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Biographies: The Gentle Holy Saint, Patrul Rinpoche

Born in the Dzachuka Valley at the beginning of the 19th century, Jigme Chokyi Wangpo, later known as Dza Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887), was recognized by the famous miracle-working Lama, Do Jigme Kalzang, as a reincarnation of Palge Rinpoche of Dzogchen Monastery. Jigme Chokyi Wangpo became an intimate disciple of Jigme Gyalwai Nyu-gu, who in turn was a leading pupil of Kunkhyen Jigme Lingpa. In his youth Jigme Chokyi Wangpo was strongly drawn toward a life of religion and, when he came of age, he received monastic ordination from Sengtuk Pema Wangyal of Dzogchen Monastery.

Besides his principal Lama, Patrul Rinpoche's main teachers were Do Khyentse and the fourth Dzogchen Rinpoche, from whom he received the Longchen Nyingthik transmission. He also studied under the first Kushok Gemong Rinpoche of Dzogchen Monastery. After completing his training, he lived as a wandering yogi. He stayed for some time in the Shinje Cave and Tsering cave, amidst the wild Gangtro Mountains. It was there that he composed the text Kunzang Lama'i Sha-lung (now in English translation as The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Harper Collins 1994). This wonderful text has become one of the most famous "written instructions" (Tib. khrid yig) on the preliminary practices (ngon-dro) of the Longchen Nyingtig, and is now a major reference text for the Nyingmapa school.

Wall of stones in Dzachuka, TibetThere is an amazing wall of stones in Dzachuka, far eastern Tibet, each stone carved with the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum", stretches for more than a mile. It is one of the most significant yet least known pilgrimage sites of Tibet. Patrul Rinpoche began the construction of the wall at the place where his root teacher, Jigme Gyalwe Nyugu, gave the teachings that are immortalized in The Words of My Perfect Teacher. In old age Kunpal Rinpoche spent a great deal of time sitting beside this wall, sunning himself in the gentle warmth of the sun.

The woman teacher Khandro Rinpoche quotes from The Words of My Perfect Teacher, as follows:

"Patrul Rinpoche talks about four main thoughts that should precede every meditation, every moment of contemplation: first, the preciousness of human existence; second, impermanence; third, the suffering of samsara; and fourth, karma, or cause and effect. These four reminders are said to be the main foundation of contemplation. Contemplating them, the meditator is truly able to remain without fabrication, or fabricated beliefs about his or her own spiritual path and spiritual motivation. They should truly enable practitioners to be completely honest with themselves. In spiritual practices, we sometimes talk about benefiting sentient beings, or making life more meaningful, or being able to truly do something that is good. In the beginning, our motivation may be very clear, but very soon our habitual patterns return. These habitual tendencies re-create the same patterns of living, thinking, doing, or saying things. Because of this the pull of our habitual patterns, or tendencies, does not allow us to remain in touch with that pure motivation, with what is really beneficial and good. To overcome such tendencies, the Four Reminders discussed and practiced by Patrul Rinpoche, are essential."

Patrul Rinpoche was a gentle, kindly man who fully realized the "Absolute Totality" (Dzogchen) and non-duality of Samsara and Nirvana. This realization he attained through meditation. He spent much of his life traveling as a yogi from place to place, meditating in lonely caves and retreat huts, and visiting pilgrimage sites. He carefully avoided the administrative entanglements of owning a monastery or holding an official position of any kind. Although his academic knowledge was vast and his reputation as a great Lama very high indeed, he went about in such a simple and ordinary manner, that many people encountering him thought he was just a homeless old beggar. His clothes and appearance was just ordinary, and yet his ultimate insight into the true nature of mind was said to be without any obscuration at all.

The high plateau of Dzachuka, land of teh red mountains, far Eastern Tibet.Patrul Rinpoche did long retreats at Ari Nak and in the Yu-le mountains in Golok.

He became the principal holder of the Yeshe Lama set of instructions on Dzogchen composed by Kunkhyen Jigme Lingpa. He taught Ju Mipham Namgyal the full text of the Madhyamaka-lankara of Khenpo Santaraksita and transmitted to his disciple Khenpo Kunpal the Bodhicaryavatara of Santideva. Patrul Rinpoche was considered by some to be a reincarnation of Santideva himself. The visionary-poet Santideva was a very great Indian Buddhist saint, who lived as a monk of the Mahasanghika Order in India during the early eighth century.

