Sachen Kunga Nyingpo

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo – The First Sakya Patriarch –
The Third Sakya Trizin (c. 1092 – c. 1158)

Five Sakya Founders
Sakya Throneholders
Lamdré Lineage
Vajrayoginī Lineage

The great Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, emanation of Lord Avalokiteshvara, embodiment of the compassion of all the Buddhas, emanation of Lord Manjushri, embodiment of the wisdom of all the Buddhas, was born in the Khön family to Khön Konchog Gyalpo and Sonam Kyid (known as Machig Shangmo). Shortly beforehand, the Lord of Mahadsiddhas, Namkha’upa Chokyi Gyaltsen, was meditating in clear light. In his pure vision he saw a rainbow canopy in the space over Kar Ghong Valley. In the centre of the rainbow canopy he saw Avalokiteshvara Khasarpani clearly in Bardo form, with one face and two hands in a standing position. His right hand was in the gesture of excellent giving, while between the thumb and ring finger of his left hand he held an utpala flower. He was adorned with rich cloths and precious jewels.

By this signs Namkha’upa foresaw that an emanation of Avalokiteshvara was about to come into the world as the son of Khön Konchog Gyalpo. The next time he received one of his regular visits from Khön Konchog Gyalpo, Namkha’upa sent him away from his house at sunset, instead of asking him to stay the night. He suggested that Khön Konchog Gyalpo spend the night in the Kar Ghong Valley. This was because he foresaw that Sachen Kunga Nyingpo would be born from the union of Khön Konchog Gyalpo and Machig Shangmo, who was living in the Kar Ghong valley. It was there that Khön Konchog Gyalpo first saw Machig Shangmo, who offered him accommodation. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was born in 1092, the Male Water Monkey year. His birth was heralded by many auspicious signs.  

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was an extraordinary child. From a very young age, he was skilled in reading, writing and the common sciences such as astrology, Sanskrit, poetry, rhetoric, medicine, gemology, zoology and psychology etc. Through his mastery of these fields of knowledge, he pleased all the people. His Noble Father was the upholder of many teachings and he imparted several to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo.

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was only eleven years old when his Noble Father entered into parinirvana. According to astrological predictions, his future would be auspicious provided that three things were accomplished in one day: funeral rights were to be performed for his Noble Father, the foundation stone for a new shrine was to be laid and a throneholder of Sakya was to be appointed as a successor. All three tasks were accomplished accordingly. Bari Lotsawa, a great and respected scholar, was appointed to the throne. Bari Lotsawa told Sachen Kunga Nyingpo that first of all he needed to study. In order to study, he needed to acquire wisdom. In order to acquire wisdom, he needed to practise Manjushri, the wisdom deity. Then Bari Lotsawa gave Sachen Kunga Nyingpo the initiation of Manjushri Arapatsa (one type of Manjushri practice). Sachen Kunga Nyingpo followed Bari Lotsawa’s instructions faithfully. However, while practising Sachen Kunga Nyingpo experienced many obstacles. His Holy Guru told him that in order to pacify these obstacles, he should practise Achala first. When he gave him the initiation of Achala, all Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s obstacles were pacified. Following that, he practised Manjushri. After practising for six months in all he had a pure vision of Lord Manjushri and obtained infinite wisdom. It was at this time that Manjushri imparted to him the teachings on Parting from the Four Attachments:

“If you have attachment to this life, you are not a Dharma practitioner, If you have attachment to samsara, you do not have renunciation, If you have attachment to your own purpose, you do not have Bodhichita, If grasping arises, you do not have the view.”

This sacred verse of only four lines contains the pith essence of the Mahayana teachings. It became very famous throughout the Land of Snows and to this day is studied and practised by many great masters. When Sachen Kunga Nyingpo had received this teaching, seven swords connected in a continuous line emanated from the heart of Manjushri and were absorbed into Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s heart. This signified that initially there would be seven outstanding emanations of Manjushri in the Khön family and that subsequently there would be many more emanations of Manjushri in the Khön lineage. 

