Kyabje Jigdal Dagchen Sakya was born into the Phuntshok branch of the Khon lineage
in 1929 in south-western Tibet. As an imminent successor to the throne of Sakya and
future head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism, Rinpochey's education was carefully
planned by his father and Root Lama, Trichen Ngawang Thutop Wangchuk. After his
father passed away, Rinpochey chose to travel to East Tibet to increase his knowledge
and experience of dharma.
In 1959 Rinpochey, his wife
Dagmo Kusho, an their family were forced to flee to India,
where Rinpoche became the Sakya representative to the Tibetan Religious Office in Exile.
Rinpoche has resided in Seattle since 1960 along with his wife, five sons and other family
members. He works actively to help preserve and share the Tibetan Buddhist tradition
with present and future generations. To this end he has given extensive initiations and
teachings throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia and has established the
Sakya Monastery as a seat of cultural and religious learning in the West.
Rinpochey spoke to Cho-Yang
during a recent visit to Dharamsala while on pilgrimage
to the holy places in India.
Please tell me about your background and upbringing.
Amongst the four different traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, let me tell you about the
Sakya tradition, although I will not dwell on the ancient history of the Sakyas. These
days as you can see we have in fact two Palaces or Phodrangs, the Dolma Phodrang
and the Phuntsok Phodrang. The throneholder of the Dolma Phodrang presently resides
in Rajpur near Dehra Dun, while I am the throneholder of the Phuntsok Phodrang.
I stayed in Sakya practising Buddhism
until I was twenty-two years old. After that,
in 1957, I went to Kham. At that time there were many Lamas and tulkus in Kham
and I planned to stay there for some time to receive teachings from many of them, as
well as to give some teachings myself. Unfortunately, with the changed circumstances
due to the Chinese takeover of Tibet, in 1959 I left for India. Nevertheless, during
my stay in Kham I had the opportunity to receive teachings from high Lamas and
tulkus of all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This is my background.
Who were your principal gurus - was your father
one of them?
In the Sakya tradition we have a very specific teachings transmission called 'Lam Dre'
or 'Path and Fruit' and the teacher from whom you receive it is regarded as your principal
Lama. I received this from my father. So according to the custom of our lineage, he is
my principal Lama. In addition to these teachings, I received the transmission of the
entire Sakya lineage from Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, a very highly revered and
nonsectarian Lama. I have also received the transmission of the entire teachings of the
Nyingma tradition from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpochey. These then, are my most important
teachers. Besides them I have received minor religious teachings from eleven teachers
belonging to various traditions.
Who are your principal disciples?
It might have been possible to speak of principal disciples if we had stayed in Tibet.
However, now we are living in exile all my disciples are like general disciples and I
cannot say I have any principal disciples.
What are the major teachings you received from
your various gurus?
I have received so many teachings that it is really difficult to say.
How did you integrate meditation practice with
study in the course of your training?
I have received the empowerments in a complete manner, I have observed the retreats
and thereafter I have done the practices. The main meditational deity of the Sakya
tradition is Hevajra and I have meditated on him for six months.
You have five dung seys (lit. heart son), can
you tell me about them?
In Tibet, a dung sey would undergo training according to the established tradition. He
has to receive the empowerments and fulfil the appropriate retreats and so forth.
However, following the great changes that have taken place in Tibet, it has become
very difficult to abide by such traditions in an alien land, particularly as I have settled
in USA. So, we have been unable to do this. Nevertheless, I am confident that my sons
belong to the true Manjushri lineage of the Khon clan. The main reason for this is that
the great Indian pandit, Atisha Dipankara, has prophesied that this is a lineage of
Bodhisattvas such as Vajrapani, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri. Every Tibetan believes
this is true.
Have they been brought up in the traditional
Yes. In fact, my eldest son is known as Manju Rinpochey. He was born when I was in
Kham. When I received teachings and empowerments from Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi
Lodro he was with me and received almost all of them too. If he continues to study and
go into retreat he can do it.
Can he maintain the traditional heritage?
Yes he can. We are in an alien land. In our own country there was an established
discipline which is not to be found in a foreign country. But if he concentrates on
this we will be glad. If he does not, there's nothing to be done.
Are you concerned for the future of your lineage?
That depends on two different points of view. As far as the doctrines of Sakya, the
Sakya teachings, are concerned, they will continue without change. But in the case of
human attitudes and people's ways of thinking about those teachings, they may change.
Padmasambhava said that there is actually no change in the times, the change is in
human attitude. So people change, but time doesn't change. In just the same way, the
Sakya teachings will not change when the people who receive them change.
