His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin was born in Tibet in 1945. He is the supreme head of the Sakya School, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
His Holiness belongs to the ancient and distinguished family of Khön, whose history dates back to the early days of Tibet, even before the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet.
The Khön family
The Khön family holds three supreme names. The first of these supreme names is Lha-Rig, which means ‘the race of heavenly beings.’
This name came about through the family’s ancestor, Yapang Kye, who was the great-great grandson of the heavenly being Yuring. Yuring was believed to have descended from the heavenly realm of Rupadhatu.
Later, the family received its second supreme name, Khön Gyi Dung, which means ‘Clan of Khön.’
This name was derived from Yapang Kye’s triumph over the Rakshas, which in reality demonstrated his power to conquer ignorance. Many generations later, in the eleventh century, an illustrious master named Khön Konchog Gyalpo founded the glorious Sakya order by establishing a monastery in Sakya in 1073 AD.
Thus the family received its third supreme name, Sakyapa. Since those times, the generations of the Khön family have continued in an unbroken lineage, and have included many emanations of the Three Bodhisatvas. (The three Bodhisatvas are Manjushri, who embodies the wisdom of all the Buddhas, Avalokiteshvara, who embodies the compassion of all the Buddhas and Vajrapani, who embodies the power of all the Buddhas). Many famous masters too have appeared in this illustrious lineage, including the Five Great Founders of the Sakyapa Order: the Great Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092 – 1158), Loppon Rinpoche Sonam Tsemo (1142 – 1182), Jetsun Rinpoche Dragpa Gyaltsen, (1147 – 1216) Chöje Sakya Pandita (1182 – 1251) and Drogön Chögyal Phagpa (1235 – 1280).
Many generations later, one of the members of the Khön family, Pema Düdul Wangchuk founded Shabten Lhakhang.
His son, Thegchen Tashi Rinchen, founded Dolma Phunpal Phodrang (The Glorious Tara Palace). It was named after the nearby Turquoise Tara Shrine.
Today it is called Dolma Phodrang or Tara Palace.
His Holiness Sakya Trizin’s Noble Father, Vajradhara Ngawang Kunga Rinchen was born as the heir-apparent of Trichen Dragshul Thrinley Rinchen in the Dolma Palace in order to uphold and continue the divine lineage for the betterment of all sentient beings. Vajradhara Ngawang Kunga Rinchen was an emanation of Avalokiteshvara.
On one occasion when he was meditating in his private room, the famous and holy Manjushri statue called Jamyang Tsödgyalma manifested before him in the form of the actual deity. Vajradhara Ngawang Kunga Rinchen prostrated to the deity, and recited the confession prayers to Manjushri. Manjushri spoke to him and said that it would be better to practise the Guru Yoga of the owner of the hundred races, his great Noble Father Dragshul Thrinley Rinchen, instead of reciting confession prayers. Manjushri instructed him to do this while contemplating the ultimate view, which meant merging his mind and the primordial wisdom of his Noble Father into one.
Because of the preciousness of the Khön lineage, not only in the Sakya tradition, but also for the continuation of the Buddha’s doctrine in general, it became necessary for Vajradhara Ngawang Kunga Rinchen to have an heir. Accordingly he wed Thrinley Paljor Sangmo, the sister of a renowned minister of the Tibetan government. She thus became his Dagmo, which is the title given to the Consorts of the Lineage Holders of the Khön family.
When after sixteen years they still had not managed to have any children, he wed his Dagmo’s younger sister, Sonam Drolkar who is His Holiness’ mother.
Her first child was a Jetsunma, Chime Thrinley Luding who now resides in Canada. Jetsunma is the title given to the daughters of the Lineage Holders of the Khön family. Dagmo Sonam Drolkar then gave birth to a Dungsay named Jigdral Dutdul. Dungsay is the title given to the sons of the Lineage Holders of the Khön Family. Dagmo Sonam Drolkar gave birth to another Jetsunma named Ayang, and then finally to His Holiness Sakya Trizin.
