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Milarepa Interprets a Dream

Gambopa (or Gampopa) was the senior disciple of Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and mystic. The following story is excerpted from a period of training in meditation that Gambopa went through wherein he had many dreams and experiences. Through it all, he relied upon his teacher for guidance.

[After a time] twenty-four signs, which bore no relationship at all to Gambopa's previous habitual thinking, appeared in his dreams. Upon awakening he thought, "Were these dreams good or bad signs?" He became doubtful, and hesitant. Then he thought, "My Guru is actually [the same as] the omiscient Buddha Himself; why don't I ask him?" Thinking thus, he immediately arose and went directly to Milarepa, even forgetting put on his robe.

At that time the Jetsun [Milarepa] was sleeping in a cave at Chu Bar with his clothes bundled up for a pillow. Gambopa bowed down before him and said, "Dear Jetsun, I have a very important matter to report you. Please do not sleep! Please get up!"

"It came to me this morning that some distracting thoughts had arise in your mind," said Milarepa. "Now tell me, what disturbs you."

Gambopa replied, "Oh my precious Guru! I had certain dreams last night. I wonder whether they are good or bad omens. Please interpret them for me." Whereupon he sang:

[Here he sings a long song of devotion to his Guru. Afterwards, he sings...]

Last night I recited the Yidham's Mantra,
At midnight I prayed to you, my Jetsun Guru,
Then I practiced the Life Prana.
Before dawn I fell asleep
And had these wondrous dreams,
Apparently not caused by my habitual thoughts.

I dreamt I wore a hat with silken brim
Beautified by fur along its edge;
Above it was the image of an eagle.

I dreamt I wore a pair of greenish boots
Well cut, embossed with brass
And fastened by silver buckles.

I dreamt I wore a white silk robe,
Red-spotted and adorned
With pearls and golden threads.

I dreamt of a belt around my waist
Made of cloth from Mon
And embroidered with fine flowers,
Silk tassels, and [many] pearls.

I dreamt of wearing around my neck
A white, uncut felt scarf
With jasmines made of silver.

I dreamt I held a Tsandar staff,
With seven precious stones adorned
And golden lattice-work design.

I dreamt that in my left hand lay
A skull brimful of golden nectar.
Then said I: "Let me use
This as my drinking bowl."

I dreamt of a many-colored sack
Filled with two loads of rice.
Then said I: "Let me use
This for my Dharma food."
And then I shouldered it.

I dreamt of a wild beast's pelt,
With head and claws attached.
Then said I: "Let me use it
As the cushion for my seat."
And then I shouldered it.

Looking to my right I saw
A fertile mead of golden flowers,
Where many sheep and cattle grazed.
I watched them closely like a shepherd.

Looking to my left I saw
A jade-green meadow full
Of many kinds of flowers,
Where many women bowed to me.

In the center of the meadow on a mound
Of golden flowers, a Bodhisattva sat
Crosslegged upon a Lotus Seat,
Golden and many-hued.

I dreamt that before the Bodhisattva
A fountain played, and from his back
A brilliant aura radiated
Surrounding him with blazing fire,
While sun and moon were shining from his heart.

These were the wondrous things of which I dreamt.
I know not if as omens they were good or bad.
Oh great Yogi, who sees the past, the present,
And the future, pray interpret them clearly for me.

The Jetsun replied, "Dear Physician-monk, my son, do not feel uneasy, but relax and set your mind at rest. Do not let distracted thoughts mislead you into the trap of ego-clinging. Let the knots of skepticism untie themselves, cut the string of dual clinging at its most subtle length, and pierce through the most delicate and subtle 'frame' of habitual thinking. Do not bestir yourself and think too much, but, putting your mind at ease in a state of naturalness, make no effort whatsoever. I am a yogi who has fully mastered this illusory body. With a full knowledge and direct realization of the very essence of all dreams as such, I can, of course, interpret as well as transform them. Today I, your old father, will explain their meanings to you. Now give me your full attention, and listen carefully to my song":

This, my dear Physician,
Is my answer. Hearken
Carefully to what I say!

My son, you have learned the teaching
Of Dem Chog in the tradition of Zung Ghar;
Also the teaching of Ghadamba, in Upper Weu.
You have mastered and stabilized
The good Samidhi. I have always thought
that you were wondrous and outstanding.

But now, in your great enthusiasm,
By your dreams you have been caught.
Is this due to lack of understanding,
or merely a pretense? Have you
Not read Sutras and many Tantras?
Dreams are unreal and deceptive, as was taught
By Buddha Himself, in the Final Truth of Paramita.
To collect, supply, and study them
Will bring little profit.
So Buddha used dream as one of the Eight Parables
To show the illusory nature of all beings.
Surely you remember these injunctions?
And yet, your dreams were marvelous -
Wondrous omens foretelling things to come.
I, the Yogi, have mastered the art of dreams,
And will explain their magic to you.

The white hat on your head indicates
That your View will go beyond the "high" and "low."
The fair trimming on the brim is a sign
That you will demonstrate the Dharma
Essence, subtle yet profound,
The lovely colors of the fur imply
That you will explain the various teachings
Of the Schools without mixing them.
The flying eagle on the top means that you
Will earn Mahamudra, the foremost View -
And will see the Essence of the Unborn.

The Mongol boots that you dreamt of wearing
Portray your climbing from the lower to the higher Vehicles [Yanas; teachings].
Their green color and adorning bosses
Mean that you will attain Buddha's Four Bodies.
The "pair" shows increase of the Two Provisions.
The silver ring-strap on the boots
Is the absence of wrong practices;
Also it foretells that you
Will be like a son of Buddha -
Humble and self-restraining,
The exemplar of all Buddhist acts.