Prior to Khon Konchog Gyalpo, the Khon family
were noted followers of the Nyingmapa
- what remains in the tradition now of those practices and what is your own relationship
to the Nyingmapa?
Before Khon Konchog Gyalpo there were nine generations of Lamas, all belonging
to the Nyingma tradition. The name Khon refers to the ineraction between celestial
beings and spirits. Khon Konchog Gyalpo's son, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo started the
'new' lineage of the Sakya tradition. So, nowadays, the Sakya tradition has two main
meditational deities. One is Vajrakilaya which is derived from the Nyingma tradition
and the other is Hevajra which belongs to the Sakya tradition.
You are an Upasaka yourself - yet the Sakya
tradition is also strongly monastic. What
do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of being a Dharma practitioner as
a lay person or an ordained one - particularly in the modern world?
I don't think there are any specific advantages or disadvantages. For example, Sachen
Kunga Nyingpo became a tantric practitioner and practised as a layman, primarily in
order that he could pass on the lineage. On the other hand is two sons, Sonam Tsemo
and Dakpa Gyaltsen, although they belonged to the lineage of Ngag chang tantric
practitioners, they lived as celibate upasakas. The most important thing is to maintain
a pure spiritual lineage. Whether he is practising as a lay householder or as a celibate,
it all depends on the Lama's conduct. In the Sakya tradition, if there are two brothers,
one becomes a tantric yogi and the other becomes a brahmachari bhikshu, a celibate
monk. These things are all described in the Sakya Dungrab, the history of the Sakya
I have heard you are regarded as one of the
five incarnations of the first Jamyang
Khyentse. Is that true?
It is not me. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo had five incarnations or emanations of body,
speech, mind, wisdom or quality and virtuous activity. My guru Jamyang Khyentse
Chokyi Lodro was the emanation of his virtuous activity. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpochey
was the emanation of mind and my father was the emanation of speech.
Since coming into exile what have been your
I left Lhasa in 1959 at the same time that His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to India.
I remained in India until 1961, when I went to the USA where I worked for about eleven
years as a research scholar at the University of Washington. Having become established
there from that time I have been practising and teachings Buddhism. I am very happy
and content to involve myself in the true work of practising and teaching the Dharma.
When you teach in US and elsewhere, what teachings
do you generally give?
I teach according to what the listeners want. Some want empowerments, some want
teachings and explanations and some want to meditate. I try to comply with their wishes.
What do you regard as your greatest contribution
to the Dharma?
The practice of the mind of enlightenment bodhicitta and the four immeasurable wishes.
Putting this into practice and teaching about it is, I think, a great contribution.
These are inner realisations, I was thinking
more of external achievements in the world.
Mainly guiding others, looking after my disciples in times of difficulty, trying to help
others according to the situation they find themselves in. For example, some of them
have mental problems, others have family problems. I teach them how to calm down.
Other people have problems of tension and depression and take a lot of drugs as a
result, so I try to offer them an alternative source of relief.
How do you view the spread of the Dharma to
Wherever the Buddhadharma goes is very good. As human beings wherever we are,
our human form is accompanied by suffering and happiness. The Buddhadharma
teaches us how to overcome the suffering and promote happiness.
Do you feel the role of women in Buddhism is
In Tibet, women could become nuns and men could become monks, so there was no
difference as long as they observed their discipline strictly. As far as the Buddha's
teachings are concerned, they are meant equally for men and women, so there is no
Do you have anything to say to the Tibetans
As refugees it is important to think about the Buddha's teachings about the nature of
impermanence. Because of that we should be kind to each other, help each other and
never harm each other. Also, we should try to observe the law of cause and effect and
keep up our faith in the Three Jewels.
What is the aim of your current pilgrimage
It is very important to go on pilgrimage. The benefits of making pilgrimage to holy
places are described in many ancient scriptures. Moreover, India is the land where
the Buddha was born, where he attained enlightenment and finally where he entered
into parinirvana. So by offering your body, speech and mind at all these places you
can collect merit. Then while we are there we pray for the happiness of all sentient
beings. This is the aim of pilgrimage.
And where are you going?
Mainly the eight places sacred to Buddhism.
Do you also intend to visit Tibet?
I have many disciples in Kham, Tibet who have been writing to me constantly and asking
me to visit Tibet. I cannot say I will not visit them. Perhaps as times change I will be able
to. Certainly I would like to go there.
Rinpochey was interviewed by Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok and Jeremy Russell.