Milarepa’s ‘Song to the Hunter’ and the living ‘ear-whispered’ lineage of Chira Kagyu in Nepal

It is a pleasure and honour to share the first published English-language quotes and photos from Dharma friend, and living lineage holder of the Chira Kagyu lineage, the 37th Chira Kagyu Choge Chiba (38 years old, born in Tibetan Dog-Water Year)  whose father is the 36th Chira Kagyu Choge Chiba (70 years ago in 1951 in the Tibetan Rabbit Year of Metal and passed away in 2012 in the Tibetan Dragon year of Water), a lineage that comes directly from one of the eight heart disciples of Milarepa, the hunter, Chira. Also, as part of this post, and an effort to preserve and promote this little-known lineage, I have done a new translation of Milarepa’s song to the hunter, Chira, combined with the Tibetan (and phonetics), see below.

When I first made friends with the 37th Chira over one year ago,  due to his interest in my website and work on Kalacakra, I had no idea that such a lineage existed and was alive and well. It was only recently this month,  I discovered that he holds this lineage when he asked me to put into phonetics the Tibetan songs that Milarepa sang to his ancestor. A sign of his humility and realisation no doubt. There is a mis-perception in Tibetan Buddhist circles that the main lineage holders are Tibetans, however the Nepali Buddhist lineages of Vajrayana are still maintained in many parts of Nepal to this day.

The eight lineages of Milarepa

According to sources, there were eight chief disciples of the famous 11th century wandering Yogi Milarepa:- 1. Je Gampopa (Dagpo Rinpoche) 2. Rechung Dorje Tagpa of Gungthang 3. Ngan Dzon Tonpa of Chim Lung 4. Shiwa Wod Repa of Gyal-tom-mad 5. Seban Repa of Dota 6. Chirawa Gonpo of Nyesang 7. Bri-Gom Repa of Mus & 8. Sangye Kyap Repa of Ragma. Chira means ‘hunter’. According to the 37th Chira:

Among these eight lineages, the Dagpo lineage (with all its branches and sub-branches) is the only one that we see in modern times. Of course, people also hear about the survival of Rechungpa lineage (not just inside the Drukpa lineage but outside of it), and somehow its survival makes a case that other lineages too might have survived in one form or the other, but as none of them are public, we do not know much, if anything, about them.  However, I know of the Chira Kagyu lineage because I myself belong to this lineage. No matter how small scale it is being passed down from one to one, as an ear whispered lineage (in fact Kagyu actually means an ear whispered tradition), this Chira Kagyu lineage does exist.

The Chira Kagyu lineage – An oral ‘ear-whispered’ lineage
Milarepa with some of his disciples. Chira the Hunter is bottom left (red with a bow)
Chira’s bow at the cave in Nyeshang

According to the 37th Chira:

In the 11th century, Milarepa meditated for quite a time in Nyeshang (Manang, Nepal). We do not exactly know for how long he meditated there, but generally, it is said that he stayed there for six years. It was here that my 37th forefather Chirawa met Milarepa in the cave where the bow on the cliff still seen there is believed to be the Bow of Chirawa. The legends of Milarepa are still heard and told again and again. Regarding pre-Chirawa history, we know that from Mustang, two Clans had moved to Manang, one in Nar and another in Nyesang. Those who went to Nar were the Lama clans and the one who went to Nyesang and settled there were Konme (Gonpo/Ghonde/Ghotane) clans. Chirawa Gonpo (Chira Ba Konme) is a descendent of Konme clans. He (Chira Ba Konme) was a chieftain and a master hunter of Nyeshang (Manang). Before he met Milarepa, his was a family of Bon followers which is also one of the reasons why he showed no respect to Milarepa when he first encountered him. After the meeting, his life was completely transferred and he became one of the chief disciples of Milarepa. Descendent of Chira-Ba moved to Kohla-Sonthar (in between the Lamjung and Kaski). After the downfall of Kohla-Sonthar in 15th century, the descendent of Chiraba moved to Kapur village in Lamjung and then to Sikles in Kaski. They didn’t stay much in Sikles but migrated further down into Dhanubas. The 28th lineage holder of Chiraba clan Choge (Lord of Dharma) Chiba (Head) Dhanu Gurung like Chira-Ba became very famous as a master-archer and there are legends about him as a master archer who could split a thin thread by hitting the arrow back by only looking out in the mirror. As a request from the King of Kaski, Dhanu Gurung moved to a village near Kaski. From there my father who was 36th Chira-Kagyu Choge Chiba moved to the Pokhara city and it was there I was born and grew up. As it is a hereditary lineage, my eldest brother was actually a sole heir to the lineage but he died young and my other two elder brothers didn’t put interest in Dharma so my father transmitted the lineage to me, the youngest child. This is how I hold the lineage.

