The final song of Milarepa, beloved saint of Tibetan Buddhism is precious advice to all of us. He tells his students how to cross over from the physical 3D world, passing through interim dimensions into a next life. He emphasizes that a meditation practice is necessary to prepare for a successful death, so we move to a BETTER next life. Milarepa lived from 1052-1135 CE in Tibet, where he was greatly admired for his impromptu songs which are still popular. Milarepa was a lay yoga practitioner who reached enlightenment in a single lifetime, without formal training, monastic vows, or a Buddhist title. Traditionally depicted singing with one hand cocked to his ear, he wears white cotton even in winter, and his skin is a slight greenish hue from an austere diet of nettle soup. Ha!
Milarepa was born to a very prosperous family in Western Tibet in the village Kya Ngatse. As a child, he was known for his beautiful songs, and people called him “Mila Thopja” meaning “a joy to hear”. After his father died, it is said that his aunt and uncle robbed his family of all their property and wealth. His mother sent him to become a sorcerer to revenge their total loss. Milarepa soon became extremely skilled at black magic, wreaking vengeance for his mother and for the treatment of his family. He became expert in evil weather wizardry, creating magic hailstorms that destroyed provinces, homes, farms, families, and crops. He used magical spells to murder many people.
As a carrier of evil, Milarepa felt deep dissonance and remorse. He sought the help of Marpa, the famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher. Marpa saw great potential in Milarepa, but he knew the young man would have to work through his evil Karma and personal uncertainty in order to truly become a student. To prepare him for the life of spirit, Marpa gave Milarepa his legendary task of building stone towers, destroying them, and rebuilding them again. This unique series of assignments was necessary for Milarepa to purify the negativity of his past actions, so that his spiritual progress could move forward with fewer obstacles.
Marpa challenged Milarepa almost to the point of suicide before he agreed to accept him as a student. Thus Milarepa began his journey to becoming the yogi and famed poet that he is remembered as today. He began this simple, lonely lifestyle living in caves, eating mostly nettles. He wore little clothing, even in the winter, and became known as “the cotton-clad one.” Though he did not seek students, his fame spread, and he was sought out by many. It is said that Milarepa “engaged with whoever approached him,” He often taught by sharing spontaneous songs and poetry.
Marpa was one of the founders of the Kagyu tradition stemming from the tantric teachings of the Indian Mahāsiddha, Nāropa. Historians say that Marpa ordered Milarepa to construct a multi-story building with stones from a particular quarry. When complete Marpa told Milarepa to dismantle it and return each stone to its place of origin, in order to test to see that Milarepa was serious about the daunting task before him, and worthy of high teachings. This was repeated several times, and was later revealed by his teacher Marpa as a painful but effective way to to exhaust the negative karma accumulated from Milarepa’s evil actions as a youth. This stringent purification made it possible for him to reach Buddhahood in one lifetime. The last ten-story tower that he built is said to be still standing to this day.
Milarepa lived much of his life in remote caves in Tibet, with little to eat, often subsisting on nettles. Sometimes surprise encounters with visitors in the mountains became potent teaching experiences for them, turning ordinary events into serendipitous songs, as Milarepa jokingly taught the true dharma. “Living the Dharma” means utilizing each event in one’s life as a profound realization. For example, when his only cooking pot broke in winter leaving just dry nettles in the shape of the pot, he faced starvation with no way to travel or cook. This was a profound opportunity to understand the concepts of “detachment” and “impermanence”.
After twelve years of diligent study with Marpa, Milarepa reached complete enlightenment. His life and uniquely personal teachings are kept alive by his ardent followers throughout Tibet and Bhutan. Milarepa did not just sing songs about the Dharma path. He fully embodied the Dharma, the challenges of living in a physical body and achieving an end to Samsara, the pattern of repeated birth and rebirth. Because of that, he was able to teach and sing freshly, spontaneously, and with great humor, using skillful word plays and multi-level meanings.
This chant is said to be Milarepa’s last words. At the end of his life, legend holds that Milarepa passed away quietly in the presence of his loving students. But then – he got up from his deathbed to sing this final message in perfect verse. Then he lay down once again and departed!
I wonder – what was he saying? Recently a good friend volunteered to translate it. Here are the first four stanzas. They’re full of metaphors and hidden meanings hard to translate. But he only got part way through.
My heartiest son Ray-Chhungpa,
Listen to the perceptual last-testament song.
1. In this ocean of suffering realm,
A sinful object is this body,
Fetching for food and clothes,
Have no time to get out of the works in this transient world.
Hey Ray-Chhungpa! Get rid of the worldly activities.
2. In the field of magical bodied existence,
A sinful invisible mind,
Always busy thinking of magnifying this human body,
Have no time to realize the true nature of dharma.
Hey Ray-Chhungpa! Cut off your mind from thinking of materialistic life.
3. In between the realization of body just as non-living object and mind into fully refined,
Self-originated wisdom comes in light and will be even sinful,
When you work for protecting it from the contamination of worldly obstacles,
Have no time to recognize the nature of unborn ultimate wisdom.
Hey Ray-Chhungpa! Hold without error the exalted position of the unborn ultimate wisdom.
4. In between this and next life,
A feather-like spirit is sinful and suffering,
Accompanied with non-human bodies,
No chance or time to realize the bare haecceity1 of an absolute wisdom.
Hey Ray-Chhungpa! Delineate the natural situation of an absolute wisdom now.
(Haeiccity refers to the quality that makes it what it is: its essence. First coined by John Duns Scotus (1266–1308), a haecceity is a non- qualitative property responsible for individuation and identity. Alas, our friend did not finish the translation as it is quite challenging, advanced with hidden spiritual meanings.?
