A Great Leader Passes on in Seattle, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen, Sakya Monastery Founder
By Tim Tapping, Board Member of Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism & President of Northwest Dharma Association
His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, the founder and decades-long leader of Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Seattle, has passed into Paranirvana.
Known more formally as His Holiness Vajra Dhara Kyabgön Dagchen Rinpoche Ngawang Kunga Sönam of the Phuntsok Phodrang, he died on April 29th, 2016. He was 87.
His Holiness was considered a major leader within the world of Tibetan Buddhism. He headed one of the two families that led the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism over generations. The Sakyas are one of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Prior to his Parinirvana, His Holiness Dagchen Rinpoche was weak for some months, but continued on with indomitable resolve and spirit. During this time noted lamas H.H. Sakya Trizin Rinpoche and H.E. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche visited Seattle to perform elaborate long-life ceremonies for Dagchen Rinpoche, based on classic texts.
As a result of these prayers and others from around the word, H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche was comfortable and enjoyed relative well-being as he approached his paranirvana.
At the moment of his passing he entered into a state of luminosity for six days, which is known as “Thukdam meditation.” During this period a highly realized lama is able to meditate on the “clear light stage,” the ultimate process of the inner dissolution of five elements and consciousness.
After Dagchen Rinpoche emerged from Thukdam, Sakya Monastery announced that sangha and friends were invited to pay respects to his Ku-dung (Holy Body) on Friday, May 6.
The day dawned clear and warm. The sangha gathered at around 10 a.m., organizing a traditional welcome for a great lama.
Two truckloads of orchids were placed up the steps of the gompa (temple) and around the stupa. Many held circular and flat banners suspended on poles, as well as flowers and incense.
HH Sakya Trizin Rinpoche and members of the extended Sakya family quietly arrived, and proceeded into the gompa to prepare for the arrival of H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche’s Ku-dung.
A large white Dodge cargo van arrived carrying the Ku-dung. The rear doors swung open to reveal an ornately decorated palanquin in the form of a curtained tent. This was hand-crafted by long-time devoted student John Vichorek, following specific instructions from Khenpo Kunga Dontrup of Pema Tsal Institute of Pokhara, Nepal. H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche’s sons and grandsons reverently lifted the Ku-dung, and carried it upstairs and into the gompa.
Who was this amazing spiritual being who existed in our midst arriving in Seattle with his family 56 years ago? Within the Sakya lineage he was regarded as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara (the embodiment of compassion), Vajrapani (the embodiment of Buddha’s power), and Manjushri (the embodiment of Buddha’s wisdom).
As an emanation of Manjushri, the extraordinary wisdom that he possessed and skillfully exhibited will be sorely missed by our sangha and by all sentient beings.
His all-encompassing compassion as an emanation of Avalokiteśvara inspired a light and open spirit in all who encountered him.
His bodhicitta was so evident. His humor always lightened the atmosphere.
One of my favorite lines of his frequently came at the end of an empowerment or teaching. He would declare with finality, “OK , back to samsara!“ It never got old.
From Tibet to creating vibrant institutions in Seattle
His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya was born in Tibet in 1929. He was educated to be the head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the Communist Chinese occupation of Tibet forced him to flee with his family to Bhutan, with the Chinese army on his heels.
This was the beginning of the path that transformed him into a leader in the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.
Shortly after H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche fled to Tibet, Professor Turrell Wylie, from the Tibetan Studies Program at the University of Washington, invited H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche to participate in a research project on Tibet sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.
This enabled Dagchen Rinpoche to bring his family to Seattle, including his wife, H.E. Dagmo Kusho Jamyang Sakya, and their sons. Accompanying them was her uncle, H.E. Dezhung Rinpoche III.
In 1974 His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen founded the first Seattle Sakya dharma center, Sakya Tegchen Choling. After the expanding sangha outgrew several spaces, in 1984 he purchased a church in the Greenwood neighborhood of north Seattle, to convert it into the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism.
Over time a skilled and determined team of volunteers lovingly transformed the former church into a very traditional Tibetan Buddhist temple. Tibetan painters came to Seattle to complete the traditional ceiling and wall paintings, including a huge dharma wheel.
Walk into the temple today and you are transported thousands of miles east and into another time.
Lineage is all-important in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche’s lineage is noble and revered for its holiness, extending back for more than 1,000 years.
From the 13th to late 14th century, the family ruled all Tibet at the behest of Kublai Khan. The lineage is unique within Tibetan Buddhism in that not only is it a spiritual lineage, as are the other three schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but is a hereditary one as well.