Grandfather of His Holiness,
The 39th Lineage Holder -
Dragshul Thrinley Rinchen Rinpoche
Noble Father of His Holiness,
Vajradhara Ngawang Kunga Rinchen
The Birth of His Holiness
His Holiness’ elder brother passed away as a young child. Despite many attempts, including a lengthy pilgrimage to many sacred places in Nepal and Tibet, Dagmo Sonam Drolkar did not conceive another son. They had almost given up all hope, when they reached the Nalanda Monastery in Phenpo, Tibet. It was there that His Eminence Chögye Trichen Rinpoche and the Lamas and monks of Nalanda Monastery requested them:
‘The Khön family of the Glorious Sakya Order has been of great benefit to all the people of Tibet, to the teachings of the Lord Buddha, and especially to the Sakyapa tradition and its followers. Even the Whispered Lineage of the teachings held by the Ladrangs, have all come through many generations of the Khön lineage holders of Dolma Phodrang. It would be very benevolent of you to continue this holy lineage. To assist in this, we all will certainly do whatever is necessary. Please take with you our Nalanda Abbot Lama Ngawang Lodroe Rinchen Rinpoche (Ngaglo Rinpoche) who is powerful in religious rites, giving mantras and other blessings. With his assistance, you will be guaranteed results.’
The Abbot, Lama Ngawang Lodroe Rinchen Rinpoche then accompanied His Holiness’ holy family and performed many spiritual rituals and rites. It was by the spiritual powers of these prayers and rituals that His Holiness entered his mother’s womb. Before he was conceived, His Holiness’ mother had a recurring dream of a yellow horse descending towards her from the clear blue sky and being driven away by terrifying birds. In her dream, many special initiations and prayers were undertaken until finally the birds retreated and the horse came closer and closer until it merged with her body. It was at this pleasure and happiness. In a similar way Lama Ngaglo Rinpoche dreamt that the sun, moon and stars appeared simultaneously in the sky and the light of the three became indistinguishable. He also heard a voice in the sky saying: ‘This is the son for whom you wished.’
His Holiness was born at sunrise on the morning of the ﬁrst day of the eighth lunar month in the year of the Wood Bird, or on September 7 th, 1945. His birth occurred painlessly in the very same blessed room where Vajradhara Kunga Rinchen, who revitalised the Sakya Doctrine, had been born more than ten generations earlier. There were many auspicious signs that heralded his birth. During his birth, the entire sky was festooned with extraordinary rainbows. Soon afterwards, an eighty-year old man with a head of white hair made an offering of a Thangka of long life deities, butter and cheese to His Holiness. The milk of one hundred dri’s or female yaks was also oﬀered in a crystal vessel by a handsome youth clad in white, who claimed to have been sent by the chieftain of Tsedong. However, when enquiries were made, no trace of this young man could be found.
Many prayers, special initiations, and rituals were performed to safeguard the life of His Holiness. Soon after his birth, in keeping with the tradition of the Dolma Palace, he received the initiation of a long life deity from Ngaglo Rinpoche. His Noble Father and Ngaglo Rinpoche gave him the Sanskrit name Ayu Vajra which means Long Life Vajra. This inaugurated a tradition of giving Sanskrit names to the sons of the Khön family.
The supreme spiritual master of the time, the great abbot Vajradhara Dhampa Rinpoche (Ngawang Lodroe Shenphen Nyingpo), said to Lama Ngaglo Rinpoche, ‘In bringing about the birth of this child, you have performed a great deed. Now the future of the doctrine of the Sakya Order is well assured. I am an old monk. Now, even if I die, I shall have no regrets.’
There were a number of signs that indicated that His Holiness was also the reincarnation of the great Terton Orgyen Thrinley Lingpa (Apam Terton). Apam Terton was the true regent of Padmasambhava and possessed the attributes of a noble being with great spiritual realization. His body could pass through solid objects and he had discovered many ‘treasure teachings.’
