Songs of Milarepa | 11-20



Travelling with his disciples, Milarepa came to Din Ri Namar where he enquired for the name of the outstanding patron.

Learning that the physician Yang Nge was a devoted Buddhist, he proceeded to his house, where the physician said,

"It is said that Jetsun Milarepa can use anything at hand as a metaphor for preaching. Now please use the bubbles of water in this ditch before us as a metaphor and give us a discourse."

In response, Jetsun sang a song.

The Fleeting Bubbles

I pay homage to my gracious Guru -
Pray make everyone here think of the Dharma!
As he said once, "Like bubbles is
This life, transient and fleeting -
In it no assurance can be found."
A layman's life is like a thief
Who sneaks into an empty house.
Know you not the folly of it?

Youth is like a summer flower -
Suddenly it fades away.
Old age is like a fire spreading
Through the fields - suddenly 'tis at your heels.
The Buddha once said, "Birth and death
Are like sunrise and sunset -
Now come, now go."

Sickness is like a little bird
Wounded by a sling.
Know you not, health and strength
Will in time desert you?
Death is like an oil-dry lamp
(After its last flicker).
Nothing, I assure you,
In this world is permanent.
Evil Karma is like a waterfall,
Which I have never seen flow upward.
A sinful man is like a poisonous tree -
If you lean on it, you will injured be.
Transgressors are like frost-bitten peas -
Like spoiled fat, they ruin everything.
Dharma-practisers are like peasants in the field -
With caution and vigour they will be successful.
The Guru is like medicine and nectar -
Relying on him, one will win success.
Discipline is like a watchman's tower -
Observing it, one will attain Accomplishment.
The Law of Karma is like Samsāra's wheel -
Whoever breaks it will suffer a great loss.
Samsāra is like a poisonous thorn
In the flesh - if not pulled out,
The poison will increase and spread.
The coming of death is like the shadow
Of a tree at sunset -
It runs fast and none can halt it.
When that time comes,
What else can help but Holy Dharma?
Though Dharma is the fount of victory.
Those who aspire to it are rare.
Scores of men are tangled in
The miseries of Samsāra;
Into this misfortune born,
They strive by plunder and theft for gain.

He who talks on Dharma
With elation is inspired,
But when a task is set him,
He is wrecked and lost.

Dear patrons, do not talk too much,
But practise the Holy Dharma.


"This is indeed very helpful to my mind," commented the physician,

"but please preach still further for me on the truth of Karma and the suffering of birth, old age, illness and death, thus enabling me to gain a deeper conviction in Buddha-dharma."

In response, the Jetsun sang:

Please listen to these words,
Dear friends here assembled.

When you are young and vigorous
You ne'er think of old age coming,
But it approaches slow and sure
Like a seed growing underground.

When you are strong and healthy
You ne'er think of sickness coming,
But it descends with sudden force
Like a stroke of lightning.

When involved in worldly things
You ne'er think of death's approach
Quick it comes like thunder
Crashing 'round your head.

Sickness, old age and death
Ever meet each other
As do hands and mouth.
Waiting for his prey in ambush,
Yama is ready for his victim,
When disaster catches him.

Sparrows fly in single file. Like them,
Life, Death and Bardo follow one another.
Never apart from you
Are these three 'visitors'.

Thus thinking, fear you not
Your sinful deeds?

Like strong arrows in ambush waiting,
Rebirth in Hell, as Hungry Ghost, or Beast
Is (the destiny) waiting to catch you.
If once into their traps you fall,
Hard will you find it to escape.

Do you not fear the miseries
You experienced in the past?
Surely you will feel much pain
If misfortunes attack you?
The woes of life succeed one another
Like the sea's incessant waves
One has barely passed, before
The next one takes its place.
Until you are liberated, pain
and pleasure come and go at random
Like passers-by encountered in the street.

Pleasures are precarious,
Like bathing in the sun;
Transient, too, as snowstorms
Which come without warning.
Remembering these things,
Why not practise the Dharma?


Rechungpa, after returning from India, had contracted the disease of pride and in various ways Milarepa tried to cure him.