Touching people’s hearts and minds
His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen left a lasting legacy with the many who studied under him and followed him.
David Spiekerman, president of the Sakya Monastery Board of Advisors, relates this story:
“I was asked to sit with H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche as his security person at one of our Losar celebrations several years ago. My focus was to observe the visitors, well-wishers who headed our way and to keep things calm.
“In fact, it was H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche who kept things calm. In our moments together when there were no visitors and we sat undisturbed other than by my random thoughts, I began to experience a profound and incomparable peace of mind in Rinpoche’s presence.
“I have sat with many friends and strangers in my 69 years of this lifetime, and I have never experienced such a deep and abiding calm. H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche personified and shared the enlightened mind freely and naturally. If one was fortunate enough to pay attention with him, one experienced the unfathomable tranquility of the mind. I did not have to jabber and chat to be connected to a great dharma master.”
Moses Tovar, a volunteer and sangha member, had this to say:
“My youngest son was battling cancer. He had been through a couple of surgeries and was entering chemotherapy. I had a series of conversations through this very difficult time with H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche. He guided me through this very difficult period and gave me advice on how to approach myself and my son. At the same time he gave me pith instructions on the dharma, and also instructed me on specific prayers and meditations to do.
“The most remarkable thing happened. One day, H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche was making his way back inside the monastery. As he passed he noticed me and stopped. He put his hand on my arm and asked me how I was doing. Then he asked me how my son was doing.
“When he touched my arm the full force of his wisdom, compassion and strength fell upon me and filled me with such joy. It was truly amazing!
Through H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche’s grace I was able to weather this storm, and I am happy to say that my son is still with us and doing well.”
Yes, the passing into Paranirvana of His Holiness Vajra Dhara Kyabgön Dagchen Rinpoche, is difficult. Yet the Sakya family has persevered through the centuries.
His three grandsons have all been in training since age 4 to assume leadership within the Sakya school. H.E. Khondung Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche, H.E. Khondung Asanga Vajra Rinpoche, and H.E. Dhungsey Abhaya Vajra Rinpoche, are poised to lead the Sakya family and lineage into the 21st century for the benefit of all sentient beings. The future is in capable hands.
Khandro Sunduk Ceremony for H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche
by Laura Ellis
In January 2016 a special Chime Pagma Nying Thig Khandro Surduk ceremony was performed for H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche’s long life. The ceremony was led by H.E. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche at the request of the Sakya family and Sakya Monastery. “Khandro” in Tibetan means “Dakini” and “Surduk” means ‘obstacle remover’. This sacred Tibetan ceremony involves creating an effigy of a person and offering it as a replacement to the dakinis for the extension of a person’s long life.
H.E. Asanga Rinpoche and his maternal grandfather H.E. Khamtrul Rinpoche both perceived through their dreams that the “Khandro Surduk” ceremony would benefit H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche. The Monastery then set out to find a high lama who was qualified to perform the ceremony. As one of the few high lamas qualified to perform the ceremony for a high lama such as Dagchen Rinpoche, and because his previous incarnation was one of Dagchen Rinpoche’s root gurus, H.E. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche was an obvious choice. Although he was very busy preparing for a more than 3 month long teaching in Bhutan where many Lamas and monks were to gather from all over the world, Khyentse Rinpoche postponed the start of those teachings in order to come to Seattle. To assist him, Khyentse Rinpoche selected three experienced lamas from Bhutan and one from Canada. During the Khandro Surduk ceremony H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche was present. Also arriving from India to attend were present at the ceremony were H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche’s three grandsons: H.E. Dhungsey Avikrita Rinpoche, H.E. Asanga Rinpoche, and H.E. Abhaya Rinpoche.
Before arriving in Seattle, Khyentse Rinpoche’s lamas did many preparations for the ceremony in Bhutan, such as creating a life sized straw effigy of Dagchen Rinpoche. It was built in pieces and then assembled in Seattle when the lamas arrived. They came a few days ahead of Khyentse Rinpoche and worked day and night to prepare for the ceremony. The statue was adorned with Rinpoche’s personal belongings including a whole set of his clothes and surrounded by his religious implements such as his dorje, bell and dhamaru.
In the Khandro Surduk ceremony the effigy of H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya was offered as a decoy to the Dakinis and a supplication was made: “Here is the lama. Please don’t take him now. Here is his replacement.” In the ceremony, 5 other monks dressed as Dakini each one of them wearing the colors of the 5 Dyana Buddhas: red, yellow, blue, white and green. After the ceremony, the effigy of Dagchen Rinpoche was taken to Whidbey Island and immersed in a pond at the Earth Sanctuary.
