Shabkar and Milarepa have many things in common. Shabkar has even been titled as a sort of “second Milarepa”. He is seen as the greatest yogi (after Milarepa) to obtain enlightenment in one lifetime. While reading The Life of Shabkar, I found many similar factors within the story. This blog will point out these factors, and express the similarities as well as differences between The Life of Shabkar and The Life of Milarepa.
The first similarity that struck me while reading Shabkar’s autobiography was the importance of hearing life stories. In both The Life of Shabkar and The Life of Milarepa, many people beg them to speak of their experiences and practices throughout their lives. It is used as a learning tool and seen as important in both stories.
Just as dreams and songs were important in Milarepa’s story, they continue to play an important role in Shabkar’s life. Shabkar also uses song just as Milarepa did to teach those he meets as well as express his emotion of sadness, longing, or happiness. In both stories, song can also act as a meditation experience for both yogis. Dreams act as a form of prophecy and a mode of transmitting knowledge within both stories. Both Milarepa and Shabkar have their dreams interpreted and learn about the path in which they are on.
The Dharma King is just as enamored with Shabkar as Marpa is with Milarepa. Both Marpa and the Dharma King look at the figures, and even refer to them, as their sons. Both Milarepa and Shabkar have a wise female figure caring for them. Each of these women happen to be the wives of their lama teachers.
Just like Milarepa, Shabkar expresses the importance of attaining the transmission of knowledge and teaching through teachers. Meditation as a hermit and through retreats to caves holds great importance within both Milarepa’s and Shabkar’s experiences and paths to enlightenment and buddhahood in one lifetime. Once they have done this for a long time, they must feel ready to teach and practice to benefit all others.
Having listed all of these similarities in both of the stories, I also found some differences between the two as well. Although the role of the mother is found in both stories, they differ completely. Milarepa’s mother forces her son to practice black magic and pursue the rivalry between his aunt and uncle, as well as scare, and even kill the villagers. She also tends to be plunged in self-pity throughout the entire story and does not practice at all. Shabkar’s mother is the direct opposite of Milarepa’s mother. She has practiced her entire life and encourages Shabkar to practice as well. There is a particular event in the story when his mother and a relative disagree. Rather than lashing out with violence or magic, Shabkar tries to work out the disagreement and his mother shows no signs of hostility. Although there is a strong difference between the two mother figures, both do not want their sons to leave. Although Shabkar’s mother has always wished for him to practice, she still wants him to marry, and when le leaves, wishes for him to return to her. Both stories also have distraught sister characters, as both feel they need their brothers to stay in order for their mothers to rely on them less throughout old age.
Both Shabkar and Milarepa work through hardships, obstacles, and choose to lead an aesthetic form of meditative practice as hermits in caves. Although Shabkar references the life of Milarepa multiple times as a guide along his own path (he is also advised to do so by teachers along his journey), within the story it seems he practices very differently. It seems that Shabkar does not struggle as much as Milarepa. Although he has to build a mud hut for his lama, it does not seem to compare to the physical strife Milarepa had to go through while building the towers for Marpa. I also noticed that Shabkar has a lot of contact with people while on retreat and never goes hungry, unlike the starving hermit, Milarepa. Milarepa was born into hardship as his family is betrayed while Shabkar was born into moderate wealth and good karma from his past lives.