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 The history of the Sakya Lineage begins with a race of celestial beings who descended from the Clear Light heavens in the Realm of Form to take up residence in the snow mountains of Tibet for the benefit of living beings. This was ten generations before the arrival of Guru Padmasambhava . At this time they were known as "Lha Rig" which means "The Celestial Race".

After eight generations the "Lha Rig" also became known as the "Khön", which means 'dispute' or 'strife', due to a dispute with a Yaksha leader. In 750 AD, the Khön family became students of Guru Padmasambhava receiving especially the Vajrakilaya empowerment, and one of the Khön sons received novice monk ordination from Shantarakshita at Samye, becoming one of the first seven monk translators in all of Tibet. For the next thirteen generations, (750-1073), the Khön family was a central pillar of the Nyingma School in Tsang Province.

In the eleventh century, due to the obscurations of beings, Dharma practice became very lax in Tsang. It was decided by the head of the Khön family, Sherab Tsultrim, that it was time to seek out the new Tantras from India. The younger brother, Konchog Gyalpo, went to India and studied with Drogmi Lotsawa (992-1074). Guru Padmasambhava had prophesised and wrote; "An emanation of the Indian Virupa - Drogmi Lotsawa will appear."  Also prophesied by Guru Padmasambhava and Lord Atisha was the building of a great temple.  It was built by Khön Konchog Gyalpo in 1073 and named the Gorum Zimci Karpo at an auspicious location, below a white patch of earth.  The name Sakya derives from the Tibetan sa-skya which means "white earth".  This is the beginning of the name "Sakya." The holy family who are the hereditary leaders of this precious lineage are known by these three names, "Lha Rig", "Khön" and "Sakya."

 The son of Khön Konchog Gyalpo was Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158).  He was a person of extraordinary skill and spiritual attainment who held all the lineage of Sutra and Tantra. His main teachers were his father, from whom he received mainly the Vajrakilaya and Samputa Systems of practice, Bari Lotsawa, from whom he received Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka etc, Shangton Chobar, from whom he received the entire Lamdre system over a period of four years, and from whom he also received Mahamaya and Samayogadakinijala, Mal Lotsawa Lodro Drag, from whom he received the Chakrasamvara, Yamantaka, the teachings of the Mahasiddha Naropa, namely the Vajrayogini, and most importantly he received the lineage of Panjarnatha Mahakala. From Lama Nam Ka'upa he received all the instructions, outer, inner and secret of the Four-faced Protector Caturmukha.

At the age of twelve, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo undertook a six month Manjushri retreat during which he had a vision of Manjushri accompanied by two Bodhisattvas. Manjushri spoke to him the lines which are now known as the "Parting From The Four Attachments":-

"With attachment to this life - there is no Dharma student;

Attachment to the Three Realms - no renunciation;

Attachment to self-purpose - no Enlightenment Thought;

If grasping arises - there is no view."

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo received the Lamdre teaching first from Shangton Chobar, secondly, directly from Virupa in a series of visions that lasted a month. This became known as the 'recent' or 'close' Lamdre lineage.

Sachen had four sons - Kunga Bar, Sonam Tsemo, Drakpa Gyaltsen and Palchen Rinpoche. The first died while studying at Nalanda in India. The second son Sonam Tsemo (1142-82) became a learned scholar at the early age of sixteen. At the age of forty-one he ascended bodily to Khecara, the divine realm of Vajra Yogini. He had visions of many meditational deities and also produced many realized disciples. Jetsun Dakpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), the third son, received lay celibacy vows and showed strong signs of spiritual maturity in his youth. At the age of eleven he gave his first Hevajra teaching.  The main student of Jetsun Dakpa Gyaltsen was his nephew, son of Palchen of Opochey, the famous Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251).

Sakya Pandita studied Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophy, tantra, logic, Sanskrit, poetry, astrology and art with countless Indian, Nepalese, Kashmiri and Tibetan masters and achieved mastery over them. When he was twenty-seven years old, after meeting with the Kashmiri Pandita Shakya Shribhadra, he became a fully ordained monk and maintained his vows without the least infraction. His works, such as the Treasury of Logic on Valid Cognition (Tsad-ma rigs-gter), and the Discrimination of the Three Vows (sDom-gsum rab-dbye), are famous to the present day. In all he wrote 114 religious treatises. The Treasury of Logic on Valid Cognition (Tsad-ma rigs-gter) was the only text of Tibetan origin ever to have been translated into Sanskrit. The translation was rendered by his Indian students at Nalanda University in Magadha, and was received with much acclaim.