The silk robe you dreamt of wearing
Indicates that you will not be sullied
By any vice. The threads of gold
Symbolize a worthy and stable
Mind. The red spots foretell
Compassion and altruism.

The decorated belt you dreamt of wearing
Means that you will "fasten" the Three Realms.
The jewels, white flowers, and silk ornaments
Show your adornment by Three Learnings
And guidance over virtuous disciples.
The Tsandar staff you dreamt of holding
Proves that you have a perfect Guru;
The seven jewels on the staff
Symbolize the greatness of His merits.
The finery of golden lattice work
Foretells that you will nurture your disciples
With the Pith-Instructions of the Whispered-Lineage.
Holding the staff in your right hand
And striding forward with delight
Proves that you will dwell in the Pure Land.

The magnificent Vajra skull you dreamt of holding
Shows that you will illustrate the truth of Voidness.
The nectar, filling full the skull,
Means your enjoyment of great blissfulness.
The nectar's brilliant, golden light
Indicates you will brighten forms.
The thought of the skull as your drinking bowl
Signifies the merging of the three previous delights.
Holding the skull in your left hand shows that
The inner Experience will never leave you.

The varicolored bag of which you dreamt
Proves that you will bring all forms into the Path.
The two loads borne upon your shoulder
Foretell your march along the Mahayana Path
Through the practice of Wisdom and of Skill.
The rice therein -the thought
Of using it for sustenance -
Means that you will enjoy good health,
Long life, and Samadhi's food.

Your dream of the pelt on your left shoulder
Proves mindfulness, immune from wandering thoughts
The head and four claws symbolize
Your ever-increasing Bodhi-Mind
And the Four Good Thoughts with which
You will relieve the people's pain.
The thought of using the skin for cushion
Means you will realize the solidarity
Of Void-Compassion [Bodhichitta] in your mind.
Your dream of golden flowers on your right
Shows the growth of your outer and inner merits.
The sheep and cattle grazing in the fields
Symbolize that refuge in the Dharma
Will fulfill the wishes of all beings.
The thought of herding them implies
That you will always be compassionate
To helpless and suffering men.

Your dream of a jade-green meadow on your left
Indicates that you will know Bliss-Wisdom
Through constant practice of Transcendental Samadhi.
The blooming flowers of many kinds show how
The various experiences of different stages
Will grow step by step within you.
Many women bowing down before you
Presage that you will master all Dakinis
Residing in all the Nadis [Channels] and Tig Les.

The mound of golden flowers in the center
Indicates that with Realization, Samadhi,
And immaculate observation of the discipline,
You will attract around you many monks
Like clouds that gather in the sky.

The luxuriant golden leaves
Upon the lotus seat imply
That your mind will n'er be sullied by Samsara,
Keeping like a lotus its head above the mud.
The Bodhisattva in the Lotus Posture
Signifies that you, the young Bodhisattva,
Will abide not in Nirvana,
But with great compassion
Will transform your body into many forms to help
The mother-like sentient beings in Samsara.

The fountain playing before you shows
That your fountain of Dharma will ever spout.
The aura radiating from behind you
Means that your virtues will purify Tibet.
The fire blazing from your body symbolizes
That the warm and blissful wisdom of Dumo-heat
Will melt the ice of wandering thoughts.

The sun and moon shining from your heart
Presage your e'er remaining in
The never-coming, never-going Realm of Great Light.

My dear son, your dream
was very good, not bad.

To prophesy by judging signs correctly
Is a virtue allowed by the Dharma;
But 'tis harmful to be attached
And fond of dream interpretation,
Thereby incurring ills and hindrances.
Knowing that "dreams" are but illusions,
You can bring them to the Path.

How can you explain them
Without thorough knowledge?
Some evil dreams appear as good -
[But only an expert] sees they presage ill;
Only a master of the art
Can recognize good dreams
When they take on ominous forms.
Do not, good priest, attach yourself
To either good or evil signs!
Bear, dear monk, these words in mind!

Milarepa continued, "Physician-priest, my dear son, all your dreams predicted that the Dharma would grow to full bloom within you. I, your old father, with infinite knowledge and confidence, have explained to you in detail the symbolic meanings of your dreams. Do not forget my predictions, and see if they come to pass. When the time comes, and they are verified, a supreme faith toward me, unlike that which You have now, will arise in you. You will then realize the effortless Mind-Essence in an extraordinary way. Here and now you will gain liberation from both life and death. 

"Again, my son, if you want to be a devoted yogi you should never cling to dreams because, by doing so, you will eventually expose yourself to the influence of devils [egos]. If one disobeys the instructions of One's Guru, disregards the good advice of others, and clings to self-conceit, one will in the long run lose one's mind. Dear son, you should not look at the faults of your friends, nor raise vicious thoughts and bestir yourself in many activities. Failure is always a result of the ignorance of others' minds. Furthermore, you should know that this life is merely a part of the Bardo of Birth-Death; its experiences are unreal and illusory, a form of reinforced dreaming. Mental activity in the daytime [creates a latent form of] habitual thought which again transforms itself at night into various delusory visions sensed by the [semi-] consciousness. This is called the deceptive and magic-like Bardo of Dream." 

Quoted from "The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa" as translated by Garma C.C. Chang, Shambhala Publications, 1962.

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