The Dharma lineage of the Khön lineage started from the time of the Great Tibetan King Triston Detsan (754-797). Before the Sakya tradition was established, the Khön lineage was an ancient family that had dwelled in Tibet for many generations. Khön Pal Po Che was a great minister to the King and his eldest son Khön Luyi Wangpo was one of the “seven men on trial.” He was a monk pure in conduct, a great translator well versed in Sutrayana and Tantric practices. He was also one of the twenty-five great students of Padmasambhava that received His great teachings, and was especially famed for the Vajrakilaya practice.
In order to revive Buddhism during the later transmission period, the Khön lineage went to India and brought back new Sutrayana and Tantric teachings. The Sutrayana teachings include the lineages from Indian and Nepali scholars, such as Padmashri, Bhotarahula, Jnanavajra, Sakyashribhadra, and others. For Tantric practices, the new teachings include the complete Lamdre-Hevajra system, the Cakrasamvra, the Kalachakra, the Yammataka, and Gurji Gonpo Mahakala. All these teachings also were transmitted into other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism such as the Kalachakra cycles. Furthermore, prolific writings of masters such as Sakya Pandita helped shape the landscape of Tibetan Buddhism for generations to come.
The current throne holder of Phuntsok Phodrang, H.H. J.D. Sakya, has received all of the Khön lineage teachings from the last Sakya Throne Holder in Tibet, his Father, H. H. Trichen Ngawang Thutop Wangchuk. He also received teachings of the non-sectarian, Nyingma, and other traditions from great Masters such as Jamyang Chokyi Lodro and Dingo Khyentse Rinpoche. H. H. J.D. Sakya is also the sole lineage holder who has both the unbroken Khön family and Dharma lineages, as well as being one of the few living Lamas who was formerly trained and educated in Tibet.
In Tibetan Buddhism there are several ways to become a lama (a spiritual teacher and guide). Some lamas are recognized as rebirths of former lamas called Tulkus. Some of these are also considered to be emanations ofodhisattvas. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama is a good example, being the thirteenth reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup, and an emanation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
Some, through their spiritual development in this life, are deemed to become lamas, but are not regarded as rebirths of previous lamas. Finally, in some special families, all family members with blood relations to the father are considered to be lamas.
The Sakya-Khön lineage, Rinpoche’s lineage, is just such a family. In each generation of the Sakya-Khön lineage, in order to preserve the family line, one of the males must keep the custom of the Lineage-holder (ngachang) – a white-robed, married lama. This tradition is distinct from the more common ordained (rapchung) – red-robed monklama tradition prevalent in some of the other Tibetan Buddhist schools. Thus, in each generation, some Sakya-Khön lineage lamas are not monks, but married lamas who continue the spiritual lineage. In accordance with the prophecy of the great Atisha, these Sakya lamas are regarded as emanations of Avalokiteshvara (the embodiment of compassion), Vajrapani (the embodiment of Buddha’s power), or especially Manjushri (the embodiment of Buddha’s wisdom).
Dagchen Rinpoche is in the twenty-sixth generation of the Sakya-Khön lineage descended from Khön Gönchok Gyalpo. Rinpoche is regarded as an emanation of Manjushri as well as the rebirth of a Sakya Abbot from the Ngor sub-school, Ewam Luding Khenchen (The Great Abbot from the Luding family) Gyase Chökyi Nyima.
Rinpoche’s own father was known to have performed miracles. When he beat a drum during a monthly protection ritual, the drum would emit flames. Once when his father needed to cross a roaring river, he caused the water to subside so his party could cross without mishap. Another time, the Tibetan government asked him to restore a Padmasambhava stupa (memorial shrine) on a mountain. When his party climbed to the stupa, they found no water. He scratched some syllables on the ground and told everyone to leave the area alone until morning. When morning came, the party found a pool of water on the spot where the syllables had been drawn. They were then able to rebuild the memorial shrine.
Throughout its history Rinpoche’s family has produced adepts with supernormal skills. In the Tibetan tradition, psychic powers and what appear to be magical feats are accepted as a sign of one’s spiritual accomplishment. Some of Rinpoche’s earliest ancestors are said to have been able to fly, others to hang their robes on sunbeams.
The five founding lamas of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism, in addition to being masters of the esoteric and exoteric teachings of the Buddha, were all child prodigies and performed numerous miracles. For example, when he was twelve years old and on a long retreat, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158) received a teaching from the Bodhisattva
Manjushri in a vision.
Sachen’s son, Teaching Master Sönam Tsemo (1142-1182), accomplished the incredible feat of memorizing the Chakrasamvara Tantra and other esoteric teachings before he was five years old, and passed away without leaving his body behind, and took his puppy with him!
Sönam’s brother, Reverend Drakpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), recited the Hevajra Tantra from memory when he was twelve years old. Much later in life, when he experienced a surprise visit by the Kashmir Pandita Shakyashribhadra, the Reverend caused his ritual implements to float in the air.
The Reverend’s nephew was Sakya Pandita (1182-1251), who knew Sanskrit as a child without being taught. As a teenager he had a dream that he slept in front of a large stupa. Following that Sakya Pandita was able to recall the teachings of the Abhidharmakosha from a previous lifetime without having been taught them in his present life. When Sakya Pandita was at the court of Godan Khan, the Khan’s sorcerers tested him by creating a magic, illusory temple on an island on a lake. Sakya Pandita blessed it and made it into a real temple.
His nephew, Chögyal Pakpa (King of Religion, the Noble One) (1235-1280), as a young man, greatly impressed Kublai Khan, future emperor of China, by cutting off his own head and limbs, making a bloody mess. He then transformed his severed head and limbs into the five celestial Buddhas before making himself whole.