Drinking the Mountain Stream: Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa

[ Cover illustration: In Tibet, sacred texts, called

are traditionally regarded as the actual teachings of
the Buddha,

and as such are treated with reverence. Texts are kept

above the ground and carefully wrapped in cloth covers,
called pe-re,

to protect them from dust and damage.

Here, a brocade cloth covers a book of daily prayers.


Drinking the Mountain Stream

Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa


Eighteen selections from the rare collection

Stories and Songs from the Oral Tradition of Jetsün

Translated by Lama Kunga Rinpoche and Brian Cutillo

Illustrations by Amy Soderberg


361 Newbury Street

Boston, Massachusetts 02115 USA

First published by Lotsawa, 1978

P O. Box 17127, Boulder, CO 80308

This revised edition 1995

© Brian Cutillo and Lama Kunga Thartse Rinpoche 1995

All illustrations  © Wisdom Publications 1995

ISBN 0-86171-063-0

( excerpted here in DAbase by permission )



All the water and drink you’ve consumed

Through beginningless time until now

Has failed to slake thirst or bring you contentment.

Drink therefore this stream

Of enlightenment mind, fortunate ones.


[ Milarepa with lineage above; Marpa (center), Tilopa
(left), and Naropa (right) ]



Milarepa’s World

The Buddhist System of Liberation

The Kagyu Lineage of Buddhist Practice

Milarepa’s Personal Style

The Songs

About the Songs

1 Milarepa Tells His Story

2 Song for Poor Patrons

3 Mila’s Song in the Rain

4 Mila Meets a Yogi

5 Symbols for Yogic Experience

6 Song of the Path Guides

7 Song of Experience in Clear Light Cave

8 Rechungpa’s Confusion

9 Mila’s Meeting with Dampa Sangye

10 Song of the Horned Staff

11 Elimination of Desires

12 Mila Gains a Young Woman Disciple at a Village Feast

13 Mila Resurrects an Old Woman

14 From the “Six Vajra Songs”

15 Mila Visits a Religious Center

16 Confrontation with a Bon Priest

17 Mila’s Journey Inspired by a Dream

18 Is Milarepa Dying?

Closing Verse





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. 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 Vajrapani, his voice was the voice of Manjusri, and his
hearing was the hearing of Avalokitesvara. 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 Avalokitesvara’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
went to India to study with Naropa,
Naropa 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 dakinis. 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.

[ Milarepa relates a meditation dream to Marpa ]


Milarepa’s World

The Indian Master Phadampa Sangye once told Jetsun Milarepa,
“Your lineage is like a river stream—it will flow a long way.” And it
has, remaining vital and alive up to the present day. It’s no coincidence
that Milarepa’s extemporaneous teachigs in song are receiving attention
now from the western world’s practitioners, for our religious situation
is much like that of Mila’s time.

Until the advent of Buddhism in Tibet, the people were
for the most part religiously naive, following a cult of elaborate shamanism.
As Buddhism began to be assimilated through the teachings of representatives
of many diverse schools, a process of evaluation, adaptation, and integration
was begun, leaving in its wake a newly awakened religious consciousness.
Likewise in the West, our religious traditions have been established for
many centuries as a tacit acceptance of certain beliefs and codes rather
than a practice of self-liberation. And here also the impact of the religious
systems of the East has lent impetus to the birth of a more comprehensive
awareness of our spiritual nature and its potential.

A major element in any time of profound transition is
confusion. Faced with so many alternatives in belief and practice, the
Tibetans brought into play their basic sense of perspective and inclination
toward unity, just as we, with our characteristic drive to ascertain the
unifying principles of things, always push toward an integrated, well-ordered
view of the universe. Both cultures have succumbed at times to the same
mistakes in assimilating this new material: oversimplification to the point
of uselessness, mixing divergent elements instead of integrating them into
a unified system, unproductive intellectual speculation, and dogmatic atherence
to one interpretation over all others.

During such transitional periods persons of practical
bent are primarily concerned with evaluating the various systems of thought
to ascertain the “right practice.” Milarepa appeared at such a time when
a good number of practitioners were so engaged. Some pursued their quest
in the large or small groups of monastic institutions, while others, like
Milarepa, wandered the mountains and countryside in the lifestyle of the
Indian sannyasin—long haired, socially aloof, homeless and without possessions,
begging in the streets of villages and meditating in isolated retreats.
This is the most significant difference between Milarepa’s cultural environment
and ours. In the Tibet of Milarepa’s day as in India before that, there
was social acknowledgment and even respect for the pursuit of self-realization.
Though it was beyond the scope of most people, a space existed outside
the confines of social forms for those who were willing to give up home
and possessions for the slim chance of gaining realization.

