Buddhist Audio Books

The Yogi's Joy
Songs of Milarepa
By Sangharakshita
ISBN: 1899579664
Read by Subhadra

Experience the magical world of Milarepa. Milarepa was a much-loved Tibetan yogi, poet, and teacher. His ‘hundred thousand songs’ have inspired and guided Buddhist practitioners for centuries, yet examinations of them are few. The Yogi’s Joy explores some of these songs to help show how their lessons are relevant to us today.

Here, three stories — The Tale of Red Rock Jewel Valley, Song of a Yogi’s Joy and The Meeting at Silver Spring — are considered. In them, we find such themes as fear, honesty, self-respect, practising with others, the student-teacher relationship, and how we can make teachings our own. Sangharakshita, Buddhist teacher and writer, draws out these elements, bringing alive the delight, joy – and challenges – of this revolutionary guru.

An Extract from: The Yogi's Joy
From Chapter 2, Finding the Sangha

In ‘The Tale of Red Rock Jewel Valley’ we encounter Milarepa at a comparatively early stage in his career, when his practice is still quite a struggle and he is still more or less clothed. As we shall see, he also still possesses some books. Even so, he has evidently been practising meditation in solitude, following the practice of mahãmudrã – the union of bliss and emptiness – according to his guru’s instructions, for a long time. And in this episode his practice suddenly bears fruit through an unexpected, if apparently trivial, turn of events, of which Milarepa is able to take advantage by means of a very basic practice: mindfulness.

It is clear that his practice of mindfulness is very effective because he is so quick to observe his instinctive reaction when his robe blows apart, and to realize what that reaction implies with regard to his spiritual development. The incident is so trivial that most people, even most practising Buddhists, wouldn’t think twice about it, beyond perhaps noticing their momentary frustration at trying to do the work of three hands with two. But Milarepa is keeping a close and unremitting watch over himself, and it is the brief conflict in his mind that draws his attention to the deeper issue. Seeing beyond his frustration to the fundamental delusion underlying it, he realizes that while he is literally clinging to his robe, he is clinging to his ego just as tightly. As the wind snatches his robe from him, he observes himself possessively clinging to his meagre property and says to himself, ‘What is making me cling to my robe in this way? It is because I feel that it is mine, it is my robe, my body needs it for covering. I need it.’ At once recognizing this as evidence of a still active ego, he gives up his robe to the importunate tugging of the wind.

One of the best known accounts of the Buddha’s teaching of mindfulness is the Satipaììhãna Sutta,2 the discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness. As one of the most important of the Pali suttas, or discourses, this text is part of the bedrock of modern-day Theravadin practice, and its theme of mindfulness remains integral to all traditions of Buddhism. Of particular relevance here is the practice of recollecting what are known as mental objects, especially the six sense bases and their objects. This aspect of mindfulness involves maintaining a continuous awareness that, as objects impinge upon consciousness via the sense bases or sense organs, various unhealthy mental states arise to intrude on that simple awareness. These unhealthy states, known collectively as the hindrances, include moods and thoughts of lust, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and anxiety, and doubt. Each in its own way clouds the essential lightness and clarity of perception.

These deep-seated states of mind are a product of our karma, our deluded actions, and they form the very fabric of our self-view, our sense of who we are and hence what the world is. They are consequently extremely subtle and hard to detect. Mindfulness of one’s mental processes is, for this reason, a particularly demanding practice, one that calls for every bit of striving one can muster.

"Just these two things are expected of us and encapsulate everything we need to do."

Milarepa’s sustained awareness of these subtle mental processes has enabled him to detect the arising of the fetter of self-view, the delusion that he is a fixed, separate entity, even as he is grasping desperately at his few remaining possessions, his robe and a few sticks of firewood. Indeed, it is at such a moment of instinctive reaction that this fetter will force itself into view, even though it is also at just such a moment that mindfulness is most likely to be lost.

Milarepa’s mindfulness consists in seeing how, when the senses come into contact with their objects, any one of the hindrances may arise. Once we are able to refine consciousness to the extent that we can be aware of these subtle mental comings and goings, we then have only to understand deeply enough the significance of what we see to take the appropriate action. This calls for vigilant and unremitting practice. The hindrances do not arise with any great fanfare; on the contrary, they are extremely subtle. It is the very small things that give them away, and it is these we have to look out for, in other people and in ourselves. This is as much as can be asked of anybody. We cannot be expected to be perfect all the time, or even much of the time. All we are invited to do is to stay awake, to keep watch over ourselves, especially with respect to small, seemingly insignificant things that we do or say or think or feel – and to take in the implications of what we notice. The task is to recognize what your observation tells you about yourself, and then to do whatever you need to do to adjust your attitude and bring it more into line with the way things really are.

The importance of mindfulness is reflected in the fact that – at least according to one tradition – the Buddha’s last words to his disciples were, ‘With mindfulness, strive’ (appamãdena sampãdetha in Pali). It is as though just these two things are expected of us and encapsulate everything we need to do. Know what you are doing – pay attention to every last detail of your existence as it occurs. Take note of every detail of your experience as it impinges upon your consciousness – especially those details that others will probably miss. And if you notice any vestige of anything unskilful, any attachment, any impulse that ‘that is mine, this is due to me,’ take immediate action to change your attitude. The whole procedure is less complicated than it may sound. Milarepa manages to do it in the moment between his brief tussle with the elements and his blackout. But though it is simple and quick, its effects are truly momentous.

Near the end of this story, Milarepa comes to the conclusion that a demon was behind the storm. But why does he infer this? It may be difficult for us to imagine the power a storm in the mountains of Tibet. When I lived in the Himalayan town of Kalimpong, there was once an earth tremor that made the two-storey house in front of which I was standing actually jump a couple of inches. It was as though the whole mountain jumped. When we are exposed to the elements in this way, we get a salutary reminder of the insignificance of human intentions as far as those powers – however we interpret them – are concerned. One has only to experience the full force of such elemental powers, whether of storm, volcano, or earthquake, to begin to see the traditional belief that demons are behind those natural phenomena in a different light. Unprotected by the paraphernalia of modern civilization, we realize that we are at the mercy of natural forces beyond our control.


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