The Milarepa Life Story was written by Tsangnyön Heruka (Gtsang smyon he ru ka, 1452–1507)Footnote 1 in 1488.Footnote 2 The centrepiece of the biography is the relationship between Milarepa and his volatile Buddhist teacher Marpa. Marpa does not teach Milarepa when they first meet. Instead he forces him to complete many arduous tasks, most notably the construction of stone towers that must be built by hand and then torn down again. Marpa is particularly demanding of Milarepa in this part of the narrative, repeatedly commanding him to work on the towers. In Section I of this paper I examine Marpa's use of harsh directives that include the pronoun khyod and end with a verb in the imperative stem (skul tshig). Eventually Milarepa completes the assigned tasks and receives the desired Buddhist teachings. He practises meditation in a secluded cave and departs from Marpa as his esteemed student. In Section II I examine Marpa's commands that encourage Milarepa. Throughout the story Marpa also issues commands to his wife Dakmema (Bdag med ma) and co-religionist Lama Ngokpa (Bla ma rngog pa). Section III explores the speech of these interlocutors, who never use pronouns or the imperative stem.Footnote 3 Milarepa, Dakmema, and Lama Ngokpa instead make formal requests using honorific titles, such as “Great Father Lama (yab bla ma chen po)”, and the verb zhu ba (“I humbly request”).
In the Milarepa Life Story the temper of Marpa's commands is usually communicated through the use of certain pronouns or vocatives. Marpa also addresses people with their proper names (e.g. Rngog ston chos rdor for Lama Ngokpa) and nicknames (e.g. Mthu chen “Great Magician” for Milarepa).Footnote 4 Table 1 provides a list of the various pronouns and generic vocatives used by Marpa.Footnote 5
Milarepa's rise in status is shown through terms of address that indicate his closer proximity to Marpa (e.g. from the dismissive “Hey you!” to the affectionate “Oh son”). Unlike other characters in Tsangnyön Heruka's work, Marpa uses pronouns, vocatives, and nicknames across a variety of registers. For example, the pronoun khyod (which is usually used to address Milarepa in a derogatory manner) is eventually used by Marpa to express close familiarity. The repertoire of terms used to address Milarepa (and others) accentuates Marpa's authority vis-à-vis his student, wife, and co-religionist.
I. Derogatory commands
In the Milarepa Life Story Marpa commonly issues commands that begin with the second person singular pronoun khyod. In Tibetan khyod is typically used to indicate lower social status,Footnote 6 in contrast to the honorific khyed. Footnote 7 Marpa uses khyed very rarely, however, so this distinction cannot be exclusively relied on to distinguish the social position of his interlocutors.Footnote 8 Instead, we must examine the range of pronouns, vocatives, nicknames, and verbal forms used by Marpa to indicate the status of the people he is speaking to. I begin this endeavour by looking at examples where he uses khyod (or the equivalent khyod rang)Footnote 9 and the imperative stem in a derogatory manner.
At the beginning of chapter two Milarepa enters Marpa's house for the first time. He is immediately scolded after dropping his weighty offering of barley on the floor.
Later, Milarepa is told to cast a series of magical spells against Marpa's enemies. It is the first of a demanding series of preliminary tasks that he must undertake before receiving Buddhist teachings.
During the construction of a stone building, Milarepa is told to stop working on a wall he is building and instead to start a new construction project.
As these examples show, Milarepa is forced to perform a series of seemingly arbitrary tasks. He is completely subservient to Marpa. Marpa also uses khyod with the imperative in order to reprimand Lama Ngokpa.
The use of Lama Ngokpa's full name in this context strengthens the force of the rebuke, much like a father using the full name of his son when he wants both to get his attention and tell him what to do.
In the Milarepa Life Story Marpa primarily uses the pronoun khyod (and khyod rang) with the imperative stem to enforce his authority. In this context, the grammatical use of the pronoun khyod combined with the imperative reflects the greatest distance between Marpa, who is all-powerful, and Milarepa, who is completely helpless.
II. Endearing commands
In Section I we saw that Marpa often uses khyod and the imperative stem in order to frame a direct command. In the examples in Section II Marpa addresses Milarepa in more sympathetic terms. In example (5) Marpa uses the prohibitive construction (ma byed) to remind Milarepa that all his hardships are for his own benefit. In example (6) he encourages Milarepa, telling him what he needs to do (byed dgos) to succeed in his meditation practice. In example (7) Marpa uses the imperative with a more familiar vocative term, addressing Milarepa as his son (bu). In example (8) Marpa uses the inclusive pronoun “us two” (rang re) with the imperative stem in order to implore that he and Milarepa perform a ritual together. In this example there is the least hierarchical distance between teacher and student. In the final example (9) from this section Marpa again uses khyod with the imperative, but in a much more affectionate tone. In all of the examples Marpa is still telling Milarepa what to do, but he is doing so in an encouraging or celebratory mood.
In the first example Marpa is alone with Milarepa, giving him teachings for the first time. It is an intimate moment. Instead of issuing a command with an imperative stem, Marpa uses the prohibitive to gently chide Milarepa.Footnote 13
In the same scene, Marpa commiserates with Milarepa that the path ahead will be very challenging.
Marpa is still telling Milarepa what to do with the pronoun khyod, but it comes across as a soft imperative through the use of byed dgos (i.e. “You need to do”, rather than “Do it!”).Footnote 14
In the next example Marpa uses the imperative with the vocative bu kho de.Footnote 15 This lends his speech a much more affectionate tone.
