His Holiness the Sakya
A Buddhist Essence
MADE MANY PREDICTIONS, AND THEY ALL SAID THE SAME
Q. Your Holiness, would you give us an
account of your life?
A. Perhaps I
should begin by telling you what happened before my birth. The
title "Sakya Trizin" means "Holder of the Throne of
Sakya," and my grandfather had been the last Trizin in our
family. For the sake of having a son, my parents went on a
pilgrimage to Mount Kailash, to Nepal, to Lhasa, and to South
Tibet, but there was never any sign that a son might be born.
They had given up all hope when they reached Nalanda
Monastery, an important Sakya Monastery north of Lhasa, and
told the monastery's abbots of this. The leaders were shocked
and very worried, as our family lineage, the Dolma Palace
line, held the tradition of the most esoteric Sakya teachings,
and moreover, most of the heads of the Monastery had received
these teachings from my grandfather; so, to them, the
continuation of our family was most important. They urged my
parents not to give up hope, and moreover they gave up one of
their best teachers, Lama Ngawang Lodro Rinchen, so that he
could travel with my parents. This was something of a loss to
the monastery, but he was a very powerful Lama who could
perform all the different rituals, and in particular, his
prayers had caused children to be born to women who had been
unable to have children before. After this, he always traveled
with my father, and together they performed many rituals and
prayed for a son to be born. At last it became clear that the
prayers had been answered, and my parents halted at Tsedong, a
small, pleasant town near Shigatse. It had been decided that
it was a good place for a child to be born, partly perhaps for
its reputation as the birthplace of many great Sakya teachers
such as Ngachang Chenpo Ngawang Kunga Rinchen. In fact, I was
born in the same room as Ngachang Chenpo.
further problem arose: a succession of astrologically
inauspicious days. As my parents wanted me to be born on an
auspicious day, many more prayers were said. And I was not
born on a bad day: I was born on the first day of the eighth
Tibetan month (September 7, 1945), which was considered quite
good. It is said that rainbows were seen over our house, and
that an image of Guru Rinpoche was then offered to my father,
which were good signs, but of course I didn't know anything of
Q. What happens when a child is
born into Your Holiness' family?
A. The very first
thing, as soon as the child is born, is that the letter
DHIH, the letter of Manjusri who represents speech and
wisdom, is written on the child's tongue with a special nectar
made of saffron and many other things.
Q. When did you first go to
A. That was later. I am told that my first
birthday was celebrated in Tsedong, and that, after this, our
family went on a short pilgrimage to the famous shrine of Guru
Rinpoche in the south of Tibet. After that we returned to
Sakya, where my second birthday was celebrated rather
Q. Your parents died when you were
quite young, I think?
A. Yes, I cannot remember my mother at all. She
died when I was two or three, but I remember her sister, my
aunt. She was like a mother to me. My father died in 1950,
when I was five. That I remember very well.
Q. How old were you when your studies
A. This was when I was five. In that same year,
Lama Ngawang Lodro Rinchen gave me my first lesson in the
alphabet. We went to the special Manjusri shrine in Sakya,
where he gave me the consecrations of Manjusri and Achala, and
then a very ancient copy of the Tibetan alphabet written in
gold was produced. This was especially for the use of the sons
of our family. Then Lama Ngawang read the letters in front of
the Manjusri image and I repeated them after him. This, of
course, was the ceremony. After that I had another teacher for
Q. Did your spiritual studies begin
A. Yes. I had to memorize and recite prayers to
Manjusri. I remember all this very clearly. After the
ceremony, I was taught spelling seven hours a day, six days a
week for nearly two years. We Tibetans say that the more you
practice spelling, the faster you will be able to read.
Q. Were you receiving religious
teaching at this time too?
A. I had received consecrations frequently. In
fact, I am told that I received the blessings of Amitayus for
long life from my father almost as soon as I was born. When I
was four, I received the Consecration of Vajra Kila (Dorje
Phurba) from my father. I remember that also very clearly.
I was sitting in the lap of a very dear personal attendant,
and I remember too, when my father gave the wrathful part of
the Consecration, he was wearing the hat and costume of a
black hat dancer, and performed the ritual dances. I even
remember who played the musical instruments then!
Q. Where did this all take
A. In the Dolma Palace. The Dolma Palace is a
big palace with three main shrine rooms and many other rooms.
Altogether it has about eighty rooms, and all the teachings
were given in one of these shrine rooms.
Q. Did you ever go out of the
A. Oh yes, but not often into town. There was a
very extensive open area of fields around the Palace, and the
river ran quite near. I used to go out there with an attendant
to play with other children when I was not studying.
Q. When did your religious
studies begin in earnest?
