One day, Milarepa was staying in a cave, alone. Two visitors arrived and began to question him.
“Are you all alone?” “Aren’t you lonely?”
“I have always lived with someone. Never alone,” he replied.
“But who?” asked the younger one.
“With my bodhichitta.”
“Where is he?”
“In the house of my consciousness.”
“What kind of house is that?” the older guest enquired.
“It is my own body.”
The man thought Milarepa was mocking. He said to his young companion, “Let us leave, this is a waste of our time – he’s just being sarcastic.” The young man answered, “No, maybe we can learn something here.” He turned again to Milarepa.
“Would you say the consciousness is the mind and the body the house?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I mean,” Milarepa replied.
“In an ordinary house, many can stay – but how many different minds can stay in a body?”
“Generally, only one mind. But tonight, look for more in your own body in your meditation,” said Milarepa. The visitors agreed, and departed for home. The younger of the two meditated that night and ran back early the next day to see Milarepa.
“Oh guru! Last night I meditated and, as you say, it is one mind. But there is something strange about it… I cannot describe the shape, or color, or anything of this mind. If I run after it, I cannot catch it. If I want to kill it, it will not die. The faster I run, the faster it runs. It is impossible to find. When I imagine I have caught it, I cannot step on it. If I attempt to keep it in one place, it does not stay. If I let go, it will not move. If I try to gather it together, it will not collect. If I try to see its nature, it refuses to be seen. So, I am confused about what it is. I do not know its nature, but I cannot deny it is there. Please, give me an introduction to mind.”
“Do not expect me to taste sugar for you!” Milarepa said. “The taste of brown sugar cannot be seen by eyes, nor heard by ears. You must meditate and find it for yourself. Remember, the mind is not as someone describes it. These are just superficial clues. The mind can never be described. With clues received from others, just observe it for yourself. It can be seen only by your own awareness.” The young man requested more teachings.
“That is useless,” Milarepa said. “Go home, and come back tomorrow and report the color and shape of your mind, and whether it resides in your head or in the tip of your toes.” The following dawn the young man came back again.
“Have you examined your mind?” Milarepa asked.
“Yes, I have.” The youth reflected, thoughtfully. “Mind is a moving thing – its nature is movement. Its basic entity is a very clear and transparent one. Mind cannot be described by any color or shape – recognition of mind by means of color or shape is impossible. By using sensory doors, such as eyes, the mind sees forms. Through sensory doors, such as ears, the mind hears sounds. By means of sensory doors, such as nose, the mind smells odors. With the tongue, the mind tastes. Using the legs, the mind walks. It is the mind that stirs up everything. The mind that gossips. The mind that causes disagreements. The mind that brings about results.”
“You have been able to observe the conventional aspect of the mind,” Milarepa told him. “Through this conventional mind, we accumulate negative potential and thus we wander through samsara. You have sufficiently understood the conventional mind. Now, with this realization, if you wish me to lead you to the City of Liberation, then I will.”
So the disciple accepted Milarepa as his guru. Many days later, Milarepa asked him his name. His name was Upasaka Sanggyay-kyab, just sixteen years old. Then Milarepa gave his new disciple his first teaching on safe direction (refuge).
“From tonight onward, never break your close bond of taking safe direction from the Three Precious Gems. Tonight, meditate on observing whether it is the mind that protects and is helpful to you, or whether it is the body.” The next day, the disciple reported that it did not seem to be the body.
Milarepa was skilfully guiding him into meditation on voidness and identitylessness, but without ever mentioning voidness, or making a big thing out of it. To tell his disciple, only after doing this meditation and gaining experience, that this was voidness, and not beforehand, is an effective method. By being asked whether it is the body or the mind that protects, a person is compelled to examine deeply. Someone can feel well physically, but mentally they can be confused and upset. It is the mind that gives protection in this and future lives.
These, then, are the different ways in which Milarepa taught and led people, through meditation on identitylessness, to the true nature of the mind.