Lhalung Palgyi Dorje was one of the twenty-five disciples of Guru Rinpoche. Lhalung was his clan name which corresponded to the family home located east of Lhasa. Originally a soldier who fought against the Chinese on the frontier, he became weary of battle and sought out the Dharma.
Palgyi Dorje went to Samye Monastery along with his brother Rabjor Wangpo (also known as Tsunpa Pelyang) and was ordained as a monk there by Vimalamitra. At Samye, Palgyi Dorje also received bodhisattva vows and Vajrayana empowerments from Padmasambhava.
According to one manuscript found at the Dunhuang caves, he was ninth in a succession of abbots having jurisdiction over an area that included Samye monastery. From the master Vairocana he received the semde (mind section) and longde (space section) Dzogchen teachings and later passed that transmission on to Nyak Jñyānakumara.
Palgyi Dorje spent much time practicing in the Dribki Karmo valley. There he was renowned for his powers to pass freely through rocks and to fly across the mountains. He is often depicted in Tibetan art in mid-flight.
Traditional Tibetan sources (although not all of the earliest ones) report that Palygi Dorje killed king Tri Udumtsen, or Langdarma (r. 841‑842), to liberate him and stop the persecution of Buddhism under his reign. The story goes that he did this while performing a ritual dance, by hiding a bow and arrow in the long robe of his costume. He then fled on a white horse that had been colored black using charcoal and wearing the black side of a reversible two-toned robe. As his horse crossed a river, the charcoal washed off the horse and Palgyi Dorje reversed his robe to show the white side, thereby evading imperial troops.
After a long life spent in solitude in either Amdo or Yerpa, Palgyi Dorje passed away, displaying the rainbow body.