Sashin's notes

Do you really have to do the things you think you have to do?

About the Author

Note: I once heard this story narrated on a YouTube video. I have seen heard and seen more renditions of this story and know the details following as incomplete and inaccurate. I will write up a better rendition of this story later...

...although if you're really curious, watch this series.

Jetsun Milarepa is an extremely well-known figure in the Kagyu school of Vajrayana Buddhism[1]. He is considered a lineage holder, and his story is known to Vajrayana Buddhists and spiritual practitioners across the world.

A murderer in his youth, he sought release from the suffering caused by his guilt. He chose the contemplative path and decided to learn meditation. Deep in his heart however he felt pride and arrogance in having gotten away with his misdeeds. His pleasant demeanor fooled most people he encountered by not Marpa[2], his teacher.

As the story famously goes, Marpa was extremely strict with Milarepa. He asked him to tend to all his household chores and take care of his children. He said he would not teach him a single meditation instruction until he felt he was ready. In contrast Marpa treated all his other students with respect and visible kindness. Marpa's wife and people around him became concerned as his apparent mistreatment of young Milarepa, but he essentially told them to shut up and that he knew what he was doing.

One of his tasks was to get Milarepa to gather heavy stones from all around and build the perfect hut. The student would spend hours doing back breaking labour from morning until night, day after day on this task. When he was ready and pleased with his work, he went to show his master. Marpa wasn't happy, he ordered his student to pull apart the hut, take all the stones back to where they came from and start from the beginning.

He was crushed, but didn't know what he could do about it. So he started again, resolved to finish again as quickly as possible. Unfortunately Marpa asked him to also complete all his other chores full time while doing this.

He finally finished the hut again. Marpa inspected it. With his eagle eyes he was able to spot one small detail he didn't like and thus ordered Milarepa to build the hut from scratch. Of course, he also had to take all his building materials back to where he found them beforehand.

This happened time and again. Milarepa would build a new hut paying as much attention to detail as he could, but Marpa's eagle eyes would always spot something wrong[3].

Over time Milarepa's ego depleted more and more. His pride vanished. He used to think he was a genius but he was starting to view himself as a failure.

One day he had lost all of his hope, he came to believe that there was no way out of his suffering except death. He was a failure and would never have what it takes to receive meditation instructions. He found a rope in the house, and went off to hang himself.

On his way, Marpa encountered him and ordered him to stop.

"Now you are ready for the highest meditation instructions"

  1. Buddhism as it is practiced in Tibet generally falls under the category of Vajrayana Buddhism. The word "vajra" translates to thunderbolt or diamond, "yana" translates to vehicle. Vajrayana can be interpreted as "the vehicle to enlightenment as swift as a thunderbolt or as unshakeable as a diamond". ↩︎

  2. Marpa the Translator is another very famous figure in the Kagyu lineage with his own story of how he had attained realisation. He was a Tibetan man that had travelled to India and met with various realised masters and received instruction from them. In the lineage, he is the first Tibetan. ↩︎

  3. I view this as metaphor for the way many of us view life. No matter how well things seem to be going, our eagle eyes can always seem to find something to complain about... ↩︎