Rechung Dorje Drak, better known as Rechungpa, was born in Rala or Ralpa in a valley to the south-east of Dzongka near the border with Nepal. His family name was said to be Nyen. Some of his biographies refer to him as Nyenchung Repa, meaning the junior “cotton-clad” Nyen. He gained fame as one of the two heart sons of Jetsün Milarepa. The epithet “re pa” in his name and that of Milarepa refers to ‘someone who wears cotton’, which conveyed the meaning of a yogin who mastered the practice of tummo, or inner fire. Most of the biographical sources indicate that he received the name “Rechung Dorje Drak” directly from Milarepa after he had demonstrated his mastery of tummo. Like his master, Rechungpa was a non-monastic, non-householder practitioner, or naljorpa.
Biographical sources vary considerably, but many mention that Rechungpa was herding donkeys when he was entranced by hearing Milarepa sing.1For a complete review of existing Tibetan namtar, or accounts of spiritual accomplishment on Rechungpa, see Peter Alan Roberts, The Biographies of Rechungpa: The evolution of a Tibetan Hagiography, Routledge, 2007. According to these sources, the song caused him to immediately enter into a meditative state. The young man then quickly agreed to become Milarepa’s student. Many sources draw parallels between the early lives of the two masters, emphasizing that both had unhappy childhoods.
Falling sick with a severe skin disorder akin to leprosy, Rechungpa traveled to India and studied under the Mahasiddha Vāracandra. He was cured through the practice of Vajrapāṇi under this tutelage and returned to Milarepa.
Through Milarepa, Rechungpa was a lineage successor of the 11th-century master Marpa Chökyi Lodrö. Moreover, Rechungpa was also sent by Milarepa to India to obtain the complete Karṇatantra (Tib. Nyengyu) or “aural tantra” teachings from Tipupa, Nāropa’s lineage successor. Rechung Dorje Drak passed this lineage on and it is considered as an independent lineage within the Marpa Kagyu. In addition, many of the practices were absorbed into the Dakpo Kagyu traditions, particularly the Drukpa Kagyu and the Taklung Kagyu. The Drukpa Kagyu school became the main preserver of Rechungpa biographies.