"The Sakya tradition was established by the Five Great Masters (Tib: rJe.tzun. gong.ma.lnga), who based their teachings on those of the conquering Yogi, the Great Virupa. They also followed the teachings of Naropa and Dorje Denpa [Vajrasana], etc. and held the Sutra and Tantra lineages of many other great Indian scholars and Saints. The Sakya Tradition also came to practise some of the Nyingma 'old' translations of the Tantras, such as Yang.dag.phur.ba (Pure Dagger [Vajrakila]), which became part of the Khon Tradition. Similarly, many other extraordinary and sublime teachings still exist today, their lineages unbroken.
Sakya Pandita, the crown ornament of all the Learned Ones of this earth, is famous for having defeated Trogje Gawo (the non-Buddhist Indian scholar) in debate. Except for this outstanding example, no other masters are known for having done likewise at that time.
There are three Traditions holding the lineage of Sakya Pandita: the Sakya, the Ngor and the Tshar. From the root of the Sakya Tradition came the three renowned lineages of Bulug, Jonang and Bodong. From all these, a few minor differences in their views of the Sutras and Tantras have emerged from their explanations."
The History of Sakya begins with a race of celestial beings having 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. After eight generations, due to a dispute with a Yaksha leader, the Lha Rig also became known as the Khon which means 'dispute' or 'strife.' In 750 A.D. the Khon family became students of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava receiving especially the Vajrakila empowerment. A Khon son received novice monk ordination from Shantirakshita at Samye Monastery, becoming one of the first seven monk translators in all of Tibet. For the next thirteen generations (750-1073), the Khon family was a central pillar of the Nyingma School in Tsang Province [map].
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 family, Sherab Tsultrim, that it was time to seek out the new Tantras from India. Guru Padmasambhava wrote; "an emanation of the Indian Virupa - Drogmi Lotsawa will appear." The younger brother, Konchog Gyalpo, went to study with Drogmi Lotsawa (992-1074). At an auspicious location, below a white patch of earth (Tib.: sa skya), prophesied by Guru Padmasambhava and Lord Atisha, Khon Konchog Gyalpo built the first temple named the Gorum Zimchi Karpo in 1073. This marks the beginning of the name "Sakya." The holy family, the hereditary leaders of this precious lineage, are known by these three names, Lha Rig, Khon and Sakya."
Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), the son of Khon Konchog Gyalpo, was a person of extraordinary skill and spiritual attainment, holding all the lineages of Sutra and Tantra. His main teachers were first his father from whom he received mainly the Vajrakila and Samputa Systems of practice. From Bari Lotsawa he received namely Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja, Vajrabhairava and others; from Shangton Chobar, the entire Lamdre system over a period of four years along with the systems of Mahamaya and Samayogadakinijala. From Mal Lotsawa Lodro Drag he received the Chakrasamvara, Bhairava, the teachings of mahasiddha Naropa namely the Vajrayogini, and of significant importance the lineages of Panjarnata Mahakala. From Lama Nam Kaupa he received all the instructions, outer, inner and secret of the Four-faced Protector Chaturmukha. These were only the main teachers of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo.
At the age of twelve while in a six month Manjushri retreat he had a vision of Manjushri accompanied by two bodhisattvas who spoke to him with the lines of the Separation 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 and secondly directly from Virupa in a series of visions that lasted a month. This is known as the 'recent' or 'close' Lamdre lineage. Sachen had four sons - Kunga Bar, Sonam Tsemo, Jetsun Dragpa 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 Khechara, the divine realm of Vajrayogini. He had visions of many meditational deities and also produced many realized disciples. Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216) 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 Dragpa Gyaltsen was his nephew, son of Palchen of Opoche the famous Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251). Studying Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophy, tantra, logic, Sanskrit, poetry, astrology and art with countless Indian, Nepalese, Kashmiri and Tibetan masters, he achieved mastery over all these subjects. When 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 this 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 the Sanskrit language. The translation was rendered by his Indian students at Nalanda University in Magadha, and was received with much acclaim. "At the time of his mahaparinirvana, the earth shook six times and birds throughout the kingdom cried in lament. Wondrous signs were seen by the assembly of disciples and kings when the pyre was lit, and all who were present experienced blissful peace. Having attained perfect enlightenment by the grace of Manjunata, he is known to the world as the Buddha Vimalashri."
"With wide eyes perceiving all things, And compassionately achieving the good of all beings; Having power performing acts beyond thought. Guru Manjunata, to your feet I bow my head."
In 1244, Godan Khan, grandson of Chingis Khan, intrigued by Sakya Pandita's reputation, invited him to Mongolia to give Buddhist teachings. Later, in 1253, after both Sakya Pandita and Godan Khan had passed away, the emperor, Sechen Kublai Khan invited Drogon Chogyal Pagpa. nephew of Sakya Pandita to his court. Pagpa invented a new script for the purpose of writing the Mongolian language. Kublai Khan was so impressed by Pagpa's performance that he declared Buddhism the state religion of Mongolia and presented him the rulership of the three provinces of Tibet. Thus, Pagpa was the first person in Tibetan history to gain religious and secular authority over the entire country. It was at this time that the great temple Lhakang Chenmo was constructed at Sakya. To this day it still stands and houses the greatest religious library in Tibet, statues and religious objects of antiquity. Pagpa was succeeded by his brother Chagna and altogether the Sakyapas ruled Tibet for approximately a hundred years. Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen was the last of the Sakya rulers.