Even with social acceptability life wasn’t easy for a
yogi of Milarepa’s time. There was competition from other hungry mendicants
and from more established religious institutions. It wasn’t always easy
to beg a meal from poor peasants who were tired of tending the needs of
wild-eyed strangers in their villages. For these villagers Milarepa was
a constant wonder and challenge. He entertained them with song, scolded
and criticized, cajoled, played sarcastic jokes, and encouraged them with
his compassion. He taught them the straight Dharma, and through all of
it shone the uniqueness of his personality, the penetrating intensity of
his intellect, and the radiance of his realization.

Mila’s life and his many exploits are best told in his
autobiography and in the Hundred Thousand Songs. He frequency had to explain
himself, and he told his life story many times, as in the first selection
in dhis volume. He was born in 1052 in a small town in provincial Tibet.
His family name Mila descended from a paternal ancestor who was credited
with powers of exorcism, and he was given the surname Thopa Ga, Joy-to-Hear.
Because of his father’s successful trading business, his family was wealthy
by village standards; but his father’s deadh, while Mila and his younger
sister were still children, left them homeless. They were victimized by
a paternal aunt and uncle, who forced the mother and her two children to
work as servants and laborers.

Mila left and, on his mother’s instruction, went to study
with a shaman skilled in supernormal powers. Mila had a natural bent for
mystical things and quickly acquired powers of a destructive nature, particularly
that of causing devastating hailstorms. Thus equipped, Mila returned to
his village to satisfy his mother’s desire for vengeance. He committed
the murder of his aunt’s entire family and then fled. Eventually he regretted
his actions and the enormous karmic obstruction they perpetrated. Realizing
that this action had to be corrected in this same lifetime to prevent a
very unfavorable rebirth, he sought religious instruction in Buddhism.
His first teacher was of the old school, the Nyingma, who assured him that
his system would give certain and immediate results. After a period of
fruitless practice, the teacher told Mila that his karmic connection was
stronger with another lama named Marpa Lotsawa, “The Translator of Mar,”
and sent Mila to find him.

Marpa was an unusual person. He was a married householder,
a great tantric teacher, and the translator of many Sanskrit Buddhist works
that have become a standard part of the Tibetan canon. He survived several
difficult and dangerous trips to India on which many of his fellow Tibetans
had died. In India his principal guru was Naropa, and Naropa’s in turn
was Tilopa, who had received his teachings from their originator, the transhistorical
buddha Vajradhara, the primordial buddha of the Kagyu sect. Thus Marpa
was the direct successor of the Kagyu lineage. Back in Tibet Marpa translated
the works he had learned in India and transmitted their teachings to his

In teaching, he projected a stern and forbidding personality
over his basically warm and compassionate nature. This method of working
with his disciples proved especially appropriate for Milarepa, whose many
negative elements and great karmic obstructions had to be purified. Marpa
subjected Milarepa to several years of frustrating trials before he taught
him directly. After such intense purification and appetite-whetting, Mila
devoted himself wholly to the task of practicing these teachings newly
transplanted from India onto Tibetan soil. He was successful, or so the
Tibetans believe, and achieved his goal of full experiential verification
of the Buddhist system of liberation, leaving in his wake generations of
accomplished practitioners and a wealth of teaching in song.

Once Mila had left Marpa and was on his own, he pursued
his practice continually, staying mostly in caves in the more desolate
mountains of southwestern Tibet and western Nepal. His austere practice
of wearing just a single cotton robe year round earned him the title “repa,”
which when added to his family name forms “Milarepa.” Occasionally he would
visit a village or encampment of herders to beg food, and in return would
sing extemporaneous teaching songs, a custom already established in his
day. Things were hard at times, but Mila always exhibited indomitable courage
in facing the hardships of practice and adverse conditions. Eventually
word of him spread among the people, and some believed him to be an accomplished

Fame didn’t please him, however, and he wasn’t easy to
meet. One might think he was a yogi so concerned with his own welfare that
he had lost all interest in human relationships and viewed social contact
as unnecessary trouble. Mila did state such feelings in his songs, and
it seems as if he were always rejecting would-be disciples and their offerings;
but this is just one of the many paradoxes of his unique personality—paradoxes
he used with great skill in training people. Mila had a wry sense of humor
tending to sarcasm and was absolutely candid and direct in dealing with
people. But he was not without method, differing on the surface from Marpa’s
but, judging from the number of his accomplished disciples, even more effective.
He had a lot of followers for someone who made such an effort to avoid
people. They were drawn to him, like satellites succumbing to the irresistible
pull of a great planet: loners, scholars, disciples of other teachers.
And there were even innumerable peasants and householders whose natural
human drive for transcendence was kindled on meeting this great yogi.

