Crisis and Resilience: Teachings from the Life of Milarepa

with Judy Lief

November 4, Saturday, 10-5 pm

Eileen Fisher Headquarters: 2 Bridge Street, Irvington, NY 10533


Milarepa: Lessons from the Life and Songs of Tibet's Great Yogi

Who Was Milarepa, and Why Is He Relevant?

From the Editors Introduction by Judith L. Lief

Milarepa: Lessons from the Life and Songs of Tibet's Great Yogi

By Chögyam Trungpa, Edited by Judith L. Lief

The great Tibecan yogi MiJarepa is renowned in Tibet and throughout the world as an exceptionally accomplished meditation practitioner and teacher. He is admired for his courage, his tenacity, and his arduous discipline. At the same time, Milarepa's story is a very human story of the journey from confusion co awakening. le is an example of the powerful transformation that can take place through sincere practice and encounters with a genuine master. Milarepa's life story shows how one can progress from being caught in the cycle of confusion, known as samsara, to becoming a student entering and practicing the path of dharma, to eventually becoming a teacher oneself and caking on the responsibility of training others. This classic pattern has allowed the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, also referred to as the vajrayana or "diamond vehicle," co be passed on in an unbroken line from teacher co student over the millennia.

Milarepa lived a life of austerity. His meditative discipline and commitment to the practice of the dharma were legendary. In fact, he went co such extremes in his pursuit of awakening chat even hearing about it can be intimidating. Milarepa's example set the bar so high that we might not be able to replace to it. However, the extremes of his practice and realization are matched by the extreme troubles he faced in his early life and the extreme harm he caused. So Milarepa's story is a deeply human one. It is a moving example of a student's journey from start to finish. And it gives us hope that no matter how extreme our confusion or how much harm we have caused we can reach a point of remorse and set out in a new direction.

But change is not easy, and the path of a dharmic practitioner is not all sweetness and light. Literally and figuratively engaging in manual labor, many times Milarepa reached a point of hopelessness and felt like giving up.  However, he kept struggling, and he persevered. Meanwhile, his teacher Marpa's style of compassion was anything but soothing-it took the form of pushing Milarepa to his limits-yet by these skillful means, Milarepa was being tamed and formed into the great practitioner and teacher he would become.

Again, Milarepa did not have an easy life. As a young man he experienced betrayal, a descent into poverty, and all kinds of ill treatment and oppression. He also experienced the pain of having committed many evil deeds himself. He was no saint. His story is important because it cuts through preconceptions about teachers and about practitioners. When we meet great teachers, it is easy to forget that they were once students like ourselves, struggling with the full array of human challenges. We may feel that our lives are so confused and messed up that we could not possibly be acceptable students or have any chance of becoming like them in any way. But no matter how difficult one's circumstances are and how badly one has behaved, it is still possible co enter the dharma, to practice, and to attain liberation. The path of dharma is not just for special people who sail smoothly through life but also for us regular, struggling beings who have made all sorts of mistakes and who are caught in the ordinary dramas and confusions of life. The story of Milarepa can inspire us to persevere as he did, despite our personal obstacles and mistakes, knowing that we, too, can embark on the heroic Journey of dharmic transformation.

Although this book is filled with stories about Milarepa’s life as a student, practitioner, and a teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche emphasized that he did not tell these stories simply because they are colorful and entertaining (though they are). He pointed out that his approach was not that of a historian, a biographer, or an academic; he was focused on bring out the relevance of of Milarepa's life and teachings for modern-day dharma practitioners. By way of introduction, it might be helpful to touch on some highlights of Milarepa's life.