Shangtön Gyawo Sönam Drakpa

zhang ston rgya bo bsod nams grags pa
Birth: 1292
Death: 1370

Shangtön Gyawo, who was one of Dölpopa’s fourteen major disciples, studied widely in different traditions as a young man. Then he spent almost thirty years with Dölpopa, receiving all the great master’s teachings. For the last fifteen years of his life Shangtön taught the massive Vimalaprabha commentary on the Kalacakra Tantra every year. Shangtön Gyawo was born in Kyishö (skyi shod) in Central Tibet. His mother was a leper, whose disease is said to have vanished immediately when she became pregnant. The young boy demonstrated his precocious nature at Drathang (gra thang) monastery when he was six years old, and at Riwo Genden (ri bo dga’ ldan). Then he traveled to Lhasa (lha sa) and received the vows of a novice monk from the abbot Shönu Pal (gzhon nu dpal) in front of the famous image of the Buddha. In Lhasa he studied the monastic code, the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, and epistemology. He also studied the vehicle of the perfections, epistemology, and abhidharma under the master Tashi Senge (bkra shis seng ge) at the Kagyu monastery of Tsal Gungthang (mtshal gung thang). At fourteen years of age he met the Indian acarya Krsna (a tsa ra nag po) at Chakpori (lcags po ri) in Lhasa and studied subjects such as Sanskrit grammar, poetics, and mirror divination. After these extensive studies in Central Tibet, Shangtön traveled to the Tsang (gtsang) region when he was twenty-two years old. He first received complete ordination at the great monastery of Sakya (sa skya) from the abbot Jikmey Drakpa (‘jigs med grags pa), and also pursued further studies there in the monastic code, the vehicle of the perfections, epistemology, and abhidharma. Then he went for further scholastic examinations at many different monasteries in Tsang and Central Tibet. During these travels Shangtön heard about the special compliments the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (karma pa rang byung rdo rje, 1284-1339), had spoken about the omniscient Dharma lord Dölpopa. When he was finally able to meet Dölpopa, the master was in strict retreat, but Shangtön was granted an audience, and when they conversed he began to feel like a tiny bird in the presence of a great garuda. From when he was thirty-five years old until he was sixty-three, Shangtön stayed with Dölpopa, receiving countless initiations and teachings. In particular, he received the great Kalacakra initiation in both the Ra (rwa) and Dro (‘bro) traditions; guiding instructions such as the six-branch yoga of Kalacakra, the Six Dharmas of Niguma, and the Six Dharmas of Naropa; and teachings such as the Bodhisattva Trilogy and the Tantra Trilogy of Hevajra. When he was sixty-four years old, Shangtön was offered the monastery of Palteng (dpal steng) by the great abbot Lhawang (mkhan chen lha dbang), and he built a temple there with a life-sized golden image of Dölpopa and other special objects. For the next fifteen years Shangtön taught the great Vimalaprabha commentary on the Kalacakra Tantra every year. In his meditation sessions he is said to have beheld infinite buddhas and pure lands. Shangtön’s passing was accompanied by various wonderful signs, and marvelous relics manifested in his physical remains. This summary of Shangtön’s life is based on the work of the Jonang abbot Gyalwa Josang Palsangpo (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. Chos kyi rje kun mkhyen chen po yab sras bco lnga’i rnam thar nye bar bsdus pa ngo mtshar rab gsal, 593–97. This text is included in the ‘Dzam thang dbu can edition of Dölpopa’s Gsung ‘bum, vol. 1: 559–629. The same work has also been published in Jangsem Gyalwa Yeshe (byang sems rgyal ba ye shes), Biographies of the Masters in the Lineage of the Jonangpa Tradition of Glorious Kalacakra. 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 work was also used: Ngawang Losang Drakpa (ngag dbang blo gros grags pa). Moonlamp Illuminating the Glorious Jonangpa Dharma Tradition. Dpal ldan jo nang pa’i chos ‘byung rgyal ba’i chos tshul gsal byed zla ba’i sgron me, 34. Koko Nor: Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1992.