Milarepa Gompa: Drakar Taso Hermitage, where Milarepa meditated during the latter part of his life.

Milarepa: magician, murderer, saint
Movie Review

"I cry, weep and feel a strong sense of faith each time I read or hear the story of Milarepa, the great yogi of Tibet"
— the Dalai Lama

by William House
Editor, Reverse Spins

Aug. 29, 2007

I've got some very good news, finally, somebody made a movie about Milarepa and it will debut Sept 7th. The bad news is, it will have a limited release. Fear not though, the movie's website has a complete listing of all the showings, so most who want to see it will be able to. I was able to see an advanced copy of the movie about Tibet's greatest yogi, Milarepa, last Spring. The mere pronouncement of his name conjures up hope. Why is he the greatest? For one, all Tibetan sects accept and cherish him. The man who used to wall himself up in a cave, tears down all walls between lineages. Two, it's the most amazing story of the guru-chela relationship ever told. But most importantly, it is the story of one man's ability to overcome incredible, heart-rending odds to reach enlightenment in one lifetime. No other religion can claim a similar figure. St. Paul comes to mind but he didn't quite reach the depths and heights that Milarepa did. Job received similar testings but his Path was altogether different. Judas? He certainly plumbed the depths but it took him more than one lifetime to achieve the victory. Moses? He's probably the closest, but he only killed one man out of anger and revenge. As a result, he was prevented from seeing the promised land. Milarepa's story stands alone.

Who was Milarepa? (c. 1052-c. 1135 CE)

Rechung's description of his guru, Milarepa:

[He was] one who, having had the advantage of holy and sacred teachers, stored up the life-giving elixir that fell from their lips, and tasted it for himself in the delightful solitude of mountain retreats, thereby obtaining emancipation from the toils of Ignorance, [so that] the seats of Experience and Inspiration sprouted up in him and attained to full growth.

[He was] one who, having thrown aside all concern for worldly prospects, ease, name, and fame, resolutely devoted himself to the single object of raising the banner of spiritual development to such a height that it might serve as a guide for future followers on the Path, as a signal sufficient to save them from worldliness and dilatoriness, and to urge them onward on the Upward Way.

[He was] one who, having been favored by gods and angels, triumphed over the difficulties of the Path, obtaining transcendent pre-eminence and spiritual truths and such depth of knowledge and experience therein that religious devotion became second nature to him.

[He was] One who, by his profound reverence for and sincere belief in the Lineal Gurus, obtained their grace and spiritual support, and nomination as their adopted spiritual successor in the promulgation of the Spiritual Truths, thereby manifesting super-normal powers and signs of an incomparable nature and unmistakable significance.

[He was] one who, by the power of the greatness of his fervent, sincere, and altruistic love and compassion, was endowed with the power and gift of inspiring even unrighteous, worldly, sin-hardened, skeptical scoffers and unbelievers with involuntary emotion of soul-stirring faith, causing each hair on their body to stand on end in thrilling ecstasy, and making the tears to flow copiously from their eyes, thereby sowing in them the seed of future redemption and enlightenment, and causing it to sprout up in their heart by the mere hearing of his history and name. Thus was he enabled to reclaim, redeem, and protect them from the pains and terror of this low, worldly existence. ... pp. 31& 32, Tibet's Great Yogi: Milarepa; Introduction by Rechung

El Morya from Agni Yoga on Milarepa:

The Teacher Milarepa often conversed with animals. Near his retreat bees nested, ants built cities, parrots flew about, and a monkey was accustomed to perch himself in imitation of the Teacher. The Teacher said to the ants "Tillers and builders, no one knows of you, yet you raise up lofty communities." He said to the bees "You gather the honey of knowledge and of the best forms, let no one interrupt your sweet labor." He remarked to a parrot "By your screeching I see that you are preparing yourself to be a judge or a preacher." And he admonished the mischievous monkey "You have destroyed the ant's structure and have stolen another's honey. Perhaps you have decided to become a usurper." New Era Community (1926) - 193.

Milarepa by Nicholas Roerich

The director of Milarepa: magician, murderer, saint, Neten Chokling Rinpoche, has captured the essence of Milarepa. Rinpoche's film, (He is a Rinpoche by the way) is understated yet eminently charming. The production values are excellent, reflecting the expertise of the Producer who also made "The Cup." But those who crave action packed movies might be disappointed. I had a showing for some friends of mine awhile back. One person fell asleep for a short while then regained consciouness. He blurted out, "Did I miss him destroying the village?" We all laughed and assured him he hadn't. If you come to the movie expecting a fast pace, Keanu Reeves as Milarepa and Aishwarya Rai as the love interest, you will be setting yourself up for a let down. The pacing of the movie reflects life in 11th century Tibet, and is in keeping with the story of Milarepa. He eschewed scholastic and intellectual learning. And he most certainly forsook ostentatious lifestyles. This film mirrors the life of Tibet's greatest yogi.

As Evans Wentz points out below, the Kagyu lineage of Milarepa emphasizes direct knowingopening the petals of self-evident truths that the Christians gnostics sought. Milarepa was a gnostic, in the buddhist tradition and this certainly comes across in his life:

Kargyüypas Compared with Christian Gnostics

As basis for comparative explanation of this Kargyüypas system of mystical insight, we may take, for instance, that of the Christian Gnostics ('The Knowing Ones'), probably the most similar to it among systems known to European thought, wherein we meet with many remarkable parallels.

Thus, each of the numerous Gnostic communities—although these were not welded into an organic whole like the Kargyüypa communities—appears to have had its own Chief Guru (such as Valentinus, Marcion, and Basilides) and its subordinate gurus and Apostolic Succession on Earth, and it's Supreme Spiritual Head, and the Christos, from Whom, through the Saints and the Aeons of Super-Human Intelligences, was transmitted to His human followers the Divine Grace of the Father. Saturninus of Antioch, another of the great Christian Gnostic Gurus (who flourished about A.D.120), taught the abstention from flesh food, and observance of strict asceticism—such as the Kargyüypas practice—lead to the Supreme through the Son, the Christos Aeon (or Emanation of the Father). According to some of the many Gnostic Schools, God the Father was mystically the Primordial Man, Anthropos (or Aðáµas), Comparable to the Adi the (or 'First') Buddha of the Kargyüypas and other Sects of Northern Buddhism.

In accord with Buddhists generally, the Christian Gnostics know no doctrine of Vicarious Atonement such as the Church Councils elaborated and made a dogma; for, to both Faiths alike, Deliverance depends entirely upon one's own efforts, the Buddha and the Christ being regarded as Guides and not Saviours. There is, too, similarity between the ceremony of Initiation of Christian Gnostics and that among Mahayanists, and in the use of Mantras by both. The Gnostic Sofia ('Wisdom') and the Prajña ('Wisdom') of the Prajña-Paramita are equally personified as the Female Principal of Nature, or Shakti (Tib. Yum). The Un-Created, Non-Being, or Body of All-Intelligence, the Impersonal Deity of Christian Gnosticism, may he compared with the Voidness of the Mahayanic Schools. And the Supreme Pleroma of Light Ineffable, of the Pistis Sofia, is not unlike a Beyond-Nature Nirvana.

In drawing all such parallels, it is necessary to differentiate the Gnostic Christian ideal of asceticism and renunciation from that of the non-Gnostic Christian hermits who dwelt in the deserts of Egypt and elsewhere in the Near East and of their successors in the different monastic orders of the Christian Church as now organized.

The Gnostic Christian, like the Buddhist, but unlike the later Church-Council Christian, held as fundamental the doctrine of rebirth (Source: Pistis Sophia): so that his highest ideal was to acquire such degree of positive and direct spiritual insight while on Earth as, after many pious lifetimes, would ultimately produce in him the Enlightenment of Christhood. And at the Gnostic Christian prayed that upon his own attainment of Christhood he might be empowered to assist all mankind to reach the same Goal. ... (pp.10 & 11 Introduction from Tibet's Great Yogi, Milarepa)

After the doctrine of rebirth was taken out by Church Councils, the path of self-enlightenment in Christianity forever suffered a serious blow. Many people today realize something is lacking. Gnosticism has become very popular these days due in no small part to the Da Vinci Code and the thirst for hidden mysteries. Anyone interested in gnosticism will like this movie. The description of gnosticism above reads like a page out of Milarepa's life. But, reading and studying about gnosticism is one thing, Milarepa lived it. For him, the hidden mysteries were within. It is ironic that the gnostic teaching of rebirth was exorcised, because Milarepa always taught his disciples the importance of The Law of Karma.

There are many vignettes from Milarepa's early life in the movie. For some episodes the viewer is advised to read a biography to get the full understanding of what transpires. I'm thinking of the butter lamp scene for one and another scene in which Milarepa's mother becomes upset with his singing. Other scenes have a sense of authenticity even though they seem incredible by western standards, such as traveling across great distances in a short amount of time.

Supernatural running (From Wikipedia)

"According to the book Magic and Mystery in Tibet by French explorer Alexandra David-Néel, Milarepa boasted of having “crossed in a few days, a distance which, before his training [in ‘black magic’], had taken him more than a month. He ascribes his gift to the clever control of ‘internal air’.” Alexandara comments “that at the house of the lama who taught him black magic there lived a trapa [monk] who was fleeter than a horse” using the same skill.