As his disciple required food, they went for alms but were abused by an old woman who declared that she had no food. The next morning they found her dead and Milarepa said:

"Rechungpa, like this woman, every sentient being is destined to die, but seldom do people think of this fact. So they lose many opportunities to practise the Dharma. Both you and I should remember this incident and learn a lesson from it."

Whereupon, he sang...

The Song of Transiency and Delusion

When the transience of life strikes deeply into one's heart
One's thoughts and deeds will naturally accord with Dharma.
If repeatedly and continuously one thinks about death,
One can easily conquer the demons of laziness.
No one knows when death will descend upon him –
Just as this woman last night!

Rechungpa, do not be harsh, and listen to your Guru!
Behold, all manifestations in the outer world
Are ephemeral like a dream last night!
One feels utterly lost in sadness
When one thinks of this passing dream.
Rechungpa, have you completely wakened
From this great puzzlement?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I aspire to Buddha and the Dharma.

The pleasure-yearning human body is an ungrateful creditor.
Whatever good you do to it,
It always plants the seeds of pain.

This human body is a bag of filth and dirt;
Never be proud of it, Rechungpa,
But listen to my song!

When I look back at my body,
I see it as a mirage-city;
Though I may sustain it for a while,
It is doomed to extinction.
When I think of this,
My heart is filled with grief!
Rechungpa, would you not cut off Samsāra?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I think of Buddha and the Dharma!

A vicious person can never attain happiness.
Errant thoughts are the cause of all regrets,
Bad dispositions are the cause of all miseries,
Never be voracious, oh Rechungpa,
But listen to my song!

When I look back at my clinging mind,
It appears like a short-lived sparrow in the woods -
Homeless, and with nowhere to sleep;
When I think of this, my heart is filled with grief.
Rechungpa, will you let yourself indulge in ill-will?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I aspire to Buddha and the Dharma!

Human life is as precarious
As a single slim hair of a horse's tail
Hanging on the verge of breaking;
It may be snuffed out at anytime
Like this old woman was last night!
Do not cling to this life, Rechungpa,
But listen to my song!

When I observe inwardly my breathings
I see they are transient, like the fog;
They may vanish any moment into nought.
When I think of this, my heart is filled with grief.
Rechungpa, do you not want to conquer
That insecurity now?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I aspire to Buddha and the Dharma.

To be close to wicked kinsmen only causes hatred.
The case of this old woman is a very good lesson.
Rechungpa, stop your wishful-thinking
And listen to my song!

When I look at friends and consorts
They appear as passers-by in the bazaar;
Meeting with them is only temporary,
But separation is forever!
When I think of this, my heart is filled with grief.
Rechungpa, do you not want to cast aside
All worldly associations?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I think of Buddha and the Dharma.

A rich man seldom enjoys
The wealth that he has earned;
This is the mockery of Karma and Samsāra,
Money and jewels gained through stinginess and toil
Are like this old woman's bag of food.
Do not be covetous, Rechungpa,
But listen to my song!

When I look at the fortunes of the rich,
They appear to me like honey to the bees –
Hard work, serving only for others' enjoyment,
Is the fruit of their labour.
When I think of this, my heart is filled with grief.
Rechungpa, do you not want to open
The treasury within your mind?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I aspire to Buddha and His Teachings.


When Milarepa was sitting in meditation, a frightened deer dashed by, followed by a ravening hound:

By the power of his loving-kindness and compassion (Metta-Karuṇā), Milarepa made them lie down, one on either side of him, and then preached to them.

Then came the fierce and proud huntsman, Chirawa Gwumbo Dorje, who was enraged by the sight of the Jetsun and shot an arrow at him, but missed.

Milarepa sang to him and his heart began to turn to the Dharma.

Then the hunter saw that Milarepa was living an austere life and great faith arose in him. He wished then to practise Dharma after talking with his family but the Jetsun warned him that his present meritorious thought might change and he sang:

Hearken, hearken, huntsman!
Though the thunder crashes,
It is but empty sound;
Though the rainbow is richly-coloured,
It will soon fade away.
The pleasures of this world are like dream-visions;
Though one enjoys them, they are the source of sin.
Though all we see may seem to be eternal,
It will soon fall to pieces and will disappear.

Yesterday perhaps one had enough or more,
All today is gone and nothing's left;
Last year one was alive, this year one dies.
Good food turns into poison,
And the beloved companion turns into a foe.

