The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception: An Oral Commentary on the Three Visions

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The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception: An Oral Commentary on the Three Visions

Front Cover: "Viriipa Arresting the Sun," Tibet, first half of the thirteenth century; ink, opaque watercolor, and gold

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Front Cover: "Viriipa Arresting the Sun," Tibet, first half of the thirteenth century; ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on cloth. The mahasiddha Viriipa is the seventh-century progenitor of the Path with Irs Result (/am-dre) teachings, on which The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception, Deshung Rinpoche's commentary on The Three Visions, is based. He is shown here in the famous episode where he arrested the movement of the-sun in the sky after being granted drinking privileges until noon at a tavern. Previously an abbot of royal birth at Nalanda University, the greatest seat of learning in India at the time, he resigned after beginning to act in an extremely unconventional manner. Actually, he had achieved the highest attainments in tantric meditation, and his acts were an expression of his pure vision. Removing his monk's robes, he donned a flower garland and roamed India as a "mad" yogi; the tales of his enlightened exploits are many. Surrounding the main scene are vignettes depicting the other eighty-three of the Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas. The inscription on the verso of the painting includes the Buddhist creed of interdependent origination and a historic statement that the tangka was consecrated by the great Tibetan sage Sakya Pandita (1182-1251).

Photograph by fohn Bigelow Taylor, courtesy ofthe Kronos Collection.


The Venerable Deshung Rinpoche III

nJhree Levels of Spiritual Perception An Oral Commentary on

The Three Visions (Nang Sum) ofNgorchen Konchog Lhtindrub by


TRANSLATED by ]ARED RHOTON Edited, witb an Introduction, by Victoria R. M. Scott

WISDOM PUBLICATIONS • BOSTON in association with tht Vikramalila Foundation


361 Newbury Street Boston, Massachusetts 02115 Introduction © 1995 Victoria R M. Scott English translation© 1995 Victoria R. M. Scott and Michael E. Roche All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including phococopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system or technologies now known or later developed, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library ofCongress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Kunga Tenpay Nyima, Deshung Rinpoche, 1906-1987. The three levels of spiritual perception : an oral commentary on The three visions (nang sum) of Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrub I Kunga Tenpay Nyima; translated by Jared Rhocon; ediced by Viccoria R.M. Scoct. p. em. Translated from Tibetan. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-86171-101-7.- ISBN 0-86171-069-X (pbk.) l. Dkon-mchog-lhun-grub, Nor-chen, 1497-1557. Lam 'bras srion 'gro'i khrid yig snari gsum mdzcs rgyan. 2. L~-'bras (Sa-skya-pa) I. Rhoton, Jared, 1941-1993. II. Scott, Victoria R. M. III. Dkon-mchog-lhungrub, Nor-chen, 1497-1557. Lam 'bras srion 'gro'i khrid yig snari gsum mdzes rgyan. English. BQ7672.4.D55535 1995 294.3'44-dc20 95-1490

ISBN 0 86171 069 X (pbk) ISBN 0 86171 101 ?(cloth) 00








96 2

Photographs: Cover courtesy of the Kronos Collection; frontispiece by Richard Barron; other photos courresy of Dagmo Kusho, Moke Mokoroff, Jim and Meg Smarr, and the Sapan Fund. Typeset in Truesdell and Diacritical Garamond font families by L-JSAWLit', Boston.

Designed and produced by: LJSAWLit' Wisdom Publications' books arc printed on acid-free paper and meet the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Comminee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevicy of the Council on Library Resources.

Pri11ttd in th• Unitd Staus ofAmaica.

This volume is decUcated to the memory of the Venerable Deshung Rinpoche, and with great respect to His Holiness Sakya Trizin. It is also dedicated with gratitude to Jared Rhoton, translator and interpreter extraordinaire.

