Longchen Rabjampa was born at Gra-phu stod-gron in g.Yo-ru in Eastern dBus in Central Tibet on the eighth day of the second lunar month of the Earth-Male-Ape year (i.e., Friday 1 March 1308, which was at the beginning of that Tibetan calendrical year). The date of Longchen Rabjampa's parinirvāṇa (his relinquishing of the appearance of his physical form manifest to others—or, in common parlance, his "death" or "demise") was the eighteenth day of the twelfth lunar month of the Water-Female-Hare year (i.e., Wednesday 24 January 1364, which was at the end of that Tibetan calendrical year; he did not die in 1363, as has sometimes been maintained) at O-rgyan-rdzong in Gangs-ri thod-kar, Tibet.
Longchenpa is regarded as an indirect incarnation of the princess Pema Sal. He was born to the master Tenpasung, an adept at both the sciences and the practice of mantra, and Dromza Sonamgyen, who was descended from the family of Dromton Gyelwie Jungne. Legend states that at age five, Longchenpa could read and write and by age seven his father began instructing him in Nyingma tantras. Longchenpa was first ordained at the age of twelve and studied extensively with the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. He received not only the Nyingma transmissions as passed down in his family, but also studied with many of the great teachers of his day without regard to sect. He thus received the combined Kadam and Sakya teachings of the Sutrayana through his main Sakya teacher, Palden Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen, in addition to the corpus of both old and new translation tantras. At the age of nineteen, Longchenpa entered the famous shedra (monastic college) Sangpu Neutok (Wylie: gSang-phu Ne'u-thog), where he acquired great scholarly wisdom. He later chose to practice in the solitude of the mountains, after becoming disgusted by the unpleasant behavior of certain scholars.
When he was in his late twenties two events occurred that were to be of decisive importance in his intellectual and spiritual development. One was a vision of Guru Padmasambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal. The other happened in his twenty-ninth year, his meeting with the great mystic Rigdzin Kumaradza (alt. Kumaraja) from whom he received the Dzogchen empowerment and teachings in the mountains, the uplands of Yartökyam at Samye where he was traveling from valley to valley with his students under the most difficult of circumstances. Dudjom Rinpoche (1904–1987) et al. (1991: p. 579) held that just prior to the arrival of Longchenpa, Kumaraja related to his disciples:
"Last night I dreamt that a wonderful bird, which announced itself to be a divine bird, came with a large flock in attendance, and carried away my books in all directions. Therefore, someone will come to hold my lineage."
Kumaraja accepted no outer tribute from Longchenpa for the teachings he received as Kumararaja through his supernormal cognitive powers discerned that Longchenpa was blameless and had offered his tribute internally.
Together with Rangjung Dorje, Longchenpa accompanied Kumaraja and his disciples for two years, during which time he received all of Rigdzin Kumaradza's transmissions. Through the efforts of these three, the diverse streams of the "Innermost Essence" (nying thig) teachings of Dzogchen were brought together and codified into one of the common grounds between the Nyingma and Karma Kagyud traditions.
After several years in retreat, Longchenpa attracted more and more students, even though he had spent nearly all of his life in mountain caves. During a stay in Bhutan (Tib., Mon), Longchenpa fathered a daughter and a son, of which the latter, Trugpa Odzer (b. 1356), also became a holder of the Nyingtig lineage. A detailed account of the life and teachings of Longchenpa is found in Buddha Mind by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche and in A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems by Nyoshul Khenpo.
Pema Lingpa the famous terton (finder of sacred texts) of Bhutan is regarded as the immediate reincarnation of Longchenpa.
In the Nyingma lineage, Longchenpa, Rongzom, and Mipham are known as "the Three Omniscient Ones".
David Germano, in his doctoral thesis on the Tsigdön Dzö (tshigs don mdzod) (one of the Seven Treasuries), frames the brilliance of Longchenpa within the wider discourse of the Dzogchen tradition (found in the Bonpo Zhangzhung and Indo-Tibetan traditions of Buddhism):
"Although at least five hundred years (800 CE - 1300 CE) of thought, contemplation and composition in this tradition (which may not have been a clearly self-conscious tradition in the beginning) preceded him such that all the major themes, structures, and terminology were in place prior to his birth (above all in the canonical Seventeen Tantras of the Great Perfection (rgyud bcu bdun)), it was Longchenpa (1308-1363) [sic] who systematically refined the terminology used by the tradition with a series of subtle yet clear distinctions; brilliantly revealed its relationships with mainstream exoteric Buddhist thought; clarified its internal structure; created from it masterpieces of poetic philosophy remarkable for their aesthetic beauty, philosophical rigor, and overall clarity; and overall pinpointed the inner quintessence of the tradition with writings that not only systematized every major topic, but also creatively explained each to render crystal clear the unprecedented revolution in the content, form, and structure of "philosophical" thought in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism that the Great Perfection teachings entail."
