Tag Archives: Greed

Milarepa: Movie Review

I had the honour of opening the Ottawa Tibet Film Festival on March 21, at St Paul’s University in Ottawa, with a talk about the Milarepa film. Shot in the stunning Lahaul-Spiti region of Northern India next to the Tibet border, it evokes the stark beauty of the Himalayas.
Milarepa was the first Tibetan to attain liberation in a single lifetime. His life offers a provocative parallel to the cycle of violence and retribution consuming today’s modern world. We can all identify with Milarepa as a human being with flaws. The same flaws as us – and then some! This is not a story of high lamas or reincarnation of the Buddha – it portrays dharma about ordinary life, encountering the human weaknesses and adversity that provide the engine to drive us to awaken. It is a story about ordinary people who become extraordinary through their ordeals and transformation. The name Milarepa ties this together very nicely. Mila means great man, Repa means –cotton clad one. So in his dharma name – Milarepa contains the ordinary with the great.

Milarepa Photo

H.H. the Dalai Lama was reduced to tears at seeing this film about a 11th century saint, revered in Tibet as a National Hero. But one with a very dark and flawed past. Named Thopaga at birth, we see how his life is turned upside down on the death of his wealthy father. His uncle and aunt squander his inheritance and force his mother and himself into a life of poverty and destitution. In despair, anger and revenge his mother sends him to train with a master sorcerer. He excels in the dark arts, so much so that he is able to rain down a terrible storm and rock landslide on his village when his uncle and aunt are holding a marriage ceremony for their son. He kills 35 people, children, women and men. His aunt and uncle escape the carnage and send a party after him. Milarepa declares that he can kill them all and sends another rock slide their way to scatter his pursuers.

Yet he is harrowed to the bone by his deeds, the direct consequence of his anger and vengeance. The story of greed, sorcery, vengeance and murder also has redemption and awakening woven into it, the reason for the Dalai Lama to be deeply moved by the film. Milarepa from 11th century Tibet provides a vivid reflection of the tumult and agony of present times. Violence, revenge, murder, all these ingredients can be found around the world – the Middle East, Syria, Egypt, Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand and North Korea to mention only a few. What Milarepa provides is proof that we can transform adversity through deep redemption and awakening. No matter how dark and demonic our mind – we can transform it. The film comes to an end at the point where Milarepa sets out to seek his teacher of a different way – Marpa the Translator who was the spiritual heir of Naropa. He endures terrible ordeals and this is the staple of the sequel film that is not yet released. Part II as it were.

In the 1990’s H.H. the Dalai Lama and Francisco Varela collaborated to bring the Mind and Life Conferences into existence. They still continue to this day. They brought advanced meditators and neuroscientists together to study the mind and consciousness. Their joint experience and research turned science on its head, as they were able to share the finding that the mind was malleable, capable of change and transformation with the application of meditation, solitude, dharma practice and deep introspection.
Marpa the Translator on meeting Milarepa demanded to see a display of his sorcery. This was done, at which point Marpa refused to teach him until he went through a series of brutal ordeals. He had Milarepa build a stone tower and then forced him to take it down – three times in succession. The fourth multi story tower he had Milarepa build still stands at Lhodrag in Tibet. All the while Marpa taunted Milarepa, referring to him as the Great Magician to constantly remind him of his past sins and the harm he had done. He pushed Milarepa to the limits of his body and mind in the intent of purifying him of his past evil deeds.

Marpa knew what he was doing, completely in accord with the much later findings of the Mind and Life conferences. He also knew that Milarepa was his spiritual heir. Milarepa tried to leave several times and then became aware that he was the author of his own misery. Marpa was unwavering in his seeming cruelty. Relentless and ruthless until he saw changes take place in Milarepa’s mind. It took twelve years, with protracted time alone in utter solitude in the Tibetan wilderness. Milarepa lived in caves and survived on eating nettles and drinking snow melt. His mind settled and at the age of 45 he entered into full awakening. He attracted followers from far and wide and taught first of all from Drakar Taso cave – the White Rock Horse Tooth cave – and then from other caves before becoming a much sought out wandering teacher.

He left an unusual legacy – the Songs of Milarepa. When asked a question from a disciple he would go very still and the answer would emerge from deep in his mind in the form of song. He would put aside their questions about devas, gods and hungry ghosts and return the listeners to a clear understanding of the dharma, and present them with the task at hand, which was their awakening – and here were the tools to do it. His songs were beautiful dharma talks laying out a clear path of emancipation for his followers. The bottom line from Milarepa was always that the path of enlightenment is open to all, no matter how dark and dreadful the past.
A disciple once asked him if he was an emanation from a past Buddha. Milarepa provided an immediate “No”– that such a notion would deprecate the monumental ordeals and suffering he had transformed to enter full awakening. Frank Sinatra has a song for Milarepa – “He Did It His Way, In His Lifetime!”

Milarepa photo 2

Ian is the Zen teacher at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community and the Founder of Friends for Peace. He gives talks and retreats around the world, though prefers to stay local to turn the tide just a little bit so that good things happen spontaneously in his home city of Ottawa.

