The first Gonjang Rinpoche, Yolmo Ngagchang Shakya Zangpo was a tantric adept who lived in the late fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth century. He was born in La Tod Lho Drompa Jong in the Tibetan province of Tsang. Possessing all the qualities of a great master, he accomplished almost all the Nyingma Ka-Ter practices, both sutric and tantric.
In accordance with treasure text predictions, he opened the door of the holy place, Beyul Yolmo Gang Ri, in Nepal and revealed the Thugje Chenpo Khorwa Ying Drol and Thug Je Chenpo Gyalpo Ka Bhum termas. At Samye Monastery, near Lhasa, he was blessed by a dakini and discovered a treasure text advocating the restoration of the great Boudha Stupa in Nepal. This text is known in English as The Legend of the Great Stupa. Later he discovered the holy relics of the great king Amsuvarman in the Boudhanath Stupa and distributed them to worshipers as blessings.
He established his Dharma seat in Helembu, near Kathmandu, and forged strong links with Yolmos, Tamangs and Sherpas north of the valley. From these associations he came to be known as Yolmo Shakya Zangpo.
The second Gonjang Rinpoche, Lhodak Tulku Namkha Gyaljin, revealed many important Dharma treasures of the Nyingma tradition and became a renowned terton. He was known as the second Yolmowa Chenpo.
The third Gonjang Rinpoche, Rigzin Tenzin Norbu, was born in 1598 in Kongpo kLung rGye Dong (Tibet), son of Trinlay Wangchug (a re-embodiment of Drubthob Ratna Bhadra) and Kunzang Wangmo. He was a renowned Nyingma terton, and propagated the lineage and teachings of first Yolmowa. He was active in the restoration work of Boudhanath Stupa and maintained good relations with the Nepalese king. His root guru was Rigzin Ngag Ki Wangpo of Thubten Dorje Drag Monastery near Lhasa. He received all the Nyingma Ka-Ter teachings, especially the Jangter transmissions, from his root guru and was appointed regent of Thubten Dorje Drag Monastery. He was a great scholar, whom H.H. the Dalai Lama patronized and praised for his extraordinary skill in spreading Buddhadharma. His autobiography is available in two volumes. His most notable Dharma treasure is a Vajra Kilaya practice, still done today, complete with Jin-Sek (sacrificial fire offering) and Tor-Dhog.
The fourth Gojang Rinpoche, Rigzin Wangyal Dorje, attained accomplishment in reading, writing, and all the major and minor sciences of Buddhism by age 11. At 13 he was ordained by H. H the Fifth Dalai Lama and named Zilnon Wangyal Dorje. His Holiness gave him all the Jangter teachings, including empowerment and oral transmission. Thereafter, he devoted himself to preserving the Jangter tradition and lineage, particularly its Vajra Kilaya practice. He carried out restoration work of Boudhanath Stupa and consecreted it twice, during which many auspicious miracles occurred. His autobiography is available in the library of Gonjang Monastery.
The fifth Gonjang Rinpoche, Rigzin Thondup Dorje, studied under many Nyingma masters, including Rigzin Tsewang Dorje, Kathog Rigzin Tsewang Norbu, Drubchen Tenzin Rangdrol, and Rigzin Pema Lodoe. He also was an accomplished Dzogchen practitioner, and he used his precious time and offerings of well-wishers to restore the Great Stupa at Boudha, performing aspiration prayers before the Choeten for the benefit of all living beings.
At the age of 48, he called together all his disciples, including his spiritual son Rigzin Kunzang Dorje, who was in a cave doing retreat, giving his last teaching and declaring that he was going to leave his worldly body. He appointed Rigzin Kunzang Dorje as his regent and immediately assumed a meditative posture, resting in perfect peace for about a week before passing away.
As a child, the sixth Gonjang Rinpoche, Rigzin Pema Choephel, was bold, intelligent, kindhearted, and fond of playing at religious activities. His mother passed away when he was five, and his mother's sister took charge of him. She was harsh and unkind, but he was never disheartened. He studied with Rigzin Kunzang Dorje, spiritual son of the previous incarnation and received all the Jangter teachings from him. He was a renowned scholar, poet, and grammarian and composed many valuable texts, including a biography of Buddha Shakyamuni and a number of important commentaries. He was also a celebrated physician, receiving initiation and transmission of the secret Yuthok Yonten Gonpo teaching from Chogyal Trisong Deutsen.
