An Introduction To The Teachings of Kyabje Sakya Trizin Rinpoche

Compiled from public talks and teachings given in the United States

This transcription project is a work in progress - an attempt to bring together selected teachings of His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Patriarch of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism, for the benefit of interested students. Parts 1-4 present introductory material concerning Buddhism in general and the Sakya tradition in particular. Part 5 is a basic teaching on a core Sakya Text. Part 6 presents advanced teachings on Concentration and Insight Wisdom. Parts 7 and 8 bring together questions and answers from students on both basic concepts, and on putting the teachings into practice. The texts have only been lightly edited, to preserve the voice and style of the original teachings.

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Buddhist Teachings and Their Transmission

Part 2 The Sakya School: Teachings and Practice

Part 3 Autobiographical Excerpts

Part 4 A Brief Overview of the Lam Dre

Part 5 Parting From the Four Desires: A Basic Teaching

Part 6 The Essential Two Wings: Concentration and Insight Wisdom

Part 7 Some Reflections on Enlightenment

Part 8 Dharma in the West: Questions and Answers

Sources and Acknowledgements

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Copyright 1998 Vikramasila Foundation

The Buddhist Teachings and Their Transmission

The great Lord Buddha created the enlightenment thought for the benefit of all sentient beings without exception. His idea was to remove every human being from the sufferings of samsara in order for them to achieve enlightenment. Before that, he had accumulated enormous amounts of wisdom and compassion and had finally attained perfect enlightenment himself, where he departed from all forms of obscuration and obtained every possible quality. After obtaining enlightenment, Lord Buddha performed many great physical activities, voice activities, and primordial wisdom activities. Among these great activities, the most important activity was the voice activity: the turning of the wheel of dharma. Through the turning of the wheel of dharma, he taught what he had realized to all sentient beings so that we also could enter into the path and proceed further toward enlightenment itself.

Just as space has no limit, sentient beings have no limit. The limitless sentient beings are all different. We all have different minds, different mentalities, different propensities, different tastes, and so forth. Therefore, in order to suit every level of mentality and every condition, the Buddha gave an enormous variety of teachings. Just as different medicines are needed in order to cure different diseases, the Buddha gave many different teachings to help every level of sentient being.

The teachings are commonly divided into two parts: divisions according to time, and divisions according to subject. In terms of divisions of time, there are three [chronological] divisions: the first Dharmachakra, the second Dharmachakra and the third Dharmachakra. We may divide the teachings by subject into the Tripitaka, which is comprised of the Abhidharma, the Vinaya, and the Sutras.

The whole purpose of turning the wheel of dharma was to tame our minds, which are overwhelmed with defilements. As an antidote to specific defilements, the Buddha gave specific teachings. Since there are three main defilements, he gave three teachings. As an antidote to the defilement of desire, he taught the Vinaya, which explains moral conduct - how to lead a good disciplined life. As an antidote to hatred, he taught the Sutras which explain the different meditations - how to control and calm our minds. As an antidote to ignorance he taught the Abhidharma which explains wisdom.

The followers of the dharma can be divided into two types: those who follow the lower path or the smaller goal, and those who follow the wider path or the great goal. This is why there are two vehicles, the Hinayana and the Mahayana. Although Buddhism was started in India and spread to many different countries, I believe it is only in Tibet that all the different levels of teaching: the Hinayana, the Mahayana, the Vajrayana, and all the related signs and teachings have been preserved together. In Tibetan Buddhism, practitioners undertake a combination of Mahayana and Vajrayana practices.

Buddha's turning of the wheel of dharma has two meanings: one meaning is that one turns the wheel and one reaches one's destination. Similarly, the Buddha gave the teachings but also transmitted these truths to his disciples. The teachings travel from what he had achieved, and the achieved knowledge is then transmitted to his students. Those who receive the dharma and practice it can reach a higher realization. So there are two meanings: the actual teaching itself and the realization.

Historically, the Wheel of Dharma was turned three times. The first time was the teaching of The Four Noble Truths at Sarnath. The second time, was the teaching of the Perfection of Wisdom Prajnaparamita at Vulture Peak. And the third was a kind of mixed teaching, mainly about Buddha Nature.

When a student receives a teaching, there is the potential for three kinds of faults. The first is called "the container upside down." If a container such as a drinking glass is put upside down, then no matter how much water flows over it, not a single drop falls inside. If you do not concentrate and listen carefully when you receive a teaching, then your mind is like the upside-down container. Although you may be sitting in the place where the teaching is being given, you will not remember or benefit from a single word. The second fault is called "the container with holes underneath." If a container is upright but has holes in the bottom, then whatever is poured into it will drain out. This fault is used to explain "glimpsing" the teaching as you receive it. You may understand the teaching very briefly, but soon afterward you don't remember any of the words. Like a container with holes, your mind cannot retain the teaching and it leaves your memory. The third fault is illustrated by a cont ainer, which is upright, and without holes, but has dirt or poison in it. No matter how clean the food or water is that is placed in that container, it cannot benefit you; nor can it be used because it is mixed with the dirt or poison. In this sense, when you receive teachings, you may concentrate on, and actually absorb the teachings. But if your intention is mixed with poison, then the teaching will not be of benefit to you.

