Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey: The Life of Gampopa
Before Milarepa received his various disciples, the Buddha-figure Vajrayogini appeared to him in a vision and prophesied that in the not too distant future he would receive a sun-like disciple, a moon-like disciple, and many other disciples who would be like the stars in the sky. The sun-like disciple turned out to be Gampopa (sGam-po-pa bSod-nams rin-chen) (1079-1153), who is also known as the Great Doctor of Dagpo (Dvags-po lha-rje). He became one of Milarepa’s chief disciples, along with Rechungpa (Ras-chung-pa rDo-rje grags-pa) (1084-1161), and many others.
Gampopa was not an ordinary person. His presence in this time and universe had been prophesied in many sutras, specifically in the White Lotus Sutra, in which there is a clear prediction of his coming, as follows:
One day, at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, Buddha turned to his disciple Ananda and said, “Ananda, after my entrance into parinirvana, in the northern direction of this hemisphere there will be a fully ordained monk who will be known as the Bhikshu Doctor.” Gampopa was a bhikshu, an accomplished doctor who had a natural talent for medicine. “He will be someone who has gone through many previous lives of completely dedicated practice of Dharma, and who has had many spiritual teachers.”
Life as a Householder
Gampopa was born in a small village in Tibet, in the southern region of Dagpo (Dvags-po), near the border of Nepal. His father was a greatly renowned medical doctor of that village. His parents had two sons, and Gampopa was the older of the two. As a child, Gampopa was extremely clever. He learned his father’s profession and also, in turn, became a great doctor. When he was about fifteen years old, he studied many Nyingma scriptures and so had tremendous knowledge of the Nyingma tradition. He pursued many spiritual studies and when he reached the age of twenty-two, he married Chogmey (mChog-med), the daughter of a very rich family in a neighboring village. After their marriage, they had a son and daughter of their own.
After some years, his son died suddenly. Gampopa took his son’s body to the cemetery and did what had to be done according to custom of that area. When he returned home from the funeral, he found his daughter dead too. Not too long after the death of his daughter, his wife came down with many sicknesses. Gampopa, being a doctor himself, gave her all kinds of medicines, consulted other doctors and tried various pujas for her recovery, but none of them succeeded. As she grew worse and worse, they lost hope. Finally, Gampopa sat by her bed and read her a sutra in preparation for her death. But she didn’t die.
Gampopa wondered why she couldn’t die. What was keeping her from death? What was it that she could not give up in this life, a life with no hope, only the promise of continual pain and suffering? Feeling great compassion for his wife lying there so ill, Gampopa gently asked, “I have done whatever I could to heal you. I have tried many doctors, remedies and all types of prayers and rituals for your recovery, but all of them have failed. They have not been effective because of your own previous actions. The karmic forces and prayers of our former lives unite you and me. But now, although I have a great deal of affection and love for you, I must ask what is it that is actually keeping you here? Any wealth that we have in the house, any material possessions we have accumulated together, if they are holding you or if you have a great deal of attachment for any of them, I will give them all away. I’ll sell them or give them away to the monastery as an offering or will give them to the poor. I will get rid of anything that might be holding you back from dying. Whatever you wish me to do, I shall do.”
Chogmey replied, “I’m not attached to wealth or anything in the house. This is not what is holding me back. My great concern is for your future and, because of that, I cannot die. After my death, it will be easy for you to remarry and have many daughters and sons, more than we had together. I see, however, that this kind of life does not have any kind of meaning for you. That is why my concern is so great for you. If you promise me that instead of leading such a life, you will become a dedicated practitioner of the Dharma – which is the most effective and efficient way to achieve your own happiness and the happiness of all sentient beings, then I’ll be able to peacefully leave this life. Otherwise, I shall remain like this for a long time.”
“If this is the case,” said Gampopa, “then, by all means, I shall give you my word of honor that I shall become a dedicated practitioner of the Dharma and give up this way of life.”
Chogmey replied, “Although I trust you, in order to make me completely happy and assured of your pledge, please bring a witness.”
