Klong Chen Pa (Longchenpa)

views updated


Klong chen pa (Longchenpa, 1308–1363) is widely acknowledged as the greatest writer on the Rdzogs chen (Great Perfection) teachings of the Rnying ma (Ny-ingma) school of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born in the Grwa valley in the G.yu ru region of central Tibet. At the age of twelve he took ordination and was given the name Tshul khrims blos gros. In this monastic setting, he received a thorough Buddhist training, exhibiting a particular talent for composing poetry, a skill that would continue to shape his later writings.

Klong chen pa had an immeasurable impact on the development of Rdzogs chen. From the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries, the snying thig (seminal heart) traditions had produced some of the most creative innovations ever seen in Tibetan Buddhism. But only with Klong chen pa were these scattered and often contradictory developments systematized. Drawing upon his extensive studies of these earlier writings, Klong chen pa detailed a cohesive set of contemplative practices that culminate in patterns of light and emptiness flowing effortlessly from within the body. He presented these visions within the context of wider snying thig theories on topics including how the buddhas emanate into the world, how the universe came into existence, and how mind emerges from sleep into dreaming or from the moment of death into the intermediate state (bar do).

In his mid-twenties, Klong chen pa gave up the monastery to live as an itinerant ascetic in the Tibetan wilderness. It was during these years, probably around 1336, that he first met his main teacher, Kumārarāja (1266–1343). From this master, he received the Great Perfection teachings according to the Vima snying thig (Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra) tradition. This meeting engendered a major shift in Klong chen pa's thought; for the rest of his life, his attentions would focus on the snying thig. On the basis of Kumārarāja's teachings, Klong chen pa composed his Bla ma yang thig (Seminal Quintessence of the Lama), a commentary to the Vima snying thig.

To further consolidate his command of the snying thig, Klong chen pa next turned to the more recently revealed gter ma (treasure) teachings of the Mkha' 'gro snying thig (Seminal Heart of the Ḍākinīs). His authority over this system was secured when a disciple, while channeling a series of female ḌĀkinĪ, recognized Klong chen pa as the reincarnation of the Mkha' 'gro snying thig's discoverer, Tshul khrims rdo rje (1291–1315/17). Thus inspired, Klong chen pa composed his commentary on the system, his Mkha' 'gro yang thig (Seminal Quintessence of the Ḍākinīs). Later still, he synthesized the two systems of the Vima snying thig and the Mkha' 'gro snying thig in his masterful Zab mo yang thig (Seminal Quintessence of the Profound).

The fourteenth century was a critical time in Tibetan history, when the Sa skya (Sakya) sect's hegemony (1260–1358) was toppled in a civil war. As these events took shape, Klong chen pa came to be regarded as an ally of the 'Bri gung sgom chen, Kun dga' rin chen, a major rival to the ultimately victorious new Tibetan leader, Tai Situ Byang chub rgyal mtshan (1302–1364). Klong chen pa was exiled to Bhutan, where he lived for a number of years at a monastery he founded called Thar pa gling, near Bum thang. While there, he fathered a daughter and a son. The latter, Sprul sku grags pa 'od zer, would become a significant snying thig teacher in his own right. Eventually, with the help of his lay patrons, Klong chen pa reconciled with the new Tibetan king and was allowed to return to Tibet around 1360.

Klong chen pa composed many of his most famous works while living at his hermitage atop Gang ri thod dkar, in central Tibet. He was a prolific writer, known for his ability to synthesize a rich array of materials and literary styles. His foremost writings were gathered into several collections: The Mdzod bdun (Seven Treasuries) are his most famous works, presenting the whole of Buddhist thought from a snying thig viewpoint; the Ngal gso skor gsum (Resting at Ease Trilogy) and the Rang grol skor gsum (Natural Freedom Trilogy) provide in-depth introductions to Rdzogs chen; the Mun sel skor gsum (Dispelling the Darkness Trilogy) are three commentaries on the Guhyagarbha Tantra; and the Snying thig ya bzhi (Seminal Quintessence in Four Parts) is a redaction of his three snying thig commentaries together with their predecessors, the Vima snying thig and the Mkha' 'gro snying thig.

See also:Tibet


Germano, David, and Gyatso, Janet. "Lonchenpa and the Possession of the Ḍākinīs." In Tantra in Practice, ed. David Gordon White. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Guenther, Herbert V., trans. and ed. Kindly Bent to Ease Us: From the Trilogy of Finding Comfort and Ease, Ngal-gso skorgsum, 3 vols. Berkeley, CA: Dharma, 1975.

Rinpoche, Dudjom. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History, 2 vols., tr. Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein. Boston: Wisdom, 1991.

Thondup, Tulku. Buddha Mind: An Anthology of Longchen Rabjam's Writings on Dzogpa Chenpo. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1989.

Jacob P. Dalton