Mila Repa was a great Tibetan Buddhist yogi. But, before he became a yogi, Mila Repa was a bit of a scoundrel. I mention that only to highlight that indeed change is possible – if you are committed to it and work at it. So this story is known as the tale of Mila Repa in the Eagle Tower Caves of the Red Rock Jewel Valley.
Mila Repa had been studying with his guru Marpa for a number of years, working to overcome the negative karma that he had accumulated during his years as a scoundrel. Our Mila Repa was not yet the most patient man, and so he was not satisfied with the pace of his progress. Eventually Mila Repa convinced Marpa that he should go off to the caves to pray and meditate in solitude, to get away from the distractions of day to day life. Marpa merely smiled a Mila Repa’s insistence, and finally gave his blessing to his student’s insistence.
One day, after Mila Repa had been living in the caves for some time he went out to collect firewood from the valley just below his cave. While he was out, a serious strom blew up. The wind was fierce, and as quickly a Mila Repa could pick up wood, the wind blew it out of his arms. The wind whipped his robes around and promised to tear off even that bit of protection. As his frustration grew, Mila Repa remember the Buddhist injunction to be free of ego and attachments. And he chastised himself, saying something like, “What is the point of my great devotions and solitary practice if I cannot manage to control my own ego! Let the wind take my robes away if it wants to.” And, just as he became aware of that thought, he fainted from the exertion and the struggle. When he came to, he observed that the storm had blown itself out, and he saw his tattered robe tangled in the branches of a nearby scrub tree.
Necessity being necessity, Mila Repa gathered up his robes, put them on, got himself back together, and gathered up the firewood that he had set out for. After a bit more work, he got himself and the wood back to his cave. When he arrived at the cave, he was surprised to find that his cave had been invaded and taken over by five of the ugliest, most ferocious looking demons that he had ever seen. They were huge, smelly, drooling with large fangs and claws. Mila Repa was shocked to see them in his peaceful dwelling space. But, he had his own history of villainy, so, undaunted he introduced himself to the demons and asked them to leave. The demons took this to be impudent effrontery, and became menacing. They destroyed his food stores, they ripped up his books of prayers and scriptures, and generally wrecked havoc in the cave. Then they surrounded Mila Repa, growling and taunting him maliciously. The demons made it clear that they were serious in their malevolence. Now, Mila Repa was alarmed and afraid. This was no mere halucination. He was in mortal danger.
Seeing their growing hostility, Mila Repa thought about his options. He thought about his years as a villan, and rejected violence as a possible response. He reaffirmed his committment to his Buddhist vows. He recited prayers of exorcism, with no effect. He preached Buddhism to them, he chanted Buddhist prayers and teachings to them, he told them of great acts of compassion from the history of Buddhism. All of this to no avail. Indeed, all of this had the opposite effect, only increasing their hostility toward him.
Despairation was descending on Mila Repa. He thought about all he knew. He thought about his years of study of Buddhism, he remembered that our experience and interpretation of reality is but a projection of our own mind. He remembered that all of our experiences are but teachers, intended to open our heart to greater awareness and love. … Mila Repa laughed out loud as he realized how romantic and lofty he always thought those teachings sounded. And now, his life seemed to hang on his ability to put those teachings into practice. Mila Repa remembered all that he had learned about love and now understood it with a new fearlessness. He welcomed the demons into his home and his life. He invited them to talk and eat and play together. He listened to them, even as he challenged them to listen to him. They engaged in a dialogue. He listened and learned — not to their taunts as they presented them, but to the meanings of those taunts within the context of awareness, love and enlightenment. And Mila Repa’s understanding and practice grew deeper and more refined. The demons did not leave – they never leave. But, Mila Repa’s relationship to them was transformed. They became his greatest teachers. Crisis is both danger and opportunity.