Freeing the Heart and Mind - Selections
Explore two seminal Sakya texts with an incomparable teacher.
1. Holy Biography of Drogön Chögyal Phagpa
SAKYAPA NGAWANG KUNGA SÖNAM (1597–1659)
SAKYA PANDITA'S YOUNGER brother, Sangtsa Sönam Gyaltsen, had five consorts, the first of whom was from Tsanaidap. Her father was Surkhangi Gyatso and her uncle, Shang Gyalwa Pal. Her name was Machig Kunkyi, and her eldest son was Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, born in the Female Wood Sheep Year (1235) on the sixth day of the third month. He was born at Ngamring Lukhung when his father was fifty-two years old.
At the time of Chögyal Phagpa’s conception and birth, remarkable signs appeared. Later, while he was still very young, he showed great natural knowledge of reading and writing in diverse scripts without having been taught. He also learned other subjects without difficulty.
From a young age Chögyal Phagpa possessed the supernormal knowledge that recollects former lives. For example, when the time came to determine if he was, as was thought, the reincarnation of a famous teacher known as Satön Ripa, two of Satön’s disciples came to see him. Chögyal Phagpa was playing games with other children, but when he saw the two monks approaching, he said to them, “You have come at last.” They asked him, “Do you recognize us?” and he replied, “I do,” naming each of them. This dispelled their doubts and inspired them with great devotion so that they prostrated to him.
Chögyal Phagpa’s father, Sangtsa Sönam Gyaltsen, was a great practitioner of Gaṇapati. At one point Gaṇapati appeared to him and lifted him into space to the height of a mountaintop, saying, “Look below.” But Sönam Gyaltsen was afraid. After some time, he looked down and saw the three provinces of Tibet. Gaṇapati said, “Whatever you saw, you will reign over. Because you saw the three Tibetan provinces, your descendants will rule over those lands. But because you did not look down the moment I told you to look, you will not rule them yourself.” Then he placed Sönam Gyaltsen on the earth again.
For a long time Sönam Gyaltsen had no sons, and being greatly disappointed he performed special praises to Gaṇapati. At length, Gaṇapati appeared where Satön Ripa was dwelling and said to him, “Sangtsa Sönam Gyaltsen is invoking me with the petition that he should command the three provinces of Tibet. He does not have the karma to rule them himself, no matter which practice he performs. A bodhisattva who has accumulated much merit and is able to dominate the vast world must therefore take birth as his son. You, Satön Ripa, possess these qualities. Please take rebirth as Sangsa’s son with the aspiration to help all Tibetan people, including those in the three provinces.” Satön Ripa agreed, and in this way he reincarnated as Chögyal Phagpa.
Not long after taking birth, Chögyal Phagpa traveled with Sakya Paṇḍita to Kyidrong. While there, many members of the saṅgha who were disciples of Langripa came to visit him. Among them was a senior monk to whom Chögyal Phagpa said, “My disciple, Tashi Döndrup, is present at this gathering.” Tashi Döndrup immediately prostrated before Chögyal Phagpa, shed tears, and grasped his feet, crying, “My teacher still remembers me!” Recognizing that Chögyal Phagpa was his lama from previous lifetimes, he dried his tears and made many prostrations.
At the age of three, Chögyal Phagpa recited the elaborate Hevajra sādhana known as Lotus Born from memory. Everyone present was astonished, and they remarked, “There is no doubt that he is a true phagpa.” From that time on, he was known as Phagpa, which means “Holy Being,” and his fame was widely proclaimed.
At the age of eight, Chögyal Phagpa recited the Buddha’s life story. At the age of nine, while his uncle, Sakya Paṇḍita, was turning the wheel of the Dharma, Chögyal Phagpa recited the second chapter of the Hevajra root tantra from memory. He also gave a profound talk at a Dharma gathering. Many scholars and other learned ones were present, yet everyone without exception was humbled by his knowledge and praised his natural good qualities and wisdom.
At the age of ten, Chögyal Phagpa journeyed to the north of Sakya where Sakya Paṇḍita was the abbot and master of ceremonies, and from him Chögyal Phagpa received novice ordination. Then he received instructions in the vinaya from the abbot of the Kyormo lungpa, Sherab Sengé.
By the time Chögyal Phagpa was seventeen, Sakya Paṇḍita had transferred to him all his teachings, his responsibilities, and also his good qualities, and he was very pleased with him. Seeing that Chögyal Phagpa had the ability to carry on his holy activities, Sakya Paṇḍita gave him his conch shell, his alms bowl, and other religious objects. He also gave him the responsibility of leading his disciples, saying, “Now it is time for you to carry on the holy activities of spreading Lord Buddha’s doctrine and working for the benefit of all sentient beings. Know that you made this commitment in previous lives.” So saying, Sakya Paṇḍita transferred to Chögyal Phagpa responsibility for maintaining the doctrine.
