indeed,’ I replied. ‘But I have nothing agreeable for you to eat.’ ‘We will take whatever you eat. That will be enough for us.’ ‘Very well then, build a fire and cook some nettles.’
When they had built a fire and cooked some nettles they said, ‘now we need some meat or fat to season it.’ ‘If I had meat it fat my food would not have lacked nourishment, but I have not had any for years. For seasoning, use nettles.’
‘In that case, we need some barley flour,’ they said. I replied, ‘if I had flour my food would not have lacked substance, but I have not had any for years. For flour, too, use nettles.’
‘Well then,’ they added’ ‘we can not do without salt.’ I replied, ‘if I had salt my food would not have lacked flavour, but I have not had any for years. For salt, use nettles.’
They said, ‘Definitely, with your food and clothing, you will never improve your appearance or regain your strength. This is not becoming of a man. Even a servant had a full belly and warm clothes. There is no one in the world more miserable or pitiful than you.’
I replied, ‘Having renounced this life, I am meditating alone in the mountains and devoting myself to achieving this enduring aim. I have sacrificed food, clothing, and conversation and in this life I shall defeat my enemies, the mental afflictions. For this reason reason, there is there is no one in the world more courageous and high-minded than me.’