"Like bubbles is
This life, transient and fleeting -
In it no assurance can be found."
A layman's life is like a thief
Who sneaks into an empty house.
Know you not the folly of it?
Youth is like a summer flower -
Suddenly it fades away.
Old age is like a fire spreading
Through the fields - suddenly 'tis at your heels.
The Buddha once said, "Birth and death
Are like sunrise and sunset -
Now come, now go."
Sickness is like a little bird
Wounded by a sling.
Know you not, health and strength
Will in time desert you?
Death is like an oil-dry lamp
(After its last flicker).
Nothing, I assure you,
In this world is permanent.
Milarepa is a way cool dude. The beginning of his life was no good, and he ended up turning to black magic and murdering nearly 40 of his cousins in a vengeful act upon his aunt and uncle who had taken his inheritance after his father's death. Later on he realized what heavy karma he had incurred through his hatred, and turned to the dharma for peace. He went on to study with Marpa, one of the great teachers of the Tibetan tradition, who gave Milarepa crazy tasks to do and refused to teach him the dharma. Marpa also beat and ridiculed Milarepa with some regularity, and made Milarepa build a tower three times and tear it down, all without explanation or apparent remorse. One day everything changed and Marpa became the epitome of loving father figures, going on to explain that all of the harshness was simply to help Milarepa burn off the effects of his negative deeds. Milarepa then was initiated into some high-level meditation methods, and went happily on his way to be a hermit and a yogi for the rest of his life. His teaching method usually took the form of songs, such as the one above.
Here's a typical depiction of Milarepa:
He's holding a skull cap begging bowl, a continual reminder of the transiency of life and the interdependence of all beings, and he has his hand to his ear so he can better hear the whisperings of the dharma.
Tibetan bone-work is incredible stuff, and the anatomist in me really wants to get one of these one day:
The use of bones in ritual and religious symbolism reminds me of the "ossuary churches" spread throughout the world, mostly in Europe. The monks of one of the ossuary churches (I can't remember which) volunteered their remains for the decoration of these churches as a physical assertion of the reality of the resurrection and their trust in a God who would eventually make all things whole. These churches also serve as a reminder that "to dust we return."
I like that. Maybe I'm a little morbid (who in my family isn't, at least a little), but I think constant reminders that death is a-comin' help me to be happier and kinder and more in the moment. I'm-a-wastin' away, and there's no time to waste! Things are also put in perspective - why worry and struggle so much when all the material I'm leaving behind is a bag o' bones? Why not focus on more enduring legacies than houses, cars, etc., when the only things that really last are love, peace, compassion, faith, and all of those other warm-squishy-feel-goods? It occured to me the other day while on the phone with my Mama (don't mamas have a way of bringing out the best in their chillens?) that once something is over, it's over and done. The biggest things that we plan and slave for - wedding receptions come particularly to mind - are finished in a few hours, and they don't affect us much afterward unless we really want them to. Why not enjoy the planning and the working as part of the event and by-golly-let-it-go when it's done? AND why not see where some of those worries and cares over things that don't really make us happy live, and let them die off peacefully?
Anywho, like I said, Milarepa is a cool guy. I want to find some Kagyu monks and/or nuns who can tell me more while I'm in Little Tibet, because monastics from this guy's lineage are probably cool too.