Growl like a wolf

Growl like a wolf

Paltrül was sitting quietly with Nyoshul when suddenly he asked: “Do I smell like the dung that hangs under a dog’s tail?” Nyoshul was quite startled by the question and could find no immediate answer. Why was Paltrül asking him such a bizarre question? “No,” he answered. “Then why do so many flies buzz around me?” Nyoshul didn’t see any flies. He started to feel as if something unusual was about to happen, and Paltrül caught his look of bemused incomprehension, “There’s one very large fly at the door at this very moment, and he’s buzzing fit to burst!” Nyoshul looked at the door but still didn’t see any flies. “Just look, Nyoshul. Outside the door! Go see what sort of fly this is!” Bewildered again by his teacher’s peculiar drift of language, Nyoshul got up and went to the door. As he walked across the room he did start to hear some sort of droning noise. When he opened the door, what did he see but the largest maroon and yellow fly he’d ever seen in his life! It was a monk making prostrations and chanting the refuge and bodhisatva vows at astonishing speed. “Hey-hey-hey! You out there! Quit that nonsense! Immediately!” yelled Paltrül. The young Lama halted abruptly in his prostrations and was ushered inside. “Yah... venerable fly... why – are you buzzing at my door?” Paltrül enquired. The monastic tulku was evidently unnerved by Paltrül, but was not one of those flatterers who gush in grandiose terms to show how humile they are. He answered simply that he was a Nyingma monk who had been inspired by the lineage which Paltrül held and that he had wished to meet him and receive transmission directly. “Mmmm...” Paltrül pondered, “Then why grovel at my door in this loathsome manner – do you think Padmasambhava lives inside or something?” The tulku replied that he did not really know who was inside, if it was not Dza Paltrül. The conversation went backwards and forwards for a while in this style until Paltrül was sure that he did not have an obsequious sycophant before him. Paltrül never had immense patience with grovelling flatterers. The tulku was quite bright and answered every question that Paltrül put to him. He seemed to display wit and intelligence, but without impertinence or aggression. Once the questioning was out of the way Paltrül gave the Lama the transmission he requested and they sat and drank tea together with Nyoshul. While drinking his tea the monk surreptitiously picked the odd hair off the carpet in order to take them away as a blessing. He had obviously heard that Paltrül didn’t like this kind of thing very much, and decided to obtain his blessings in a furtive manner. “Just look, Nyoshul!” Paltrül directed his disciple’s attention to their guest’s activities, “what’s this insect up to now!” The tulku apologised for his clandestine collection of Paltrül’s hair, but explained that the sheep in his locality were prey to wolves and that he had thought that tying the hair to them would be a protection. Paltrül looked quizzical, “Really... you don’t say...” It was quite evident that their guest wanted the hair for himself and his own disciples, but it was also evident to Paltrül that he was a sincere practitioner with a kind and generous heart. It was clear that he had his disciples’ benefit in mind, and so Paltrül did something highly unusual – he gave his guest a relic. An old ngakpa skirt he sometimes wore was falling apart, and so he tore off a long strip of it and gave it to his visitor, laughing uproariously: “Take this then, you cunning wolf... if as you say, your ‘flock’ need protection. With a shepherd like you they need all the help they can get! But growl like a wolf rather than buzzing like a blue-bottle when you call on me again!”

Come just as you are

Come just as you are

Paltrül was staying in Dza-chukha. He was minding his own business and doing whatever needed to be done, when he received a visitor. Now Paltrül had seen enough monks to last him a while – and at that time he was spending some quiet time with Nyoshul and a few other yogis. It just so happened, at this particular time, that Tértön Chö’gyür Lingpa was having some difficulty with one of his main disciples – a monk by the name of Rinchen Thar-gyé. Now this monk was a khenpo, a master scholar, and a punctilious ecclesiastic into the bargain. He kept the monastic rules with precision but had a tight mind. Chö’gyür Lingpa had tried various approaches with him, but couldn’t seem to shift him in terms of spiritual practice – the man was suffocating in the tension of his own moral purity. Now Chö’gyür Lingpa knew that Paltrül didn’t have much time for monks in general, and this type of monk in particular. He knew that this was the sort of ecclesiastical dignitary who would not immediately get a warm and affectionate reception from Paltrül – so he wrote a letter: “Paltrül old friend,” the letter began, “I’ve got this stick-up-the-arse disciple who’s as proud as a cockerel about being a monk, but seems hell-bent on mediocrity. If you can do something with him, I’d be most obliged. He’s a good fellow in many ways and works hard, but he’s a bit given to prudent sanctimoniousness and assiduous Puritanism. I can’t seem to flush the stuff out of him...” The letter discussed a few details, exchanged a little news, and signed itself off in a cordial manner. When Chö ’gyür Lingpa had finished the letter, he appended his seal and handed it to Rinchen Thar-gyé. “Here m’boy, take this to Dza Paltrül Rinpoche. It’s about time you high-tailed it to Golok and got some teachings and transmissions from him – but don’t come back before you’ve received everything you need to receive, y’hear.”

Rinchen Thar-gyé made prostrations to his teacher, took the letter, and made his way to brigand country. “Take care you’re not buggered on the way!” Chö’gyür Lingpa called after him, but this didn’t manage to alter Rinchen Thar-gyé’s countenance – he was, as usual, frozen with solemnity. He set our for Golok with a party of attendants and finally reached Paltrül ’s place in Dza-chukha.