New Economic Paradigm and the Culture of Entitlement

New Economic Paradigm and the Culture of Entitlement


In Canada the lack of moral compass and ethics in public and corporate life is highlighted by the Senate scandal, political leaders cushioning their income with $20,000 fees for public speaking, free embassy facilities for Cabinet ministers on vacation, the corruption of city mayors – on it goes. The culture of entitlement is rampant and has angered Canadian citizenry. Perhaps this culture of greed and entitlement is a bi-product of the economic structures we presently live in.


In whatever way the global economy is analyzed, poked and taken apart – we must recognize what it cannot do. Finance Capital has a design about securing the establishment of those conditions that ensure the continued creation of profits for the beneficiaries of capital. It does not have a design feature for morals or ethics. Morals and ethics rest with humans and it is the responsibility of humans in power to infuse, restrain and curtail the logic of capital so it may also benefit those humans who do not have a financial stake in the design structure of capital. Capital has always been amoral – it cannot on its own be anything else. Sadly, many of the controllers of capital have also been amoral for so long that our species faces possible elimination.


The Global Marshall Plan, like its namesake that restored balance to the world by funding the education and rebuilding of Europe after WWII, is based on new concepts and financial instruments. Designed to restructure world trade so that it is in synchronicity with humanitarian concerns and environmental protection, the goal is to produce an Eco-Social Market Economy as a new direction for globalization.  New structures to co-finance and equalize development worldwide rest on novel taxes on international financial transactions (Tobin Tax), on world trade and providing special drawing rights on the IMF.  This would provide the billions of dollars required to bring about a global economic miracle, which at the same time is environmentally responsible.  This radical proposal to restructure globalization has the support of prominent politicians, scholars and organisations in Europe as well as business leaders.  It has the solid support of the European Union to implement such a Planetary Contract as the first step to creating a worldwide Eco-Social Market Economy by 2015.  It is intended as a viable replacement for the present maladaptive world of free trade. Such a market structure has responsibilities for human justice issues and the eradication of poverty. Corporate culture is no longer allowed to freely make and enforce the rules for global culture and planetary care. A new structure of global governance emerges through a revamped World Trade Organization, but interestingly is still deeply founded on trade and markets. Far from eroding profitable business enterprises, this orientation assures that the most balanced, resourceful and market-sensitive companies will be the most competitive!


Where is George Carlin when we need him?

There is a seemingly immovable elephant in the middle of the culture of greed. This is the elite haven known as the Culture of Entitlement.  It coddles our bankers, investment brokers and corporate leaders in a cocoon of corruption, greed and power.  Just what would the late George Carlin have to say about this entity? George Carlin was my favourite American comedian.  Gifted with an acerbic wit, impeccable timing and scathing satire he created comedy routines that reduced world crises to hysterical tatters. Where is he when we need him the most?  Which is right now ‘midst the global circus we all inhabit.  He is of course deceased, yet I hope there is a George Carlin lurking in all of us, as I borrow his persona for a moment.  I will temper his language a little, as I want the folks reading this to get the point rather than be put off by profane language!


“Culture of Entitlement? What damn Entitlement? Don’t you see – the market took care of that problem for us – brilliantly.  It destroyed the culture of entitlement – the bankers, investment bums, hedge fund managers, corporate bandits – the market took them all and threw them into the abyss where the suckers belong. It threw them off a cliff into the deepest, darkest hole where they could never, ever climb out. Why do you think the damn market went to the trouble of creating such a drastic economic meltdown? So what do we do with this victory? We hand out parachutes, life-lines and soft landings for the giant parasites of entitlement to keep on sucking off the public teat.  We bailed the creepy, corrupt suits out.  We provided idiots with huge bonuses to retain their skills – the same skills and idiots who got us into this mess in the first place. Are we Insanely Nuts or what? President Obama – do you get it yet? Those angry voters who shellacked you in the 2010 midterm elections – remember those guys? It was their tax dollars that bailed out the creepy suits on Wall Street. The same suits that foreclosed their homes.  Connect the dots will ya?.


Do you know where the 700 billion dollars for bailouts came from?  It’s from your damn hip pocket.  Your taxes, my taxes, everybody’s taxes – spent to fix a corrupt system that is not just broken, it’s obsolete and unworkable.  The market shook it off “like fleas from the backside of a dog!” So what do we do?  We put the broken system on artificial life support.  We Are Ludicrously Nuts.  And there’s more.  The latest idiocy is to get private investors to buy the toxic assets of banks with government financial support.  That’s our taxes again people: only 75 – 100 billion dollars this time.  That guy Krugman, who got the Nobel for thinking straight, calls it by its true name – “cash-for-trash.” And our hip pocket is hung out to dry once again.  We Are Indescribably Nuts.   700 billion dollars is just the start of retaining bandits in suits so they can stab us in the wallet over and over again.  How many IRS deductions on paychecks are needed to ring up 700 billion dollars?  It’s enough to drive a dead comedian to drink.”