Tag Archives: Murder

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.

Callum Mor’s Awakening

Callum Mor’s Awakening

Cover Song of Silence5

This is an excerpt from my recent novel, which is available on Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Song-Silence-2nd-ebook/dp/B006WB6JII/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330006852&sr=8-1

Testimonials:

I was captivated by Song of Silence. I have three criteria for a good book…I don’t want it to end, I love the end, and I do not wish to speak to anyone for several hours after I finish it. So, this met my criteria on all three levels!

Mary Helen Dean, Organizational Professional, Ottawa, Canada

“Song of Silence is so exquisite in the tenderness and honesty with which the author deals with the human condition. The story pulls you in. Besides the fact that Song of Silence is so beautifully written, it is a book that explores the human condition in its entirety and honors the darkest elements. The author does this with grace, elegance and compassion.

Anita Rizvi, Consultant, Ottawa, Canada

 

From Chapter Seven

Callum Mor sat with his jacket and coat loosely about him, creating a pocket of warm air that would resist the freezing will of the storm. He breathed slowly and deeply, using the least energy as he sat there and thought. His life went before his eyes and he smiled gently as he saw his childhood and island nurturing. He recalled his family at picnics and peats, the joy of dancing competitively with Moira and rabbiting with Donald. And his teacher, Rachel MacDougall, was there in his mind’s eye. Remembering their adventure with the otter, and how he had written as much about her inelegant slide into the mud as much as he did about the otter, he smiled. He smiled in gratitude for the freedom she opened in his mind. He had received so much. His expression did not change as he thought of his father, Andrew, driven to madness by events he could not overcome. His heart welled with love for his father. He knew it was love that had driven his father to such lengths. He recalled the patient love of his mother Annie and the winter expeditions to the mail boat as their major weekly outing. He understood the warring factions in Brett MacVicker and felt grateful that this man, who killed his brother, should have shielded his darkness from him. His thoughts drifted and rested with his mother and old Colin as they aged. He then thought of his first Catriona. He had long grieved for her and saw her immense love for him and was overcome by it. Thought of her humbled him. Yet now he felt no pain on thinking of her radiance. He gave thanks for the present Catriona – fast asleep and warm within the insulation from the dead ewe. He offered respectful thanks to the ewe for enabling his little Catriona to live. He grieved at the wreckage he had turned himself into with drink, not for what he did to himself but for the pain he had inflicted by rebuke and indifference on people who only loved him. He dozed in the cold for only a moment. His mind kept him awake as he thought of the child Catriona and her mother and father. In the knowing of them they were as gifts to return him to himself. As morning light shafted through the darkness, he lost his self-contempt and saw compassion as the saving grace of both himself and his fellow man. In that long night of freezing cold and driving blizzard his mind led him to these and many other paths and levels of his life. His suffering dissolved as his compassion grew. By morning he arrived at full self-knowledge – a state of enlightenment that he remained in for the rest of his days.

He had no regrets, was without fear, simply filled with a deep well of compassion and love that had always been there within him. He took his time sorting these insights with his mind that was now working with clarity about his life journey. He saw clearly how it had brought him to this state of emancipation.

The blizzard had ended. Catriona was awake and alive and drew from the new strength and calmness that Callum Mor now possessed. He used his fisherman’s knife to hack strips of fleece from the sheep to bind their feet and hands and wrap round her knees. Layers of fleece were thrust inside her cardigan and his jacket to keep them warm. They left their small cave after Catriona gave a special prayer to the dead ewe that had saved her life. And to Callum Mor, whom she loved so totally. They explored the land about them, looking for a path to follow. The snow had gently moulded Nature’s difference into a smooth quilt but Callum Mor knew the way to the edge of the fell.

Callum Mor returned to his island, a fuller and wiser man. He opened himself to the ways of his own people. They saw his goodness and his presence and knew not where it came from but many went to him, drawn by his softness and wisdom. He made the small and ineffectual feel useful, redirected bitterness to joy and loud and vicious men were gentled in his presence. There was an aura about him that transformed life’s frailties and failings into a creative reality. His goodness and gentle acclaim were feared by some for he had power over men and knew that he did; thus he moved them to greater understanding and compassion. Some resented his past indifference to them but on meeting with him, succumbed to his gentleness. They bore ill-concealed hurts that he healed, and wished him no harm. But the men who feared him hated his goodness and sought his destruction. They could not find a way to it but they waited, jealously guarding their intent, carefully marking the time when they thought he would fall.