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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