In getting to know Milarepa, then, weigh his words against
his actions; it is in their contradictions and complements that Milarepa’s
skillful handling of personality and relationships is brought to light.


About the Songs

The complete text from which these selections were taken,
Stories and Songs from the Oral Tradition of Jetsun Milarepa, opens with
this foreword:

Here (in Tibet) the great, famous siddha known as Milarepa,
Lord of Yogis, carried on the cargo of the vehicles. Maintaining humility,
he praceiced austerities and was as accustomed to living in caves as a
man is to wearing a hat. He perfected the practice of one-pointed concentration
and poured forth twenty-eight hundred songs born of his experience and
realization in eighteen, twenty-one, or forty major song cycles. Two thousand
of these are said to be preserved by the dakinis and are unknown in the
human world. The other eight hundred are related by yogis even to this
day, and utilized by them in their practice.

These eight hundred songs are preserved in writing in
three main works. Milarepa’s autobiography as told to his closest disciple
Rechungpa was first translated into English by Kazi Dawa Samdup under the
title Tibets Great Yogi Milarepa (Evans-Wentz, ea., Oxford) and has been
retranslated by Lobsang Lhalungpa as The Life of Milarepa (Dutton, NY,
1977). The larger collection of stories and songs, the Hundred Thousand
Songs, was translated by Garma C.C. Chang and published in various editions.
These two works contain the Milarepa material familiar in both the East
and the West. In addition, there is a rare, little known collection “from
the oral tradition” containing, with a few exceptions, completely different
material. This is the Stories and Songs from the Oral Tradition of Jetsun
Milarepa, from which the material of this book, and its companion volume,
Miraculous Journey (Lotsawa, 1986), was taken. In addition, several of
Milarepa’s practice manuals are contained in the Treasury of Precepts,
and various groupings of stories and songs are in lesser known Tibetan

In attempting to piece together a picture of Milarepa’s
personality, his singing, and his teaching style, this present work is
valuable, perhaps more so than the two standard works. The Hundred Thousand
Songs, and possibly the autobiography also, were transcribed from the orally
repeated versions at an early date by the “Mad Yogi of Tsang,” Tsang Nyon
Heruka Rus Pai rGyan. That he incorporated a good deal of his own literary
skills into the transcription may be deduced from stylistic comparison
of the few parallel passages in the Stories and Songs. For example, “Mila’s
Meeting with Phadampa Sangye” in this book corresponds to chapter 53 of
Chang’s edition of the Hundred Thousand Songs. These two versions of the
same incident show marked differences. The version in this volume is about
half as long as the standard version in the Hundred Thousand Songs in both
narrative and song. More significantly, its poetic style is less elaborate
and makes less use of developed and embellished poetic elements. Its tone
is more spontaneous and its impact more direct, especially when read aloud.
In such comparison it gives the impression of being extemporaneous, rather
than composed.

The material in Stories and Songs existed in an oral state
longer than that of the two standard works; thus it might, and does seem
to, contain a certain amount of interpolated material added in the repeated
tellings by yogis. Passages of this sort can be distinguished from the
bulk of the text by their inferior poetry, their unusually lengthy treatment
of the topic, and their uninspired, poorly paced delivery. Almost without
exception the additions consist of admonitions concerning the effects of
bad action, rebirth in the lower states of existence, the miseries of samsaric
life, and other basic topics especially suitable for inexperienced lay
audiences. Their fire-and-brimstone tone reminds us that these songs were
recited by the yogis who preserved them in memory most frequently in return
for offerings of food from peasants and herdsmen of the Tibetan and Nepali

In transcribing the material contained in Stories and
Songs, the unnamed compiler in the large monastic center of Trashi Gyi
in Amdo, Tibet made no attempt to impose a polished literary style. Some
songs or stories are just sketchy fragments; others, however, are exceptional
pieces and may have been omitted from the Hundred Thousand Songs because
they did not deal with a famous incident or a first meeting with a major
disciple, or perhaps because they were unknown to the earlier compiler.
That they are authentic may be judged from their quality and style, with
the understanding that, in the oral tradition that continues to this day,
there are many variant versions of the same songs.

