Urtica Dioica Linn. Icones Plantarum Medico-Oeconomico-Technologicarum by Ferdinand Vietz [Vienna: Schrambl, 1800] Courtesy of the Luesther T. Mertz Library, The New York Botanical Garden
Urtica Dioica Linn. Icones Plantarum Medico-Oeconomico-Technologicarum by Ferdinand Vietz [Vienna: Schrambl, 1800] Courtesy of the Luesther T. Mertz Library, The New York Botanical Garden

I once had a boyfriend who wore a pair of wrinkled trousers he’d had in his possession since junior high school. They were a perfectly nice pair of trousers—for a hobo about two inches shorter than he was. I objected. Invoking the great Tibetan saint, he used the Milarepa Defense: Cling to worldliness and acquire sins. He recounted the story of how when Milarepa’s sister gave the naked sage a robe, he sewed little coverings onto it for “all of his main protrusions,” his fingers and toes and one for his penis. These little hoodies were enough for Milarepa, so a 20-year-old pair of highwaters was enough for my friend.

I countered with the Trungpa Defense, the Shambhala wisdom that respects the sacredness of beauty in the world. Trungpa Rinpoche said that when you feel joyful satisfaction with your life, you become free from laziness and begin to appreciate that your shoes must be shined and your clothes ironed. “You are not just an ordinary Joe.… You are sacred and your environment is also very sacred.… You are concerned about the details…”

But it’s difficult to argue with an ascetic, and the boyfriend continued to wear the pants à la Milarepa.

Milarepa’s simplicity applied to cuisine as well. He famously lived in a hermitage on the border of Nepal and Tibet with nothing but a bush growing out front. Food and board. I asked Neten Chokling Rinpoche, director of the feature film Milarepa, to pick out one of the many songs that the yogi wrote. Rinpoche said that one day, Chirawa Gonpo Dorje, the hunter, came upon Milarepa at his cave and tried to disturb his meditation. On seeing the yogi calm and unaffected, faith suddenly rose within the hunter’s heart. He asked Milarepa to accept him as a disciple. In response, Milarepa sang a doha (yogic spiritual song):

The snow, the rocks, and the clay
          mountains—
These three are where Mila meditates;
If these satisfy you,
You may come with me.

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