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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.