Damn right Nyoshul

Dza Paltrül was biding his time. He was in mountain retreat with his disciples, doing and saying little apart from what seemed to be needed in the moment. He wasn’t one for shooting the breeze, but then – one day – the wind changed. A breeze laden with the fragrances of highland herbs stirred in the hermitage – but Nyoshul didn’t really notice. Nyoshul looked a little flat and enervated. Dza Paltrül took a sideways glance at him, and perceiving Nyoshul’s dull state of mind, he called out: “Hey! Nyoshul! Get lively!” Nyoshul jumped a little on hearing his Lama’s voice directed at him in such a crisp manner. He apologised for his flatness of affect; but Paltrül waved his hand to indicate that an apology was not necessary. Paltrül grinned, and suggested: “Why don’t you’n me both, take a long walk over yonder?” Nyoshul was still taking in these words when he realised that Paltrül had leapt to his feet and was headed off at a brisk pace in the direction of the high pastures. “Sheep country!” Paltrül quipped over his shoulder, but Nyoshul didn’t have an inkling of what might be amusing in such a statement. He scrambled after his Lama with as much decorum as he could muster.

After about three hours walk without a word exchanged, they heard a crack that echoed ominously amongst the mountains. “Yo!” Paltrül shouted to his disciple’s alarm. “D’you hear that! Do—you—hear—that!” Nyoshul had heard the sound, and proffered the speculation that it might have been distant thunder. “Thunder all right my lad!” Paltrül yelled, and then in a whisper: “But not the sort that brings rain...” Nyoshul looked perplexed, so Paltrül confided in an immense bellow: “That... is the sound of liberation!” Again Nyoshul had no idea what his teacher was talking about; but as Paltrül strode ahead, appearing uninterested in elucidating, Nyoshul enquired no further.

Soon they saw a great herd of sheep in the distance. Nyoshul had some slight sense of foreboding that made him feel he should say something: “There are sheep in the distance,” he observed, at which Paltrül smiled broadly. “Damn right Nyoshul!” he murmured with a conspiratorial air that was almost ludicrous. There was definitely some private joke afoot, but it was not to become apparent. ‘This’ thought Nyoshul ‘must have got something to do with sheep...’ but he could not get any further with his line of reasoning. They continued to walk.

Soon they were up in the high pastures amongst the sheep. They seemed unusually lacking in nervousness for sheep, and Nyoshul remarked on it. But again his teacher’s rejoinder was oblique and impenetrable: “Foregone conclusion, Nyoshul! Just as we should have expected! They! are DoKhyentsé’s flock; make—no—mistake!” Paltrül was obviously elated, and striding vigorously in spite of his advancing years.

Having climbed the ridge that lay before them, they halted momentarily to catch breath. Paltrül shaded his eyes to get a clearer view of the distance. “Yo! Nyoshul!” Paltrül shouted at mighty volume – even though he was right next to his disciple. “There! Look! There is—the—gar—of DoKhyentsé Rinpoche!” Nyoshul almost leapt out of his skin at the shout, but composed himself quickly enough – and, yes, there it was. In the distance he could just make out small white flecks that could quite possibly have been tents. They were a long way off, but it was evident that this was their destination.

Now Nyoshul had heard a lot about DoKhyentsé, and what he had heard was all utterly astonishing. The Lama was an enlightened maniac by all accounts, and held in the very highest esteem by many Nyingma Lamas. It was said by some that he was one of the greatest living masters of his age. He was the incarnation of Jig’mèd Lingpa. Fragments of a picture began to shape themselves – but Nyoshul could not manage to tie them together in a way that made any sense. Paltrül was certainly acting in a singularly strange manner – but why? What was this shouting all about? Something unusual was evidently in the air, but what it could be, Nyoshul could not guess.

DoKhyentsé had known about his visitors since early that morning, and now he espied the pair from a distance. He knew through his innate clarity that his disciple Dza Paltrül Rinpoche was coming. He knew also that with him, Paltrül had a disciple of his own – a man who needed to break through some obstacles. They would have travelled all day by foot, and they would doubtless be tired and hungry – so preparations were made for their comfort. A tent had been arranged for their privacy. Bedding had been appropriated and arranged in a commodious manner. Food had been organised, and was in the process of being cooked. Chang had been allocated, and stood awaiting in wooden pitchers, ready to quaff.

When the two Lamas arrived, disciples of DoKhyentsé came to meet them and escorted them into the maniacal drüpchen’s tent. DoKhyentsé welcomed them in grand style and bade them sit down on the thick pile of sumptuous carpets and sheep skins arranged for them. He was dressed in a fine chuba made of lamb skins and sat on the scattered skins of leopards and tigers. They found DoKhyentsé in the final stages of cleaning, oiling, and re-assembling his rifle. The sight of the rifle was a bit much for Nyoshul – he had certain ideas about that kind of thing. Nonetheless, he sat down along with Paltrül, and the three Lamas talked. They talked about the way things had been, the way things were going, and the way things might turn out. A somewhat matter-of-fact conversation, with no particularly spiritual inclination as far as Nyoshul could ascertain – but every time DoKhyentsé addressed him, it was with some extraordinary appellation such as ‘dangerous ruffian’, ‘savage barbarian’, ‘audacious scallywag’, ‘incongruous reprobate’, ‘degenerate miscreant’, or ‘impetuous rapscallion’.