Another significant characteristic of the material in
Stories and Songs is that it makes less attempt than the Hundred Thousand
Songs to idolize Mila’s personality and behavior, or to make them more
consistently palatable to the reader. Here his actions are more abrupt,
less polite, his humor and wisdom more devastatingly cutting, and his reactions
more paradoxical. The inconsistencies and contradictions are here—there
is a real, human person just behind the lines. There are new attitudes
also, perhaps because they were not altered by a transcriber’s sentiments,
indicating, for example, that Mila was not as uneducated as most believe
and that he did teach the importance of study before intensive meditation

Good teachings always vary in subject and style according
to the listeners, and Mila’s songs were sung to a wide range of audiences.
To peasants he met through his vow of begging only at the “first door”
each day and to the rough, nomadic herdsmen he met in his wanderings, he
sang of birth and death, the cause-effect relationship of action, impermanence,
and ethical conduct in a simple and direct way, using everyday objects
and experiences as his examples. For his own disciples he sang precise
and pertinent instructions to open their minds for practice and to instruct
and correct them. With disciples of other teachers, wandering yogis who
would track him down for questioning and scholars eager to meet a person
of real accomplishment, he was a master at assessing a person’s stature
and needs. For them he fashioned songs stunning with penetrating revelations.
Among his audience were non-human demons, to whom he sang his challenges
and warnings, and dakinis, to whom he sang of his most secret and personal
illuminations. A few times he met masters of comparable attainment. They
traded teachings and challenges, miracles and revelations, in celebration
of the spiritual achievements of their powerful, yogic minds.

Most of the pieces were sung in response to a question,
challenge, or a request to sing for his supper. Milarepa responded not
only to the questions, but also to the motivations behind them and the
context in which they were asked. The songs invariably open with a line
or verse of prayer to Marpa, Mila’s lama, requesting his guidance and blessings,
which for Mila and his followers had the power to improve and inspire their
practice. Occasionally Mila would “supplicate” the buddhas and lamas on
behalf of his listeners to direct them to Dharma or aid them in practice.
When giving a teaching, he would often wrap it up with a string of concise
exhortations called precepts. Most of the songs close with a dedication,
or benediction, to share the merit of his practice with all beings and
in particular to repay his patrons who had requested the song with an offering.
Concerning the content and form of the individual songs translated in this
volume, brief introductions precede each piece.

[ Milarepa in his rainbow body ]

Is Milarepa Dying?

The Great Lord of Yogis, Jetsun Milarepa, was staying
in the glorious palace of Chu Bar teaching Dharma to some disciples. Right
at sunrise of the eighth day of the month Jetsun elevated himself three
stories into the air and sat there cross-legged in the midst of a rainbow

His disciples knelt in reverence, and after a moment,
little by little, he sank down. At this they thought, “Is he dying?” They
wept and lamented, and some of them like Shengom Repa said:


Precious siddha-yogi,

Sitting amidst your body’s rainbow aura,

Absorbed in the realm of space,

And vanished from the range of our sight,

Is this true or is it false?

Is it real or is it illusion?

Precious Jetsun Lama,

Pray remain for the sake of beings.

They begged him like this, mourning profusely. After
a moment he elevated himself again to a height of one spear’s length and
sang this song:


I bow to the feet of translator Marpa,

Outstanding man of Lhodrak

Who furfills the hopes of his trainees—

Grant me your constant blessings.

Through the kindness of my unique father-lama

All appearances were experienced as mind,

Mind itself realized as baseless, rootless,

Consciousness purlfied in the state of gnosis,

And samsara and nirvana known to be nondual.

Buddha and beings are merely names—

In actuality don’t exist at all.

Nonexistent, and yet they appear.

The mistake results from ignorant action—

Attached to illusion they are beings,

Freed from illusion they are buddhas.

Eh ma! Yogis gathered here,

Look into the sphere of birthless mind!

Let dawn the enjoyment of ceaseless play!

When free of hope and fear—that’s the result.

Why speak of birth and death?

Come to the natural, unmodified state!

Vast ceiling of sky

Suddenly pierced by a rabbit’s horn!

Banner of changeless dharma-body

Held in the hand of a barren woman’s son!

Eh ma! All things of samsara and nirvana

Don’t exist—yet appear—

Appear—yet are void—why?

When I was focused a bit

In space saturation,

Why did you senselessly mourn?

When mind and space are united

Through union of body and mind,

Dharma-body is revealed

And desired goals attained.

Why so unhappy at that?

Therefore, you don’t comprehend Dharma.

You think I’d abandon others’ welfare—

But I reached the royal station of dharma-body for myself

Through the force of expansive supplication

For spontaneous achievement of others’ welfare

By the union of voidness and compassion.

My twofold form-body for others’ sake

Will reappear till samsara’s emptied, b

An uninterrupted flow of help for beings

Like a wish-granting gem

Or divinely worshipped wishing tree

For those who need training, wherever they may be.

