Interview with H.E. Sakya Dhungsey Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche

By Kirsten Throneberry

During His Eminence Avikrita Rinpoche’s trip to Seattle in the winter of 2015 I had the honor of visiting with him in his parent’s home for a brief and informal interview. His Eminence was very patient and generous with his time and we enjoyed the translation help of his English tutor Ngawang Khyentse.

Q: The members of the Sakya Monastery here in Seattle have incredible access to sacred transmissions, teachings and initiations given both by our generous Sangha and visiting lamas. No one wants to miss these opportunities to take part in these blessings but we also want to keep the samaya or commitments to do the practice that accompany these opportunities. However, being lay practitioners it can begin to feel a bit daunting to keep up with all of these practices, do you have any advice regarding this dilemma?

A: People have different ways that they want to relate to the dharma, that is why the Buddha gave a huge range of teachings so that we can each relate to the dharma in a way that actually suits us or resonates with us. Even if you receive a lot of initiations or loongs, some of them you might feel you want to relate to and practice it, some you might not. It depends on the person himself or herself whatever practice he or she wants to.

Focusing on that, they can come to the Monastery (because just reading is not enough) and have dharma discussions with learned, accomplished lamas, nuns, monks or any of the teachers that will help us improve our practices. It depends on each person and each practice – that is why we have different deities to relate to.

Q: So I have heard some lamas say that you shouldn’t take an initiation if you are not going to do the practice.?

A: It is also important to consider the person from whom you are receiving the teaching or loong—if you want them to be your guru or not, even if you receive initiations from a guru you can relate to—no matter how many initiations you receive you can choose which practice you want to practice more—you are receiving a blessing to be able to do the practice.

For me, I receive countless initiations, and I can’t practice all of them—there are thousands and thousands of them however. Major empowerments are different—there are certain empowerments that you need to commit to before receiving an initiation—you are told beforehand, “If you want to receive the empowerment you have to do the practice.” For those initiations it is important to continue the everyday practice. But you need to know about the practice commitments before receiving an empowerment like this. However, for subsequent authorizations like the one I gave last Sunday (the Lord of the Lotus Dance) they are not major empowerments so each person has the choice of whether they want to practice this or not.

You see, the samaya, the commitment, like I explained last Sunday, was about Bodhichitta. That was the samaya—to cultivate it as much as possible. That is the only commitment you need, the only practice you need. Subsequent authorizations are a blessing because you receive the authorization in the future to practice the sadhana.

Q: How do we help our children cultivate non attachment in a culture that really celebrates and pairs happiness with material possession?

A: Actually I am going to talk about that on Sunday (referring to an upcoming Dharma talk with teens). Well basically, from my experience, enforcing is not the tool for young people. In Tibetan families we are born with it and grow up with it (the Buddha Dharma) because of the influence of our parents and the monks—instead of searching for the methods (laughing appreciatively) they came to us. For other people from other countries and so on, (direction) comes from the influences, the people around you—but forcing and telling them “should” and “shouldn’t” those are words they do not want to hear.

Influences can come from hearing the teachings, hearing the stories of the Buddha just so they get used to the ideas and how to implement those ideas, and slowly on their own they might get into it—but it is their choice if they want to practice it or not. Start by teaching them to deal with their problems and issues through meditation—not sophisticated meditations but just cultivating awareness generally. The most important two things I find are mindfulness and vigilance. Becoming aware of your own feelings inside, a lot of people are so stuck up in their heads and disassociated with what they are feeling.

For young people, I usually recommend to follow the breath—that is really, really helpful. Also, meditating on something they feel happy about like the Buddha or feeling good about themselves as well as developing awareness (he clarifies that he means this as advice for teenagers—this has been his experience of what works best). In addition it is important to cultivate loving compassion for ourselves before spreading that to other sentient beings.

