Volume 29, 2022
Ethos of the Great Perfection: Continual Mindfulness According to Patrul’s Foundational Manual
This article investigates the role of mindfulness in the so-called foundational practices exposed in Dza Patrul Orgyan Jigme Chökyi Wangpo’s (1808–1887) famous manual, Words of My Perfect Teacher, which belongs to the Dzogchen lineage of the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse within the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It argues that, according to these spiritual instructions, the continual exercise of mindfulness, meta-awareness, and carefulness forms the “ethos of the Great Perfection”—the constant ethical base and the consistent way of life that supports the path of Dzogchen. Sources of Words of My Perfect Teacher (including Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra) and selected passages are analyzed in order to elucidate Patrul’s moral philosophy of mindful awareness and self-examination. The mnemonic, reflective, and attentional facets of the cultivation of mindfulness all work to internalize the ethical principles that govern the conduct of life, shaping new habits, exercising free will, and forming moral agency. They define the very ethos that articulates the value system and the re-orientation of attention. Such deliberate moment-by-moment mindfulness paves the way for discovering “instantaneous awareness,” the distinctive feature of Dzogchen, and for resting in its uninterrupted flow, from within to respond compassionately to other individuals and various circumstances.