Due to receiving this direct blessing, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo effortlessly mastered many kinds of knowledge. However, in order to comply with the conduct of noble beings and that of the common people, he undertook extensive formal training. At the age of twelve he went to Rong Ngurmik to receive the Abhidharma from Geshe Drang Ti Dharma Nyingpo. Much to everyone’s amazement, he immediately understood both the words and the meanings.

Instead of continuing to study Pramana from Kyung Rinchen Drag, the leader of Sakya insisted that he return to Sakya and receive teachings from Bari Lotsawa, who was then advanced in age. So Sachen Kunga Nyingpo returned and received a vast range of teachings of both Sutra and Tantra from Bari Lotsawa. Then, shortly before he entered into parinirvana, in the year 1111 Bari Lotsawa passed the throne of Sakya to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo when he was twenty years old. After this, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo continued to receive extensive teachings and empowerments from many great teachers.

He visited his teacher, Namkha’upa, and received teachings on the four classes of Tantra from him. He also received further Sutra teachings, including Shiccasamuccaya, the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and the Sutrasamuccaya, etc. After that some senior Sakya people decided that it was time for Sachen Kunga Nyingpo to study the teachings that were held by his Noble Father. Thus he went to receive teachings from Khön Gi Chu Wa Dra Lha Bar, who was in the same lineage as the Khön family. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo proved to be the most intelligent of all Khön Gi Chu Wa’s students. He understood each and every meaning of the teachings thor-oughly after hearing them only once. 

One day he and some other students of Khön Gi Chu Wa Dra Lha Bar attended a public teaching by Lama Seton Kunrig (Sekar Chungwa). Lama Seton asked each of the students’ where they came from, etc. When Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was asked, he replied that he was from Sakya. Lama Seton observed that his own Lama had once lived there, but had since passed away. When Sachen Kunga Nyingpo told him that he was the son of Khön Konchog Gyalpo, Lama Seton replied in disbelief, saying that Khön Konchog Gyalpo had no son. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s Dharma friends explained that he was the son of his Noble Father’s later years. When Lama Seton finally realized who Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was, he said that the living cannot meet the dead, which had occurred. Then he sat Sachen Kunga Nyingpo on his lap and told him that he was an old man, who carried within him the precious Dharma teachings which he must pass on to him without delay. He knew that he would enter into parinirvana in the following year. However, circumstances did not permit Sachen Kunga Nyingpo to return and receive teachings from Lama Seton. 

Some time later, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo made preparations to invite Khön Gi Chu Wa to give teachings in Sakya. Then he received the news that his Lama was gravely ill and had summoned him to his bedside. When Sachen Kunga Nyingpo reached there, his Holy Guru had already entered into parinirvana. Afterwards he visited Khön Gi Chu Wa’s teacher, Mal Lotsawa, and received extensive teachings of both Sutra and Tantra from him. After hearing the teachings only once, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo could master teachings which took most people a lifetime to understand. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo could accomplish Dharma activities swiftly, while the other students of Mal Lotsawa were still struggling. During this time, Lama Mal Lotsawa was delighted and said that he saw a very auspicious sign which showed that Sachen Kunga Nyingpo would be a great practitioner. 

After receiving teachings from Lama Mal Lotsawa, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo left and travelled homewards, giving teachings on the way. He received offerings of seventeen gold coins, which he sent with a yogi to offer to Lama Mal Lotsawa. Later Lama Mal Lotsawa announced that Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was an ‘inconceivable’ samaya holder and asked Sachen Kunga Nyingpo to return for more teachings. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo later returned to Lama Mal Lotsawa and received many further teachings from him. Lama Mal Lotsawa also bestowed upon Sachen Kunga Nyingpo holy objects along with the sacred mask of a Dharma Protector. This was a special mask with the power of communicating with human beings and flying through space. He then spoke to the mask, saying that now that he was so old he didn’t need him anymore. He instructed the mask to follow the Khön Sakyapa and to obey his instructions and those of his descendants. 

