Praise to Patrul Rinpoche

Outwardly, you are the Son of the Victorious Ones, Shantideva.

Inwardly, you are the saint, the conqueror Shavaripa.

Secretly, you are the supreme sublime being Dug-ngal Rangdröl, actual self-liberator of the suffering of beings.

Jigme Chökyi Wangpo, I pray to you.

— by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, from Thinley Norbu Rinpoche's Sunlight Speech That Dispels the Darkness of Doubt

The Life of Patrul Rinpoche

Eastern Tibet in the nineteenth century was teeming with some of the most remarkable teachers to have walked on this earth.

Standing vividly out among them was Dza Patrul Orgyen Jigme Chökyi Wangpo, commonly known to us as Patrul Rinpoche. Considered one of the three main incarnations of Jigme Lingpa, the impact that this wandering yogi made on Buddhist practice cannot be overstated.

Biographical sketches of him can be found in Tulku Thondup's Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Khenpo Kunpel's A Vase of Nectar to Inspire the Faithful: A Biography of Patrul Rinpoche, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche's A Marvelous Garland of Gems, Alak Zenkar Rinpoche's brief biography on Lotsawa House, and as several of the works listed below.

But perhaps the best place to start is in Matthieu Ricard's Enlightened Vagabond: The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche. Ricard has spent his life with some of the most amazing teachers of the 20th century, many of them heirs to the practice tradition of Patrul Rinpoche and the oral tradition preserving the stories of Patrul Rinpoche, which have been told since his days as a peripatetic wandering in the hills and mountains of eastern Tibet. This book is filled with stories and teachings that will make you laugh and cry and leave you in awe. It is an essential book for those inspired by Patrul Rinpoche's life, works, and wisdom.

What follows is a guide for readers to many of the works available in English by Patrul Rinpoche.

Foundations

The Foundations: Ngöndro

The Words of My Perfect Teacher, or Kunzang Lama'i Shelung, must be one of the most influential works to come out of Tibet. For westerners, the translations, first by Sonam Kazi and then later by the Padmakara Translation Group, have been instrumental in our Buddhist education. In this work Patrul Rinpoche puts to paper a long oral tradition on the preliminary or foundational practices, from the Four Thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma to refuge, bodhicitta, mandala offerings, purification relying on Vajrasattva, and Guru Yoga. It is full of stories that drive the points home in a way that go right to the reader's heart. Lamas have said that this book has a particular quality that rereading it nearly always gives the reader a new discovery. And revisiting it again and again is how it is meant to be used—this is not a work to check the box that you have read it, but for it to become part of the one studying it.

And to go even deeper with it, Kathog Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, who received it in his youth from Patrul Rinpoche's heart disciple Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, wrote his Zintri, or notes, that form The Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher. This work presents the background for the teachings of the main work. For example Patrul Rinpoche's chapter on the Three Jewels corresponds to this work's in-depth exposition on the finer points of the Three Jewels and Patrul Rinpoche's chapter on the mandala offering is complemented by Khenpo's chapter on Buddhist cosmology. Together these two works provide a multi-faceted overview of how to practice.

The Mahayana

While Patrul Rinpoche is famed as a Dzogchen yogi, at the core of his practice was the Mahayana ideal of the bodhisattva, a path he truly lived. It is said that Patrul Rinpoche traveled alone, carrying two texts with him. The first was The Way of the Bodhisattva. The second was Nagarjuna's Root Stanzas of the Middle Way.

The Nectar of Manjusri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva
by Khenpo Kunzang Pelden, based on Patrul Rinpoche's teachings

While Patrul Rinpoche did not compose a work on the Way of the Bodhisattva, he taught it constantly, over one hundred times from beginning to end. It had fallen into disuse outside a few monastic centers, and it is thanks to Patrul Rinpoche this text became integral to all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Luckily for us, one of his most dedicated students, Khenpo Kunzang Pelden or Khenpo Kunpel, compiled these teachings he received from Patrul Rinpoche and composed The Nectar of Manjusri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva.

The Wisdom Chapter
by Mipham Rinpoche, based on teachings he received from Patrul Rinpoche

Patrul Rinpoche, also imparted teachings to Mipham Rinpoche, who based his understanding on these when he wrote his commentary on the famous (and famously challenging) ninth chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva, now translated as The Wisdom Chapter.

Groundless Paths: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Nyingma Tradition
by Karl Brunnholzl, with extensive translations and analysis of Patrul Rinpoche's work

On the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, one of the Five Maitreya Texts imparted to Asanga by Maitreya himself, Patrul Rinpoche wrote seven texts, the main two of which are The General Topics on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and A Word Commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. What will be surprising for some, the bulk of these two works are, in the honored Tibetan tradition of honoring the words of past masters, is almost entirely excerpts from Tsongkhapa's commentary on the text, The Golden Garland of Explanations.

A distillation (if a 900 page work can be called that) of Patrul Rinpoche's  works on this text, are what forms the bulk of Groundless Paths: The Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Nyingma Tradition

Watch scholar and translator Karl Brunnholzl discuss the trilogy of commentaries on Prajaparamita, of which Groundless Paths, heavily focused on Patrul Rinpoche, is the third volume.

