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Marpa and Milarepa
Marco: Dear James, speaking of karma, I’ve understood that the way to burn the negative karma is just to satisfy the requests of dharma, to accept it.
James: I am not sure what you mean exactly by “satisfy the requests of dharma” but the idea of accepting bad karma does neutralize it. I think that your idea of karma needs a bit of work. If you are an inquirer seeking freedom you need not just neutralize bad karma, you need to neutralize good karma as well.
Attachment to karma, good and bad, is a problem because it extroverts the mind, making self-inquiry very difficult. You neutralize karma by practicing karma yoga. If you have the karma yoga understanding and the karma yoga attitude every bit of karma you do burns karma because it destroys the vasanas that produce it. I suggest you read the writings on the website pertaining to karma yoga.
Marco: A few days ago while reading The Life of Milarepa I found that to accelerate his karma’s burning his master gave him several heavy duties which he endured for some years. Is there a way to accelerate our cleaning and, if so, how it could be done?
James: The difficulty with this approach to freedom is that karma continues until the day you die, so you will never be free of it. Freedom from karma is only gained by the realization that you are not the doer of the karma. You come to this understanding by understanding that Isvara, the field of action, is causing karma – not you personally – and therefore you are not bothered by good and bad karma.
Marco: In the case of Milarepa, what Marpa his master told him to do was part of his dharma.
James: Yes, it is the dharma, the duty, of beginning seekers to do karma yoga.
Marco: But in my case, for example, the fact I’ve got such information, couldn’t it be similarly a pointer to something I have to do? I mean, something intentionally harder than what life normally presents?
James: Definitely not. You want to make your life easier, not more difficult. Milarepa had a dull (tamasic) mind so he could not understand the fact that Isvara, the karma/dharma field, was the doer of karma. He wrongly thought that he was a doer (karmi) of karma. No person does karma. It is ignorant to think that people do karma. Isvara is the doer of karma. But if you can’t understand this fact and if you insist that you are the doer of karma then the guru treats you as if you are a doer and teaches you karma yoga. Milarepa’s duty was to build and destroy all those houses he built for Marpa until he realized that doing good karma – serving the guru – was no better than doing bad karma (he was a thief and a murderer) as far as freedom from his guilt was concerned. In other words, his mind became settled (sattvic) as a result of his service to his guru, not from building houses. When you do the right thing – serve your teacher and/or the teachings – the guilt from your bad actions slowly dissolves. Milarepa had a lot of guilt because he had done some very bad actions for a long time. People who do dharmic actions don’t feel guilty and they rarely seek the help of gurus. They are generally pretty happy people.
The story of Milarepa is dangerous because it only focuses on the actions, not on Milarepa’s state of mind. He could easily have done all those actions and not been qualified for moksa. In fact this story plays very nicely into the hands of those people who think that karma has to end for enlightenment to begin. It is called the vasana ksyaya theory of enlightenment. It does not take into account the biggest fact: Isvara is the doer, not the person. And since Isvara is eternal karma is eternal.
It is also dangerous because we do not know what Marpa actually said to Milarepa when he was serving Marpa. He must have been teaching him about Isvara, the karma/dharma field, as Milarepa was working. The whole point of this simple story is that service to the guru prepares the mind for self-inquiry. Once it is prepared, satsang with the guru will set the mind free. Nobody in their right mind would do what Milarepa did. But he was not stupid. Far from it. As he was working out his vasanas in the presence of the guru he was getting the biggest blessing of all – association with a mahatma. Association with mahatmas is the fast track to enlightenment. It burns karma like nothing else.
And finally, it is dangerous because you can serve a guru for the wrong reasons and get a particularly insidious kind of karma – the vanity of a devotee – that is almost impossible to transcend. Look at the many people that hang around gurus for life getting more and more dependent on the guru. Freedom is freedom from dependence on objects – including gurus, although a guru is necessary for some time.
I don’t know what you think you are going to accomplish by doing karma but you will not get free unless you do karma yoga. And karma yoga is not a particular kind of doing – although you should do dharmic (sattvic) actions if you want peace of mind. Karma yoga is an attitude to take with respect to what you do. It is maintaining a giving, serving attitude all the time no matter what you do. If you take whatever karma comes as a gift (prasad) and understand WHY it is a gift your karma will be neutralized every moment. If you keep up this attitude, backed by the knowledge that Isvara – the karma/dharma field – causes action and produces results your life will become peaceful and beautiful and capable of self-inquiry.
~ Love, James