Punya interviews Milarepa about his life as a song-writer and musician
I had the pleasure to play often with Milarepa, first standing next to each other in the line-up during drive-by (both trying our best on Nivedano’s drums) and later when he invited me, for countless times, to be part of the percussion section of his band for the White Robe Evening Meditation and the Sannyas Celebration in Pune. We reconnected when we reported about the Music Festival he ran last year in Lesvos and this time as a pleasant surprise I found in the post – his new CD: ‘Daydreams’.
How did your ‘music career’ start?
I have never considered myself a professional or career musician, nor an entertainer. Music for me is a love affair and a kind of hobby: I play music for fun. It is more an excuse to share my heart, celebrate my life, and enjoy meditation with others.
It all started when I learned guitar in high school (I wanted to play like the cool guys I heard playing on records I was listening to at the time: The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan among others) but I never mastered music as a subject in school, which means that I am quite ‘poor’ in the sense that I don’t read music or understand its theory.
When did you write your first song?
It was at Rajneeshpuram, in 1981 to be exact. I wrote it during a lunch break: I was sitting in the sun on the back porch of my house happier than I had ever been in my life. In fact, my four years at the Ranch were the best of my life and something definitely worth singing about. The song emerged as a spontaneous feeling to express my joy, my love and gratitude to Osho. It was ‘This Life Our Celebration’. The song was later chosen by the Commune to be sung during the main darshan at the First Annual World Celebration.
So you sang it for Osho?
No, I was not picked to be in the band.
How was that for you?
It was OK. We were all friends. Some of us sang and played in the various celebration bands, some of us washed dishes, some of us cleaned houses and worked in the fields. This was how it was in the Commune. Whatever ‘work’ I did was the same to me. I was just as happy being a backhoe driver as I was with a guitar in my hands. There was never any question of jealousy or competition. It was more than enough that my song was selected to be sung to Osho.
The second part which goes ‘Alive Alive’ was later added by Maniko, one of the musicians. It was a thrill hearing it played in the celebration and I was surprised how quickly people learned the words. As the whole hall began to sing it together, the energy went through the roof! I couldn’t have wished for a better gift.
Well, it is still a hit today and we quite often sing it in our band here! When did you sing for Osho then? And how was that?
The first time I was invited to be in the band for a Celebration was for one of the Ranch Festivals, I think maybe it was Osho’s birthday. I sang my song ‘In The Silence Of Your Presence’. As I was singing and watching him, I suddenly realized what a unique opportunity it was to give something back to him for all he was giving me, especially to be able to express this in words and song directly to him. This was so ultimately fulfilling.
For most of us in the Commune, being with Osho was pretty much a one-way affair: He gave and we received, and this exchange mostly happened in silence – at least from the disciple side. Perhaps this is the ‘right’ way to be with a master, but I can only share that there is a lot of joy that comes from being able to give something back. For me, the songs are all about this. I see them as vehicles for love and gratefulness, and are the most beautiful way I know to say thank you: to Osho, to Existence, to the Divine, whatever name one likes to give it.
I remember you playing the surdo and that you enjoyed it because, for once, there were no chords…
One of the greatest things that happened in my life aside from meeting Osho was Nivedano teaching me to play the Brazilian surdo drum. I love the mindlessness of just playing the beat. That’s right – no chords! My rhythm in the beginning was very square. I played like I was in a marching band, with no swing, as Nivi would say. One particularly frustrating day during drive-by at the Ranch, I had been struggling with the groove when Nivi came up to me and said, “It is not the way you hit the drum. It’s the way you mute the sound with the other hand that gives the groove and makes it swing.” He told me to watch the women dancing and how their butts move. This would give an indication I was on the right track or not.
Later in Pune I also remember that after Sannyas Celebration the organisers often said that you had sung the ‘right’ song for each person, although you did not know them at all. What was the trick? Can you explain that?
