Khenchen Munsel was born amidst many miraculous signs, in the Golok Region of eastern Tibet in 1916. During his younger years he received an education in reading, writing, and the recitation of prayers at his home in Wangchen To. One day, Gyurme Tenpa Namgyal (Getse Mahapandita’s third incarnation) was in Tromkhok, preparing to return to his own monastery. A big escort was preparing to accompany him and Munsel joined the many monks. En route, the guru turned to his entourage and asked:”Monks, are you well?” Merely upon hearing the sound of the Master’s voice, Munsel’s mind became crystal clear, the continuous stream of thoughts cut through at the root. For a short time, Munsel’s mind settled into its own nature, utterly uncontrived. It was thus that he became convinced that Gyurme Tenpa Namgyal must have been his guru from past lifetimes.
Reaching maturity, Munsel enrolled in the shedra of Kathok Monastery. He applied himself to the study and contemplation of the treatises of Sutra and Tantra, including those of Vinaya, Abhidharma, Valid Cognition, Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, and the Guhyagarbha Tantra (Secret Essence Tantra). He reached a level of proficiency that earned him great renown as a scholar, so that he became known by the name Mahapandita Khenchen Munsel.
He also received a wealth of profound teachings from the many lamas and tulkus of the monastery, including the Fourth Drimé Zhingkyong Gonpo, the twelfth Kathok Situ Chökyi Gyamtso, Ontrul Pema Gyaltsen and Khenpo Kunpal. In particular, he sat at the feet of the extraordinary master Khenchen Ngawang Palzang, considered to be Vimalamitra in person.
Despite the learning and reputation that he had acquired, he was not satisfied. He strongly sensed that he was only skimming the surface of the precious Dharma, and that he wasn’t yet in a position to benefit others. True renunciation flourished in his mind stream. Moreover, he knew how incredibly rare and fortunate it was to meet a Lama like the great khenpo, Ngawang Palzang, whom he considered to be a living Buddha. He realised that it would be foolish to squander such an opportunity, and that he should therefore request some extraordinary advice that would enable him to awaken to buddhahood in one lifetime. With such thoughts and great intensity, Munsel prayed to his Lama. In response to his heartfelt prayers, Khenchen Ngawang Palzang granted him teachings on Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa’s unsurpassable Dzogchen instruction text, Yeshe Lama (Timeless Awareness as the Guiding Principle). Khenchen Ngawang Palzang had received these same instructions from Nyoshül Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (the heart-dsiciple of Patrül Rinpoche). He also transmitted to Munsel the Nyingthig Yabzhi (Four branches of Heart Essence), and all of the spiritual instructions found in the earlier and later cycles of the secret Nyingthig teachings. Having received these precious gems, Khenchen Munsel returned to his home region and sought out uninhabited places, where he devoted himself to his spiritual practice, very much following in the footsteps of Lord Milarepa. He diligently applied himself to the practice of Thögal, and the four visions of spontaneous presence unfolded for him.
Realising the depth of Khenpo Munsel’s experience, Chaktsa Rinpoche of Kathok Monastery praised him thus: “These days, what the Dzogchen tantras mean by ‘the unity of basic space and awareness emerging from the mid-brow’ can be found in someone like Khenpo Munsel.”
Such realisation meant that during a number of years in prison he was able to meet all experiences with great equanimity, and was able to secretly and from memory teach thousands of fellow prisoners such texts as Yeshe Lama and Longchenpa’s famous Chöying Dzö (The Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena). In this way, he guided a great number of prisoners onto the spiritual path. Many of these, at the time of their death, manifested signs of having died with real control, such as remaining in the meditation posture after their passing. In particular, Khenpo Munsel trained many masters, such as Gongyal Tulku, Nangchen Adei Tulku, and Gyalpo, who were capable of holding the lineage of the heart essence.
After his imprisonment, Khenpo Munsel established a great encampment in Wangchen To, Golok, which served as his base while he taught throughout the Dza region, Amdo, Golok Akyong, Washul Serta, Tromkhok, Nyarong, and other areas.
He trained many spiritual beings who in turn went on to hold the lineage of the Nyingthig teachings, and his innumerable students have practised and passed on his teachings in India, China and the rest of the world. Turning the wheel of the secret unsurpassable Dharma while seated on the vajra throne, Khenpo Munsel was a mainstay of the Dzogchen teachings. He passed away in 1993.