Gampopa asked his uncle to witness his vow. Standing before his beloved wife, with his uncle as witness, Gampopa made his pledge to dedicate his life to the Dharma. This made Chogmey very happy, and she said, “Even after my death, I will be looking after you.” So saying, she held his hand and, with many tears, passed away.
He prepared an elaborate funeral rite for his wife’s cremation. Out of the ashes, bones and clay, he made many votive tablets with the impressions of the statues of Enlightened Beings. The stupa he built in her honor, “The Stupa of Chogmey” (mChog-med mchod-rten), stands to this day in Tibet.
Now that Gampopa was left alone, he divided all his wealth into two equal parts. One part he sold and, with the money, made offerings to the Three Jewels and distributed alms to the poor and needy. He kept the second portion for the maintenance of his life and religious practices.
One day his uncle, who had been the witness when Gampopa gave his pledge to Chogmey, visited Gampopa, expecting him to be deep in mourning for his beloved wife. He came to give him advice, to tell him not to be worried, and to console him by explaining his situation in the light of the law of karma.
Gampopa replied that he was not at all worried. On the contrary, he was quite happy that she had died. The uncle became extremely angry at hearing this and, picking up a handful of dust, threw it in Gampopa’s face. “What do you mean?” he cried. “You could not have found a better wife, such a beautiful person!”
Surprised by the outburst, Gampopa questioned his uncle, “What sort of a witness are you? Weren’t you there when I pledged to follow Dharma practices? Weren’t you listening? At this, the uncle became very, very ashamed and said, “That is quite true. Although I’m an old man, I never remember to do Dharma practice, while you who are so young have such courage in following the spiritual path. I would be so happy if I could help you in any way.”
Becoming a Monk and Studying with Kadam Masters
One day, Gampopa packed a great store of food and clothing, deciding now to live in solitude. Without a word to either his relatives or friends, he left his hometown for the Penpo (‘Phan-po) region in search of a guru.
Soon afterwards, he met Shawa-lingpa (Sha-ba gling-pa), a compassionate teacher from the Kadam tradition and requested novice and full monk vows. He received the ordination name Sonam-rinchen (bSod-nams rin-chen). As a monk, he practiced intensively with a series of Kadampa Geshes, meditating and studying with these great masters. He often spent days without food or a drop of water, absorbed in the blissful mental and physical feeling of perfect concentration. Gampopa reached such a level of attainment of samadhi concentration that he was able to sit for seven days completely absorbed in meditation.
Thus, Gampopa already had a great deal of insight and confidence in his Dharma practice before he set out on his quest for his guru, Milarepa. He had mastered the complete Kadam teachings and had extraordinary dreams, such as that he was a tenth-level bodhisattva. He frequently dreamt that a blue yogi with a walking stick placed his right hand over his head and would sometimes spit at him. Thinking that this strange dream was an indication of a harmful spirit who was trying to cause him a great deal of interference and obstacles for his Dharma practice, he did an intense retreat on Achala (Mi-g.yo-ba), the Immovable One. Achala is a fierce-looking figure specially meditated on in the Kadam tradition to eliminate all obstacles to practice. After his retreat, however, the same dream came more often, stronger and more vivid that ever. Little did he know that this dream was a sign that he would soon be meeting his future teacher, the great yogi Milarepa.
The first time Gampopa heard the name of Milarepa he was circumambulating a stupa monument on the road and overheard a discussion among three beggars. One was complaining all the time about the current famine in the country and how he had not eaten for a long time. Another replied that they should be ashamed of themselves and not talk about food all the time, lest this bhikshu circumambulating the stupa should hear, which would be very embarrassing. “Besides,” he said, “we are not the only ones who do not have anything to eat. There is the great, renowned saint yogi, Milarepa, who never has any food at all and who just lives in the mountains dedicating himself completely to Dharma practice. He never complains about food. We all need to pray that we may develop the sincere wish to lead a life as simple as his.”
Upon hearing Milarepa’s name, Gampopa experienced great bliss and happiness. He reported this to his teacher, who said, “I have known all along that you had a close karmic relationship with such a meditation master. Go to him and all will be successful.”
