A reincarnation of Pema Ledrel Tsal, as such Longchenpa is regarded as an indirect incarnation of the princess Pema Sal. He was born to the master Tenpasung, an adept at both the sciences and the practice of mantra, and Dromza Sonamgyen, who was descended from the family of Dromton Gyelwie Jungne. Legend states that at age five, Longchenpa could read and write and by age seven his father began instructing him in Nyingma tantras. Longchenpa was first ordained at the age of twelve and studied extensively with the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. He received not only the Nyingma transmissions as passed down in his family, but also studied with many of the great teachers of his day without regard to sect. He thus received the combined Kadam and Sakya teachings of the Sutrayana through his main Sakya teacher, Palden Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen, in addition to the corpus of both old and new translation tantras. At the age of nineteen, Longchenpa entered the famous shedra (monastic college) Sangpu Neutok (Wylie: gSang-phu Ne'u-thog), where he acquired great scholarly wisdom. He later chose to practice in the solitude of the mountains, after becoming disgusted by the unpleasant behavior of certain scholars.
When he was in his late twenties two events occurred that were to be of decisive importance in his intellectual and spiritual development. One was a vision of Guru Padmasambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal. The other happened in his twenty-ninth year, his meeting with the great mystic Rigdzin Kumaradza (alt. Kumaraja) from whom he received the Dzogchen empowerment and teachings in the mountains, the uplands of Yartökyam at Samye where he was traveling from valley to valley with his students under the most difficult of circumstances. Dudjom Rinpoche (1904–1987) et al. (1991: p. 579) held that just prior to the arrival of Longchenpa, Kumaraja related to his disciples:"Last night I dreamt that a wonderful bird, which announced itself to be a divine bird, came with a large flock in attendance, and carried away my books in all directions. Therefore, someone will come to hold my lineage."
Kumaraja accepted no outer tribute from Longchenpa for the teachings he received as Kumararaja through his supernormal cognitive powers discerned that Longchenpa was blameless and had offered his tribute internally.
Together with Rangjung Dorje, Longchenpa accompanied Kumaraja and his disciples for two years, during which time he received all of Rigdzin Kumaradza's transmissions. Through the efforts of these three, the diverse streams of the "Innermost Essence" (nying thig) teachings of Dzogchen were brought together and codified into one of the common grounds between the Nyingma and Karma Kagyud traditions.
After several years in retreat, Longchenpa attracted more and more students, even though he had spent nearly all of his life in mountain caves. During a stay in Bhutan (Tib., Mon), Longchenpa fathered a daughter and a son, of which the latter, Trugpa Odzer (b. 1356), also became a holder of the Nyingtig lineage. A detailed account of the life and teachings of Longchenpa is found in Buddha Mind by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche and in A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems by Nyoshul Khenpo.
Pema Lingpa the famous terton (finder of sacred texts) of Bhutan is regarded as the immediate reincarnation of Longchenpa.
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