THE HISTORY OF THE SAKYA TRADITION

The Sakya-pa tradition is one of the four main religious schools of Tibet, that together with Gelug-pa, Kagyu-pa and Nyingma-pa, has contributed to create the very special spirituality of Vajrayana Buddhism, that with it’s particularity and it’s profound research for peace in the world and in each individual, creates great interest also in the western world. The Sakya-pa has been maintaining their spiritual approach during the centuries up to this day, a tradition that has been created by many Lamas and Masters.

  • The origins and the ancient history

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

  • The wise Master Sakya Pandita

  • Kublai Khan and the period of secular power

  • The recent history

The origins and the ancient history

The history of the Sakyapa Order begins with the history of the Khon family. Considered to be the descendents from the heavenly realm of clear light in the far past, the Khon family became disciples of Guru Padmasambhava when he came to Tibet in the eighth century.  They received the Vajrakilaya empowerment from Guru Padmasambhava and one of the sons of the family received monastic ordination from the great Indian abbot, Shantarakshita, at Samye, thereby becoming one of the first seven Tibetans to enter the Buddhist monastic order. 

 For the next thirteen generations from 750 to 1073, the Khon family were luminaries of  the Nyingmapa tradition  in Tsang province in central Tibet. 

The second spreading 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 the original purity of the teachings of the Buddha.  Consequently, the then head of the Khon family, Sherab Tsultrim decided to seek out the new tantras from India.  His younger brother, Konchog Gyalpo went to India to study with Drogmi Lotsawa whose appearance had been prophesied by Padmasambhava and who was an emanation of the Indian Mahasiddha Virupa. 

In 1073, a great temple was built by Konchok Gyalpo near an auspicious place characterised by a patch of white earth which gave it’s name to the new school, the Sakya, which means white earth. 

The wise Master Sakya Pandita

The son of Kunchok Gyalpo was Sachen Kunga Nyingpo.  He was a person of extraordinary spiritual attainments who was learned in all the Sutras and Tantras.  He was well versed in the Vajrakilaya and Hevajra systems of practice as well as in many other tantras.  At the age of twelve, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo undertook a six month retreat in the course of which he had a vision of the divine Bodhisattva Manjushri who bestowed upon him the teachings now embodied in the famous text known as” Parting from the four Attachments”. 

The most famous sage of the Sakya-pa school is  Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen who lived in the twelfth century.  Sakya Pandita studied Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophy, tantra, logic,Sanskrit, poetry, astrology and art with countless masters.  When he was twenty-seven years old, he met with the Kashmiri Pandita Shakya Shribhadra, the last Abbot of the famous Indian  monastic university of Vikramashila.  At that time, he took full monastic ordination and remained a monk for the rest of his life.

In 1244, hearing of Sakya Pandita’s reputation, Godan Khan, the grandson of Ghengis Khan, invited Sakya Pandita to Mongolia.  There, he gave teachings on the Dharma and devised the first rudimentary script for the Mongolian language.

Kublai Khan and the period of secular power

Later, after both Sakya Pandita and Godan Khan had passed away, the Emperor Kublai Khan invited Sakya Pandita’s nephew, Chogyal Phagpa, to his court.  Kublai Khan was so impressed by Chogyal Pakpa’s spiritual attainments that he declared Buddhism the state religion of Mongolia and made him the ruler 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 during this time that the great temple of Lhakang  Chenmo was built in Sakya.  To this day, it still endures and houses the greatest religious library in Tibet, including many Sanskrit texts.  Following Chogyal Pakpa’s appointment as ruler of Tibet, the Sakyapa continued to exercise secular authority over the country for a hundred years.

The principal 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.  In addition,  the foremost figures of the Sakyapa tradition are known as the six ornaments of Tibet. 

The recent history

In the eighteenth century, the royal house of Sakya split into two branches or palaces: the Dolma  Phodrang and the Phuntsok Phodrang.  The present heads of these two palaces of the Sakya family are: His Holiness Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga, head of the Dolma Phodrang Potrong and His Eminence, Dagchen Rinpoche, head of the Phuntsok Phodrang.  His Holiness Sakya Trizin the forty-first head of the Sakyapa order resides in Dehradun, India while Dagchen Rinpoche is  established in Seattle, Washington in the United States.  Succession to the position of the Sakya Trizin has been hereditary since the time of Khon Kunchok Gyalpo and in recent times alternates between the two branches of the family.

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