Jared Rhoton


JARED DOUGLAS RHOTON (Dharma name, Sonarn Tenzin) was born on June 21, 1941 in Shiro, a small town in east Texas whose name is said to be of Japanese provenance, perhaps foreshadowing his future role as an interpreter of Asian culture for the West. Raised a Mormon, Sonarn, as most of his friends carne to call him, devoted his adult life to the welfare of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism, its teachers, texts, and students. In India in the early 1960s, he was one of His Holiness Sakya Trizin's first Western students and English teachers; over the next three decades, he traveled extensively to interpret for Deshung Rinpoche, Chobgyay Trichen Rinpoche, Chirney Luding, and others, establishing and maintaining Buddhist centers at their request in several American cities. In many ways, Sonam complemented Deshung Rinpoche's personality and style. Both were noted scholars, and Sonam earned advanced degrees on two continents-a master's degree in philosophy from Sanskrit University, Be nares in 1975, a M.Phil. in comparative religion from Columbia University in 1981, and a Ph.D. in Indic studies from Columbia in 1985. Like Deshung Rinpoche, Sonam was noted for his humility and took jobs considerably below his scholarly abilities in order to devote the bulk of his time to the welfare of others. This humility, combined with his great facility as an interpreter and translator, made his voice the voice of Deshung Rinpoche for hundreds of Americans during the 1970s and 1980s. Like Deshung Rinpoche, Sonarn pursued a monastic vocation, receiving the novice monk (dge 'dun) ordination in the 1970s. Yet it is in his differences from Deshung Rinpoche that we see in relief key issues of the transition of Buddhism to the West. Sonarn lived in a country and time when monks were looked down upon with suspicion and, in some cases, hostility. His own scholarly and somewhat introverted per~ sonality made working in fledgling Buddhist centers problematic at times, but he persisted because it was the wish of the Sakya lamas who were his mentors and spiritual friends. Bravely working through the final English version of Deshung Rinpoche's Nang Sum teachings and his own lyrical xi

translation of works by Sakya Pandita (see bibliography), Sonam Tenzin passed from this life on May 9, 1993, six years almost to the day after the death of Deshung Rinpoche. Sonam partook of two worlds, neither of which had an established place for him, and attempted to share what was best in each with the other. It is perhaps fitting that: the work of this gentle scholar should be posthumous. Though oral transiation is often an evanescent art, the pages that follow prove that it can be an exalted one.

Michael Roche

May all beings in the ten directions be happy, May they ever be free from pain; May they live in accord with the spirit of Dharma And find all their hopes fulfilled.

The Guru Yoga ofSakya Pandita by Garon Ngawang Legpa Rinpoche translated by Jared Rhoton



List ofPhotographs xv Foreword xvii Acknowledgments xix Note to the Reader xxiii Introduction: The Tradition, the Teachings, and the Teacher xxvu

1 A Priceless Jewel in a Garbage Heap 3 2 Reveling in the Wine of Bliss 11 3 First Things First and Last Things Last 25 4 Climbing a Steep Ladder without Hands 31 5 The Umbrella of Refuge 45 6 Holding Fast until Enlightenment Is Won 53 7 Suppose You Own a Fine Horse 61 8 The Needle Point ofWorldly Existence 69 9 Sheer Pain 75 10 The Forest of Swords 83 11 Ignoble Stinginess 93 12 From Celestial Mansions to Murky Depths 101 13 No Rest from the Dance 109 14 A Fish Cast Up on Hot, Dry Sand 119 15 Careless Craving 127 16 Ceaseless Roaming 135 17 Imagine a Blind Tortoise 143 18 A Lump of Charcoal and a White Conch 151 19 Just Somebody Dressed in Red 159 20 The Great Fisher, Death 169 21 Discarded in Some Dark Hole 175 22 A Protector, an Island, a Great, Friendly Host 185 23 Deeds, Like a Shadow, Will Follow 197 24 A Great Vessel Filled by Drops ofWater 211 25 Black Pebbles and White Pebbles 223 26 As Helpless As a Worm 233 xiii


27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50" 51 52 53 54 55 56

Giving Our Parents a Piggyback Ride 247 A Mind Like an Overturned Pot 257 The Flavor of Compassion 261 Rudderless on the Sea of Life 269 A Coiled Rope in the Gloom ofNight 277 "Beloved Daughter" Kicks His Mother 285 The Hand Must Help the Foot 293 A Cloud ofWhite Light or a Sudden Dawn 303 Turning the Wheel of the Rat Race 313 Doing What Bodhisattvas Do 321 A Protector of the Protectorless 327 Seeing Things Exactly as They Are 337 Insight Yoked with Calm 345 Pouring Water into a Vase with a Hole in It 351 A Four-Petaled Blue Flower 359 The Monkeys Were Perplexed 367 The Flame of a Lamp in a Windless Place 375 A Storm of Thought Processes 379 Ten Million Blind Men 389 Rebirth as a Woodchuck 397 Saf!1sara Falls Apart Like a Tattered Rag 407 IfYouThink ofYourself as a Tiger 417 It Is "Natural" Not to Be Natural 423 Paying the Tax of Compulsiveness 429 Awakening Certitude 435 Tasting Sugarcane for the First Time 441 A Chamberpot, an Offering Bowl, a Buddha 453 The Dreaming Mind Deludes Itself 465 Tuning the Violin of Meditation 475 The Sharpness of a Thorn, the Roundness of a Pea 483

Outline ofthe Text 493 Notes 497 Bibliography 511 Glossary ofTibetan Names and Terms 523 Index 529



Page v

The Venerable Deshung Rinpoche III


Jared Rhoton


His Holiness the Forty-First Sakya Trizin


Plate 1. Gaton Ngawang Legpa Rinpoche


Plate 2. Dagrno Kusho, Ani Chirney Drolrna, Deshung Rinpoche, and Dr. Kunsang Nyirna


Plate 3. Dsongsar Khyentse Rinpoche II


Plate 4. His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche and Deshung Rinpoche


Plate 5. Deshung Rinpoche and Jared Rhoton


Plate 6. Deshung Rinpoche and His Holiness Sakya Trizin


Plate 7. Deshung Rinpoche IY, Ngawang Kunga Tegchen Chokyi Nyirna


His Holiness the Forry- First Sakya Trizin

~ Jl?'~--(16

Ya/r" ~en




11th February 1993


•The Three






be extremely

helpful for Dharma practitioners as a guide to their meditation and daily life. I am very happy that the Vikramashila Foundation is




commentary by

the venerable Oezbung

Rinpocbe. It is very important to practice in our daily life what knowledge






everybody to have complete knowledge practice diligently.

great and





to be able to



THE PUBLISHER GRATEFULLY acknowledges the kind help of Miss

and Michael Hellbach in sponsoring the publication of this book.

L. B. Lim


THE TEACHINGS CONTAINED in The Three Levels ofSpiritual Perception were given by Deshung Rinpoche at Jetsiin Sakya Centre, New York City, from September 7, 1977 to February 26, 1980, with Jared Rhoton interpreting. Many Jetsiin Sakya students first transcribed the audio cassette tapes of these teachings in 1980; students at Palden Sakya Center in New York transferred those original four volumes of typescript to computer almost a decade later. We are most appreciative of His Holiness Sakya Trizin, who has graciously supported both the Vikrama.S:ila Foundation and the Sapan Fund since their inceptions. And, of course, we will always be more than grateful to Deshung Rinpoche for "teaching the ABCs to Westerners" when he could instead have returned to India to teach the Dharma to learned monks, as. His Holiness the Dalai Lama once suggested (see introduction). Our heartfelt thanks, above all, to Jared Rhoton, for transmitting Deshurig Rinpoche's discourses so thoroughly and faithfully, and for providing most of the information for the introduction. Without him, this book would not exist. Special thanks to Helen Stendahl for her organizational work and interviews with many Sakya lamas. Sincere thanks are also extended to David Flood for providing the lion's share of the first transcription from audio cassettes, and to David Rich, Carolyn Cather, Carl Jossem, Tashi Drolma, Abby Petty Li, Cynthia Page, Marge Weinrich, Joan Remy, and Susan Mesinai for miscellaneous assistance on that initial version of the manuscript. Charles and Yvonne Byer generously did most of the word processing when the original transcript was transferred to computer; Patricia Honakar and family also provided substantial word-processing assistance. To all the donors to the Sapan Fund, especially John Giorno and Tom Trabin, we are deeply indebted for financial aid. Our sincere thanks, too, to Sakya Thubten Dhargye Ling in Minneapolis, Steven Schoonmaker, and Paul Hagstrom for funding the first edited draft of the work. Many thanks XIX