“Furthermore, I—your old father—have shown you the
essence of the true natural state. I’ve punctured the myth of samsara,
crushed the hidden core of illusion, and split samsara and nirvana apart.
I offered you buddha in the palm of my hand. What more could you want?
But still you lounge back into samsara. You were praying and lamenting
out of attachment to illusory appearances. Phooey!

“At the end of life comes death; at the end of composition
comes dispersion. In view of your prayers I’ll remain a few years longer,
but I can’t stay forever. So now’s the time to slash your doubts about
my precepts, those of you who need to do so.

“Then, after falling asleep with great bliss in the space-bed
of reality, I’ll provide for the welfare of other trainees. What’s the
need for mourning this? You must make effort in cultivating intense compassion,
the mind aimed at enlightenment, and expansive supplication as long as
life lasts for the sake of beings lost in samsara, overcome with its miseries.”


I pray at the feet of holy Marpa, 
Precious translator imbued with kindness, 
Who provides help for other beings, 
Unswayed from his dharma-body state. 
Grant blessings to gain a foothold on the path 
To myself, my followers, And all living beings.

Listen awhile, faithful ones: 
If you don’t meditate on rare leisure and opportunity, 
You’ll be unable to keep morality pure.

If you don’t meditate on impermanence and death, 
There’s danger of involvement in “permanent” life-schemes.

If you don’t carefully consider action and result, 
There’s danger of disregarding cause and effect.

If you don’t take refuge in the Triple Gem, 
There’s danger of wandering lower states of samsara.

If you don’t persevere in compiling the two stores, 
There’s danger of staying lost in illusion.

If you don’t regard all beings as parents,

There’s danger of being a Disciple or Rhino.

If you don’t overflow with love and compassion, 
There’s danger of aversion and hatred.

If quiescence’s not born in mind, 
There’s danger of being blown by winds of distraction.

If mind’s lucidity isn’t kept clear, 
There’s danger of being led to animal states.

If recollective, critical awareness isn’t maintained, 
There’s danger of sinking in the mud of depression.

If you don’t persevere in engaging objectives, 
There’s danger of being blown by winds of excitement.

If the eight corrective factors aren’t applied

There’s danger of succumbing to five faults of concentration.

If not well equipped with analytic wisdom, 
There’s danger of straying into the absorptions.

If fabrication isn’t slashed by insight, 
There’s danger of spinning in samsara forever.

Therefore, with the force of faith 
Meditate lama, personal deity, and Triple Gem 
Dwelling inseparably on the crown of your head, 
And by fervent prayer in four sessions each day 
Receive their blessings in mind 
And illumine it with realization.

In isolated mountain regions 
Cultivate the unmeditative, undistracted state. 
Realization experience will be born within; 
Warmth of bliss will blaze in body.

Don’t go begging for the sake of food—
Eat stones and drink water of austerity! 
Positive qualities will be born within, 
And you’ll have confidence of impartiality.

When you’ve obtained keen skill in objectives, 
Then bliss-warmth of tummo burns in your body, 
And when you’ve obtained mastery of currents and channels, 
Developmental signs and qualities will be born, 
And this mere cotton robe will be enough.

Come to the undistracted realm 
Of birthless mahamudra—
Mind will attain its invincible state, 
And the goal be spontaneously achieved.

Do you understand this, yogis? 
Receive this song of worship, precious lama. 
Share in this feast of sound, host of dakinis. 
Remove your obstructions, nonhumans.

Closing Verse


I’m a yogi who wanders the countryside, 
A beggar who travels alone, 
A pauper who’s got nothing.

I left behind the land of my birth, 
Turned my back on my own fine house, 
And gave up my fertile fields.

I stayed in isolated mountain retreats, 
Practiced in rock caves surrounded by snow, 
And found food as birds do—
That’s how its been up to now.

There’s no telling the day of my death, 
But I have a purpose before I die. 
That’s the story of me, the yogi; 
Now I’ll give you some advice:

Trying to control the events of this life, 
Trying and trying to be so clever, 
Always planning to manipulate your world, 
Involved in repetitive social relations—

In the midst of these preparations for the future 
You arrive unaware at your final years, 
Not realizing your brow is knit with wrinkles, 
Not knowing your hair is turned white, 
Not seeing the skin of your eyes sink down, 
Not admitting the sag of your mouth and nose.

Even while chased by the envoys of death 
You still sing and rejoice in pleasure. 
Not knowing if life will last till morning, 
You still make plans for tomorrow’s future.

Not knowing where rebirth will occur, 
You still maintain a complacent contentment.

Now’s the time to get ready for death—
That’s my sincere advice to you; 
If its import strikes you, start your practice.

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Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa


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