Milarepa, the king of great yogis of Tibet was not only a follower of Tibetan Buddhism, but as a Buddhist, his life story is not unknown to many. He had many followers, but of his so-called sun, moon and star followers, his best and sun-like student was Gampopa. For many years, Milarepa bestowed on Gampopa all the empowerments, transmissions and instructions of Dhakpo Kagyu that he himself received from a succession of his teachers, from Dorjee Chang, Tilopa, Naropa to Marpa. Not only this, he also gave Gampopa the view of Mahamudra and the meditations of the Six Yogas of Naropa, the highest Kagyu teachings in their most absolute form, as if water poured from one vase to another.
One day Milarepa said to Gampopa, “You have lived with me for many years and made progress in your practice with a discerning edge. Now, son, with your recognition of the nature of emptiness and progress in your experience, it is time for you to benefit others. There is no need to stay with this old man. Go south to the Gampo mountains and be of benefit to beings. However, my son, before you leave, I will give you a pith instruction, that I have never given to anyone before.” Gampopa thought to himself. “For all these years, not only have I received the complete view, practice and conduct instructions of Mahamudra, but also received many empowerments, transmissions and teachings. For a yogi like myself, who has gained instant recognition of the nature of emptiness, made the spontaneous decision and sought conviction in it, what could this instruction be?”
When the day came for Gampopa to return home, Milarepa accompanied him to see him off. The separation of teacher and student was an unbearable moment for both. Milarepa saw him off at the bank of the river. As Gampopa reached the other side of the river, he suddenly remembered the last pith instruction that his teacher was to give him. From the other side of the river, Gampopa shouted, “Aye, old father Milarepa, I forgot about the last important instruction that you were going to give me. I am coming over.” Milarepa answered, “Aye, my son, no need to come here. My last pith instruction is this.” Milarepa raised the rag he wore and showed Gampopa his bottom. He asked, “did you see it, did you really see it?” Gampopa said he did and replied, “now, I really saw it”. Milarapa’s bottom was hardened with callouses from his prolonged sitting in meditation. The message in showing his bottom was that even though Gampopa had recognized the nature of emptiness, it was important for him to follow his recognition with meditation to attain the final goal of enlightenment.
Both teacher and student coming together by the river signified that the secret Kagyu teachings would thrive like the continuity of the flow of water. The symbolism of both being on either side of the river was that they would never meet again.