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The Sakya (Tibetan: ས་སྐྱ་, wylie: Sa skya, "pale earth") school is one of four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the others being the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Gelug. It is one of the Red Hat sects along with the Nyingma and Kagyu.


The name Sakya ("pale earth") derives from the unique grey landscape of Ponpori Hills in southern Tibet near Shigatse, where Sakya Monastery, the first monastery of this tradition, and the seat of the Sakya School was built by Khon Konchog Gyalpo (1034-1102) in 1073.

The Sakya tradition developed during the second period of translation of Buddhist scripture from Sanskrit into Tibetan in the late 11th century. It was founded by Drogmi, a famous scholar and translator who had studied at the Vikramashila University directly under Naropa, Ratnakarashanti, Vageshvarakirit and other great panditas from India for twelve years.[1]

Konchog Gyalpo became Drogmi's disciple on the advice of his elder brother.[2]

The tradition was established by the "Five Venerable Supreme Masters" starting with the grandson of Khonchog Gyalpo, Kunga Nyingpo, who became known as Sachen, or "Great Sakyapa":[3]

  • Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092 - 1158)
  • Sonam Tsemo (1142 - 1182)
  • Drakpa Gyaltsen (1147 - 1216)
  • Sakya Pandita (1182 - 1251)
  • Chogyal Pakpa (1235 - 1280)

Buton Rinchen Drub (1290-1364) was an important scholar and writer and one of Tibet's most celebrated historians. Other notable scholars of the Sakya tradition are the so-called "Six Ornaments of Tibet:"

  • Yaktuk Sangyey Pal
  • Rongton Sheja Kunrig (1367-1449)
  • Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo
  • Zongpa Kunga Namgyel
  • Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429-1489)
  • Shakya Chogden (1428-1507)

The leadership of the Sakya School is passed down through a hereditary system between the male members of the Sakya branch of the Khon family.


Sakya Pandita

Sachen, the first of the five supreme masters, inherited a wealth of tantric doctrines from numerous Tibetan translators or "lotsawas" who had visited India: most importantly Drokmi Lotsawa, Bari Lotsawa and Mal Lotsawa. From Drokmi comes the supreme teaching of Sakya, the system of Lamdré (lam 'bras) or "Path and its Fruit", deriving from the mahasiddha Virupa, based upon the Hevajra Tantra. Mal Lotsawa introduced to Sakya the esoteric Vajrayogini lineage known as "Naro Khachoma." From Bari Lotsawa came innumerable tantric practices, foremost of which was the cycle of practices known as the One Hundred Sadhanas. Other key transmissions that form part of the Sakya spiritual curriculum include the cycles of Vajrakilaya, Mahakala and Guhyasamaja.

The fourth Sakya patriarch, Sakya Pandita, was notable for his exceptional scholarship and composed many important and influential texts on sutra and tantra, including, Clarifying the Thought of the Sage and Discriminating the Three Vows.

The main Dharma system of the Sakya school is the Path with Its Result [lam dang 'bras bu bcas], which is split into two main lineages, Explanation for the Assembly (tshogs bshad) and the The Explanation for Close Disciples (slobs bshad).

The other major Dharma system of the Sakya school is the Naropa Khechari Explanation For Disciples (Naro mkha spyod slob bshad).


In due course, two subsects emerged from the main Sakya lineage,

  • Ngor, founded by Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (b.1382) Represents 85% of the Sakyapa school and most if not all the monasteries in India are Ngorpa, apart from Sakya Trizin's monastery.
  • Tshar, founded by Tsarchen Losal Gyamtso (1496 - 1560)

Feudal lordship over Tibet

In 1264 the feudal reign over Tibet was given to Phagpa by the Mongolian emperor, Kublai Khan. Sakya lamas continued to serve as viceroys of Tibet on behalf of the Mongol emperors for nearly 75 years after Phagpa's death (1280), until the Emperor of the Ming Dynasty in China subjugated the Mongols. The leaders of the Sakya regime were as follows.[4]

  • Phagpa 1253-1280
  • Dharmapala Raksita 1280-1282, d. 1287
  • Jamyang Rinchen Gyaltsen 1286-1303
  • Zangpo Pal 1306-1323
  • Khatsun Namka Lekpa Gyaltsen 1325-1341
  • Jamyang Donyo Gyaltsen 1341-1344
  • Lama Dampa Sonam Lotro Gyaltsen 1344-1347
  • Lotro Gyaltsen 1347-1365

Sakya today

File:Sakya Trizin.jpg

The 41st Sakya Trizin, the head of the Sakya school

The head of the Sakya school, known as Sakya Trizin ("holder of the Sakya throne"), is always drawn from the male line of the Khön family. The present Sakya Trizin, Ngawang Kunga Tegchen Palbar Samphel Wanggi Gyalpo, born in Tsedong in 1945, is the forty-first to hold that office. 41st Sakya Trizin is the reincarnation of two great Tibetan masters: a Nyingmapa lama known as Apong Terton (Orgyen Thrinley Lingpa), who is famous for his Red Tara cycle, and his grandfather, the 39th Kyabgon Sakya Trizin Dhagtshul Thrinley Rinchen (1871 - 1936).[5] Today, he resides in Rajpur, India along with his wife, Dagmo Tashi Lhakyi, and two sons Ratna Vajra Rinpoche and Gyana Vajra Rinpoche. Ratna Vajra Rinpoche being the older son, is the lineage holder and is married to Dagmo Kalden Dunkyi Sakya and Gyana Vajra Rinpoche is married to Dagmo Sonam Palkyi.

Traditionally hereditary succession alternates between the two Sakya palaces since Khon Könchok Gyelpo's (1034-1102) reign. The Ducho sub-dynasty of Sakya survives split into two palaces, the Dolma Phodrang and Phuntsok Phodrang. Sakya Trizin is head of the Dolma Phodrang. H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya (b. 1929) is the head of the Phuntsok Phodrang, and lives in Seattle, Washington, where he co-founded Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism with Dezhung Rinpoche III, and constructed the first Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in the United States. Dagchen Sakya's father was the previous Sakya Trizin, Trichen Ngawang Thutop Wangchuk, throne holder of Sakya, and his mother Dechen Drolma. Dagchen Sakya is married to Her Eminence Dagmo Jamyang Kusho Sakya; they have five sons, and several grandchildren.

The Rimé movement

During the 19th century the great Sakya master and terton Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, the famous Kagyu master Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and the important Nyingma terton Orgyen Chokgyur Lingpa founded the Rime movement, an ecumenical attempt to incorporate all teachings of all schools, to overcome the separation of Buddhist transmission in different traditions.

This movement still influences modern Tibetan Buddhist practice through the "five great treasures" of Jamgon Kongtrul and the treasure of rediscovered teachings (Rinchen Terdzöd).

See also


  1. Luminous Lives, Stearns, Wisdom 2001
  2. , Ch. 25, Treasures of the Sakya Lineage, Tseten, Shambhala, 2008
  3. Powers, John. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion Publications. 1995. p. 382.
  5. Hungarian website of Sakya Trizin


  • Davidson, Ronald (1992). "Preliminary Studies on Hevajra's Abhisamaya and the Lam 'bras Tshogs bshad." In Davidson, Ronald C. & Goodman, Steven D. Tibetan Buddhism: reason and revelation. State University of New York Press: Albany, N.Y. ISBN 0-7914-0786-1 pp. 107-132.
  • Powers, John (1995). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca, N.Y. USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-026-3. 
  • Trichen, Chogyay. History of the Sakya Tradition, Ganesha Press, 1993

External links