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The Sakya-pa tradition is one of the four great Tibetan religious schools, which together with the Gelug-pa. Kagyu-pa and Nyngma-pa, contributed to create the typical spirituality of Vajrayana Buddhism which, with its particularities and its deep search for peace in the world and in every single individual, arouses much interest also in the West.  The Sakya-pa have maintained over the centuries and to this day their approach to spiritual practice, created over time by many masters and lamas.

  • The origins and ancient history

  • The second spread of Buddhism in Tibet and the birth of the Sakya order

  • The wise Master Sakya Pandita

  • Kublai Khan and the age of secular power


The origins and ancient history

The history of the Sakyapa order begins with the history of the Khon family. Believed to be descended from the divine realm of clear light from the distant past, the Khon family became a disciple of Guru Padmasambhava when they arrived in Tibet in the eighth century. The family received Vajrakilaya authorization from Guru Padmasambhava and one of the sons of the family received monastic orders from the great Indian abbot Shantarakshita, in Samye, who thus became one of the first seven Tibetans to enter the Buddhist monastic order.

During the next 13 generations, from 750 to 1073, the Khon family was a luminary of tradition  Nyingmapa in Tsang province in central Tibet.



The second spread of Buddhism in Tibet and the birth of the Sakya order

In the eleventh century the practice of the Dharma in Tibet had degenerated due to a number of historical factors  which had diluted into the original purity of Buddha's teachings. As a result, the then head of the Khon family, Sherab Tsultrim, decided to seek out the new tantra in India. His younger brother Konchog Gyalpo went to India to study with Drogmi Lotsawa, whose apparition had been prophesied by Padmasambhava and who was the emanation of the Mahasiddha Virupa.  

In 1073 a large temple was built near Konchok Gyalpo, near an auspicious place, characterized by a stain  of terra Bianca which gave its name to the new school, Sakya, which means White Land.  

The wise Master Sakya Pandita

Kunchok Gyalpo's son was  Sachen Kunga Nyingpo.  He was a person of extraordinary spiritual culture and learned in all the Sutras and Tantras.  He was very well versed in practice systems  Vajrakilaya and Hevajra as well as in other tantras.  At the age of twelve Sachen Kunga Nyingpo underwent a six month retreat during which he received the vision of the divine Bodhisattva Manjushri, who bestowed on him the teachings now incorporated in the famous text “Separating from the four attachments”.

The most famous sage of the Sakya-pa school is Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen who lived in the 12th century. Sakya Pandita studied philosophy  Buddhist and non-Buddhist, tantra, logic, Sanskrit, poetry, astrology and art with countless teachers. At the age of 27 he met  Pandita Shakya Shribhadra of Kashmir, the last abbot of the famous Indian monastic university of Vikramashila, took full monastic vows and remained a monk for the rest of his life. In the  1244, hearing about Sakya Pandita, Godan Khan, Ghengis Khan's grandson, invited Sakya Pandita to Mongolia. There he taught the Dharma and designed the first rudimentary writing for the Mongolian language.


Kublai Khan and the period of secular power

Later, after the deaths of both Sakya Pandita and Godan Khan, the Imperator, Kublai Khan, invited Sakya Pandita's grandson, Chogyal Phagpa, to his court.  Kublai Khan was so impressed with Chogyal Pakpa's spiritual culture that he declared Buddhism the state religion of Mongolia and appointed him governor of the three provinces of Tibet.  Chogyal Pakpa was the first person to gain religious and secular authority over the whole of Tibet. It was around this time that the great Lhakang Chenmo temple was built in Sakya.  It still houses the largest religious library in Tibet, which also includes Sanskrit texts. Following Chogyal Papka's appointment as governor of Tibet, the Sakyapas continued to exercise secular authority over the country for a hundred years. The founders of the Sakya-pa tradition, known as "The Five Patriarchs", are, besides Sakya Pandita and Chogyal Pakpa;  Kunga Nyingpo, Sonam Tsemo and Dakpa Gyaltsen.

Among the main founders of the Sakyapa tradition are: Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, Sonam Tsemo, Dakpa Gyaltsen, Sakya Pandita and Chogyal Phagpa.  They are known as the five patriarchs. Furthermore, the earliest figures of the Sakyapa tradition are known as the six ornaments of Tibet. 

Recent history

In the 18th century, the Sakya royal house split into two branches or palaces - the Dolma  Phodrang and the  Phuntsok Phodrang.  The present heads of these two branches of the Sakya family are headed by: His Holiness Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga, for the Dolma Phodrang Potrong and His Eminence Dagchen Rinpoche, for the  Phuntsok Phodrang.  His Holiness Sakya Trizin the 41st head of the Sakyapa order resides in Dehradun, India while  Dagchen Rinpoche has settled in Seattle, Washington in the United States. The succession to the position of Sakya Trizin has been hereditary since the days of Khon Kunchok Gyalpo and in recent times has alternated between the two branches of the family.


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