When Paltrül saw him coming, he called out to Nyoshul, “Hey Nyoshul! A demon king [‘gyalpo’] has come to see us!” Nyoshul looked anxiously to see what sort of being this might be, but could only see a party of monks on horse back with the usual regalia in which such people liked to turn up at monasteries when visiting. “Where?” asked Nyoshul in some perplexity. “Just look Nyoshul,” Paltrül replied and pointed to the head Lama in the party of monks. Sure enough – there was one of the monastic big-shots whom his teacher characteristically held in low esteem. “Show the insufferable blaggard in, if you will, Nyoshul,” Paltrül muttered in a derisive tone, “I’ll not be welcoming him out here, and that’s for sure. I’ll be in my room if he wants anything from me.” Nyoshul waited for the visiting party to arrive and welcomed Rinchen Thar-gyé with all due respect, informing him that Dza Paltrül Rinpoche would see him if there was anything he wanted from him. Rinchen Thar-gyé asked him if he would kindly present a letter to Paltrül from Tértön Chö’gyür Lingpa, and Nyoshul took it with all due haste to his teacher. “Yah, it ’s as I thought,” grumbled Paltrül, “a demon king!” Nyoshul knew that his teacher was not keen on monks, but this one had come with a letter from Tértön Chö’gyür Lingpa himself – surely this was a person worthy of respect and the very best treatment? No. Maybe the very best treatment – but respect was not going to be Paltrül’s way of working. “Why do you call him a demon king?” asked his disciple. “Just look, Nyoshul.” He passed the letter over. Nyoshul was very surprised indeed. “Show the bumptious little bounder in if you will,” Paltrül yawned. And so it was that Rinchen Thar-gyé entered the illustrious presence of Dza Paltrül. He made his formal prostrations and sat before the renowned Lama. “What d ’you want of me then king of pćderasty? There are no young monks to bugger here. If you’re looking for a nice firm pair of buttocks you’d better get back to where you once belonged.” Undeterred by Paltrül’s vulgar remarks, Rinchen Thar-gyé made a highly respectful request for teachings on the Longchen Nying-thig. “Mmmm... Longchen Nying-thig,” repeated Paltrül thoughtfully, “there’s nothing about sodomy in that text... You’d better go someplace else. I don ’t think that I can be of any help to a demonic pćderast...” Suddenly, before the monk could understand what was going on, he was being ushered out of the door. A splendid room was found for him, and he was left to his own devices. A room was also allocated to his attendants, who all slept together next to the kitchen. The whole party was very well treated, but although the Lama’s room was grand, no heating was provided. The next day Rinchen Thar-gyé presented himself to Paltrül with the same respectful request, but Paltrül dismissed him saying “My hiney is too old and baggy to raise your lust, you’d better try someplace else. I hear there’s a new intake of young monks down a-ways, maybe if you get there quick enough you’ll get to them before the other monks have their ways with them.” And as before he was ushered out of the door before he really knew what was happening. His room awaited him.

Now it must be said that the room assigned to him was a rather well appointed apartment – the perfect room to offer to a visiting monastic Lama, and the best room in the place. Every day Rinchen Thar-gyé returned to the room and sat on his own. His spent his time in solitude engaged in his practises and in his studies of the texts. Every day Rinchen Thar-gyé presented himself to Paltrül, and everyday Paltrül dismissed him with some snide remark. One day Paltrül would merely repeat that he was ignorant of buggery. The next day he would say that he could be of no help to one of such great learning. Another day he would say that his own buttocks were too hard and pock-marked from years of sitting in caves to give the monk a decent erection. This went on for a month, and all the while the weather was getting more wintry. The monk was not used to living at the altitude of Dza-chukha and was evidently suffering. Nyoshul, feeling sorry for the monk, asked whether the poor man would ever be ready to receive Paltrül’s teachings. “Maybe,” replied his teacher in lackadaisical style, “but probably not today... maybe tomorrow... maybe never...” Rinchen Thar-gyé was walking sedately across the courtyard at the time, making his way to present himself to Paltrül. His robes were immaculately pleated and his arm was bare in spite of the bitter cold. “He seems so sincere,” Nyoshul reflected, “Can you tell me what it is that’s wrong with him? What is the obstacle that prevents him from receiving your teaching?” Paltrül shook his head in disbelief on hearing this, and said “Just look, Nyoshul.” Nyoshul looked but discovered little from what he saw. All he saw was a monk bearing up well under repeated disappointments, even though he was possibly becoming more miserable as the days wore on. However, he was as well turned out and elegant as the day he had arrived. “Just look, Nyoshul,” Paltrül repeated, “Do you see a man who could leave appearances behind?” Nyoshul watched the monk as he walked with carefully measured tread toward Paltrül’s door.

When Rinchen Thar-gyé entered Paltrül’s presence, he offered his prostrations and said: “I am a well disciplined monk, and I keep monastic vows purely. I maintain the bodhisatva vows and offer up merit to the realisation of all sentient beings. I maintain my Tantric oaths to Lama, yidam, khandro, and protectors. I have studied texts with diligence, and do my best not to waste this precious human rebirth. I have complete trust in your realisation and in the lineage, but I have been here for a month now requesting teachings, and am still unworthy to take refuge in even a few words of your teaching – so now I must regretfully take my leave. I must depart in disgrace, and return to my teacher without having fulfilled his instruction.” Paltrül looked at him severely; but, detecting some change in the monk, did not have him ushered out. Rinchen Thar-gyé’s speech was practically strangulated as he spoke – he was dejected, hopeless, and slightly frantic. “You want to take refuge in a few words of my teaching?” Paltrül enquired, “Wouldn’t you rather take refuge in the tight arse of a young monk?” Rinchen Thar-gyé spluttered in total exasperation “But Rinpoche... this sodomy business has nothing to do with me!” Paltrül eyed him carefully and stated in slow, even tones, “And – your pretences – have nothing – to do with – me.” Then, quite unexpectedly, Paltrül roared with laughter: “Come back tomorrow – but come just as you are. If you come just as you are, I will give you a few words of teaching!” Again he was ushered out of the room and returned to his apartment.

Rinchen Thar-gyé sat alone in his room wandering what Paltrül had meant. He was painfully cold – so cold that he had to give up turning the pages of his liturgical text. He wrapped his shawl around him but the bitterness of the temperature was more than he could bear – he was reduced to shivering, tormented by Paltrül ’s parting remarks. The words “Come back tomorrow just as you are” flapped uselessly around his head. What could he do with such an injunction? Whatever he did – however he presented himself – it would be the same as before: accusations of anal intercourse... But “Just as I am...” he pondered... “But what am I, that is not apparent? I ’m a monk – but he knows that... what else can I be? How can it be that I am something that I do not even know about?” This was impossible – totally impossible. How could he be just as he was, when he was always – just as he was... An hour passed. Another hour. Then suddenly something outlandishly preposterous occurred to him: “I’m cold,” he thought... “I – am – cold... If that is not just who I am then there’s nothing else! I – am – cold! I – am – very – damn cold! I – am – going to freeze my butt off in this damn room!”

Rinchen Thar-gyé got up immediately and left his room. He went directly to the kitchen – the only place where he knew that some sort of warmth would be guaranteed. There were some of his monk attendants in the kitchen drinking tea with the cook, and he joined them. They were all most honoured by his visit, and he joined them in their simple good-humoured conversation. The place where his monk attendants slept had some warmth that came from the kitchen, and there was a hearth where dried yak dung was burning. He enquired tentatively whether there was space to sleep there. The monks were most surprised, but were only too happy to have him join them. He spent the day talking with them and keeping warm. His monks offered him some of their thicker clothing but he declined to take it from them. Instead he borrowed a woollen monastic jacket from the cook – a blackened greasy affair. It was patched so much that it was practically shapeless, but it was warm. He slept the night with the monks, and slept so well that he was almost late for his appointment with Paltrül. He was in such a hurry that he lashed his robes about his person in an unprecedentedly untidy fashion. He beat a hasty path to Paltrül’s door with his shawl wrapped tightly around him against the villainous chill factor of the wind that swept through the courtyard. His robe was a bit besmirched with soot from the fire, and he gave the appearance of a dishevelled monastic menial worker. He had no time to wash, eat breakfast or present himself in anything close to a suitable manner; and in this embarrassing state, he threw himself to the ground in front of Paltrül. “Welcome, welcome, dear fellow!” Paltrül greeted him, “Forget prostrations! Sit! Be comfortable! Eat with us! You’ll have missed your breakfast I’ll be bound! A smoky room makes for heavy sleep.” Poor Rinchen Thar-gyé had only managed one prostration – he had simply crumpled onto the floor in a flood of tears. “Nyoshul!” Paltrül called, “Help our good monk up, make our venerable friend comfortable! Today we’ll have a few words of teaching!” It was a while before Rinchen Thar-gyé had composed himself, but when he did they eat together as if he had just arrived as an honoured guest. After a good breakfast, he sat with Nyoshul and a few other yogis and listened to Paltrül ’s teaching. There was a joy and radiance emanating from him that was palpable. The change that had come over him was astonishing to Nyoshul. This was a different man! What had happened to the exalted pietistic monk overnight? When the teaching was over Paltrül announced that he would give the monk the entire cycle of transmission, teachings, and commentaries of the Longchen Nying-thig. Rinchen Thar-gyé was overjoyed. He was just about to leave when Paltrül called after him “By the way, I hear there’s no fire in your room – you must have been freezing in there! I will see to it that you have some heating.” Rinchen Thar-gyé responded that there he had found a perfectly comfortable place to sleep. Nyoshul was amazed. “He’s been there in all this cold without a fire?” Paltrül face assumed a more serious demeanour, and he replied in reverential tone “Extraordinary, isn’t it. Just look, Nyoshul – this – is – one – exemplary – monk.”

Just look, Nyoshul!

Just look, Nyoshul!

Paltrül was resting-up a while. He was in one of the caves in upper Do, the rugged, craggy, wind-swept region where DoKhyentsé Rinpoche pitched his gar. Whilst in residence, an old nomad ngakpa called Shérab Dorje took to visiting him, and asking for instructions. He was a simple, good-natured fellow – sincere and honest. He had no pretensions to anything beyond practice, and hoped for nothing apart from continuing with practise to the point of his death – and beyond. Shérab Dorje crossed the river in a yak-hide coracle every day to visit Paltrül while he was in residence in that retreat cave. He made the journey no matter what the weather flung at him, and made the journey home often under atrocious conditions. One day, however, the river was in severe spate, and the current was so savage that Shérab Dorje’s coracle capsized. The old ngakpa drowned.