also to Larry and Marsha Spiro of the Melia Foundation for taking the Sapan Fund under their wing. We are most grateful to Dr. David Jackson for reviewing the introduction several times, thus rendering it more accurate, for invaluable reference to drafts of his "Biography of Dezhung Rinpoche," and for a last-minute review of the front and back matter that added to their overall accuracy. Many thanks, also, to Dr. Mark Tatz for compiling the bibliography and standardizing Tibetan and Sanskrit names and terms throughout the text, and to Judy Robertson for use of her essay on the five founding masters of the Sakya school and for many helpful suggestions on the introduction. Moke Mokotoff did us the invaluable service of arranging for the tangka of Virupa to appear on the front cover, courtesy of the Kronos Collection, wrote the description of it, and provided the photo of Deshung Rinpoche IV as well. We wish also to express our appreciation to Richard Farris for preliminary proofreading and secretarial acumen; to Barbara Ann Kipfer for partial copyediting; to Richard Barron for permission to cite his translation of Deshung Rinpoche's "A Lamp for the Path to Liberation" in notes to chapters 41 and 43, and for use of his photograph of Deshung Rinpoche as the frontispiece; and to Katherine Pfaff for supplying that photo. James Sarzotti and Michal Bigger thoughtfully provided the translation of the eighth chapter of Shantideva's Bodhicharyiivatara by Jared Rhoton and the Tibetan Classics Translators' Guild of New York, which is cited in the notes to chapter 39. Meg and Jim Smart kindly searched through their negatives for photos of]ared Rhoton. Nancy Cushing Jones generously read yet another book contract on our behalf, while Ingrid Mednis and Shirley Jowell were encouraging throughout. We are very happy to have had the help and encouragement of Dagmo Kusho (Jamyang Sakya), Deshung Rinpoche's niece, and Ani Chimey Drolma, his sister. Dagmo Kusho generously loaned us several photographs from her family albums and provided welcome information about Deshung Rinpoche's reincarnation as well. Carolyn Dawa Drolma Lama, Deshung Rinpoche IV's mother, was quite helpful, too. Thelma Rhoton, Jared's mother, and Judith and Jacqueline Rhoton, his sisters, were unfailingly supportive of the project, extending much-appreciated friendship and many kinds of assistance, both tangible and intangible. At Wisdom Publications, Editorial Project Manager Connie Miller was most friendly and helpful from first to last; President Timothy McNeill XX


contributed much to the process at crucial points; Jason Fairchild provided careful and welcome assistance; and Marketing Director Wendy Cook helped launch the finished barque. Last but .far from least, we would like to thank Lama Perna Wangdak, our teachers, families, and friends not already named, Abe Roche~Miessler, and Tony, Nina, and Lucia Misch for their great skill and kindness. Thanks, too, to John Bigelow Taylor, Clive Arrowsmith, and the unidentified pho~ tographers whose work so enhances these pages, and to everyone else who contributed in any way to The Three Levels ofSpiritual Perception. May chis work benefit all beings without exception.

Victoria Scott and Michael Roche The Sapan Fund



DESHUNG RINPOCHE was a vastly learned but modest teacher who practiced constantly and who, beyond his mastery of Buddhist doctrine, had an encyclopedic knowledge ofTibetan people, places, anecdotes, teachings, history, and more. He used to speak extemporaneously for at least ten or twenty minutes before pausing to let his gifted interpreter, Jared Rhoton, speak. In addition to being a luminary of the Sakya school, Deshung Rinpoche was a nonsectarian (ris-med) scholar who both sought teachings from and gave them to practitioners of all four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism; he taught at many different centers and never refused a request unless he was sick in bed. He was accompanied on his travels by his brother, Dr. Kunsang Nyima, a very playful, loyal sidekick and skilled physician who occasionally gave talks on Tibetan medicine and who granted medical consultations upon request. I first encountered Tibetan Buddhism in 1970, through an introductory class at the University ofWashington taught by Dr. Turrell Wylie, the scholar who brought Deshung Rinpoche and his family to Seattle from India in 1960. But I did not meet Deshung Rinpoche for another decade, and first saw the transcript of his oral commentary on The Three Visions when studying with him at the Sakya center in Los Angeles during the early 1980s. As already noted, The Three Levels ofSpiritual Perception was taught orally by Deshung Rinpoche at Jetsiin Sakya Centre, New York City, from September 7, 1977 to February 26, 1980, with Jared Rhoton interpreting. There was a break from April26, 1978 (chapter 27) to July .10, 1979 (chapter 28); during this time Deshung Rinpoche taught elsewhere and returned to his home in Seattle to welcome His Holiness Sakya Trizin (see introduction). In 1991, at the request of Lama Perna Wangdak, director of the Vikramasila Foundation, I edited the manuscript, which was by then on computer. In the summer of 1992, with invaluable help and information from Jared Rhoton, the introduction was written (characteristically, he insisted that his name not appear as coauthor of this work). Since then, I have fine-tuned the body of the text, provided chapter titles and notes, xxiii


prepared the front and back matter, and shepherded the manuscript through the many steps of the publishing process. Much has also been done by many others to ready the book for publication (see acknowledgments).