That night, Gampopa could hardly sleep. Most of the night, he offered intense prayers and wishes that he might immediately meet the great yogi Milarepa. When he finally did doze, he had a very special dream in which he heard the sound of a white conch, the loudest on earth. He reported this as well to his teacher, who said, “This is an extremely auspicious sign. You should go to find Milarepa immediately.”
Gampopa ran to where the beggars were camping and asked them if they knew Milarepa personally and if they knew where he was staying, and, if so, could they lead him to this teacher. He told them he had sixteen ounces of gold dust and would give half of it to them and half he would keep as an offering to the great guru, when he met him. The oldest beggar said he knew Milarepa and agreed to guide Gampopa to Milarepa’s cave.
The old beggar was deceitful, and, on the way, admitted that he did not know the way to the cave. He claimed that he was not well, and could not guide Gampopa any further. They had arrived at a place where there were no houses, people or animals; it was completely deserted. The beggar left and Gampopa found himself all alone. He wandered on and on for many days, without food, until finally he met a group of merchants. Gampopa asked one of them if he knew where Milarepa could be found. The merchant replied that he knew Milarepa well and that Milarepa was a great meditator and a great yogi. He told Gampopa that he switched his abode often, moving from cave to cave, and town to town, but that nowadays he was staying in this particular town and this particular cave. The man pointed toward the cave, and gave the aspiring disciple clear directions to the great yogi. Overcome by joy, Gampopa hugged the merchant in gratitude and did not let go for a long while.
It was a journey of several days and, as he was traveling without any food, he finally fell unconscious to the ground. When he revived, he thought that he had no karma to meet this great yogi and that he was going to die now for sure. So, he put his hands together and, with deepest gratitude and respect, prayed very hard that he would be able to take rebirth as a human being and that he would be born as Milarepa’s disciple.
While Gampopa was lying on the ground, waiting for death, one of the Kadampa masters saw him. Seeing that Gampopa had fallen there on the hard ground, he came over to help. He asked, “What are you doing here?” Gampopa replied, “I’m looking for the great teacher Milarepa. I’ve been traveling for many days without food and water. Now I feel that I’m going to die, and I’m so sorry that I have no karma to see this guru.” The Kadampa master went and got some water and food and then guided Gampopa to the town where Milarepa was staying.
When he reached the town, he asked many people how to meet this guru and how to receive the specific types of teachings he was looking for. Finally, he met a person who was a great master and who was a disciple of the accomplished yogi. Gampopa told him that he had a strong desire to meet this guru and to receive his teachings. The master told him that he could not see the great yogi immediately. He said that he must wait a few days and be tested before he could actually receive teachings.
A few days before, Milarepa had had a meeting with his disciples, and he told them of the coming of Gampopa. He said that he was expecting the arrival of a bhikshu doctor who, after studying with him, would receive the complete teachings and spread them in all ten directions. Milarepa told them of a dream he had had the previous night, in which the bhikshu doctor brought him an empty glass vase. Milarepa filled the vase with water, signifying that he would come with a completely open and receptive mind to receive the teachings, and Milarepa would fill the vase of his mind with the nectar of his complete teachings and insights.
Milarepa then laughed with great joy and said, “Now I’m confident that the Buddha Dharma will shine like the sun in all directions.” He then sang to those gathered around him, “The milk of the white lion is no doubt nutritious, but a person who has not tasted it does not benefit from this nutrition. You must taste for yourself – even only a drop – and then you can appreciate the nutritious effects. The same is true with my teachings. First you must develop the experience of it, the taste of it, and then it will be so nutritious.”
“There is no question of the validity and profundity of the teachings that come from the lineage of Tilopa and Naropa. But if you don’t meditate on them, then you won’t understand their profundity. Only after meditating on them and developing genuine experience can you fathom their depths. My great fatherly guru, Marpa, has brought them from India and I, the yogi, have meditated on them. I have tested the validity of these teachings and have developed the experiences accordingly.”
“The milk of a white lion must have a special container. It cannot be put in any ordinary one. If it is put in a clay pot for instance, as soon as this milk touches the pot, the pot cracks. For these vast and profound teachings of this lineage, there must be a special kind of practitioner. I refuse to teach the tradition to anyone who comes to receive my teachings who is not ready for them. I will only teach it to persons who are completely developed and suitable, who are ready for this teaching and the practice of it.”