The Speech Virtuous in the Beginning, Middle, and End

The Speech Virtuous in the Beginning, Middle, and End, one of the most influential works of Patrul Rinpoche, is included is included in whole or in part in several books. Patrul Rinpoche wrote this while staying in a remote cave not far from the Tibetan-Chinese border. In this work, be pulls the rug from under our normal way of being, so full of deceit and hypocrisy. He concludes that only by turning away from an ordinary life and pursuing the path of Buddhism. He then outlines the preliminary practices, the development and completion stages of tantric practice, and finally the practices of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. This text is full of the wisdom, humor, and directness that characterize all of Patrul Rinpoche's works, but it is unique in that it is meant to be memorized, making its message easy to bring right into our hearts.

The Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones
The Practice of View, Meditation, and Action
A commentary on Patrul Rinpoche's teachings by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

In the accompanying commentary to Patrul Rinpoche's root text, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–1991)—lineage holder of the Nyingma school and one of the great expounders of the Dharma in Europe and North America—expands upon the text with his characteristic compassion and uncompromising thoroughness. Patrul Rinpoche's fresh and piercing verses combined with Khyentse Rinpoche's down-to-earth comments offer a concise yet complete examination of the Buddhist path.

Another superb translation of the root text of Patrul Rinpoche's  The Practice of the View, Meditation, and Action, Called “The Sublime Heart Jewel”, The Speech Virtuous in the Beginning, Middle, and End is included in Thinley Norbu Rinpoche's collection of translations entitled Sunlight Speech That Dispels the Darkness of Doubt. This text presents advice to practitioners on the path to enlightenment, which is all contained in the three aspects of the correct view, meditation, and action, synthesized in the practice of the Six-Syllable Mantra of Avalokiteshvara.

Two poems of Patrul Rinpoche are included in what in the mind of your author here is one of the most extraordinary anthologies of Tibetan Buddhism: Straight from the Heart: Buddhist Pith Instructions.

The first poem is an excerpt from Speech That Is Virtuous (see the entry from Sunlight Speech in this article) and the translator has titled it Afflictions Are Wisdom, the Skandhas Are Avalokitesvara. The second is The Crucial Point of Practice.

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche also quotes this at length in Sole Panacea: A Brief Commentary on the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoche That Cures the Suffering of the Sickness of Karma and Defilement.

Tantra

Patrul Rinpoche wrote multiple works on tantric practice, several of which have been translated into English.

Patrul Rinpoche wrote two extremely helpful texts on generation stage practice which are included in Deity, Mantra, and Wisdom.

The first is Clarifying the Difficult Points in the Development Stage and Deity Yoga and is meant to be a companion piece to Jigme Lingpa's Ladder to Akanishta which accompanies it in this volume.  As the translators explain, "Expanding on the presentation given in Ladder to Akaniṣṭha, he highlights some of the more obscure issues addressed by Jigme Lingpa and clarifies the latter’s presentation. In addition to his clarification of difficult issues, Patrul also stresses the importance of compassion and the view of emptiness in the context of tantric practice."

The second text by Patrul Rinpoche in this volume is The Melody of Brahma Reveling in the Three Realms: Key Points for Meditating on The Four Stakes That Bind the Life-Force. These Four Stakes are absorption, essence mantra, unchanging realization,  and projection and absorption. Patrul Rinpoche lists they key points associated with each of the four. Together, they form an essential framework in development stage practice according to the Nyingma tradition.

Hear Dharmachakra Translation Committee member Andreas Doctor discuss this book, its background and their teacher Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche's encouragement to bring this important work to a western readership.

These Four Stakes discussed above, central as they are to the Nyingma tradition, are unsurprisingly essential in the Lonchen Nyingtik lineage. The the main lama practice is the Rigdzin Düpa, or Gathering of the Vidydharas, a practice centered on Guru Rinpoche Padmasmbhava and other awareness holders. One of the translations of this volume is by Khangsar Tenpe Wangchuk which is a commentary on Patrul Rinpoche's Melody of Brhama discussed above, and Padmasambhava'a Garland of Views.

The following text in the volume is a short one authored by Patrul Rinpoche himself, and is titled   A Clearly Reflecting Mirror: Chöpön Activities for the Rigdzin Düpa, the Inner Sadhana of the Longchen Nyingtik Cycle. This is a ritual manual for a multi-day drupchö intensive practice. It covers arranging the mandala, the Rigdzin Düpa torma, Fulfillment-and-Confession torma, the Dharmapala tormas, additional offerings, various offering activities for the attendants, tsok, remainders, Dharmapala practice, the horse dance, offerings, and prayers for auspiciousness.

Hear Matthieu Ricard discuss Patrul Rinpoche's advice on meditative progress and experiences

Dzogchen, the Great Perfection

All of Patrul Rinpoche's works regardless of the subject are imbued with the view of Dzogchen. However, he authored many works explicitly on this system of practice.

