Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
Sustaining the Nature of Mind
Our nature does not go or stay anywhere since it is always with us. It does not become more present by going to the mountains and living in a hermitage.
As you know, Jetsun Milarepa sang many songs, which were very pithy and beneficial to those who listened and understood. Among those songs is one he sang for a woman called Paldabum. In the song she is referred to as being a female lay practitioner. In those days, there were women who would practice a lot but still led the life of lay people. They took vows to do intensive practice on the 8 th or the 15 th or the 30 th day of the Tibetan month, and in between they would carry on their normal work. Milarepa had many such disciples. Paldabum was very bright and devoted, and she asked Milarepa many questions. (…) She asked questions about how she herself, being an ordained woman, could combine Dharma practice with her daily life. As she related, “In the daytime I have to work, at night time I sleep, in the morning and evening I need to cook. I am a servant to all these tasks that fill up my life. In spite of this, I still want to practice. How can I do this? Please give me some advice?’
In reply, Milarepa sang a song of four analogies and one meaning, five points. First he said, “Look at the mountain. The mountain is unshakable. Like that, train in being like a mountain, always steady and stable.” Then he said, “Look at the sun and moon. Though sometimes covered by clouds and haze, the sun and moon in themselves never change; their brilliance doesn’t increase or decrease, they’re forever the same. Train yourself in being constant, without waxing or waning.” The third analogy he gave was: “Look at the sky. Space is not made out of anything. Its nature is empty, and has neither centre nor edge. Train yourself in being free from centre and edge.” Then he said: “Look at the great lake: Though its surface ripples, the body of water remains unwavering. Train yourself in being unwavering.” Finally he gave the fifth point, the meaning, singing, “Your mind is the most important. Simply settle into yourself and look into your mind. Without being carried away by thoughts about this and that, be totally steady and meditate. That is the heart essence of meditation.”
Paldabum connected her next questions with the analogies Milarepa had just given. She said: “I can at times train in being as stable as a mountain. However, on the mountain various plants, shrubs and trees grow. What should I do? I can at times practice in a way which is unchanging like the brilliance of the sun and moon. But occasionally the sun and moon are eclipsed. When that happens, what should I do? I can at times train in being as steady and unchanging as the sky, but sometimes many clouds gather. At that time, what should I do? I can train in being as stable as the ocean, but sometimes great waves appear. At that time, what should I do? In the same way, when I’m simply looking into mind, sometimes many thoughts occur. At that time, what should I do?”
Milarepa’s reply continued with these themes. He said: “When you practice in a way that is like a mountain, remember this: shrubs, trees and plants grow naturally on the mountain, sprouting, growing and perishing there. This arising, dwelling and ceasing of growth does not change the mountain in any way whatsoever. It is merely different expressions that don’t affect the stability of the mountain at all.
“Sometimes you are able to practice in a way that is unchanging, like the brilliance of the sun and moon. However, remember that the eclipsing of the sun and moon is not real and constant; it’s a momentary event that does not have any concrete substance in itself. It vanishes. It’s only the different expressions of the sun and moon, and does not affect the inherent nature, as they continue to shine naturally.
“Sometimes you are able to practice in a way that is unchanging, like the sky. Remember this: when clouds gather, they do not change the sky itself, no matter how dense or dark they are. The many different types of weather are a varied display, but the sky remains beyond change.
“Although you can practice like the ocean, remember this: when the surface is in turmoil with waves, there is no wave that exists apart from the ocean. It’s the ocean itself that manifests different expressions. No wave has a separate identity from the ocean.”
Milarepa continued: “When different thoughts crowd your mind, remember that no thought has any existence apart from the empty cognisance of the mind nature. It is empty cognisance itself that takes the form of a thought, and is like varying facial expressions or moods, without any separate identity.” This is Milarepa’s instruction in sustaining the nature of mind.”
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
May virtue increase!
Songs of Naropa , translated from Tibetan by Erik Pema Kunsang, edited by Marcia Binder Schmidt with Kerry Moran, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, Boudhanath, 1997, from pages 150-189.