This was not the first time that the Khandro Surduk ceremony had been offered to H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche. In fact, Khyentse Rinpoche himself had read in documented records of his predecessor, H.E. Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro Rinpoche, that the Chime Pagma Nying Thig Khandro Surduk ceremony had been performed for Dagchen Rinpoche by Chokyi Lodro Rinpoche in Kham, East Tibet in 1953. It was done again in Seattle when Dagchen Rinpoche was 73 years old, and again at Sakya Tsechen Ling in France during that same year.
After the Khandro Surduk ceremony had concluded, H.E. Khyentse Rinpoche performed a long life Tenshug for H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche. The Khandro Surdok resulted in an improvement in Dagchen Rinpoche’s health. Through his inconceivable kindness, H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche continued to bestow blessings to all sentient beings by presiding over Sunday meditations at the Monastery.
We are profoundly grateful to H.E. Khyentse Rinpoche and all devoted practitioners around the world whose prayers enhanced the health and long life of our beloved precious holy guru, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche. Khyentse Rinpoche’s talk given on January 30, 2016 will be available soon on our website.
The Significance of Aspiration of Samantabhadra Prayer (King of Prayers)
An edited transcription of Lama Choedak's 2012 lecture, The Significance of Aspiration of Samantabhadra Prayer (King of Prayers), is now available for download: Lama Choedak Rinpoche: The Significance of Aspiration of Samantabhadra Prayer (King of Prayers) (PDF)
Sogyal Rinpoche: The Nature of Mind
December 14th, 2015
H.E. Sogyal Rinpoche, a wonderful, self-effacing teacher held the packed Shrine Hall of Sakya Monastery with effortless grace and humor. A masterful storyteller, he kept the crowd enthralled for a couple of hours. He met H.E. Dagmo Kusho when he was five years old so the seed of connection with the Sakya family was planted early. He was trained by H.E. Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (JKCL) and several masters. He humbly stated “I am neither learned nor realized” and “I am fortunate to have experienced compassion from many masters”. Of course, he proved the first quote to be an understatement and the second was evinced by his immense gratitude to his teachers.
As he warmed to the subject of his talk, Sogyal Rinpoche entertained and instructed us with his pithy aphorisms:
• “Keep the elephant at home, look for footprints in the forest”
• “Don’t talk, show me your presence, show me your eyes”
• “Samasara is mind lost in stories and projections, Nirvana is the mind turned inwards”
• “Body still, breath silent, spacious mind”
• “Hang loose but stay present”
• “Not outwardly looking, but inwardly seeking”
• “Retreat, somewhere between kindergarten and a mental hospital”
• My favorite, “Our eyes are turned in the wrong direction (meaning they look outwardly, not to the inside)”
He quoted H.E. JKCL several times throughout the evening, most importantly about meditation “Leave the mind unaltered”, a pure Dzogchen concept. After relating this quote to us he repeated the two following phrases three times each as the key to meditation:
• “Do not alter”
• “Do not grasp”
Sogyal Rinpoche was so gracious to his audience, during his talk, he noticed that people getting uncomfortable and asked people to stand up and stretch. He ended the evening by telling us straight out that to understand the Nature of Mind, the “secret is in the turning”. He quoted H.E. JKCL again, “Don’t be distracted, look into the nature of the mind”. We left the Shrine Hall “not outwardly looking but inwardly seeing”.
Teachers Meet to Support, Learn from Each Other at Sakya Monastery
Teachers gathered, from left: George Draffan, Guo Cheen, Bill Hirsch, Carmen Rumbaut, Khenpo Jampa Tenphel, Eve Pagano, Kilung Rinpoche, Tim Tapping, Polly Trout, Mark Winwood, Anita Feng, Steve Heck, Mark R. Jones and Ngakpa Tashi Paljor. Not pictured: Tulku Yeshi Gyatso.
On a rainy day in November, 15 teachers from various Theravada, Tibetan, Zen, and Pure Land lineages gathered at Seattle’s Sakya Monastery to get to know each other and to explore together the challenges of teaching dharma practice and leading organizations.
The rest of the article is at: http://northwestdharma.org/2015/12/teachers-meet-to-support-learn-from-each-other/#post-9767
Dharma Talk by H.E. Khondung Asanga Vajra Rinpoche
On Sunday, February 14, H.E. Khondung Asanga Vajra Rinpoche gave a brief talk before offering the Amitayus-Hayagriva Initiation. Listen and enjoy!
Listen to the streaming audio:
Or download it: Download the mp3