Q: Most parents I know feel an incredible bond with their children, it is indescribable in some ways, we can’t imagine harm coming to them or even life without them, at the same time in Buddhism we are taught not to be attached to people and things in this impermanent existence so how do we distinguish between love and attachment when it comes to our children and other people that we care for.

A: (Ngawang Khyentse translates in Tibetan to help clarify) Well you see, the thing for Mahayana practitioners is that attachment is when you have a part on one side and a part on the other side. Loving your own loved ones but for enemies and so on you have no love for them at all. That is why we practiced equanimity for all sentient beings so we develop a love that is beyond worldly love.

Mahayana practitioners consider that all sentient beings have been our mothers and loved ones throughout beginning less time, so with that in mind, we can develop the same love we have for our children and loved ones in this life and then naturally move beyond attachment. So if you think of it that way and we have that kind of love then it’s not considered an afflicted emotion like attachment.

There are actually a lot of questions about that—the differentiation of those two things. Of course it is hard, but that is why we meditate and are practicing daily trying to generate that kind of love as much as possible. If you have a side (us/them) then you have attachment and that is the wrong love.

Q: If you could share with other people one fundamental aspect, or element of your incredible monastic education what would it be? Assisting me in clarifying my question Ngawang Khyentse shares that some aspects of His Eminence’s education would be hard to translate to a larger audience but suggests that I might be asking about a key value within his education that would be important to the world? I agree and H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche is able to then answer.

A: One of my first central experiences as a child that stood out among so many important teachings and that I remember very clearly was when my maternal grandfather told me that Nargarjuna said, “We don’t have to train in a huge number of things, we can accomplish our goals by just focusing on one thing…compassion or loving kindness.” That was really encouraging for me, it really helped me and gave me a huge step forward. Because by focusing on loving kindness and compassion, that energy spreads to other practices. That was really so very helpful for me. I think that is helpful for anyone because a lot of people struggle to practice a lot or things but this one thing is crucial. It is the foundation really for all of your practices.

Sakya Dhungseys Visit Seattle

By Kristin Throneberry

His Eminence Khondung Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche arrived in Seattle on January 30th 2015 followed five days later by his brother; His Eminence Khondung Abhaya Vajra Rinpoche. The Dhungseys are the grandsons of H.H. Jigdal Dachen Sakya and H.E. Dagmo Kusho and the sons of H.E. Zaya Vajra Sakya Rinpoche and Dagmo Lhanze Youden.

The Dhungseys’ arrival in Seattle in the middle of winter is becoming a joyous tradition for the members of the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. During these visits we are treated not only to the presence of the next generation of the unbroken Khon lineage but also to their wisdom and blessings in the form of teachings and transmissions.

H.E. Abhaya Rinpoche came to Seattle after a month-long retreat which followed his regular intensive studies at the Dzongsar Institute in Bir, India. While in Seattle, he shared his presence and prayers at every opportunity at the Sakya Monastery and continued his studies even though on break. His Eminence continues to develop his interest in writing and we look forward to reading his insights into the Buddha Dharma as he begins to publish his work in future years.

On February 1st, H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche bestowed the “loong” (a reading transmission for prayers to Virupa and the Five Founding Lamas of the Sakya Tradition.  H.E. Avikrita reminded the recipients though, that to truly activate such a blessing requires engaging in one’s practice. After the loong, each of those present received a gift from His Eminence of a book of prayers he compiled titled Prayers to Swiftly Behold the Faces of the Gurus.

On February 8th H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche bestowed the uncommon Red Chenrezi Initiation, Lord of the Lotus Dance.  With the blessing of His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche, this initiation was given in English so as to help western students develop a clearer understanding of the initiation. His Eminence explained that Chenrezi is like the patron saint to all Tibetans and embodies the perfection of universal compassion that is not limited by discrimination or boundaries. He clarified that the Lord of the Lotus Dance is a real Buddha, not an idea but a direct realization. Because of this, by doing this practice, we cultivate benefits not only for ourselves but for all beings—something desperately needed in this world.

