Patrul Rinpoche


by © Konchok Tendzin


Patrul Rinpoche was an enlightened master who, though he lived the life of a vagabond, was, in fact, one of the most illustrious spiritual teachers and authors of the last century-a living Buddha in modern times, His memory is still very much alive today, and offers a constant source of inspiration to all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism.


Patrul Rinpoche was born in a nomad area of eastern Tibet, as a child, his intelligence and abilities were exceptional; he was recognized as the tulku of a master who had lived in that region, After meeting several enlightened teachers, Patrul set everything at his monastery in order before completely giving up all worldly concerns.


His principal master was Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, whi had spent many years meditating alone near the snowline in the remote valley of Dzama Lung, On the wind swept mountain-side where he lived there was not even the shelter of a cave, His only home was depression in the ground, and Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu survived by eating wild plants and roots, as the years passed, the renown of this remarkable ascetic spread far and wide, and hundreds of disciples came to visit him, living in tents nearby, he was the archetype of the Dharma practitioner for whom live is very simple, who does not always hve a host of things to do, but who simply makes up his mind just to stay where he is until he accomplishes realization, From Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, patrul Rinpoche received no less that twenty-five times the teachings on the foundation practices of the Hearts Essence of Great Space, the Longchen Nyingthig.


Patrul Rinpoche spent most of his life wandering in the mountains, living in caves, forests, and hermitages lost in the wilderness, There he constantly meditated on love, compassion, and bodhicitta-the wish to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment. These he held as the very root of spiritual practice. To everyone, high and low, he would say, "Have a good heart, act with kindness; nothing is more important than that."


In his youth, he had studied with the greatest teachers of his time and, with his extraordinary memory, committed most of the teachings to heart. Later in his life, he could teach for months at a time on the most complex subjects of Buddhist philosophy without consulting even a single page of text.


When Patrul Rinpoche taught the Dharma, people's minds were completely transformed. Everyone listening would feel serene and capable of resting effortlessly in contemplation, When spoken by him, even a few simple words could open the door to a whole succession of new insight into spiritual life. He taught in a direct language which people could immediately relate to their own inner experience. Because of his immense knowledge, the warmth of his blessings and the depth of inner realization, to receive teachings form him was quite different from receiving them from any other teacher.


Form his outward appearance, his clothes, and the way he behaved with people who did not know who he was, nothing distinguished Patrul Rinpoche form a completely ordinary person, people who met him by chance would never have guessed that he was a great lama, It once happened that other lamas, not recognizing Patrul, gave him teachings based on his own commentary !


He kept on possessions at all. Utterly detached from the affairs of this world, he would never accept offerings, If people insisted on presenting him with valuables, he would just abandon them, silver and gold or whatever they were, wherever he happened to be, and go off carefree and alone, When he stayed somewhere, he had no fixed plans, and when he left somewhere he had been staying. he left with no particular destination, he would just leave, taking his walking stick, the clothes on his back, a small cloth bag containing a clay pot in which to boil tea, and a copy of the Bodhicaryavatara, he would stop anywhere he liked, in forests, caves, or in the middle of nowhere, for an indeterminate time.


Everyone who spent some time with him said that he never used to speak about anything other that Dharma, He might teach, or tell stories from the lives of the great lamas of old; but no one ever heard him just chat about any ordinary worldly goings on. He spoke seldom, anyway, and when he did it was in a blunt and very direct way, uncomfortable for any one hoping for flattery. His presence inspired awe and spiritual guidance would come to visit him. But anyone who came to know him well would end up finding it very difficult to part form him. 


While living in one mountain hermitage, Patrul Rinpoche used to go into the nearby  forest, where large black horse-flies abounded, and there take off his clothes and lay naked on the ground. Soon his body would be completely covered with flies. He would remain there, motionless, for a few hours, letting the flies bite his flesh and feed on his blood. Finally he would get up, put on his clothes, and say to Nyoshul Lhungtho, his closest disciple, "Let's go home forest." He would repeat this process daily for may days. There are many such instance where Patrul Rinpoche  demonstrated the activities of a true Bodhisattva, cherishing others more than himself.


Patrul Rinpoche is remembered today by all the most illustrious contemporary masters as an outstanding contemplative and mystic who attained realization of the absolute. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often publicly praises Patrul Rinpoche's Bodhicitta teachings, which he himself and transmits. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche has said that Patrul Rinpoche was, of all the great lamas, the most perfect example of a practitioner who upholds the view, meditation, and action of Dzogchen, Atiyoga.


Patrul Rinpoche knew practically by heart the famed Seven Treasures and other works of the omniscient fourteenth century Tibetan master Gyalwa Longchenpa, whom he considered the ultimate authority on the various levels of the Buddhist path. Form time to time, sequestered in caves or rugged hermitages, he wrote a number of profound and original treatises of his own, most of which were later collected in six volumes.


His most popular work, Kunzang Lamai Shelung, "Oral Advice of the Ever-Excellent Master", describes in a trenchant vernacular style, with many anecdotes. the fundamental practice of the Nyingmapa tradition, It is revered by masters and disciples of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.


Patrul Rinpoche instructed followers of all schools without partiality, and together with Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and Lama Mipham played a major role in the development of the non-sectarian Movement which flourished in the 19th century, reviving the entirety of Tibetan Buddhism at a time when many rare lineages and practices were on the verge of extinction. A strong exponent of the joys of solitude and monastic simplicity, he always stressed the futility of worldly striving and worldly pursuits.

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