In the Year of the Ox (1253), Kublai Khan, the emperor of China, invited Chögyal Phagpa to his palace. The emperor asked him many questions that others could not answer to his satisfaction, and Chögyal Phagpa responded with such logic and reasoning that the emperor was pleased. Then Kublai Khan said, “Tell me, who are considered greatest among Tibetans?” Chögyal Phagpa replied, “In Tibet, the greatest are the three Dharma rulers.”
The emperor asked, “Why do you say they are the greatest?” Chögyal Phagpa replied, “Songtsen Gampo was an emanation of Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion; Trisong Detsen was an emanation of Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom; and Tri Ralpachen was an emanation of Vajrapāṇi, the bodhisattva of spiritual power. This is why we consider them to be the three greatest.”
Kublai Khan continued, “Who is considered the bravest in Tibet?” Chögyal Phagpa replied, “Milarepa.” “Why so?” asked the emperor. Chögyal Phagpa replied, “Because early in his life he subjugated his enemies, but later he entered into the spiritual path and practiced the Dharma, through which he reached the highest attainment. Both these activities he accomplished within one lifetime. Therefore we consider him to be Tibet’s bravest person.”
Then the emperor asked, “Who is Tibet’s most learned person?” Chögyal Phagpa replied, “The most learned person is my teacher, Sakya Paṇḍita.” Kublai Khan pursued the question. “How learned is he? Tell me of his good qualities and how much you learned from him.” Chögyal Phagpa replied, “Sakya Paṇḍita’s knowledge is like the ocean. What I received from him is but a small measure of water from that ocean.”
Later, the emperor proclaimed that he would send tax collectors to Tibet and draft its people into his armies. Chögyal Phagpa urged the emperor many times against this plan, saying, “Tibet is a small country and far to the west. It hasn’t much land, lacks material wealth, and the population is sparse. The country is unable to sustain taxes, and it does not have people enough to man your armies. I beg you not to require this of them.” But the emperor was adamant, and Chögyal Phagpa became discouraged.
“In that case,” Chögyal Phagpa said, “since I, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, am here as your guest, there is no more reason for me to remain. I shall prepare to return to my own land.” The emperor said, “Very well, go if you wish.” But Kublai Khan’s wife, Empress Chabi, said, “We cannot find a Dharma teacher anywhere like Chögyal Phagpa. The previous masters who have come, Tsalpa and the rest, have not even a small portion of Chögyal Phagpa’s good qualities, nor have they performed such wonderful deeds. It is not wise to let him return to Tibet. You should discuss the Dharma with him further and come to learn more of his good qualities.”
The emperor followed her suggestion and engaged Chögyal Phagpa in Dharma discussions. During one of these, Chögyal Phagpa manifested an attitude of pride. Kublai Khan asked, “Why are you arrogant? What good qualities do you have?” Chögyal Phagpa said, “I do not have much ability. However, we Sakyapa have some higher accomplishments through our Dharma connections with the kings of Tibet, and through the teacher-disciple relationship that Tibetan masters have had with India, China, Minyak, and the Mön.”
Kublai Khan replied sharply, “Monk, do not tell me lies. When were the regions of Tibet under one king, and when did he rule? You are telling untruths that discredit your position as a monk.” Chögyal Phagpa replied, “I do not lie. Tibet has had a number of kings who, moreover, fought against China and captured two-thirds of that region, and the population became their subjects. After this, the rulers of Tibet and China established harmonious relations through royal marriages. A Chinese princess was sent to Tibet, and the Jowo Śākyamuni statue was offered to Tibet for its national shrine. These are true events.” “If what you say is true,” Kublai Khan replied, “there should be records of these things in my imperial library.” Then he commanded an attendant to consult the historical records, and in this way he found that everything Chögyal Phagpa had said was true.
The emperor was gratified by Chögyal Phagpa’s knowledge. Then Chögyal Phagpa told Kublai Khan, “These things, being recent, are not difficult to check in the histories. But a million years previously, there was a rain of blood here. This will also be discovered in the records.” The emperor consulted the histories and found to his satisfaction that this also was true. Chögyal Phagpa further informed Kublai Khan, “In previous times, the ancestors of my lineage were venerated by the kings of Minyak. They were offered a silk brocade canopy ornamented with deer horn as a symbol of the teacher-disciple connection between our lineage and the kings of Minyak.” Kublai Khan then sent emissaries to the Sakya to ascertain if what Chögyal Phagpa had said was true. The canopy was found exactly as Chögyal Phagpa had described.
At length, Kublai Khan developed deep respect for Chögyal Phagpa, and the empress said to her husband, “Isn’t it wise that we didn’t let Chögyal Phagpa return to Tibet? We should receive teachings from him. I have heard that the Sakyapa have unique Vajrayāna empowerments not possessed by the other schools. We must ask him to give us these.” The emperor replied, “You take the empowerments first. If they prove worthwhile, then I will take them also.”
