In the fifteenth century, specifically for Kagyü sect, the phenomenon of nyönpas, or madmen, mad yogins, the special kind of enlightened crazy saints appeared. Because of their unconventional and subversive behaviors, they are called “nyönpas”. The most typical representatives for this group listed by DiValerio are Tsang nyön Heruka (1452-1507), Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529) and Ü nyön Künga Zangpo (1458-1532). DiValerio relates the Kagyüpa yogi’s “crazy madness” specifically to the practice of The Unexcelled Tantra (Anuttarayogatantra, or bla-na-med pa’i rgyud) and traces the beginning of Tibetan Buddhist tradition of “crazy wisdom” back to the representative figures of Indian Buddhism in the period of tantric Buddhism and the eighty-four siddhas, for which DiValerio rendered collectively as “madmen and madwomen” (DiValerio, ).
The biography of Ü nyön Künga Zangpo (1458-1532) consists of two parts, the former of which has been written by another Kagyüpa Nyukla Peņchan Ngawang Drakpa (1458-1515), printed , sponsored and circulated by Nyukla Peņchan’s family members and other laity patrons when Künga Zangpo is thirty-six years old and afterwards. This unusual method for biographical distribution at that time looks like a tactic for legitimacy and publicity accumulation for Ü nyön Künga Zangpo, and most fundamentally, for his laity patrons Ringpunpa Dönyö Dorje (1463-1512) , other rightholders, which are all male relatives from Ringpun family and their unrelated political allies. The dbus gtsang Künga Zangpo lives in is contexualized within a period of feudal separation in which family power blocs competed over hegemony. Usually, western scholars terms it as “the civil war period” that mostly summarizes the hostility between Phagmodrupa and its former retainer Ringpunpa. At the end of 14th century, the beginning of Ming for the central plains, the largest assemblage of political and religious force in Tibet is Phagmodrupa Kagyü who’s ruling Ü and Tsang. The second largest in terms of political power rank is Sakya sect, dominating the outlying areas that are not reached by Phagmodrupa or monopolizing the area with its monasteries as the ruling center. Thus it forms an administrative situation of bulky decentralization with light concentration.
Nyukla Peņchan’s own biographical sketch is in turn registered as a side description for the Eighth Karmapa by Tsuklak Trengwa (1504-1564/66) in Scholar’s Feast, a folio collection featured on Kagyüpas. Born to an aristocratic family, before meeting with Künga Zangpo, Nyukla Peņchan held highly regarded position in Kadampa sect, but he was converted to Kagyü afterwards. In DiValerio’s interpretation, Nyukla Peņchan is a rich kid who comes out of mud but unsoiled. He seems suggesting that under similar circumstances, the religious practitioners who are holding high positions are somewhat corrupted by their family wealth and are distracted from Buddhist and/or tantric practices and studying.
Künga Zangpo’s second biographer is Lhatong Lotsāwa Shényen Namgyel (1512-?), a self-claimed nobility and its printing is sponsored by Tamdrin Tseten. The nature for this part of biography is more collected-stories and oral history alike. Lhatong collects the snaps from Künga Zangpo’s nephew and disciples and anthologize them.
The first biographer constantly contrast Tibetan place names for holy sites to its Indian counterparts in the text. Whenever the two biographers compelled to use metaphors, they are mostly India imported deities or at least related to Indian literature. Sometimes these mechanically applied metaphors appear abrupt to modern readers without foreknowledge about what is going on in the text. This scenario is especially obvious for the second biographer, even if he is not indiscriminately employing irrelevant metaphors such as “the nāga Laksorpa enjoys the earth” when describing the Dharma king Tashi Dargyé’s easy-going attitude towards his own sovereign. Even if Lhatong is not showcasing his abundant knowledge and experience in drawing metaphors from Indian mythology and literature, his narrative is unbelievably redundant—- taking the description for Künga Zangpo’s father’s dead scene as an example, he writes “… it was clear that his father was soon to give up the compositional factors of embodied life.”(DiValerio, 139). Reading Lhatong’s narration sometimes gives the readers an impression that it resembles a typical modern Bollywood films, because Lhatong’s poetic, high-spirited expressions lauding Künga Zangpo will pop up in any unexpected moment, just as those song and dance performances that would suddenly occur when the characters in the play are engaged in the most common conversation and when the audience (especially those come from a distant culture) is unprepared for that.
