How Milarepa became Milarepa
When I was on pilgrimage in Yolmo the other day, something came to mind that might be useful to you.
While we were there, we sang some songs of Milarepa which tell of his time in the region of Yolmo. In one of them, a group of students made a request of Milarepa, ‘Since it doesn’t make any difference for someone of your level whether you formally meditate or not, please come to stay in our village. You will be able to teach the dharma and benefit more beings that way.’
Milarepa replied, ‘My staying in retreat itself is what will benefit sentient beings and the buddhadharma!’
While I was singing this song by Milarepa, I thought how true this is. If Milarepa had agreed and lived in the village, we wouldn’t have the Milarepa we know and love today. People wouldn’t have him as an object of faith and an exemplar of dharma practice. It was exactly because he gave up everything of the world and went off to practise in the wild that people had and continue to have faith in him. He was able to do something that no one else could.
This gives us a lot to think about with regard to how we can benefit others. It is not about how hard you work for others or how much money you give to people.
So many people have been inspired by reading Milarepa’s stories. It makes people feel, ‘Yes, I too should renounce the world and practise diligently. I really must practise and meditate.’ People marvel when reading his story, and aspire to be like him, even though they can’t just now.
Milarepa’s story truly inspires people towards the dharma. Why does it have this effect? It is because of how he lived and practised.
Some people work very hard to help others, but lacking wisdom, they end up creating more trouble and lose people’s respect.
Some people, on the other hand, even though they don’t run around working hard ostensibly to help others, they earn people’s respect just by their way of being – how they remain focused on their own path. They are able to affect others in a very profound and positive way merely by keeping their head down and remaining dedicated to whatever they are pursuing.
It’s related to our character. We should try to be a person of substance. There should be a certain weightiness to our character. We should be more like a gorilla and less like a monkey. A gorilla is slow and purposeful, it is not easily moved or swayed. Whereas a monkey can never sit still and reacts to everything. Or another example is we should try to live similar to how a piece of timber burns and not like a plastic wrapper burns. A block of timber is not immediately affected by the fire and when it does burn it does so strongly and consistently. A plastic wrapper, on the other hand, twists and curls even before the flame makes contact with it and quickly burns to nothing in a short flurry of excitement.
So what I’m trying to say is don’t be a frivolous person who reacts to things easily. Otherwise, even if you try to help others, you won’t achieve anything of significance for yourself or others.
Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that came to mind on pilgrimage and I thought I’d share them with you.