Paltrül left his cave as soon as he perceived what had happened. He ran down to the river bank where Shérab Dorje had been hauled ashore by some nomads who had witnessed the calamity. His wife and other family members had been summoned and gradually they all arrived on the scene. There was considerable commotion. Everyone was in tears. Shérab Dorje was much loved by everyone in the locality and his wife was inconsolable. Death by drowning is considered highly inauspicious amongst the nomads, and so various relatives petitioned Paltrül to intervene on behalf of the old ngakpa to ensure a decent rebirth. They were all terribly afraid that death by drowning might precipitate the old fellow into some foul horrific backwater of existence infested by hideous vituperative sadists. Paltrül told them not to worry, because the ngakpa was bound for glory. He tried to reassure them that there was not much need to do anything. Shérab Dorje was doing just fine on his own. He was an experienced yogi. He had died whilst in pursuit of teaching – braving the torrent to meet his root teacher. The nomads were happy to hear that Paltrül thought so highly of their kith and kin; however, they wanted to see some ritual going on. As far as they were concerned, rituals are what make the difference. Fancy talk about Shérab Dorje not needing any help were all well and good, but bells ringing and drums rattling were the basis of real confidence. Paltrül told them that if it would make them feel better, he would be only too happy to oblige with rites and rituals appropriate to the occasion. Shérab Dorje’s relatives were enormously relieved that the great Dza Paltrül Rinpoche would help their lowly ngakpa, and sat waiting for the liturgical formalities to commence. They wanted to make sure that something was going to be chanted.

Paltrül sat down with Nyoshul on the high bank of the river at the foot of the rise that led to the caves. His other disciples where also there, having gathered from the various caves that pocked the mountain side in clusters below their Lama’s hermitage. They had followed Paltrül down to the river – being aware that something momentous was afoot. Paltrül instructed them as to the nature of the rituals they were to perform together, and his disciples set about making their preparations whilst Paltrül sat and stared at the sky. Once everything was organised, the yogis began to perform pho-wa and bardo recitations. All was proceeding in a traditional manner and the nomads were well pleased that Shérab Dorje was getting everything that was conventional and proper. But before they had got much further than ‘the dissolution of the elements’, Paltrül started laughing quietly to himself. After some further moments he became so amused by the whole business that he quit recitation altogether. He let his disciples continue on their own, being careful not to be observed in his mirth by Shérab Dorje’s relatives. Nyoshul, however, took it all in and was more than a little bewildered. He leaned over toward his teacher and asked “What amuses you Rinpoche?” but Paltrül just pointed at the sky. Nyoshul looked up but couldn’t see anything much. He didn’t really know what he was supposed to be looking for, and so proceeded to scan the horizon for some clue. There was obviously something out there somewhere. Paltrül observed him for a while. Nyoshul was looking for something, as if it were hidden – as if it were something very difficult to see. He nudged Nyoshul gently and indicated the sky again; but this time, with a broad sweep of his hand. Nyoshul renewed his efforts to see something, but only succeeded in becoming more tense. “I’m sorry Rinpoche, I don’t see anything.” he replied, at which Paltrül chuckled all the more – “Just look, Nyoshul!” he whispered, indicating the broad expanse of sky, but this time using both hands.

Nyoshul looked again and attempted simply to be present with his vision and the visual field. He could barely detect it, but yes – it was raining. A very fine thin drizzle – a mere mist. In Tibet precipitation of this variety is described as ‘the rain of flowers’. The reasoning behind this it that the rain kisses the cheeks in a delicate way. It caresses the skin as if flower petals were touching your face. Although there was a blizzard of blossoms, the sun was shining brightly from an ink-dark sky. There were rainbows everywhere – flickering throughout the curtain of mist in sporadic frissons. “There are rainbows everywhere!” Nyoshul exclaimed, “Why didn’t I see it before!” He was entranced by the glimmering colours that came and went – appearing in swirling pools of colour before his eyes. Gazing into the drizzle was gazing into a dazzling sphere of thig-lés. “Is that why you are laughing Rinpoche?” Paltrül put his hand on Nyoshul’s shoulder in a kindly way. “No,” he replied softly – but this was also a cause for amusement. Nyoshul looked bewildered. “See these people,” said Paltrül, “Shérab Dorje’s wife and these relatives of his.” Nyoshul looked as if he might see something unusual about them, but they looked like a fairly typical collection of nomads. “What is unusual about them?” Nyoshul asked. “They’re very sad, aren’t they Nyoshul?” “Yes” was the obvious reply and it was duly given. “They’re also very anxious about Shérab Dorje’s rebirth aren’t they?” Nyoshul agreed. “Then, dear Nyoshul, look at yourself. You don’t understand why your crazy old Lama is laughing, do you?” Nyoshul answered “No, I can’t understand.” Paltrül shook his head in disbelief. “Do you think that old Paltrül has no compassion for Shérab Dorje? Is that why old Paltrül is laughing?” Poor Nyoshul. This was a situation. He didn ’t know what to say or think or do. “Look at the bedraggled corpse of old Shérab Dorje, dear Nyoshul. This is a sad sight isn’t it?” Nyoshul had no problem with that idea – it was a sad sight. “Then look at me, dear Nyoshul. I do not see a sad sight. I know that old Shérab Dorje is a great practitioner. I know that he is not simply this battered baggage of human remains. People think that because he was a rough nomad ngakpa, that he had no spiritual power. People think that spiritual power rests with those who live in monasteries – or those with big names like Nyoshul and Paltrül. I know differently. I see that he had no difficulty with the bardos – in spite of drowning. I only had to think of him and that was enough to remind him what to do – how to keep his awareness. And now he has sent us this rain as a sign that he is happy. There is no need for us to do these rites for him – as if he were merely a layman with no knowledge or experience. This performance is just for the sake of his relatives. They do not understand that what we are doing is like tipping boiling water into a boiling kettle – just to make sure that it boils! Anyone who saw such a thing could not help but laugh!” Nyoshul smiled, “Yes...” he sighed “and none of us here can see that.” Paltrül sat silently for a moment, gazing at the spectacle of subtle rainbows. Nyoshul joined his teacher gazing into the opalescent mist. After some moments he asked, “How can I learn to see that?” Paltrül grinned, still staring into the rain of flowers. “Just look, Nyoshul.”