One of Patrul Rinpoche's most famous Dzogchen texts is The Three Words That Strike the Vital Point, itself based on a short work by the early Dzogchen master Garab Dorje which he had imparted to Manjusrimitra. This text, along with a commentary by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche is included in Primordial Purity. This work is an overview of the view, meditation, and action of Dzogchen. As Khyentse Rinpoche explains, these are not ordinary teaching:

"If you practice accordingly, you cannot help but be liberated. It will not be enough, however, just to practice for one or two days. In such a short time, we cannot break through our confusion. Even though you cannot spend your whole life continuously practicing in solitary retreat, please do as much practice as you can every day. As it is said, 'A collection of drops can become an ocean.' Since the teaching becomes more and more profound through continuous practice, confusion will naturally be purified, and all good qualities will spontaneously unfold. Those are the key instructions of the gurus of the three lineages."

The Nature of Mind
The Dzogchen Instructions of Aro Yeshe Jungne
by Patrul Rinpoche, Khenpo Palden Sherab, and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal

The Nature of Mind: The Dzogchen Instructions of Aro Yeshe Jungne is a commentary on a fascinating text by Patrul Rinpoche by the Khenpo brothers Palden Sherab and Tsewang Dongyal. It is centered around a translation of Patrul Rinpoche's Clear Elucidation of True Nature: An Esoteric Instruction on the Sublime Approach of Ati.  This text Patrul put together to encapsulate all the teachings from the Aro tradition in a single short text. It is a pithy guide to discovering the nature of your own mind and gives explicit instructions on how to do so for those of us of superior, middling, and lesser capabilities. It is superb.

Beyond the Ordinary Mind, an extraordinary collection of profound advice on Dzogchen from many great masters, compiled and translated Adam Pearcey, the force behind Lotsawa House. The piece by Patrul Rinpoche is called Uniting Outer and Inner Solitude: Advice for Alak Dongak Gyatso. Alak Dongak Gyatso was a student of Patrul Rinpoche and Pearcey tells a few stories about this somewhat elusive figure who was on the losing end of the stick in a debate with Mipham Rinpoche and writes that this work,

"is more than just a poem of advice on the importance of remaining in solitude. It offers Patrul Rinpoche’s views on a subject close to his own heart: he spent most of his life in retreat and even wrote this text while residing in 'the mountain solitude of Dhichung.' But it is also one of the few surviving textual clues to the mysterious life of Alak Dongak. And if we read it as a moving attempt to console a dear but despondent disciple, then it has a further dimension, as an encouragement to respond to an ordinary human situation by transcending ordinary human limitations."

The Golden Letters
The Tibetan Teachings of Garab Dorje, First Dzogchen Master
by Garab Dorje, translated by John Myrdhin Reynolds

The Golden Letters: The Tibetan Teachings of Garab Dorje, First Dzogchen Master includes a work by Patrul Rinpoche entitled  The Special Teaching of the Wise and Glorious King, a four page poem followed by a more extensive auto-commentary.

Dzogchen
Heart Essence of the Great Perfection
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

His Holiness teaches on Patrul Rinpoche's commentary to Garab Dorje's famous Three Words That Strike the Vital Point, also using other texts such as Longchenpa's Cho Ying Dzod, or Treasury of Dharmadhatu.  His Holiness says,

Fundamentally, no matter who we are, whether we meditate or not, the self-arising wisdom of rigpa is already primordially present, and we have never strayed from it. Then there is rigpa as it is directly introduced to us by a master, on the basis of our personal practice. The nature of rigpa in both cases is identical—it is uncontrived rigpa—but in the one case it is simply so, without having been directly introduced, while in the other case we are recognizing our true nature for what it is. So one can talk about rigpa in two ways. But actually, there are not two things, one reuniting and another being reunited. The direct introduction to what is naturally present as the ground of being is metaphorically called “reuniting mother and child.

Patrul Rinpoche wrote a short work called Chase Them Away! which was translated by Herbert Guenther. This is included in the anthology The Buddha and His Teachings. It appears this work was written when he was an old man as it is a reflection of his life, looking back and telling us "like it is". It reflects the wisdom from a life dedicated to practice and benefiting others. Here is one of the verses:

Chase Them Away!

When first I saw wealth,

I had the feeling of momentary joy

Like a child gathering flowers:

That's what is meant by not hoarding riches and wealth.

When later I saw wealth,

I had the feeling of there never being enough

Like water being poured into a pot with a broken bottom:

That's what is meant by making small efforts to gain something.

When now I see wealth,

I have the feeling of its being a heavy burden

Like an old beggar with too many children:

That's what is meant by rejoicing in having nothing.

Additional Resources

There are three excellent sources for more on Patrul Rinpoche.

lotswa houseThe first is Lotsawa House's hub for texts by Patrul Rinpoche which provides over 30 texts in English (as well as many in German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Tibetan). Among the many superb translations here is a brief biography of Patrul Rinpoche by Alak Zenkar Rinpoche.

The Treasury of Lives also has a biography of Patrul Rinpoche among its collection of Tibetan figures.

 

BDRCAnd for Tibetan readers, TBRC/BDRC of course provides downloadable pdfs of Patrul Rinpoche's works in Tibetan.