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo continued to receive many more teachings and empowerments from other great masters. Then the time came when he wished to receive the full Lam Dre teachings. He enquired which of the disciples of Lama Sekar Chungwa was best qualified to bestow the precious Lam Dre teachings. He was told that the best qualified disciples were the two Shangton brothers. Although the younger brother had died, the older brother, Lama Shang Gonpawa, who was highly learned in the Lam Dre teachings, was alive and living in Sag Thang. Accordingly, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo travelled to Sag Thang Dhing. When he arrived, he saw a group of people spinning and asked them where he might find Lama Shang Gonpawa. One of them pointed out a man who was wearing robes and a goatskin vest. This man was spinning and talking idly with others. When Sachen Kunga Nyingpo greeted him and prostrated to him, Lama Shang Gonpawa told him that he looked like he was from a noble family and asked him whether he had mistaken him for somebody else. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo replied that he had not made a mistake, and had come to ask to receive the precious Lam Dre teachings from him. Lama Shang Gonpawa replied that he knew only some Dzogchen teachings which he sometimes imparted, but these would not suit one who was obviously a follower of the new Tantra, such as Sachen Kunga Nyingpo appeared to be. As for the Lam Dre teachings, he knew nothing about them.

From what Lama Shang Gonpawa had said and also judging from the Lama’s general appearance and demeanour, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo concluded that he probably really did not have the Lam Dre teachings, after all. Jho Say Odchog’s father asked Lama Shang Gonpawa whether it was all right to refuse him like that, since he looked like the son of his Holy Guru’s Lama Khön Konchok Gyalpo. Lama Shang Gonpawa replied that if that were so, then there would be a danger of breaking his samaya by refusing to give the teachings to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. Then he sent him to call back Sachen Kunga Nyingpo and examine his history. After speaking to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, Lama Shang Gonpawa was satisfied that he was the son of Khön Konchok Gyalpo. He then admitted that he held the precious Lam Dre teachings, but said that as he had never taught them before and would need time to reflect upon them. He asked Sachen Kunga Nyingpo to return the following spring. When Sachen Kunga Nyingpo returned, Lama Shang Gonpawa dis-cussed with him the three major Tantras related to the precious Lam Dre teachings and was pleased with the answers he gave. He then bestowed the empowerment and preliminary instructions upon him, but on the eve of giving the actual Lam Dre teachings, Lama Shang Gonpawa found that his tongue had become swollen. Therefore he was unable to start giving teachings on the next day. He told Sachen Kunga Nyingpo that there was a breakage of samaya between them and that Sachen Kunga Nyingpo would need to recite the Hundred Syllable Mantra and make mandala offerings to repair this breakage.

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo thought that there had been no breakage of samaya apart from thinking that Lama Shang Gonpawa did not have the Lam Dre teachings. So he did these practices. When the Lama recovered, he began to bestow the complete Lam Dre teachings and many other teachings also. This was done slowly, over four years, during which time Sachen Kunga Nyingpo thoroughly understood the teachings. Towards the end, Lama Shang Gonpawa told Sachen Kunga Nyingpo that he should not even mention the name of the precious Lam Dre teachings for the next eighteen years. After that, he would be the owner of these teachings and he would then be free to teach them or write them down. He told him that if he decided to concentrate mainly on teaching others, he would benefit countless sentient beings. Specifically, three of his disciples would reach the state of Mahamudra in their present life, seven would attain the state known as ‘patience,’ which is close to the state of Mahamudra and many others would attain high realizations.

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo promised to reflect constantly on the precious teachings. At the completion of eighteen years, Lama Aseng requested Sachen Kunga Nyingpo to bestow the Lam Dre teachings upon him. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo regarded the timing of this request as very auspicious. Accordingly, he imparted the Lam Dre teachings to Lama Aseng. From that time onwards he gave Lam Dre teachings many times and wrote many commentaries on the Lam Dre teachings in addition to composing many other religious texts and commentaries.  