Harsh words and complaints requite
Good-will and gratitude.
Your sins hurt no one but yourself.
Among one hundred heads, you value most your own.
In all ten fingers, if one is cut, you feel the pain.
Among all things you value, yourself is valued most.
The time has come for you to help yourself.

Life flees fast. Soon death
Will knock upon your door.
It is foolish, therefore, one's devotion to postpone.
What else can loving kinsmen do
But throw one into Samsāra?
To strive for happiness hereafter
Is more important than to seek it now.
The time has come for you to rely upon a Guru,
The time has come to practise Dharma.



"If one is really determined to free oneself from the sufferings of Samsāra, such as birth, old age, illness, death, and so on, he will have peace of mind all the time and will not need to make any effort.

Otherwise, he should bear in mind that the sufferings in a future life could be much more durable and longer-lasting than those in this life, and the burden could also be much heavier.

It is, therefore, of paramount importance to take steps to prepare for the next life."

This was said to some young men from his native country, who asked how they could extricate themselves from worldly affairs.

Then, Milarepa said: "Please hearken, and I will sing a song for you."

We sentient beings moving in the world
Float down the flowing stream
Of the Four Sufferings.
Compared to this, how much more formidable
Are the unceasing future lives in Samsāra
Why not, then, prepare a boat for the "crossing"?

The state of our future lives is far more fearful
And deserving of far more concern
Than are the dreadful demons, ghosts and Yama,
So why not prepare for yourself a guide?

Even the dread passions - craving, hatred and blindness –
Are not so fearful
As the state of our (unknown) future,
So why not prepare for yourself an antidote?

Great is the Kingdom of the Three Realms of Samsāra,
But greater is the endless road of birth-and-death,
So why not prepare for yourself provisions?
It will be better if you practise Dharma
If you have no assurance in yourselves.


Milarepa said:

"A human body, free and opportune, is as precious as a jewel, and to have a chance to practise the Dharma is likewise very rare. Also, to find one serious Buddhist in a hundred is difficult!

Considering the difficulties of meeting the right Gurus, and other necessary favourable conditions for practising Buddhism, you should deem yourselves very fortunate that you have now met all these requirements. Do not, therefore, (waste them), but practise the Dharma."


Shiwa Aui, a leading disciple of Milarepa, once asked his Master, when the latter was nearing the end of his life:

"Please tell us what are the joys and miseries that sentient beings experience in the Six Realms? Especially, please tell us what are the pleasures devas enjoy?"

The Jetsun replied:

Do not be fascinated by the pleasures of heavenly beings; they also have miseries - like this:

The pleasures enjoyed by men and devas
Are like the amusements of the Heavenly Yak:  
It may low like thunder
But what good can it do?

(Swooning in a state of trance),
The devas in the four Formless Heavens
Cannot distinguish good from evil.
Because their minds are dull and callous,
Insensible, they have no feeling.
In unconscious stupefaction,

They live many kalpas in a second.
What a pity that they know it not!
Alas, these heavenly births
Have neither sense nor value.
When they think vicious thoughts
They start to fall again.
As to the reason for their fall
(Scholars), with empty words,
Have dried their mouths in explanations.

In the Heavens of Form,
The devas of the five higher and twelve lower realms
Can only live until their merits are exhausted.
Their virtues are essentially conditional,
And their Karma basically Samsāric.

Those Dharma-practisers subject to worldly desires,
And those 'great yogis' wrapped in stillness,
Have yet to purify their minds;
Huge may be their claims and boasts,
But habitual thought-seeds
In their minds are deeply rooted.
After a long dormant time,
Evil thoughts again will rise.
When their merits and fortunes are consumed;
They to the Lower Realms will go once more!

If I explain the horror of a deva's death,
You will be disheartened and perplexed.
Bear this in your mind and ever meditate!


In a sad mood the disciples then asked the Jetsun to preach to them of the sufferings of the asuras. In response, he sang:

Great are asuras' sufferings.
Misled by malignant thoughts,
To all they bring misfortunes
Knowing not their true Self-mind
Their deeds are self-deceiving,
Their feelings coarse, their senses crude,
Deeming all to be their foes,
Not even for a moment
Can they know the truth.
Evil by nature, they can hardly bear a loss;
Harder is benevolence for them to cherish.
Blinded by the Karma-of-Belligerence,
Never can they take good counsel.

