The best kind of practice

The best kind of practice

Paltrül being foot-loose and fancy-free, as was his wont, was always coming across situations in which he could let the passage of events do what it would. Whilst roaming the highlands of Kham, Paltrül came upon a company of religious types travelling to the South. He asked whether, as a practitioner, he might join them. The monks said that they would have to ask one of the Lamas in the caravan, and that if he was agreeable there would be no difficulty – as long as he could pitch in with the work that had to be done. Paltrül seemed pleased with this arrangement, and after the agreement of one of the Lamas was sought and gained, he was put to work gathering firewood. Paltrül was evidently very willing to do whatever he was asked, and the monks soon realised they were onto a good thing. Soon he was doing a share of everyone’s work. Behind his back the monks shared a jest about it: “Hey, this village ngakpa knows the best kind of practice, doesn’t he?”

And so it went on. One day Paltrül asked one of the monks: “What do you do when you don’t have the work of the camp to do?” The monk looked at him curiously, and wondered if their run of luck with the hard-working village ngakpa had come to an end. “Oh, we have no free time. All our time is spent practising.” Paltrül looked surprised: “Is that a fact... really... that’s just perfect,” he intoned, “Ya-tsen – what a thing it surely must be to be monk, such as you and your colleagues here.” The monk smiled self-consciously, “Yes,” he said, “it is the way of virtue, as laid down by the Buddha.” This was getting a trifle uncomfortable for the monk, and so he decided he had better ask a question, if only to change the subject: “But what do you do for religious practice?” Paltrül looked sheepish, and replied: “Me... Oh well, I just do my best to leave my Mind as it is.” The monk giggled at this, and said: “Poor fellow, you don’t know too much about religion do you.” Paltrül shook his head: “Seems that way sure ’nough – but I’m happy to help y’all create merit and share in that a little if I can.” The monk smiled nervously and excused himself – not knowing what to make of the conversation in which he had just engaged. Was this village ngakpa a kindly well-mannered simpleton, or what? Still, as long as he continued to do the bulk of the work, it seemed better not to ask too many questions.

After a week they arrived in the vicinity of a Kagyüd gompa, where an empowerment was going to be given by Tashi ’ö-Ser Rinpoche, one of the major disciples of the great Kongtrül Lödrö Tha-yé. The travelling assembly of ecclesiastics got wind of this and decided it would be good to attend. Camp was pitched, and the Lamas’ horses were decked out in the prescribed manner – exquisitely caparisoned with ornately carved and gilded saddles. The Lamas and their attendants wore their finest robes and hats for the occasion and arrived with parasols and banners fluttering. The entourage displayed the profusion of polychromatic religious pageantry of which only the Tibetan sense of the grandiose is capable. It caused great wonder amongst the villagers who came to admire the spectacle of their arrival. Paltrül was something of an embarrassment to the calculated dignity of the monastic cavalcade, and waited until a discreet interval had elapsed before he followed them into the courtyard of the gompa.

The place was very crowded for the empowerment, and at its conclusion it took several hours for Tashi ’ö-Sér Rinpoche to bless the assembly. First came the highest of the visiting dignitaries with whom he touched foreheads – then the lesser, whose heads he touched with both hands. Then came others according to rank, and gradually the touch of one hand was followed by the touch of a yak hair whisk. The very last of all to receive a blessing was Paltrül, but ’ö-Sér Rinpoche had seen him coming and was too quick. Before Paltrül had approached the throne ’ö-Sér Rinpoche had handed him the yak hair whisk and was performing full prostrations.

’ö-Sér Rinpoche offered his throne to Paltrül and took the lower one for himself. When they had seated themselves, to the amazement of all, ’ö-Sér Rinpoche introduced the great Dza Paltrül Rinpoche – friend of his own teacher Kongtrül Lödrö Tha-yé.

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