A. I began to study reading in the summer of
1950, and in the autumn, I went to Ngor Monastery where I
received the Esoteric Path-Result (Lamdre) teaching. My
Guru for this was Lama Ngawang Lodro Shenphen Nyingpo, Abbot
of the Khangsar Abbacy of Ngor.
Q. How do you remember him?
A. He was a very holy, very spiritually advanced
Lama, always very calm, very slow in movement, and he did
everything very perfectly. He was then very old. He gave the
teaching in his own room to a very few people, maybe thirty in
all. At that time, I was very small and could barely read. I
remember I sat in the lap of Khangsar Shabdrung, the successor
to the Abbot, who held out the pages in front of me, so I
could read the introductory prayers each day. While the Abbot
was teaching the Mahayana part, I could understand it quite
well, but I could not understand the Tantric section very
well. I spent much time with the Abbot, and in the meantime, I
continued to practice spelling and reading by going through
some biographies. I stayed about four months in Ngor for the
teaching, and then returned to Sakya.
The following year, I visited Lhasa for the first time
and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama who confirmed me as "Sakya
Trizin designate." I spent four months in Lhasa visiting many
of the monasteries there and in central Tibet. We visited
Nalanda and Samye also, and then returned through South Tibet
where I visited many holy places and monasteries on
During these visits, I was hard at work memorizing
the Hevajratantra, which is the basic text for Sakya
religious practice. Then, early in 1952, I was enthroned at a
simple ceremony, as I was then too young for the full
enthronement, which came later. I had to recite the full
Hevajratantra in front of the monk officials and
teachers of the Tantric monastery in Sakya: this was
considered a test of ability which all monks had to take. I
was then only six, but I am glad to say that I passed by
reciting it correctly. After that, I attended the monthly
recitation of that Tantra by all the monks of the Tantric
monastery; it was the first ceremony I attended there. Later I
left Sakya to attend the Enthronement of the Panchen Lama in
Shigatse, which lasted for several weeks. This time I traveled
with the full dignity and entourage of a Sakya Trizin.
returned to Ngor that summer to receive that Esoteric
Path-Result teaching from Khangsar Khenpo, during which he
stopped frequently to give other teachings, such as the
instructions on Vajra-Yogini, the Zenpa Zidel,
and many other important instructions. In all, the teaching
lasted for a year, until I had to return to Sakya, at the
request of the Chinese, for some talks. Early in 1953, I again
returned to Ngor to resume studies there, but, unfortunately,
Khangsar Khenpo passed away just before he had finished the
whole teaching, and the teaching was concluded by his
successor. I returned to Sakya before September, as that year
I witnessed the yearly ceremony and ritual dance of Vajra
Kila. It is always held in the seventh Tibetan month. Then
I began the meditative retreat of Hevajra at the Dolma Palace.
Q. Was this your first retreat?
A. Not quite. During the time I received the
first Lamdre teaching, I had performed the retreat of
Amitayus and then I gave the consecration to my Guru, Khangsar
Khenpo. Also, in the interval between the two Lamdre
teachings, I performed the retreat of Bhutadamara, a
special form of Vajrapani, for one month. But this was the
first major retreat I performed. During the retreat, we had
many difficulties. I had a very strict teacher, and I was
allowed to see only my aunt, my two servants, and my teacher.
Though I myself remained quite well throughout, my teacher got
very ill following the first half of the retreat -- very, very
ill -- and we had a difficult time because of his sickness.
Nevertheless, the retreat ended successfully. I say "we"
because my sister was performing the same retreat at the same
time, but in a different room, some distance away. Of course,
we were not allowed to meet, but we communicated by writing
After the retreat, my teacher remained ill for some
months, and during this period I had a long holiday! I became
rather wild and took to wandering off and doing as I pleased.
My aunt was a little worried and appointed a temporary teacher
under whom I had to memorize the texts of the
Vajra-Kila, both for daily practice and for the long
Then, that summer of 1954, Khangsar Khenpo's successor
was invited to Sakya to give the Druthab Kuntu, a
collection of Tantric meditations and teachings collected and
edited by the first Khyentse Rinpoche. This lasted for three
or four months, and was a very pleasant occasion. The entire
teaching was held in the summer house in our park at Dolma
Palace, and Khangsar Shabdrung taught in a very leisurely
fashion. By this time, my teacher had recovered from his
illness and taught me the ritual dances that go with the
Kila practices. In September, I attended the
month-long Kila ceremonies. I was not the Master of
Ceremonies that year, but I took part in the dances and
attended nearly every day of the ceremonies. Next, I received
the Mahakala teachings from Lama Ngawang Lodro Rinchen, and
went straight into retreat to meditate on that Protector for
one month. I received more Mahakala teachings from Lama
Ngawang, and the Thangtong Nying-Gyud from Drupchen
Rinpoche, a very great Nyingma Yogi and an incarnation of the
Tibetan saint, Thangtong Gyalpo. I then entered the retreat of
Vajra-Kila for three months. During this time, my
sister, who was then sixteen, was giving the three-month
teaching of Lamdre. She had never done the Kila
retreat, so I was asked to give her the consecration when I
finished my retreat. This was the first major consecration I
gave. About sixty monks were to receive the Lamdre, but
many other people arrived for the Kila Consecration --
about one thousand, I think. That was all in my ninth
Q. How do you remember Lama
Ngawang Lodro Rinchen?
