Thinking about Adam yesterday (because of his book) led, naturally, to me thinking about Patrick this morning. Typically, memories started flooding my mind as I tried to do some practice—a rare enough event in itself. I should say in my defence that I struggled, ‘personfully’, for a good half hour to cut this particular chain of thoughts, but failed. And instead of doing a Riwo Sangchö, I find myself back at the computer with very, very itchy fingers.
I wonder how many people outside Rigpa (the organisation, obviously) know about Patrick? I’m not sure I know him that well myself, yet he is in my top five of those who had the greatest influence on the way I operate. So he has not been an insignificant figure in my life.
You probably came across his name when you read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, where he’s listed as editor, along with Andrew Harvey. But what does editing Sogyal Rinpoche really involve? Rather more than you might imagine, as I discovered when I started working for Sogyal Rinpoche in 1993.
I’d rubbed shoulders with Patrick on many occasions over the previous few years, but never really got to know him. But then, noone really did because he was always working, putting together the teachings and supporting Sogyal Rinpoche’s work. One of his two right hand men, actually, the other being Philip, my ex-husband and very good friend.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche always used to be fascinated by the process Sogyal Rinpoche put himself through when he taught. In order to capitalize on the spontaneous realisations that arose in particularly inspired moments, Sogyal Rinpoche’s students, and in the first instance Patrick, would gather every word Rinpoche would say over what used to be described as a ‘cycle’ of teachings, and continually present a complilation of those moments to Rinpoche for further clarification. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, actually. And for those involved in the process, it was the most wonderful exercise in ‘listening’ to pick up where new clarifications happened, where they should fit into the whole, how to inspire the completion of incomplete bits—always based on traditional models of course and the teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche’s own masters—and which bit was better than another. This is a gross simplification of course, but it’s the best I can do for now.
Clearly, it is neither a simple nor an easy method, but the results are often magical. The writing of TBLD is the supreme example of how this method works, and I think you’ll agree, the result was not at all bad.
So he’s a Buddhist scholar and captivating writer—I think both these qualities are pretty well-known. The thing about Patrick that really impressed me over the years, though, was that he never, ever gave up. Of course he is also brilliant, cultivated, radical, a polymath, a poet, a musician, extremely witty, occasional rambunctious, a fatally precise perfectionist and outrageously courageous. But far and away his most extraordinary quality is that he’s still there. He is still serving Sogyal Rinpoche as he has for the past forty-odd years. How many clever, well-educated right hand men last that long in such a position? Most are off after their 18 year stint to gather students for themselves. Not Patrick.
He told me once that not long after he first met Sogyal Rinpoche in the 70s, he tried his hand at transcribing a teaching Rinpoche had given. Once he’d finished polishing his meticulously accurate transcription, he presented it to Rinpoche—no doubt, spiced with a little youthful hubris (my addition—Patrick was a Cambridge scholar, an historian who studied Egyptology and worked for a while at the British Museum in London, so I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that he might have been just a little full of his own education, if you know what I mean.) Glancing over the absolutely faithful rendering of every word he had spoken, Sogyal Rinpoche handed the manuscript back to Patrick and said, “I didn’t say that.” Another student who was with them, I don’t know his name, agreed. Yet, Patrick said, it was word-for-word what Rinpoche had said.
What Patrick himself hadn’t realized at the time was that what Rinpoche wants to say takes time to mature and never comes out all in one sitting. So, what Patrick had transcribed was, from Rinpoche’s point of view, just a scrap of what ultimately needed to be said. But perhaps that first transcript was the starting block for their joint rather relentless pursuit of perfection.
So, the teachings are quite right when they tell us that, particularly in the vajrayana, things work best when the blessings of an authentic master meet the devotion of an authentic student. Khyentse Wangpo’s accomplishments, we are told time and again, were so great and numerous that it’s difficult for later generations to believe that one person could achieve so much in just one lifetime. It’s even more amazing when you consider that Khyentse Wangpo retired to his room in his forties and threw his shoes out of the window saying he’d never need them again. Leaving us to wonder, if he didn’t cross his own threshold for the rest of his life, how did he get so much done? From what I’ve heard, he had the help of his two great compatriots, Chogyur Lingpa and Jamgon Kongtrül Lodrö Taye—a great double act to have on your team, it must be said—and upwards of one hundred extremely good students to help him. The blessings of this sublime master mingling with the devotion of his remarkable students resulted in the resurrection of Tibetan Buddhism in the 19th century, and without their efforts we probably wouldn’t be practising Tibetan Buddhism in the 21st century. It’s food for thought, don’t you think?
I have one funny memory from our time in Paris in the early 90s. A group of us, around twenty or so I think, had gathered at the Rigpa Paris Centre in rue Burq, Montmatre. Therapies of all kinds were becoming very big in the ‘new age’ world—’wellness’ was a term that had yet to be coined—and one of the fashionable themes was how Buddhism and therapy might cooperate.
Why we all decided to sit in a circle to try a sharing session, I have no idea, as my memory, being selective, only switches on at the point where twenty French, German, Dutch, English, and indeterminate beings, none of whom have anything in common except their devotion to Sogyal Rinpoche, gaze, embarrassed and uncomfortable, anywhere but in the faces of their neighbours. God it was awful. The atmosphere was leaden! None of us knew what to expect and were nervous and tense. Rinpoche, being the perfect mirror, looked exhausted and depressed too. Noone moved. We barely breathed.
Then Patrick intervened. He leaned over to Rinpoche and said, quite loudly, directly into his left ear, “Wakey, wakey!”
I was deeply shocked. So shocked, in fact, that, like those who experience road accidents, time slowed down almost to a halt. What was Patrick doing? How would Rinpoche react? What the *!@? was I doing in this mad-house?
And suddenly, everything changed. Sogyal Rinpoche started giggling and each member of that circle relaxed, shrinking two inches from their previously frozen states. One by one, a little hysterically in some cases, we cracked up until everyone in the room was helpless with laughter. Needless to say, the dramatic change of atmosphere was the perfect prelude to a profoundly moving session, though I remember not one word of what passed between us. But Patrick’s profound sensitivity to Rinpoche’s moods and his courage to act impressed me deeply.
I see from my word count that this post is at least four times longer than usual, so I’ll stop now, a little abruptly perhaps, but I have no wish to try your patience. And I’ll close with words translated into English quite early on by Sogyal Rinpoche and Patrick, which remain some of the most beautiful in the new English canon.
Mesmerized by the sheer variety of perceptions,
which are like the illusory reflections of the moon in water,
Beings wander endlessly astray in samsara’s vicious cycle.
In order that they may find comfort and ease
in the luminosity and all-pervading space of the true nature of their minds
I generate the immeasurable love, compassion, joy and equanimity
of the awakened mind, the heart of bodhichitta.