In this sense, the container of our whole self, should be upright, without holes, and also clean. Common "poisons" that contaminate the container may be lack of faith in the teachings or the Guru, pride or self-clinging, as well as the thought that you are receiving the teaching to accomplish some worldly purpose (such as gaining wealth or fame). These attitudes are absolutely wrong.

It is generally explained that there are six different kinds of "contaminants" associated with the taking of teachings: pride, lack of faith, disinterest, distraction, meditating during the teaching, and impatience.

Considering oneself better than the teacher, from the standpoint of race or other qualities, is the contaminant of pride. Faithlessness is explained as hearing the teaching yet finding fault in the Guru or the teaching. Disinterest essentially is the attitude of having no real intention to receive the teachings. Distraction consists of thinking of other things (specifically, "outer objects") as you receiving the teaching. Normally one does not meditate when one is receiving teachings, so it is considered a fault to meditate instead of absorbing the teaching as they are given. Finally, impatience is when one is tired of receiving the teachings and wishes that they would be finished. These six qualities are faults. If the container of our mind is mixed with these things, then it is mixed with contaminants and the teachings will not benefit you.

It is also important to remember that both the Guru and the disciple must have the right attitude. The Guru should consider himself as a sort of doctor, the Dharma is the medicine, and persons hearing the teaching are the patients. Extending this analogy, one's defilements are the great sickness from which you need to be cured, in receiving the teaching you receive treatment, and all those who surround you should be thought of as helpers.

Giving, and properly receiving, a teaching embodies the full Six Paramitas. The Teacher giving the teaching to you in words represents the paramita of generosity. By receiving the teaching, you are discriminating between the right path and the wrong path. Choosing to follow the right path, is the paramita of moral conduct. As you receive the teaching, the efforts and sacrifice you are making through your body and your time is the paramita of patience. Your great enthusiasm in receiving the teaching will be the arising of wisdom. So the receiving and the bestowing of the teaching contains the Paramitas.

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The Sakya School: Teachings and Practice

The Sakyapas follow what are called "the four special practices" which practitioners must do every day after receiving the Lam Dre empowerment. These are: Guru yoga, Birwapa [Virupa] Guru Yoga, Hevajra, and Vajrayogini. These four are my main practices.

However, when a beginner starts to practice, he or she is taught the preliminary practices as well as a sadhana. For beginners, it is customary to do preliminary meditations with specific numbers [for example 100,000 repetitions of a mantra] But personally I feel the number is not what's important. What's important is how one feels about their practice. Some people could spend their whole life just doing the preliminary practices, and attain great realizations from them. Some people do the preliminaries and then devote most of the time to other meditations. Some people may not do the preliminaries but devote most of their time to other practices. It all depends on the individuals' understanding. For example, in the biography of the great teacher Ngwang Legpa, we learn that he spent most of his life doing preliminaries. He did millions of mandala offerings, prostrations, and recitations of prayers. He attained profound realization by doing the preliminary practices. I think he was very uniqu e in doing so much preliminary practice. Most people do one hundred thousand and he did millions.

It is also important to remember that although there are different Tibetan lineages, they are not so separate. I, myself, have received many Kagyu, Nyingma and Gelugpa lamas, and we the Sakyas give empowerments to other lineages.

The Sakya school includes what are described as "the view," "the meditation," and "the conducts." "The view" is a balanced perspective, which avoids all extremes. "The meditation" includes the meditative techniques of "the process of creation" and "the process of completion." "The conduct" refers to keeping the three vows--the vinaya vow, the bodhisattva vow and the tantric vow. This combination of view, meditation and conduct is a specialty of the Sakyas.

Of course, other schools of Tibetan Buddhism have a similar orientation, but a different style and emphasis. Other schools may concentrate more exclusively on meditation, or more exclusively on scholarly studies, but the Sakya school aims at a combination of view, practice and conduct.

Presently, the Sakya school has many scholars in monasteries in India. Practice and meditation are also emphasized. For example, Chogye Trichen Rinpoche has a meditation center in his monastery, and they're doing a three-year retreat. In the future, there are plans for an organized nunnery as well. In the United States students need to concentrate on the basic studies.

It is important to remember that there are fundamentally no differences between the major schools of Buddhism which exist today: from those based on the creation of the enlightenment thought, or the view of shunyata or practice of emptiness, up to the final achievement of enlightenment. The only differences that one can point to are in the various lineages: how the teachings started in India and then were transmitted to Tibet through the different translators and masters. The individual lineages are different, only in terms of emphases. For example, some schools place more emphasis on philosophical training; some put greater emphasis on meditation. We must remember that the goal of all the lineages is the same.

Today, the Sakya school presents many different teachings: sutra teachings, mantrayana teachings, and many of the other sciences. The most important teaching we have in our tradition is the Lam Dre teaching which means "the path that includes the result." The main Lam Dre teaching was first given in India by the great mahasiddha Virupa, who was one of the 84 mahasiddhas.

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Autobiographical Excerpts

These autobiographical excerpts were taken primarily from an interview with His Holiness, conducted by Gerry Reilly in New York City, in 1991.

I was born in the Khon lineage, which has continued as a hereditary lineage for thousands of years. This lineage is believed to be the direct descendants of celestial beings that were settled in Tibet then, and after many generations started the Sakya monasteries. The family has a long history, sometimes with two palaces, sometimes one palace. I was born in the Sakya Drolma Podrung, which means a Tara palace, because our palace is very near to a famous Tara shrine. My father didn't have a child for a very long time so they had to do all kinds of rituals in order to have a child. I was born in 1945 after many rituals had been performed. Ever since I was born in this lineage, they performed many special rituals for me. When I was very young, I received major empowerments and teachings from my father and then received other teachings from many of my own gurus. Then I went to India in 1959 when I was quite young, and ever since then I have been studying and giving teachings and also administeri ng at the monastery with the lay followers.

Although the Khon lineage is hereditary, many of the famous teachers are emanations from Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and some later ones were reincarnations of their forefathers, and so forth. Apart from the Khon lineage, we also have many great masters who are reincarnated lamas in the Sakya tradition.

Currently I live in Rajpur, in northern India. I arise quite early in the morning and do my morning meditations. Then before I take my breakfast, I take circumambulations of my house which is quite a big compound. I Take them quite fast, twenty times. On one hand, this is to accumulate merit, and on the other hand, it is for my health. Then I have breakfast. Then I receive visitors. Many, many people come to see us to ask about personal problems, divination, and blessings. Then I also study in the afternoon. Sometimes we have business about monastery and settlements. Then in the evening, I have my evening meditation and prayers. Then we watch the news and that's about all.

Because we have the heredity tradition, in which I am married and have a family, which has been going on like this for many generations, it is quite understood and obvious, so there are no conflicts. I wanted to become a monk at one point; however, since I am the only son of the family, I couldn't do it and continue the lineage. My younger son, like myself, also wishes to become a monk, and he is going to become a monk. Although he hasn't received the ordination yet, he is wearing the monk's robes and he will become a monk.

I have know His Holiness the Dalai Lama, since the fifties. When the Chinese first invaded, he fled to the border area of Yantan and later returned to Tibet. At that time I went to Lhasa and a few days later he'd returned. At that time I was not Sakya Trizin and I was very small and was just an ordinary person when the Dalai Lama with his retinues arrived. Soon after that I met him with an audience in his palace, but because I was very young, I don't know what I felt.

But I got to know him better in 1955. Again I went to Lhasa, and at that time I received some teachings in his residence, a small teaching for about forty people, not for the general public. At that time I saw him every day and still I was quite young and so he used to tease me and play with me. That I remember. Since then I've met him many, many times. He's come to our monasteries several times in India.

In the late fifties the Chinese had come and stayed in Sakya. They started a small school and a small hospital. In 1958, they all left. None of them stayed. So for some reason we were quite lucky because when we were forced to flee Tibet, there were no Chinese in the area. Of course, we knew that there was great tension and one day there would be problems--especially since we had a few servants who went to India regularly and were familiar with the international situation. They all suggested that it would be best to go to India. At the time, it was a very difficult decision to make whether to stay or go. So we made some divinations. All the divinations said that we must go: we must leave without delay. We were still hoping that we didn't have to leave, maybe if we could do some pujas it would prevent the realization of the situation or delay it. However, all the divinations said that pujas wouldn't help and we must go straightaway. But to leave was a big decision. And if we decided to leave , although there were no Chinese, there were many spies. They could send the message to the Chinese and the Chinese would come. So we had to be careful. As I was leaving my house, I told people that I was going to the nearby meditation center to perform a retreat. I arrived and performed the retreat for one week, and from there I went to India. In our journey to India we were quite fortunate. Sakya is quite near to Sikkim, so we didn't suffer as much as the other Tibetans. It only took us four days by horse to reach the border of Sikkim.