What sort of king are you, anyway?

What sort of king are you, anyway?

Paltrül was teaching in Dzam-thang. The people there appreciated what he said to them, and they tried to give him presents. He re-directed these gifts as was his wont and left with only one object – that was to become an unusual catalyst of change. Of the gifts, he gave goods to the poor people and financial donations to those engaged in religious craft work. The one gift he kept was given him by an old man – a special gift, a silver ornament made to the exact shape and size of a horse’s hoof! “What a thing! Paltrül exclaimed. “What – a – thing!” He realised that this was an important moment for the old man, so Paltrül confided quietly, “This will accomplish much more than you imagine.” True to his word, he took the hoof with him when he left Dzam-thang – even though its weight was not a welcome addition to his bag. The old man was overjoyed that Paltrül had accepted his gift, and as a result applied himself to practise with enormous dedication. It was said later that he became an accomplished practitioner as a result of the inspiration of Paltrül accepting his offering.

Things being as they are, there was a thief in the audience by the name of Gyalpo. Now Gyalpo means ‘king’, and this impoverished monarch noticed the silver horse’s hoof. As soon as he clapped eyes on it, his mind started buzzing with ideas. He thought of a wealthy Golok chieftain to whom such a things might be desirable. What he would pay for such a thing! Gyalpo was as surprised as were some of the monks present when Paltrül hoofed it with the silver hoof. They’d expected him to give it away along with all the other gifts. It was then that Gyalpo decided to relieve Paltrül of its weight in some desolate place a few days walk out of Dzam-thang.

Once Paltrül had concluded his dealing in Dzam-thang, he took off into the hills, and it was a few days before Gyalpo found him. Paltrül was asleep when the would-be robber crept up on him, but he was not unaware of Gyalpo or his intention. The thief stealthily investigated Paltrül’s bundle in search of the ingot – but nothing was to be found. Paltrül, recognising that the pilferer was frustrated, said: “It’s back at the last place you watched me light a fire. I’d have thought you would have found it there – it was easy enough to see.” Then he sat up. He looked carefully at Gyalpo, asking in disbelief “What sort of king are you anyway? I guess you must be a king though – you’re too damn timid to be a demon. [‘Gyalpo’ means king, but it also refers to a class of demon. Gyalpo demons are often the re-births of spiritual practitioners who have perverted the teachings to uncompassionate ends.] You’ll have to do a bit better than this if you want to make a living out of larceny.” Gyalpo jumped back surprised. He was perplexed by Paltrül, but demanded “Cut the guff joker, where have you hidden that damn horse hoof! I saw the old man give it you – I want it, and I want it now!” Paltrül laughed “Dear me... you poor fellow, what a miserable mess your life is.” The robber was annoyed and slightly bewildered by Paltrül’s attitude, but also a little curious, “Whadya mean by that, you jerk-off!” he shouted “These hill-billies may think you’re a big shot, but you’re not a real Lama! You’re just a ragged old fart who can shoot his mouth off!” Paltrül smiled “That’s as may be, my lad, but the fact remains that the silver’s there waiting for you back where I last camped. It’s got no value for me, so you’re welcome to it. But come now – why run around like a lunatic chasing dreams of wealth that won’t last? That old Golok horse lord won’t give you the price you want, and you’ll be short-changed from here to Amdo, as like as not. It won’t be a month before it’s all gone, and then where will you be? What’s the use in that? Think about it. Have you ever made out with this kind of deal before?” Gyalpo, all the while Paltrül was speaking, was scurrying around in a frenzy, hunting in every crevice. Where could that crafty old con artist have hidden that ingot? It was only when he had exhausted every option, along with himself, that he sat down and began to weep. “I’ve never had anything! I’ll never have anything! I’ll never amount to anything! I’m not even a successful criminal!” Paltrül shook his head sadly and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Yah, yah, that’s the way of it my friend, but never mind – there are other ways of occupying your life...” Gyalpo looked wretched. “Come now,” Paltrül added, “just take a walk back there down the valley and you’ll find what you’re looking for.” Gyalpo looked confused. “Come on now!”, Paltrül repeated, “If you leave now you’ll get there by dawn. I left that useless lump of silver in the ashes of the fire.” Gyalpo looked up at him with a mixture of hope, despair, and vague remorse. “Really?” he enquired – “Really!” replied Paltrül, “... if that is what you want. But is that – what – you – want?” The thief nodded. “This isn’t a trick?” But Paltrül laughed: “What’s there to trick?” The thief took the situation in for a moment, and said that he would ascertain the veracity of Paltrül’s story, and that if the silver wasn’t here, he would come looking for him. “Well, my friend, you may do that anyway – you know how it is ... although, before you go there’s something I’d like to tell you.” Gyalpo looked at his unusual prospective benefactor cautiously: “Tell away then.” Paltrül fixed his eyes and stated in slow even tones, “Well... king or demon or whatever you are – this hoof may well be exactly what you think you want – but I’m damn sure it’s not what you need. One day you’ll realise that you need the teachings more than you want this silver horse’s hoof... But in the mean time,” Paltrül yawned, “... go get what you – think – you – want... ”

