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At Gun Tan Castle, some men were building a house and Milarepa approached them for alms. Saying that they had no time and were busy while he appeared to be idle, they invited him to join in their house construction. But Milarepa declined to work upon worldly building, for he said his house was already constructed in his own way. The men asked him, “How did you build your house, and why do you spurn our work so strongly?” Milarepa sang in reply:

  • Faith is the firm foundation of my house,
  • Diligence forms the high walls,
  • Meditation makes the huge bricks,
  • And Wisdom is the great cornerstone.
  • With these four things I build my castle
  • And it will last as long as the Truth eternal!
  • Your worldly houses are delusions,
  • Mere prisons for the demons,
  • And so I would abandon and desert them.

— Milarepa: The Tibetan Poet-Mystic & His Songs
(trans. Sunia Pant Bansal)

Jetsun Milarepa (c. 1052–c. 1135) is one of Tibet’s most famous yogis and poets and a major influence on the shape of Tibetan Buddhism. Considered canonical texts of Mahayana Buddhism, “The Songs of Milarepa” focus on a key plank in this brand of Buddhism — the temporary nature of matter and in particular the body and the philosophical and spiritual doctrine of non-attachment to the things of this world.

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