The disciples asked Milarepa, “When is this person who you have dreamt about coming?” Milarepa answered, “He will probably reach here the day after tomorrow. He has fainted and has called for my help. I used my miraculous powers to guide him here.”
The next day, while meditating, Milarepa periodically burst into peals of laughter. Alarmed by these outbursts, a faithful patroness came to him and demanded an explanation. “What is the cause of this? Sometimes you are so serious and sometimes laughing. You must explain this behavior because people might think that you have gone mad. What is going on? You cannot be mysterious about this!”
Milarepa answered, “I’m perfectly fine. My mental state is perfectly normal and I’m not being mysterious. I see something funny happening to a disciple of mine who is coming to see me. First he fainted and now he has aches and sores all over his body, but he is courageous and he is exerting a great deal of effort to come and see me. Seeing this makes me laugh. I’m happy and at the same time I think it’s very funny.”
“He will reach this town soon, and whoever invites him into his or her home first will attain enlightenment in a short time because of his blessings. The generous host or hostess will get a great deal of insight and powers to accomplish his or her goals with great speed.”
A few days later Gampopa arrived, very weak and sick. It happened that the first door he reached was the house of the patroness who had questioned Milarepa. She was on the lookout for him, and came out immediately. She asked the seeker who he was and what he wanted. Gampopa explained the details of his journey in search of Milarepa. The patroness immediately knew that this was the disciple Milarepa had told her about. She invited him in, and made many offerings to him, remembering Milarepa’s prediction.
The lady regaled Gampopa with tales of Milarepa’s predictions. She said, “Your lama has been waiting for you; he has explained about you to all of us. He said that you fainted and that he sent you miraculous assistance, and now he’s impatiently awaiting your arrival. You can go to see him immediately and you will have a warm reception.” At this Gampopa became inflated with the praises, and thought, “Oh, I must be a very great person, my teacher has been waiting for me.” Milarepa, seeing the pride that Gampopa had developed, would not even look at him for half a month. He intentionally neglected and ignored him, and Gampopa had to find another place to stay.
At the end of two weeks, the lady led Gampopa to Milarepa’s house and asked Milarepa if he would meet with Gampopa. Milarepa agreed. When Gampopa arrived, Milarepa was sitting in the center; Rechungpa was sitting to one side of him on the same level seat, and on the other side, also on the same level, was another disciple. They were all dressed exactly alike, completely in white. They looked exactly alike, and sat in the same posture. They each had exactly the same expression on their faces. Milarepa waited to see if Gampopa knew who he was. Clever Gampopa may have noticed Rechungpa’s subtle nod, indicating that Milarepa sat in the center of the trio. Gampopa made prostrations to Milarepa, took all his offerings and stacked them up before him. He spoke of his burning desire to meet the guru, receive the teachings and attain enlightenment.
Milarepa went into meditation for a few seconds, and then reached into the pile of gold dust that Gampopa had offered, picked some up and threw it in the air. “I offer this to my guru Marpa,” he declared. All at once, the air resounded with thunder, and lightning seared the skies. There appeared a great rainbow and many other auspicious signs.
Milarepa had been drinking some chang, a strong alcoholic brew. It sat in his skull cup on the table. After a while he picked up the skull cup with the liquor in it and gave it to Gampopa, who at first hesitated because he was a fully ordained monk, with a vow of abstinence. He was embarrassed, sitting there in the presence of all the other disciples. Milarepa said, “Do not have more second thoughts. Drink what I give to you.” And so without any more hesitation he drank it all.