Eventually, Tishri Kunglo (1299-1327), eldest of the fifteen grandsons of Sakya Pandita's brother, founded four dynastic Palaces (Podrang): 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 second Padmasambhava of this age, the Ducho Palace split into two - the Drolma Podrang and Phuntsok Podrang. The present heads of these two palaces are Khyabgon Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga (b. 1945) of the Drolma Palace, the current head of the Sakya tradition, the 4lst holder of the Sakya Throne and living in Dehra Dun, India. He has two sons, Ratna Vajra and Gyana Vajra. He also has a sister, Jetsunma Chimey Luding, that teaches extensively throughout the world. Gongma Dagchen Rinpoche (b. 1929) of the Phuntsok Palace founded Sakya Thegchen Choling in Seattle, Wash. U.S.A. He had one brother, Gongma Thinley Rinpoche, a monk who past away recently. Dagchen Rinpoche also has five sons. The second son, Ananda Vajra Rinpoche, an accomplished lawyer, has assisted the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refuge government with legal and constitutional matters. Succession to the position of Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya tradition, has been hereditary since the time of Khon Konchog Gyalpo and recently, from the time of Wangdu Nyingpo, alternates between the two palaces.
Amongst the principal holders of the Sakya tradition, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, Sonam Tsemo, Dragpa Gyaltsen, Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen and Drogon Chogyal Pagpa are known as the Five Superiors of the Sakya tradition, the Jetsun Gongma Nga. The first three are known as the 'Three White Ones' and the last two as the 'Two Red Ones.' After these there were the Six Ornaments of Tibet: Yagton Sanggye Pal and Rongton Mawe Sengge, who were famous for their knowledge of sutra teachings; Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo and Dzongpa Kunga Namgyal - learned in the tantras; Gorampa Sonam Sengge and Shakya Chogden - learned in both sutras and tantras. These are the most important masters of the Sakya tradition. Amongst them, Gorampa Sonam Sengge 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. Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (1382-1457) and successive masters such as Konchog Lhundrub, Tartse Namkha Chime and Drubkhang Palden Dhondrub founded the Ngor lineage. Tsarchen Losal Gyatso (1502-56), followed by Jamyang Khyentse Wangchug and Mangto Ludrub Gyatso founded the Tsar lineage. Three other traditions rooted in the Sakya lineage are the Bulug/Shalu founded by Buton Rinchen Drub, the Jonang founded by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen and followed by Jonang Taranata 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 (shen tong) and Middle Way Madyamika. The Sakyapa follow the Middle Way Madyamika as taught by Sakya Pandita and elucidated by Gorampa Sonam Sengge and others.
The heart of the Sakya Tradition is Lamdre (Skt.: marga pala. Tib.: lam 'bras), the Path and Its Result, one of the most comprehensive and systematically organized meditative systems of Tantric Buddhism [see Blue Annals]. Originating with the Mahasiddha Virupa having 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 Konchog Gyaltsen, a disciple of Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo, lamdre was divided into two sub-traditions: the Explanation for Private Disciples - the uncommon teaching (sLob-bshad) and for Assemblies - the common teaching (Tshog-bshad) traditions [See lineage]. The experiential philosophical viewpoint expressed in 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.
All of these various Tantric practices are contained in the collected works of the five Sakya founding teachers and the works of the other great master of the tradition. The technical descriptions are also found in the edited collections of teachings such as the Bari Gyatsa, Ocean of Sadhanas, Vajravali, Collection of All Tantras, Ocean of Methods of Accomplishment, etc.
In the Sakya monastic colleges eighteen major texts are thoroughly studied. The eighteen texts teach the Perfection of Wisdom, Monastic Discipline (vinaya), 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, the works of Gorampa Sonam Sengge are especially important, amongst others. On graduation, a monk is granted the degree of Kazhipa, Kachupa and Rabjampa on the basis of merit. Lharamapa (equivalent to Geshe) is the highest degree.
The major Sakya monasteries in Central Tibet are Lhakhang Chenmo in Sakya Town founded by Chogyal Pagpa (the main Sakya monastery), Ngor Ewam 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. In Kham provence, Dhondup Ling was founded by Dagchen Sherab Gyaltsen, Lhundrup Teng of Dege founded by Tangtong Gyalpo, as well as Dzongsar monastery the home of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chokyi Lodro; and Deur Chode built by Chodag Sangpo in Amdo. In all, there were several thousand Sakya Monasteries spreading from China and Mongolia to Western Tibet, Kashmir, Nepal and India.
Presently, Tsechen Tenpai Gatsal in Rajpur, U.P. and Sa Magon in Puruwalla, H.P. are the two main Sakya Monasteries outside of Tibet. Ngor Ewam Choden in Maduwalla, Dehradun is the main Ngorpa monastery outside of Tibet. Tashi Rabten Ling at Lumbini, along with two other monasteries in Kathmandu, Nepal represent the Tsarpa lineage. At present, Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga is the head of the Sakya School. The Head of the Ngor School rotates between the senior abbots of the Four Monastic Houses (labrang) of Khangsar, Thatrse, Luding and Phende.
(Copyright 2009 Jeff Watt. Vancouver, Canada, October 1996. Updated August 2009)