During the teachings which preceded the initiation, H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche emphasized the importance of non-attachment which is commonly translated to mean renunciation in the west—a word he feels falls short of its intended idea. His Eminence explains that the meaning of non-attachment in Tibetan indicates something you can trust and rise into—leaving one with a more positive sense of the concept.  He spent time expanding on this idea and its ability to remedy the growing problems brought about by the unchecked idolization of instant gratification.

The antidote, His Eminence explained, is non attachment that is cultivated by the contemplation of the Buddha’s teachings: teachings which inspire us to take responsibility for our lives and actions, teachings that help us see beyond what we experience through our 6 senses, teachings that allow us to encourage the letting go not only within the mind, but within the world. For although we have this precious human life, he explains that, “Life without the Dharma is like winning the lottery but leaving the ticket in ones pocket to be destroyed in the laundry.”

On February 15th, after the Bon Voyage Mandala Offering given in honor of H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche, His Eminence, gave a refuge ceremony to all those interested. While preparing the participants for the refuge ceremony His Eminence gave brief instructions on how to foster growth on the Buddha Dharma Path. He stressed the importance of listening properly, of practicing the Dharma and “conducting oneself towards the Dharma” at every opportunity. He advised those present to use everything within their means toward developing themselves as practitioners.  For example, when we wash something, we imagine scrubbing away our obscurations, when we are driving we imagine we are traveling towards the Buddha. In closing, he reminded those in attendance of the importance of keeping the vows taken that day.

On February 19th, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche was joined by H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche and H.E. Abhaya Rinpoche and their family, all ordained Sangha, the Tibetan Community and Members of the Sakya Monastery for the Celebration of Losar, the Tibetan Year of the Wood Ewe. After many prayers were recited H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche gave an inspirational speech about using the start of a new year as a time to review one’s life and to renew one’s motivation and efforts towards realizing the Buddha Dharma Path. He highlighted the fact that no spiritual life can be separate from daily human life—rather it has to be woven into the fabric of everyday existence.

His Eminence also explained why cultivating the right mindset, motivation and execution of one’s intentions is so important to the world. He said that human rights and equality for all are inherently related to the attainment of enlightenment. He stressed that the Dharma is so much more than an adjunct stress reducer; it has so much potential—potential to awaken something within one’s self that can be of real value to the world. He also gave heartfelt thanks to all of the great masters and practitioners who, with great diligence, sacrifice, and herculean efforts kept the teachings alive in the face of great adversities that began in the last century. Because of them, he explained, the teachings, the Precious Jewel will, “not just be another exotic cultural side note archived in the annuals of history but rather a thriving force to bring about benefit to all sentient beings”.  The day after the Losar celebrations, H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche left Seattle to return to his studies at the Dzongsar Institute in Bir, India.

On Sunday February 22nd, members of the Sakya Family and Sakya Monastery offered H.E. Abhaya Rinpoche a Bon Voyage Mandala Offering.  After enjoying a few final days with his loved ones, he, like his brother, returned to his studies in Bir, India. We wish the Dhungseys all the best in their educational endeavors and we look forward to next winter when they will once again brighten our short winter days with their luminous presence.

We are forever grateful to H.H. Jigdal Dachen Sakya for his tireless efforts to help the Buddhist doctrine prosper in this land so far from where he was born. We are grateful for his perfected example of altruism, dedication, and wisdom which he has shared with so many and which now lives on in his grandchildren who we hope will also motivate and inspire generations to come. For all of those who made the Dhungseys’ visit possible, and for H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche’s and H.E. Abhaya Rinpoche’s own generosity of spirit and depth of wisdom and compassion we are grateful.  May our gratitude blossom into clear intention and perseverance so that we might come to embody all of the blessings we receive because of the blessed Khon Lineage.