The empress went to Chögyal Phagpa and requested the Hevajra empowerment. She asked, “What special offering should I make for this empowerment?” Chögyal Phagpa replied, “As a sign of appreciation for receiving this empowerment, one should offer one’s physical body, material goods, and other possessions, especially anything to which one is strongly attached. These are appropriate tokens of one’s appreciation.”
The empress said, “When I came to the court, my family gave me these earrings, the most valuable part of my dowry. I never remove them from my ears, but I will now offer one to you.” So saying, she removed a large pearl from her ear and offered it to Chögyal Phagpa. Later, he sold it to a Mongolian merchant for a large measure of gold and one thousand measures of silver. When he returned to Tibet, he offered a portion of this wealth to a large gathering of the saṅgha at Tsang Chumik Ringmo, and with the remainder, he built a golden pagoda upon the Sakya Monastery.
After the empress received the Hevajra empowerment, she told Kublai Khan, “The Dharma that I received is truly profound and extraordinary. You should receive it, too.” The emperor then requested that Chögyal Phagpa give him the empowerment. Chögyal Phagpa replied, “You will probably not be able to preserve the samaya that must be taken with this empowerment, and furthermore we do not have a translator. However, I will consider your request at another time when the proper conditions are assembled.” The emperor asked, “What kind of samaya must I observe?” Chögyal Phagpa replied, “After receiving an empowerment, one should venerate the guru who bestowed it and seat him on a throne higher than one’s own. With one’s body, one must prostrate to him; with one’s voice, one should follow whatever instructions he gives; and with one’s mind, one should not go against the lama’s intent. You may not be able to do these things.”
Then the empress offered a compromise. “When the emperor receives the empowerments with a small gathering of his inner circle, he will seat the lama on a throne higher than his, but when there are public gatherings with palace dignitaries, their retinues, and other important persons, the emperor will sit upon the highest throne to preserve the hierarchical tradition. Regarding activities related to Tibet, the emperor should not give orders to the Tibetans without first consulting the lama. Regarding other matters, they should be made by the emperor in consultation with the lama because the lama has the nature of great compassion. However, because some people might take unfair advantage of the lama’s kindness, he, in turn, should confer on all decisions with the emperor.” Chögyal Phagpa agreed to these conditions.
Then Chögyal Phagpa told Kublai Khan, “In the Mongolian tradition, you would not promote a member of the military to a higher rank until he had successfully entered the field of battle. Likewise, according to our tradition, the teacher performs a deity retreat before bestowing a higher empowerment upon his students. I must therefore do a retreat before giving you the empowerment.” So saying, Chögyal Phagpa entered retreat. Meanwhile, the emperor sent messengers in all directions to summon a learned translator to the palace. Then Chögyal Phagpa bestowed on the emperor of China and twenty-four members of his retinue the complete Śrī Hevajra empowerment, which is unique to the Sakya tradition. In this way, the Vajrayāna began to be established in the lands of China and Mongolia.
To show his appreciation for receiving this empowerment, the emperor made Chögyal Phagpa an offering of thirteen groups of ten thousand subjects each. One group of ten thousand is called a trikor. Within one trikor are four thousand religious communities and six thousand lay families. The emperor’s second offering consisted of a conch shell known as the “holy white conch shell.”
He also offered Chögyal Phagpa authority over the religious communities and the lay inhabitants of the three provinces of Tibet. The three provinces of Tibet comprised the following: the territory from the three Ngari regions of western Tibet to Sokla Kyapo, known as the “Holy Dharma Province”; the territory from Sokla Kyapo down to the Machu River, known as the “Human Province”; and the territory from the Machu River to the “White Stūpa of China,” known as the “Horse Province.”
During Kublai Khan’s reign, his kingdom encompassed eleven shing and the three provinces given to Chögyal Phagpa were counted as one shing. In reality, the three did not have enough inhabitants to qualify as a shing, but since it was the land where the emperor’s teacher resided, and since it was a place where the Dharma was widely practiced, it was allowed to be counted as one shing.
At that time, the Chinese empire was divided in the following way: a family unit for official purposes included a structure containing six pillars that housed the six elements of a family—the husband, the wife, the sons, the daughters, and the male and female servants. These, together with domestic animals such as horses, donkeys, cows, and sheep, and such lands as would yield twelve loads of grain, were counted as one simple, single family. Twenty-five of these made one community. Two communities were known as one tago. Two tago constituted one hundred family circles. Ten times one hundred family circles constituted one thousand circles. Ten times one thousand circles constituted one trikor; ten trikor were one lu; and ten lu were one shing.
For the third empowerment, Chögyal Phagpa requested that the emperor cease executing Chinese people by drowning. By requesting a cessation of this policy, Chögyal Phagpa saved thousands of lives. This offering was particularly pleasing to Chögyal Phagpa, and he composed the following song of appreciation:
The elements of the sky are as red as blood.
