Milarepa Songs of Nonattachment

Milarepa had a sister, who insisted he find a wife and have a home and children, but instead Milarepa left home and met his teacher, Marpa. When his sister learned that Marpa was married with a home and family, she pressed her case with Milarepa.

“Why don’t you do as your teacher does?” she demanded.

“If a fox barks where a lion roars, that is a mistake.”

Milarepa later visited the home of a couple that, despite all their efforts, were unable to have children. They wanted to adopt Milarepa, but he refused. “There is no possibility for me to stay with you as your adopted son. But tell me, what is troubling you?” The couple complained that they would have no one to take care of them in their old age.

Milarepa considered, then replied:

“When a boy and girl first meet, they are as beautiful to each other as gods, and have an insatiable desire to gaze on each other’s faces. Then, after they’ve known each other for a time, they start to give each other dirty looks. Soon enough, if one says two words, the other will say three words back. Then, eventually they start fighting. If one touches the other’s hair, the other will grab that one’s neck. Then one threatens to swat the other with a stick, and the other picks up a wooden spoon to smack back.

“My student, Rechungpa, had a similar experience. Rechungpa left his teacher and renounced his vows to marry a very dominating wife. One day, he came across a beggar in the street who pleaded with him for his turquoise necklace. Rechungpa gave it to him, but when he got home, his wife asked what had happened to the turquoise. When Rechungpa told her, she got so angry that she clobbered him with the ladle from the tugpa noodle soup. Rechungpa grumbled, ‘I have received many initiations in my life, but never before the initiation of the ladle. And I’ve worn many ornaments, but never a tugpa noodle soup!’

“Some time after that, I gave an initiation to which Rechungpa came. I waved a string of turquoise and said, ‘If you want to receive the initiation, you must give this,’ knowing full well that Rechungpa had already given his turquoise away! You see, couples fight between themselves. When they get old and lose their teeth, they look like bulls and cows. Eventually, they look like demons and ghosts! So, no thank you, I will not accept your offer to adopt me.”

The husband persisted, still insisting that he had to have a son to look after him and his wife, and give them security. “If you will be our son, we will prepare a marriage for you, and you can have your children look after you.” But Milarepa declined.

“It’s so nice to have children. When you first have children they are so beautiful – like the children of gods! And they bring so much happiness! But slowly, as they get older, they demand everything from you. They act as if you had borrowed from them, constantly pestering and reminding you to pay them back. Eventually sons will bring outsiders, friends, girl friends, into the home for their parents to feed. Then, they will take charge of the house and slowly kick the parents out of their own home.

“If you ask them something nicely, they will snap back at you. They will belittle you when you’re old and become ashamed of you – even of their own mother. Then they change completely from the way they were before – sweet little princes. They will never bring you peace of mind, never repay your kindness. They will always do the opposite of what you want them to do – scruffy hair, weird clothes, funny shoes.”

“If a son gives that much trouble, we would like a daughter,” the wife suggested, not yet ready to give up.

“At first,” Milarepa patiently answered, “a daughter is just like a little boy, very well-behaved and obedient. But they, too, eventually become powerful and possessive – they have limitless wants and demands. Instead of bringing wealth into the house, they ask for as much money as you can give them to spend. They cajole their father, and steal from their mother, taking without asking. They never have any gratitude – taking for granted that it is their parents’ duty to give them whatever they want.

“They cause their parents endless mental frustration and worry, going out with the wrong boys, coming home late…. Their way of repaying their parents’ kindness is pulling nasty faces at them, like an angry yeti. Then, they will leave to make another home, and take as much from their parents’ home as they possibly can. They will only come back home to visit if they are in trouble.

“Thus,” Milarepa said, “I have abandoned all this unnecessary suffering permanently. I do not want any daughters or sons.”

The couple continued, yet unconvinced. “What about having friends? It is so sad and pathetic not to have anyone you are close to – relative or friend!”

“They’re the same! When you first meet them they’re all smiles, so pleasant, they make you feel so happy. Then they pour out tales and talk and news, they invite you here and there, and you never have a moment to yourself. Then you have to go back home to visit all their relatives – they pour out all their news to you, and you have no peace at all. After that, you exchange gifts and food, you prepare meals for each other. Eventually you start to compete with each other. Each needs to know what the other has been doing, they become jealous, and rivalries spring up.

“If you have never been close to anyone, there are no disagreements. But when you make friends, you’re bound to have arguments. When people gossip, they gossip about the people closest to them. If you live close to someone, you’ll always find fault. Those who are not friends will leave you alone, but friends who come to visit you will then go and gossip about faults they find in you. I don’t want such friends and relatives who want to take advantage of my happy moments and don’t want to share my unhappy moments,” Milarepa said.

Undeterred, the husband and wife made their final bid. “We understand, you do not want friends, children or family. But we have great wealth. If you stay with us, you can inherit it when we die.”

Milarepa shook his head. “This, too, is useless. I will not sacrifice my goal to attain enlightenment for all sentient beings for the wealth you offer.

“Wealth is not permanent or lasting. Desire for wealth is like drinking salt water – you never have enough. The more you have, the more you want. Wealth, when first you accumulate it, gives you joy and makes others jealous. Later, the more wealth you have, the more stingy, the more reluctant to share it you become. It is your own accumulation of wealth that attracts enemies. Family and friends will flock to you to get something out of you, and still become your enemies because they are so jealous of you.

“Finally, when you get old, others end up consuming what you have accumulated. People have been murdered for their wealth at the hands of thieves. Your wealth can kill you. Accumulation of wealth is like a stepping-stone to lower rebirths. So no thank you, I must refuse the generous offer of your wealth. It is a lure, like the play of demons. But our meeting has been beneficial, and in the future I will certainly help you reach a Buddha-field. I will pray for you, since you offered me so much.”

So, in the end, the couple became convinced of the disadvantages of all these things. They became devoted to Milarepa, using their wealth for offerings. They received teachings from him, and ultimately attained a state of confidence and insight before they died.

These are the teachings, then, that Milarepa gave on nonattachment to children, friends, relatives and wealth; and living comfortably with the Dharma.