The Sakya School
The Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni. The most important source of the Sakya order is the great Indian yogi Virupa (9th century), one of the 84 Mahasiddhas and foremost in miraculous attainments, through Gayadhara (994-1043) to his Tibetan disciple, Drokmi Lotsawa Shakya Yeshe (992-1072). Drokmi Lotsawa passed the lineage to his main disciple, Khön Könchok Gyalpo (1034-1102), who built the great monastery in the Tsang region of central Tibet. This area had lots of gray earth, for which reason this seat later known as the Sakya “Gray Earth.” Khön Könchok Gyalpo founded the Sakya School in 1073.
The general Buddhist canon of the Kagyur (bk’a ‘gyur) and Tengyur (bstan ‘gryur) provide the primary scriptual sources for the lineage. In addition to that, the Sakya lineage relies on the writings of the Sakya masters, starting with the Indian mahasiddhas, as well as the writings of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182), Drakpa Gyeltsen (1147-1216), Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyeltsen (1182-1251) and Drogön Chögyal Phakpa (1235-1280) – the Five Patriarchs of the Sakya tradition – and many others great scholars and masters of the tradition.
Two of the most widely studied commentators in the Sakya tradition are Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429-1489) and Panchen Shakya Chokden (1428-1507). The collected works of both of these great scholars contain numerous commentaries on sutras and tantras and other works and are well known among all Tibetan buddhist schools.
LAMDRE AND OTHER TEACHINGS
The heart of the Sakya lineage in terms of teaching and practice is called Lamdre (lam ‘bras), the Path and Its Fruit, which lead practitioners to the complete understanding and realization of the Hevajra Tantra. The Lamdre is one of the most comprehensive and systematically structured meditation paths in Tibetan vajraya buddhism, a synthesis of the entire paths and fruits teachings of high tantra vajrayana.
The Lamdre tradition comes from Indian teachers Virupa (9th century), Avadhutipa, Gayadhara (994-1043), and Shakyamitra (a follower of Nagarjuna), who passed down the teachings of the lineage to the Tibetan translator Drokmi Lotsawa. The unbroken lineage of these vajra masters continues until today.
The Lamdre tradition took a historic turn during the time of Muchen Sempa Chenpo, a disciple of Ngorchen Kunga Sangpo (1382-1457). He divided the Lamdre transmission lineage into two tracks: (1) the Explanation for Private Disciples (slob bshad) and (2) Explanation for Assemblies (tshogs bshad) traditions. The main vajrayana view expressed in the Lamdre teachings is that of samsara-nirvana being inseparable.
Other Tantric Practices
Some of the other main tantric practices of the Sakya lineage include the Hevajra tantra, Chakrasamvara tantra, Mahakala and so forth.
Eighteen Major Treatises
The eighteen major treatises are studied intensively in the Sakya monastic colleges. The main topics of these treatises are: Prajnaparamita – the perfection of wisdom, Vinaya – the monastic discipline, Madhyamaka – middle way view of Nagarjuna, Abhidharma -phenomenology, Pramana – valid cognition and logic, and others. Some of the most renowned and unique Sakya treatises include: Sakya Pandita’s works of Distinguishing the Three Vows and The Treasury of Reasoning On Valid Cognition; and the Collected Works Of Gorampa Sonam Senge and Panchen Shakya Chokden.
SAKYA LINEAGE AND THE LINEAGE MASTERS
The tradition of the Sakya lineage is closely bound with the Khön family lineage, which originated from celestial beings, according to Sakya history. This unbroken family lineage has continued to the present time from Khön Könchok Gyalpo (1034-l 102), founder of the Sakya tradition.
The Indian lineage of Virupa’s teachings continued through Khön Könchok Gyalpo and then to his son Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), who displayed extraordinary skills and spiritual attainment and held the lineages of tantra and sutra teachings. He had four sons – Kungabar, Sonam Tsemo, Jetsun Dakpa Gyeltsen and Palchen Rinpoche. Sonam Tsemo (1142-82), the second son, became a great scholar at the young age of sixteen and also had many sacred visions of wisdom deities and had many realized students. Jetsun Dakpa Gyeltsen (1147-1216), the third son, received the lay celibacy vows and demonstrated his maturity in the spiritual path in his early youth. When he was eleven, he was ready to give his first teaching on Hevajra tantra and he became the main lineage holder of Sakya tradition.
His nephew, the son of Palchen Rinpoche, the famous Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyeltsen (1182-1251), became the heart disciple of Jetsun Dakpa Gyeltsen. Sakya Pandita mastered the philosophy, logic, Sanskrit language, astrology, poetry, and art of Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools. He studied with numerous Indian, Nepalese, Kashmiri and Tibetan masters and became one of the greatest scholars of Tibet. He received the full monastic ordination from Kashmiri Pandita Shakya Shribhadra, at the age of twenty-seven and maintained his vows perfectly without the slightest violation.
In 1244, Sakya Pandita was invited him to Mongolia by Godan Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, where he propagated Buddhist teachings which flourished for many centuries.
Drogon Chögyal Phakpa, nephew of Sakya Pandita, became his chief disciple who held the main lineage of the Sakya. In 1253, the emperor, Kublai Khan invited Chögyal Phakpa to his court, by which time, both Sakya Pandita and Godan Khan had passed away. Chögyal Phakpa invented a new script for Mongolian language. Because of his scholarship and realization, the emperor Kublai Khan became completely devoted, made Buddhism the state religion of Mongolia and requested him to rule the three provinces of Tibet. Chögyal Phakpa was the first individual in Tibetan history to obtain both religious and secular authority over the whole country of Tibet. His brother Chakna succeeded him and thus the Sakyapas ruled Tibet for more than one hundred years.
