Authors: Matteo Pistono
Signs in Tertön Sogyal’s dreams after Khyentse’s prophecy did not indicate that he should go immediately to Gonjo to search for the dakini Pumo. Although Tertön Sogyal had been publicly recognized as a treasure revealer, he knew that his study and practice of Dzogchen still needed to be refined. He had long heard of one of the greatest meditators in eastern Tibet, named Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpe Nyima. Tertön Sogyal decided that he must search him out.
Nyoshul Lungtok served and lived with his teacher in Dzachuka, the great Patrul Rinpoche, for 28 years, receiving the quintessential teachings for Dzogchen practice. Patrul Rinpoche was direct and straightforward and known equally for asceticism and supreme erudition. He did not fall into the trend of many scholars who focused on establishing sectarian differences between various philosophical approaches found within Buddhism in Tibet, such as those between the Nyingma and Gelug schools. Often, sectarian scholars’ biases and politics overshadowed their years of study. And many monks, when not creating division in monastic communities through gossip, spent their time endlessly debating the intellectual meaning of the words rather than, as Patrul Rinpoche demonstrated, living the meaning of the scriptures. Though a great scholar and master at philosophical debate, Patrul Rinpoche could nonetheless teach in a direct manner when addressing the toughest of nomads of eastern Tibet. On one occasion, when an old nomad from Golok asked him for meditation instructions, Patrul Rinpoche said:
Don’t prolong the past,
Don’t invite the future,
Leave the natural mind, awareness of the present moment,
Without modification in its open, relaxed simplicity.
There is nothing other than that!
Apart from the ordinary mind of the present moment, open and relaxed,
There is not a damned thing!
Though continually requested to give teachings, Patrul Rinpoche often wandered to pilgrimage places and in the mountains to practice meditation alone. Once he journeyed by himself to Katok Monastery. Nobody realized that the great Patrul Rinpoche had arrived, as he acted like an illiterate nomad. He spent his days at Katok circumambulating the reliquaries and monastery and chanting mantras. Local monks and villagers thought he was a simple old man, and he was offered a place to stay in the home of a lama from Gyarong. When asked where he was from, Patrul Rinpoche responded he was a pilgrim from Dzachuka who was seeking blessings from the venerated Katok Monastery.
“Would you like some Dharma teaching?” the Gyarong lama asked.
“Oh, of course. Who does not need to receive teachings?” Patrul Rinpoche said.
“These days there is an amazing book entitled
The Words of My Perfect Teacher
composed by a great lama called Dza Patrul Rinpoche. This will surely benefit you! You are reciting mantra and circumambulating holy sites, but without a bit of Dharma knowledge, the benefit will be limited,” the Gyarong lama said with a touch of pride.
exclaimed Patrul Rinpoche. “Truly, I need such a teaching. Kindly grant it to me.”
The Gyarong lama then explained, chapter by chapter,
The Words of My Perfect Teacher,
the very book that Patrul Rinpoche himself had authored. When they were halfway through the text, Patrul Rinpoche moved next door to the home of an old woman, but he would return during the day to receive teachings. Patrul Rinpoche helped the woman clean the house and emptied the chamber pots of other family members. One evening while cleaning her shrine, the old woman was praying aloud, “Oh, Patrul Rinpoche, please bless me!”
“Old mother, there are so many saintly lamas from the past and present at Katok Monastery. Why are you always calling out with devotion, ‘Patrul Rinpoche, Patrul Rinpoche’? Do you think this Patrul is some sort of especially venerated lama?”
The old woman replied, “Indeed, there is not a greater saint than Patrul Rinpoche these days in Tibet! So many monks practice his teachings and study
The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
” She held her hands in prayer with her eyes closed, with Patrul Rinpoche standing before her.
“If you ask me,” Patrul Rinpoche said, “I think he has just a big name. He is probably just an old nomad lama, nothing extraordinarily great or precious at all!”
“How dare you say such a thing!” the old woman retorted. “How can you have such perverted thoughts about Patrul Rinpoche? You simply lack the good fortune to recognize that Patrul Rinpoche is a buddha in person,” she scolded.
One day many pilgrims from Dzachuka arrived at Katok Monastery, and being from the same area, they immediately recognized Patrul Rinpoche. “Ohh, our respected lama is here,” they said, and bowed to him.
“Until now I have been staying here quite happily, chanting and even receiving teachings!” Patrul Rinpoche said, annoyed that he had been recognized. “Now you will blab that Patrul is here and my tranquillity will end.”
Exactly as he had predicted, news spread around Katok Monastery that the great Patrul Rinpoche was present, although nobody could locate him.
In the afternoon, the Gyarong lama came home, where Patrul Rinpoche was waiting for teachings, and said, “Hey, everyone, Patrul Rinpoche has blessed us with his presence at Katok. He is among us!” When the old woman heard the news, she said to Patrul Rinpoche, “Can you imagine, Patrul Rinpoche is actually at the monastery!”
“You don’t need to get all worked up like this. What’s so special about that Patrul Rinpoche? He is just another village lama! You ought to pray to one of your own gurus from Katok,” Patrul Rinpoche told both of them.
“You miserable creature,” the old woman yelled while raising her fist. “How dare you say such a thing? Patrul Rinpoche is a buddha in human form; even if the radiant Buddha himself, more precious than gold, came through my door, you would feel no faith. What a wretched fellow you are!”
The next day the gong rang to summon the monks and villagers to the temple for a teaching. Patrul Rinpoche, whose identity the Gyarong lama and the old woman still did not suspect, left the house as usual, presumably to circumambulate the monastery. The old woman and her neighbor donned their best dresses and hurried to the monastery. When they entered the grand hall, sitting on the high throne was none other than Patrul Rinpoche.