Immediately after this Marpa implores Milarepa that they perform a ritual offering together, using the first person inclusive pronoun rang re.Footnote 19
Marpa exuberantly declares that he and Milarepa should perform a ritual together.Footnote 20 In this statement the inclusive pronoun “us (rang re)” is obviously to be read as “us two”, as it is in apposition with the compound noun “father and son (pha bu)”.Footnote 21 Later, Marpa again uses rang re in the same formulation (i.e. with pha bu) as he is saying goodbye to Milarepa.Footnote 22 The use of rang re with the imperative indicates the least hierarchical distance between Marpa and his student.
One final example shows that khyod is used with the imperative even with the utmost intimacy. Marpa implores that Milarepa sleep in the same room as him so they can have one more conversation before his student's final departure.
Here we have the familiar structure of a second person singular pronoun (khyod rang) combined with the imperative stem (nyol). Yet the context forces us to read this passage very differently from those with a similar grammatical structure given above in Section I. Marpa is not assuming the domineering stance used when forcing Milarepa to cast magical spells or build stone towers. On the contrary, Marpa is speaking as a father to a son and the passage as a whole is framed by the grief Marpa and Dakmema have for Milarepa's departure. In two other commands from this part in the story (folios 51a–52b) Marpa uses the same grammatical construction to implore Milarepa to keep his teachings in mind and not to forget him.Footnote 23 In all these examples we must read the second person singular khyod in a much more affectionate manner, even though it is combined with the imperative stem.
In the examples in Section II Marpa tells Milarepa what to do by giving him advice and encouragement. There is much less distance between them. Sometimes this is evinced by a change in pronoun (e.g. rang re) or by the use of a familiar vocative (e.g. bu). In the last example, though, it is only through context that we know Marpa is being affectionate towards Milarepa.
III. Formal requests
In Section I Marpa berates Milarepa, issuing commands that typically begin with khyod and end in the imperative stem. In Section II we saw that depending on the choice of pronoun and verb form, similar constructions can be used to give advice and encouragement. In a few cases, even khyod and the imperative are used in an affectionate sense.Footnote 24 In Section III we see that even though Marpa uses khyod in positive and negative statements, its use always indicates his higher social status. For when Milarepa, Dakmema, and Lama Ngokpa entreat Marpa to do certain things they never address him with khyod or use the imperative. In the next two examples (10 and 11) Dakmema is asking Marpa to teach, but rather than using the imperative her speech is framed as a request (using honorific forms and the verb zhu ba).
Dakmema does not use the imperative towards Marpa, even though her requests are extremely urgent. Milarepa also addresses Marpa with the verb zhu ba, asking that he send beer to welcome Lama Ngokpa.
Later, after Lama Ngokpa arrives, he requests specific Buddhist teachings from Marpa.
All of the requests made by Milarepa, Dakmema, and Lama Ngokpa have the exact same construction, ending with the verb “to humbly request (zhu ba)”. Nobody uses the imperative when speaking to Marpa. Even though Milarepa's status changes dramatically in Milarepa Life Story, it would be unthinkable for him to address Marpa with the pronoun khyod. Instead of addressing Marpa by name, requests begin with honorific titles such as “Revered Lama (bla ma lags)”, “Great Father Lama (yab bla ma chen po)”, and “Precious Lama (bla ma rin po che)”.
In the Milarepa Life Story Marpa issues many commands with the imperative stem. These commands indicate a varying level of distance between himself and the addressee depending on the pronoun or vocative (khyod, bu, rang re, etc.) used. In some contexts Marpa encourages Milarepa to persevere, using the prohibitive ma byed or the positive construction byed dgos. Marpa also uses a variety of monikers to address others, while his interlocutors never use pronouns such as khyod or the imperative. Instead they invariably use honorific titles and the verb “to humbly request (zhu ba)”. The uniformity of such requests stands in stark contrast to the variety of terms and registers used to characterize Marpa's speech. Marpa's speech alone determines how close he is to an interlocutor at a given time, confirming both his status and the roles of his student, wife, and co-religionist.
A complete list of Marpa's commands that use the imperative stem (or prohibitive) with a pronoun or vocative in reference to Milarepa, Dakmema, and Lama Ngokpa.
khyod kyi dpe gog de phyir thon (25a line 3)
khyod…nas do phyir thon (25a line 6–25b line 1)
khyod rang la kha ba 'di rnams la mthu thong (25b line 6)
da khyod rang yar 'brog pa rnams khyi lo skyin chug (26a line 2–3)
mthu chen kha sang gi ngas ma byas pa'i ham pa de 'dra ma byed (27b line 6)
mthu chen khyod rang da re zhig mkhar gyi rtsig 'phro zhog (29a line 2–3)
khyod rang la yod na khyer zhog (29a line 5–6)
da khyod rang khyams dang spe'u'i 'phro slong la mthar skyol (29b line 2)
mthu chen khyod rang la nor yod na khyer shog dbang bskur gyis (31b line 6)
bu kho de … bug sgo shig … gleng mo byed pa la shog cig (42a line 5)
rang re pha bu gnyis mngon rtogs sgom cho ga gyis (42b line 1)
khyod rang yang nga ma brjed par gyis (51b line 5)
khyod rang do nub nga'i sar nyol (52a line 1)
da khyod 'di nas bla ma rngog pa'i drung du song (52b line 2–3)
khyod rang bcos ba'i dpang po de gyis (28a line 1)
bdag med ma tsogs kyi sta gon gyis shig (42b line 1)
bdag med ma tsogs kyi 'khor lo bzang po zhig gi grabs gyis (46b line 5)
bdag med ma mchod pa bzang po zhig shoms shig (50a line 1)
bdag med ma tsogs dang mchod pa bzang po zhig zhom zhig (51a line 1)
khye … khyer shog (36a line 6)
khye rang yang shog (36a line 6)
rngo ston chos rdor zer ba'i ma bcol ba byed mkhan khyod rang … long shog (39a line 2)