(a Tibetan legend)
Long ago a boy was born in western Tibet to a wealthy family that named him Mila Thopaga, “a joy to hear.” When he was still very young, his father died, and his greedy aunt and uncle stole the family’s money and forced the boy and his mother to become their servants.
Young as he was, Mila Thopaga vowed he would take revenge, and when he was still small, he left home to work as an apprentice to a powerful sorcerer. From the sorcerer he learned the black arts, and years passed as he waited for his chance.
At last the day came. His aunt and uncle were celebrating their son’s marriage, and Mila summoned a storm. Hail descended on the land and destroyed the aunt and uncle’s homes. The storm was so fierce, many of the celebrants died.
The villagers were furious and set off to bring harm to Mila, but his mother warned him in time, and the young sorcerer sent another hailstorm that stopped them. This time the storm destroyed everything in the village. Mila fled into the mountains.
In the silent mountains, all alone, he began to regret the death and damage he had caused, and he decided from that day on he would practice kindness and innocence. In just one month, he learned to control his breathing and decided he must find a guru, someone to teach him all he needed to know to be good.
He found a guru called Marpa, a taskmaster. Marpa gave the young man the task of building a tall stone tower. Mila went to work at once, building the tower stone by stone until it had risen high. When he showed his creation to Marpa, the guru said, “Good. Now tear it down and put each stone back in its original place.”
Mila was devoted to his teacher, so he tore down the tower, and one by one he returned each stone to its place.
When he was finished, Marpa said, “Good. Now build another tower.”
Mila set to work. After years of sweat and labor, he showed the tower to his guru.
“Good,” Marpa said. “Now tear it down again and return the stones to their original places.”
Mila tore down that tower and placed each stone back where he had found it. When he was done, Marpa said, “Now build another tower.”
For 12 years Mila followed his teacher’s commands. The task was agonizing, and some days he thought he would give up. However, he persevered, and at long last, when he had finished the last tower, Marpa nodded.
“You have done the job,” he said. And he sent Mila to live in the desolate caves in the southwestern part of the country. “There you will do a lifelong retreat,” Marpa said. “And your name shall be Milarepa, cotton clad one.”
Milarepa went to live in the caves of Red Rock Jewel Valley. He lived on nettle tea and his skin began to turn green, but there in the cave he wrote songs and poems, reaching higher and higher in his hopes to become enlightened.
One day, after he had lived there for many years, he woke up hungry and decided he would build a fire and cook himself some soup. He set off to gather sticks to build the fire.
While he was searching for firewood, a storm rose up and fierce winds blew the firewood away as quickly as he could gather it. The wind threatened to tear off his robe, and growing frustrated, he muttered under his breath, “Let the wind blow everything away.” As he said these words, he collapsed, and when at last he woke, the storm was gone, and his robe fluttered in the trees above him.
He went on with his work, and once he had collected enough firewood, he returned to the cave, but to his dismay, he discovered that in his absence the demons had moved in. They were horrifying creatures, with eyes as round and big as saucers and blazing with fire. Milarepa was speechless at the sight.
At last he gathered himself and said, “Greetings, please go away. I live here.”
The demons poured out of the cave and grew fiercer. They surrounded him, growling and laughing angrily, their eyes blazing with fury.
Milarepa tried to recite prayers of exorcism, but as he did, the demons grew larger and more terrifying. With each prayer, their eyes grew and their cries became more shrill. Milarepa closed his eyes and said his prayers, but their screams deafened him.
In despair, he thought of his teacher. He remembered that his teacher had conquered the snow lioness, Maras, and also the golden Garuda, the most terrifying of birds. He remembered his lessons. The demons were no different from Milarepa himself; they were radiant products of the mind.
He began to sing: “I am the master of my mind. I am the son of Marpa. I am not afraid.”
He walked into the cave and began to build a fire. “Come, demons,” he said, “I welcome you to be with me.”
With these words he pacified the demons, who began to listen.
“It is my pleasure to receive you here. Do not leave,” he said, and so the demons were enriched by Milarepa’s offers.
“We shall talk and play together,” he continued. In this way he affirmed their power.
“And we shall pit your spirits against mine and see who plays best.”
And with those words the demons began to tremble, and Milarepa felt his own confidence rising. As he grew stronger, the demons began to shrink, and before long they had disappeared.
Milarepa said a prayer of thanks to his guru for protection and teaching.