Then Milarepa asked him his name, and he answered that it was Sonam-rinchen, the name his Kadampa master had given him. Milarepa thought that it was a very auspicious name: Sonam means “positive force,” and Rinchen means “the great jewel.” So he was the Great Jewel of Positive Force. Milarepa lovingly repeated a verse of praise with his name included in it three times. Gampopa felt that the name he had been given was very significant and meaningful
The Master Tells His Story
Milarepa then said, “First of all, I’ll tell you a bit about my life story. But before I do that, we will all make homage and prostrations to our great guru, Marpa, the source of the lineage of the tradition of practice that we all follow.” After they did their homage and prostrations, Milarepa told his story:
“In India, nowadays, the most famous mahasiddha actualized beings are Naropa and Maitripa. Marpa happens to be the great spiritual son of these two great and famous Indian mahasiddhas. And our great teacher Marpa is the holder and source of all these teachings we have been following so closely. The dakas, dakinis, and Dharma protectors make his fame known in all the directions. After hearing of Marpa’s superb reputation, no matter what difficulties I encountered, I was determined to find him. Upon meeting Marpa, I had no material offerings to make, but I made the offering of my body, speech and mind. In response to my sincere request, Marpa graciously admitted that he had effective methods for attaining enlightenment in one short lifetime, which had been transmitted to him by his great master, Naropa.”
“I spent several years there, receiving intensive teachings and practices from my master, living an unpretentious life, completely dedicated, purely motivated, filled with great courage and determination to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. I have received all of Marpa’s teachings in full. My master swore that there was nothing else that he could give me. I have filled the vase of my mind to the brim with the complete nectar of the teachings of my guru, Marpa.”
“This is what Marpa told me, it is very important advice, ‘It is now the time of the five degenerations, and especially at this time, the human life span is degenerating. It is on the decrease, not on the increase. Do not thirst for knowledge of everything. Try to understand the essence of the practice of the Dharma and try to perfect that essence. Only then will you be able to attain enlightenment in one short lifetime. Don’t try to master every field.’ “
“I, with extraordinary determination, in accordance with the teachings of my guru, Marpa, and a thorough understanding of impermanence, after harnessing the force of perseverance, have achieved and experienced many fruitful insights from these teachings. I have gained a clear recognition of the Three Kayas, the bodies of the Buddhas: a complete confidence and recognition of them through my experience, practice and meditation. I have faith in achieving these Three Kayas. And just as I have developed these insights and experiences from my practices, I am willing to give you all the teachings that I have received from my gracious guru, Marpa. You too need not take these teachings as a theory, as mere intellectual understanding of the Dharma. You must develop the actual experience of them just as I have.”
Then Milarepa said to Gampopa, “Take back your offering of gold dust, for an old man like me has no use for gold. And take back the tea that you offered – an old man like me has no pots and no kitchen to make tea in. I have no use for gold or tea; take back your entire offering. If you see yourself ready to fully entrust yourself to me, and live under my guidance and teachings, then you must live as I do. You must live a simple life and imitate my way of living and my way of practice.”
Gampopa replied, “If you do not accept my tea because you have no pots and no kitchen, then I’ll go somewhere else to make tea.” So Gampopa went to a nearby house, made the tea, and returned to his guru with his offering. Milarepa was very pleased. He called the other disciples and together they all enjoyed the delicious tea Gampopa had prepared.
Milarepa Teaches Gampopa
Milarepa inquired about the teachings and practices that Gampopa had received. Gampopa gave a complete description of all the teachers and teachings he had had, and the meditations that he had done. Milarepa remarked that all of them were excellent teachings, and that Gampopa had a complete foundation for the teaching on tummo (gtum-mo), the inner heat, a skillful method of realizing the true nature of reality as voidness.
Milarepa continued, “Although all the empowerments, teachings and blessings you have received from your previous masters are perfectly acceptable in my tradition, I must give you another initiation, just to make sure that all the others that you have received have not become invalid due to your life circumstances. I will initiate you into the practice of Vajrayogini.” Following the empowerment, Milarepa gave him all the teachings in a short period of time. Gampopa immediately immersed himself in the practices and quickly developed the experiences and insights of these teachings. Each day his insights grew and grew, just like a sprout coming out of the ground. He was fully satisfied and extremely happy with his progress.
He meditated on tummo, and each day he had a new experience. One extremely cold winter night, he was meditating completely naked in a cave to test the inner heat that he had developed. He remained warm throughout the night, but in the morning when he stopped doing the tummo practice, he froze completely. He did this meditation for a week and, at the end of the week, had visions of the five Dhyani Buddhas. When he went to his teacher to report all of his experiences and the visions, Milarepa said, “This is neither good nor bad. Make further effort to actualize it. Do not be attracted by such visions, perfect the power of the inner heat.”
