[1] An honourific Tibetan term meaning “Venerable Lord,” reserved exclusively for great masters. Milarepa is among the most ubiquitous holders of the term in Tibetan literature.

[2] The kyang (Equus kiang) is a species of wild donkey native to the Tibetan plateau and is one source of inspiration for the mythical unicorn.

This meditative or spiritual song (mgur) was composed by Milarepa (1040-1123), Tibet’s most famous yogi and poet. Tibetan literature contains a vast corpus of such spiritual songs, particularly Milarepa’s own Kagyü school, which traces the practice of singing spontaneous songs of spiritual experience back to the Indian mahasiddhas. Known as Dohā in medieval India, this art form was held in common by both Vajrayana Buddhists and practitioners of Hindu tantra and generally centred on the heightened inner experiences brought about through spiritual practice. 

 

What is perhaps most striking about this particular song, and a departure from the conventions of the genre of mgur, is its emphasis on the natural beauty of Kyangpen Namkhé Dzong. Tibetan descriptions of sacred places (gnas) almost always focus on the miraculous deeds performed on location by great Buddhist masters, who thus imbue the space with blessings and sacred energy. Milarepa, on the other hand, sings entirely about the special qualities of the natural world. With an almost Wordsworthian rhapsody, Mila attributes nature itself, rather than past Buddhist masters, as the wellspring of blessings in Kyangpen Namkhé Dzong. It is the sight of the meadow awash with flowers beneath the vast expanse of sky and the sounds of frolicking wild animals beside the flowing mountain stream that makes the place so favourable for meditative retreat, not the accomplishments of past sages. When, in the final lines of the poem, he exhorts his audience to abandon misdeeds and accomplish virtue, his tone is one of heartfelt invitation rather than didacticism. It is almost as if he is saying, “The world is too much with us”; be done with worldly toil and come meditate with me beside this stream! 

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