Milarepa Talks with Nyama Paldarbum

Milarepa was asked by Nyama Paldarbum, “What is the nature of the mind?”

Milarepa replied and explained its basis abides like space and it is boundless as the sky without center or edge The purpose of practice is to realize the two types of bodhicitta. Our mind is like muddy water. The mind of Buddhas is like clear water. Clear water shares the same nature as muddy water. We need to practice to let the mud clear. When the mind is liberated from concepts, it is empty and pristine and it abides like space. This is what we need to understand from our practice. The basis of mind is the same in Buddhas and sentient beings. It is clear and uncontrived. But we add contrivances to it, like adding mud to water.

The basis abides like space. Buddhas abide in the dharmakaya. Sentient beings are like muddy water and experience suffering. But there is a path to purify our obscurations. This practice is staying in the moment where past thoughts have ceased and future thoughts have not yet arisen. This state is a complete, vast openness. There is no grasping to thoughts as they arise. Even as they do arise, they cannot do any harm, as they then just cease. So we should remain in that state.

What does contrived or fabricated mean? Look at the mind. The one who knows thoughts is our own awareness. As thoughts arise they immediately dissipate. That is great openness. But if we follow thoughts along, then our mind is obscured and becomes contrived or fabricated. As soon as we hold onto a thought like anger, the mind becomes obscured. So we should remain in a state of mindful awareness. As a result one will immediately recognize thoughts as they arise and not grasp at them. Since the cause is uncontrived, so will be the result, and our mind will be purified. This is the uncontrived state of mahamudra.

What does mahamudra mean? The first word is “chag.” It represents the unsurpassed qualities of the Buddha. Where is the Buddha? You cannot find the Buddha outside, only inside. It is the mind’s unity of clarity and emptiness. We give this mind the name of Buddha. “Chag” means devotion to my mind, which has the nature of Buddha. “Gya chenpo” mean vast and having no center or edge. It must be seen for oneself. It is inexpressible, like a mute person eating molasses. The nature of mind cannot be expressed. “Gya chenpo” means it encompasses all phenomena of samsara and nirvana. There are infinite Buddhas and sentient beings. Even only considering this world system, the particles of dust in it are beyond count. All this is only mind.

The mind comes from emptiness and dissolves back to emptiness, like water freezing as ice and melting again. Having realized the meaning of mahamudra, one gains liberation from samsara. All phenomena are empty of self nature. Realizing this, one does not grasp at them. One does not grasp at melting ice, realizing it is nothing but water. All phenomena are empty of self nature abiding just like space. When one has realized the nature of mind, one will be liberated from samsara.

So she then asked Milarepa., “What appears in your mind?”

Milarepa used the analogy of the sun shining in a cloudless sky.

She then asked Milarepa, “When you meditate, what is the ultimate result?”

He replied that one sees that all phenomena of samsara are without intrinsic reality and one does not grasp to either samsara or nirvana. In that state of non-distraction, there is no reference point. The view is without hope and fear. The only wish is that all beings may attain Buddhahood. There is no fear of suffering, as all phenomena are seen as empty.

So he asks her, “Do you want this practice?”

She gave rise to devotion to Milarepa, and asked him to be her teacher.

Worldly beings are unaware of the faults of unvirtuous actions and ignorant of the benefits of virtuous actions. They see what leads to suffering as desirable and what leads to happiness as undesirable. This is a corrupt view. It is like a cloudy day when you cannot see the sun shine. Or a snowy winter when you cannot see the flowers in the meadow. Similarly, the mind is obscured and we cannot see it.

Nyama Paldarbum confessed her wrong doing and said, “As the result of wrong doing in previous lives, I was born as a girl who is no better than a servant. I have never given a thought to impermanence and death. So now I will prepare for death and become your disciple.”

Milarepa replied, “I will teach you the dharma. But that is difficult. If praised, you become proud, and if criticized, you become angry.. But since you ask, I will teach you.” So the message is do not spend so much time putting on make up and cleaning yourself. Instead, you should clean your mind. Milarepa said, do not turn your mind to samsaric friends, turn your mind to your teacher. Do not fixate on this life, caring for your body. Be generous with your possessions instead of being stingy. When you are young, it is hard to practice the dharma. The young are like beautiful peacocks. They are proud of their appearance and do not wish to practice. With this pride, love and compassion cannot arise. We need to apply an antidote to pride and this antidote is devotion.