The Good Qualities of His Realization

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo kept the precepts and samayas of the Three Vows perfectly without even the slightest transgression. He was the embodiment of loving kindness and compassion. He lacked attachment to material things. He pleased his teachers through the strength of his devotion and by following their instructions faithfully. He was able to see deities directly and thoroughly understood the nature of phenomena. He also possessed clairvoyance and miraculous powers unlimited by time and space. It has already been mentioned that as a child, in his pure vision, he saw Manjushri along with Green Tara and Arya Achala, who dispelled all obstacles.  

On another occasion, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo suffered a relapse of an earlier illness. As a result, he forgot all the Dharma teachings he had received. Although he could receive other teachings again from Dharma friends or refer to them in books, there was no Guru from whom he could request the precious Lam Dre teachings nor were there any writ-ten texts available. He was very distressed, because even if he were to travel to India, he was not sure whether he could receive the precious Lam Dre teachings again. He then went into retreat. After praying and supplicating whole-heartedly to the Holy Guru and the Triple Gem, he regained a recollection of some of the teachings. Then one day Lama Shang Gonpawa appeared to him in a dream and imparted teachings. As a result, he regained his memory of all the teachings he had received. After this he began to pray fervently and with great joy from the depth of his heart. One morning he had a pure vision of the great Mahasiddha Virupa in Sakya seated in the posture of full meditation and performing the mudra of turning the wheel of Dharma with both hands. On his right was Mahasiddha Krishnapa, on his left, Pandita Gayadhara, behind him, Kokalipa and in front of him, Vinasa. After seeing this vision, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo generated unimaginable non-conceptual samadhi in his mind. He later composed a homage to Virupa, which is recited by followers of the Sakya school to this day. After that, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo remained in retreat for a month, during which period Mahasiddha Virupa appeared to him many times and transmitted many teachings, empowerments and blessings. 

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo had the power to manifest many different forms at one time. On one occasion, he manifested his body in six different places simultaneously: (1) bestowing teachings to about thirty meditators for three years in Tsar Khar; (2) giving Lam Dre teachings in Sakya to fulfill the wishes of his holy teachers; (3) receiving teachings on Chakrasamvara from Lama Mal Lotsawa; (4) performing a consecration ritual in Dring Tsam; (5) giving precious Lamdre teachings in Zang Dong nomad region; and (6) giving other Dharma teachings in Shap Go Ngar. These manifestations were discovered only after Sachen Kunga Nyingpo had entered into parinirvana, when his disciples discussed his noble Dharma activities.  

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was able to subjugate the opponents of the Dharma through his powers. During that time there were two teachers of black magic who were emanations of demons. One was Lachen Taktsa, and the other was Rewa Zugu. They were jealous of great beings in general and specifically of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. They wanted to hamper his Dharma activities. With the inducement of a large quantity of gold, Lachen Taktsa sent Khampa Dorgyal forth to assassinate Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. Accordingly, when Khampa Dorgyal reached Sakya, he presented himself to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. He told him that he had been born in Kham and had lived for a long time in the upper part of Tibet. Then, hearing of the fame of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, he had come with great devotion to see him. He asked Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s permission to remain in his presence for a while. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo agreed to this.

Khampa Dorgyal remained there and gave every appearance of being a faithful disciple. However he secretly plotted Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s assassination. The greatly compassionate Sachen Kunga Nyingpo knew Khampa Dorgyal’s true intention through his clairvoyance. One day when Khampa Dorgyal saw Sachen Kunga Nyingpo sitting with his cloak wrapped around his children, Sonam Tsemo and Drakpa Gyaltsen, he developed thoughts of disdain, thinking that Sachen Kunga Nyingpo appeared to be an ordinary father and not even like a Dharma practitioner, let alone a Guru. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo knew that he was harbouring disrespectful thoughts. He called him over and asked whether he had any wrong thoughts in his mind. Khampa Dorgyal was terrified when he heard this question and became extremely agitated. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo then told him that it is very wrong to have negative thoughts about the Holy Guru in Vajrayana. He then stretched out his legs and showed a different Vajrayana mandala on the sole of each foot. These appeared even more clearly than if they had been painted.

