The Masters, Tibetan Texts

Milarepa’s Song of Transiency and Delusion

“When I look back at my clinging mind,
It appears like a short-lived sparrow in the woods –
Homeless, and with nowhere to sleep;”

– Milarepa


Milarepa was a Tibetan master who lived just under a thousand years ago and who is known for his dramatic transformation from a practitioner of the Dark Arts into a student of the esteemed teacher Marpa. In his youth, Milarepa murdered his aunt and uncle but later realized a great remorse for what he had done and took up practice of the dharma. He has become a much-loved figure in the Tibetan tradition, renowned for his songs, hundreds of pieces of poetry that expound the teaching of the Buddha and his own dharmic worldview. The Song of Transiency and Delusion allegedly came about in relation to one of Milarepa’s own disciples, Rechungpa. Rechungpa had just come back from India where he had developed a little pride in himself, something Milarepa sought to release him from. The two had been out begging for food one day, and were nastily rebuffed by a woman, whom they found dead the next day. Milarepa took the opportunity to educate Rechungpa in the core principles of impermanence and the mirage of being.


The Song of Transiency and Delusion

When the transience of life strikes deeply into one’s heart
One’s thoughts and deeds will naturally accord with Dharma.
If repeatedly and continuously one thinks about death,
One can easily conquer the demons of laziness.
No one knows when death will descend upon him –
Just as this woman last night!

Rechungpa, do not be harsh, and listen to your Guru!
Behold, all manifestations in the outer world
Are ephemeral like a dream last night!
One feels utterly lost in sadness
When one thinks of this passing dream.
Rechungpa, have you completely wakened
From this great puzzlement? Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I aspire to Buddha and the Dharma.

The pleasure-yearning human body is an ungrateful creditor.
Whatever good you do to it,
It always plants the seeds of pain.

This human body is a bag of filth and dirt;
Never be proud of it, Rechungpa,
But listen to my song!

When I look back at my body,
I see it as a mirage-city;
Though I may sustain it for a while,
It is doomed to extinction.
When I think of this,
My heart is filled with grief!
Rechungpa, would you not cut off Samsara?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I think of Buddha and the Dharma!

A vicious person can never attain happiness.
Errant thoughts are the cause of all regrets,
Bad dispositions are the cause of all miseries,
Never be voracious, oh Rechungpa,
But listen to my song!

When I look back at my clinging mind,
It appears like a short-lived sparrow in the woods –
Homeless, and with nowhere to sleep;
When I think of this, my heart is filled with grief.
Rechungpa, will you let yourself indulge in ill-will?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I aspire to Buddha and the Dharma!

Human life is as precarious
As a single slim hair of a horse’s tail
Hanging on the verge of breaking;
It may be snuffed out at anytime
Like this old woman was last night!
Do not cling to this life, Rechungpa,
But listen to my song!

When I observe inwardly my breathings
I see they are transient, like the fog;
They may vanish any moment into nought.
When I think of this, my heart is filled with grief.
Rechungpa, do you not want to conquer
That insecurity now?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I aspire to Buddha and the Dharma.

To be close to wicked kinsmen only causes hatred.
The case of this old woman is a very good lesson.
Rechungpa, stop your wishful-thinking
And listen to my song!

When I look at friends and consorts
They appear as passers-by in the bazaar;
Meeting with them is only temporary,
But separation is forever!
When I think of this, my heart is filled with grief.
Rechungpa, do you not want to cast aside
All worldly associations?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I think of Buddha and the Dharma.

A rich man seldom enjoys
The wealth that he has earned;
This is the mockery of Karma and Samsara,
Money and jewels gained through stinginess and toil
Are like this old woman’s bag of food.
Do not be covetous, Rechungpa,
But listen to my song!

When I look at the fortunes of the rich,
They appear to me like honey to the bees –
Hard work, serving only for others’ enjoyment,
Is the fruit of their labour.
When I think of this, my heart is filled with grief.
Rechungpa, do you not want to open
The treasury within your mind?
Oh, the more I think of this,
The more I aspire to Buddha and His Teachings.

Milarepa (1040-1123)
Translated by Garma C.C. Chang

From: Sixty Songs of Milarepa

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