Longchenpa is widely considered the single most important writer on the Dzogchen teachings. He is credited with more than 250 works, both as author and compiler, among which are the famous Seven Treasuries (mdzod bdun), the Trilogy of Natural Freedom (rang grol skor gsum), the Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum), his Trilogy of Dispelling Darkness, and his compilation - plus commentaries - of the Nyingtig Yabshi. He is also a commentator of the Kunyed Gyalpo Tantra (Tib., kun byed rgyal po'i rgyud; "The King Who Creates Everything", Skt. kulayarāja, "the King of the Dwelling Place [of Ultimate Bodhicitta]), a text belonging to the Mind Class (Tib., sems sde) of the Ati Yoga Inner Tantras. As scholar Jacob Dalton summarizes,
His foremost writings were gathered into several collections: The Mdzod bdun (Seven Treasuries) are his most famous works, presenting the whole of Buddhist thought from a snying thig viewpoint; the Ngal gso skor gsum (Resting at Ease Trilogy) and the Rang grol skor gsum (Natural Freedom Trilogy) provide in-depth introductions to Rdzogs chen; the Mun sel skor gsum (Dispelling the Darkness Trilogy) are three commentaries on the Guhyagarbha Tantra; and the Snying thig ya bzhi (Seminal Quintessence in Four Parts) is a redaction of his three snying thig commentaries together with their predecessors, the Vima snying thig and the Mkha' 'gro snying thig.
Longchenpa combined the teachings of the Vima Nyingtig lineage with those of the Khandro Nyingtig, thus preparing the ground for the fully unified system of teachings that became known as the Longchen Nyingthig (by Jigme Lingpa).
A (Seven Treasuries): 1.Padma karpo (The White Lotus) (excerpts). In Tulku Thondup. The Practice of Dzogchen
2.The Precious Treasury of Pith Instructions (Upadeśa ratna kośa nāma/Man ngag rin po che'i mdzod ces bya ba). Translated by Richard Barron (Lama Chökyi Nyima). Padma Publishing 2006
3.The Precious Treasury of Philosophical Systems (Yāna sakalārtha dīpa siddhyanta ratna kośa nāma/Theg pa mtha' dag gi don gsal bar byed pa grub pa'i mtha' rin po che'i mdzod ces bya ba). Translated by Richard Barron (Chökyi Nyima). Padma Publishing 2007The Treasury of Doxography (Grub mtha mdzod). In The Doxographical Genius of Kun mkhyen kLong chen rab 'byams pa. Translated by Albion Moonlight Butters. Columbia University 2006
4.Precious Treasury of Genuine Meaning (tsig don rinpoche dzod). Translated by Light of Berotsana. Snow Lion 2015The Treasury of Precious Words and Meanings. Illuminating the Three Sites of the Unsurpassed Secret, the Adamantine Nucleus of Radiant Light (Padārtha Ratnasya Kośa nāma/Tshig Don Rin-po-che mDzod Ces Bya Ba), chapters 1-5. In David Francis Germano. Poetic Thought, the Intelligent Universe and the Mystery of Self: the Tantric Synthesis of rDzogs Chen in fourteenth century Tibet. The University of Wisconsin, 1992Tshigdon Dzod (excerpts). In Tulku Thondup. The Practice of Dzogchen
6.The Basic Space of Phenomena (Dharmadhātu ratna kośa nāma//Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod ces bya ba). Translated by Richard Barron (Chökyi Nyima). Padma Publishing 2001Spaciousness: The Radical Dzogchen of the Vajra-Heart. Longchenpa's Treasury of the Dharmadhatu (Dharmadhātu ratna kośa nāma//Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod ces bya ba). Vajra Publishing 2013The Precious Treasury of Phenomenal Space (Dharmadhātu ratna kośa nāma//Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod ces bya ba), in Great Perfection: The Essence of Pure Spirituality. Translated by Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche. Vajra 2015Choying Dzod (excerpts). In Tulku Thondup. The Practice of DzogchenA Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission (Commentary on the Treasury of Jewels called the Dharma Plane/Dharmadhātu ratna kośa nāma vṛtti/Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod ces bya ba'i 'grel pa). Translated by Richard Barron (Chökyi Nyima). Padma Publishing 2001