Patrul Rinpoche was a paragon of the Bodhisattva principle: the Enlightened-being who utterly dedicates himself to alleviating the suffering of others. His compassion was completely genuine and unfabricated, as was his humility. With complete realization, an exemplar of the Buddhist tradition, he showered love on all who came to him for assistance, blessings and counseling.

Patrul Rinpoche mostly taught on compassion. The text he used again and again to teach from was the Bodhicaryavatara, Entrance into the Practice of the Bodhisattva. He would often teach in open spaces like mountain meadows. In Tibet when a teacher gives a teaching it is traditional to make offerings to him, but Patrul Rinpoche would never accept any offering.

Once he gave teachings for a few weeks, and instead of sitting on a throne he sat on an elevated mound of earth with grass on the top in the middle of a meadow. Although the people knew that he generally didn't accept offerings, at the end of the teachings some of them offered him a fairly large bar of silver as payment. Patrul Rinpoche just left it there in the grass, without anyone noticing. After the teaching Patrul Rinpoche left, as usual for no particular destination, with just a small bag in hand.

That night, he slept under the trees in the forest. A thief who knew that Patrul Rinpoche had been offered the silver followed him. While Patrul Rinpoche was sleeping, he came up and looked in the small bag but, since he could not find any silver, he started to search Patrul Rinpoche's clothes. This activity woke Rinpoche up. Patrul asked him: "Why are you searching my clothes like that?" The thief answered: "Well, I need the silver you were offered." Rinpoche replied, "Oh, why didn't you say so before? I left it at the teaching place, where I was sitting. Go and get it for yourself."

Dza Patrul PinpocheThe thief didn't really believe that, but since Patrul Rinpoche had no silver, he thought he would better check for himself. He went back and found the bar of silver lying where it had been left. This event caused real faith to rise up in his heart. So he rushed back to Patrul Rinpoche.

As the thief was coming towards him, Rinpoche asked: "Why are you coming back here again?" The thief did three prostrations and said: "O Lama, you are unlike any other. Please allow me to become your disciple."

This gentle saint was one of the most sublimely simple, cultured and compassionate Lamas throughout the whole history of Tibet. He was unworldly, simple, utterly natural, while at the same time, acutely intelligent.

In his history of the Dzogchen lineage, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche tells the story of how Chökyi Drakpa said goodbye to Patrul Rinpoche after many years of studying with him. Chökyi Drakpa is said to have explained to Patrul Rinpoche that he wished to spend the remainder of his life wandering in solitude as a simple yogi. Patrul Rinpoche, though, would not hear of it, and insisted that Chökyi Drakpa return to his homeland to teach. As a parting gift, Patrul gave him a brick of tea along with his personal copy of the Bodhicharyavatara. Throughout the rest of his life, Chökyi Drakpa kept this brick of tea wrapped in silk brocade, and every so often he would raise it to his forehead in devotion and say, "O kind father Patrul, you know all. Please take care of me."

In the late 1860's, Patrul Rinpoche returned and taught for some time as a leading professor at the Sri Singha Academy (shedra) of Dzogchen Monastery. He taught many important texts there. He spent his final years in the region of his birthplace in Dzachuka. In the last few years of his long and saintly life he radiated a delicate perfume from his body, as reported by many of his disciples, although he used no scents or soap.

Dzogchen Patrul Rinpoche entered into parinirvana at the age of 80.

Patrul Rinpoche was extremely devoted to his own Lama. This devotion was, in a sense, the heart of his spiritual practice. To sum up Patrul Rinpoche's teaching on the importance of the spiritual teacher, we can quote his words:

"No scripture, tantra, or commentary speaks of any being attaining perfect Buddhahood without first having devotion toward a spiritual teacher. We can see for ourselves that nobody has ever developed the accomplishments belonging to the stages and paths by means of their own ingenuity and self-power. They need the grace that comes through devotion to another. Indeed, all beings, ourselves included, show particular talent in discovering the wrong paths to take—while when it comes to following the path leading to liberation and omniscience we are as confused as a blind person wandering alone in the middle of a desert plain. No one can bring back jewels from a treasure island without relying on an experienced navigator. Thus, the spiritual teacher is our best guide to liberation and omniscience."

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