13. Gyalwa Yungtonpa 1296-1376

rgyal wa gyung ston chen po

 “In the clear palace of the luminous vajra,

Victorious Yungtön Shikpo, I supplicate you.” – “Supplications to the Kagyü Gurus”

Gyalwa Yungtönchenpo , also known as Yungtön Shikpo, was born in the wood-snake year into a family of Nyingma tantric practitioners at Tsongdru Gyurmo in the south of Central Tibet. At the age of 5, he met Khenchen Sönam Senge and received the refuge and lay precepts from him. Guided by Lama Zurchung and Lama Baley, he entered the Ugpalung Nyingma Monastery when he was 15 years old. Zur Champa Senge imparted the “Do-gyu-sem-sum” teachings to him, which consist of the Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga-Dzogchen instructions. Shangpa Shakbum gave him the Yamantaka cycle of empowerments and teachings. He had studied and practiced hard under many masters and became one of the most respected and renowned teachers on the Tibetan Plateau. He was an expert on Sutras and Tantras and was appointed a scholar at Zhalu Monastery. He now became known by the name Dorje Bum, “Vajra Vase.”

Gyalwa Yungtönpa is known to have made many generous offerings to the Sakya, Trophu, Zhalu, and Shangpa monasteries. A few words about the Trophu, Zhalu, and Shangpa lineages:


In the life-story of Lha-je Gampopa available on this website, we saw that in the twelfth century, eight lesser branch schools of the Dagpo Kagyü originated from the leading disciples of Phagmo Drupa, who was one of Gampopa’s four closest disciples. One of the eight lesser branches of the Dagpo Kagyü was the Trophu Kagyü, which was founded by the two brothers, Gyaltsa and Kunden. The Zhalu tradition, on the other hand, is associated with the Kadam Monastery at Zhalu (situated near Gyantse). The monastery was built approximately 1040 by Jetsün Sherab Jungnay and became one of the most important centers of Buddhist learning and practice of the Zhva-lu-pas , among others, due to the immense activities of Bu-ston (1290-1364?), who lived, worked, and died there. Bu-ston was the great scholar and encyclopaedic writer who, although much preliminary work had already been done, systematized all Buddhist texts into what became known as the “ Zhalu Manuscript,the forerunner of the 108 volumes of the “Kangyur,the “Translation of the Buddha’s Words.” Bu-ston seems to have been almost entirely responsible for arranging the second and larger section, the “ Tengyur,the “Translation of the Treatises,” which consisted of 200 volumes that included all the available translations of commentaries and discourses by Indian and Tibetan Buddhist scholars and saints. In “A Cultural History of Tibet,” Snellgrove and Richardson wrote: “Bu-ston had already ensured that the Tibetan versions of all texts included in the newly compiled canon were carefully checked and, where necessary, new translations made. This great compilation really marks the end of the labours of whole generations of Tibetan translators, and we cannot mention them without paying tribute once more to their patience and skill.”


In the foreword to “Timeless Rapture – Inspired Verse of the Shangpa Masters, compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul,” Lama Drukgyu Tenzin wrote: “The Shangpa Kagyü lineage originated during the eleventh century with the learned and accomplished Kyungpo Näljor. This Tibetan master reportedly travelled to India seven times and received teachings from more than 150 different masters. Of these he considered four to be most significant, and these four - two women, Niguma and Sukasiddi - provided his primary inspiration. The vital process of unbroken transmission has ensured that the quality of their awareness animates the lineage to this day. Exceptionally, the Shangpa Kagyü lineage remained for seven generations a one-to-one transmission, each master transmitting these instructions to a single disciple. This ‘sealed’ lineage’s seven ‘jewels’ were Vajra Bearer, Niguma, Kyungpo Näljor, Mokchok-pa Rinchen Tsöndru, Kyer-gang-pa Chökyi Senge, Rigong-pa Sangye Nyentön, and Sangye Tönpa. The lineage later included such luminaries as Tangtong Gyalpo, Taranata, and Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Taye. This lineage has managed to remain unobstrusive; most of the primary lineage holders have chosen to live as concealed yogis, to avoid institutional responsibilities, and to commit themselves to solitude and meditation. Nevertheless, this lineage of teachings has been so valued as to spread through virtually all Tibetan traditions. As such, many important masters of a variety of Tibetan religious traditions have played a significant role in the lineage’s continuity.”

Having learned from great masters of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism and having made many generous offerings to them, at the request of this mother, Yungtönpa accepted a consort and, when his first child was born, asked permission from his family to take the monastic ordination. He then met the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, and received the complete transmission of the Kagyü Lineage from him. For many years, Yungtönchenpo, Dorje Päl, practiced in Tibet and in Paro, Butan. He attained highest realization. He composed a text differentiating the views concerning Buddhahood in Sutra and Tantra and impressed and outshined many great scholars of the time, such as Yakde Panchen, who became his student. Actually, Yungtönpa benefited innumerable living beings by manifesting, in that incarnation, as a hidden yogi.

In the meantime, Rinchenpäl, general secretary of the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, had found and enthroned the reincarnation of Rangjung Dorje, who would become the next Lineage-holder, Rölpe Dorje, the Fourth Gyalwa Karmapa.


Before travelling to Central Tibet in 1352, at the age of 12, Rölpe Dorje met Yungtönpa, who was now approximately 56 years old. The young man told him many events from his former life as the Third Karmapa, which convinced Yungtönpa that Rölpe Dorje was the authentic reincarnation of his most revered Root Guru. Having told Yungtönpa that he himself would be his teacher and Guru in this life, Gyalwa Yungtönpa imparted all the teachings and gave Rölpe Dorje the entire empowerments and transmissions of the Kagyü Oral Practice and Whispering Lineages. The next Lineage-holder, Rölpe Dorje, the Fourth Gyalwa Karmapa, was 36 years old when his Guru, Yungtönchenpo, passed into Parinirvana at the age of 82.


“Thus, the whole universe – visible, audible, and conceptual – pointing out to myself and others the direct apprehension of the underlying reality, is nothing but the gesture of my Lama.” – Venerable Kalu Rinpoche



Kagyu Office of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, “Kagyu Lineage histories” (2008).

“Timeless Rapture. Inspired Verse of the Shangpa Masters, compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul,” transl. & intr. by Ngawang Zangpo, Tsadra Foundation, N.Y. & Co., 2003.

Simhanada, “Lineages – The Third Karmapa” (2008).

David Snellgrove & Hugh Richardson, “A Cultural History of Tibet,” Colorado, 1968, p. 170.


“In giving ego up – surrendering - I wish that everyone lives like that.” – from a friend


(Compiled & written for English speaking students & visitors of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Nepal by gh, responsible for all mistakes, August 2008; copyright.)

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