A. He was the Lama who caused me to have human
birth. He was a very wonderful Lama, very strict in his
observance of Vinaya rules of discipline, and never would eat
after lunch, nor wear skins, nor shirts with sleeves. His arms
were always bare, no matter how cold it was, and, no matter
how cold it was in Sakya -- and Sakya is really a very cold
place -- his room was always as warm as if centrally heated.
In his house, we could keep flowers, we could keep water.
Elsewhere, we could never keep water during the winter; if we
put water in a bottle, it would freeze within a few minutes
and crack the bottle!
Q. Your Holiness had a strenuous
childhood. What relaxations did you enjoy?
A. I used to enjoy going out into the fields
around the Palace. The river ran quite near the Palace, and I
used to love going there. I remember when I attended the
Kila ceremony, I would be escorted home by attendants
from the town of Sakya itself. Then, immediately they left,
immediately they were out of sight, I would tear off all my
ceremonial clothes and go down to the river in the simplest
attire. I used to like to bathe, but even in September, the
water was very, very cold, dreadfully cold. Then sometimes I
would like to go out to the summer house in the park. We had
an old gramophone, the kind that you wind up, and a pile of
old records (mostly British military marches, but also some
Tibetan folk songs) which we enjoyed listening to.
Q. Did your Holiness visit Lhasa
A. Yes. In the summer of 1955, I received many
esoteric teachings from Lama Ngawang Lodro Rinchen, and that
autumn I went again to Lhasa. That winter, I received some
short teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But Lhasa
had changed. When I first visited it in 1951, I saw a
beautiful, early, traditional Tibetan capital. Even then the
Chinese were arriving; a few Chinese were to be seen in the
streets. But on my second visit, in 1955, I drove into Lhasa
from Shigatse by jeep -- by Chinese jeep! And Lhasa itself was
full of jeeps and lorries; there were Chinese people and goods
stayed about six months in Lhasa, giving some small teachings
and performing a sacred dance as a prayer there. At this time,
I first met Venerable Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche and stayed
quite near him, visiting him frequently. I received many Sakya
teachings from him, but most of the teachings I received from
him were actually Nyingmapa. Early in the following year, I
made another visit to south Tibet, and then returned to Lhasa,
where I had to sit on the Chinese Preparatory Committee, along
with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness Gyalwa
Karmapa and other prominent Tibetans. By then the Chinese
intentions were becoming quite clear, but we felt that it was
best to try to control the situation as best we could, without
violence. In any case, our country was not a powerful one in
any military sense.
returned to Sakya in the summer and later in the year,
Khyentse Rinpoche came to Sakya. That winter, His Holiness the
Dalai Lama went to India on a pilgrimage, visiting the four
most holy shrines of Buddhist pilgrimage in India: Bodh Gaya,
Lumbini, Sarnath, and Kushinagar. I stayed in India about two
months and then returned to Sakya. In the following year,
1957, I again performed the meditative retreat of
Vajra-Kila, and again received the Lamdre
teaching, this time from the Abbot of the Tantric Monastery in
Sakya, the Venerable Jampal Sangpo.
Q. When did Your Holiness' full
A. That was after the New Year early in 1959. It
was an event requiring much preparation. At the end of 1958,
the great sacred dance of the Protectors of Religion was held,
at which I presided. Then, at the New Year, the enthronement
Q. How was this performed?
A. In the Tantric Monastery, there is a big
courtyard in front of a temple with golden roofs. In this
temple, the Spiritual Throne of Sakya Pandita is kept, on
which is placed the Temporal Throne of Chogyal Phagpa. I had
to sit on top of these and teach a text written by Sakya
Pandita, called The Sage's Intent. The teaching, which
included a little explanation, lasted for three days. After
this, offerings were made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama's
representatives, by representatives of the Panchen Lama, of
Sakya, of many other Tibetans, and also of the Chinese, on
this occasion. After this a great procession is held.
Q. This must have been shortly
before Your Holiness came to India?
A. Yes, we left for India almost immediately
Q. How did you get out of Tibet?
A. It was very complicated. At that time, the
tension in Tibet was very high, and people talked of nothing
but the Khampas and the Chinese, the Chinese and the Khampas.
