Did Kongtrul and Patrul Really Never Meet?

In his excellent and highly readable new biography of Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (‘jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas, 1813–1899), Alexander Gardner states (p.275) that Kongtrul never met Dza Patrul Rinpoche (rdza dpal sprul, 1808–1887). For this, he relies on the following statement from Joshua Schapiro’s thesis:

“There is, to my knowledge, however, no evidence in the biographical archive that Patrul had a relationship with Kongtrul […]. Kongtrul does not appear in Patrul’s biographies, nor does Patrul appear in Kongtrul’s autobiography.” (2012: 51)

It is indeed true that the principal biographies of these two great luminaries of nineteenth-century Kham make no mention of any direct contact or relationship. But this is not to say that the two never met at all.

In fact, it is almost certain that they encountered one another at Shechen Monastery in their youth. As is well known, both studied there under the great scholar Shechen Öntrul Gyurme Tutop Namgyal (Zhe chen dbon sprul ’Gyur med mthu stobs rnam rgyal, 1787–1854). As Gardner (2019: 21) makes clear, Kongtrul was at Shechen for just over three years, from the end of 1829 to the beginning of 1833. It is Dorje Rabten’s biography of Shechen Öntrul (rDo rje rab brtan 2000: 139) that provides the date for Patrul’s stay. Dorje Rabten tells us that Patrul received teachings from Öntrul for five or six months in 1830. Patrul would have thus been twenty-two years old at the time,[1] while Kongtrul was seventeen. Although Kongtrul fell sick during the summer of that year, it is hard to imagine how the two could have avoided each other entirely, especially since they were both studying with the same teacher—Shechen was not that large.[2]

Of course, in a sense it is still true that Kongtrul and Patrul never met, because Kongtrul was yet to acquire the name of Kongtrul in 1830; he was simply Tendzin Yungdrung.

Matthieu Ricard’s Enlightened Vagabond includes stories from the oral tradition about Patrul’s time with Kongtrul at Shechen, as well as a supposed attempt to visit Kongtrul later in life. Some oral accounts also mention Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (‘Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse’i dbang po, 1820–1892) as a fellow student of Shechen Öntrul and suggest that he was at Shechen at the same time as Patrul and Kongtrul. But there is nothing in Shechen Öntrul’s biography to suggest that Khyentse was there in 1830, when he would have been just ten years old. As entertaining as these stories are, the literary record suggests that Khyentse Wangpo studied under Shechen Öntrul only later, in or around 1838, long after Kongtrul and Patrul had moved on.[3]

Gyalrong Tendzin Drakpa

While on the subject of connections between Patrul and Kongtrul, there is another link—albeit an indirect one—that is worthy of note. It concerns one of Patrul’s foremost students, Gyalrong Tendzin Drakpa (rGyal rong bstan ‘dzin grags pa). He was one of the quartet said to have surpassed their teacher in a given discipline—in his case, logic and epistemology (pramāṇa; tshad ma).[4] Today, he is remembered primarily for his objection to Kongtrul’s inclusion of some Bönpo works in his monumental compilation of terma (gter ma), the Precious Treasury of Revelations (rin chen gter mdzod).[5] The text in which he expressed this disapproval is currently unavailable. Yet if the title is anything to go by, he was vehement in his opposition: Rin chen gter mdzod du bsgrags nas rmong dbang gyur rnams mi khom kla klor ‘khrid pa chos min sa the nag po chos zab mo’i sa ‘og tu sbas pa brlag byed rgol lan lung rig gnam lcags thog mda’ translates (roughly) as A Thunderbolt of Meteoric Iron: Scripture and Reasoning in Response to the Threat of the Black Demon of Non-Dharma that Lurks Beneath the Earth of Profound Dharma and Leads Those Bewildered by the So-Called ‘Precious Treasury of Revelations’ to Unfree States of Barbarism. The work is listed in a catalogue of the Potala library.[6]

One biographical source says that Gyalrong Tendzin Drakpa taught Dzogchen secretly to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, which might explain why his writings are housed in the Potala.[7] He also supposedly attracted criticism from the Great Thirteenth’s erstwhile debate partner, Dobi Geshe Sherab Gyatso (rDo sbis dge bshes shes rab rgya mtsho, 1884–1968), as well as the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje (mKha’ khyab rdo rje, 1870/1–1921/2) and Shechen Gyaltsab Gyurme Pema Namgyal (Zhe chen rgyal tshab ‘gyur med padma rnam rgyal, 1871–1926).[8]

In any case, Gyalrong Tendzin Drakpa’s life, including his opposition to Kongtrul, certainly merits further attention—if and when the books become available.

1. Thondup (1996: 202) suggests that Patrul was already living as a wandering hermit by this time.
2.According to Matthieu Ricard, there were perhaps 300 monks in Shechen Monastery at this date. (Personal communication).
3. See Thondup 1996: 217.
4.The others were Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, who surpassed Patrul in the view (lta ba); Orgyen Tendzin Norbu, who was pre-eminent in exposition (bshad pa); and Minyak Kunzang Sonam who excelled in his mastery of Bodhicaryāvatāra.
5. For more on this topic, see Blondeau 1988.
6. Thub bstan rgyal mtshan 1992: 59. Another title might also be related: A Hook of Scripture and Reasoning to Lift the Childish who have Fallen into the Abyss of Evil Destiny through Confusing Genuine Works of Profound Terma (Zab gter tshad ma’i gzhung la bsre dkrug gi ngan ‘gro’i g.yang gzar lhung ba’i byis pa ‘dren byed lung rig lcags kyu). .bsTan ’dzin lung rtogs nyi ma (2004: 596) claims that Gyalrong Tendzin Drakpa composed several (du ma) treatises condemning Kongtrul’s editorial stance.
7. bsTan ’dzin lung rtogs nyi ma 2004: 596.
8. See Blondeau 1988.


bsTan ’dzin lung rtogs nyi ma. sNga ’gyur rdzogs chen chos ’byung chen mo, Beijing: Krong go’i bod rigs dpe skrun khang, 2004.

Thub bstan rgyal mtshan. Po ta lar bzhugs pa’i rnying ma’i gsung ‘bum dkar chag. TBRC W19822. 1 vol. [lha sa]: [s.n.], [1992, pref.].

rDo rje rab brtan, mKhas shing dngos grub brnyes pa’i rdo rje slob dpon ‘jam dbyangs dgyes pa’i blo gros mtsho skyes bshad pa’i sgra dbyangs kyi rtogs brjod mdor bsdus pa skal bzang mgul rgyan. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2000

Blondeau, Anne-Marie. “La controverse soulevée par l’inclusion de rituels bon-po dans le Rin-čhen gter-mjod. Note préliminaire.” Contained in: Helga Uebach & J. L. Panglung, eds., Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 4th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies Schloss Hohenkammer—Munich 1985, Kommission für Zentralasiatische Studien, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Munich 1988), pp. 55-67.

Gardner, Alexander. The Life of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. Boulder: Snow Lion, 2019.

Ricard, Matthieu. Enlightened Vagabond: The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 2017.

Schapiro, Joshua. Patrul Rinpoche on Self-Cultivation: The Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century Tibetan Buddhist Life-Advice. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University. 2012Patrul Rinpoche on Self-Cultivation: The Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century Tibetan Buddhist Life-Advice. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University, 2012

Tulku Thondup. Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 1996.