The corpses of the flat-footed ones fill the oceans.
I dedicate the merit of
The virtue of stopping such acts:
May the intentions of the lord of wisdom be fulfilled;
May the doctrine of benefit and happiness constantly flourish;
And may the lord of nations live long.
THE HISTORY OF THE WHITE CONCH SHELL OFFERED AS A TOKEN FOR THE SECOND EMPOWERMENT
The famous white conch shell with the melody of Brahmā,
Came from the crown of the glorious king of nāgas.
When Lord Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma,
It was offered to him by Indra.
As this verse explains, when the perfect and fully enlightened Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma, the white conch shell, which is an authentic relic from an unmistaken source and full of blessings, was used as a summons to the turning of the wheel of Dharma.
During the reign of the Indian King Dharmapāla, there lived a Chinese king known as Devarāja (“King of the Gods”). Though the two never met, they became friendly through the exchange of letters. At that time, heretic armies destroyed the university of Nālandā, as well as much of the Buddhist doctrine in India. Dharmapāla requested that the Chinese king send troops to help him. The Chinese king said that although sending troops would not be possible, he would support him with supplies, and he sent a great quantity of supplies to Dharmapāla. Through this assistance, the Indian king defeated the heretics.
Devarāja encouraged Dharmapāla to reestablish the Buddhist doctrine and not permit it to decline. To this end, he pledged his support and sent further gifts, among which was a robe constructed entirely without seams, which was proof against all manner of weapons. At the place of the heart, the robe was sewn with precious pearls. Devarāja also sent much helpful advice through which King Dharmapāla prevailed in battle and reestablished the Buddhist doctrine. In gratitude, Dharmapāla sent a letter to Devarāja thanking him for his kindness and support, and offering to send any gifts that the Chinese king might request.
Devarāja replied to the Indian king, “If you truly wish to send me gifts, I would like to have the statue of the eight-year-old Buddha, the conch shell for summoning the assembly, and the following texts: the Riverbank Sūtra, the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra, the Treasury of Vinaya, and the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra. I also wish you to send four fully ordained monks with pure discipline.”
The Indian king replied, “The statue of which you speak sits on my personal shrine, and although I have strong attachment to it and do not wish to give it away, because of your kindness and goodwill, I shall not refuse. Having received it, please perform beneficial actions for all living beings.” So saying, he sent many other material offerings, including statues, the white conch shell for summoning the assembly, and the sūtras that were requested.
As described above, this shell, which was used to summon gatherings during the turning of the wheel of Dharma in China, was offered to Chögyal Phagpa by Kublai Khan at the time of the Hevajra empowerment. Another source states that the shell was offered by Godan Khan to Sakya Paṇḍita, who then gave it to Chögyal Phagpa. However, both sources agree that the shell was used by Sakya Paṇḍita at a special Dharma gathering in which he gave teachings in the Mongolian language as well as in many Chinese dialects, thus widely spreading the doctrine of Lord Buddha to many people.
In this way, the special Dharma conch shell of the perfectly and fully enlightened Buddha Śākyamuni was brought from China to the Sakya Monastery by Chögyal Phagpa, and it resides there as an excellent, holy object of veneration for countless living beings. The positive qualities of the holy Dharma conch cannot be fully described, but in brief, when those beings having few karmic obscurations look upon this shell, they can see upon it many naturally arisen designs such as the Kālacakra mantra. The sound of the shell purifies the obscurations of negative deeds accumulated through millions of eons, closes the door to lower rebirth, places beings in a state of liberation, and brings happiness and joy to all. It calms wrathful spirits, and its sound mitigates natural disasters such as hail storms. It also brings happiness and prosperity to all sentient beings dwelling in that region.
CHÖGYAL PHAGPA'S DISPLAY OF ACCOMPLISHMENT
The Dharma king, Chögyal Phagpa, was venerated by the emperor as a supreme teacher and was awarded the title tishri (teacher of the emperor). At that time, certain other Tibetan masters such as the great master Karma Pakshi were visiting China and demonstrating miraculous abilities. In response to this, the emperor declared before the empress, ministers, and other dignitaries, “Our great teacher is none other than the Buddha Amitābha in human form. In reality, there is no difference between his accomplishments and those of previous masters insofar as miraculous abilities are concerned. However, from ordinary beings’ perspectives, saints with thick beards [referring to Karma Pakshi] appear to perform the most amazing marvels.”
The Empress Chabi maintained unshakable faith in Chögyal Phagpa and in the Sakya doctrine. While visiting Chögyal Phagpa one day, she told him of the emperor’s remark and made the following request: “Rinpoche, in order to make firm the emperor’s faith, please perform a miraculous feat. Unless you do so, there is the risk that his trust and confidence will falter.”
Chögyal Phagpa replied, “The great Karma Pakshi [the second Karmapa] performed wonders and tamed those beings that needed it because he is a well-accomplished master. I rejoice in what he did. Nevertheless, if it will help the emperor establish solid faith and maintain the samaya, then I will grant your request. In the Vajrayāna it is said that if at a crucial moment a teacher fails to fulfill the wishes of his student, he is committing a great fault. Therefore bring me a sharp sword from the armory and ask the emperor and his ministers to come and watch.” The empress did as he requested.
When they had gathered, Chögyal Phagpa addressed the assembly: “Now I will bless my limbs as the five dhyani buddhas. All of you who are assembled here, make aspiration prayers to be reborn in whichever pure realm you wish.” So saying, Chögyal Phagpa cut off his head, arms, and legs. These were transformed into four dhyani buddhas while his head become Mahāvairocana. Then the emperor, empress, and ministers performed prostrations and circumambulations, and they made aspirations, each according to their capacity.
While performing circumambulations, they saw that Chögyal Phagpa’s torso, which was still on the throne, was bleeding. Seeing this, the emperor and ministers cried out and begged that he return to his former shape, but for a long time Chögyal Phagpa did not respond to them. Finally, the Empress Chabi begged him, “Protector of the world, please reverse this wonder as soon as possible. If you do not, the emperor may have a heart attack.” At her request, Chögyal Phagpa reappeared in the form of a lama as before.
Later, when many great scholars and well-accomplished mahāsiddhas visited China and performed various miracles, the emperor thought, “Though these are amazing demonstrations and of great benefit to sentient beings, no one can exceed the good qualities manifested by the great teacher, Chögyal Phagpa.” From that day forward, he had no further doubts regarding Chögyal Phagpa’s realization.
When Chögyal Phagpa was nineteen years old, he bestowed an empowerment upon Kublai Khan during the new year celebration of the Female Water Ox Year (1253). It was at this time that the emperor offered his teacher the title of tishri. He also offered Chögyal Phagpa a seal made of jade that bore the letter SA with designs of jewels. Additionally, he offered gold, a Dharma robe adorned with pearls, a hood, shoes, a golden throne, a canopy, a tea set, and camels and mules bearing saddles decorated with gold. He also offered Chögyal Phagpa the subjects, provinces, and conch shell described above.
The following year, the Year of the Tiger (1254), the emperor issued the decree called Strengthening Buddhism, also known as the Tibetan Script Decree. On that occasion, he offered Chögyal Phagpa fifty-six large measures of silver coins, two hundred bricks of tea, eighty bolts of silk brocade, and one thousand bolts of other fabrics. In addition, the emperor agreed to Chögyal Phagpa’s request that the Chinese no longer demand that their emissaries and messengers visiting Tibet be lodged in private homes, or make private citizens responsible for their board and transport. He also agreed to cease imposing taxes on the Tibetans. The decree stated: “In the west of China, the Buddhist religion shall be practiced under the leadership of the Sakyapa.”
At one point the emperor told Chögyal Phagpa, “All Tibetans should follow the Sakyapa tradition. No other sect should prevail. Let us make this a rule.” To which Chögyal Phagpa replied, “We must help beings to follow Buddhism, each according to his own tradition. It is not proper to forcibly convert beings.” The emperor and his teacher determined that those traditions that already existed should continue in their own way. Thus both the emperor and teacher demonstrated compassion and proper use of authority. Through the kindness and accomplishments of Chögyal Phagpa, all living beings in the region north of the Land of Snows found peace and happiness.
In order to help the Tibetans live according to the rule of law, the emperor wrote two decrees, the Pearl-like Decree and Strengthening Buddhism, or the Tibetan Script Decree, and these can be found in the text Sakya Dungrab.
The Dharma lord, Chögyal Phagpa, the teacher who brought benefit and peace to many parts of the world and especially to Tibet, taught the Dharma in many languages and spread the Buddhist doctrine widely. He had, in fact, been prophesied by Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who, during the reign of King Trisong Detsen, said:
You, the translator Kawa Paltsek,
Will benefit beings in India and China.
Then you will associate with me, Padmasambhava, in Oḍḍiyāna,
And will appear in the Khon family
In the Sheep Year, at the place known as Trompa in Tsang,
And with the name of Chögyal Phagpa,
Will uphold the doctrines of the Tripiṭaka and Mantra
And tame the savages.
Chögyal Phagpa performed these activities as prophesied.
The following year, the emperor left to engage in battle in the land of Jang (Yunan Province). During this time, Chögyal Phagpa traveled in the north, where he consecrated the stūpa containing the holy relics of Dharma lord Sakya Paṇḍita. Having completed the consecration, Chögyal Phagpa intended to return to Ü-Tsang in central Tibet, take full monastic ordination, and receive further teachings from Uyukpa, according to the advice that had been given him previously by Sakya Paṇḍita. When he arrived in Kham, however, travelers coming from Ü-Tsang told him that Uyukpa had already passed away in the Ox Year. Upon receiving this news, Chögyal Phagpa returned to China, and he arrived at the same moment that the emperor was returning to his palace from Jang. Thus the two were reunited.
On the fifteenth day of the fifth month of the Female Wood Rabbit Year (1255), Chögyal Phagpa took full monastic ordination from the Nyethang abbot, Drakpa Sengé, on the banks of a large river at Thelé, on the Chinese-Mongolian border. Chögyal Phagpa invited Drakpa Sengé to come from Tibet with the following letter:
Om syasti siddham
Prostrations to the guru and Mañjuśri. Prostrations to the feet of the lord of Dharma, who is the embodiment of the nondual wisdom of all the tathāgatas of the three times and of all the glorious teachers. I write this petition with pure and genuine motivation. You, great master, were born in an immaculate body possessing the seven unique qualities of higher birth, which are the products of the excellent accumulations of merit and wisdom. As a result of previous aspirations, you are a captain of diligence sailing the boat of inexhaustible intelligence in the oceans of learned lamas who are well accomplished in the three precepts and who capture precious jewels in their nets of detailed analysis. Adorned with these precious qualities, you are outstanding among many learned ones.
Great being who fulfills the wishes of countless others, teacher of gods and humans, O Master Drakpa Sengé, I, the Vajradhara novice monk known as Lodrö Gyaltsen Palsangpo, supplicate you with devotion, and I humbly present this petition without pride or conceit. As you know, my lama, the lord of Dharma who possessed infinite, objectless compassion and flawless wisdom and who performed vast deeds for other beings’ benefit throughout the three realms of existence, proclaimed that he would achieve perfect enlightenment as Tathāgata Vimala śrī and would emanate in countless forms. He has now entered mahāparinirvāṇa.
However, before doing so, my lord lama told his disciples, “You will be considered excellent in every aspect, the emperor will reign well, and the nation will be at peace. Everyone in Tibet, including the Bönpo, are free at this time from military conscription and taxation. Because the emperor and I have the teacher-disciple relationship, he has granted Tibetans special dispensations and they live in peace. Further, the emperor has decreed that all followers of Buddhism should be led by the Sakyapa.
I am sending a messenger with offerings and this letter of invitation. While the lord of Dharma, Sakya Paṇḍita, was alive, we agreed that, due to my activities and the constraints of time, I would be unable to complete my Dharma education right away. Nevertheless, we both wanted you to come and give Dharma teachings. I asked the guru if it would be suitable to receive full ordination as abbot or master. He said that it would be, and he sent you a letter of invitation. I have also repeatedly sent letters of request. Had you been able to come while Sakya Paṇḍita was still among us, he would have been most pleased. Even had he passed away while you were here, he would have been happy for you to carry on his holy activities. However, you did not come during his lifetime. I do not know the reason, but I am disappointed.
Still, since my Dharma lord has passed away, I have no desire for any teacher other than you. I would like to receive many Dharma teachings from you, including the vinaya, prajñāpāramitā, and pramāṇa. Just before Sakya Paṇḍita entered into nirvāṇa, he told me, “I have one concern, which is that you have been unable to receive the vows of full ordination. Apart from that, I have no worries.” Those of us who were his close disciples supplicated him, “Please do not leave us, but remain and live long.” He said, “That would be very difficult.” I asked him, “If you cannot remain to become my abbot, then whom should I request?” He replied, “In our times, Master Drakpa Sengé is the most learned teacher and holds the purest discipline. In the three provinces of Tibet, including Kham, there is none more accomplished than he. He is the equivalent of the great Indian Master Śāntipa.”
In this way Sakya Paṇḍita indicated that I should petition you, and I do so in fulfillment of his wishes. If you cannot be my abbot, I see no possibility of taking full ordination in this lifetime, knowing no one else suitable for this role. Also, I would miss many Dharma teachings that I intend to request from you. The situation is in your hands. Since my lord of Dharma no longer dwells on this earth, know that you are my only hope. If you could come, I would accept you as my Dharma teacher undifferentiated from the lord of Dharma, Sakya Paṇḍita. Please honor this samaya bond.
If anything in this petition is untrue, or if there has been a distortion of my intention, the vajra of primordial wisdom of the great Vajradhara will crush my heart into a hundred pieces. May the holy beings who possess the eye of wisdom, as well as the guru and the buddhas, witness these words.
I also offer the essence of this petition in verse:
My guru has entered into nirvāṇa,
The maṇḍala of his emanation has vanished into space,
The sun of wisdom has set,
The many clouds of compassion have evaporated,
The continuation of the rain of samaya has been broken,
Alas, because I have seen these ordinary perceptions.
Consequently, I supplicate you again and again,
If you do not gaze upon me with compassion,
Who will show me the path?
When writing this petition, I remember the qualities of the guru.
You live at a vast distance.
Recalling these obstacles, I shed tears.
Through the power of my teacher’s kindness,
And through your compassion,
May this heartfelt request be fulfilled
Just as I wish.