7.The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding (Tathātva ratna kośa nāma/gNas lugs rin po che'i mdzod ces bya ba). Translated by Richard Barron (Chökyi Nyima). Padma Publishing 1998Commentary on The Treasury of the Precious Abiding Reality: A Meaning Commentary on the Quintessence of the Three Series (Tathātva ratna kośa nāma vritti). In The Rhetoric of Naturalness: A Study of the gNas lugs mdzod. Translated by Gregory Alexander Hillis. University of Virginia 2003Natural Perfection (gNas lugs mdzod). Translated by Keith Dowman. Wisdom Publications 2010
B (Trilogy of Natural Ease)Kindly Bent to Ease Us (Ngal-gso skor-gsum). Part One: Mind (Sems-nyid ngal-gso, Skt: Mahāsaṃdhi cittatā* viśrānta nāma). Translated and annotated by Herbert V. Guenther. Dharma Publishing 1975The Excellent Path to Enlightenment (Avabodhi-supathā mahāsandhi-cittāvishrāntasya trsthānādams trikshemānām arthanayanam vijahāram). Translated by Khenpo Gawang Rinpoche and Gerry Winer. Jewelled Lotus 2014Kindly Bent to Ease Us. Part Two: Meditation (bSam-gtan ngal-gso). Translated and annotated by Herbert V. Guenther. Dharma Publishing 1976Mind in Comfort and Ease (bSam-gtan ngal-gso, Skt: Mahāsaṃdhi dhyāna vishrānta nāma), the Vision of Enlightenment in the Great Perfection. Translated by Adam Pearcey. Wisdom Publications 2007Kindly Bent to Ease Us. Part Three: Wonderment (sGyu-ma ngal-gso, Skt: Mahāsaṃdhi māyā viśrānta nāma). Translated and annotated by Herbert V. Guenther. Dharma Publishing 1976Maya Yoga: Longchenpa's Finding Comfort and Ease in Enchantment (sGyu ma ngal gso). Translated by Keith Dowman. Vajra Publishing 2010
C (Trilogy of Natural Freedom)The Natural Freedom of Mind (sems-nyid rang-grol/cittatva-svamukti). Translated by Herbert V. Guenther in Bringing the Teachings Alive (Crystal Mirror Series Volume IV). Edited by Tarthang Tulku. Dharma Publishing 2004
D (Trilogy of Dispelling Darkness)Extensive Commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra called Dispersing the Darkness of the Ten Directions (Tib. gsang snying 'grel pa phyogs bcu mun sel, Skt. daśadiś-andhakāra-vidhvaṃsana-guhya-garbha-bhāshya) in The Guhyagarbha Tantra: Definitive Nature Just as It Is, with Commentary by Longchen Rabjam. Translated by Light of Berotsana. Snow Lion 2011ibid., in The Guhyagarbhatantra and its XIVth Century Commentary phyogs-bcu mun-sel. Translated by Gyurme Dorje (unpublished thesis, University of London). G. Dorje 1987
E (others)The Full-fledged Khyung-chen Bird (Khyung-chen gshog-rdzogs/Suparṇaka). An Essay in Freedom as the Dynamics of Being. Edited, translated and annotated by Herbert Guenther. The International Institute for Buddhist Studies of the International College for Advanced Buddhist Studies 1996.Now that I Come to Die. Intimate guidance from one of Tibet's greatest masters. Now that I Come to Die & The Four Immeasurably Great Catalysts of Being. Translated by Herbert V. Guenther. Longchenpa's Verses and Commentary on the Four Immeasurably Great Catalysts of Being. (No Tibetan titles given) Translated by the Yeshe De Translation Group. Dharma Publishing 2007You Are the Eyes of the World (Byaṅ chub kyi sems kun byed rgyal po'i don khrid rin chen gru bo/bodhicitta kulayarāja ratnanāva vrtti/The Precious Boat: A Commentary on the All-Creating King of the Family of Bodhicitta). Translated by Kennard Lipman and Merrill Peterson. Snow Lion Publications 2000The Four-Themed Precious Garland (Caturdharma-ratnamālā/chos-bzhi rin-chen phreng-ba). An Introduction to Dzog-ch'en. Translated, edited and prepared by Alexander Berzin in conjunction with Sharpa Tulku and Matthew Kapstein. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives 1979The Light of the Sun: Teachings on Longchenpa's Precious Mala of the Four Dharmas (Caturdharma-ratnamālā/chos-bzhi rin-chen phreng-ba). Namkhai Norbu & Jacob Braverman. Shang Shung Publications 2014The Practice of Dzogchen (Tshigdon Dzod [excerpts], Shingta Chenpo [excerpts], Changchub Lamzang [excerpts], Sems-Nyid Rang-Grol, Lamrim Nyingpo'i Donthrid, Pema Karpo [excerpts], Choying Dzod [excerpts], Namkha Longchen [excerpts], Namkha Longsal [excerpts], Lama Yangtig [excerpts]. Translated and annotated by Tulku Thondup. Edited by Harold Talbott. Snow Lion Publications 1989A Song on Impermanence (no Tibetan title mentioned). In Karl Brunnhölzl. Straight from the Heart. Buddhist Pith Instructions. Snow Lion Publications 2007Longchenpa's Advice from the Heart (sNying gtam sun bcu pa). Translated by Elio Guarisco (?). Shang Shung Publications 2009Looking Deeper: A Swan's Questions and Answers (Ngaṅ pa'i dris lan sprin gyi snyiṅ po/Haṃsa praśnottara tushāra). Translated by Herbert V. Guenther. Timeless Books 1983A Visionary Journey. The Story of the Wildwood Delights (Nags tshal kun tu dga' ba'i gtam) and The Story of the Mount Potala Delights (Po ta la kun dga' ba'i gtam). Translated by Herbert V. Guenther. Shambhala 1989Cloud Banks of Nectar (no Tibetan title). In Erik Pema Kunsang. Perfect Clarity. A Tibetan Buddhist Anthology of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Rangjung Yeshe Publications 2012The Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma. In Erik Pema Kunsang. Jewels of Enlightenment: Wisdom Teachings from the Great Tibetan Masters. Shambhala (March 3, 2015), p. 8.The Seven Mind Trainings - Essential Instructions on the Preliminary Practices Longchen Rabjam. In Steps to the Great Perfection: The Mind-Training Tradition of the Dzogchen Masters. by Jigme Lingpa (Author), Tuklu Thondup Rinpoche (Author), Cortland Dahl (Translator), Garab Dorje (Contributor), Longchenpa (Contributor). Snow Lion (July 26, 2016), pp. 7-14.
Apart from Longchenpa's names given below, he is sometimes referred to by the honorary title "Second Buddha" (Tib. rgyal ba gnyis), a term usually reserved for Guru Padmasambhava and indicative of the high regard in which he and his teachings are held. Like the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Rongzompa and Jigme Lingpa, he carried the title "Kunkhyen" (Tibetan; "All-Knowing").
Various forms and spellings of Longchenpa's full name(s), in which 'Longchen' means "great expanse", "vast space", "great vortex", and 'Rab 'byams' "cosmic", "vast", "extensive", "infinite".Longchen Rabjam (klong chen rab 'byams; "vast infinite expanse" or "great cosmic vortex")Longchen Rabjampa (klong chen rab 'byams pa)Longchenpa Drimé Özer (klong chen pa dri med 'od zer [Skt. vimalaprabhāsa, Immaculate Splendour])Künkhyen Longchenpa (kun mkhyen klong chen pa; the Omniscient [Skt. sarvajña] Longchenpa)Künkhyen Longchen Rabjam (kun mkhyen klong chen rab 'byams, Omniscient Great Cosmic Expanse)Künkhyen Chenpo (kun mkhyen chen po; Great Omniscient One [mahāsarvajña])Künkhyen Chenpo Drimé Özer (kun mkhyen chen po dri med 'od zer [mahāsarvajñavimalaprabhāsa, Great Omniscient One Immaculate Splendour])Künkhyen Chökyi (kun mkhyen chos kyi rgyal po; All-knowing Dharma King [sarvajñānadharmarāja])Gyalwa Longchen Rabjam (rgyal ba klong chen rab 'byams, The Conqueror Longchen Rabjam)Gyalwa Longchen Rabjam Drimé Özer (rgyal ba klong chen rab 'byams dri med 'od zer, The Conqueror Longchen Rabjam, Immaculate Splendour)