Gyalwa Zhangtön Biography

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Longchen Rabjam

Zhangtön Tashi Dorje

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Biography of Gyalwa Zhangtön

from The Jewel Rosary History

by Longchen Rabjam

Gyalwa Zhangtön was born in a place called Lado, at Lungtso Linggu in Yardrok Gang. His father was Zhang Dorje Ngödrup and his mother was Zhumo Nyarecham. He was given the name Tashi Dorje.

In his eleventh year, Zhangtön met Lama Chegom Nakpo of Tsangrong. He followed him for a year and received all his instructions. Then, until his twenty-first year, he relied upon several other learned and accomplished gurus. The lotus of his intelligence blossomed as he mastered the collections of Vinaya, Sūtra and Abhidharma, as well as several tantra classes of Nyingma and Sarma mantra.

At dawn one morning, while he was residing in Nangkhu in upper Nyang, he saw in the sky a glimmering light, in the centre of which were the gurus of the past, together with vīras and vīriṇīs, the Great Compassionate One and Tārā, who issued the following prophecy:

Kye! Kye! Ema! A collection of unsurpassable secret Great Perfection instructions, which bring enlightenment within a single lifetime, lies within a cliff that resembles a lion. Extract it and bring immeasurable benefit to beings!

Once they had said this, they disappeared. Then, a man wearing a white hat said, "I will grant you a siddhi. Proceed!" Accordingly, Zhangtön set off. By the evening he reached the Patsab Nyima lowlands in lower Nyang, where several monks dressed in yellow robes offered him food and drink. He thought that this must be the siddhi, but at dawn while he was still sleeping, the man in white reappeared and said, "This was not the siddhi. Keep going!" The man showed the way, and Zhangtön reached Taktab, where he slept in a vacant building. Then the man appeared and said, "Do not stay here. Move on!" He reached a cave, where the emanation brought him plenty of food and drink, which he consumed. Torrential rain then fell suddenly and destroyed the vacant building.

The following morning he passed through Ralak Tsuk and reached the lowlands of Oyuk. Although there were some disturbances in the region, the emanation continued fearlessly, and they reached the Oyuk valley. That day some woodcutters brought Zhangtön food and drink. He then set off and reached the lion-shaped cliff. He thought he might have lost his way and considered turning back. He looked in all directions and discovered a north-facing cave hidden by the fine-looking grass that grew before it. He threw in a knife, which landed with a clatter, and went inside. Within the cave he saw a maṇḍala that had been worn by the many snakes and frogs that passed over it, and he found 108 terma inventories. As night fell, the man in white reappeared, bringing a lamp and some food and drink.

Suddenly, there was an extremely terrifying voice and a radiance at the cave entrance. Zhangtön wondered whether this might be the prophesied emanation. The man said, "Let me fetch my elder sister." Then, there appeared at the cave entrance a terrifying form with a single, pan-sized bloodshot eye and a bared fang. Zhangtön asked whether this was the prophesied emanation. The form replied, "I am Ekajaṭī. Offer 108 gaṇacakra feasts. Do not tell of this for three years." With that, she departed. The man in white was Vajrasadhu. The mamo spirit was the protectress of mantra herself.

The protectress of mantra left behind two pieces of turquoise at the cave entrance. He used one to buy a carcass and the other to buy three measures of barley. He then performed 108 gaṇacakras. He gradually revealed the termas. Then, in Takdzong,[1] under the patronage of Shakmo Kartso, he copied out all the texts and said that he would be unable to keep them secret for three years.

In his twenty-fifth year he went to the central region of Ü, where he built a small residence at Kyilgang. On the road while returning to Tanak he met the siddha Senggé Wangchuk, who bestowed on him all the empowerments, guidance and instructions of the Secret Heart-Essence. He authorized Zhangtön by saying, "Work for others’ welfare!" and then disappeared.

Then, after he had returned to Ü, he was invited by Nyergom to Tsurkhung, where at dawn one morning he had a vision of Vimalamitra, who granted authorization and then disappeared.

In his sixty-first year, Zhangtön took Gyalmo Yang as his wife. They lived in a meditation hut, where they contributed to the welfare of beings, and had three children. The guru said, "Had I not maintained this community, I would have reached the attainment whereby no physical remains are left behind." His body cast no shadow, and at times he appeared as the five buddha families. When he taught the Great Perfection, everyone saw canopies of iridescent light. He possessed many other such wondrous signs of attainment.

In his seventy-first year, at midnight on the twenty-second of the Sheep month[2] of a Pig year, he demonstrated the passing of physical form.[3] A loud noise sounded seven times to the east, and there were three major earthquakes. Rainbow light appeared in the sky. The sweet sound of cymbals manifested spontaneously, and five-coloured spheres of light arose in the sky, inspiring faith in all who witnessed them.

The following evening, during his cremation, the five kinds of relics appeared as representations of the five kāyas, there were five-coloured ringsels, and a rain of flowers fell from the sky. All who attended remained in naturally induced meditative concentration.

| Translated by Adam Pearcey with the generous support of the Tsadra Foundation, 2024.


Tibetan Edition

klong chen rab 'byams pa dri med 'od zer. "lo rgyus rin po che’i phreng ba" In snying thig ya bzhi. 13 vols. Delhi: Sherab Gyaltsen Lama, 1975. Vol. 1: 103–107 (2.5 folios)

Secondary Sources

Dudjom Rinpoche. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Translated by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein. Boston: Wisdom, 1991.

Leschly, Jakob. "Zhangton Tashi Dorje," Treasury of Lives, accessed February 09, 2024,

Nyoshul Khenpo. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems. Translated by Richard Barron. Junction City, California: Padma Publication, 2005.

Version: 1.0-20240216

  1. Reading stag rjed as stag rdzong  ↩

  2. i.e., the sixth month  ↩

  3. ie., 1167. Note that Nyoshul Khenpo states that Zhangtön’s death occurred during a Pig month, but this seems to be an error.  ↩

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