Tulku Ogyan Kyab Begins his Studies in India

By Laura Ellis

In November 2014 four year old Tulku Ogyan Kyab began his studies at the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang in New Delhi. Born in the Year of the Iron Tiger (2010) in Seattle, Tulkula was recognized by His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche as the reincarnation of Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche. Tulkula is the fourth reincarnation of Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche of Yaten Gompa, an 800 year old Sakya monastery located in Minyak, Kham, East Tibet. There are over 200 monks in residence at Yaten Monastery.

Tulku Ogyan’s parents are both Buddhists and are devoted students of H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche. Tulkula’s father, Tsering Lama, is Tibetan. His family, most of whom reside in Minyak, have been devotees of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism for hundreds of years. In that time there have been several great masters that were born into the family. Tulkula’s mother, Laura Ellis, received the Lamdre initiation from Dagchen Rinpoche in Nepal in 2007. Her family have been in America for many generations. Some of her ancestors were British pilgrims that arrived on the Mayflower ship in 1620.

 According to Tibetan tradition tulkus begin their monastic studies at the age of 4 or 5 years old. Tulkula is presently studying Tibetan language and Buddhism in India. He will need a foundation in Tibetan in order to begin his formal Buddhist studies in Tibet next year. The Phuntsok Phodrang, Sakya Heritage Foundation in New Delhi is home to over 100 young monks, teachers, and staff. It is the perfect environment for a lama of Tulkula’s age to learn Tibetan language. When he is not engaged in formal classes with his teacher, he is playing games with the other young monks. By the time Tulkula is ready to move to Yaten Monastery in Tibet in summer 2016, he will be fully conversant in Tibetan.

When Tulkula arrived in New Delhi on November 7, 2014, accompanied by his mother, he was greeted by his paternal uncle, Venerable Jamyang Gyaltsen, who is the administrator of the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang. Lama Jamyang made all of the arrangements for Tulkula’s education in India: appointing his personal teacher, Venerable Ngawang Lodro, his attendants, and arranging for audiences with important lamas. It is fortunate that Tulkula can be under the supervision and guidance of his caring uncle, Lama Jamyang Gyalstsen.

The timing of Tulkula’s arrival in India was auspicious in that so many great Sakya lamas were gathered for the Golden Jubilee Celebration of Sakya Center.  Shortly after arriving in New Delhi, Tulkula traveled to Dehra Dun for the Golden Jubilee Celebration where he met His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche and received special blessings. He received blessings from the Sakya Dhungseys of the Drolma Phodrang and the Phuntsok Phodrang : H.E. Ratna Vajra Rinpoche, H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche, H.E. Abhaya Rinpoche, and H.E. Asanga Rinpoche. Also, from H.E. Ngor Luding Khen Chen Rinpoche Tulkula received a hair cutting blessing. He had the good fortune to meet with Dezhung Yangsi Tulku Rinpoche at his residence in Sakya College.

Tulkula will be traveling to Tibet in the summer of 2016 for the formal enthronement ceremony at Yaten Monastery.  The upcoming trip to Minyak will be Tulkula’s second visit to Tibet. The first trip was in September, 2013, when Tulkula was 3 years old. The purpose of that visit was mainly to visit Tulkula’s paternal relatives. He spent one month at the family residence in Minyak along with his mother and sister.  He traveled to several of the major monasteries in the area. Auspicious signs manifested at many key moments during his visit to Minyak.

The people of Minyak, and especially the monks of his own monastery are eagerly awaiting Tulkula’s return. He will be cared for by devoted monk attendants and taught by the most accomplished teachers. It is important for tulkus to receive the teachings and then to contemplate, study, meditate and practice the teachings. A tulku’s duty is vast. All of the monks at his monastery expect Tulkula to be their lama (teacher). Eventually Tulkula will be able to teach the Buddha Dharma, which will be of immeasurable benefit to all beings.

H. H. Dagchen Rinpoche, out of his supreme kindness and compassion for all beings, recognized Tulku Ogyan, so that Tulkula can fulfill his chosen destiny: to liberate beings wandering in the ocean of samsara. May Tulkula follow in our Precious Teacher’s footsteps, victorious over every obstacle, in order to bring happiness to all sentient beings.