You have heard the expression ‘a good magician never tells his tricks’? You might have also heard that the original Milarepa, my Tibetan namesake, was famous for his magic. I’ll leave it at this.
Osho answered many of your questions. Was there one answer which was more significant than others?
One of the most significant ‘answers’ Osho gave to me came in the form of a question he penned on my behalf and signed my name to: “Beloved Osho, Why am I a philosopher?” Up until this time, I used to think a lot of about great spiritual things. After this, I started taking myself and the world around me a little less seriously.
Now you are mostly touring with the One Sky band? Do you like all this travelling?
Yes, I have been touring with my band since 2002. Usually I am Europe in the summer and in the USA in early autumn. Then in the Far East – Japan and Taiwan – in late autumn and spring. I like to add a few unknown countries to my schedule every year to keep it fresh and interesting.
I am not pulled to any place in particular now because the Commune for me has expanded beyond its physical borders. My work in the world is the same now as when I lived in the Commune: I am nourished in the same way, maybe even more because of this expansion.
And yes, I love to travel. It is in my bones to be a ‘rolling stone’. Sometimes I play with a band and enjoy the energy this creates. Sometimes I enjoy to play alone and can appreciate the intimacy and different dynamic that happens.
You are also travelling to run Music and Meditation Festivals. What do you like about them?
Festivals are an opportunity to be part of a bigger energy happening than, say, listening to a concert and being entertained. This year I will be back in Afroz. It is a magic place. The Greek Island of Lesvos has a special energy which supports creativity, love and meditation.
There are also other festivals in Europe where I play with the band. Each has its own flavour and beauty. Their dates and locations can be viewed on my web schedule…
Despite all this touring you still have the time to create new songs; and you have just come out with a new CD.
I just completed my first song CD in five years. The process started in early January when I decided to finish up some partially completed songs collecting dust in my guitar case and came to fruition May 25 with the actual CDs arriving from the factory. The ‘journey’ has been a joy from start to finish. I documented it in a short YouTube clip… The album is called ‘Daydreams’ and can be purchased from Osho Risk, Osho Publikaties, and at the events. It is dedicated to Osho who remains my greatest love and inspiration.
Could you teach me how to write songs? How do they come to you? What is the secret?
I’ve been asked this many times. The truth is, I don’t really know. I can only say that music is a longing I have inside: a longing to express and share myself. Songs come easiest when I am relaxed, at ease with myself. Then the music and lyrics flow. But sometimes they don’t flow…
When the winters are long and cold, I have often asked myself: ‘Do the bare trees have doubts spring will ever come again? Or do they have some deeper trust I don’t know?’ Certainly there are times when I have thought: ‘Will I ever have a new song to sing again?’ These creative droughts can be painfully long sometimes. But I’ve come to see them as a natural part of the creative process, not something to resist or fight. Just as there are outer seasons, I have my inner seasons. I’ve experienced this enough to know that sooner or later, and as if out of nowhere, spring comes and a new song is born. It is like this.
I always try to sing about things relevant to my life. I love Zen which says: ‘This everyday life is divine. There is no paradise hiding or waiting somewhere else. It is present in this very life and beats in an ordinary human heart.’ These themes are reflected in all my songs, also on the new album. You will hear.
As for as teaching: No, I can’t teach you how to write a song, also because I am a terrible teacher. I can only share with you my experience: the songs come from my search to understand myself, to find out who I am. Through meditation my heart opens and love starts shining – first for myself and then for others – creating in me a strong wish to share.
Therefore I can only say: meditate first, love first, and then watch what happens in you. Experience has taught me that at some point one has no choice but to sing. And it’s not something that we need to force – maybe encouraged a little bit, yes, but then the music comes. It always does. It’s there inside, waiting.
It is about creating the right space within for it to happen and flow. This is what I have learned from Osho and still continue to learn.
Interview by Punya
Re title of this article: my apologies go to Maneesha whom Osho called ‘my bard’.