It was at the age of 10,11 and 12 that I received the teachings of Naropa’s Satdharma (Six Yogas of Naropa: na ro chos drug) especially the Chandali Yoga from my father but I didn’t receive Mahamudra until 2012. He gave Mahamudra teachings only before he passed away in 2012. This is mainly an oral-lineage. In fact , in Gurungs, to this day, even the Pye (sacred oral-texts) have survived orally and they are chanted by memory, though now many have started to write down the pye. Even the Buddha’s teaching, was transmitted orally for 300 years before it was written down. Hence, just because it was written down at a later time, doesn’t mean it was not from an earlier time, it simply means they were orally transmitted before; and that is the case here with the oral-lineage. Due to certain conditions we couldn’t cremate my father immediately and he stayed in ‘thugdam’ for 35 days, even though he was an ordinary man.

The ‘ear whispered’ tradition is still practised in Nepal by the Buddhists like Newah (Newar) and Gurungs but it is more practised by the Hindus. But even the Nepali Bonpos, including Gurung Bonpos they do practice this ear-whisper practice. Other groups too do this kind of practice, after all, it is one of the very old traditions. We know, in tantra,  secrecy is of utmost importance and hence tantra teachings and practice are secretly guarded, only whispered from mouth to ear, one to one, lest others hear it. Called in Nepali as “Kaan-Phuknu” it is a practice of giving Diksha i.e. initiating into the secret practice and lineage.
Regarding Kagyu, by its very word “kagyu” it means the ‘ear whispered’ one, so all the Kagyu lineages can call themselves ‘ear whispered’ but the question is have they maintained the practice of ear whisper or not? Most of them have not (I mean literally). The moment you give empowerments and teachings in programs in a group/public (maybe for a good cause for the benefit of all) it literally shows it has deviated from the ear whispered practice. The Chira Kagyu Lineage has preserved this ear whisper tradition as it is. Of course, the Dagpo Kagyu has preserved all those profound teachings and practices and their contribution does not just remain for a single school of Kagyu but has immensely benefited the whole Buddha Dharma too. I too am immensely grateful to that lineage for that, but it is also true that the Dagpo lineage did not solely come from Milarepa because his profound student Gampopa syncretised it from both Atisha and Milarepa.

When I met Choeje Ayang Rinpoche and Dupseng Rinpoche, both of them asked me to preserve and promote this lineage and said they would help me, but I am a simple and ordinary man with no profound vision or commitment or resolution. I am a man like a small wave in the ocean which rises and subsides in an instant and my life is nothing more than that, I “Thus Come and Thus Go”, I am that.”

37th Chira Kagyu lineage holderMilarepa’s Song
Milarepa’s Song to the Hunter

Milarepa eventually attained enlightenment in the mountains of Nepal, and composed many songs along the way. It is said that Milarepa was once disturbed in his meditation by a deer that was being chased by a dog, which in turn was being followed by a hunter named Chira Gonpo Dorje. When Milarepa did not allow the hunter to kill the deer, the hunter shot his arrows at Milarepa. The arrows could not harm Milarepa, and instead of being angry with the hunter, he started teaching all three the way to attain salvation in the form of three songs: the song of the deer, the song of the dog, and the song of the hunter. Milarepa had a great influence upon the people of Nye Shang, and many, including the hunter, became his disciples.

Milarepa’s song to Chira the Hunter has been translated into English previously in The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: The Life-Story and Teaching of the Greatest Poet-Saint Ever to Appear in the History of Buddhism (1999) edited by Garma C. C. Chang.  A preserved 14th Century manuscript of the songs in Tibetan can be seen here at the British Library. The manuscript on display is an illustrated version created about a century before the well-known printed edition published in the 16th century by a master known as the ‘Madman from Tsang’:

Folio from the 12th Century manuscript of Milarepa’s song at the British Library

As a tribute to the Chira lineage, and also as I was requested to put it together with the Tibetan phonetics by the 37th Chira, I have done a new translation of it, which is closer to the original Tibetan words and repetitions. Milarepa uses the Tibetan word ‘tul’ (btul) in this song several times, to describe ‘annihilating’ or ‘conquering’ external and inner ‘enemies’, this can also be translated as ‘subjugating’ or ‘taming’.

 

I supplicate the accomplished ones;
Bless us to pacify the five poisons

You, a man with a human body but a demon’s face,
Human-bodied demon face, listen to Milarepa’s tune!

They say the human body is rare, like a precious gem;
There is nothing rare or precious about you though.
Sinful one with a demon’s form,
Who scorns the suffering of the lower realms!

Though you seek to accomplish desires of this life,
Due to negative acts, they will not be accomplished.
If one develops revulsion to samsara within, then realisations will be attained.

Annihilating outer appearances, will not conquer them.
Conquer your own mind, at this very moment!
Your killing this deer will not satiate you
Killing the five poisons within, all wishes are fulfilled!
Annihilating ‘outer’ enemies, they increase even more.
Conquering one’s ‘inner’ mindstream, there are no ‘enemies’.

Do not be carried away by evil in this life.
If you practice divine Dharma, that is best.
To you, I will explain the six yogas of Naropa
And show the Mahamudra meditation.