Gyalpo left and went to find Paltrül’s last campfire. He walked through the night, and in the morning he found the place Paltrül described. There was the campfire, and in the ashes he found the ingot. Gyalpo leapt in the air for joy: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” he shouted when he laid his hands on it. He sat down and gazed at it lovingly. He rubbed off the ash and shone up the silver on his ragged sleeve. He watched the metal begin to glitter as he rubbed away the ash. It really was a large piece of silver – he was in no doubt about that. He began to think about the deal with the Golok chief, and the rich reward he’d get. But then the words of Paltrül came back to him:

“That old Golok horse lord won’t give you the price you want, and you’ll be short-changed from here to Amdo as like as not. It won’t be a month before it’s all gone, and then where will you be?”

This was an unpleasant thought. He had been down that road before. How could he be sure that old Golok horseman wouldn’t swindle him? How could he be sure that those Goloks wouldn’t just waylay him on the road and take their lord’s money back? This was not going to be as easy as he thought... then he started thinking about Paltrül – that old Lama really did jettison the silver... Then he thought of the abusive language he’d thrown at Paltrül: “These hill-billies may think you’re a big-shot, but you’re not a real Lama! You’re just a ragged old fart who can shoot his mouth off!” Paltrül was evidently the real thing. Gyalpo began to feel very sad and confused. The pattern of his life started moving through his mind, and there wasn’t much to it that looked like anything. Then in the next moment he broke down and wept. “Worse and worse!” he cried, “This Dza Paltrül really is a great being, and I’m just a mouldering turd! What use is this damn horse’s hoof anyway!” The knowledge that the hoof could make him rich for a while, but that he’d only become poor again, seemed somehow too poignant. His life seemed futile and worthless. “Better for me that I try to be like Dza Paltrül. He doesn’t seem to need anything to be happy!”

Gyalpo left. He grabbed the ingot and walked without stopping until he had caught up with Paltrül. By the time Gyalpo found him, his feet were raw and blistered. The ingot of silver had started to feel like a massive weight, but something in him had determined that he was going to take it back.

Paltrül had some sense of Gyalpo’s approach, and sat down to await his arrival. When he arrived, Paltrül exclaimed, “Hey! How the hell are you, king demon! What pushes you on at such a lick – you must have walked your feet off to catch up with me again.” Then is a soft voice he added “Y’know... you’ll drive yourself insane with this senseless galloping! Didn’t you find that hoof?” Gyalpo was gasping with the effort of this sleepless trek but managed to blurt out “Yeah I found it, and I’ve brought it back to you. It’s a bloody nuisance! I just needed to tell you that I don’t want it any more.” Paltrül smiled at him “What do you want, then king demon?” With those words Gyalpo threw the ingot into the river and said: “I want you to teach me what I have to do to be like you!” The two men laughed heartily together, as the hoof bounced down the hill toward the torrent below. “Now you’re free man for the first time in your life, king demon!” Paltrül was happy to give Gyalpo the teachings he requested, and sent him off to practice them.

Gyalpo, after being beaten up a couple of times by victims of previous thefts, went on to be a great practitioner. When Paltrül heard that Gyalpo was being beaten up by people who caught up with him, he promptly issued a severe warning to all who respected him: “If you harm my disciple you harm me! He was once a thief but now he’s a yogi – leave him be!”

Paltrül receives an offer of marriage

Paltrül receives an offer of marriage

Dza Paltrül Rinpoche was once making his way through the wild and dangerous region north of Dza-chukha – a mountainous region of ferocious exhilarating beauty. Equally beautiful and ferocious, however, were the animals which stalked its wooded hills and isolated valleys – animals not particularly known for their tender nurturing relationship with people. But this was not the only risk of journeying through such parts; there were bandits.

Dza-chukha was in Golok – the wild reaches of Tibet north of Kham, far away from the central provinces where some sort of order prevailed. Golok was considered barbaric by those who lived in areas where people loved freedom less. Kham was notorious for its brigandage, but Golok exceeded it to the extent that Arizona and Kansas exceeded Philadelphia in the 1870s. It was no place to travel unless you were a yogi, or packed muskets – or, perhaps better, a yogi who packed muskets, such as Do-Khyentsé Rinpoche, the root teacher of Dza Paltrül Rinpoche.

Golok was the Wild North-East, and the people there were known for two things: the bravado with which they vaunted their traditional independence, and their trigger-happy disregard for legislation of any kind, no matter whence it came. The following words from the head of one of the fierce Golok clans may typify their general attitude:

“To the advice of strangers we will not hearken. Nor will we obey aught but the heart with which each Golokpa enters the world. This is why we have remained as free in the past as we are now. We are slaves of none – neither Khan nor Dala’i Lama. Our tribe is the mightiest in the land of snows, and it is our birth-right to disdain Chinese and Tibetans. We regard them both with contempt.”

Tulku Rinpoche, a young Lama whom I met whilst staying with Tharchin Rinpoche, fell to talking with me about Golok. It was the land of his birth. He told me that it was notorious both for brigandry and drüpthobs (siddhas). He said that there used to be a saying in Lhasa, which ran:

“Even if you’re on your deathbed, if you hear there’s a Golokpa approaching – you’d better jump up immediately and run away!”

