Kunzang Pelden

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Kunzang Pelden b.1862 - d.1943

Name Variants: Gegong Khenpo Kunzang Pelden; Khenchen Kunzang Pelden; Khenchen Kunzang Pelden Tubten Chokyi Drakpa; Kunga Pelden; Kunpel; Kunzang Pelden Chokyi Drakpa; Tubten Kunzang Chodrak; Tubten Kunzang Chokyi Drakpa

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Khenchen Kunzang Pelden (mkhan chen kun bzang dpal ldan) was born to a poor nomadic family in Getsegong (ge rtse gong), located in the Dzachuka Valley in Kham (khams rdza chu kha), probably in 1862, the water-dog year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle. According to Nyoshul Khenpo (smyo shul mkhan po 'jam dbyangs rdo rje, 1932-1999) (who erroneously gives his birth dates as 1872), his family was related to Dza Patrul Orgyen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo (rdza dpal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po, 1808-1887).

From a young age, he was a close student of Dza Patrul, though he took his monastic ordination and completed his formal education under Patrul's nephew, the First Tenga, Orgyen Tendzin Norbu (bstan dga' 01 o rgyan bstan 'dzin nor bu, b.1851) at Śrī Siṃha College (shrI sing+ha bshad drwa) in Dzogchen monastery, where he studied the traditional monastic curriculum. He was also close student of Ju Mipam Gyatso ('ju mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846-1912), serving as his attendant later in life.

Is it said at some point he self-identified as the reincarnation of Horpo Shakya Dorje (hor po shAkya rdo rje, d.u.), better known as Katok Dorje (kaH thog rdo rje), a noted scholar at the time of Longchen Rabjam Drime Ozer (klong chen rab 'byams pa dri med 'od zer, 1308-1364), by recognizing his predecessor's house and possessions.

Tradition tells he underwent great hardship in pursuit of his studies, reportedly facing severe weather conditions and often studying by moonlight due to lack of funds for lamp oil. He spent an extensive amount of time studying and practicing with Dza Patrul at Changma Hermitage in Dzato (rdza stod lchang ma ri khrod) and Gegong (dge gong), where he received teachings and instructions on many texts, including the Guhyagarbha Tantra, and the Dzogchen Nyingtik (rdzogs chen snying thig).

He attended Dza Patrul's teachings on the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra during a six-month course at Dzogchen Monastery, probably before 1884 (the year of Patrul's last teaching). At the request of the Third Katok Situ, Chokyi Gyatso (kaH thog si tu 03 chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1880-1925), he composed his famous and widely-studied commentary on the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, entitled Jamyang Lamai Zhelung Dudtsi Tikpa (jam dbyangs bla ma'i zhal lung bdud rtsi'i thig pa) based on the notes he took during these teachings; he supplemented his work with additional commentary from Patrul's other students, mainly Ju Mipam and Orgyen Tendzin Norbu. This work has been translated into English and published as The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva. With this work, he is credited with preserving the tradition of Dza Patrul's oral commentary on Śāntideva's text.

In addition to Dza Patrul and Ju Mipam, Kunzang Pelden studied under a number of highly distinguished teachers, including the Fifth Dzogchen, Tubten Chokyi Dorje (rdzogs chen 05 thub bstan chos kyi rdo rje, 1872-1935); the eighth abbot of Dzogchen, Pema Vajra (rdzogs chen mkhan rabs 08 pad+ma ba+dz+ra, 1807-1884); Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820-1892); and the Third Dodrubchen, Jigme Tenpai Nyima (rdo grub chen 03 'jigs med bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1865-1926). From these masters and others he received many commentaries, empowerments, and instructions of the Nyingma spoken word (bka' ma) and treasure (gter ma) lineages. He particularly focused on the Longchen Nyingtik (klong chen snying thig) treasure cycle and became an important lineage holder. Many contemporary transmission lines of the Longchen Nyingtik can be traced to Kunzang Pelden.

Additionally, he received teachings from the Third Mura, Pema Dechen Zangpo (mu ra sku phreng 03 pad+ma bde chen bzang po, d.u.); the fifteenth abbot of Śrī Siṃha, Konchok Drakpa (dkon mchog grags pa, d.u.); Zhalu Ribuk Tulku, Losel Tenkyong (zhwa lu ri sbug sprul sku blo gsal bstan skyong, b.1804); and the first abbot of Dzongsar Khamshe Shedra (rdzong sar khams bye bshad grwa), Zhenpen Chokyi Nangwa (gzhan phan chos kyi snang ba, 1871-1927).