Künga Zangpo’s overtly long period of meditation allows him to have less contacting and meddling with the outside world by creating a sense of mystery and elongate the distance between himself and the others, which is protection for a self-established master from grass-root background. Comparing with other masters who come from a reasonably powerful family, Künga Zangpo obviously needs more legitimacy to stabilize his socio-economic status without innate kinship support. The formation of his own monastery, Tsimar Pel and his own religious community marked the milestone for Künga Zangpo’s religious career as a Kagyü yogi. Because after the completion of the monastic estate and the acquisition of its subsidiary industries, Künga Zangpo is able to elevate the precarious socio-economic status for his original family, who are categorized as the “tax people” and install one of his own nephew as his heir. DiValerio gives a special note on the rendering of the term of “tax people”, suggesting that they are named so because their lives are meant to pay for their forestalled debts generations ago. Their life is full of “’u lag” (a Tibetan pronunciation translation from the mongol term which could be traced back to Yuan Dynasty), or “the demands of corvée tax obligations”. The economic pressure in turn affects the familial structure because of the prevalence of polygamy so that a household does not have to divide up family property and live apart. With concentrated family resources and capable labor force, the social status of the family is less likely to downgrade to the categories less than ingenuus.
From the first half of Künga Zangpo’s biography (or Kyepo Dar’s , because it is his name before he took the pre-naviate vow), a specific case of polyandrous family in 15th century Ölkha area is provided. As at least the penultimate younger brother, Künga Zangpo has no advantage in this collective marriage. Chinese ethnologist Ou Chaoquan even considers that in this kind of marriage, the wife only belongs with the eldest brother(Ou,80 ). While DiValerio’s unexplained reasons for why the second wife brought into Künga Zangpo’s family could be explained by Ou’s second model for Himalayan and Tibetan polygamy before PRC period, which is the “temporary model” works when the age difference among brothers is relatively considerable. The temporary model suggests that younger brothers and his sister-in-law have a temporary marital relationship, and when they grow up, they would be arranged to marry another wife to organize his own family, or go to another family to terminate the co-wife relationship with his elder brothers and sister-in-law (Ou, 81-82). Looking from that perspective, placing at the latter middle of the seniority among his brothers, Küngpa Zangpo’s oppressed stratum within his own family contributes as one of the major reasons to his escape to Tsai during his early adolescence. The conjunction of he zeal and talent he demonstrated while listening to the two geshés lectures and his latter traumatic bullied experience by the stablemaster Gampo Pel’s servant Sangyé Kyap at Taktsé fortress, or stag rtse rdzong, finalized his decision for monastic life. Because of his talent, Küngpa Zangpo is always remains as the closest disciple and one member of inner circle of retinue for the masters he is apprenticed.
After thirty-eight years old, Künga Zangpo is a well-established Kagyü Yogi Master who constantly attract both other “madman” yogi disciples, Dharma lord Künga Nyima and secular administrators such as the secret yogin Künga Lekpa from Kagyü Drukpa and Döndrupa, the superintendent of Nyukpa, commander of Ling etc from near and afar. Lhatong reports that the visitors flowrate of Dhama seekers is approximately five hundred everyday. Künga Zangpo has two teaching sessions, a summer one and a winter one and he repeatedly reminder the practitioners who come to seek for teaching that they “should all go and mediate in different holy sites” (DiValerio, 156), which constitutes the core feature for Kagyü tantric/yogi practice. Among all his followers, Künga Zangpo decided to selecte his thirteen years old diligent nephew, arguably the one who resembles him the most by endowing with the name Küngzang Nyida Pembar, as his spiritual heir. By providing detailed and highly private oral transmission to other important Kagyü masters, Künga Zangpo spreads his religious influence to upper Tsang by forms such as providing tea services, raise prayer flags and setting up Künga Zangpo’s statues in monasteries by his teaching beneficiaries.
After entrusts his nephew the three testaments, Künga Zangpo does his students and followers a favor by not performing “the miraculous feat of the rainbow body” so that they can accumulate merits with his bodily remains in “the size of mustard seeds” (DiValerio, 178). Following DiValerio’s translation, this seems suggest to the Buddhist saint’s relics, or sheli/shelizi in Chinese. Then followed Lhatong’s records on how the grand ceremony for Künga Zangpo’s death is held at Tsimar Pel, as well as tea services, the production process of the shelizi or Künga Zangpo’s saint relics and some peculiar natural phenomena such as the repeated appearance of unusual rainbows.