Close this search box.


The Need for an Enlightened Dharma Model

Anam Thubten Rinpoche. Image courtesy of Dharmata Foundation

Human beings tend to naturally look up to leaders, whether spiritual or political, and follow their behavior and thinking. Not only leaders, but also people who have a huge influence and who become role models for small communities or even entire societies on a large scale. The Buddhist world is not exempt from this. Often, practitioners will follow the teachings and practices of their beloved teachers and leaders. Even small Buddhist sanghas tend to follow the principles held by their teachers, as well as his or her way of life. 

Historically, there have been lineages of enlightened spiritual models in the Buddhist tradition who not only taught profound ideas but also practiced and lived these higher principles, starting with Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The Buddha wasn’t the only extraordinary model. Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhists have their own revered masters and saints who embody the noble Dharmic principles. If we take Tibetan Buddhism as an example, there you have people such as Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, Machig Labdron, Longchenpa, Dza Patrul Rinpoche, and Shabkarpa, all of whom were truly enlightened and actualized and demonstrated the highest wisdom, selflessness, and compassion in their lives.

Patrul Rinpoche lived not very long ago, and people still share many oral anecdotes about him. He was a renunciate, famous for practicing self-reflection and being free from the trappings of fame, success, and glory. He was kind to everyone he encountered. Once, a thief who was traveling ran out of food. He came across a lama doing a meditation retreat, who turned out to be Patrul Rinpoche. Patrul Rinpoche was already famous, and his text The Words of My Perfect Teacher was widely known, but the thief didn’t know any of this. The thief was very savvy and decided to deceive the lama to obtain free food, telling the lama that he was an important spiritual teacher. Patrul Rinpoche simply listened to him. 

The thief continued: “If you feed me for a while, in exchange I will teach you on The Words of My Perfect Teacher.” Patrul Rinpoche joyfully accepted and shared what he had with the thief. The thief stayed with him for weeks, pretending to be a teacher, and gave discourses on The Words of My Perfect Teacher to Patrul Rinpoche.

Later, seeing people bowing to this lama from a distance, the thief discovered he was with Patrul Rinpoche himself. Then the thief said to Patrul Rinpoche: “Since you took teachings from me, now I am your guru and you have to respect my words.” Patrul Rinpoche replied, “Yes, what is on your mind?” The thief said, “Now you have to teach The Words of My Perfect Teacher to me.” The thief realized what he was doing, and felt regret. The story ends with the thief becoming a true disciple of Patrul Rinpoche.

This is a humorous story that tells us much about Patrul Rinpoche—that he was kind, humble, and always checking his ego. Patrul Rinpoche was revered by many high lamas for his sublime qualities as well as his great scholarship. Even today, while he is not in the world, his teachings continue to inspire people to embody loving-kindness, humility, and self-reflection. Patrul Rinpoche was extraordinary yet he wasn’t unique; there have been many lamas who were just like him. 

Right now, Buddhism is going through many changes, just like other spiritual and religious traditions. Its future is uncertain. It’s not that we don’t have a lot of monasteries and practitioners and Dharma centers; yet we do need to make sure that the true Dharma is not going to be lost, so that it can continuously awaken us. This requires Dharma teachers who truly embody the noble qualities possessed by Patrul Rinpoche and other gone-before masters. 

In the 21st century, a wild age of rising materialism, there are a thousand things that can so easily corrupt us. Yet there are still Dharma models who can inspire us to practice the true principles of Buddhism. This is inspiring news and gives us hope at a time when so many people think that this is Kali Yuga—the dark age when everything is degenerating.

Coincidentally, while writing this article, I saw that people in Tibet have been posting images and dedications on social media in celebration of the birthday of Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro. He is relatively young and could live a long time in this world, and be a spiritual lamp that leads many people on the path of the true Buddhadharma. He is a genuinely humble and compassionate teacher, who has dedicated himself to the well-being of others. He is also someone who is continually studying and learning new things. He is loved by millions and is one of the most revered Buddhist teachers in the modern world. But he started out as an ordinary monk, without any “silver spoon.” Khenpo Tsultrim shines as a Dharma star through his own nobility.

Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro. From

Very recently, an older lama and I were having a conversation about many topics, and he said to me: “This is the time that we need someone like Khenpo Tsultrim more than ever—to remind us of what the true Dharma is.” What he said entered my mind, and I reflected on it and understood what he was saying.

So I would like to say in conjunction with Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro’s birthday: may he live long and may his Dharmic aspirations come true. I also am very happy that Tibetan Buddhists have him as a great role model in this day and age. His presence is a reminder that the true Dharma is very much alive in this world. The divine lamp is burning brightly.

See more

Dharmata Foundation
Luminous Wisdom

Related features from BDG

The Relevance of Buddhism in the 21st Century
The Future of Buddhism
Buddhist Predictions for the Future

More from Dharma Gossip by Anam Thubten Rinpoche

Related features from Buddhistdoor Global

Related news from Buddhistdoor Global

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments