Nyawon Kunga Pal (1285-1379) was one of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen’s fourteen major disciples. In addition to Dolpopa, he counted among his chief teachers Chogle Namgyal, Sakya Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375), and Zhang Dodepal. He was also a great teacher of the Sakya tradition of the Path with the Result (lam ‘bras). Nyawon was the tenth holder of the monastic seat of Jonang, but also had many disciples from other traditions, such as Rendawa Zhonu Lodro (1349−1412), Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa (1357−1419), Yagton Mipham Sangye Pal (13550-1414), the famed Sakya author on the Prajnaparamita. Nyawon founded the monastery of Tsechen, which became a great center for the teachings of definitive meaning.
Nyawon is known as Nyawon because he was a nephew of Khampa Geshe Nya Darma Rinchen. He was born in the royal family of Gyantse in the Nyang region of southeastern Tibet near Kongpo. When he was three years old it was said that he could recite the Litany of the Names of Manjushri from memory. At four years of age, his mother took him to Jonang, where the master Yönten Gyatso (1260–1327) stared at him, pointed his finger, and exclaimed with a laugh, “He is the rebirth of Jamyang Sarma!” Nyawon was then taken to the great monastery of Sakya, where he learned to read and write, and for five years studied the vehicle of the perfections, epistemology, abhidharma and the monastic code. He was a brilliant youth, and after receiving the vows of a novice monk from the abbot Nyima Gyaltsen when he was twelve years old, Nyawon traveled around for further studies at many of the great Sakya, Kadam and Kagyu centers of learning in Central Tibet and Tsang. At the age of nineteen he received full ordination from the abbot Tashi Senge at Nyetang Monastery, and gained the reputation of being invincible in debate.
Nyawon first met Dolpopa at Jagoshong Monastery, and when they spoke for a while Dolpopa became very pleased and gave him gifts. Nyawon felt undivided faith in the great master and served him during the journey back to Jonang. When Nyawon was about twenty years old he was stricken with a serious illness and could not move his arms and legs. Some friends carried him to Sakya, where Dolpopa was teaching. He requested a blessing from Dolpopa, and when the master spit and breathed upon him, Nyawon was instantly cured of the paralysis. He later received from Dolpopa countless teachings, such as the initiation of Kalachakra, the Path with the Result of both the Sakya and Shama traditions, and many other guiding instructions such as the sixfold vajrayoga of Kalachakra. He also received all the scriptures that had been translated into the Tibetan language, such as the Bodhisattva Trilogy, the Tantra Trilogy of Hevajra, and the ten sutras of definitive meaning. Nyawon stayed with Dolpopa until he was fifty-six years old. He also received many teachings such as the Kalachakra from Dolpopa’s major disciple Chogle Namgyal. At some point Nyawon taught for a long period at Sakya monastery. He also became the tenth holder of the monastic throne at Jonang.
Nyawon later founded the monastery of Tsechen in the upper Nyang Valley, where he had about six hundred disciples. There he lived and constantly taught epistemology and the great Vimalaprabha commentary on the Kalahcakra Tantra. When it was difficult for Dolpopa himself to come and consecrate the temple and special objects that Nyawon constructed at Tsechen, Dolpopa’s major disciple Sazang Mati Panchen was invited.
Nyawon passed away at the age of ninety-five, after carefully arranging his robes, sitting with both feet in the full vajra position, and crossing his arms in the mudra gesture of Vajradhara. He maintained this posture for eight days, resting in the clear light of the true nature of phenomena. His cremation was accompanied by miraculous events and wonderful images and relics manifested in his bones.
This summary of Nya dbon ‘s life is based on the work of the Jonang abbot Rgyal ba Jo bzang Dpal bzang po. Brilliant Marvels: Abbreviated Biographies of the Great Omniscient Dharma Lord, the Spiritual Father, and His Fourteen Spiritual Sons. In Tibetan, Chos kyi rje kun mkhyen chen po yab sras bco lnga’i rnam thar nye bar bsdus pa ngo mtshar rab gsal, 597–602. This text is included in the ‘Dzam thang edition of Dol po pa’s Gsung ‘bum, 1, 559–629. The same work has also been published in Byang sems Rgyal ba ye shes, Biographies of the Masters in the Lineage of the Jonangpa Tradition of Glorious Kalachakra. In Tibetan, Dpal ldan dus kyi ‘khor lo jo nang pa’i lugs kyi bla ma brgyud pa’i rnam thar, 143–209. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2004. The following works were also used: (1) Ngag dbang Blo gros grags pa. Moonlamp Illuminating the Glorious Jonangpa Dharma Tradition. In Tibetan, Dpal ldan jo nang pa’i chos ‘byung rgyal ba’i chos tshul gsal byed zla ba’i sgron me, 38. Koko Nor: Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1992. (2) TA ra nA tha. Necessary Discussion of the Origins of the Dharma Cycles of Glorious Kalachakra. Dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i chos bskor gyi byung khungs nyer mkho, 39. In The Collected Works of Jo nang Rje btsun tA ra nA tha, 2, 1–43. Leh: Smanrtsis Shesrig Dpemdzod, 1983.