Golokpas, the indigenous tribes of Golok, were not folk who appreciated change over-much – least of all if it came in the form of impingements from the outside. They classed themselves as tax-exempt with regard to the edicts of the Tibetan government, and imposed their own free-lance taxation on those fool-hardy enough to venture into their land. As an example of this Tulku Rinpoche told me another story. Apparently a well-to-do middle-aged Golokpa bought a large new Chinese tent to replace his old yak-hair model. Soon afterward he died very suddenly and unexpectedly. The local people had little sympathy for him, all agreed that he had it coming: “The old fool! What d’you expect if you buy a new-fangled Chinese tent?”

So it was in these distinctly wild and woolly parts that Paltrül came across an attractive young woman. She and her two young children were weeping bitterly. They were in a state of dreadful anguish, huddled under the shelter of a large rock by the side of the mountain track. Paltrül asked what had happened, and learnt that the woman’s husband had been mauled to death by one of the huge bears in whose cave the family had inadvertently trespassed. They had been in search of shelter from a rising gale after having previously been robbed of all their goods by bandits. Paltrül immediately offered his protection as a companion traveller. He asked what direction they had been intending to take when the awful events occurred. “We were on pilgrimage to Dza-chukha” said the woman, although it was difficult for her to speak, “but we were robbed by a band of robbers. All our horses and money were stolen.” The poor woman wept even more at this point: “And then... my poor husband was killed by a red bear. And now we have nothing... nothing at all! We are destitute with no means of returning to our home.” It was a terrible sight to witness, but Paltrül said: “It seems you’d better go to Dza-chukha, because that’s where I’m going – I’ll look after you on the way. Don’t worry.” The woman calmed down momentarily on hearing these words, but burst into tears again, saying there was no purpose in going on further to Dza-chukha, because she knew no one there: “Who would help me there anyway? I should go home, but my home’s such a long way away – how can I go there through such dangers? I cannot go on without money or provisions, neither can I return.” The poor woman was in floods of tears, and seemed inconsolable. Paltrül once more tried to comfort her, saying: “You know... I really think you should come to Dza-chukha with me. I have the feeling that you’ll really do well there. I know how to beg for alms even if you don’t, so you can follow my example as we travel together. There’s to be a great gathering of religious types in Dza-chukha, going to see Dza Paltrül... so something is bound to work out for you.” The woman’s eyes widened when she heard the name Dza Paltrül. “Really?” she said “Dza Paltrül Rinpoche will really be there in Dza-chukha! That is the most wonderful news! That’s why my husband and I left the caravan! That’s why we took the risk of leaving on our own – we’d heard that Dza Paltrül Rinpoche might be in these parts and we wanted to see him.” The lady seemed suddenly elated: “I believe I will take your advice after all! You are right, I do not know how to beg, but if I can learn what to do from you then at least my children will be able to receive Dza Paltrül Rinpoche’s blessings! His blessing would be worth more than everything they have lost, even were their mother also to die.” Paltrül observed the young lady carefully. Her whole demeanour had changed radically since hearing his name, and so he said: “It seems that you have some connection with this Lama, so I’d be happy to help you find him.” The lady looked radiant, and even her children stopped crying and gazed in wonder at the kindly stranger in the ragged sheepskin chuba. The woman looked down at her children and said “We have travelled for a month, on pilgrimage, hoping that we would be able to meet Dza Paltrül Rinpoche just once, and now we have the opportunity! Now it doesn’t matter what happens after Dza-chukha, everything will be fine!”

So they set out together. They made detours through villages whenever they ran out of food, and begged for provisions to take them further. They camped out as they travelled wherever they could find relatively sheltered places. When they slept Paltrül kept one child in his sheep-skin chuba, and she kept the other huddled in hers. As the days wore on, the lady noticed that when there was nothing else to be done, Paltrül would sit motionless with his eyes wide – staring into the sky. He was not one for conversation unless she or the children spoke to him, but when he answered he was always good-humoured and kind.

She felt unusually peaceful and reassured in his company, and her children seemed contented. Paltrül would often carry either one of the children on his shoulder as they walked, and they seemed to take to him rapidly as a substitute father. The grim tragedy of her husband’s death weighed less on the lady than she expected, and she pondered the peculiar naturalness which had settled on them like an invisible mist of benevolence. She pondered on her unusual lack of anxiety in view of the terrible events that had occurred. But even her pondering didn’t seem to hold her mind for long, she seemed content to enjoy the shifting forms of the landscape.

Paltrül talked to her a little about impermanence and death as they walked. He told her that he had some small knowledge of the passage of the bardo, and would perform the required meditation for her husband. She was much relieved by this, even though there was not a Lama there to perform the rites in the full ritual manner. Paltrül’s bardo meditations were all silent, but it seemed that whatever it was he was doing made her and her children confident that all was proceeding as it should – even though his silent motionless posture didn’t resemble anything she knew or understood.

