Ananda, who is known as Kunga (Always Joyful) in Tibetan, was the Buddha's favourite cousin and is viewed as a previous incarnation of the Jamgon Kongtrul. So is 8th-century translator, Vairochana ("Berotsana"), a student of Padmasambhava's, and also Orgyen Latro Lingpa (d. 1714,) the founder of Mindroling.
The First Jamgon Kongtrul was Lodro Thaye (1813-1899,) known as "The Great," who was from Kongpo in Kham (east Tibet.) His appearance was predicted by the Buddha in the Lankavatara Sutra:
He was a polymath and a champion of the ri.may (non-sectarian) movement of Himalayan Buddhism. "Like a second Buddha, he served all traditions of Dharma without any bias, through his teaching, practice, and activity," says Bokar Rinpoche.
Expert in nearly all aspects of Tibetan learning, he wrote a 100-volume compendium called Five Treasuries of Knowledge. Although he himself preferred to work in relative isolation, he undertook the reformation of Kagyu monastic practice and, prevailed upon to oversee the formation of those who wished to dedicate themselves to Buddhist practice, he formulated the Retreat Manual that is in current use. His best known works in English are The Torch of Certainty and The Great Path of Awakening.
Many commentaries composed by him are in daily use by Karma Kagyü practitioners. Also, Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso and other prominent lamas frequently teach the texts and commentaries by Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, who is also renowned as a terton. The collection of his treasure texts appear as the Richen Terdzod, "The Precious Treasury of Discovered Teachings."
The activity of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great was expressed in a number of tulkus. The son of the 15th Karmapa, Jamgön Kongtrül of Palpung, called Kyentse Ozer, was recognized as his main embodiment but there was also the Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen, who was Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's root guru.
In the next generation, Karma Drubgyu Tenzin called Kalu Rinpoche and now referred to as Khyabje Kalu since the advent of his tulku, was also viewed as a Kongtrul aspect, for in his longevity prayer composed by the 16th Karmapa we read, "You continue the life of freedom of Jamgon Lama in the present day."
The 3rd Kongtrul, Karma Lodro Chokyi Senge, (b. 1954) was a person of great energy, whose complete potential went unfulfilled. Ven. Bokar Rinpoche called him "a great siddha." He sponsored many charitable projects such as the Rigpe Dorje Foundation. He established Pullahari in Nepal, and also Lava Monastery in Kalimpong, northeastern India. He was the one to consecrate the great Buddha at KTD and the one at the "new" Rumtek Monastery.
Not yet 40 years old, while en route to affirm the identity of the 17th Karmapa, on April 26, 1992 near Siliguri in West Bengal he died tragically in a road accident under questionable circumstances.
The Kagyu Golden Garland ensured that HH Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje was instrumental in identifying the 4th Jamgon Kongtrul tulku, having made a little model house that was found to be a replica of that of the 4th Kongtrul's parents.
The seat of the Kongtrul labrang today is Pullahari Monastery, outside Kathmandu, Nepal.
In the 2007 photo at top, His Eminence the 4th Jamgon Kongtrul was 13 years old and one of three high Karma Kagyu lamas under the Gyalwa Karmapa besides Their Eminences Tai Situ and Goshir Gyaltsab. Some years later, in adulthood when he had already assumed his lineage responsibilities, he made the difficult decision to leave his monastery in order to participate more directly in his own education, still with the view of helping others but in a direct, 21st-century, way.