The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception is a commentary on Ngorchen Konchog Lhtindrub's The Three Visions (Snang g.rum), which has been translated by Lobsang Dagpa, Ngawang Samten Chophel (Jay Goldberg), and Jared Rhoton as The Beautiful Ornament of the Three Visions (Singapore: Golden Vase Publications, 1987; reprinted Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 1991). The Three Visions corresponds to the preparatory level of study and practice in the Sakya meditation system known as the Instruction on the Path with Its Result (Lam 'bras bu dang bcas pa'i gdams ngag, or Lam 'bras for short). The present volume, which is entitled The Three Levels ofSpiritual Perception to distinguish it from the translation of the Nang Sum itself, also contains references to a second volume by Konchog Lhtindrub, The Three Continua (Rgyud gsum), which corresponds to the advanced level of study and practice. No English translation of The Three Continua has yet appeared in print. Lest we be tempted to undervalue the "preliminary" teachings of The Three Visions while awaiting a translation of the "advanced" teachings of The Three Continua, it is important to note that Deshung Rinpoche was at pains to emphasize, throughout the three years of teachings presented here, that The Three Visions is of crucial importance as the foundation that makes the advanced practices and principles "so significant, meaningful, and effective." As he puts it in chapter 13, "Only when we have established a very firm foundation of right attitude, genuine renunciation, and an uncontrived resolve to strive for the liberation of all living beings is it time to study and practice on the level of advanced tantra." To cite just one more example, in chapter 19 Deshung Rinpoche states that_ 'WI the profound doctrines are given at the beginning; the advanced practices are just natural consequences of those profound insights and that reorientation of mental energies which occur at the preliminary stages. There is a saying that, 'Of the profound preliminary practices and the esoteric advanced practices, it is the deep teachings that are given first.' Without gaining the realizations and being truly affected through these preliminary practices, there cannot be any advanced realizations." On a more mundane level, your reading of The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception will be enhanced by understanding the following points:



1. Due to the general nature of much of the text, Tibetan and Sanskrit terms are few. A glossary ofTibetan names and.terms has been compiled for those who know the language; there is, however, no corresponding list of Sanskrit words, which appear in phonetic forJ:Il in the body of the text and in standard transliteration when in parentheses.

2. Tides of works cited have been translated into English whenever possible, with the Sanskrit or Tibetan given in parentheses at the first occurrence in the text. The exceptions to this rule are the well-known Abhidhar.makosha, Bodhicharyavatara, Dhammapada, ]ataka Tales, and Vtnaya, which appear as such, with English translations in parentheses at the first occurrence. The bibliography provides the Sanskrit and/or Tibetan tide, author, and translation for each work, when available, and lists further reading as well. 3. Notes are pr~vided when possible, but without access to the great erudition of both D~hung Rinpoche and Jared Rhoton, every allusion and reference of interest could not, unfortunately, be pursued. 4. No general glossary is provided because most terms are defined when they are first discussed in some detail. More extensive definitions and other basic information can be found in a, number of the secondary sources cited in the bibliography, particularly The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion and A Handbook a/Tibetan Culture. 5. Deshung Rinpoche's introductory remarks appear at the beginning of each chapter. He was wonderful at recapping not only the previous lesson, but also the proper motivation with which to approach the study and the point he had reached in the lam-dre teachings as a whole. This material has been retained both to preserve his particular teaching style and to remind us of the purpose of the teachings. 6. Suggested practical meditations are extracted to facilitate use of the volume as the meditative manual it can so easily and fruitfully be. 7. Quotations from the Buddhist canon are also extracted whenever they are more than two lines long.· It is important to remember that this commentary was given orally in Tibetan and interpreted into English on the spot. Thus many of these citations are more in the nature of paraphrases XXV


