The Enlightened Vagabond, The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche – Part 2 : A Lesson in Patience.

02 Khormo Olu Patrul Birthplace 3

Patrul Rinpoche’s birthplace in Eastern Tibet. Photography by Matthieu Ricard.

A biography of the famous hermit and spiritual master Patrul Rinpoche, has recently been translated from the Tibetan and published as The Englightened Vagabond. This volume includes excerpts from two biographies written by his direct disciples and over a hundred anecdotes gathered from the oral tradition, as well as a few teachings written by this remarkable 19th century master.

In youth Patrul studied with the foremost teachers of the time. With his remarkable memory, he learned most of the oral teachings he heard by heart, thus becoming able to elucidate the most complex aspects of Buddhist philosophy without referring to a single page of text, not even when he taught for months at a time.

Utterly uninterested in ordinary affairs, Patrul naturally abandoned the eight worldly concerns, which consist of everyone’s ordinary hopes and fears—hoping for gain and fearing loss; hoping for pleasure and fearing pain; hoping for praise and fearing blame; hoping for fame and fearing.

Dressed either in a thick white felt coat, or chuba, or in the sheepskin garment worn in winter, Patrul set out on his own. He took with him no possessions beyond his begging bowl, teapot, and a copy of The Way of the Bodhisattva (Bodhicharyavatara) by Shantideva. He always made his way on foot, forgoing horseback. Sometimes he traveled in the company of others and sometimes he travelled alone. He lived in accordance with the wisdom of masters:

Wherever you’ve stayed, leave nothing behind but the trace of your seat.
Wherever you’ve walked, leave nothing behind but your footprints.
Once you’ve put on your shoes, let there be nothing else left.

One day, Patrul decided to go visit a hermit he’d heard about who had been living for a long time in total seclusion.

Patrul arrived at the hermit’s retreat unannounced. With a smile and an air of eager inquiry, he sat down in a corner of the hermit’s cave.

“Where have you come from?” asked the hermit politely, “and where are you going?”
“I came from behind,” replied Patrul. “And I’ll be going forward.” Puzzled, the hermit asked, “Where were you born?”
“On earth.”

The renunciant hermit was not sure what to make of his unexpected and peculiar visitor. A moment later, Patrul asked the hermit why he had been staying in such an isolated place, so far away from everything.

“I’ve been living here for twenty years,” said the hermit, with some pride in his voice. “At the moment, I am meditating on the paramita of patience!” At this, Patrul began laughing out loud and slapping his thigh in amusement.

“That’s rich!” Patrul exclaimed, leaning over toward him like someone sharing a secret. In a confidential tone, he whispered in the hermit’s ear, “For two old frauds, we’re not doing so bad, are we?”

The hermit exploded in fury.

“Who do you think you are, coming here, shamelessly ruining my retreat? Who asked you to come? Why won’t you let a poor practitioner meditate in peace?” screamed the hermit.

“Hmm,” mused Patrul. “So much for your ‘perfection of patience’!”

The Enlightened Vagabond: The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche, Shambhala Publications.