Anecdotes from the life of the great Tibetan master Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme (1295-1369) - V

By Matthieu Ricard on November 15, 2012

Near the end of his life, when Ngulchu Thogme first showed signs of sickness, he said that no treatment was likely to help, but to calm everyone he took some medicine nonetheless, and let prayers and ceremonies be performed on his behalf.

When someone asked him if there were any way to prolong his life, Thogme said, ‟‘If my being sick will benefit beings, may I be blessed with sickness! If my dying will benefit beings, may I be blessed with death! If my being well will benefit beings, may I be blessed with recovery!' This is the prayer I make to the Three Jewels. Having complete certainty that whatever happens is the blessings of the Three Jewels, I am happy, and I shall take whatever happens on to the path without trying to change anything.”

His close disciples begged him to consider whether medical treatment or anything else they could offer him would be of any benefit.

But Thogme said, ‟I have reached the limit of my years and my sickness is severe. Even the attentions of highly skilled physicians with ambrosia-like medicine would be unlikely to contribute much.” And he added:

If this illusory body, which I cling to as mine, is sick—let it be sick!
This sickness enables me to exhaust
The bad karma I have accumulated in the past,
And the spiritual deeds I can then perform
Help me purify the two kinds of veils.

If I am in good health, I am happy,
Because when my body and mind are well
I can enhance my spiritual practice,
And give real meaning to human existence
By turning my body, speech and mind to virtue.

If I am poor, I am happy,
Because I've no wealth to protect,
And I know that all feuds and animosity
Sprout from the seeds of greed and attachment.

If I am rich, I am happy,
Because with my wealth I can do more positive actions,
And both temporal and ultimate happiness
Are the result of meritorious deeds.

If I die soon, that's excellent,
Because, assisted by some good potential, I am confident that
I shall enter the unmistaken path
Before any obstacle can intervene.

If I live long, I am happy,
Because without parting from the warm beneficial rain of spiritual instructions
I can, over a long time, fully ripen
The crop of inner experiences.

Therefore, whatever happens, I shall be happy!

And he continued, ‟I've been teaching these pith instructions to others, and I must practice them myself. As it is said, ‘What is called sickness has no true existence whatsoever, but within the display of delusory phenomena appears as the ineluctable result of wrong actions. Sickness is the teacher that points out the nature of samsara and shows us that phenomena, manifest though they may, have no more true existence than an illusion. Sickness provides us with the grounds for developing patience towards our own suffering, and compassion for the suffering of others. It is in such difficult circumstances that our spiritual practice is put to the test.' If I die, I'll be relieved of the pains of my sickness. I can't recall any task that I've left undone, and what's more I realize how rare an opportunity it is to be able to die as the perfect conclusion of my spiritual practice. That's why I'm not hoping for any cure for my illness. Nevertheless, before I die, you may complete all your ceremonies.”

One morning, at dawn, he asked his disciples to help him sit slightly more upright, and then said, ‟I feel extremely well like this, do not move my body at all.”
From that morning until the next evening he remained seated in the lotus posture; his mind remained one-pointedly in equanimity, and within that state, he passed away and departed into bliss.

From The Heart of Compassion, by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Shambhala Publications