than exact, polished translations of scripture. Those who wish to can, in many cases, compare the off-the-cuff versions that appear here to the same lines as t~slated by Lobsang Dagpa, Jay Goldberg, and Jared Rhoton in Ngorchen Konchog Lhiindrub's Beautiful Ornament of the Three Visions itself (see bibliography). 8. Deshung Rinpoche only occasionally used "he or she" and "his or her" when referring to "the teacher," "the meditator," and so forth. To convey as much as possible the flavor o( his words, this style has generally been retained. However, the Sakya school is renowned for its women teachers and practitioners, and Deshung Rinpoche acknowledges the equality of women in several ways and places in these teachings (see, for example, chapter 45). 9. In a few cases, the original typescript noted that a cassette tape had been mislaid, so that parts of a lecture had to be reconstructed from students' notes. This material is now a seamless part of the whole, and I am confident that it accurately reflects the content of Deshung Rinpoche's commentary on the few occasions in question. In composing the introduction and putting Jared Rhoton's oral interpretation of Deshung Riil.poche's words into published form, any errors and resul~ant lack of clarity are entirely mine. I hope that The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception is, nevertheless, a worthy tribute to them both.

Victoria Scott



DESHUNG RINPOCHE OFTEN SAID that there are four levels of biography or autobiography: outer, inner, secret, and real. Outer biography would be a bare enumeration of everyday events, as in a curriculum vitae; inner, one's psychic· history of dreams, visions, and thoughts, too personal to reveal to. everyone; secret, one's tantric practices and their results; and real, the understanding that no biography is the true biography, since ultimately nothing has ever happened to oneself or anyone else. The biographical sketch that follows is a rudimentary outer biography at best. Deshung Rinpoche (1906-1987) was among the last few Tibetan Buddhist masters, such as the Kagyu lama Kalu Rinpoche (1905-1989) and the Nyingma teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991), who studied, practiced, and taught in Tibet until full maturity, when the Chinese invasion of 1959 forced them into exile. Reading Deshung Rinpoche's life story, one is struck by the extraordinarily thorough training he received in his youth, by his willingness to be guided by his guru, and by his vast contributions to Tibetan Buddhism, both as a Sakya teacher and as a prime example of nonsectarianism at work. Deshung Rinpoche was a truly pure lama, a model of and guide to how dedicated, scholarly, and spiritually accomplished a person can become. What he studied and how he practiced ·laid the foundation for the later activities that made him great. THE SAKYA TRAomoN

The historical record of the Sakya tradition that unfolds from Tibetan annals is a complex story woven from the three strands of mythology, royal lineage, and spiritualleadership.l Central to all of these is the genealogy of the ancient family of Khon. Although the earliest historical accounts of the Khon go back only twelve hundred years, almost all Tibetan histories trace its origin to the descent in prehistoric times of three sky gods from the 1'Realm of Clear Light." Entreated to become a ruler of men, the youngest of these gods remained on earth; his descendants were later said to have been born into "hostility" ( 'khon) because of the strife that ensued between xxvii


the celestials and the fierce demons who then inhabited large areas ofTibet. A member of the Khon family, Lii Wangpo Sungwa, became a disciple of the eighth-century Indian saint Padmasambhava. When the monastery of Samye was later built at Yarlung, he took ordination with the Indian abbot Shantarak~hita as one of the first seven Tibetan "monks on probation." Through the next thirteen generations (c. 750-1073), the Khon family was an acknowledged pillar of the "early propagation" (Nyingma) school in Tsang province. By the middle of the eleventh century, however, the people of Tsang had become so lax in religious observances that the secret symbols and sacred dances of the Buddhist tantras were being featured as entertainments at town festivals in Oro and elsewhere. In dismay, the head of the Khon family decided that the time had come to seek out the new tantras from India that were just then beginning to appear. Thus he sent his younger brother, Konchog Gyalpo (1034-1102), to study with Drogmi the Translator (see next section). In 1073, Konchog Gyalpo built a monastery beneath an auspicious circle of white clay on the slopes of Mount Ponpori and named it Sakya ("white earth"). In this way the prophecies of both Padmasambhava (c. 750) and Atisha (in 1040) that a great center of spiritual activity would arise in that place were fulfilled. The master who gathered for the Sakya tradition its core of tantric initiations and prayers, as well as basic Mahayana doctrines, was Konchog Gyalpo's so?, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158). When Sachen was twelve years old, Maiijushri appeared as Sachen was meditating on him in a cave and transmitted the teaching known as Parting from the Four Attachments; If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person. If you have attachment to the round of rebirth, you have no renunctanon. If you have attachment to your own interests, you haven't the resolve to attain enlightenment. If grasping ensues, you do not have the true view. These teachings contain the essence of Mahayana doctrine. Through Sachen's efforts, hundreds of tantric works and transmissions were secured from eminent Tibetan masters, to become the basis of the Sakya canon. Sachen left behind four sons. The eldest traveled to India as a young man and became a learned teacher the;re, but while returning to Tibet he was stricken with fever and died. Sachen's second son, Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182), xxviii