The first indication that His Holiness was a reincarnation of Apam Terton occurred when a Dakini prophesied to Apam Terton that he would hold the throne of Sakya in his next life. As a very young child, when His Holiness’ Noble Father and mother asked him where he came from, he answered that he came from far away and that his home was a tent. When he first began to talk, he spoke in the Golok dialect, which was the dialect spoken by Apam Terton. Once when Apam Terton’s son came to visit the Khön family, His Holiness’ aunt asked him who this man was. His Holiness replied that this was his son. When he met a disciple of Apam Terton called Sheĳa, His Holiness repeated a piece of advice given to him using the same words that Apam Terton had spoken earlier. He even called him Thubten Sheĳa: only Apam Terton and a few close people had known that Thubten was Sheĳa’s ﬁrst name.
There were other signs to show that he was the reincarnation of Apam Terton. On the day of His Holiness’ birth, someone offered an image of Padmasambhava. This was an auspicious sign and it was considered a further indication that he was the reincarnation of Apam Terton. Another auspicious connection was the fact that during his first meeting with Jamyang Khyentse Choekyi Lodroe, he received the transmission of the complete cycle of Longchen Nyingthig teachings from him. In 1949 when Apam Terton’s son visited His Holiness, Vajradhara Ngawang Kunga Rinchen, the father of His Holiness was concerned that Apam Terton’s son might request the return of his father’s reincarnation. However the son said, ‘The great Terton purposely took birth in the Sakya Khön family to uphold the Sakya doctrine. I have no intention of requesting his return.’
When His Holiness was a few weeks old, a large celebration was held during which his birth was publicly announced. At that time he received his formal name, which is Ngawang Kunga Thegchen Palber Thrinley Samphel Wanggi Gyalpo. His aunt who took care of him after his mother passed away, said he was a child with exceptional qualities. The extraordinary signs that have always accompanied him bore witness to his realization. He was a very well behaved child and showed many signs of special qualities. As a young child, he pretended to do fire pujas and made toy tormas which he tossed away in imitation of the ritual of disposing of the effigy. He also used to imitate chanting and rituals. When Lama Ngaglo Rinpoche saw these things he said, ‘There is no doubt that he will be a great teacher, with high accomplishment and spiritual power.’
His Holiness’ mother passed away in the twelfth lunar month of the Tibetan year in 1948.
Although His Holiness was too young to completely understand the gravity of this situation, when he was told this, he went into deep mourning.
His Holiness received his first major Annutara Yoga Tantra empowerment in 1948 at the age of three, along with many other empowerments. His ﬁrst empowerment was an empowerment of the Khön tradition, which was bestowed upon him elaborately and with great care by his Noble Father, Vajradhara Ngawang Kunga Rinchen according to the Khön tradition.
He remembers this well and believes that by the blessing power of that empowerment, he has not encountered any major obstacles to any of his activities.
At the end of the first lunar month in 1950, His Holiness’ older sister Ayang contracted a fever and passed away. His Holiness was very upset, but even before he had a chance to fully recuperate from the untimely demise of his beloved sister, his Noble Father became ill and due to his disciples’ lack of merits, entered into Parinirvana on the eighth day of the second lunar month.
This was a sad time for the children of the family. His Holiness and his sister felt great sorrow, and their aunt who herself had suffered many grievous losses, took on the responsibility of caring for him and for his sister. She supervised the overall operation of the Sakyapa Tradition and also administered Dolma Phodrang. She played a pivotal role in preserving and disseminating the traditions during this period.
Under the guidance of Khenchen Jampal Sangpo, she ensured the errorless performance of all the Vajrayana rituals. She also took charge of the offerings and sponsorships for the funeral ceremony, including the cremation and the preservation of the relics of His Holiness’ Noble Father.
