blog #4 – Reading for February 10, 2012

As I read the first half of The Life of Milarepa, I made a list of the ways in which Milarepa himself seems to be transferred knowledge. I noticed that through the instruction of a teacher, dreams, and practicing meditation, Milarepa learned and was set on the path to buddhahood in a single lifetime. I found the representation of learning through instruction and the practice of meditation to be understandable and obvious as they hold great importance in the practice of Buddhism, but I found knowledge through dreams to be quite interesting. Milarepa seems to have dreams and interprets them to try and find the true meaning. He is transmitted the knowledge to help guide him along the path, as they act as a form of prophecy. On pg. 74 the lady gives Milarepa a single die and he holds it up to his head to receive blessings. I found this to be a form of knowledge being transmitted as it prompted him to reading the message to go on to Marpa. This initiated the idea of physical transmittance of knowledge.  Another way this is shown is when Milarepa drinks from the skull cup which Marpa has given him with the blessings of his mental powers. Milarepa is literally drinking the knowledge of his teacher.

As I read the second half of the book, Milarepa is still learning but is seen to be teaching others around him. He feels the need to still perform ascetic meditation practices and live as a hermit, but also practice bodhicitta and benefit others. I found that songs are a permanent part of the text. Milarepa continuously sings to those he meets to explain the dharma and his feelings. Each time the listener is gaining knowledge of the dharma. The idea of gaining from our enemies, like in The Words of My Perfect Teacher, is highlighted within the second half of the book. Milarepa explains the practice of patience through our enemies. The role of the enemy, I find, also acts as a sort of template of what not to do as well.

The most important sources of knowledge within the story are the instructions of the teacher, in Milarepa’s case lama Marpa, and meditational practices. Without the guidance of Marpa, Milarepa would have continuously been on the wrong path. Marpa helped guide him in the practice of meditation. Meditation is very important to Milarepa. He starves himself and does not clothe himself in order to not disrupt his practice. Whenever he isn’t meditating, he continuously feels he should be.

“Religion” can be defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman action.  It usually involves devotional and ritual observances, and often contains a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. I find the representation of religion within this text fits this general definition of “religion”. This story portrays religion as an all-encompassing factor within a practitioner’s life. Milarepa continuously explains the importance of his actions to Peta, as she finds them to be extreme. There is no halfway point in Milarepa’s view of Buddhism. You cannot give a feeble attempt, but you must fully commit to the practices of Buddhism and dharma.

Knowledge is gained through pure devotion and strict practice, which is exactly how Milarepa depicts the idea of “religion”. Through truly devoting one’s self to the practice of Buddhism mentally, spiritually and physically, knowledge seems to come hand in hand with true devotion. Milarepa shows that the moral code and the practices of Buddhism truly become a part of him as they govern each thought he has and his entire lifestyle. As he completely embodies this notion of what true Tibetan Buddhism is, it seems to almost literally become a part of him as he gains knowledge through dreams and the experiences while meditating.

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3 Responses to blog #4 – Reading for February 10, 2012

  1. Reply To: Erica Blog #4

    Your comment regarding the conceptualization of religion is illustrated through “ pure devotion and strict practice” is illustrated by Milarepa’s meditation, fasting and penance. In the second part of the text Milarepa explains his buddhist practices to his sister as Peta does not understand Milarepa’s rituals and observances.

    Religious doctrine is taught through songs and poems. The literary style of this text is one of a narrative containing songs and poems which are part of the Tibetan oral ethnography. This is an ethnographic way of transmitting knowledge within the Tibetan culture.

    Michael M. Paterson

  2. rlg372austin says:

    True Tibetan Buddhism is only relevant to the practitioner’s view of what they see that embodies the tradition. Identifying a monolithic tradition is highly problematic in the sense that it both generalizes the tradition itself, and constructs a tradition that “exists somewhere out there”. More important to this discussion is who decides what is “true” or “authentic”? It is in the nature of any tradition to prove otherwise that theirs is more “authentic” through various means, either by finding new texts, or establishing continuous lineages or otherwise. Placing any value on an essential Tibetan Buddhism would only detract from any possibility of exploration of the many residential Buddhisms that are “authentic” in their own ways (yet somehow still render themselves as being part of a larger phenomenon).

  3. ibrahim372 says:

    Erica, I liked your outline of the text. You mentioned that songs play an important part in the text, I was wondering what you think the importance of song is; is it just a way to transmit knowledge? Milarepa was able to touch and melt the hearts of even his enemies through song; do you think that if he transmitted his message through prose he would still have the same reaction? Does song have power to it that prose does not? I’d be interested to know what you think.

    Best,
    Ibrahim

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