obtained all the empowerments, explanations, and oral instructions from his father. He also studied for eleven years with Chapa Chokyi Sengay (1109-p69), one of the greatest logicians in Tibetan history and abbot at the seminary of Sangpu, located a short distance south of Lhasa. & a result, Sonam Tsemo was a master of the siitras and tantras by the time he was i.Q. his twenties. Sachen's third son, Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), also became a highly realized master, his most important teachers being his father and Sonam Tsemo, his brother. When he was thirteen years old, he dreamt that the three parts of the Hevajra Tantra entered his mouth and he swallowed them. After the dream it is said that he could effortlessly discourse on any aspect of the Hevajra Tantra. His students included great translators and accomplished yogis as well. Kunga Gyaltsen Pal Zangpo (1182-1251), later called Sakya Pandita, was born to the fourth son of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. Tutored by his uncle, Dragpa Gyaltsen, the boy was soon able to recite lengthy works of philosophy and tantra by hean. When he was seventeen, he dreamt that the master Vasubandhu appeared and conferred knowledge of the entire abhidharma system to him directly. At eighteen, he dreamt that he was given the key to all of Dignaga's teachings on logic, and when he awoke, it is said that he possessed a complete knowledge of that science. At the age of twenty-one, he came under the tutorship of several Buddhist pandits from India, including the great Kashmiri master Shakyashri. After nearly ten years of further studies, Sapan, as he was known for short, was accomplished in medicine and all the known sciences, as well as in grammar, poetry, art, and music; he had also acquired full monastic ordination. Through Sapan's efforts, a vigorous school of Dharmakirti's logic took root in Tibet and a number of Indian sciences were introduced into Tibetan culture. Sapan composed numerous lucid philosophical treaties, and his skill in debate was unsurpassed. During one great debate in Kyirong, he defeated the Hindu scholar Harinanda, thus converting this master to Buddhism. & Sakya Pandita's fame spread, Godan Khan, the Mongol emperor of China, sent messengers to Tibet to find the most outstanding lama there. According to Tibetan tradition, they reported that Sapan was the most learned in religion, the lama of the Drigung monastery was the most magnificent for wealth, and the lama of the Taklung monastery was the kindest and most sociable.2 In 1244, Godan Khan invited Sakya Pandita to come to the Mongol court as his spiritual guide. Remembering his uncle Dragpa xxix


Gyaltsen's counsel to accept without hesitation any future invitation to teach in a foreign land, Sapan journeyed to Mongolia at the age of sixtyfive. The khan developed great faith in Sakya Pandita and received many important religious teachings from him. Shortly before he died, Sakya Pandita named his nephew, Chogyal Phagpa (1235-1280), as his successor. As spiritual preceptor to Kublai Khan, Godan Khan's successor, Chogyal Phagpa was the first lama to unite religious and political authority in Tibet. At his request, the khan outlawed the practice of torturing and drowning political opponents throughout his realm and presented this to Phagpa as an offering for receiving special tantric teachings. But when Kublai Khan suggested that he decree that all Tibetans must practice only the Sakya tradition, Phagpa urged him not to do so, in order that all lineages of Buddhism might flourish. Chogyal Phagpa spent most of his life in China, supervising the propagation of Buddhism there. He devised an alphabet for the Mongolian language, wrote over three hundred works on sutras, tantras, and philosophy, and was instrumental in having the Tibetan Buddhist canon translated into Mongolian. Although in the mid-1300s the political power of the Sakya order waned along with Mongol influence, many great Sakya monasteries and teaching schools continued to be established in the provinces of U-Tsang, Kham, and Amdo. In the fifteenth and si."