Biography of Sakya Pandita by Chogye Tri Rinpoche

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Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltshan (1182-1251) His Eminence Chogay Trichen Rinpoche, Head of Tsar branch of Sakya tradition Translated from Tibetan into French by His Eminence Phende Rinpoche and Jamyang Khandro and from French to English by Jennifer Scott

Manjushri Sakya Pandita was the son of Palchen Odpo and Drakpa Gyaltshan's nephew. Like the Buddha he made five choices before incarnating. He entered the womb in the form of a naga king, his head decorated with precious jewels. During this time his mother experienced a depth of meditation previously unknown to her. When he was born, a great light filled the sky and be began to speak in Sanskrit. The physical marks of a Buddha which adorned his body signified his incomparable accumulation of merit. These marks were the ushnisha on the top of his head and one tuft of hair, white as a conch, falling in a curl in the centre of his forehead. His appearance was such that it was impossible for those who beheld him to tear their gaze from his face.

He was born in the Water Tiger of the third cycle. The inspiration of Manjushri had accompanied him in his 25 incarnations as a pandita. In ultimate truth he was an incarnation of Manjushri as had been prophesied by Tara to the astrologer Khache Panchen (1126-1225). This was recognized as fact by the scholar Tsangnapa when he saw the numerous marks on his body. In relative truth he studied the teachings in order to guide beings. Whatever the teaching he understood its meaning immediately and obtained a clear comprehension as to the status of all objects of knowledge. Since he viewed his lama as inseparable from Manjushri, he was able to realize all the internal and external signs. He received teachings from countless Indian, Nepalese, Kashmiri and Tibetan spiritual friends, becoming a vast reservoir of wisdom achieved through study, reflection and meditation, and master of all teachings. After taking vows from the pandita Khache Shakya Shribhadra, until the end of his life, he broke not the smallest rule and like an arhat, he maintained a moral discipline that was pleasing to the Buddhas.

He was praised by all mundane and transcendental beings and become a saint worth of offerings. He possessed all scholarly and monastic virtues, great bodhicitta and all the qualities of realization. He was therefore able to act for the benefit of many beings and his fame spread far and wide. Having studied both Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophies he furthered the cause of dharma through teaching, debate and composition. His reputation reached the famous Vedantin philosopher Harinanda who, together with five other scholars, came to confront him. Sakya Pandita silenced each of them in turn through his skill in dialectical logic based on the three Pramanas. After his defeat, Harinanda cut his hair as a mark of submission and promised to follow the Buddhist path. Sakya Pandita was the first Tibetan to defeat Indian scholars in debate and his reputation subsequently spread like lightening across India.

From the age of nine until passing away at the age of 70, he turned the wheel of dharma each day. Among his disciples were Tshog, Drup and Phak who held the lineage of realization; Lho and Mar who held the lineage of oral instructions; Shar, Nub and Drung who held the lineage of commentaries; twenty disciples of all ages who held the lineage of the Vinaya; Lo, Zhang, Rong and Chag who understood Sanskrit and Tibetan; four yogins practising in secret one of whom was Gyatsha Lung; four saintly scholars one of whom was Tsangnagpa; Gyalwa Yangonpa who, along with others, held the lineage of meditation. In addition he had many more scholarly students who held the pitakas.

He was a prolific writer and composed numerous treatises on the ten sciences. Among these treatises were: "The Discrimination of The Three Vows" (sDom-gsum Rab-dbye) and "The Treasury of Knowledge Concerning Ideal Cognition" (Tshad-ma Rig-pa'i gTer). He wrote many explanatory texts on the sastras and carried out many Sanskrit translations. He is noted as the first to initiate traditional logical enquiry into the three Pramanas and the ten sciences; teachings which, as he himself said, had not existed in the Land of Snows prior to this time. The study of the terminology and meaning of the ten sciences in Tibet begins with him. His reputation parallelled that of the great Indian masters Dharmakirti and Dignaga and the qualities of his body, speech and mind spread like a banner for all to see. Consequently, Prince Godan, the Mongol ruler of China, longing to behold his face which glowed like the moon, sent envoys to invite him to China. After concentrated prayer, Sakya Pandita decided to accept the invitation, with the benefit of his Tibetans students in mind.

Prince Godan, immensely rich and successful, was searching for a lama who would guide him on the path of liberation and omniscience. He insisted that Sakya Pandita , the greatest sage in Tibet, should be invited to accomplish this task. As his own lama had prophesied, Sakya Pandita became the supreme ornament in China after his arrival there.

Through his unparallelled actions of body, speech and mind, he spread the teaching throughout numerous uncivillized lands. He delivered Prince Godan from his illness and the Prince developed great faith in him. However, one day when he was teaching the "Suvarnaparabha sutra" and had reached the line 'the tortoise has no hair', the Prince and his ministers decided to test him. To this end, the Prince requested a Chinese magician to create a magic temple at the side of a lake and then invited Sakya Pandita to meet him there. In a state of profound meditation, Sakya Pandita blessed the temple by throwing flowers. The magician was consequently powerless to destroy the illusion. The Prince and his retinue were then filled with faith and named the temple 'magical temple of the North' (Byang-phyogs sPrul-pa'i Lha-khang). It can be seen in China to this day in the vicinity of mountain of Manjushri (Wu-ta'i Shan).

When, after some time, Sakya Pandita's Tibetan students begged him to return, he composed the treatise entitled "Elucidating The Thought of The Sage" (Thub-pa'i dGongs-gsal) and sent it to them.

In this manner, Sakya Pandita caused the teachings of the Buddha to flourish throughout time and space. In the female Iron Pig year (1251) at the age of 70, he passed away into the spiritual land of Joy whilst residing at the 'magical temple' monastery, having traversed the five paths and the ten bodhisattva bhumis. He became the Buddha Vimala Shri as had been prophesied by deities and gurus. This was later confirmed by Chogyal Phakpa. When a scholar asked him about Sakya Pandita, he replied that he had become a Buddha.