The Great Yogi Milarepa

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #350)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at the Twelfth Kopan Course held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 1979.

This teaching is an excerpt from Lecture 24 of the course. Lightly edited by Sandra Smith.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1974. Photo: Wendy Finster.

If we wish to achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime like the great yogis, from our own side it can be achieved, unless we are not following the path, not making an attempt to generate the three principal paths and the gradual path of tantra. If we follow these paths, there is no reason why we cannot achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime.

The great yogi Milarepa practiced the path by living in a dried cave, in an empty, bare cave. If we saw Milarepa’s holy body as it appeared at that time, if we were able to see it now, it is something that we couldn’t believe, we couldn’t imagine. We couldn’t believe that it is the great yogi, Milarepa. His holy body was very skinny, not like our body, which is very healthy, very fat, very shiny. His holy body was not like that. The color of his holy body was kind of blue and he was very thin. If we saw him, we might think he could fall down very easily or he could be blown by the wind very easily. His holy body is not like our body. The great yogi, Milarepa, didn’t have hundreds of clothes in his cupboard, to change into every day. He didn’t have hundreds of shoes to wear in different seasons, in the rain or the sun, and there was no way for him to change into different shoes.

The great yogi Milarepa didn’t have in his cave the various foods that we have. We have breakfast in the morning after the sun has risen, what we call breakfast. Then around twelve we have what is called lunch and in the evening time, around six or eight o’clock we have what we call dinner. Then there are so many tea breaks in between. There are so many teas and coffees, then many biscuits, many chocolates, again many other pieces in between those times. We have bread or subje or cornflakes for the breakfast. There are many different choices of food to have even for breakfast.

For the great yogi, Milarepa, what he called breakfast was nettles. If it was lunch, whether it was called lunch or not, it was only nettles. Whatever it was called, dinner or not, it was only nettles. Then even though it was called sugar, it was nettles, cheese was also nettles, salt was also nettles. There were only nettles; there was no other thing, no other ingredient to make it tasty, to give it flavor, there were only nettles.

As you can remember from the story, some thieves came. I think they might have come in the day time, but actually they came to steal things from Milarepa’s cave at night time. So then Milarepa told them, “How can you find anything at night time? I cannot find anything even in the day time.” He told the thieves that, as if he was actually giving a teaching to the thieves. He told the thieves that.

There was a kitchen or dining room or sitting room, whatever it is called. Although Milarepa lived there for many years, it was still a bare cave, with what is called a kitchen, an ordinary room or a bedroom, or whatever it is called. He didn’t have electricity in the cave and he didn’t have a car outside. However, he had clothes—a robe and a scarf—and he had one clay pot, which he used to cook nettles. Even that pot broke one day, but because it was never washed, the residue of nettles became very thick inside. Even though the clay pot was broken, the inside was left there in the shape of the pot.

However, he lived in the bare cave, where there was no mattress and no carpets. He was living like that, with one scarf, and his only food was nettles. He practiced the path, though his holy body was very thin. However, the great yogi Milarepa, by following the path with much hardship, received enlightenment a long time ago.

We have many hundreds of clothes and even the bed where we sleep has springs, so if we press down it comes up, it is so soft. There is nothing to hurt the body. Even in one day, we have many varieties of food and enjoyments like this. We have many varieties of food, we have many different rooms and we have a luxurious life, with things like that.

However, even though we have so many material possessions, our body is healthy and we have a very luxurious life, we have still not reached enlightenment; we are still left in samsara. Those great yogis like Milarepa, those great pandits who didn’t have a luxurious life like this, reached enlightenment ages ago by following the path, with much hardship. Our living conditions, the means of living are better and we are that much more rich, we are incredibly richer than these great yogis, therefore, there is no reason why we can’t achieve enlightenment by following the path, as they did.

It is only the teachings of lam-rim, the teachings of the Vajrayana, the whole teachings, which show the complete path from the beginning to enlightenment. The teachings have not degenerated yet, they are existing in the holy minds of the holy beings, the high lamas. The teachings have not degenerated; they still exist in experience, they have not degenerated now. If they have degenerated, then it is not possible to reach enlightenment, to quickly reach enlightenment by practicing the Vajrayana path. So the whole teachings, the teachings of the complete path are existing. Therefore, there is the opportunity, by listening, understanding and meditating on those teachings, to receive enlightenment quickly.

If there are no virtuous teachers who show the complete path from the beginning up to the end, then of course there is no opportunity to receive enlightenment in one brief lifetime. Now, at this time there are perfectly qualified virtuous teachers, great lamas, who are able to explain the complete profound teachings on the Secret Mantra. They are existing now. The whole method is existing now and there are virtuous teachers who are able to reveal the method, to show the method to achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime.