© 2012 by Diana J. Mukpo. Used here by arrangement with Lady Diana and the Shambhala Archives.
Produced, Filmed and Donated by Jeffrey M Krouk, J. CROW'S®, New Ipswich, NH.
Commentary by Robert Walker
This talk tracks the evolution of Milarepa's poetry, the tone of his poetry, from loneliness and the romanticism of loneliness feeling the entrapment of samsara and mocking samsara towards a more appreciation-based poetics. A greater appreciation of the natural and unnatural things of this world develops. Out of that, there is further evolution towards the manifestation of "madness," carelessness, transcending moralism. A further change of tone in his poetry, more akin to mahamudra, will be addressed in the next talk, in the context of his teaching relationships with Rechungpa and Gampopa.
In the first part of the talk, Chögyam Trungpa frames the experiences of Milarepa's life as a journey towards mahamudra, rooted in the hinayana understanding of suffering and the origin of suffering and the mahayana aspiration to serve others, based on shunyata, the nonexistence of oneself. All of this preparatory training was presented as a journey of cutting through spiritual materialism.
The mahamudra experience is characterized, at this point, as a further openness and relating to the phenomenal world, where even "the nonexistence of oneself, of the shunyata principle, becomes questionable." The emphasis in mahamudra has more to do with relating to the ordinariness of the experience of life, not so much looking for "mystical" or divine qualities or messages. Rather, the mahamudra experience is related to relating to the reality of things as they are.
Recalling the previous talk, Milarepa's fear, loneliness, and romanticism, and the "subtle temptations" that go alone with that, were likened to our own possible retreat experiences, which hold their own "challenge of fear." We, also, could discover such loneliness and romanticism. There could be the "simplistic fear of the boogyman [all the way up to] the sophisticated fear of losing one's ego." In the pressure cooker of retreat, our mental activities could seem to bounce back on us, strike at us, from the world in a solid way. In Milarepa's songs, Chögyam Trungpa references chapters such as the "Challenge of the Wise demonness" as examples of stories where Milarepa projects fear and it bounces back on him.
Short of the mahamudra experience, information coming back to one from the phenomenal world is not yet clear, but there could be a sense of being haunted, in the midst of the loneliness, in the midst of whatever practices and schedules and routines one has established on retreat. In the midst of such routines, fear does arise, along with various forms of aggression, resentments about past experiences, one's upbringing and education, etc.
Milarepa was not so much resentful, as he, in his earlier poems, characterized the extreme claustrophobia, entrapment, and fucked-upness of samsara, first reflected in his family dynamics and relationship with his aunt, but later morphing into a greater sense of the whole of samsara as being a kind of a "cosmic aunt." There is a mocking quality of many of his poems, mocking samsara, such as the song to the old lady, and the overall futililty of pursuing samsaric objectives. A famous analogy would be the one where, in samsara, people nurse crops and collect their harvest, their grains, but I, the yogi Milarepa, instead of using an ordinary plow, plows the ground of the alaya-vijnana with my practice discipline. I cut through ego, till the ground of the alaya-vijnana, and grow the crops of wisdom.
Reflecting on the craft of poetics altogether, Chögyam Trungpa makes the point that it is much easier to mock the grotesqueness of the samsaric world, the grossness of the political weaknesses of the country and the unnecessary human suffering, the horrors of the city, using as an example some of the works of his student, Allen Ginsberg. Even if such a work has genius qualities, it is much easier to "pick weak points in the phenomenal world and attack them," seemingly placing the writer of the poem "outside of that realm of involvement." Other examples of such art are exemplifed by publishing photographs of concentration camps of bringing back a slideshow from North Vietnam. "Very entertaining."
In Milarepa's poetics, early themes focus on the terrors of samsara, and then the beauties of aloneness, loneliness, which are associated with nirvana, and a greater appreciation of the world that comes along with that. Milarepa's early dislike of the monotony and regularity of country life the herding, the chores, the screaming children, all the samsaric hassles moves more in the direction to a greater appreciation of natural things.
"But somewhat there is not enough reference to mahamudra at that point. It's still kind of a game of one-upmanship." Chögyam Trungpa notes that Milarepa's poetry begins to change when he "begins to relate more with people." When people request teachings, instructions, he changes his tones, his ideas. There is more a sense of carelessness, of not preferring nirmana over samsara. "Nirvana has its hassles as well."
So, over the course of his life, the "slight change of tone" of Milarepa's poems is characterized as developing an "old dog" quality of carelessness. In a later poem, when he is accused of being mad by some locals, Milarepa responds in song saying "Vajradhara is mad; Tilopa was mad; Naropa was mad; so I, the yogi Milarepa, am mad." The poetry becomes less moralistic. Out of that, the dawning of the mahamudra principle develops later. This will be addressed in the next talk, "particularly in connection to his discovery of Rechungpa and Gampopa."
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