In 1244, intrigued by Sakya Pandita's reputation, Godan Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan, invited Sakya Pandita to Mongolia, where he gave Buddhist teachings. Later, in 1253, after both Sakya Pandita and Godan Khan had passed away, the emperor, Sechen Kublai Khan invited Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, the nephew of Sakya Pandita, to his court. Phagpa invented a new script in which to write the Mongolian language. Kublai Khan was so impressed by Phagpa's performance that he declared Buddhism the state religion of Mongolia and presented him the rule of the three provinces of Tibet. Thus, Phagpa was the first person in Tibetan history to gain religious and secular authority over the whole country. It was at this time that the great temple Lhakang Chenmo was completed in Sakya. To this day it still stands and houses the greatest religious library in Tibet. Phagpa was succeeded by his brother Chagna and altogether the Sakyapas ruled Tibet for more than a hundred years.

Tishri Kunglo (1299-1327), eldest of the fifteen grandsons of Sakya Pandita's brother, founded four dynastic Palaces (Phodrang): Zhithog, Rinchen Gang, Lhakhang and Ducho, of which only the last survives. In the eighteenth century, at the time of Sakya Trizin Wangdu Nyingpo, the Ducho Palace split into two - the Dolma Phodrang and Phuntsok Phodrang.

The present heads of these two palaces are His Holiness Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga (b. 1945) of the Drolma Palace and His Eminence Dagchen Rinpoche (b. 1929) of the Phuntsok Palace.  His Holiness Sakya Trizin, the head of the Drolma Palace, the current head of the Sakya tradition and the 4lst holder of the Sakya Throne is living in Dehra Dun, India. His Holiness has two sons and he has a sister, Jetsunma Chimey Luding, who teaches extensively throughout the world.  His Eminence Dagchen Rinpoche founded Sakya Thegchen Choling in Seattle, Wash. U.S.A.  Dagchen Rinpoche has one brother, HE Thinley Rinpoche, who is a monk and also teaches. Dagchen Rinpoche has five sons. The second son, Ananda Vajra Rinpoche, an accomplished lawyer, is currently living in Dharamsala, India, assisting the Dalai Lama with legal and constitutional matters. Succession to the position of Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya tradition, has been hereditary since the time of Khön Konchog Gyalpo and recently alternates between the two palaces.

Amongst the principal holders and founders of the Sakya tradition are Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182), Dakpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251) and Drogon Chogyal Phagpa (1235-1280).  They are are known as the Five Patriarchs or the Five Founding Teachers of the Sakya tradition. The first three are known as "the Three White Ones" and the last two as "the Two Red Ones." After them, were the Six Ornaments of Tibet: Yakton Sangye Pal (1348 - 1414) and Rongton Mawe Senge, who were famous for their knowledge of sutra teachings; Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (1382 - 1486) and Dzongpa Kunga Namgyal (1381 - ?) - learned in the tantras; Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429 - 1501) and Shakya Chogden (1428 - 1507) - learned in both sutras and tantras. These are the most important masters of the Sakya tradition. Amongst them, Gorampa Sonam Senge instituted the formal study of logic.

Like other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, a number of branch lineages emerged. The lineages which strictly hold to the teachings of Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen are Sakya, Ngor and Tsar. The Ngor lineage was founded by Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (1382-1457) and successive masters such as Konchok Lhundup, Thartse Namkha Palzang and Drubkhang Palden Dhondup.  The Tsar lineage was founded by Tsarchen Losal Gyatso (1502-56), followed by Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk and Mangtho Ludrup Gyatso. Three other traditions rooted in the Sakya lineage are, the Bulug/Shalu founded by Buton Thamche Khyenpa, the Jonang founded by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen and followed by Jonang Taranatha, and the Bodong founded by Bodong Panchen Chogle Namgyal. The Dzongpa of Dzongpa Kunga Namgyal has also been treated as a separate lineage. "But among all these Sakya traditions, there are only a few minor differences which appear in their explanations and theories of Sutra and Tantra," - Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. Concerning the view, in Tibet, three interpretations of Madyamika have arisen; Nihilistic Madyamika, Eternalistic Madyamika (shan tong) and Middle-way Madyamika. The Sakyapa follow the Middle-way Madyamika as taught by Sakya Pandita and elucidated by Gorampa Sonam Senge and others.