Here, Lama D has given us a more concise translation of the Milarepa’s entire song:
- Purnyitajaverechonpa, Kachemdanga-dode-nye
My dearest son, Rechonpa, You must listen to the song of my final words.
- Khamsumaokuhwenjansonye, Julekephonpodeponche
The three worlds (heaven, World, Hell) are like a big ocean. The body is magical, but that is an optical illusion. Really this world it is full of stress.
- Doghukyechempaadodonye, Jekenenjawatode-me
If you are looking for a luxury way of living, with possessions and comforts, it will never end, you keep looking for more and better.
- Jektenkejawa-toncherechonpa, Jumalechetonkhena
For that reason, Rechuba, you have to avoid it, because it is impermanent. The beauty you see around you is all a magical optical illusion.
- Zhansenmuhme-depoche, Leshanchagyenchessun-taja-nye
The invisible mind will become full of stress because of your desire if you have any attachment to your body, which is made of blood, nerves, bones, flesh.
- Chönye-delatondume. Senyendasancherenchonpa
You will never know what is the value of enlightenment. You MUST study and purify your mind and then you will get the real value of Nature.
- Pembreynyekye-soensanam, Ranjemonyeshe-depo-che
The moment we separate the mind and soul from the body, this is a huge stress for you, if you have not practiced pure positive mind.
- Lhonburenje-chenkhatemkheme, Kemenkhenjenalapondeme
Uncertain obstacles can be a huge domination of our wisdom. Then we will not get the knowledge of enlightenment.
- Kemensensasoishe-rechonpa, Tsedechenyikhe-sosanna,
The place of enlightenment is so calm, Rechuba, you have to catch it. While we exchange this life for another life, there is another life between this and that. That is the Purgatory or cleansing life. Again, you will see huge stress in that lifetime, because you will be looking for another body.
- Ba dhe- namshe de po che, Lue me dur dan don do me.
During that life, we have no body. The invisible mind wants to get a good body for the next life. Because of that again you will have huge stress.
- Dhye lo duh la- pon de me, Ne lo de la pon che- nye le chon pa
Human life is the best, because you can build virtue through dharma, and you can know the value of getting enlightenment. So, you constantly accumulate that value.
- Rigdu tuelwe dong kher na, Lengyem de dye tsem po che
Heaven universe and human world and Hell and the animal world, and the world of the hungry ghosts all have a huge negative body. When there is a huge negative body, automatically the consequence is huge stress.
- .Chantangye je so- dang da nay, Gnyampa nyi la- tog due- me
If we have high attachment to anything, if we are partial to something, then we will lose our compassion. If we do not practice compassion, we will never achieve the value of enlightenment.
- Cha dang a pang shing rechu pa! Mi ngoen nam khi iyng shig na
Rechuba, you should not be partial! When we get into an invisible place (purgatory), you can hear some sounds and some lamas mantra. But, if you have no practice, and are not used to the mantra, then you cannot understand what they are saying – it is like lies.
- Dzong pe sanje- zhen zuen khen, Even the Buddha’s mantra is also like soft lies.
- Dang den gye lo che i sung su nye. Nyepe e de la to duh me,
Even if all the Buddhas come in front of you to teach you the authentic nature-pure way, still we cannot get it, because we have no habit for what is absolute Dharma.
- Tanye ponh si re chon pa.
Rechuba, you must avoid activities for this Samsara life. It has no value.
- Lama nyedamaa- kha do sun, Chiktu de- la suelwa- thop
You must call in the Lama, the Yidam (your trusted God), and your Dakini.
Then you can get the blessings from them, with highest respect to them.
- Tawa- gho pa che pa sun, Chi ton tuh la nyam su lo
Your highest goal is enlightenment. You have to meditate about it intensely.
- Tse dyen da chyemaa- bardo sum, Chento de la deso- choe
This life, next life, and life of purgatory in-between, before you die, you must ask yourself to understand all 3 lives. (Purgatory is scary because that is when your next realm will be determined: It will be either Heaven, Hell, Human, Animal, or Ghost realm)
- Dyen damnga a kuen gye tamaeing, Kha chem kuen ghi ju maeing
This is my final high sacred advice, my final words
- Dhun dele me go- re chu pa! Denyam so lang shi- fa yin bu
No more now, Rechupa. Don’t forget this, my son.
- Dhun dele me go- re chu pa! Denyam so lang shi- fa yin bu
No more now, Rechupa. Don’t forget this, my son.
༼ རས་ཆུང་པ་ལ་ ཐ་མའི་གདམས་ངག ༽
- ༄། བུ་སྙིང་དང་ འདྲ་བའི་རས་ཆུང་པ།།
- དྲང་དོན་གྱི་བསླུ་བྲིད་ གསུངས་གསུངས་ནས།།
- ཚེ་འདི་དང་ ཕྱི་མ་བར་དོ་གསུམ།།
Milarepa is said to have spent the later years of his life in the Milarepa Cave, 11 km north of the town of Nyalam, near the Matsang River in Tibet. Milarepa’s Cave overlooks the entrance to the hidden valley of Lapchi Gang. Pilgrim’s offerings of decorated stones along the path with sweet-smelling herbs and wild flowers growing all around make it a site of great peace and beauty.
Milarepa is usually depicted with an emaciated, thin body due to great deprivation and hardship. He often has a hand to one ear as if filtering his voice as a singer, with lips parted as if singing one of his famous songs of realization.