The Essential Jewel of Holy Practice - Selections
An exquisite poem from one of Dzogchen’s greatest teachers.
Homage to Avalokiteśvara!
May the glorious fame of the Triple
Gem—just by the sound of Dharma
in their ears,
or even a single drop of the nectar of his
name—bring good fortune to all for
Like a mango in the autumn that appears ripe from
without, but is green within, I have but a
semblance of virtue.
So my advice may be inept:
my mind is still not one with the Dharma.
Nonetheless, I can’t disobey your command.
Since I will speak the truth—a rare thing in this dark,
degenerate time—please try to understand all
I tell you and be firm and resolute in purpose.
These first three verses are purely introductory. They establish an intimate voice that persists through the poem. The name to which Patrul Rinpoche refers in verse 1 is that of Avalokiteśvara, as is clear from the homage. Avalokiteśvara is the embodiment of universal care (karuṇā) and plays a central role in Patrul Rinpoche’s account of practice.
The magnificent sage, the Buddha, the god of
gods, attained a straight understanding by
following the straight path, and honestly showed
that straight path to
Isn’t this the reason he is known as the true sage?
This verse indicates the close connection that Patrul Rinpoche will establish between the correct view and the path to virtue and liberation. It is common to regard knowledge and understanding to be prerequisites for effective practice; Patrul Rinpoche argues instead that firm practice is necessary in order to cultivate proper understanding.
Woe to beings in this impure age! They have
turned from the straight, honest path of
the Dharma to perversity.
And so, with crooked thought and crooked
speech, they lead others’ minds astray. Who
can you rely on?
Patrul Rinpoche repeats the Tibetan term drang six times in this verse. We have generally translated it as “straight,” as opposed to “correct,” but it also connotes honesty and truth. To keep the English clean we’ve had to use the terms “honest” and “true” to translate two occurrences of drang, thus sacrificing some of the power Patrul Rinpoche achieves through repetition.
How sad! To see such degenerate beings is so
depressing! Woe to all of us! You can’t trust
It’s like living in the land of man-eating
demons. So do yourself a big favor and
take my point!
Although it is embodied now, your consciousness
took rebirth here impelled by karma from
another realm. Nonetheless, just like a hair
drawn from butter,
you will surely depart alone, leaving everything
Granted, we are unable to perfect
ourselves, but it still makes no sense to
neglect our minds. Aren’t we just
throwing away our precious lives when
we fail to engage in Dharma practice?
Ordinary people are so degraded.
Their vicious thoughts and actions do no good for
themselves or others.
And they are deceitful. What can you do
for them? Wouldn’t it be best to withdraw
from all of this?
You can’t please exalted people, even by
honor. You can’t please common people,
even by nurture. Nobody ever even
returns your affection.
Think about this and make a firm commitment.
These might appear a bit shocking in the context of the bodhisattva path that enjoins the cultivation of bodhicitta—the aspiration to liberation for the benefit of all beings—as it appears that Patrul Rinpoche is suggesting that we simply disregard others. But this is not the point. Instead, he is arguing that we can’t be of any use to others at all until we have achieved a reasonably high level of realization, and that doing so requires that we first isolate ourselves from the distractions of social life and from the pernicious effects of ingratitude and harassment. After all, if we wish to become good doctors so as to cure disease, we must first withdraw from ordinary society and devote ourselves to medical study.
Learning doesn’t lead to progress, only to
disputes. Achievement doesn’t help others, they
only run it down. Status doesn’t help the country, it
only sparks revolt.
So when you gaze on this dark age, feel only
Even if you explain, people will
misunderstand you. Even pure motivation
is regarded as base.
These days, the perverse see the truth as
perversion. So who can you help? Nobody.
Abandon all hope!
The Victor says that all things are illusion-like.
But even among illusions, there are greater
illusions! Deceitful illusions wrought by shifty
Beware of all these crafty, slimy illusions!
The “greater illusions” to which Patrul Rinpoche refers in verse 13 are the tendencies he discusses in verse 12: to misunderstand Dharma explanations, to regard pure motivation as base, and to see truth as perversion.
The great masters have said that all our
speech is but an echo.
But even among echoes, there are
re-echoes! People never say what
Their echoic speech is deceptive, so enough of
Nobody is authentic anymore; they’re all just
impostors. They utter not authentic speech but
Who can you trust? Absolutely no one.
So, go! Always live alone and keep your
Even if your acts conform to Dharma, you will
be at odds with the world.
Even if you speak the truth, people will be angry.
Even if you are always kind and pure, they will find
So from now on, please, just keep your words and
Conceal your body by living alone on a desolate
Conceal your speech by cutting off all contact
and saying but little.
Conceal your mind by attending carefully to
each of your own faults.
This is what it takes to be a concealed practitioner.
Maintain revulsion—nobody can be trusted.
Maintain despondency—nothing has any
substance. Stay resolute—there’s no time
for all your plans.
These three attitudes will make you useful.
There’s no time for happiness; it just disappears.
No one wants suffering; cut it off through
Dharma. All happiness or suffering is
governed by karma.
So please place neither hope nor doubt in anyone.
Here Patrul Rinpoche introduces some nice psychological paradoxes: revulsion (zhe log) and despondency (skyo ched) are paired with resolution (thag chod); happiness (skyid) and suffering (sdug) are equally presented as impermanent. But revulsion and despondency with the world of suffering are meant to be goads, inspiring resolution to withdraw from suffering and to overcome it. The impermanence of happiness in samsara is one more reason to transcend samsara itself, thus eliminating all suffering, leading to the permanent happiness of liberation.
Placing hope in everyone you meet,
you greet them with a smile;
with so many demands, you are always
running about: first do this, then do that, torn
between your hopes
From now on, no matter what you face, stop
acting like that!
Even if you die today, do not grieve—that’s the way
Even if you live to be one hundred, don’t
rejoice—youth will be long gone.
What does it matter if you live or die right
now—what good is this life, anyway?
So, for your own sake, just practice Dharma from
Avalokiteśvara is your sole protector and guardian,
the great treasury of compassion, your foundation
The essence of his speech, the holy Dharma, is the
From this time forth, he is your only source of hope!
Nothing good has come from your useless
knowledge. Nothing good has come from
working for this life.
Nothing good has come from your delusional
Now is the time to do some good: Chant the six-
The only firm, nondeceptive refuge is the Triple
The sole embodiment of the Triple Gem is
Avalokiteśvara. With unwavering, steadfast
confidence in his wisdom, with certainty and
resolution, chant the six-beat mantra.
Bodhicitta is the sole foundation of the
Mahāyāna path. This is the aspiration of every
Never leaving the high road of bodhicitta,
with compassion for all beings, chant the six-beat
At this point, Patrul Rinpoche introduces Avalokiteśvara, the celestial bodhisattva who is the embodiment of universal care (karuṇā, snying rje) and the six-beat mantra (yig drug), oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ. Patrul Rinpoche will insist from here that the cultivation of an attitude of care is the pre-eminent requirement for practice and cultivation. Nothing else matters if our attitude to the world is not one of care; if we cultivate care, everything else follows.
The repeated, mantra-like admonition to “chant the six-beat mantra” (yig drug sgrongs) is not, as it might appear, a recommendation to engage in mindless ritual chanting, but rather a metonym. Mantra recitation is undertaken in order to directly transform the mind. Recitation of the Avalokiteśvara mantra is taken in the Tibetan tradition to lead the practitioner to become more caring. Patrul Rinpoche, in most of the remainder of the poem, therefore advises us to do whatever is necessary to re-create ourselves as more caring individuals and to locate the goal of self-reconstruction at the center of our practice.