The heart of the Sakya Tradition is Lamdre (Lam-'bras), the Path and Its Result, one of the most comprehensive and systematically organized meditative systems of Buddhism in Tibet. Originating with the Mahasiddha Virupa who received the Hevajra empowerment directly from Vajra Nairatmya, the teaching has continued down through Indian Mahasiddhas and Tibetan translators to the great masters of the Sakya Tradition. At the time of Muchen Sempa Chenpo Konchok Gyaltsen (1388 - 1469), a disciple of Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo, Lamdre was divided into two sub-traditions.  The first being the "Explanation for Private Disciples", known as the uncommon teaching (sLob-bshad), and the second being for "Assemblies" and known as the common teaching (Tshog-bshad).

The philosophical viewpoint expressed in Lamdre, the Path and Its Result, is the 'Non-differentiation of Samsara and Nirvana' and the 'Inseparability of Clarity and Emptiness.' According to this, an individual cannot attain nirvana (peace) by abandoning Samsara (cyclic existence), because the mind is the root of both Samsara and nirvana. When obscured, it takes the form of Samsara and when freed of obscurations it is nirvana. Therefore, the reality is that a person must strive through meditation to realize their inseparability.

Within the Sakya tradition, of the hundreds of Indian teachings assimilated into the religious life of Tibet through the efforts of the Five Founding Teachers, the most famous were the Hevajra transmission originating with Virupa, the Vajrakila of Padmasambhava, the Vajrayogini of Naropa, the Mahakala of Vararuci, and the Guhyasamaja of Nagarjuna. These five Indian Mahasiddhas are considered the most renowned in Sakya. Aside from these teachings are the Thirteen Golden Dharmas, Chakrasamvara, Samputa, Vajra Bhairava, Kalachakra, Achala etc.

In the Sakya monastic colleges eighteen major texts are thoroughly studied. Currently there are only a few colleges, the main one in Rajpur, India, and a second being built at Boudhanath in Kathmandu, Nepal, under the direction of Khenpo Appey. A few still remain open in Tibet such as Dzongsar Khamje Ling. The eighteen texts deal with the Perfection of Wisdom, Monastic Discipline, Madyamaka View, Phenomenology, Logic and Epistemology. Commentaries unique to the tradition are the Discrimination of the Three Vows and the Treasury of Logic on Valid Cognition by Sakya Pandita.  Also important are the works of Gorampa Sonam Senge. On graduation, a monk is granted the degree of Kazhipa, Kachupa and Rabjampa on the basis of merit.

The major Sakya monasteries in Central Tibet are Lhakhang Chenmo founded by Khon Konchok Gyalpo (the main Sakya monastery), Ngor E-Wam Choden founded by Ewam Kunga Zangpo (the main Ngorpa monastery), Dar Drangmoche in Tsang founded by Tsarchen Losal Gyatso (the main Tsarpa monastery), Nalanda in Phenpo built by Rongton Sheja Kunrig and Tsedong Sisum Namgyal established by Namkha Tashi Gyaltsen. Other important monasteries include Dhondup Ling in Kham founded by Dagchen Sherab Gyaltsen, Lhundup Teng of Dege founded by Thangtong Gyalpo, as well as Dzongsar monastery the home of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chokyi Lodro and Deur Chode built by Choedak Sangpo in Amdo. In all, there were several thousand Sakya Monasteries spreading from China and Mongolia to Western Tibet, Nepal and India.

Presently, Tsechen Tenpai Gatsal in Rajpur, UP, India, and Sa Magon in Puruwala, HP, India, are the two main Sakya Monasteries, Ngor Ewam Choden in Manduwala, Dehradun, India, is the main Ngorpa monastery. Tashi Rabten Ling at Lumbini, Nepal, along with two other monasteries in Kathmandu, Nepal, represent the Tsarpa lineage. At present, His Holiness Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga is the head of the Sakya School and second in religious protocol only to H. H. Dalai Lama. Luding Khen Rinpoche is the Head of the Ngorpa School and Chogye Trichen Rinpoche is head of the Tsarpa School.