Lion's Roar

Songs of Milarepa

Dohas of Jetsun Milarepa and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche.

By Lion’s Roar

Dohas of Jetsun Milarepa and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche.

According to the sutras, the disciples of the Buddha would sometimes compose spontaneous verses during his teaching sessions. Since then, the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition in particular has valued the spontaneous composition of devotional songs, called gur in Tibetan, a translation of the Bengali term doha.

The Tibetan dohas are modeled after the sixth-century songs extemporized by the Indian tantric practitioners known as mahasiddhas, in which they described the realization and secret practices of Vajrayana using allegorical language and complex symbolism. Tibetan translators such as Marpa, the founder of the Kagyii lineage, brought the custom of composing dohas back to Tibet along with other tantric teachings. Marpa’s principal student, the yogin Milarepa, became the greatest Tibetan composer of dohas, expressing the teachings of all yanas in hundreds of songs.

The doha tradition is continued in the West by the extraordinary yogi-scholar Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and his students. Khenpo Tsultrim teaches throughout the world with a unique combination of refined scholarly precision and yogic exuberance. Often he will end a talk by having his students sing a song that expresses the same teaching he has just spoken about.
Working with Khenpo Tsultrim Rinpoche is a team of translators, who are also his close disciples. They have translated into colloquial English the dohas of both Milarepa and Khenpo Tsultrim. Many of these have been set to Western-style music so they can be sung by Khenpo Tsultrim’s students, alone or in groups. Thus the songs serve as an energizing and inspiring expression of realization and a powerful reminder of the dharma. This reflects the original purpose of the dohas.

Many of the songs presented here deal with the Mahamudra teachings of the Kagyii school, which are at once a description of relative and ultimate reality, an intricate system of meditation, and a deep realization of the inseparability of appearance and emptiness. Milarepa’s “Ten Things It’s Like” is translated by Jim Scott and Ari Goldfield; all other Milarepa songs are translated by Jim Scott. Khenpo Tsultrim’s “All These Forms” is translated and arranged by Jim Scott; all other songs by Khenpo Tsultrim are translated by Ari Goldfield. All are © Marpa Institute for Translation.

Song of Mahamudra

Sung in reply to the challenge raised by three scholars

At the time I’m meditating on Mahamudra
I rest without struggle in actual real being
I rest relaxed in a free-from-wandering space
I rest in a clarity-cradled-in-emptiness space
I rest in awareness and this is blissful space
I rest unruffled in non-conceptual space
In variety’s space I rest in equipoise
And resting like this is native mind itself
A wealth of certainty manifests endlessly
Without even trying, self-luminous mind is at work
Not stuck in expecting results, I’m doing O.K.
No dualism, no hopes and fears, Ho Hey!
Delusion as wisdom, now that’s being cheerful and bright
Delusion transformed into wisdom, now that’s all right!

Song to a Pigeon Goddess Girl

On keeping view, meditation, conduct and fruition free of one-upmanship


Oh Marpa from Lhodrak,[i] you are the one
With that kindness oh so kind
By calling you up from my heart, in my heart
You are when I meditate
Again and again I pray that we never again will separate
The bliss is the bliss of the blending of minds
When your own with the guru is fused
AH LA LA what appearances are
Deep down in their basic being
They’re the ever unborn, the dharmakaya
When this is pointed out
They fuse in the depths of dharmakaya
The ever uncontrived
I do not go checking on views to find out
If my own is high and others are low
This mind that’s not tampered with, left uncontrived
Is when feeling good feels just right
The six-fold collection of consciousness
Is lucid right there in itself
This is the non-dual, perceived/perceiver not two
When this is pointed out
The pleasure and pain duality too
Is two where one and one equals one
What’s left is the depths of the uncontrived mind
You’re home-free in the native state
I do not go checking on conduct to see
If I got it and the others missed out
This mind that’s not tampered with, left uncontrived
Is when feeling good feels just right

What the fruit of this is is dharmakaya
What success is all about
What variety is nirmanakaya
When this is pointed out
They fuse in the depths of all meetings you’ve met
And all memories let go
But to worry and wait for some result to come back
Is not the kind of life for me
This mind that’s not tampered with, left uncontrived
Is when feeling good feels just right

Three Kinds of Confidence in Genuine Reality

At the feet of Marpa the translator I bow
From meditating here and there in natural retreats
I’ve gained confidence that there is no arising
This swept away my taking past and future lives as two
Exposed all six realms’ appearances as false
And cut right through believing all too much in birth and death
I’ve gained confidence in everything as equal
This swept away my taking happiness and grief as two
Exposed the ups and downs of feelings as false
And cut believing there are some to have and some to shun
In inseparability I’ve gained confidence
This swept away samsara and nirvana seen as two
Exposed the exercise of paths and levels as false
And cut right through believing all too much in hope and fear

Eight Wonderful Forms of Happiness

Beloved wish-fulfilling jewel and emanation body
Supreme of lamps that take the darkness of ignorance away
Oh precious Chakravartin king, the one behind the wheel
At your feet, oh Marpa the translator, I bow in trusting homage!