The Gyarong lama was so mortified that he left the temple, embarrassed, and departed to his homeland, never to be seen again. The old woman was overwhelmed with shame and prostrated at Patrul Rinpoche’s feet, saying, “What bad karma I have accumulated, scolding you, almost beating you. I might be reborn in hell. Please accept my confession!”
“There is nothing wrong,” Patrul Rinpoche kindly assured her. “You don’t need to confess anything. You have a pure mind, and a good heart is the root of the Dharma, the essence of the teaching that I’m going to give now. That alone will suffice for you.”
Among the many disciples of Patrul Rinpoche, Nyoshul Lungtok’s conviction and devotion were unmatched. Patrul Rinpoche affectionately referred to Nyoshul Lungtok as his son. In addition to studying profound treatises and meditating upon their meaning, Patrul Rinpoche introduced Nyoshul Lungtok time and again to pure awareness, the nature of mind. But Nyoshul Lungtok kept telling Patrul Rinpoche that he still had not realized fully the nature of mind. One evening, while they were staying at a hermitage a few miles from Dzogchen Monastery, Patrul Rinpoche was lying down on his back, his gaze resting in the vast sky above him, allowing his awareness to expand boundlessly. On this particular evening, the master called for Nyoshul Lungtok. The shadowed mountains surrounded them on all sides except for a narrow valley leading toward Dzogchen Monastery.
“My dear Lungtok, haven’t you told me that you don’t think you have got the crucial point of Dzogchen meditation? That you still have not realized the nature of mind?” Patrul Rinpoche questioned.
“I have not.”
“There is nothing to it, my son.”
Patrul Rinpoche told Nyoshul Lungtok to lie down next to him and look upward into the sky.
Then Patrul Rinpoche questioned, “Do you see the vault of the sky?
“Do you hear the dogs barking over at Dzogchen Monastery?”
“Do you hear what I am saying?”
“Well, the nature of the meditation is just like this, simply this.”
At that moment, Nyoshul Lungtok’s conceptual mind was extinguished. It was as if the entire construct of duality in his mind were a house of cards that came crashing down. The mind that questions, that thinks, that reifies and solidifies—the entire process—collapsed upon itself. Upon that dissolution of conceptual mind, Nyoshul Lungtok’s nature of mind, its timeless awareness, effortlessly revealed itself. Nyoshul Lungtok gained total confidence in awareness free from intellectual speculation. The enlightened potential of his primordial mind, his ever-present buddha nature, shined forth like sun rays, dispelling the darkness of ignorance.
Nyoshul Lungtok later said, “Through one’s total devotion combined with the blessing of an enlightened master, one can attain instantaneous realization. Practice guru yoga, pray to your lama with ardent devotion, and mingle your mind-stream with the guru’s mind. This is the crucial point!”
At the end of Nyoshul Lungtok’s nearly three decades of experiential-oriented training with his teacher, Patrul Rinpoche announced publicly, “With respect to the view, Nyoshul Lungtok surpasses me.”
When Tertön Sogyal learned of the great Patrul Rinpoche’s declaration of Nyoshul Lungtok’s realization of wisdom, he knew he needed to study with him. Donning his tattered robes and white shawl, and carrying a few texts, his prayer beads, and a wooden bowl, Tertön Sogyal walked alone for well over a week to Dzongkar Nenang on the Tromthar Plateau, not far from where he had spent his days as a bandit. Tertön Sogyal’s poverty protected him from harm as he begged among the very outlaws with whom he used to run. Tertön Sogyal walked with resolute intention, praying:
From now until I realize unsurpassed enlightenment,
May I be blessed and cared for by the gurus and dakinis.
And relying on the profound path of the great Mantrayana,
May I and all sentient beings achieve all favorable and auspicious circumstances.
Upon arrival at Nyoshul Lungtok’s encampment, Tertön Sogyal entered the teacher’s quarters and placed the crown of his head at the master’s feet. Nyoshul Lungtok has just recited the scriptural verse: “Plant well the victory banner of the Dharma,” which indicated that the young tertön would serve an important role in spreading the Buddhist doctrine. That Tertön Sogyal was wearing white and had long hair was taken as a sign that not only would he remain a lay yogi, he would in fact become a precious jewel within that lay tantric community.
If Tertön Sogyal’s earlier training from Nyala Pema Dündul and Lama Sonam Thaye had been like daybreak, meeting Nyoshul Lungtok was like the sun actually rising. The teacher wasted no time in imparting instructions from
The Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse
. Nyoshul Lungtok, a pure monk whose vows were unsullied by the slightest impairment, first gave Tertön Sogyal teachings on the four thoughts that turn the mind away from mundane concerns and toward spiritual practice.
First, contemplate the preciousness of being free and well favored.
This is difficult to gain, easy to lose; now I must do something meaningful.
Second, the whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent;
In particular, the life of beings is like a bubble.
Death comes without warning; this body will be a corpse.
At that time, the Dharma will be my only help;
I must practice it with exertion.
Third, when death comes, I will be helpless.
Because actions bear their inevitable effect,
I must abandon evil deeds
And always devote myself to virtuous actions.
Thinking this every day, I will examine myself.
Fourth, attachment to home, friends, wealth, and the comforts of samsara
Are the constant torments of the three sufferings,
Just like a feast before the executioner leads you to your death.
I must cut desire and attachment and attain enlightenment through exertion.