Nangdzse Dorje (nyang snang mdzad rdo rje) was born in the hamlet of Nyang in Rebkong (reb kong), Amdo. His father, a tantric practitioner, was Tsering Dondrub (tshe ring don grub), and his mother was Nyingmo Jam (snying mo byams). After offering some incense to the deities, an uncle named Kunchok (dkon mchog) who was an accomplished tantric practitioner, gave the new born child the name Pema Wangyal (pad ma dbang rgyal). He had two younger brothers.
Nangdze Dorje's favorite childhood game was to pretend to make torma from soil or dung. Sometimes, he would imitate his father and recite mantra or he would draw effigies of people he disliked and hope that his ritual performance would have an effect on them. His two uncles were his first teachers with whom he learned to recite and memorize prayers and sacred texts. From his maternal uncle Guru Dorje (gu ru rdo rje) he learned how to make torma and ritual details. From a monk called Chokden (mchog ldan) and from the scribe Kharlo (mkhar lo), he learned to write.
When he was eight, Nangdze Dorje met Pema Rangdol (pad ma rang grol, 1786-1838) and received from him his first transmission of the preliminary practices and long-life practice. Pema Rangdol then gave him a yellow protective knot and said: “This child will become a good practitioner.” This is said to be an auspicious sign of being accepted as his disciple.
At the age of eleven, Nangdze Dorje was in the audience of a teaching given by Changlung Paṇchen Namkha Jigme (spyang lung dpal chen nam mkha' 'jigs med, 1757-1821) in Sho'ong Laka, Rebkong. From this master, he received the transmissions of the Prayer Which Fulfills All Aspirations (bsam pa lhun grub ma), the Activity Tantra for Avalokiteśvara (bya rgyud thugs rje chen po), and so forth.
When he was thirteen years old, Nangdze Dorje he received from Khyunglung Repa Damtsig Dorje (khyung lung ras pa dam tshig rdo rje, d.u.) many teachings such as the entire empowerment and teachings of the Longchen Nyintik (klong chen snying thig), the Empowerment of Jetsun Mila (rje btsun mi la'i dbang) and the transmission of The Seven Chapters (le'u bdun ma), a popular prayer to Padmasambhava. Damtsig Dorje then advised to him not to stay in a monastery but to be a good hermit. He took this advice and later in life was known by his contemporaries as the Hermit of Nyang (nyang gyi mtshams pa). Nevertheless, at the age of fifteen, he took his monastic vows and was given the name Tendzin Gyatso (bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho). Ten years later, he was fully ordained.
Around the age of eighteen, Nangdze Dorje started to serve as scribe for Pema Rangdol, his root guru. Later, when Zhabkar Tsokdru Rangdol (zhabs dkar tshogs drug rang grol, 1781-1850), an influential figure within the Rebkong tantric practitioners community (reb kong sngags mang), returned from U-Tsang in 1829, Nyang Nangdze Dorje went for an audience. Shortly afterwards, he started to collect and write down the works of Zhabkar, beginning with The Torch that Illuminates the Graded Path (lam rim gsal ba'i sgron me). It was Zhabkar who told him to write down the biography of Changlung Paṇchen Namkha Jigme. When he finished with that biography, Changlung Paṇchen appeared in his dream and said to him: “I have in my possession two volumes of my life story, but your one-volume version is fine. I am happy that you have written it down. You should later also tighten the rules of the tantrika community. As a gift, I will now bestow on you the accomplishment of swift-footedness.” Among his other teachers were Serkhang Dorje Chang (gser khang rdo rje 'chang. d.u.) and Magsar Kunzang Tobden Wangpo (mag gsar kun bzang stobs ldan dbang po, 1781-1832).
Nangdze Dorje dedicated his later life to teaching and spreading the works of Zhabkar and other masters by giving empowerments, transmissions and advice to the tantrika and lay community. He also established the drubchen (sgrub chen) ceremony in many villages, and, whenever necessary, he tightened the rules and code of conduct of the tantrika community. Nangdze Dorje was also instrumental in banning the sacrificing of animals during certain rituals in some villages of Rebkong.
Nangdze Dorje's work was not only limited to writing down or editing the works of Zhabkar and other masters. He himself composed an autobiography, one volume of spiritual songs, one volume of rules and regulation on the proper dharma conduct, many ritual texts and supplication prayers. Indeed, one of his most important contributions is his remarkably detailed autobiography, from which we can glimpse an insight into the life of a tantric practitioner of that particular time and place.
At the age of seventy-seven, on the third day of the eleventh month of the wood dog year, 1874, Nyang Nangdze Dorje passed away with his face turned south-west, cross-legged, and the two hands in earth-pressing and meditation gesture. It is said that around the same time, a flash of bright light came from the east and vanished into the west.
Among his students were the Second Zhabkar, Jigme Tekchok Tenpa Gyeltsen ('jigs med theg mchog bstan pa rgyal mtshan, 1852-1914), the Second Changlung (spyang lung sprul sku, 1822-1858), and Gurung Tulku Natsog Rangdol (dgu rong sprul sku sna tshogs rang grol, 1822-1874).
Published April 2010