She and her departed husband had both received some religious instructions from time to time during their lives. Although they were not ngak’phang practitioners, they were devoted to the practises they had been given and had persevered in them to the best of their abilities. Increasingly often, at the end of a long day’s walk she and Paltrül sang Padmasambhava’s mantra or Seven Line Song together. Sometimes they simply sat together in silence as the darkness fell. At those times he would tell her a few things about how to let go of thought, and she gradually came to discover that Paltrül had a deeper degree of knowledge in spiritual matters than she had thought. He gave her some simple advice on dream yoga that she could practice each night as she fell asleep, and provided her with pieces of knowledge that proved interesting and valuable to her. She began to ask him questions after a while, in order to clarify previous teaching she had received, and as they walked he explained every subject on which she enquired in ordinary language, in the simplest most direct manner. He occasionally apologised that what he could say was very simple, but that the simple approach was all he really knew. He gave her suggestions on practice in a manner which suggested that he was merely passing on the teachings he had heard, but nonetheless he seemed completely clear and confident about everything he described – as if his memory served him more than adequately.

He cared for her children as if they were his own, and entertained them sometimes when they rested or took meals. By the time they got to Dza-chukha, her feelings for Paltrül had developed in depth and complexity. The lady was aware that she was astonishing herself with regard to how she felt about him. He was actually quite a handsome man under his shaggy coils of matted hair, and she had grown to be very fond of him. She was concerned not only for herself but for the future of her children, and it seemed to her that Paltrül might make a good husband. He was her senior in years, and not of the same social position as her late husband – but he was both knowledgeable and devoted to the teachings. He was also the epitome of kindness and humour. She realised that she had never met such a wonderful person in her life. She was suddenly aware that she had fallen in love with him.

After long consideration she plucked up the courage and proposed marriage to Paltrül. But he shook his head rather sadly: “That’s not really possible my dear,” he replied, “but thank you all the same. You’re a good woman. There could be nothing more happy for a vagabond like to me to do but become a husband to you, and a father to your children. But I am not cut out for such a life. And anyway... I must care for a great number of people in my own way...” The lady was disappointed, but somehow understood that there was something much more unusual about this strange man than she had supposed. She did not pursue her proposal, but asked: “What is your purpose here in Dza-chukha – will you also go to the gompa?” Paltrül smiled: “Yes, certainly I will be there, have no doubt. I will be going to the gompa tomorrow, and I promise to meet you. Take the remains of what we have been offered as alms and find a place for you and your children to sleep tonight.” Paltrül looked at her intently and said emphatically: “You and your children will be fine. Your devotion and practice will take care of everything.” She looked a little bewildered, asking: “But what about you – what will you do for accommodation?” Paltrül laughed: “Oh me? I’ll do what I usually do when I come here. Don’t you worry about me. If I can’t find a good place to put my head down, something will be very amiss!”

On that note they parted. Paltrül made his way to the gompa where he was received with all due ceremony, and the lady and her children went on their way to find somewhere to stay for the night. In their respective accommodations, they engaged in their own duties and practises before attending the teachings of the great Dza Paltrül Rinpoche.

The next day arrived, and the preparations for the teachings and public blessing were underway. People were arriving from the outlying districts. Others had arrived some days or weeks previously. Some had travelled tremendous distances to hear Paltrül’s teachings, and there was a sizeable encampment all around the gompa eager to receive his blessing. Many Khamba and Golok Lamas were there in their respective encampments, and even people from as far away as Lhasa. Everyone had brought presents in the time-honoured style, and in similar traditional manner they were gathered together by the monks. It was well-known that Paltrül never accepted presents, and that he always gave away whatever he was given – either to those who were in need or to help local craftspeople in religious works. But this time he requested that all the gifts should be gathered together to be at his personal disposal at a future point. The monks were slightly disconcerted by this change in Paltrül. Why had he had deviated from his usual exemplary disinterest in offerings? – but then, he was a very great Lama, and there would probably be some good reason behind this uncharacteristic action. Their curiosity was further aroused by the almost unseemly degree of interest he took in the value and quality of the offerings. He appeared to be uncommonly pleased by the way that the gifts were accumulating, and one could have been led to believe that Paltrül descended to common acquisitiveness.

When the lady arrived at the gompa and took her place amongst the crowd gathered there, she could not really see Paltrül’s face very clearly. She listened to the teaching in rapt attention, in which she marvelled at the eerie sensation of Paltrül’s voice: it was extraordinarily familiar – almost like the old togden with whom she had travelled to Dza-chukha. The teachings seemed unusually easy to understand. She remembered the difficulty she had experienced in the past when she had attempted to follow such profound teachings. Now it was as if she had heard them all recently, and was simply being reminded of what she already knew. Then she came up to receive a blessing. She had some degree of anticipation of the glorious benediction that the touch of Paltrül’s hand would confer when it touched the top of her head, but when she looked up to see the face of Paltrül, her mind was so startled that she lost all ability to conceptualise. She found herself in a state of rapt shock.

At that moment she understood all the instructions that Paltrül had given her as they walked together. She realised that Paltrül had given her all the teachings in quintessential form on the journey, and that he had just given them all again in full. “I’m sorry I turned down your offer of marriage,” Paltrül told the lady in a concerned tone, “but now you have received my transmission and you know the nature of real practice. Although I cannot marry you, we will never be parted. Marriage always ends in death, but the marriage of transmission is indestructible.” Paltrül snapped his fingers and the woman’s eyes focused again. After a moment of what looked like consideration, he said: “Although you have told me that the teachings of old Paltrül are worth more than everything you have lost, you will also need to take care of yourself and your children.” With that he requested the monks to turn over all the collected offerings to the woman, and she was able to return to her home. She became a profound practitioner of Dzogchen and passed on her teaching not only to her children but to many other ordinary people who came to hear her.

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