We made many predictions, and they all said the same thing:
that Tibet would be lost and many very dreadful things would
happen. But we still waited, until, one day, news came from an
Indian broadcast that there had been a battle in Lhasa and His
Holiness the Dalai Lama had escaped to the southeast of Lhasa.
Then we hurried. I was unable to leave directly from Sakya
because there were many Chinese spies. So I let it be known
that I was going into retreat at the hermitage not far from
Sakya. I arrived there safely and sent word to my aunt and
sister to join me. From there we left by night.
Q. How long did it take?
A. It is not far from Sakya to the Sikkimese
border. We got there safely in five days. Our party was of
only eight or nine people and, because of the circumstances, I
was unable to bring any of the very many precious and holy
things we had in Sakya.
In Sikkim, I spent a month in Lachen, where, I
remember, I began to learn English, and soon after I could
pick out simple words. Then a message came from Khyentse
Rinpoche that he was very ill in Gangtok, so I went there. The
message, in fact, was brought by a Tibetan doctor who is now
my father-in-law, although then I didn't know him! Khyentse
Rinpoche was very unwell and I said many prayers for him, but
he became weaker and passed away in July, 1959.
After this, I went down to Darjeeling and then, in
winter I made a pilgrimage through India and Nepal, returning
to Kalimpong and Darjeeling in early 1960. I spent that year
and the next two years studying philosophy under a very
learned Sakya abbot called Khenpo Rinchen. You see, although I
had received many teachings and performed many retreats in
Tibet, I had never had time to study Mahayana philosophy very
much, so in these three years, I learned Madhyamika
philosophy, Logic, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma, and other
studies. Then, at the end of 1962, there was a border war
between India and China, so we left Darjeeling and came to
The following year I spent recovering from
tuberculosis, but at the end of 1963, I was able to attend the
Religious Conference in Dharamsala, and in March, 1964, we
founded the Sakya Centre to function as our main monastery for
the time being, located down at the foot of Mussoorie. I went
back to Mussoorie to take up studies with the Venerable Khenpo
Appey, a very great Sakya teacher. Primarily, I studied the
Tantras under him and received the many profound explanations
he had received form his own teacher, the first Deshung
Rinpoche, the great Tibetan mystic. Later, I studied some
Madhyamika philosophy under him too, and, in addition, poetry,
grammar, and arithmetic. In 1965, I attended the Second
Religious conference in Bodh Gaya. In 1966, I went on a
pilgrimage to Sanchi, the caves at Ajanta and Ellora, but
otherwise, my studies continued uninterrupted until 1967, when
Khenpo Appey went to Sikkim. In the winter of 1967, I gave
the Lamdre for the first time at Sarnath, when I was
22. About four hundred monks and perhaps one hundred lay
Buddhists attended. Early in the following year, we started
our Sakya Rehabilitation Settlement at Puruwala for nine
hundred refugees from Sakya. The place was chosen for a
physical similarity to Sakya, although, of course, it was much
Perhaps I should mention a succession of Western
friends who had stayed with me during these years, helping
with our rehabilitation work, and from whom I learned to speak
In 1970, a tragic motor accident deprived us of the
Venerable Thutop Tulku, a young and very capable monk who had
organized the Centre and the Settlement, practically
single-handed. Since I now knew English fairly well, I took
over the work of administration. That autumn, I moved to the
Sakya Centre, and since then I have lived in Rajpur. Nineteen
seventy one and 1972 were good years, as the Venerable Chogye
Tri Rinpoche stayed with us in Rajpur, giving a major
collection of consecrations, the Gyude Kunta of Jamyang
Khyentse Wangpo. In the spring of 1974, I married, and soon
after left on my first visit to the West. For four months, I
visited Switzerland, England, Canada, the United States, and
Japan, giving religious teachings and meeting Tibetan
immigrants and Western Buddhists. On November 19th, 1974, my
son, Doongsay Rinpoche, was born. The following spring, we
went on pilgrimage to Chogye Rinpoche's newly completed
monastery in Lumbini, Nepal, after which I spent a month
teaching at our Sakya monastery in Bodhnath, Kathmandu. That
summer, my aunt, who had brought me up and upon whom all the
decisions and work had rested during my childhood, passed
away, to our great sorrow. In 1976, I taught in Darjeeling. I
taught the Druthab Kuntu in Ladakh, Kashmir, and
undertook a teaching tour of the settlements in south India.
Q. And next?
A. I very much look forward to teaching in the
Q. Your Holiness, whom do you
regard as your main Gurus?
A. My main Guru was Khangsar Khenpo, from whom I
received the Lamdre. Then my father; Khyentse Rinpoche;
Khangsar Shabdrung Rinpoche; Lama Ngawang Lodro Rinchen; and
Sakya Khenpo Jampal Sangpo. Then, to a lesser degree, Phende
Khenpo, Drupchen Rinpoche, and many others.