The Palge Tulku Goes His Own Way
When Patrul was about twenty, the powerful treasurer-administrator of the Palge Labrang, Önpo Könchog, passed away. After his death, Patrul made the decision to renounce all worldly a airs so that he could devote himself entirely to practicing the dharma.
Patrul closed his official residence and settled all the financial affairs of the Palge Labrang estate. He renounced all the material wealth and properties due to him as the recognized incarnation of the prior Palge tulkus. Like his teacher, Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, Patrul chose to simplify his life in order to reach his spiritual goal, realization for the sake of all beings.
Unlike his teacher, who had vowed to remain practicing in one place until enlightenment, Patrul chose to become a wandering practitioner following the tradition of vagabond renunciants, without any permanent abode, not unlike the pastoral nomads among whom he had been raised. Perhaps reflecting his decision to abandon the high social position, property, possessions, and comfortable life of a recognized incarnation, Patrul would later write:
- When you’re eminent, it’s bad.
- When you’re reviled, it’s good.
- When your position is lofty, vanity and envy flourish.
- When your position is lowly, you’re at ease and your practice can ourish.
- The lowest seat is the abode of great masters of the past.
- When you’ve got wealth, it’s bad.
- When you’ve got next to nothing, it’s good.
- When you’ve got wealth, increasing it and preserving it are a nuisance.
- When you’ve got next to nothing, you’ll progress in practice.
- If you’ve got just the bare necessities, it’s the perfect dharma life.
There had been predictions that Patrul would become a tertön, a revealer of spiritual treasures (terma), and that, accordingly, he should live as a mar- ried yogi rather than as a celibate monk, since tertöns usually need to associate with a spiritual consort in order to gather all the auspicious connections needed to rediscover the termas they have been entrusted with by Guru Padmasambhava.
However, Patrul was not inclined to marry, and strictly adhered to the monastic vow of celibacy. So as not to disrupt any auspicious connections and thereby risk short- ening his life span, he took the 33 vows of a novice monk (getsul) rather than the 253 vows of a fully ordained monk (gelong). Patrul received the getsul ordination from Khenpo Sherab Zangpo of Dzogchen Monastery and was given the monastic name Jigme Gewai Jungne (Fearless Source of Virtue).
Not to countermand the prediction that he should be a yogi, he chose to dress as a layman, not a monk, though in all other respects Patrul maintained monastic discipline purely and completely. He observed the monastic practices of begging for food each morning, not eating after midday, and not keeping more food than necessary for his immediate use.
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 traveled 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.
Now living in an absence of ordinary commitments, Patrul had set himself free; without agenda, his life became spontaneous and complete. He was able to stay in one place as long as he wished and no longer. When he felt it was time to move on, he could just get up and go, without giving it a second thought. From that instant of bold decision until his last breath, Patrul remained a vagabond renunciant, devoting his entire life to the dharma.
After leaving Palge Samten Ling, Patrul stayed in the area around Dzogchen Monastery, where he received extensive teachings from the abbot of Dzogchen Monastery, Mingyur Namkhai Dorje, and from Gyalse Shenphen Thaye. During that period, to complete his education, Patrul also went to Shechen Monastery, one of the six main monasteries of the Nyingma tradition in Tibet. Located between Nangdo and Dzogchen monasteries, it was founded in 1695 by Shechen Rabjam Tenpai Gyaltsen. There Patrul studied the Tripitaka, the three collections of the Buddha’s teachings; Thirteen Great Treatises, and the works of Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjam and Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa; as well as the major writings of all the Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
- In Tibet, to this day, many dedicated practitioners renounce not only worldly affairs but, like Patrul, renounce involvement in monastery affairs as well. They give up all involvements, not wanting to “renounce a small home only to get caught up in a big one.”
- Excerpt translated from gtam padma’i tshal gyi zlos gar (The Lotus-Grove Play), Collected Works of Patrul Rinpoche, vol. 1 (2003), p. 351.
- For more details on this topic, see Tulku Thondup, Hidden Teachings of Tibet: An Explanation of the Terma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1986).
- Tib. byang chub sems dpa’i spyod pa la ’jug pa, also known for short as Chönjuk (spyod ’jug).
- Patrul received transmissions from the Longchen Nyingthig from Gyalse Shenphen Thaye. From Khenchen Sengtruk Pema Tashi, the first abbot of Shri Singha Philosophical College, he received teachings on much of the Nyingma Kahma.
- Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling (zhe chen bstan gnyis dar rgyas gling) Monastery was destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It was rebuilt in exile in the 1980s in Kathmandu, Nepal.
- Thirteen Great Treatises (gzhung chen bcu gsum) are thirteen commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings and on the writings of the greatest Buddhist panditas of India (Aryadeva, Asanga, Chandrakirti, Nagarjuna, Shantideva, and Vasubhandu). The thirteen treatises are on Vinaya, Abhidharma, the path of the bodhisattva, prajnaparamita, and Madhyamika. The well-known commentaries on these treatises by Khenpo Shenga (Shenphen Chökyi Nangwa), which are also titled Thirteen Great Treatises, revitalized scholarship on these topics; his approach is still widely used in Tibetan philosophical colleges. (See also note 235.) The collection also contains additional commentaries besides the thirteen.