“Nice rifle, Rinpoche,” commented Paltrül. “Certainly! British – not an Indian rifle or an old smoothbore – this – is an Enfield – a ‘Pattern 1853’ with a rifled barrel! Came from India last month... I’ve been waiting on this for a good while now – damnedest thing I ever saw,” DoKhyentsé chuckled, passing the gun to Paltrül. “Shoots well?” Paltrül enquired, whilst examining the various functional components of the weapon. “Damn right!” laughed DoKhyentsé. Each phrase that DoKhyentsé turned was delivered with shocking volume. It was eerily similar to the style Paltrül had employed during their trek up to the gar. The pieces of picture in Nyoshul’s mind looked as if they were going to assemble themselves coherently for an instant – but they didn’t. Nyoshul’s bewilderment simply escalated.

DoKhyentsé was continuing with some discussion of powder, shot, and muzzle velocity, when he caught sight of attendants in his peripheral vision. “Ah!” he yelled, “But I see a feast is ready! And...” he interjected, “dispatched! With—this—very—gun; in honour of—your visit!” Paltrül had passed the rifle to Nyoshul, only moments before, and he was engaged in a personal struggle to find something interesting about this ‘horrible implement of death’, when DoKhyentsé made his announcement about its recent use. “Butchered! Jus—for, you. What d’you think about that, eh Nyoshul m’boy?” Nyoshul was mortified; and, finding himself minutely observed by both Lamas, squirmed grievously. He gave a sickly smile as he passed the weapon back to its ferocious owner, “Thank you Rinpoche,” being all he could manage to say. He was now feeling monstrously uncomfortable, and wondering why Paltrül had brought him into the presence of this Lama who was doing his best to manifest as the most frightfully depraved hedonist one could imagine. He had heard that DoKhyentsé was a wrathful, mercurial teacher; but this had gone long past anything he could have imagined. The whole affair was beyond his understanding to say the least.

Now Nyoshul knew Paltrül to be vegetarian, and so things started looking even worse when his master started slamming into the lamb with unconcealed gusto. Nyoshul knew that not only was Dza Paltrül vegetarian, but that his teacher would always go out of his way to save life where ever he could. Nyoshul had often seen Dza Paltrül refuse to visit nomad camps if he knew there was any chance of an animal being killed for the specific purposes of feeding his party. He was not one of those Lamas who believed in the concept of ‘the heart not grieving over anything the eye had not seen’. Paltrül did not believe in innocence through contrived ignorance, and yet here he was acting completely out of character. It was like a bad dream or some kind of wildly incongruous nyam.

Looking at Nyoshul’s dazed expression, DoKhyentsé hacked off an enormous steak of lamb and hefted it deftly into Nyoshul’s bowl, yelling “Hey, Nyoshul! You murderous little devil, get your mincers round this!” Nyoshul gasped – but his devotion to Paltrül was such that he thanked his utterly shocking host and proceeded to nibble at the slaughtered flesh as if it had been roasted for his personal anguish. It was so evident that he was not enjoying his food, that Paltrül noticed his timid lack-lustre style, and nudged him in the ribs: “Eat! eat!” Paltrül encouraged. Poor Nyoshul. This was an abhorrent ordeal for him. He was practically bug-eyed with confusion as DoKhyentsé and Paltrül devoured abundant servings of meat.

Having concluded their repast, and cut the grease with some rather excellent chang, Paltrül requested some brief essential teaching. DoKhyentsé acceded with alacrity, and spontaneously decided to reveal something that he had long kept hidden. “For many years I have wanted to give you this teaching Paltrül, and tonight is the night! I am extremely happy to give it to you now – you have waited long enough.” Then he took a long careful look at Nyoshul, who was by now practically deranged. “And...” he added, “this drooling debauchee here – this insatiable inebriate... He can also receive this teaching. He’s a funny little fellow but he has a good heart.” Nyoshul was somewhat aghast at being described as a debauchee, but felt himself unusually privileged nonetheless. To receive a transmission from such master was a rare thing, no matter how bewildering the circumstances. And so it was. It was the most searingly direct of pointing-out instructions – the most brilliantly eloquent yet refreshingly simple teaching. Nyoshul was utterly rapt. His attention was totally absorbed with the words of DoKhyentsé, and once the teaching was concluded Nyoshul was left in complete shock. Bewildered incomprehension: DoKhyentsé was a realised Lama who toted a gun – an enlightened master who slaughtered sheep. This was the most terrible ambivalence, but some how he had gone so far into experiential overload that he was quite relaxed – there was nothing left with which to struggle.

When Paltrül and Nyoshul took their leave at the conclusion of the teaching, DoKhyentsé touched foreheads with them both. He looked lovingly at Nyoshul for the first time since he arrived and wished him a comfortable night in the friendliest, most gracious manner. It was quite uncharacteristic for DoKhyentsé to behave in a style befitting a venerable ecclesiastic, but on this occasion he manifested the benign serenity one might expect of the archetypal saint.

Nyoshul, almost paralytic with pure pleasure, was reeling as he made his way to the tent set aside for them. Before entering and bedding down for the night, he and Paltrül stood for a while looking at the stars. “What a day, what—a—day!” Paltrül exclaimed taking in the endless view, “I’ve been your teacher for a long stretch, haven’t I dear Nyoshul... but I’ve never given you anything as marvellous as you’ve just received.” Nyoshul was speechless, but it didn’t matter – there was nothing to say. “Y’know, my friend, with all my experience, I couldn’t guarantee to send you off to the copper-coloured mountain if you were to die tonight,” Paltrül sighed. “What a pity the two of us couldn’t be sheep in this marvellous herd! Every sheep here will find itself liberated into that dimension in the instant of its death!” Nyoshul’s eyes filled with tears: “Then DoKhyentsé Yeshé Dorje is, in reality, none other than Padmasambhava.” Paltrül smiled warmly at Nyoshul, and replied quietly, and very gently: “Damn right Nyoshul.”

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