Khampa Dorgyal was filled with remorse for his evil intentions and confessed his nefarious plans. He promised that from then on he would offer his body, speech and mind in service to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. He then returned to the black magician Lachen Taktsa and lied to him, saying that he had carried out the assassination of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. Lachen Taktsa entrusted his belongings to Khampa Dorgyal, and told him that his rosary and mattress were powerful magical instruments and they should be kept clean and not moved. But Khampa Dorgyal did precisely the opposite and he also did likewise to the other black magician, Rewa Zugu. This completely undermined their black magic activities.

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, using his great Dharmic power, instructed Dharma protectors to subdue the two black magicians. These Dharma protectors sent many emanations, including two black yaks who performed wrathful activities, such as sharpening their horns, etc. They also sent other emanations, such as black birds and black dogs, etc. During that time, Khampa Dorgyal managed to drive away all the disciples of the two magicians. For a month he gave every appearance of serving them assiduously. Then on the 29th day of the lunar month, he subdued both of them. When he returned to Sakya, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was very pleased with what he had done. He gave him huge rewards, and in particular he imparted special instructions to him on the pith essence of the teachings, which would enable him to gain Buddhahood in one lifetime. Then Khampa Dorgyal returned to his native Kham and meditated. He displayed signs of having attained major siddhi. It is said that he was certain to gain Buddhahood in Bardo.

On another occasion, a man from Kham visited Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, saying that unless he was shown a sign that Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was a true emanation of Avalokiteshvara, he would kill himself right there. So saying, he held a knife to his heart. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo replied that there was no reason for him to stab himself, and showed him the palm of his hand, on which an eye was clearly visible.

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo had many great disciples. The foremost among these was Lopon Rinpoche Sonam Tsemo, his physical and spiritual son, who resides on the first bhumi. As prophesied by Lama Shang Gon Pa Wa, and also revealed to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo in a dream on the eve of a major empowerment from Khön Gi Chu Wa, three of his disciples achieved the excellent Mahamudra within that lifetime. Seven disciples attained a high state of realization and many others became great practitioners, very learned etc. Also there were uncountable hidden disciples who became great scholars, powerful practitioners and accomplished meditators while maintaining their everyday lives and activities.

After holding the throne of Sakya for forty-eight years from the age of twenty to the age of sixty seven, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo entered into parinirvana in 1158, on the fourteenth day of the ninth lunar month in the year of the Male Earth Tiger. Even common people perceived signs such as celestial music, heavenly fragrance and rainbow light filling the sky. Most witnessed his body manifested in four different aspects. The first aspect proceeded to Sukavati, the second to Potala, the third to Odiyana and the fourth to the Golden Colored Realm in the north.

When Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s physical remains were cremated, those who were present felt no sorrow, but entered into deep meditative absorption. They all perceived his body as a deity and some perceived two distinct deities. When his holy ashes were scattered into the sea, a mandala of the deity appeared on the surface of the water as clearly as if it had been painted.

Throughout his extraordinary life, there were times when it appeared that through illness he had completely forgotten all the teachings he had received. However, he prayed fervently and with such devotion to the Holy Guru and the Triple Gem, that through the blessings of his Holy Gurus, he regained his recollection and even received further teachings directly from Mahasiddha Virupa. In actuality, he did not forget what he had learned. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, who had abandoned all the obscurations, gained all the qualities and is residing in the state of Buddhahood. All of these events were merely a dis-play by which he inspired the faithful and set an example to be followed by practitioners of the future.