Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Drinking the Mountain Stream - Preface

Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa

Preface

by Lama Kunga Rinpoche
formerly Thartse Shabthung of Ngor Monastery, Tibet

Milarepa is one of the most celebrated spiritual teachers of all time. He was not only an eminent leader of the Kagyupa lineage, but also a very important teacher for all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He was a star of early Buddhism in Tibet, and a brilliant star of yoga that shines on the path of Dharma today. Certainly he was not a paranoid man who left society and hid in the corners of deep caves. In fact, he was an adventurer who reached the summit of the high mountain with a panoramic view of samsara (saṁsāra). He was a true warrior who succeeded in conquering the real enemy, thus becoming a savior of beings.

He was a man of three powers. His body was equivalent to the body of Vajrapāṇi, his voice was the voice of Mañjuśrī, and his hearing was the hearing of Avalokiteśvara. Milarepa was a healthy, vital man of matchless endurance in the search for liberation. His voice was beautiful and capable of rendering anything in spontaneous song, and with it he expressed the essence of the Buddha’s Dharma in ways understandable to all types of listener. His hearing was as penetrating as Avalokiteśvara’s, the compassionate bodhisattva the Tibetans call Chenrezi, who attends to the voices of all living beings.

There is a saying among the common people of Tibet, “In the forest the baboons and monkeys are most agile. In the barnyard the cows and sheep are most stupid. In the mountains Milarepa is the most skillful in meditation.” As I said, Milarepa was a very illustrious yogi in Tibet, and perhaps the best known in the rest of the world. When his guru Marpa Lotsawa went to India to study with Nāropa, Nāropa said to him, “You should know that in the future you will have a disciple who will excel even his own teacher. The son is greater than the father, and the grandson will be greater than all of us.” He then folded both hands together at his chest, bowed in the direction of Tibet, and saluted the future yogi Milarepa with this verse:

I bow to that buddha
Named “Mila Who Is Joy To Hear,”
Shining like the sun on snow peaks
In the dark gloom of the Land of Snows.

Milarepa sang many songs in his lifetime. It is said that most of them were stolen by the ḍākinīs. It seems that Mila was a popular teacher among nonhumans also! The particular collection of songs we have translated for this book has never been rendered into a western language before. We were very fortunate to have come across this rare and precious book and to have been able to translate it through the auspices of Lotsawa and Ewam Choden Center.

If the reader is expecting something like a magical and instantaneous reward from this book, I would say that it is rather difficult—do something else. This book is not just a collection of entertaining short stories. It should be read like a road map while traveling through the unfamiliar inner roads on the way to the central valley of the fully aware mind where you can peacefully camp out. It is not like tantalizing a child with the sight of plastic toys just out of reach. This is the real thing—like a child being nourished by a good mother. So read this book carefully with the alert attention of a traveler. However, everything will not be immediately understandable. When traveling by map and reaching an unfamiliar town one must stop and get detailed information of the locality that is not clear on the map. Similarly, the reader of this book should find assistance to get at the meaning of these songs, a special teacher who is skilled in this particular subject. The book, the reader, and the teacher together might produce something of value, something useful. It’s good to read this kind of book, but studying it is better. And better yet is to extract its significance and apply it in practice.

I’m very grateful to my co-translator, Brian Cutillo, whose knowledge of Tibetan and the subjects of Buddhism and whose experience in translating Buddhist works have made this collaboration successful. I am grateful also to those who have helped in this work, particularly Vivian Sinder and James Wallace in the development and editing of Drinking the Mountain Stream as a book, Acarya Losang Jamspal for clarification of a number of points in my absence, and Nathan Swin for furnishing the Tibetan xylograph.

I sincerely wish that all readers of these songs of Milarepa find the inspiration to practice and ultimately realize the true meaning of human life. Thus this book is dedicated to the work of Ewam Choden and to religious practitioners everywhere.

 

How to cite this document:
© Brian Cutillo and Lama Kunga Thartse Rinpoche, Drinking the Mountain Stream (Wisdom Publications, 1995)

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