His Holiness's Aunt,
Thrinley Paljor Sangmo
Along with many other empowerments, Lama Ngaglo Rinpoche gave His Holiness the special empowerment of the orange Manjushri. It was in the presence of a very holy statue of Manjushri that His Holiness first learned how to read from Lama Ngaglo Rinpoche. He learned the ﬁrst leaders of the Tibetan alphabet from a specially blessed scroll written in golden ink by Sachen Kunga Lodroe which had previously been used by the successive Dungsays of the Khön Lineage. His ﬁrst tutor was Kunga Gyaltsen who taught him the fundamentals of reading, writing and recitation of prayers. His Holiness diligently learned how to read until he completely mastered the art. He believes that this was the foundation of his excellent reading skill, which is one of his many remarkable qualities.
In the autumn of 1950 His Holiness travelled to Ngor E-wam Choeden in Tibet to receive the exoteric Lam Dre teaching from his root Guru, the great abbot Vajradhara Ngawang Lodroe Shenpen Nyingpo. The moment he saw his Guru, a great devotion arose in him, and His Holiness realized that the great Abbot had been and would be his Guru in every lifetime. In the same year, during an extensive ritual for his long life, His Holiness recited the verses of response by heart, agreeing to live long. This was considered a very admirable feat for one so young. In 1951, when His Holiness was six years old, he began to memorize the very important texts of Tantra. It was in that year also that he met HHDL for the first time.
In early 1952, the officially sealed proclamation of the succession designating His Holiness as the future Sakya Trizin was read by the representative of the national government of Tibet and a brief preliminary ceremony of enthronement took place. It was at this time that His Holiness took an oral examination in which he was successful in reciting texts by heart. He had memorized many major and minor texts, comprising in all over a thousand pages. His ability to memorize was considered extraordinary.
At about this time, Venerable Kunga Tsewang was appointed as his tutor. His Holiness performed rituals and made a prediction to discern the best candidate for the new Abbot of the Sakya Monastery. Venerable Mangtho Gyatso was chosen for the post. From then on, the task of selecting various position holders in the Sakya Order continuously remained with the office of His Holiness.
His Holiness undertook his first retreat in 1953. This was a long life retreat. He also bestowed his first initiation in that same year. Despite many entreaties from His Holiness to remain in bodily form, his main Guru, Vajradhara Ngawang Lodroe Shenphen Nyingpo (Dhampa Rinpoche) entered into Parinirvana in the fourth lunar month, seated in the meditation posture. Many miraculous signs appeared during and after the cremation. His regent, Khangsar Shabdrung Ngawang Lodroe Tenzin Nyingpo Rinpoche, had such devotion for his Guru, Dhampa Rinpoche, that while reciting the Lineage Guru Prayers he was not able even to pronounce the name of his own Guru. Even many years later, tears would come to his eyes when he pronounced his Guru’s name. His Holiness also has such devotion to his Guru.
In the seventh lunar month of that year, he commenced a major retreat which lasted for more than seven months. During this retreat, he also engaged in many other practices and actually conducted about twenty diﬀerent retreats at the same time. In this way he fulfilled the unparalleled spiritual activities of his predecessors. His Holiness successfully followed the examples set in the ﬁeld of meditation by the great Sakya masters.
In 1954 His Holiness took examinations in the inner and outer spiritual dances, in order to preside over the extended rituals. He performed the ritual dances wearing the blessed mask worn by the preceding Khön Lineage masters. The task of Vajra master, leading rituals and ritual dances continues to be part of his role even today. In the same year, certain auspicious signs occurred in the Gorum shrine room. The statue turned towards the east, revealing a silken thread tying it to the wall. Even the shrine keeper had never seen this before. During that period, HHDL and many other great Lamas had visited China. People believed that this was a sign that the deity was constantly protecting them. Seven or eight months later, the image returned to its normal position with the thread no longer visible.