Gampopa meditated intensively for three months, and at the end of this time he felt that the entire universe was spinning like a huge wheel. After feeling this for a long while, he went to Milarepa to ask his advice. His guru answered, “This is neither good nor bad. It’s a sign that the various thoughts and energies which go into the various subtle energy channels are now entering the central channel. You must make further effort and do more meditation.”
After doing more practice he had the vision that Avalokitesvara penetrated through the top of his head and dissolved and merged within him. When he asked Milarepa about this, his master said, “This is neither good nor bad. It’s an indication that your crown chakra energy-center is opening up.”
Doing the meditation, Gampopa underwent a series of internal physical changes. He felt a violent wind and a flow of hot air going up and down along his spine. When he reported this to Milarepa, he replied, “This is neither good nor bad. It’s an indication that the subtle energy channels are connecting to each other in the body. When you gain control of these subtle channels and they connect, then you experience these sensations. Now you must go back, and do more meditation.”
Another time he had a complete vision of all of the various states of the divine beings, the gods. He had a pure vision of the higher gods pouring white nectar over and initiating the gods of the lower states. Milarepa explained, “This is neither good nor bad. It’s an indication of the opening up of the chakra energy-center of the throat. The various sources and places of bliss are now developing in each of these positions of your body.”
At this point, Milarepa gave Gampopa many yogic exercises to do, mudra hand gestures and movements of the body to open up the other subtle energy-centers in the body. He told him, “Do not be too attracted to these things. Just take them as indications of your progress, but do not get distracted by them. Instead, just go along and perfect these practices.”
At this level of the meditation, it’s extremely important for the disciple to live in close contact with the guru, because the disciple must receive very specific guidance. If the disciple lives a long way away from the guru, then the guru cannot give the timely personal guidance that is crucial for the student to progress. And if the guru himself has no personal experience of what the student is going through, then this is a great problem. All the progress of the disciple is stopped at that time. Therefore, it is essential to have an extremely realized experienced guru, and to receive daily guidance for each step of meditational experience.
At this stage, Gampopa was able to depend for food completely on samadhi concentration, never on ordinary food. One night, Gampopa dreamt of an eclipse of the moon and an eclipse of the sun. In Tibetan astrology it is believed that when an eclipse occurs, the sun and moon are being eaten away by a demon. He also dreamt that there were two types of beings devouring the sun and moon: one, the size of a hair from the tail of a horse, and the other, appearing to be thin strips of insects. When Gampopa went to seek Milarepa’s advice on the dream, Milarepa told him not to worry that he might be on the false track, and that it was neither good nor bad. The dream was a sign of his progress in meditation. It meant that the subtle winds from the two side energy channels were now beginning to funnel into the central channel.
Milarepa further encouraged him to continue his practice, as he recognized that these were all indications of his disciple’s achievements. When a practitioner is able to funnel the breaths and subtle energy-winds from the side channels into the central channel, the person has advanced a great deal. The subtle energy system in all sentient beings is the same. Ordinarily, sentient beings breathe predominantly through the right channel and thus have great attachment, or they breathe principally through the left channel and consequently have a great deal of anger. We rarely develop constructive thoughts, which originate in the central channel, because the channel is blocked with knots. When experienced yogis are able to breathe through the central channel, they have untied the knots. They are able to direct the breath and subtle-energies from the two side channels into the central one, thereby generating only positive intentions.
After that when Gampopa visited Milarepa, Milarepa seemed to be very pleased. But all he would say to Gampopa after he heard of each new insight or experience was, “And now after that (de-nas), now after that, now after that,” meaning that as the experiences unfolded, Gampopa must go on to the next one until he reached enlightenment. Milarepa did not dare to tell him directly of his progress, fearing that Gampopa might become prideful, which would impede his further progress on the path.