She replied, “Please do not scold me. I really want to practice the dharma, but never had the chance.”

Milarepa replied, “You may not have time to practice, but will you have time to die? This life is very short compared to all your future lives. You must prepare for all your future lives. Do you know what you will eat then?” The preparation for all your future lives is generosity in this present life. Stinginess is your true enemy and you should eliminate it. Normally we think of only ourselves. As a result we will be reborn as a hungry ghost. So we need to practice generosity for our future lives.

In this life there is the light of the sun and the moon. But in the bardo there is none. Mediate on luminosity as a preparation for the bardo. Some people may think that they have nothing to give, but that is not right. If one has much, one should give that. But if one has nothing, one can give the protection of life and give the dharma by reciting “om mani padme hum.” The prayer wheel I turn continuously is turning in prayers for all sentient beings. So one can always give.

When we go to the next life, we will take no company and no friends. Who will we take when we go to the bardo alone? When we do deity practice, the deity will accompany us in the bardo. Our obstructors will be those who are now dear to us. They create problems when we are alive and cannot help us when we are die. Of course, we should be kind to them. But only the yidam deity we have meditated on will accompany us in the bardo.

The meditation on the yidam deity benefits us in this life as well. I get many calls about people’s problems. I always tell people to meditate on Tara. When the mind is suffering it is obscured by self grasping. At this time we need to visualize the yidam as clear as an image in the mirror. If we do this, our mind will become clear and pure. If you recite the mantra without love and compassion, there will be some benefit. But we should transform ourselves completely into the deity, including their love and compassion. If we do this there will be great benefit for this life as well as for future lives.

The future life seems very far away. How should we prepare for it? We should prepare ourselves for it with diligence. When we have a spare moment we should practice or visualize the deity. It is like a butter lamp. When the butter is exhausted it will not burn any more. If we practice, when our karma is exhausted we will not suffer, but go to the pure land. So we should ride the steed of diligence.

The enemy of diligence is laziness. Laziness harms us even in this life. If we do not practice today, what will we do tomorrow when we die?

After Milarepa spoke, she thought. She said, “I have not prepared at all for my next life. From now on I must commit myself to dharma practice.”

Milarepa said, “If you practice you do not need to give up your family, but you need to meditate at all times. You do not need to go to mountain retreat. if you do this, you can stay with your family”

So she asked, “How should I meditate?”

Milarepa said, “Just let your mind rest and look at it, without center our boundary.”

An analogy for the nature of mind is the sky. When one sees the mind as it is without boundary or center, one sees that it abides just like space. A second analogy is the the sun and moon. It can be obscured by afflictive emotions, like the sun and moon are hidden by clouds. But when we are mindful and aware, whatever afflictive emotion arises, it is eliminated in its own place. It is like seeing a beautiful flower. Without awareness, one wishes to buy it. With awareness one realizes that it is just like an illusion. So the mind is like a sun., that is always illuminating, even though it my temporarily be hidden.

If the mind is the buddha, then why do we need to meditate? That is because we need to develop a state of clarity when we are always mindful and aware. If so, then when afflictive emotions arise they cannot harm us. There are four obscurations. The first is not seeing the mind as it is. As a result, afflictive emotions arise, then as a result of afflictive emotions, karmic actions arise. And these give rise to karmic imprints. These imprints give rise to our temporary body, which ceases when the karma is exhausted. So these are the four obscurations.

We always hear the root of sufferings is our afflictive emotions. But we do not know how to eliminate them. For that, we need to meditate. To realize the view, we need to habituate the mind to it. As beginning practitioners, the reason we cannot eliminate afflictive emotions is because our wisdom is small.. Primordial wisdom, or yeshe, is always there and this wisdom realizes all things as they are. We do have this yeshe, but it is like a little flame. It does not have the strength to burn our afflictive emotions up. But as it grows stronger, it will have the strength to burn up our concepts and emotions. This is the meditation that Milarepa taught. Milarepa was known for dealing with all demons and obstacles. This is because as a result of his strong meditation he did not grasp at them as being real.