རྗེ་གྲུབ་ཐོབ་རྣམས་ལ་གསོལ་བ་འདེབས། །

jé drubtob nam la solwa deb/

དུག་ལྔ་ཞི་བར་བྱིན་གྱིས་རློབས། །

duk nga shyiwar jingyi lob/

འགྲོ་བ་མི་ཡི་ལུས་ལ་སྲིན་པོའི་གདོང་། །

drowa mi yi lü la sinpö dong/

མི་ལུས་སྲིན་གདོང་མི་ལའི་གླུ་ལ་ཉོན། །

milü sin dong mi lé lu la nyön/

མི་ལུས་རིན་ཆེན་དཀོན་གསུངས་ཏེ། །

milü rin chen kön sung té

ཁྱོད་འདྲ་མཐོང་ན་དཀོན་རྒྱུ་མེད། །

khyö dra tong na kön gyu mé

སྲིན་པོའི་གཟུགས་ཀྱི་སྡིག་པ་ཅན། །

sinpö zuk kyi dikpa chen

ངན་སོང་སྡུག་བསྔལ་ཁྱད་བསད་ནས ། །

ngensong dukngal khyé sé né

ཚེ་འདིའི་འདོད་པ་སྒྲུབ་ལགས་ཀྱང་། །

tsé di döpa drub lak kyang

སྡིག་པས་འདོད་པ་མི་འགྲུབ་སྟེ། །

dikpé döpa mi drub té

ནང་ཞེན་པ་ལོག་ན་དངོས་གྲུབ་འཐོབ། །

nang shyenpa lok na ngödrub tob

ཕྱི་སྣང་བ་བཏུལ་གྱིས་མི་ཐུལ་གྱིས། །

chi nangwa tul gyi mi tul gyi

ཁྱོད་རང་སེམས་འདུལ་བའི་དུས་ལ་བབ། །

khyörang sem dulwé dü la bab

ཁྱོད་ཤ་བ་བསད་པས་མི་འགྲངས་ཏེ། །

khyö shawa sepé mi drang té

ནང་དུག་ལྔ་བསད་ན་ཅི་བསམ་གྲུབ། །

nang duk nga sé na chi sam drub

ཕྱི་དགྲ་བོ་བཏུལ་ཡང་ཇེ་མང་འགྲོ། །

chi drawo tul yang jé mang dro

ནང་རང་རྒྱུད་བཏུལ་ན་དགྲ་བོ་མེད། །

nang rang gyü tul na dra wo mé

མི་ཚེ་སྡིག་ལ་མ་སྐྱེལ་བར། །

mi tsé dik la ma kyel war

དམ་པའི་ལྷ་ཆོས་བྱས་ན་ལེགས། །

dampé lha chö jé na lek

ཁྱོད་ལ་ནཱ་རོ་ཆོས་དྲུག་གི་ཁྲིད་ཅིག་འདེབས། །

khyö la na ro chö druk gi tri chik deb

ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོའི་སྒོམ་ཞིག་སྟོན། །

chakgya chenpö gom shyik tön

A small book of new translations of the few songs (with Tibetan and phonetics) that were sang to the hunter in his presence, with foreword by the 37th Chirawa, is now in the pipeline. I will publish on the website here when it is done.

Language of the lineage
The songs of Milarepa were sung in Tibetan, so how were they passed down in this mainly Nepalese lineage? The 37th Chiwara explains that:
The Gurung language is of the Tibeto-Burman family and hence Tibetan or more precisely the classical Tibetan is the mother language of Gurungs.

The language that Milarepa passed down is called Pai-kyui(Classical Tibetan) by us. The Gurung language that is alive at present has its evolution as Pai-kyui (meaning Classical Tibetan) then cho-ke (meaning the language of highlanders), then Lo-Kyui (meaning the language of Low-landers) and finally Tamu-Kyui (present Gurung language). Many words too have been transformed in the present condition after constant interaction with khas (Nepali language) for more than 500 years. For instance Mila-repa in Gurungs’ pye (sacred oral text) is called Mila-raja. Now I don’t know why they called Mila-raja rather than Mila-repa because repa is cotton cloth and raja means King. This looks to me that as Gurungs couldn’t make sense of the word repa, they thought it must be raja meaning King an hence started singing pye as Mila-Raja as we say Milaraja braja jya (Hail to Milarepa), even this jya for sure is a Sanskrit and Nepali and Hindi word rather than Gurungs.

Also in the pye of Pachyu and Klhepre Gurungs priest of Highlanders they still use the Cho-kyui whereas the Gurung priests of lowlanders have in many of pyes changed some of the words into Sanskrit/Nepali.
Milarepa’s Cave in Nyishang, Nepal

The cave in Nyishang, associated with Milarepa, is in Nepal on the Annapurna Circuit at approximately 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) just outside Manang. It is credited to have been the residence of Milarepa during his stay in modern-day northern Nepal. This site also includes a holy spring, gompa, and bow from hunter who tried to kill Milarepa. In local tradition, this is also the site where he met and sang the song to the hunter.  Here are some beautiful photos, the 37th Chira shared with me, of the sacred places of Milarepa and Chirawa in Nyeshang, Nepal.

Chirawa and Milarepa statues at Nyeshang, Nepal cave

 

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