Longchen Rabjam was said to be an emanation of Princess Pema Sal, the youngest daughter of King Tri Song Detsen and a direct student of Guru Padmasambhava. His father Tenpasung was an accomplished tantric yogin. Tenpasung claimed descent from both Gyelwa Chokyang of Ngenlam, a master of Hayagrīva, and Yeshe Wangpo. These two masters were both of whom were among the “seven men who were tested” —the first seven Tibetans ordained by Śāntarakṣita in approximately 779 CE.
According to tradition, Longchenpa was predicted by Buddha Shakyamuni in scriptures such as the Dra Talgyur Tantra. He was first ordained at the age of eleven and studied extensively with the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. In addition to receiving all the Nyingma transmissions passed down in his family, he also studied with many of the great teachers of his day. From his main teacher, the Sakya master Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen he received the combined Kadampa and Sakya sutra teachings as well as the tantric teachings. When he reached the age of nineteen, he began studies at the famous monastic college, the shedra Sangphu Neuthok and continued his studies.
Longchenpa gained renown as the preeminent scholar of his time. Because he made an effort to obtain teachings from all traditions, he became known as “Samyé Lungmangpa,” which means “The One From Samyé Monastery Who Holds Many Scriptural Transmissions.” Longchenpa also memorized a vast quantity of the teachings and was famous for his ability to quote them all at will. Traditionally, as a result of this vast knowledge, he is referred to as Kunkhyen, a title meaning “omniscient”.
Longchenpa systematized the Nyingma teachings in his ‘Seven Treasures’ and composed extensive treatises on the Great Perfection or Dzogchen. In the Treasuries and his writings on Nyingtik, he commented on topics such as the Seventeen Tantras, Lamdre, and a survey of Dzogchen philosophy. When he reached the age of twenty-five Longchenpa met the master Rigdzin Kumārarāja, from whom he received his Nyingtik teachings. Kumārarāja accepted Longchenpa as a student despite his poverty, and bestowed all of the Nyingtik teachings he possessed, including the “ Heart Essence of Vimalamitra”, the Bima Nyingtik.
In addition to his many years of comprehensive study and composition, Longchenpa also spent time in extended periods of retreat. During these retreats, he experienced many direct visitations from deities, dharma protectors, and dakinis. It is said that Guru Rinpoche himself bestowed the name “Drimé Özer” (“Stainless Light Ray”) upon him. And Yeshe Tsogyel gave him the name “Dorje Ziji Tsal” (“Vajra of Dynamic Brilliance”). He is said to have had visions of Samantabhadra (Kuntuzangpo) and the maṇḍala of the peaceful and wrathful deities. In addition, he received teachings from Vimalamitra, Rigdzin Kumaradza, and Orgyen Pema Gyalpo, among others, while maintaining the continuous experience of the third vision of Togal. An example of compositions composed during his retreat are these verses from his oft-quoted Vajra Song composed at Lhundrup Ling.
The confused perceptions of samsara are like magic tricks:
Deceiving through distraction and diversion, day and night.
Now, it is best to remain alone in retreat,
And become familiar with meditative stability.
Delusion is like the darkness of the night:
Dharmic and non-dharmic shapes are invisible.
Now, it is best to study and contemplate impartially
With the torch of discerning wisdom.
Busyness is like ripples on water:
There’s no end to action, agent and object.
Now, it is best to rest freely
In all the activities of this life, and let them be.
Wanting more is like having wealth:
However much you gain, you are never satisfied.
Now, it is best to let go of illusory possessions
Without clinging or fixation.
Self-clinging is like being caught in a noose:From Definitive Metaphors and Meanings: A Vajra Song, translated by Benedek Bartha.
The self is bound to the prison of samsara.
Now, it is best to transform phenomena into dharmakāya
By not being attached to anything.
One of Longchenpa’s students, Wozer Gocha, had obtained a copy of The Heart Essence of the Ḍākinīs, or Khandro Nyingtik and at Chimpu he gave it to Longchenpa for examination. According to tradition, the Khandro Nyingtik had been revealed by Pema Ledrel Tsel a few decades earlier. The Khandro Nyingtik is considered the second main tradition of Dzogchen Nyingtik teachings. It was transmitted by Padmasambhava to Pema Sel, the daughter of Tri Songdetsen, who was then reincarnated as Pema Ledrel Tsel. This teaching is based on the Tantra of Luminous Expanse. According to tradition, Longchenpa received the transmission of these teachings during a visionary experience of the dharma protectress Shenpa Sokdrubma.
Four works—the Bima Nyingtik and Longchenpa’s commentary on it, the Bima Yangtik; and the Khandro Nyingtik and his commentary are together known as the Fourfold Heart Essences Collection and are regarded as foundational texts of the Dzogchen tradition.
Beyond his many direct personal disciples, he famously served as the master in a series of visions to Jigme Lingpa, (1730-1798). In these, he transmitted one of the most widely practiced Nyingma cycles of the later Nyingtik treasure cycles, the Heart Essence of the Great Expanse, or Longchen Nyingtik.
In addition to his scholarly texts, Lonchenpa also authored countless poems, songs, sadhanas, and simple advice texts. In many of these, he expounds upon the importance of practice in retreat.
To put it simply, any region or actual dwelling place for retreat,From A Guide to Locations for Cultivating Samādhi, translated by Adam Pearcey.
In which renunciation and disenchantment arise, attention is well focused,
And samādhi grows in strength—any such place of virtuous activity—
Is said to be the equal of the sacred site of the heart of awakening.
Whereas any place in which virtues decline, mental afflictions increase,
And one is overcome by distractions and the affairs of this life,
Is a demonic haunt of evil actions, only to be avoided by the wise.
Since these points were taught by Padmasambhava,
They should be learned by all who wish for liberation.
Longchenpa passed into parinirvana on January 30, 1364, at the age of fifty-six.