The next year at Dolma Phodrang, His Holiness gave his ﬁrst major empowerment to more than a thousand people in small groups, extending over many days.
Photos of His Holiness the Sakya Trichen in his youth preparing for ritual dance.
Early Public Events & Travel
In early September 1955, His Holiness travelled by car to Lhasa to meet His Holiness Dalai Lama and receive teachings. This was his ﬁrst experience of travelling by car. While making oﬀerings to HHDL, he gave an extensive explanation of the mandala in the presence of the monks from Namgyal Monastery (HHDL’s private monastery) and a lay assembly including many high ranking government officials led by Cabinet Ministers. The assembly praised him highly for his extraordinary knowledge at such a young age. Since then, his wisdom has been proclaimed throughout Tibet.
In 1956, after the Great Monlam Festival in Lhasa, he and his entourage went on a pilgrimage to the south of Lhasa. There they visited many Sakya monasteries. During this visit, His Holiness established Dharma connections with the local people by bestowing empowerments, oral transmissions, and other teachings as requested by the monasteries he visited in those areas.
That year, the Chinese leaders organized a major meeting of the Preparation Committee for the Tibetan Autonomous Region. His Holiness was obliged to attend this meeting and had to cut short his tour. Many other high lamas, leaders and officials were at the meeting too. During this conference, despite his youth, he made a speech that was highly praised. It was an uncomfortable time for His Holiness, as he was not allowed to take any attendants with him. He vividly recalls the kind gesture of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, who carried him in his arms through the crowd and allowed him to rest on his lap during the conference.
During this time, Jamyang Khyentse Choekyi Lodroe visited Sakya and bestowed many empowerments. In his biography, Vajradhara Khyentse Rinpoche wrote that he saw His Holiness as the real embodiment of the highly realized master Ngagchang Chenpo Kunga Rinchen.
In 1956, His Holiness went on pilgrimage to India. The entourage visited Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha, Sarasvati, his principal residence and then Kushinagar where Lord Buddha manifested his Mahaparinirvana. They also went to Varanasi, and the Deer Park at Saranath where Lord Shakyamuni Buddha ﬁrst turned the wheel of Dharma, giving the teaching on the Four Noble Truths. They then visited Bodh Gaya where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment and where future Buddhas will become enlightened. His Holiness and his entourage made thousands of oﬀerings at the Bodhi tree. They went to Rajgir where Lord Buddha taught the Prajnaparamita Sutra. They visited nearby Nalanda University, which has been in ruins for centuries. This University had produced thousands of illustrious scholars including Mahasiddha Virupa, who pioneered the Lam Dre teachings and was the most prominent disseminator of the Buddhist doctrine in India. The entourage chanted prayers and made oﬀerings at all these sacred places.
Later that year when Kyabje Luding Khen Rinpoche visited Sakya, he received a major empowerment from His Holiness.
On the last day, as a token of gratitude, Luding Khen Rinpoche made a mandala oﬀering with an extensive explanation.
Enthronement & Departure
Many rituals were performed during 1958 in preparation for His Holiness’ enthronement, which was scheduled for the following year. The ceremony took place in 1959, when he was fourteen years old, beginning with a seven day ritual followed by an elaborate three-day-long ceremony during the first lunar month.
More than a thousand monks attended, and many great Lamas and high ranking government officials sent representatives who made elaborate offerings.
That year, His Holiness and his entire entourage left Tibet for India. Upon their safe arrival, they were given a warm welcome and were treated to lavish hospitality by the Royal Court of Sikkim. Later that year, Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche entered into Parinirvana in Sikkim.
On the day of his passing, the valley was seen to be filled with light, long after the sun had set. Many other remarkable signs also appeared.
In 1962, Vajradhara Jampal Sangpo entered into Parinirvana in Tibet.
Around that time His Holiness dreamed that the great Vajradhara, with a glowing face and delighted mood, gave him an auspicious scarf. This was a sign that he would never depart from the compassionate mind of his master.