Milarepa explained how to place the mind in meditation with three analogies: the mind is like mountain, mind is like ocean, and mind is like space. The mountain cannot be shaken by wind. When the mind is like a mountain it will not be shaken by concepts. When the mind is like an ocean its depths are undisturbed even though there may be waves on the surface. The text gives another analogy: guard your mind like guarding a jewel from a thief. The last analogy is have no doubts questions that the mind is like this or that, just as space has no qualities.

Then Nyama Paldarbum was instructed on the seven fold posture of Vairochana. It is important that the spine be straight when you meditate, so that the channels and winds are straight. Then one will be able to move the winds into the central channel. There are also mind instructions that go with this instruction on physical posture. She meditated like this for a while but then she had questions. She used examples like brush on the mountain and stars around the moon. to represent the small concepts that arise in the meditation. So she asked Milarepa about this

Milarepa said that when you meditate on mind as space, clouds will arise. But they will just vanish back into the sky. When you meditate on mind as mountain, do not grasp at the bushes. When you meditate the mind as ocean, the wave seem powerful, but they have the same nature as the ocean and disappear back into it. Similarly when a emotion arises, recognize its nature and it will disappear back into the mind. Sometimes emotions or feelings of bliss arise and they are very strong. When anger arises, do not speak in anger. Just recognize it and slowly it will get smaller. One day you will be able to liberate afflictive emotions as they arise.

Practicing in this way, the young woman, Nyama Paldarbum, did not go into mountain retreat or shave her head. She remained a householder and was able to attain the rainbow body. So we should study her story.

Another disciple of Milarepa was named Ngigum Repa. He got the name of repa because he was accomplished in tummo and only needed to wear a cotton cloth. He asked Milarepa how to train the mind. Mila replied, you have to look at the nature of the mind. Its essence is unelaborated like space, neither existing or not. Nothing need to be done with it, it simply abides. This is how I practice. Mind’s essence is unelaborated like space. When one leaves it like it is one realizes the nature of all phenomena. Things still arise but one does not grasp after them and realizes that they cannot harm one. To realize all phenomena as empty is difficult. We must rely first on study and investigation and by reading scriptures. First one depends on the understanding of listening and one still has a sense of self and other, But when one looks at the nature of the mind, one realizes it has no true existence. Then you realize that your grasping has no basis.

This is difficult to understand for beginners. When you say a person is empty of self nature, they will say you are stupid. But when you understand the nature of one person, you will understand the nature of all beings. When you ask if someone is a person, they will say yes. But when you ask if a corpse is a person, they will say no, the mind is the person. But when you investigate the mind, what is it? The Buddha says it is just like a dream. When we go to sleep we wake up and say the dream was not real. This present life exists just like a dream. After we die, when we wake up we will be in the bardo state. Then if one has understood that outer phenomena will all be destroyed because they are all compounded phenomena and are impermanent and that inner phenomena are also impermanent, the mind will become calm and be at ease. Scientists know that the outer phenomena will be destroyed. But the mind will never go out of existence. If one realizes all phenomena are impermanent, one will have no grasping or fear. So Milarepa has taught that there is no difference between happiness and suffering. When one does not grasp at phenomena, the mind will remain clear and unstained. When one realizes this, the wish to meditate also disappears. One’s mind just remains as it is, abiding like space. One recognizes the mind to be the mind of the buddha and one is beyond thoughts of practicing or not practicing. An example for all sentient beings being buddha is water. When it is used to wash clothing, it becomes dirty. But though it is dirty, it is still water. It can be filtered to make it pure again. Through practicing our mind can be purified and become the mind of Buddha again.

When someone says I am a not a Buddhist and do not need this teaching, explain to them that the Buddhist view is just that the Buddha is inherent in the mind of all sentient beings. If someone says I cannot attain enlightenment, that cannot be, because the cause is in the mind in all beings. Even all outer phenomena are Buddha because they are empty.

Garchen Rinpoche
January 7, 2007
Tibetan Meditation Center