The Enlightened Vagabond, The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche – Part 5 : Patrul is Taught His Own Teachings


Patrul had decided to go to Kathok and gather merit by circumambulating the stupas at the Kathok Kumbum (the Hundred Thousand Images of Kathok). A few people noticed this shabby nomad lama stopping at each stupa, sticking his head inside, and saying a few words. Beyond that, there was nothing out of the ordinary about him.

When he first arrived, Patrul stayed with an old lama from Gyarong. The lama asked where he was from, and Patrul told him that he was from Dzachukha. He said that he was doing pilgrimage at the Kumbum to receive the blessings of this sacred place.

“Have you had any Dharma teaching?” the old Gyarong lama asked Patrul.

Patrul replied, “Not much. I have received The Way of the Bodhisattva and a few other teachings, but that’s about it.”

His host said to him, “You seem intent upon virtue. Since you came here from so far away, you must be something of a diligent practitioner. If I were to teach you some Dharma, would you be interested?”

A-ho!” Patrul said, “Of course, I’d be interested! Who doesn’t need the Dharma?”

“There is a teaching called Kunzang Lamai ShelungThe Words of My Perfect Teacher—by the great Dza Patrul Rinpoche,” said the old lama. “This wonderful text explains the preliminary practices and is very well known here; it will certainly help you a lot. Otherwise, if you make prayers and circumambulate the stupas, but do so without the correct attitude and understanding, all your effort won’t result in much benefit.”

A-dzi!” exclaimed Patrul. “Truly, I need to know these teachings. Please be kind enough to grant them to me!”

So, day after day and chapter by chapter, the old Gyarong lama taught Patrul the Kunzang Lamai Shelung. From time to time, the apparently naive and illiterate Patrul would pose quite deep questions about the meaning of the text. The lama was puzzled to hear this simple person making such incisive comments.

After the old lama was halfway through teaching the text, Patrul moved from the home of the Gyarong lama and went to stay next door with an old woman. Every day, in the morning, Patrul would go out and circumambulate the stupas. Every day, after noon, he would go over to the Gyarong lama’s place to receive teachings; every night, at dusk, he would return to the old woman’s home.

While she was making tea in the evening, the old woman—who had heard about Patrul Rinpoche and was devoted to him—could be heard making fervent prayers of supplication, saying, “Think of me, Patrul Rinpoche! I am in your hands!”

One night, Patrul said to his hostess, “Old mother, there are many sublime beings throughout Tibet! Right here in Kathok, many realized lamas have appeared in the past; many high lamas are living here now. Why do you keep on supplicating this Patrul? Is he especially venerable or something?” The old woman replied, “Oh, yes! There is no one more saintly than him these days. Many people in Kathok follow his teachings on the preliminary practices. Even I have heard those teachings.”

Moved by faith, she folded her hands together in a gesture of respect. But that didn’t stop the mischievous Patrul.

“If you ask me,” he went on, provocatively, “I think this Patrul of yours has an inflated reputation! He’s probably just another one of those old nomad lamas, with nothing especially great or precious about him at all!”

“What an evil mind you have!” scolded the devout old lady. “How can you have such perverted thoughts about Patrul Rinpoche, calling him ‘just another ordinary nomad lama’? You simply lack the good karma to see him as the Buddha in person!”
Patrul said nothing more.

Not long after that, some pilgrims from Dzachukha arrived at Kathok to circumambulate the stupas and saw a shabby nomad lama circumambulating the stupas as well. Being his fellow countrymen, the pilgrims immediately recognized Patrul. Exclaiming with delight, “Abu! Abu is here!” they all began bowing down to him in reverence.
Patrul was not happy about this at all.

He scolded the Dzachukha pilgrims, saying, “Until now, I was able to live here quietly, accumulating some merit. Now, with absolutely no need to have done so, you’ve gone and blabbed to everyone, saying, ‘Patrul’s here! Patrul’s here!’”
“That will put an end to my tranquility!”

Exactly as he had predicted, in no time at all the rumor spread over Kathok that the great Patrul Rinpoche had arrived, although no one could say for certain where he actually was to be found.

When Patrul came to the old lama’s home to receive his afternoon teachings as usual, the lama said to him with excitement, “Hey! Everyone’s saying that Patrul Rinpoche is here! Patrul Rinpoche has come, in person!”
Patrul showed no excitement at this news.

That day, at dusk, as usual, Patrul returned to the home of the old lady. She, too, said to him with excitement, “Patrul Rinpoche is here! Can you imagine?”

“You don’t need to get all worked up!” scoffed Patrul. “What’s so special about this Patrul Rinpoche? He’s just an ordinary nomad lama. You’d be much better off supplicating the great lamas of Kathok!”

The old woman became very upset again, almost to the point of wanting to give Patrul a good beating. She scolded him sharply, saying, “You miserable creature, how dare you say such things. Even if Patrul Rinpoche, the Buddha in person, came right to your door, you wouldn’t feel any devotion! You’d just dismiss him as an ‘old nomad lama’! What a wretched fellow!”
Patrul said nothing.

Not long after this, Patrul was finally tracked down. The two high lamas of Kathok, Drime Shinkyong and Kathok Situ, formally invited him to teach The Way of the Bodhisattva at Kathok Monastery.

The devout old woman heard this news and was overjoyed that at last she would meet the saint to whom she had for so long addressed her supplication-prayers.

The next morning, the gong rang to summon everyone to the teachings. Patrul left the old woman’s house at the usual time in the morning, presumably going for his usual circumambulations.

The old woman hurried off to the monastery. There, sitting on the teaching throne, she saw the shabby nomad lama to whom she had been giving hospitality for some time.

Overwhelmed with shame, she began to prostrate at Patrul’s feet, crying, “What bad karma I have accumulated! I’ve been scolding you, coming close to beating you up! I’ll probably be reborn in hell! Please accept my confession! Whatever you tell me to do to purify my evil acts, I’ll do!”

“There’s nothing wrong,” Patrul kindly assured her, “and there’s no need for you to confess anything. Don’t worry; you have a pure mind. A good heart is the root of all dharma. In fact, it is the very essence of The Way of the Bodhisattva, which I am teaching now. That’s all that anyone needs.”

Patrul began to teach, and as he did, the old Gyarong lama, too, realized that his very faithful student, the shabby nomad lama to whom he had been explaining The Words of My Perfect Teacher, day after day and chapter by chapter, was none other than its author, Patrul Rinpoche himself.

The poor lama felt so abashed that, without a word, he left overnight for his native Gyalmo Rong before Patrul or anyone else could stop him.

This story is from the biography of the famous hermit and spiritual master Patrul Rinpoche translated from the Tibetan and published as The Enlightened Vagabond, and translated by Matthieu Ricard. The book 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.

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