practice and experience

“Initiation awakens one to ultimate reality and from then onward one meditates through all the various stages of the Path. Having endeavored to discover the non-selfhood of personality, which is common to all exoteric traditions, one examines the self by means of logic, the teaching, and analogies and, not finding the self, one understands selflessness. One must then bring the mind into a quiet state. When the mind is calmed by means of such reasoning, discriminating thought ceases and mind reaches a non-conceptual state. If one continues in this state for days, months, and years, so oblivious to the passing of time that one needs to be reminded of it by others, one has then achieved tranquility of mind.

“This state of tranquility is maintained by means of continued attention and awareness, not allowing it to become distracted or to sink into passivity. Intensified by the force of awareness, one experiences pure consciousness without differentiation – naked, vivid, and crisp. These are the characteristics of tranquility of mind.

“Pure consciousness may be regarded as a flash of perfect insight; individuals do not actually experience it until they reach the first stage of Enlightenment. At this stage, one meditates, visualizing the forms of the yidam. In so doing one may experience visions and forms, but these are devoid of substance and are merely products of meditation.

“To sum up: First, a vivid state of mental tranquility and a sustaining energy together with a discerning intellect are indispensable requirements for attaining perfect insight. They are like the first steps of a staircase.

“Second, all meditation, with or without form, must begin from deeply aroused compassion and love. Whatever one does must emerge from a loving attitude for the benefit of others.

“Third, through perfect seeing, all discrimination is dissolved into a non-conceptual state.

“Finally, with an awareness of the void, one sincerely dedicates the results for the benefit of others. I have understood this to be the best of all ways.

“Just as a starving man cannot be fed by the knowledge of food but needs to eat, so too one needs to experience in meditation the meaning of emptiness. I understand more particularly that in order to arrive at perfect insight it is necessary to practice meritorious deeds and self-purification, without respite, in the intervals between meditations.

“In short, I saw that this meditator’s understanding of the emptiness of things, of their unity, of their indefinability, and of their non-differentiation corresponds to the four aspects of initiation according to the Vajrayana.

“In order to make this knowledge manifest in myself, I subdued my body, deprived it of food, harnessed my mind, and achieved equanimity in the face of all circumstances including the danger of death.”

(Milarepa speaking about his meditative insights to Marpa and Dakmema, The Life of Milarepa, p 78 – 79)


3 thoughts on “practice and experience

  1. Very interesting, but re The final quote by Mila: I have trouble with the idea of “deprivation”–an issue of translation?–as the body in the West has yet to be embraced fully as a sentient being deserving of genuine nurturing and respect. Fasting must come from a whole place, or rather a place of wholeness, knowing, respect and compassion even, otherwise it is yet another form of self abuse and neglect. I don’t think fasting for enlightenment should be undertaken until moderation in general has been achieved…Thank you so much for your sharing.

  2. thanks for the response. yes, when milarepa sang this song to marpa and dakmema, he had been under marpa’s spiritual direction for a long time. milarepa was singing of his experience to them. fasting was one of the foundational elements of practice, as is faith, effort, solitude, silence, etc. yet, there is a season for all things. other times we can see milarepa feasting and enjoying lively conversations with village folks.

    each practitioner is unique. their body and mind conditionings are unique. their practice is unique. this is where personal spiritual guidance is very beneficial to a practitioner. it certainly was to milarepa!

    what may be abundance to one person, may not be to another person. what is moderation to one person, may be excessive to another person. years ago i hosted a pastor from a remote area of kenya east africa. as i was ministering in inner city newark nj, i took him shopping to a corner grocery store. he was amazed, and exclaimed, “what abundance!” yet, if i would have taken one of my friends from the suburbs to the same shop, they would have exclaimed, “what poverty!”

    so it is never black and white – there are so many perspectives. fasting may prove beneficial to a new practitioner, or not. in my experience, it was. each practitioner must take the time for deep reflection and trust the inner and outer guru. what can look like moderation to me, may look like extreme to you.

    when a practitioner has a deep desire to give rise to, and stabilize, bodhichitta, this wish will take root in a unique way. their practice will be unique, yet the 37 factors of enlightenment that buddha shakyamuni taught will be evident in the process.

    milarepa’s desire for complete enlightenment for the good of all was his bottom line, not fear of survival. he had already cut through the fear, and ego-clining. so whatever was necessary to achieve that goal, so milarepa was willing to face, under the glorious guidance of his guru.

  3. Thanks for your interesting reply. And yes, it is true that we all see things differently and have different needs, and that those who are on the path can always benefit from the wisdom of a teacher. And it is definitely true that culturally we tend to see things differently too. When my nephew visited from Chile, his comment about the way we live was, “What you see as middle class here, is upper class where I come from, and what you view as poverty here, is considered middle class where I live.”

    To get back to the point, the question is what is a person willing to do to wake up? The only way to find out and to undertake the necessary steps is with the guidance of the proper teacher. I concur.

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