If you do not heed this supplication,
Where is your sense of responsibility and honor?
Where is the samaya, and what has become of compassion?
If one being supplicates another with tears and cries of despair,
Even though there may be no previous connection between the two,
One will come to the aid of the other.
Therefore why not act with compassion in this situation?
By merely glancing at this petition,
Your holy body will be urged to action
Like a horse whipped by the crop of compassion.
Through the perfection of diligence,
May you journey here swiftly.
I should come to you, prostrate before you, and take full ordination in Sakya. This is my wish, but because of circumstances and conditions, we must meet here. As to your travel, it will be easy for you because peace prevails and everyone accords me respect. Know that all the inhabitants of the eastern province are my disciples. I have advised Khamchuwa about the contents of this message. He is prepared to provide any service you require. As a token of good faith, and to provide for your journey, our emperor is sending you fifty large measures of silver coins. In the future, when you are here, teacher and disciples will rejoice in the Dharma and in auspicious material offerings gained through right livelihood.
This petition was written on the third day of the middle month of the Male Water Rabbit Year in the shrine room of the Lingchu tserkhap Palace. May auspiciousness prevail!
Thus did Chögyal Phagpa invite Drakpa Sengé, and upon receiving the letter Drakpa Sengé agreed to come and made the journey. Then it came to pass that before long, Chögyal Phagpa received full ordination. Drakpa Sengé took the role of abbot. Joden Jangpa Sönam Gyaltsen served as master, and Yarlungpa Jangchup Gyaltsen served as sangtönpa (secret master). In addition, Chöjé Ürgyen, the abbot of Darapa, Nampharwa Tsulrin, and twenty other fully ordained monks completed the assembly.
Chögyal Phagpa then received prajñāpāramitā teachings from Drakpa Sengé, teachings on vinaya and prātimokṣa from Master Sönam Gyaltsen, and many teachings on logic, such as the seven treatises on pramāṇa, from Yarlungpa Jangchup Gyaltsen. After this, he embarked on a program of detailed personal study.
On the twenty-third of the month, the emperor arranged for the assembly to make a pilgrimage to the sacred Five Peak Mountain. Later, Chögyal Phagpa received many other teachings and empowerments, including the four symbols of Yamāntaka; Mahāmāyā; Vajradhātu; commentaries on the Kālacakra Tantra, including the supplementary commentaries; the collection of reasoning; the collection of homages by Nāgārjuna; and teachings on the Abhidharma.
That same year, on the evening of the thirteenth day of the fourth month, Chögyal Phagpa had a clear vision of Sakya Paṇḍita, who prophesied, “In one hundred thousand years you will achieve the excellent siddhi of mahāmudrā.” Upon hearing this, Chögyal Phagpa felt as though new life had been breathed into him. He paid homage to his teacher, saying:
I, who have long experienced the anguish
Of the many sufferings of existence,
Have now been given the breath of life through your holy words.
I prostrate and pay homage to you, lord of Dharma,
Treasure of compassion and master of wisdom.
With this homage, he wrote the verses of the inner offering known as Thöpa Gyatso.
Later, Chögyal Phagpa created a written script for the benefit of the Mongolian people, who had previously had none. As a sign of his appreciation, the emperor gave Chögyal Phagpa the Strengthening Buddhism decree, and the text of this decree was woven into silk brocade.
Chögyal Phagpa then turned the wheel of Dharma in the emperor’s palace. Many learned Hashang Chinese masters who were followers of the teacher Sinshing attended these Dharma gatherings. They were strongly attached to their tradition and view, and the emperor, foreseeing that they would distort the pure Buddhist teachings, asked Chögyal Phagpa to enter into debate with them and defeat them. He then selected seventeen of the most learned masters of that tradition and set a date for the contest. Chögyal Phagpa defeated them all, placed them in the right view, and established them on the Buddhist path as ordained monks.
At the age of twenty-eight, Chögyal Phagpa sent many valuable things to the Sakya Monastery and advised the leader of the Sakya region, Śākyaśrībhadra, to complete the monastery’s construction. In response, Śākyaśrībhadra built a shrine called Serthok Chenmo, or “Golden Pagoda,” to the west of the shrine known as Ütsé Nyingma.
In the Female Wood Ox Year (1265), Chögyal Phagpa, age thirty-one, returned to Sakya. There he built a stūpa known as Tashi Gomang (“Many Auspicious Doors”), encrusted with precious gems and containing the deities of Vajradhātu. This stūpa was placed inside the Golden Pagoda shrine. In addition, he restored the stūpas of the earlier founders of the Sakya order and had canopies placed atop each of them with a golden roof above. He also had constructed an immense Dharma wheel of copper plated with gold. Inside the monastery, Chögyal Phagpa sponsored the writing in pure gold ink of over two hundred volumes of the Buddha’s teachings, including sūtras, tantras, and prajñāpāramitā. He turned the wheel of Dharma on many occasions before large assemblies, bringing them to spiritual maturity and liberation.