Gampopa then went to meditate in a cave for a month. At the end of his retreat, he had a complete vision of Hevajra together with the mandala and the retinue of the Hevajra Buddha-figure. As soon as he saw this, he thought that this is what the Lama meant when he said, “now after that, now after that, now after that.” This was what his practice was leading to in the end. But, the vision was followed over time with other visions of mandalas and other Buddha-figures. One day he had a vision of a form of Heruka that included the complete bone-built mandala of the deity. Milarepa cautioned him not to feel that this was a great achievement, saying that this is neither good nor bad. It’s only an indication of the opening up of the chakra center at the navel. When you fully open the navel chakra, you see everything as white, as white as bones bleached by the sun, because the energy of the white bodhichitta energy has developed fully.
He then had an experience that was not exactly a dream. He felt that he became huge, a giant. He felt that all types of sentient beings from the various states of rebirth were crawling on his limbs, his toes, and all over various parts of his body. This was an indication that he had developed a completely actualized subtle energy system. Up to that stage, he had been doing only the general meditation on tummo, the inner heat meditation. Now, he could be given instructions on the most advanced level of tummo practice.
Experiences, Dreams, and Accomplishments
It is to be noted that whenever Milarepa heard reports on the various stages of experiences of Gampopa, he always said, “It is neither good nor bad. Meditate more.” He fully explained to his disciple what his experiences meant, but never praised him. And that is how it needs to be, how a guru needs to direct his disciples. If a guru praises too much and gives too much encouragement saying things like, “This is extremely important,” or “Now you have had a great experience,” the disciple will get carried away, which will be a great obstacle. He will not improve and will become attached to his various experiences and be overcome by them.
Although his life story has been described in a few pages, Gampopa had to meditate months and months; it was not so easy to develop these experiences, it takes years of intensive meditation. At this stage, Gampopa had thirty-three special dreams successively, but as it is too much to mention each of them, only the last one of them will be detailed.
When Milarepa asked his three chief disciples, Gampopa, Rechungpa and Lingrepa (Gling ras-pa) to report their dreams to him, Lingrepa reported his dream of a sunrise. He told his guru that in the dream, as soon as the sun rose from the top of the mountain, the rays concentrated on his heart and his heart became transformed into great light. Rechungpa told Milarepa that he dreamt that he crossed three towns making a great deal of noise.
Gampopa would not tell his dream to Milarepa. He just made prostrations and cried and put his head in the lama’s lap. He mourned that it was not worthwhile to tell his dream. It was such a terrible one, that it must mean that he was an extremely awful person. He was afraid that it meant he had a great deal of obstacles and pleaded with Milarepa not to make him tell it. Milarepa told Gampopa that he knew when a dream was good or bad, and to just tell him the dream.
Lingrepa’s dream, which appeared to be the best of all, made Lingrepa think he was the greatest of the three disciples, because his dream seemed full of auspicious signs. Milarepa interpreted this dream as the worst. He said it indicated that Lingrepa’s compassion was very small and that his benefit to sentient beings would be extremely limited. The rays of sun concentrating on his heart meant that he would go to the dakini Vajrayogini’s Buddha-field in this lifetime. He interpreted Rechungpa’s dream to mean that he could not attain enlightenment in one lifetime. He had to wait three more lifetimes because he had broken his promise to do something for Milarepa three times.
What seemed to be a nightmare to Gampopa was that he was in an open field with many animals, and he was going around and chopping off their heads. Gampopa was surprised when Milarepa was pleased with this apparently terrible dream. After he finished telling his master his dream, Milarepa said, “Give me your hand,” and he held it fondly. He said that he had great faith in Gampopa, and that he had lived up to his expectations. He told them that chopping off the animals’ heads meant that Gampopa would be able to liberate many sentient beings from their bondage in samsara.
Milarepa said, “Now my work for the benefit of sentient beings, my work for the preservation and propagation of the Dharma, has been completed. I have someone else who can take my place.”
Gampopa had reached the stage where he did not breathe like ordinary sentient beings any more, he inhaled and exhaled only once a day. He was experiencing a stream of continuous insights and visions of Buddhas in their true forms, including the Eight Medicine Buddhas, and the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas.
Milarepa told his student that he was now ready to receive teachings from a Sambhogakaya – one of Buddha’s body of subtle forms that only arya bodhisattvas, those with nonconceptual perception of voidness, can see. Soon, he would be able to experience a Dharmakaya – the body of an omniscient mind, which is only accessible to the enlightened.
