Shangtönpa was born to the Ra family at Kongya in Shang, and could read and write fluently by the time he was eight years old. He was naturally inclined to the Dharma, showing no desire or greed and feeling great revulsion for samsara, whilst generating great faith in the Lama, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Shangtönpa was ordained as a novice monk at the age of thirteen before the abbot Nyitokpa and Lama Tsulshe. Being very diligent in nature, he applied himself to studying the Bodhisattva’s Path and the Prajnaparamita under the guidance of his Lama Ba and a Sakya Lama. When he presented them with new commentaries on both of these texts, they congratulated him and encouraged him to teach on them. Following their advice, he taught his commentaries, which earned him the name Tönpa Sangwa (Excellent Teacher). His fame spread all over Central and Western Tibet. Being extraordinarily intelligent, he naturally understood the entire meaning of a text, merely by reading the first line of its topic. He applied himself to and received teachings from different traditions. From the Glorious Karmapa he received many teachings including The Three Kayas Pointing-Out Instructions.
The Lamdre teachings of the Sakya tradition were transmitted to him by Lama Genmo Lhepa.
Shangtönpa attained special abilities, gave birth to definitive understanding and sustained pure samadhi. He completed one hundred million mantras, and through the power of his practice, had the ability to purify all diseases and evil spirits. Despite it all, Shangtönpa felt that those abilities did not really benefit beings so he approached the realised Lama Sangye Tönpa to receive additional empowerments and teachings. Sangye Tönpa proceeded to grant him the empowerments of Dream Yoga, Illusory Body and gave him the complete instructions for the Six Yogas of Niguma. Shangtönpa was able to master the practice of Path of Means within seven days and, likewise, mastered all the other practices within a short space of time. His practice exceeded that of Sangye Tönpa in achieving the essential meaning of the instructions. Shangtönpa was the finest heart son disciple of Sangye Tönpa. Many spiritual friends came to his retreat for teachings and he granted them the Six Yogas of Niguma, Mahamudra Reliquary, Mind Deathlessness and so on. Shangtönpa died at the age of seventy-six.