Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

Simple Man, Extraordinary Yogi: The Life of Patrul Rinpoche

PATRUL RINPOCHE, Orgyen Jigme Chökyi Wangpo (1808–1887), a wandering practitioner in the ancient tradition of vagabond renunciants, became one of the most revered spiritual teachers in Tibetan history, widely renowned as a scholar and author while at the same time living a life of utmost simplicity. A strong advocate of the joys of solitude, he always stressed the futility of worldly pursuits and ambitions. The memory of his life’s example is still very much alive today, offering an ever-fresh source of inspiration for practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism.

An exemplary upholder of the purest Buddhist ideals of renunciation, wisdom, and compassion, Patrul Rinpoche spent most of his life roaming the mountains and living in caves, forests, and remote hermitages. When he left one place, he left with no particular destination; when he stayed somewhere, he had no fixed plans. In the wilderness, his favored meditation was the practice of cultivating bodhicitta—the wish to relieve all sentient beings from suffering and bring them to the ultimate freedom of enlightenment.

In his 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 disgrace.

Patrul generally refused to accept the offerings that are often made to a teacher or a respected religious figure according to tradition. Presented with valuable gifts such as gold and silver, he would leave them on the walls (amazing walls of sometimes hundreds of thousands of stones carved with the mani mantra, ), making butter-lamp offerings, and engaging in other meritorious activities.

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