In am still in contact touch with people who still live in Sakya, and many Sakya teachers remain there, including holders of the Lam Dre lineage. In Sakya itself, there is a lama called Lama Loga who is from Kham. He is a disciple of Khentyse Rinpoche. He is a very great yogi and great practitioner of Lam Dre. He has given Lam Dre to more than 400 students, mostly monks. And there is another abbot who is also a great scholar, the abbot for the College in Sakya. He suffered a lot but now he is back to his position. But Lama Loga didn't suffer, since he was not from Sakya, nobody knew him. He was from Eastern Tibet. In 1959 when the trouble started, he was in Sakya. Since he was not from local places, nobody knew him. Since people never thought him as a great lama, they treated him as a regular person.

Today there is no visible harassment from the Chinese, who don't directly say that one can't practice Buddhism. However the trouble is deeply rooted in the hearts and there is great fear and anxiety because they all have to live under this authoritarian rule.

The Sakya lineage is held by two "palace" lineages. In the distant past there were as many as four palaces and other times there was only one palace. But the present two-palace system started about six generations ago by the great Sakya Trizin called Gao Nyingpo. He had four sons and somehow these four sons all studied separately. Two of them were monks and two were married. From the two married sons, the Phuntsok Palace and the Dolma Podrung lineages originated. Dagchen Rinpoche, of Seattle holds the Phuntsok lineage, and I hold the Dolma lineage. I am the sixth generation of this lineage, and my son is the seventh. The head of the order usually alternates between the Phuntsok and Dolma lineage. My predecessor was the father of the Phuntsok palace. After he passed away, my father should have become the head, but my father had passed away, so I became the head.

My first guru, of course, was my father who gave me Vajrakilaya empowerment. He was very great. One of the incidences from his secret life account, which I heard much later from Deshung Rinpoche was that when he was doing meditation, there was a Manjushri image in his shrine room. This Manjushri image belonged to Sakya Pandita. When Sakya Pandita was debating with Hari, the Hindu scholar, this image was with him. The name of this image was "the victory-debater Manjushri image" because he won that famous debate. So when my father was doing meditation, this Manjushri image came to life, stood up, and talked to him. My father rose up and did prostrations and offered confession prayers. Manjushri said to him that instead of reciting confession prayers, if you perform guru yoga practice and then meditate on the ultimate reality, this will be more effective in purifying the negative deeds.

After that, my most important guru, from whom I received the Lamdre and all the other important teachings, was Ngawang Lodro Shenpen Nyingpo, the abbot of the Ngor monastery. He was a very great master and holder of all the teachings, and he performed many great miracles. One of the very important accounts of his life was when he was traveling in Eastern Tibet, many people witnessed evil spirits in the form of a large camp with tents. They saw it and many people were captured and died from these evil spirits. My guru did a special Mahakala puja nearby and destroyed all of the evil spirits. Ever since then the evil spirits disappeared and people could travel easily.

The third teacher was another abbot in the Sakya monastery from whom I received Lamdre teachings. This teacher was very humble and would never reveal any of his accomplishments. People believe that he must have had great experiences in meditation. Because sometimes, when he meditated, he used to wear his robe over his head and he used to cry a lot. That was believed to be the evidence that he experienced actual visions of hell. It is believed that when one meditates, one's air and elements goes through the veins and when they go through the hell realm veins then one will experience actual visions of hell. Which means that such a person will never go through that experience again because the hell realm veins inside the body were destroyed. So at that time one will feel like being in hell and see the hell realm beings, but it also means the destruction of the hell realm syllables. This happened to many other great yogis, such as the disciple of Lama Kunga, Lama Sakayapa.

I was close to both my main guru, Ngawang Lodro Shenpen Nyingpo and my guru, Jamyang Khyentse Chogye Lodro when they passed away.

I had another abbot from Nalandra named Ngawang Lodro Rinchen, who was a very great master in the sense that he could really perform miracles. For example, he possessed the power of inner heat. Tibet is a very cold place and during the winter the water in all our rooms would be frozen, but in his room it was never frozen. Everything remained warm. He had an inner heat. Altogether I had nine great masters from whom I received the teachings.

I and other Sakya teachers also hold some of the older teachings, such as Dzogchenpo. From Khon Nagarakshita on for many generations, there have been holders of ancient traditions. Then they felt it was necessary to establish a separate order so they concealed many of the teachings, but some teachings, such as Vajrakilaya, which comes from the ancient Nyingma teachings, still continues and is considered one of the most important Sakya practices.

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Thanks to the Ven. Constance Miller, for reading these texts, and for her invaluable suggestions regarding their presentation and order. Additional editing, as well as conversion of the text to HTML format, was completed by Richard Farris.

Thanks to Jeff Watt, of the Sakya Resource Guide for permission to use the picture of H.H. Sakya Trizin.

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