This esoteric skill, which is known as Lung-gom-pa ("Wind Meditation", lung = “wind, gom-pa = “meditation”[4]) in Tibet, allows a practitioner to run at an extraordinary speed for days without stopping. This technique could be compared to that practiced by the Kaihigyo Monks of Mt. Hiei in Kyoto, Japan."

Part One of the movie ends here. Milarepa is off to see
"The Transcendent Ones" to mitigate the evil karma he created.

The film ends with the viewer craving more, always a good sign. We have to wait till 2009 or later to see the guru Marpa. I suggest you fill the void with Evan-Wentz's book, "Tibet's Great Yogi, Milarepa." I just re-read it. I forgot how really good that book is. If you are ever fortunate to find a guru sponsored by Padmasambhava (All "true" Tibetan Gurus are ultimately sponsored by him.), then this story is one for the ages, for its most important messages is: 'The guru's action may be inexplicable at times. The most important test is not what what is said or done by the Guru but what the chela's reaction is.' For those who have not had enough eastern emodiments, this might be a difficult concept to wrap your mind around.


I would include one caveat. If anybody does another version of Milarepa's life, this is how I would start the movie. Rechung writes:

"One night, while Rechung sat meditating in his cell, he had a dream which he described as follows:

'I was walking through a land which was said to be the Western Land of Urgyan and, inhabited by Angels of both sexes. The country was exquisitely beautiful and delightful, and the houses and palaces were built of gold, silver, and precious stones. I was passing through the capital of this country and notice that its inhabitants were clad in silks and adorned with garlands of jewels and precious metals and ornaments of bone, and that every one of them was most beautiful to behold. All were regarding me with smiling faces and glances of approval, though none ventured to speak to me.

'Among them, I encountered an old acquaintance whom I had known in Nepal as a female disciple under Tiphupa, one of my Gurus. She, clothed in red, was presiding over the congregation, and accosted me with words of welcome, saying, "Nephew, I am most pleased that thou hast come." She forth with led me into a palatial mansion filled with treasures, where I was most sumptuously feasted. She then said, "Buddha Akshobhya is at present preaching Doctrine in this Land of Urgyan. If thou, my nephew, wouldst like to hear his preaching, I will go and obtain his permission." I was extremely desirous of hearing him, and replied, "It is very kind of thee."

'Accompanying her, I came to the middle of the city, where I saw an immense throne made of precious metals and gems, and upon it, seated, the Buddha Akshobhya, of a beauty and majesty far surpassing in splendor the figure of my imagination in which I had been wont to meditate. He was preaching the Dharma to a huge congregation, seemingly as vast as the ocean. Upon seeing all this, I was filled with such ecstatic delight and bliss that I almost swooned. "Stay thou here, nephew, whilst I go and obtain the Buddhas permission," said the lady. Instantly obtaining it, she returned to conduct me into the Sacred Presence, wither going, I did obeisance to the Buddha, and received His blessing. I then sat down to listen to the religious discourse, and for while a Holy One regarded me with smiling, benignant countenance and a look of infinite love.

'The subject on which He was preaching was lineage, birth, deeds, and incidents connected with the various Of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the past. The narrative inspired me with profound belief. Finally He related histories of Tilopa, Naropa, and Marpa, at much greater length than I had been used to hear them told by Jetsün, so as to impart to each person present the deepest admiration and faith. In concluding His discourse, he said that he would narrate the story of Jetsün-Milarepa, which would surpass in wonder that of any of the aforementioned beings, and invited us all to come and hear it." pp. 42 & 43, op. cit.

How special is that? Now that's an etheric picture to meditate on. Reading further, it turns out Akshobya's discourse was primarily meant for Rechung so that he would write Milarepa's story. And now we are blest to have the latest emanation of the story of Milarepa. I have no doubt that Rechung, Milarepa and Akshobhya are quite pleased with director Neten Chokling Rinpoche's efforts.

P.S. I was in contact with the movie's producers loast fall. They ran into money problems and haven't been able to make Part II. 6/1/11.

By William C. House
Editor, Reverse Spins

For printer version go here.

Milarepa movie official website

Interview with the Director, Neten Chokling Rinpoche

I've read the first book, which is the Evans Wentz book I've quoted above. It's an excellent read: Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa: A Biography from the Tibetan being the Jetsun-Kabbum or Biographical History of Jetsun-Milarepa, According to the Late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering (Paperback) by Gtsan-Smyon He-Ru-Ka (Foreword), W. Y. Evans-Wentz

The second book I have not read but looks intriguing since it's a new translation. I have the the third one containing Milarepa's songs and look at it from time to time. The next three books are about the Gurus preceeding Milarepa (in order). I have not read any of those but plan to some day since all three were extraordinary masters. The last is Pistis Sophia by G. S. Mead.

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