With a strong desire to set things right in his life, Mila succeeded in his dark magic training. His mind was psychologically altered and his vengeance so great that a sense of evilness seemed to encompass him. Even the evil sorcerer was alarmed and dare not raise an objection when Mila said he was going back home for revenge.
Mila did not waste another moment when he reached his birthplace. He set himself up in a secret location overlooking his home and focused his mind on one single thing. Revenge! Days and nights, he focused his mind and prayers upon one single purpose, and that was cursing that evil man (his uncle).
In his prayers to the evil gods, he recalled all the pains and hurts suffered under his evil uncle’s household. All those physical, verbal, and psychological abuses that were rained down upon a helpless little boy. They must die!
Perhaps it was karma, perhaps it was coincidental, or perhaps Mila’s evil magic really worked. A natural disaster befell while Mila was cursing his uncle’s household. But that disaster was not limited to his uncle’s family! The surrounding area and other innocent families were affected too.
Mila’s short-lived joy faded as he surveyed the aftermath. His mind was a complete mess by the time he walked into his childhood village. House had collapsed and people were crushed and dead. Survivors were wailing in pain or crying in anguish over their losses. With a blanked mind, Mila stood outside his former home.
There was nothing left! There was nothing to be gained and nothing left to return to. His revenge did not help to “set things right”. What had he accomplished? The wails and lamentations of fellow villagers filled the air. What had he done? Mila blamed himself for a natural disaster and became maddened with guilt.
It was with such an unbalanced state of mind that he came to ML’s home. Mila’s newfound purpose in life was to set things right again! After all, ML was a notable Buddhist teacher. People said ML was the living Buddha! Surely, he can help those innocent victims. Surely, he had the power of gods. Surely he can make them live again! What a madman, right?
To ordinary people like us, Mila’s unconventional demand seemed crazy. But to a wise person, it also reflected the existence of some good in him. The challenge for ML was how to guide someone with such a twisted mind toward Dharma.
To appreciate what ML was facing, we have to remember that Mila was a psychologically broken man at that point in time. He had suffered “ordinary” abuse under his uncle’s care, then he suffered psychologically when he trained under the evil sorcerer. His only hope and purpose were to set things right in his life by cursing his enemy. His revenge resulted only in an “emptiness” because his entire village was flattened! Moreover, Mila’s sense of reality was also warped by training in dark magic. His behaviours weren’t conventional. His demand and expectation of ML were outrageous. He was highly irritated and agitated, prone to violent outbursts. If we just reflect on this carefully, we will appreciate what kind of “trouble” or “challenge” had arrived at ML’s doorsteps.
The above is my personal interpretation of this classic Tibetan Buddhist tale. It shows the depth and nuances that traditional storytelling tends to neglect. The traditional story works for an audience who is deep in faith and obedient but it is also because of that, many people may misinterpret what comes next. So let us continue to examine Mila’s story through our modern lenses.
ML was a notable scholar in many ways. He was famous and if he couldn’t care less, it was simpler for him to alert the authority and had Mila forcibly removed! Instead, ML tolerated a crazy man’s harassment for weeks by ignoring Mila or by being mean. Can you imagine a crazy man at your doorstep everyday?
Meanwhile, ML’s wife was “secretly” caring for Mila by giving him food and clothing. Do you see the good cop and bad cop being narrated in the storytelling? From our modern perspective, all these would make sense because the compassionate couple was trying to “settle” Mila’s mind to a certain extent. Moreover, ML would also need to “diagnose” what was the best way to help a crazed Mila.
Next, ML assigned difficult and laborious tasks to Mila. In that manner, ML gave Mila short-term objectives to focus his mind. There are similarities with modern mental treatment if we think about this carefully. Therefore, I am awed by the compassion and skills of ML and his wife. Unfortunately, traditional storytelling tends to portray a “Master” & “servant” relationship instead of a “doctor” & “patient” one.
In the former model, ML’s demanding tasks for Mila are interpreted as a method for Mila to atone his bad karma. For this to make sense, we will have to believe that the natural disaster that befell Mila’s village was indeed caused by Mila’s evil magic! That doesn’t make sense in Buddhism if we compare it with the teachings inside the Pali Canon.
Furthermore, such an interpretation creates an avenue or excuse for subsequent practitioners to:
- Desire punishing challenges for atonement of sins (That is definitely not what Buddha taught)
- Encourage scammers to abuse the misinformed practitioners.
But if we interpret this story from a “doctor and patient” perspective, then ML was a skilled psychiatrist at the very least. Not to mention his high level of compassion and tolerance towards Mila’s crazy behaviour. I think ML must be enlightened to a certain degree.
Next, we have to qualify ML’s actions. His harsh demands toward Mila actually worked! It resulted in a composed and sane Mila who was ready to receive proper Buddhist education! However, that doesn’t mean every Buddhist teacher can blindly copy ML’s action and abuse their students under the pretext of “Clearing your bad karma”! This is because we are not Mila, nor do we have the same situations as Mila. Our state of mind is also not similar to Mila’s. Therefore, why should we receive the same “treatment”?
If our spiritual teacher’s instructions or demands only left us scarred, hurt, abused, stressed, etc; Then those treatments are nothing but malpractice. It is like a general practice doctor pretending to know heart surgery, and trying to operate on you. Surely, you will not let that happen, right?
Moreover, Shakyamuni Buddha never abused anyone or demanded anything. Therefore, no one has any excuse to abuse others or demand servitude from others. What about ML’s actions?
We just need to imagine ourselves in ML’s shoes. If an erratic madman appears at your home and workplace, demanding that you do some miracles to save the world, what would you do? I would call the police! But ML was compassionate and wise enough to help. It was a very unique situation!
In summary, there is no master and slave kind of relationship in Buddhism. We do not “clear” our bad karma by volunteering ourselves to be abused by others. A true Buddhist master has no demands, just like Buddha Shakyamuni. Projects undertaken by a layperson should be entirely self-initiated and voluntary. Having said that, we cannot simply build an orphanage or a temple, then offer them to a Buddhist teacher and expect them to run it.
Remember, Shakyamuni Buddha never permanently stayed in any place. We can spend a billion dollars building a luxurious monastery to offer to our teachers and it is absolutely appropriate for them not to live in that monastery. Nobody is tying anybody down with superficial commitments and relations. Nobody is anybody’s slave.
May all be well and happy.