His Eminence Sakya Dhungsey Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche (Ngawang Kunga Theckchog Gyurme Dorje) was born into the illustrious Khön dynasty’s Sakya Phuntsog Phodrang in Seattle in 1993. His father is H.E. Zaya Vajra Sakya, the fourth son of His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche and the first Tibetan born in America; his mother is Dagmo Lhanze Youndhen, younger daughter of Drawupön Rinchen Tsering.
At the tender age of six, he began his training in India to follow in the footsteps of his noble forebears as a Lama of the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The main tutor for his formative studies was Gen Tashi Nyima, who has remained steadfast with him throughout the various stages of his education, while Gen Kunsang Gyatso trained him in the unique ritual practices of the tradition. Aside from his religious instruction, Rinpoche learned Tibetan reading, writing and grammar; he also learned and continues to study Tibetan and world history, English, Mandarin, science and many other subjects, both traditional and modern.
Recognising the need for a base for His grandsons to receive authentic and thorough training, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche established the Sakya Heritage Society in New Delhi, and His Eminence moved there upon its inauguration in 2005 with his tutors and retinue. The community has since grown there to become home to 55 young trainee monks and a team of dedicated teachers and staff.
Since arriving in India, he has received an uninterrupted stream of innumerable teachings and transmissions from his grandfather, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche. Most significantly, he received the unbroken Khön lineage of the sacred Lam-dre teachings “The Path that Includes the Result” first in Darjeeling in 1999 and again in Kathmandu in 2007.
He also received the profound lobshe lineage of the Lam-dre teachings from his other main Guru, His Holiness the Sakya Trizin, in Dehradun in 2002, and later the empowerments of the unbroken Khön lineage of Vajrakila, as well as countless other cycles of exoteric and esoteric teachings and transmissions.
From His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he received the great Kalachakra initiation and other precious Dharma teachings. He has also received empowerments and instruction from His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche, His Eminence Luding Khenchen Rinpoche, the most Venerable Khenchen Appey Rinpoche and many high Lamas of the Sakya lineage. From His Eminence Luding Khenzhön Rinpoche, he received the oral transmission of the Complete Works of the Five Founding Masters of the Sakya lineage as well as the entire corpus of initiations known as the Compendium of Sadhanas.
His Eminence memorised perfectly all the vast prayers of recollection, supplication, homage, aspiration and dedication early in his education. He then learned the nuances of leading the pujas conducted daily and periodically in the temples, such as those focused on the Goddess Tara, the Medicine Buddhas, the commemorative rites of the great Vairochana Sarvavidya, the extensive propitiatory services to the Dharma Protectors and many others. This involved not just memorising scriptures and learning the various tunes in which they are chanted, but also how to perform the mudra hand-gestures, to play the different ritual instruments, to draw the lines of the sand-mandalas and many other specialist practices.
He was barely into his teens when he first conducted a major retreat at the Luding Ladrang of Ngor Evam Chöden Monastery in Dehradun. Under the kind guidance of H.E. Luding Khenchen Rinpoche, he spent two months in intensive meditation, accumulating mantras and refining his concentration to dispel all obstacles.
Having then mastered all the intricate rituals of the Sakya lineage, he underwent examination in the monsoon season of 2008 at the Sakya Centre in Dehradun, the main monastery of His Holiness the Sakya Trizin in India, in leading the most important annual puja of the lineage, the Vajrakila drubchö. This he completed exceptionally well with top honors to great celebration. His Eminence then resolved to uphold this vital practice of his dynasty and to participate every year without failure in the nearly fortnight-longdrubchö.
The following June, he entered into another intensive retreat in Sakya Guru Monastery in Ghoom, Darjeeling. Ghoom, which is a notoriously damp and misty hill town, was shrouded in fog and beset with heavy rain for the entire monsoon season, but on the day the retreat was concluded, the sun was beaming, the sky was clear and the mountains were in radiant full view. This was then followed with the requisite fire-pujas, concluded with rites focusing on the four-faced form of the Dharmapala Mahakala, when a beautiful rainbow stretched across the monastery, among other signs of auspiciousness that inspired those present.
His Eminence had then just four days to prepare for his role in the Grand Vajrakilaya Ceremony (Phurdrub) as Vajra Master (Dorje Lobpön), which he conducted flawlessly before visiting members of the Phuntsok Phodrang, Sangha members and lay followers from Darjeeling, Sikkim, Kalimpong and other nearby areas, and many other international guests who came to witness such an historic event and to perform a special offering ceremony for him.
He then returned to the Sakya Heritage Society to enter his third major retreat to enrich his wisdom and, shortly after its completion, he enrolled at Dzongsar Institute of Higher Buddhist Philosophy and Research in 2010 under the tutelage of the Venerable Khenpo Chöying Dorje.
There, he is successfully building on his extensive learning in Buddhadharma with a program of study and dialectics to gain proficiency in the eighteen classic treatises of the Sakya philosophical tradition. The curriculum covers in-depth the important works of the great scholars of the ancient Indian Nalanda tradition and their associated commentaries by Tibetan masters, particularly those of the Sakya lineage, such as the Master of Dharma Sakya Pandita, the great Kunkhyen Gorampa and others. This incorporates the study of logic and epistemology (pramana), Middle Way philosophy (madhyamaka), metaphysics (abhidharma), the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhicaryavatara), the different vows of Buddhist practitioners, the five treatises of Maitreya and many other vast and profound areas of Buddhist academia. He has already finished and received top grades for his first few years of study, and aims to continue accordingly towards the equivalent of university-level graduation. In addition to the set curriculum, His Eminence has studied other topics of personal interest, such as Tibetan poetry, utilising all his time for learning and the practice of Dharma.
His Eminence has made a number of short visits overseas to support His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche’s teaching activities in such countries as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Nepal and elsewhere. He bestowed his own first formal teaching in 2009 at the Sakya Monastery in Seattle, USA – the long-life initiation known as Logyama – with all the members of the Phuntsok Phodrang family present and many devoted Buddhist disciples.
He returned to America in the New Year of 2012, principally to receive further teaching from His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche, but also agreed to bestow teachings of his own, this time directly in English. He bestowed the initiation of the Three Wrathful Ones at Rosemead Buddhist Monastery in California, together with detailed instruction for generating bodhicitta; then back in Seattle, the initiation of Manjushri Vadisingha with reflections on Sakya Pandita’s explanations of the six transcendent perfections; a comprehensive teaching on the Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshe Langri Thangpa; and a workshop for Buddhist teens. Those in attendance were deeply inspired by His Eminence’s natural ability to teach with such skill, erudition and eloquence in English at such a young age.
Although most of His Eminence’s time is taken up with his studies, it is hoped that this is just the beginning of his activities as an heir of the Sakya lineage to spread the liberating teachings of the Buddha throughout the world.