Although Chögyal Phagpa had completed his education and was a lord of Dharma, he remained without conceit, and, in order to strengthen his devotion to the Dharma, he continued to rely upon spiritual teachers. Among them were the great Kashmiri Paṇḍita Śrī Tathāgatabhadra (in Sanskrit, Śākyaśrībhandra), the translator from Mustang, Lowo Lotsawa Sherab Rinchen, Narthang Abbot Chim Namkhadrak, Sangwanyen Ösung Gönpo, the great Mahāsiddha Yöntenpal, Gyerbuba Tsokgom Kungapal, Shangshungpa Dorjé Óser, Rinpoche Kyopapal, Rangwen Marpa Nalior Wangchuk Galo, Chak Lotsawa’s master Nyima Pal, Epashang Ngönpawa Rinpoché Dorjé; Drakphukpa Gewai Shenyen Bumpa Öser, Doklowa Dulzin Shākya Jangchup, Rongpa Khenpo Sengé Silnön, master in Abhidharma Ngönpawa Wangchuk Tsondrü, master of Rong Rilung Phukpa, Chökyi Gönpo, Jilbubai Geshé Taktön Sherab Óser, Üdepa Lopön Sangyé Bum, Geshé Drekhüpa, Lhajé Darma Sengé, and many other others.
From some of these Chögyal Phagpa learned Śrāvakayāna teachings; from others, Mahāyāna teachings; and from yet others, Vajrayāna. In short, he studied nearly all the Dharma that was extant in Tibet at that time, including the five major Buddhist sciences, the Tripiṭaka, the four classes of tantra, and all the treatises related to sūtras and tantras. He also received empowerments, blessings, instructions, and pith instructions with their supplements. In this way, he worked with great diligence and dedicated all that he had toward the growth of the Buddhist doctrine and the benefit of all sentient beings.
In the Female Fire Rabbit Year (1268), at age thirty-three, Chögyal Phagpa again received an invitation from Kublai Khan to return to China. Preparing for the journey, he assembled thirteen categories of retainers to accompany him. At this time, a Tibetan master known as Chomden Raldri sent him a critical letter, which said:
The Buddhist doctrines of the Kadampa and Chagyapa have been obscured by clouds;
The welfare and happiness of beings are controlled by foreigners;
A degenerate monk appears as a secular leader.
Since you do not recognize these three facts, I know you are not a holy being.
Chögyal Phagpa replied:
The waxing and waning of the doctrine was taught by Buddha;
The welfare and happiness of beings depend upon their individual karma;
Forms appear suitable to beings’ needs.
Since you do not realize these three facts, I know you are not learned.
The Dungrab Yarap Khagyen states that the thirteen categories of attendants that Chögyal Phagpa assembled consisted of the following: both outer and inner attendants, chamber staff, food servers, shrine masters, appointment keepers, secretaries, treasurers, cooks, household staff, throne managers, grooms, animal keepers, special assistants, and keepers of small pets. Although there are different ways of categorizing the retainers, this is the list recorded in that reliable source.
Master Chögyal Phagpa was invited to China by the emperor, and seeing that countless disciples could be tamed by his Dharma teaching, Chögyal Phagpa compassionately agreed to go. During this journey, Namkhabum met him and spent considerable time with him discussing the holy Dharma. Namkhabum saw Chögyal Phagpa as a great and advanced bodhisattva, and, as a result, Namkhabum developed unshakable devotion toward Chögyal Phagpa. Having received vast and profound Dharma teachings, including the bodhisattva vow and other things, he wrote down many quotations from Chögyal Phagpa’s holy teachings that demonstrate the master’s truly extraordinary qualities.
On the way to China, Chögyal Phagpa gave countless empowerments and instructions to many fortunate disciples, placing them in a state of maturity and liberation. When he reached China, he was like the sun surrounded by brilliant rays of light or like the moon surrounded by countless stars. It could also be said that he was like a buddha surrounded by countless śrāvakas, disciples, and saṅgha members. From a mundane point of view, he was surrounded by a large assembly of learned disciples and other attendants who, with him, had endured many hardships on the way to China, crossing narrow mountain passes and large rivers. To be unconcerned by such hardships is one of the hallmarks of a bodhisattva. In the sūtras the Lord Buddha states, “Bodhisattvas would travel even hundreds of yojanas to give Dharma teachings to sentient beings, without considering the hardship to themselves.”
When Chögyal Phagpa arrived in China, the emperor’s eldest son, his wife, and many ministers were present together with a large gathering. The lama arrived seated upon an Indian elephant adorned with jewels. To his right and left were many victory banners, countless musicians playing instruments, and lavish offerings. Chögyal Phagpa gave countless vast and profound Dharma teachings through which the doctrine of Buddhism arose in China like the sun in the morning sky.