Because of strong karmic links, he, like his predecessors, contributed renovation work to the Great Stupa. At the age of 33, Rigzin Pema Choephel met the regent lama, Ven. Rigzin Tsewang Namgyal, of Boudha, from whom he received the oral transmission and empowerment of the Mahakala. Tsewang Namgyal also passed on the traditional teachings and lineage of Yolmowas and appointed him as regent of the Stupa. From that time (for about twelve years) he corrected and propagated the teachings of previous incarnations, including the Vajra Kilaya practices of Yolmo Shakya Zangpo and Yolmo Tenzin Norbu. He was accomplished in tantra and attained the realization of absolute unity as well as having visions of Guru Rinpoche and Vajra Kilaya during his meditation.
In the mid-nineteenth century Rigzin Pema Choephel established Gonjang Samten Chophug Monastery in the Tsang province of Tibet. For the monastery he collected thousands of religious texts, including two sets of Gyalwai Kagyur and two sets of Nyingma Gyud Bhum, which are extremely difficult to obtain (one of the Nyingma Gyud Bhum collections was brought to India and was the main source for its publication in the early 1960s). On account of his extensive Dharma activities, the successive Tulkus of Yolmo Shakya Zangpo were named Tingkey Gonjang Tulku.
According to prediction the seventh Gonjang Rinpoche, Rigzin Tashi Tobgyal, was born at Tsang Gompa on tenth day of the first Tibetan month. He received all Jangter teachings and the Nyingma Ka-Ter, but he placed special importance on the Dzogchen Yangthik Chedon and Yolmo tradition. He was a scholar, who gave his last teaching to Lama Rinpoche Wangchuk Dorje of Kathmandu, passing away at the age of 28.
The eighth Gonjang Rinpoche, Rigzin Pema Tsewang, trained under Drubthob Pema Longyang, spiritual son of the previous incarnation. He received the Jangter and Yolmo traditions from him. He preserved and propagated this tradition for future generations, and passed away peacefully in the Wood-Dragon Year (1904).
The ninth Gonjang Rinpoche, Nawang Yonten Gyatso, was born on the tenth day of the fifth Tibetan month in the fire-sheep year (1907) at Gyaltse Phunling. He was ordained at Thubten Dorje Drag Monastery by H.E. Chuzang Tulku Pema gNesdon Tenpai Nyima. He toured extensively in U-tsang, Kham, and all over Tibet in search of teachings. He received the Nyingma Ka-Ter and Jangter Yolmo Lug from H E. Serdup Khyentse Rigpai Dorje. He also received Dzogchen Yangthig Nagpo Dru-Chig, Rigzin Sog-Drub Dorje Nyingpo Tingkyi Tholu and important upadeshas (Trek-Chod, Thod Gal and Mun Tsam, etc.). Yolmo Tenzin Norbu's Vajra Kilaya rituals were his main practice. He passed away in 1959 at Goom Monastery, Darjeling, where he remained for seven days in perfect meditation posture. His Kudung Chorten was prepared by H. H. Chatral Rinpoche.
According to the prediction letter of H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, Supreme Head of Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, the present Gonjang Rinpoche would be born near Shar Chog Bey Phug, Drejong, Sikkim, one of the holy Phugchens personally blessed by Guru Rinpoche in the eighth century. The prediction proved to be true, and His Holiness recognized the child as the reincarnation of Yolmo Ngagchang Shakya Zangpo. H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and H.H. the Sixteenth Karmapa also recognized him as an authentic tulku.
Gonjang Rinpoche received all the Jangter tradition empowerments and oral transmissions, including the Dzogchen Gongpa Zang Thal, from H.E. Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche. He received the Dudjom Ter-Sar and complete Ka-Ter teachings from His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and other oral transmissions from Gyalwai Kagyur Rinpoche.
Gonjang Rinpoche has given the oral transmission of Bhum (Prajna Paramita) twice and the oral transmission of Rinchen Ter-Zod at Tashiding Monastery in Sikkim, while H.H. Dodrupchen Rinpoche was giving the empowerment. He has also given the oral transmission of Nyingma Kama in eastern Bhutan (Pemagatsel).
Rinpoche established Gonjang Monastery at Rongbull (Darjeeling) in the early 1970s and constructed what is now the primary monastery at Bojoghari in Gangtok (Sikkim). At present, there are about 100 monks living and studying in the main monastery