Kunga Drolchok was one of the greatest masters of sixteenth century Tibet. He was born in 1507 into the Ösal Lha clan in Lo Montang, the capital of the Mustang region of present day Nepal. At the time of his birth, 100,000 repetitions of Tara’s praises were being accumulated, and so accordingly he was named Drolma Bum. During his childhood he was often in poor health. At the age of four, he began his studies with his uncle, the Sakya master Drungpa Chöje Kunga Chokdrub, who was a disciple of the great Sakya master Dakchen Lodrö Gyaltsen.
Reaching the age of ten, he received the novice ordination from Drungpa Chöje, and stayed inseparable from him for the next four years, receiving many initiations and teachings of the Sakya tradition, including Lamdre three times.
In 1519, when Kunga Drolchok was thirteen years old, he travelled with his elder brother to Western Tibet for further studies. They first went to the great monastery of Sakya and the nearby retreat centre of Khau Drakdzong, where they received teachings from the master Kunpang Doringpa.
At the monastic seat of Panchen Sakya Chokden, the Sakya monastery of Serdokchen, they began the serious study of epistemology and other scholastic subjects under the guidance of Sakya Chokden’s disciple and successor, Dhönyö Drubpa, also known as Amoghasiddhi.
But soon impermanence struck. A smallpox epidemic killed nineteen of the twenty two students, including Kunga Drolchok’s elder brother.
The devastated Kunga Drolchok went into retreat for the next eight months. During this time he memorised several basic treatises of epistemology. However, when his lama Amoghasiddhi came to see him in the retreat, he was severely scolded, since sterile scholarship could never result in enlightenment. Following this, Amoghasiddhi taught him many profound techniques of meditation practice.
When the smallpox epidemic had passed, Kunga Drolchok emerged from retreat to again receive many Lamdre teachings; and teachings from other traditions from a visiting master, Kunpang Doringpa. He continued to study all the major and minor fields of knowledge for the next five years at Serdokchen and other monasteries such as Ngor and Ngamring.
When Kunga Drolchok returned home to Mustang, he received full ordination and many more teachings from his old Lama Drungpa Chöje and the ninth abbot of Ngor monastery, Lhachok Senge, who was visiting from Tibet. Drungpa Chöje enthroned Kunga Drolchok as his successor at Pupak Monastery and passed away soon after. This event was closely followed by the passing of Kunga Drolchok’s father. The loss of his lama and his father affected him deeply, and with the realisation that no composite phenomena are lasting, Kunga Drolchok went into seclusion and lived as a hermit.
Although he did not wish to attend the summer retreat of the monks that year, he left seclusion at the insistence of the abbot and gave various teachings, such as the great Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen’s Treasury of Epistemology. In 1528, another of Kunga Drolchok’s lamas in Mustang, Panchen Jampa Lingpa, passed away. Kunga Drolchok took over the monastic seat at his lama’s monastery for the next three years, which was a period of further intense study and teaching. On one occasion he went to visit the famous pilgrimage site of Muktinath in Nepal, where he spoke with and taught non-Buddhist Indian yogis using the Nepalese and Indian vernacular, to their great delight.
At the age of twenty-seven, Kunga Drolchok again travelled northeast into Tibet, visiting Lhasa and the great Karma Kagyu monastery of Tsurphu, where he received the complete transmission of the Karma Kagyu teachings. He would later travel several more times back and forth between Mustang and Central Tibet.
Kunga Drolchok was especially devoted to the practices of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, which he received from the master Gyagom Lekpa Gyaltsen and other Lamas. He also encountered the great Yogini Niguma in a vision. During this vision he received from her the transmissions for her Six Yogas, Mahamudra Reliquary, Carrying Three Aspects on the Path, Mind Deathlessness, White and Red Kechari, The Six-armed Protector and many other instructions. The dakini said to him: “Now you do not require any other transmissions!”
In another dream he met with two red girls, who told him they would take him to the Sosaling cremation ground in India. There he met again with Niguma, who was presiding over a tsok ritual, amidst a gathering of dakinis. He received her blessing and many symbolic instructions. The two red girls then escorted him back to Tibet and to his sleeping quarters, where he immediately awoke.
In the same way he met with Savaripa and other masters, and received many teachings and symbolic instructions from them.
From Sönam Gyaltsen, a lama from Kham, he received the supplementary practices of Niguma, as well as further Mahamudra teachings. At Dragteng Dorje Dzong he beheld a vision of Vaishravana and his retinue of eight horsemen. In his dreams he met with the Mahasiddha Mitradzoki and received from him explanations of the Three Teachings on the Essential Meaning.
He taught the Shangpa transmission of the Six Yogas of Niguma more than one hundred times to many masters from different traditions. He also frequently taught Lamdre and other precious instructions of the Sakya tradition throughout his life. Kunga Drolchok was also a master of the Jonang tradition’s Six-Branch Yoga of Kalachakra, which he received from Lochen Ratnabhadra, who seems to have been the most important of his many Lamas.
Kunga Drolchok was the twenty fourth holder of the monastic seat of Jonang Monastery, retaining this position for about twenty years until his death in 1566. He was succeeded on the Jonang throne by his nephew, Kunga Palzang.
Having studied, practiced, and taught many different teachings from various lineages, but especially those of the Sakya, Shangpa and Jonang traditions, Kunga Drolchok’s exemplary life of non-sectarian study and practice, and his many written works, were later an inspiring example for Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (1813–1899).
The illustrious Jonangpa master Jetsun Taranatha is considered to have been an incarnation of Kunga Drolchok.