Sonam Zangpo (,i.bsod nams bzang po ,/), who was also popularly known as Nyakpuwa (gnyag/snyag phu ba), was one of the Dharma lord Dölpopa’s fourteen major disciples. He also received many teachings from several of Dölpopa’s other major disciples and was the main Dharma heir of Chogle Namgyal (phyogs las rnam rgyal, 1306–1386). He became the teacher of many great masters from different traditions and was particularly expert in the Kālacakra.
Tsalminpa was born in Kyerpu (kyer phu) in 1341. He received the vows of complete ordination as a monk from the abbot Yönten Gyatso (mkhan chen yon tan rgya mtsho) in 1358 in Lhasa. From the age of seventeen he served as the Dharma lord Dölpopa’s close attendant and practiced the teachings he received from him.
After Dolpopa passed away, Tsalminpa received many teachings from Dolpopa’s major disciples: he studied epistemology at Sakya (sa skya) Monastery under Nyawon Kunga Pal (nya dbon kun dga’ dpal, 1285–1379) and was known as the best of Nyawon’s four hundred disciples, he received the Yamari instructions from Mati Panchen Lodro Gyeltsen (ma ti paN chen blob gros rgyal mtshan, 1294-1376), and studied the Kālacakra under Chogle Namgyal (phyogs las rnam rgyal, 1306–1386). Sonam Zangpo became one of Chogle Namgyal’s main disciples, and was particularly expert in the explanation and practice of the Kālacakra. He also studied with the great masters Buton Rinchen Drup (bu ston rin chen grub, 1290–1364), Lama Dampa Sonam Gyeltsen (bla ma dam pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan, 1312–75), and Gyalse Tokme Zangpo (rgyal sras thogs med bzang po, 1295-1369).
In 1392, when Sonam Zangpo was fifty-three years old he was invited to Lhagang (lha sgangL) Monastery in Minyak, Kham, where he taught for the next eleven years. When he was sixty-three years old he was offered the monastery of Tsalmin (mtshal min), which he made his residence. Thereafter he was popularly known as Tsalminpa.
He became the teacher of many of the great masters of the fifteenth century, such as the Sakya master Rongtön Sheja Kunrik (rong ston shes bya kun rig, 1367-1449) and the sixth Karmapa, Tongwa Donden (karma pa mthong ba don ldan, 1416-1453). Tsalminpa was honored by the Pakmodru ruler of Tibet, Drakpa Gyaltsen (dbang grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1374-1432), and eulogized as the finest yogin in Tibet by the Indian pandita Varnaratna (1384-1468). At the age of ninety-two Tsalminpa taught the great Vimalaprabhā commentary on the Kalacakra Tantra.
When he was ninety-three years old, he sat in the sevenfold meditation posture of Vairocana, spoke several verses of prophecy about his future lives, and peacefully passed away. Marvelous signs occurred, and wonderful images and relics emerged from his bones after cremation.
This summary of Tsalminpa’s life is based on three sources:
1) 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, 525–28. 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.
2) 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, 38–39. Koko Nor: Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1992.
3) Mangtö Ludrup Gyatso (mang thos klu sgrub rgya mtsho). Bright Sun of Pure Altruism: A Chronicle of the Doctrine. Bstan rtsis gsal ba’i nyin byed lhag bsam rab dkar, 190-93. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1987.