Here at this place so high, at red rock fortress of the sky Here at this meeting place which dakinis[ii] of the four kinds grace This old man on this site which fills him up with such delight
Experiences so strong a heart-felt joy I put to song
And you whose knowledge penetrates, who with perseverance meditate
All you students gathered here, please listen with attentive ear!
This mountain retreat that’s free of dogmatism and narrow mind
Is the guide that nurtures and sustains samadhi experiences
Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one who knows that the body itself is the monastery is happy
That native mind itself is pure like space is emaho![iii]
When faith has grown reliable and free of fickle change
This is the guide that helps you in abandoning samsara
Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one for whom samsara/nirvana are free on the spot is happy
This completion of four kayas in your mind is emaho!

The meeting of appearances of the six kinds of consciousness
This is the guide that turns adverse conditions into a path
Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one for whom desire and craving have been fulfilled is happy
The rope that ties perceiver and perceived when cut is emaho!
A guru truly reliable belonging to a lineage
This is the guide on the path of dispelling the darkness of ignorance Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one who relies on a guru who is buddha in person is happy
The mind’s own recognition of itself is emaho!

These cotton clothes I’m wearing which are neither hot nor cold
This is the guide for travelers whose retreat is in the snows
Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one who is not intimidated by heat and cold is happy
To be able to lie down naked in the snow is emaho!
The instructions that make it possible to connect up with transference
This is the guide for conquering all bardo fears you have
Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one who makes no split between this life and the next is happy
To arrive at last in pure being’s expanse is emaho!
The path of special skills so deep of the whispered lineage[iv]
The guide that separates the murkiness from lucid mind
Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one whose bliss of body and mind grows more and more is happy
The entry of the life force in avadhuti[v] is emaho!
The yogi who has reached success in emptiness compassion
This is the guide for cutting through complexity’s conventions
Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one with realization with a retinue is happy
To gather emanations as a retinue is emaho!
This little song of experience on eight forms of happiness
Which this old man has felt inspired to sing for you like this
Might just light up the practice heart for you who aregathered here
It came from a yogi’s joyfulness
Put it in your hearts and forget it not!

The Utpattikrama[vi] Song

Whenever I’m meditating on the yidam[vii] generation stage
My body is rainbow-like in the sky of appearance emptiness
Not turning that into a mental fixation, craving is consumed
Speech is sound and emptiness—like an echo in an empty dale
With neither good nor bad about it, to indulge or refuse are consumed
Mind is luminous emptiness—like the light of the sun and the moon
Without the slightest bias in it, the idea of a self is consumed
What is thought of as usual body and speech and usual rational mind
Are self-existent vajra[viii] body and speech, self-existent vajra heart
There’s nothing left of the usual triple gates and what a relief!
Whatever I do it fits with dharma and that puts me in a state of delight
My way of life is a dharma journey—that’s why I’m cheerful and bright

No Birth, No Base, and Union

The true nature of appearances is that they’ve never been born
If birth seems to happen it’s just clinging, nothing more
The spinning wheel of existence has neither a base nor a root
If things seem to be stable, that’s only a thought
The true nature of the mind is union, inseparability
If you separate its aspects, you’re hooked on some view
The sign of the true lamas is that they hold a lineage
The ones who make stuff up are just being dumb
The mind’s basic reality is like the clear and open sky
But the dark clouds of thoughts just cover it all up
So let the lama’s pith advice
Be the wind that blows those clouds away
Even confused thoughts themselves are clear light that shines so brilliantly
Experiences so bright like sun and moonlight
Without any direction, clarity shines timelessly
You cannot hold it, you can’t say what it is
So many kinds of certainty shine like the stars in the sky
Whatever arises is the greatest bliss
Its nature is simplicity, the dharmakaya expanse
The six dependent appearances are empty naturally
This natural flow is effortless, there’s not a klesha in sight
Within this basic state, completely relaxed
Wisdom without fixation abides continuously
The three kayas inseparable—the greatest miracle