In 1906, the Third Katok Situ founded a new study center at Katok Monastery (kaH thog rdo rje ldan) named Shedrub Norbu Lhunpo (bshad sgrub nor bu lhun po) and invited Kunzang Pelden to head the institution as its first abbot. Ju Mipam also instructed him to take on this responsibility. Assisted by Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang (mkhan po ngag dbang dpal bzang, 1879-1941), Kunzang Pelden served in this position for three years, establishing Shedrub Norbui Lhunpo as a center for Vajrayāna studies. He introduced a curriculum named the Hundred Treatises of Katok (kaH thog gzhung rgya ma), which required five years to complete. During this time, he lived very close to Situ Chokyi Gyatso, regularly exchanging teachings

After retiring from Shedrub Norbu Lhunpo, he returned his to birthplace and continued to teach the Katok tradition of the Nyingma school at Gegong Monastery (dge gong) in Dzachuka. It is reported he continued to teach daily for numerous sessions until his death, probably in 1944, at the age eighty-four.

Among his prominent disciples were the Third Katok Situ; the Fourth Zhechen Gyeltsab, Pema Namgyel (zhe chen rgyal tshab 04 pad+ma rnam rgyal, 1871-1926); Ngawang Pelzang of Katok Monastery (kaH thog mkhan po ngag dbang dpal bzang, 1879-1941); Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse chos kyi blo gros, 1893-1959); the twenty-fifth Dzogchen abbot, Ngawang Norbu (ngag dbang nor bu, 1886-1958); Katok Khenchen Lekshe Jorden (kaH thog mkhan chen legs bshad 'byor ldan, d.u.); the twentieth Dzogchen abbot, Tekchok Loden (pad+ma theg mchog blo ldan, 1879-1955); the abbot of Dzagyu Gemang Shedra, Dongak Tenpai Nyima (mdo sngags bstan pa'i nyi ma, c.1898-1959); the Fourth Mura Tulku, Pema Norbu (mu ra sprul sku 04 pad+ma nor bu, 1918-1958), and Khunu Lama Tendzin Gyeltsen (khu nu bla ma bstan 'dzin rgyal mtshan, 1894-1977). He bestowed Longchen Nyingtik to both recognized reincarnations of the Third Dodrubchen: Kunzang Jigme Choying Rangdrol (kun bzang 'jigs med chos dbyings rang grol, b.1927) and Rigdzin Tenpai Gyeltsen (rig 'dzin bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, 1927-1961).

In addition to his famous commentary on the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, his collected works also include detailed biographies of Dza Patrul and Ju Mipam, a commentary on Mipam's Beacon of Certainty (nges shes rin po che'i sgron me rtsa 'grel); an Introductory Explanation of the Prātimokṣa (so thar 'dul ba'i gleng gzhi); and a collection of Ju Mipam's works ('jam mgon mi pham rin po che'i gsung rab du ma'i bka' bsdu mdzad pa). 




Bradburn, Leslie, ed. 1995. Masters of the Nyingma Lineage. Cazadero: Dharma Publications, pp. 359.

Bstan 'dzin lung rtogs nyi ma. 2004. Snga 'gyur rdzogs chen chos 'byung chen mo. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, pp. 662-665. TBRC W270401

'Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros. 1981-1985. Mkhan chen kun bzang dpal ldan thub bstan chos kyi grags pa la gdung dbyangs su gsol ba thugs rje glog zhags. In Gsung 'bum/_'jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros/ (dbu med bris ma/), pp. 277-278. Gangtok: Dzongsar Khyentse Labrang,. TBRC W21813

'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan. 1996. Rgyal ba kaH thog pa'i lo rgyus mdor bsdus. Chendu:  Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp.145-146. TBRC W20396

Kunzang Peldon. 2010. The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva. Padmakara Translation Group, trans. Boston: Shambhala Publications, pp. xvii-xviii.

Nyoshul Khenpo. 2005. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems. Richard Barron, trans. Junction City, California: Padma Publication, pp. 476-479.

Tulku Thondup. 1996. Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthik Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, pp. 258-259.


Samten Chhosphel
September 2012