All nature such as this is caused
By seeking pleasures for oneself
And bearing harmful thoughts towards others.
Pride, favouritism, vanity and hatred
Are the evil Karmic forces
That drag one to a lower birth,
Making sinful deeds more easy.

Ripening Karma brings (to them)
An instinctive hatred;
Failing to distinguish right from wrong,
They can hardly be helped by any means.
Bear, oh my disciples, this in your minds
And meditate with perseverance all your lives!


Shiwa Aui said, "Now please tell us about the sufferings of human beings."

In answer, Milarepa sang:

We human beings are endowed with power
To do good, or evil deeds;
This is because our body (personality)
Is made of all Six Elements.
You junior Repas who desire to be great scholars
Should know the 'Kernel and shell' of Buddhism.
Lest learning lead you only to confusion.

Knowing not the root of mind,
Useless is it to meditate for years.
Without sincerity and willingness,
Rich offerings have no real meaning.

Without giving impartial aid to all,
Patronage of one's favourite is wrong.
Knowing not the right counsel for each man,
Blunt talk will only bring trouble and discord.

He who knows the appropriate way
To help men of diverse dispositions,
Can use expedient words for kind and fruitful purposes.
He who knows but little of himself
Can harm many by his ignorance.
When good-will arises in one's mind,
Stones, trees and earth all become seeds of virtue.

Again, an over-punctilious person
Knows not how to relax;
A gluttonous dog knows not what is hunger;
A brazen Guru knows not what is fear.

Rich men are wretched creatures with their money,
Poor men are wretched creatures without money.
Alas, with, or without money, both are miserable!
Happiness will come, dear children,
If you can practise the Dharma.
Remember then, my words, and practise with perseverance.


"It is very true that human beings suffer like this," agreed the disciples.

"Now please tell us about the sufferings in the three miserable realms, even though just to mention them may be distressing. Also, to spur our spiritual efforts, please preach to us of the causes of Hell and its woe."

In response, Jetsun sang:

Those who, for meat and blood
Slaughter living beings,
Will in the Eight Hot Hells be burned.
But if they can remember the Good Teachings,
Soon will they be emancipated.

Ruthless robbers who strike and kill,
Wrongly eating others' food
While clinging to their own with greed,
Will fall into the Eight Cold Hells.
Yet if they do not hold wrong views against the Dharma
It is said that their time for deliverance will come.
(The Holy Scriptures) also say
Whenever the denizens of hell
Recall the name of Buddha,
Delivered will they be immediately.

Ever repeating sinful deeds means
Dominance by vice and evil Karma.
Fiends filled with the craving for pleasures,
Murder even their parents and Gurus,
Rob the Three Gems of their treasure,
Revile and accuse falsely the Precious Ones,
And condemn the Dharma as untrue;
In the Hell-of-unceasing-torment
These evil doers will be burned;
Far from them alas, is Liberation.
This, my sons, will certainly distress you,
So into Dharma throw your hearts
And devote yourselves to meditation!


"For the benefit of sentient beings, please tell us now about the sufferings of the Hungry Ghosts.

In reply, Milarepa sang:

Hungry Ghosts, seeing all forms as foes,
Run from each successive terror.
Wild beasts fight and eat each other.
Who of them is to blame?
The sufferings of the Hungry Ghosts
Grow from their stinginess.
Like a rat is he who fails
To give alms when he is rich,
Begrudges food when he has plenty,
Gives no food to others, but checks
Them over, counts and stores them -
Discontented day and night.
At the time of death he sees
That his hard-earned wealth
Will be enjoyed by others.

Caught in Bardo by the agony of loss,
As a Hungry Ghost he lives his life.
Due to his delusive thoughts
He suffers thirst and hunger.
When he sees his goods enjoyed by others
He is tormented by avarice and hate.
Again and again will he thus fall down (to Hell).
I, the great Yogi of Strength,
Now sing for you the woes
Of Hungry Ghosts. Dear sons
And disciples here assembled, think on
My words and meditate with perseverance!