The Ten Things It’s Like

When compassion wells up from within the depths of my heart
I see the three realms’ beings like they’re burning in a pit of fire
When I’m clinging in my heart to the teachings of the whispered lineage
That clinging just dissolves, like salt dissolving in water
When primordial wisdom arises inside, all doubts about it
Where you’re thinking maybe this is it, or maybe this is not it
Are like dreaming that you’re meditating when you also know that you are dreaming
And the post-meditation is what happens when you wake up from that dream
When great bliss is embraced by the view of emptiness
Everything appearing liberates itself like bubbles on the water
When you know the true nature of everything to be known
The wisdom that’s aware of the true nature is like a cloud-free sky
When the mud settles down and mind’s river is crystal clear
Self-arisen awareness is like a polished mirror’s shine
When the base-consciousness dissolves in the dharmakaya
The skandhas born of craving and grasping get crushed like an egg
When you’ve cut the rope of clinging then the bardo in between two lives
Is like a snake tied in a knot, the knot just comes untied
When your conduct is free of all adopting and all rejecting
The mind just settles down in a space that’s action-free
And this mind that settles down in a space that’s action-free
Is like the body and the mind and roar of a lion in his prime
Bright appearance, bright emptiness, and wisdom bright
Are like the blazing sun when it’s shining in a cloud-free sky
Bright appearance, bright emptiness, and wisdom bright
Are like the blazing sun when it’s shining in a cloud-free sky

Songs of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso

The Sky-Dragon’s Profound Roar

Up in the sky’s expanse, true being, unborn, forever pure
Beautiful is the world below me—how many colors do I see
But when I look, I can’t find anything that’s born or has a root
So the time has come to meditate on true reality, of ego-clinging free

All my possessions, all that I enjoy, are like rainbows in the sky
Even their smallest parts have no essence—they do not exist at all
So when I enjoy illusory pleasures, empty/appearing tea and beer
It’s time to rest in mind’s full moon—empty awareness, radiant clarity

The stages of practice of the Tathagata’s view and meditation
Are skillful methods that clear away ordinary thoughts
So I train in appearance and mind being without base or root—
When sickness and death suddenly strike, I’ll be ready, without regret

In the pattern that this world and life’s appearances weave
Visions of parents, relatives and friends are like illusions and dreams
Like morning mist, they are fleeting, and at the time they dissolve
That’s the time to search for unborn confused mind’s basic reality

In the baseless, rootless and empty confused appearances of life
We suffer from heat and from cold and from so many other things
But diligence in Secret Yana’s practices, so powerful
Makes fox-like cowardice be free all by itself—the time has come!
To what we beautify with hats and clothes, to this heap of elements
We offer tasty food and many other things—whatever we may find pleasing
But the carelessness and craziness of this life will end one day
So be ready to be fearless of the judgement of the mighty Lord of Death

From the country of great snow mountains, a realm of dharma
Having crossed many hills and valleys and now flying through the sky
I purify illusory flesh and blood into empty/appearing deity
Paths and bhumis’ realizations self-liberated—in this I train
Ha Ha! Dechen Rangdrol’s[ix]conduct that’s attachment-free
A Ho! It’s time to fly in the expanse of sky of spacious Mother

The Miraculous View, Meditation, Conduct and Fruition: A Little Song at the Heart of the Profound Meaning

Namo Shri Hasa Vajra Ye!

In twenty mighty fortresses and in eight great caves
For the lineage practicing the definitive meaning, you showed the way
With such profound view and meditation
Profound conduct and fruition
Great Shepa Dorje,[x] all yogis call you “King”
As you sit on my heart’s lotus throne, I make you offerings!

A view to hold, a person with a theory
All of this is just conceptual activity
The most profound meaning leaves it all behind—
Ultimate reality transcends the thinking mind
With scripture and reasoning as its adorning jewels
This explanation of view is a miracle.

Within emptiness, clear light, mind’s reality
Without effort, fresh, resting relaxedly
Completely naturally, you just settle in
That’s all there is in meditation
The skill in the practice involves realizing
That there’s no object and no one meditating
With this skill as its adorning jewel
This meditation is a miracle.

Actions of body and speech are of such variety
And when they are in motion, doing whatever it may be
Join them with view and meditation that transcend conceptuality
For these are the greatest friends of conduct’s activity
When not practicing formal meditation
Enter the samadhi where all experience is illusion
Illusion-like samadhi is the adorning jewel
Of this conduct that is a miracle.

Mind’s true nature is primordial purity
In its natural state it has always been free
Nothing to attain, no one attaining anything
No attaining at all can be seen
Yet dependently arising, and labeled by convention
Is the appearance of someone attaining fruition!
With this appearance as its adorning jewel
This fruition is a miracle!

Besides all of this, in addition
These are great miracles for another reason—
Samsara and nirvana, in genuine reality
Are of the nature of complete equality
Kleshas self-liberated are primordial awareness
So view, meditation, conduct and fruition are miraculous!

Again, these are the amazing ones—
View, meditation, conduct and fruition
When free from doubt, you’re sure about these four
It’s a sign you’ve practiced in lives before!
Realizing this is a wonderful feeling
Let it be a cause for your rejoicing!

Through this virtue may everyone
Practice miraculous view, meditation, conduct and fruition!
By doing so in this life, and into infinity
May others’ benefit be accomplished spontaneously!