Tishri Kunga Lodrö Gyaltsen (1299-1327), eldest grandsons of Sakya Pandita’s brother, established four palaces (pho brang): Zhithog, Rinchen Gang, Lhakhang, and Ducho, among which only the last two palaces still stand.
In the fifteenth century, the Ducho palace split into two palaces known as the (1) Dolma Phodrang and (2) Phuntsok Phodrang. The present hierarchs of these two palaces are Sakya Trizin.
Ngakwang Kunga Thekchen Palbar Samphel Ganggi Gyalpo (b. 1945) is the present head of the Sakya tradition, and lives in Rajpur, India. Dagchen Rinpochey (b. 1929), lives in the United States of America and founded the Sakya Thekchen Chöling in Seattle, Washington. Succession to the Sakya Trizin (throne holder), who is the head of the Sakya tradition, has been a family lineage since the time of Khön Könchok Gyalpo, and traditionally alternates between the two palaces.
Amongst the primary lineage holders of the Sakya School are: Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182), Dakpa Gyeltsen (1147-1216), Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251) and Drogön Chögyal Phakpa (1235-1280), who collectively are called the “Five Patriarchs” of the Sakya tradition. Following them, are those now known as the “Six Ornaments of Tibet”: Yaktruk Sangyey Pal and Rongtön Mawey Senge – renowned for their authority on sutra-yana teachings; Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo and Zongpa Kunga Namgyal – learned in the tantra-yana teachings; Gorampa Sönam Senge and Panchen Shakya Chokden – well known for being highly learned in both sutra and tantra-yana scriptures.
A number of sub-divisions or traditions developed within the main Sakya tradition, like the other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
Three Schools Of Sakya Tradition
(1) The Main Sakya (sa skya) School:
The Sakya School of the Khön lineage is the main trunk of the tree of Sakya lineage, from which, the Ngorpa and Tsarpa schools developed as branches. These are the three main traditions or schools in the Sakya tradition known as “Sa-Ngor-Tsar-Sum” (sa ngor tsar gsum).
(2) The Ngorpa (ngorpa) Scool:
Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (1382-1457) and successive masters such as Könchok Lhundrup, Thartse Namkha Palsang, and Drubkhang Pelden Dhondup are the primary masters of the Ngorpa lineage, which emphasizes the monastic tradition and its practice of discipline.
(3) The Tsarpa (tshar pa) School:
This is the lineage that comes from Tsarchen Losal Gyatso (1502-56), which is also called the “ear-whispered-lineage of Tsar.” The main emphasis of the lineage is the Thirteen Golden Texts of Tsar, including the secret doctrines of the greater or lesser Mahakala, Vajra Yogini, Jambhala and others. This is called the Tsar tradition.
SAKYA SEATS IN TIBET AND IN EXILE
The main seat of Sakya tradition is the Sakya Lhakhang Chenmo, founded by Khon Könchok Gyelpo, located in the Tsang region of central Tibet. Ngor E-Vam Chöden, founded by E-Vam Kunga Zangpo, is the main seat of the Ngor lineage of Sakya, in central Tibet. Dar Drangmoche, founded by Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, is the main seat of Tsarpa monastery, is also located in Tsang region.
Other major Sakya monasteries are: Phenpo Nalanda in the Phenpo region of central Tibet, built by the famed scholar Rongton Sheja Kunrig, and Tsedong Sisum Namgyel, founded by Namkha Tashi Gyeltsen. Other important monasteries include: Dhöndup Ling, founded by Dagchen Sherab Gyeltsen; Lhundup Teng, founded by Thangtong Gyalpo, in Derge region of Kham in eastern Tibet; Dzongsar monastery, the home of the Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoches; and Deur Chode, built by Chödrak Sangpo in Amdo region of Kham in eastern Tibet. There also used to be Sakya monasteries in Western Tibet, China, and Mongolia.
Exile seats in India include Tsechen Tenpai Gatsal in Rajpur, Uttar Pradesh, founded by His Holiness the Sakya Tridzin; Ngor E-Vam Shedrup Dhargye Ling in Bir, Himachal Pradesh; Tsechen Dhongag Chöling in Mundgod, Karnataka State; and Ngor E-Vam Chöden in Dehradun, Uttar Pradesh; Tashi Rabten Ling at Lumbini, Nepal, and many other monasteries in India, Nepal, and other parts of the world.
HEAD OF THE SAKYA LINEAGE
The present head of the Sakya School is His Holiness the Sakya Trizin (Ngakwang Kunga Thekchen Palbar Samphel Ganggi Gyalpo), born in 1945 in Tsedong, Tibet. His Holiness is the 41st throne holder. The head of Sakya School is called “Sakya Trizin” (“the holder of the Sakya throne”), who is always drawn from the male line of the Khön family.
His Holiness lives in Rajpur, India and travels around the world to propagate the Sakya lineage teachings and benefit all sentient beings. In 1974, His Holiness married Dakmo Tashi Lhakyi and they now have two sons, Ratna Vajra Rinpoche (b. 1974) and Jnana Vajra Rinpoche (b. 1979).