A brocade prison

A brocade prison

At one time Dza Paltrül was giving teachings at Kathog – one of the six Ma-gön, or ‘mother’ gompas of the Nyingma tradition. The Abbot of Kathog at that time was Dza Paltrül’s nephew, Kathog Situ Chökyi Lödrö – a young Lama who held the basic gényen vows. Chökyi Lödrö was visibly moved by Dza Paltrül’s talks and requested his revered uncle to a special feast at the end of his stay at Kathog.

Up to that point the Kathog Lama had joined Paltrül in the rooms appointed to him as a visiting dignitary – but on the last day Paltrül joined his nephew in his own quarters. These were rather fabulously decorated, and sumptuous to say the least. Paltrül sat down and looked around him. He carefully took in the high Baroque: the decorations that decorated the decorations were assiduously decorated. It was a visual extravaganza that could absorb the attention for hours without respite. Paltrül nodded his head as he looked about him and said: “Well here’s a thing, and no mistake... You’ve really got quite a place here, nephew. You’ve done well for yourself. I’d heard that Kathog was spectacular, but this really beggars description. How marvellous to live in such splendour – there can’t be another room like yours in the world.” Before eating, Paltrül asked Chökyi Lödrö if he would show him around this grandiose apartment. Everything in the room was either gilt or lacquered. Priceless ritual instruments were set with precious gems in the gaudy manner that only the cultural imagination of a vast desolate land could devise. Paltrül showed great interest in everything. He commented admiringly on the great cost represented by every item he perused – savouring each one with a certain sense of awe whilst shaking his head in disbelief.

The Lamas enjoyed their meal together, and then Paltrül thanked Chökyi Lödrö for his hospitality. But just as he was about to leave, he said: “Could I ask a small favour of you dear nephew?” Chökyi Lödrö replied that he would be happy to help in any way, so Paltrül asked: “D’you think, as y’all are following in the same direction as me in a few days, that you could pack my old cooking pot in with your gear? I like to travel light if I can, and but for this old pot I’m a free man.” Chökyi Lödrö said: “Sure, that’s easy for me, I’m happy to oblige. It’ll be no problem at all, in with all the baggage that accompanies me on my travels.”

The two Lamas said good-bye to each other and Paltrül took to the road in his usual way – which was to walk wherever he went. Sitting alone in his room, Chökyi Lödrö looked at the old clay pot that was Paltrül’s one possession. As he looked at, it he began to feel a little uncomfortable. He had received the most marvellous teaching from Dza Paltrül Rinpoche, and regarded him as an astounding teacher... and yet... all he owned in the way of possessions was this old pot.

“Too bad...” he thought – but then suddenly he realised something: “No... too bad for me... If I wish to come anywhere close to Dza Paltrül’s realisation I should stop living in this brocade museum, and live as he does!”

It was at that moment that the Kathog Lama quit his rococo apartment and his well-appointed monastery. He never returned. Rather than awaiting the day he was to set off in the direction Paltrül had taken, he left Kathog that night. He left in secret, in the early hours of the morning. He disappeared on his own and went in search of Paltrül. When he caught up with him, he hooted: “Ya tsan! Uncle Paltrül! Lucky for me you left your old cooking pot! With it you left the best advice, and I’ve taken it!” Paltrül smiled and said: “Is that a fact?” “Sure!” said his nephew, “I’ve left my golden prison in Kathog to those who like that kind of thing!”

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