Auspiciousness that Lights up the Universe

Namo Guru Hasa Vajra Ye!

You see that everything in samsara and nirvana
Is merely dependently arisen
You see the dharmata, the true being
That is the essence of all dependent arising
The power of your great insight
Fills the universe with auspicious light
Oh mighty Shepa Dorje
Please rise up now from within my heart.

Ground’s basic nature transcends conceptuality
And like watermoons, appearances arise dependently
May everyone realize that this is true
And dispel the darkness cast by doubt and wrong view
And may their realization’s auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!

The vision of your wisdom is amazing
You see just how things are, you see everything
As parents lovetheir children, so you love all beings
You bring us benefit and happiness
Your power makes disciples out of your enemies
May your auspiciousness light up the universe!

For samsara’s cause, clinging to “I” and me,
The dharma realizing selflessness is the greatest remedy
May all beings use it to pacify
Their confused belief that there is an “I”
And by the power of this great happening
May auspiciousness light up the universe!

The ways of ordinary beings, you have left behind
Noble ones who realize reality, the true nature of mind
May you lead all ordinary beings
Who have not yet entered to the path of peace
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!

May the yidams who bestow the siddhis
And the protectors who clear obstacles away
Eliminate all harmful conditions
Everything adverse to the path
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!

May the noble path of nonviolence
Flourish in all the worlds there are
When beings meet and interact
May the connections they make be filled with love
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!

At the twilight of this century
That has been one of such prosperity
May struggle over wealth and gain
Disappear and not be seen again
Free from strife and violence
May all enjoy great abundance
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!

This has been a century
When science has advanced incredibly
Amazing and wondrous, these new machines
That have brought the gods’ enjoyments to human beings
May they be used with skill supreme
To end violence and cause peace to reign
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!

May the sciences that explore outside
Be joined with the inner science of the mind
To excellently put an end
To mistaken views and confusion
And by this may auspiciousness
Light up the whole universe!

The source of all this auspiciousness
Is the true nature of mind, so luminous!
So may realization of mind, just as it is
Set the universe ablaze with auspicious excellence!

Through all of this auspiciousness
Wherever its light may be seen
With the love and the compassion
That make bodhichitta mind supreme
May this thought arise in everyone:
“Other beings’ happiness is as important as my own”
And may excellent virtue and auspiciousness
Always increase, never diminish!

All These Forms

All these forms—appearance emptiness
Like a rainbow with its shining glow
In the reaches of appearance emptiness
Just let go and go where no mind goes

Every sound is sound and emptiness
Like the sound of an echo’s roll
In the reaches of sound and emptiness
Just let go and nowhere no mind goes

Every feeling is bliss and emptiness
Way beyond what words can show
In the reaches of bliss and emptiness
Just let go and go where no mind goes

All awareness—awareness emptiness
Way beyond what thought can know
In the reaches of appearance emptiness
Let awareness go—oh, where no mind goes

[i] Marpa from Lhodrak: great Tibetan teacher and translator who made three trips to India and brought back the Mahamudra teachings. He was a student of the great Indian pandita Naropa and principal teacher of Milarepa.

[ii] dakini (Skt.): female figures that exist in a playful realm at the highest level of reality. A principal form of Vajrayana practice is the visualization of the dakinis’ wrathful or semi-wrathful forms, and their male counterparts, arrayed with detailed adornments representing enlightened characteristics.

[iii] emaho (Skt.): a yogic exclamation of joy and realization. Pronounced ay-mah-ho.

[iv] whispered lineage: an epithet for the Kagyü lineage emphasizing the oral tradition of passing the teachings from teacher to student.

[v] avadhuti (Skt.): the central channel of the subtle (pranic) body used in yogic practices of the Vajrayana.

[vi] Utpattikrama (Skt.): a stage in Vajrayana meditation practice during which the practitioner generates the visualization of a yidam and holds it in the mind.

[vii] yidam (Tib.): a deity visualized during Vajrayana practice. Yidams are understood to embody the empty and egoless quality of the practitioner and therefore serve to awaken one’s true nature. (Skt., siddhi.)

[viii] vajra (Skt.): in Vajrayana, refers to an indestructibility born of emptiness. It is the true nature of reality, unborn, uncreated and yet brilliant and indestructible like a diamond.

[ix] Dechen Rangdrol (Tib.): an epithet for Khenpo Tsultrim.

[x] Shepa Dorje (Tib.): an epithet for Milarepa.


Lion's Roar

Lion’s Roar

Lion’s Roar is the website of Lion’s Roar magazine (formerly the Shambhala Sun) and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, with exclusive Buddhist news, teachings, art, and commentary. Sign up for the Lion’s Roar weekly newsletter and follow Lion’s Roar on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.