A Parting of Ways
One day Milarepa said to Gampopa, “I am very old and would like to spend the rest of my life with you. But, because of the force of some previous prayers, we must be separated and you must go to the central province of U (dBus).”
Milarepa gave Gampopa a great deal of advice, warning him about pride, specifically because he had so many miraculous powers. He told him not to be overwhelmed by his knowledge of the past and future or by his extraordinary physical powers; these could become great obstacles for him. He especially advised him not to seek faults to his right or left, meaning that he should be careful not to seek out the faults of those around him. He taught him that one never knows what other people are truly like, that only they can judge themselves. There was no way that Gampopa could accurately judge them, whether their actions were for good or ill.
Milarepa then told Gampopa to go to a certain place and to establish a monastery there, explaining that there he would find all his disciples, all the people to whom he was karmically connected for furthering the Buddha Dharma. He cautioned Gampopa not to live in close contact with those who were enslaved by the three emotional poisons – attachment, anger, and closed-minded naivety – because they would infect him. He warned him also not to live around people who have a great deal of attraction and repulsion. He added that he should avoid misers, explaining that if he lived long enough with them, he would end up saving even small pieces of wood. He counseled Gampopa to have a great deal of patience and never disregard his lamas, even if he saw himself as enlightened. He was to stay clean, neat and amiable with all people. Finally, Milarepa told Gampopa to increase all the forces of his attainments by continuing to do his meditation and practices until he attained the final goal, enlightenment.
Milarepa saw Gampopa off in the same way as his guru, Marpa, had done. He made many preparations and brought food, and with his other disciples went some distance with him. Before departing from his guru, Gampopa recited many verses of praise, acknowledging his good fortune to have met Milarepa in this lifetime. He sang of how it had been his sole desire to meet him and how grateful he was not only to have been able to study according to Milarepa’s tradition, but that he had had the good karma to combine this knowledge with the teachings he had received from his Kadampa masters. Gampopa felt assured that he had made full use of his precious human life.
One Last Bridge to Cross
They came to a bridge and Milarepa said; “Now you go by yourself. Take your leave of me. For auspicious reasons I will not cross the bridge.” Then he blessed Gampopa who crossed over. When he had crossed the bridge, Milarepa called him back. “Come back once more, I have a very special teaching to give you. If I do not give you this advice, to whom shall I give it?”
Gampopa asked, “Should I offer a mandala to you for this special teaching and advice?” Milarepa said an offering was not necessary. He cautioned him not to waste the advice, but to put it in the deepest recesses of his heart. Then Milarepa turned his back on Gampopa, lifted up his robe, and showed him his bare bottom. Gampopa saw that Milarepa’s bottom was all calloused, just like hardened leather.
Milarepa said, “For practice there is nothing greater that meditation – provided you know what to meditate on and how to meditate on it. I, who have gained knowledge and understanding of many different meditation methods, meditated until my bottom became as hard as leather. You need to do the same. This is your last teaching.”
He then told Gampopa that it was time for him to leave. The disciple left his master, and went to the south of Lhasa, where he established his monastery according to Milarepa’s prophesy.
The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is the result of the experiences Gampopa developed from the teachings and meditations of Kadampa masters and Milarepa’s tradition. When he wrote this text, he was a realized being according to both traditions, and he combined the wisdom of the two schools in the text.
Actually, there is no difference between us and Gampopa and Milarepa. Milarepa was at first an ordinary person, filled with the negative force of all his harmful destructive deeds. But he worked hard to eliminate his disturbing emotions and delusions, and gradually developed insights and experiences. The same is true for Gampopa; he had to work very hard to reach his spiritual attainments. When they started out, they were not great enlightened beings, and it was not easy for them to meditate and develop wisdom and accomplishments. In the case of Milarepa, he was even worse than most of us, proving that there is always the possibility of attainment if we are willing to work hard. When we develop the perseverance and courage of the great masters, then we ourselves can be like Milarepa and Gampopa.
The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is the product of one such great master, who, for our benefit, combined the two streams of the Kadampa and mahamudra traditions into one clear path.
From an oral translation by Lobsang Gyeltsen, edited by Samaya Hart and Alexander Berzin.