May all beings benefit and may the precious Sakya teachings long endure!

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Princess Ashi Kesang of Bhutan Visits Sakya Monastery

By Heydi Carter

In January 2015,  Princess Ashi Kesang Choden T Wangchuck, granddaughter of Her Royal Majesty 3rd Queen of Bhutan, and her daughter came to spend a couple months in the US. They spent much of their time in the Seattle-Bellevue area where Ashi Kesang was training and working on fundraising efforts for monastic conservation projects in Bhutan.
On the evening of Guru Rinpoche Tsok they had their first visit to Sakya Monastery of Seattle, where Ashi Kesang payed her respects to H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche, H.E. Dagmo Kusho and the Sakya family. We are grateful to Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche for introducing Ashi Kesang to the Sakya family and Sangha in Seattle.  Princess Ashi Kesang’s family was especially happy to hear of her meetings with H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche and the Sakya Family. H.E. Dagmo Kusho is her grandmother, the Queen’s, long-time friend. After the Tsok ceremony, Ashi Kesang expressed how happy she was to finally see a stupa – it was the first stupa she had seen since she left Bhutan! Her 10 year old daughter, Tashi, was especially impressed to see an American woman at the Tsok who had all of her prayers memorized in Tibetan language!
Sakya Monastery’s VEI program kindly welcomed Princess Ashi Kesang to be a part of their Guest Lecture Series in February. Ashi Kesang presented historical accounts and heart-warming narratives of Bhutan’s ancient sacred sites and artworks, as well as their current-day preservation efforts. The accompanying slideshow contained breath-taking imagery, including photos of statues and sacred sites of Guru Rinpoche which are not usually available for public viewing (in fact the only other place they could be seen is in her editorial publication, Zangdok Palri: Lotus Light Palace of Guru Rinpoche).

The Sakya Monastery is very grateful to Princess Ashi Kesang for gracing us with her presence and providing us with a unique opportunity to see a glimpse of the rare and sacred images in Bhutan.  We are very grateful to Dagmo Kusho and Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche for gracing this presentation with their attendance, to the Sakya Monastery and VEI program for providing this unique platform, and to all the Sangha members who energized the evening with their wonderful enthusiasm!

View the embedded image gallery online at:

Photos courtesy Lincoln Potter


Details from the 7th Annual Crab Release

By Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche

For seven years now, Dr. Kristine Honda and I have been organizing an annual crab release for the long life of H.H. Dalai Lama, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche, other spiritual leaders, and for world peace.

On the morning of Saturday, March 21st, 2015, some of the Sakya Sangha members gathered at the Monastery to prepare all the tents, tables, chairs and prayer books for this event. All the supplies were packed up to bring to Anacortes where the crab release event was to take place. This year, we released 170 crabs, each crab cost $14, a total value of $2,380, into the Puget Sound waters near Anacortes.

Around 8:30 in the morning, as I was standing outside the Sakya Monastery, waiting for my ride to arrive, suddenly there was a loud ruckus from a flock of birds in a nearby tree. I looked up to see a large hawk swoop down and attack a small bird. The two of them fell to the street, grappling. I ran to shoo the hawk away and he flew off, leaving the small bird on the street. The bird tried to hide himself inside the sewer grating on the edge of the street. I was worried that if he got inside, he might drown or not be able to get back out. So I grabbed him by his tail feathers just in time to pull him out of the grating. I held him in my hands and could feel his heart racing. I recited OM MANI PEME HUNG, the mantra of the Buddha of compassion, and then placed him safely under some bushes behind the Monastery. I was so sad because he almost died, but I was also so happy because I had been able to save his life!

Ngawang Choegyal-la, the Tibetan lady who was driving, and her son, Losal, arrived and we headed out towards Anacortes. Just north of Lynnwood, a heavy rain began pour down on us. We could not see more than a few feet in front of us. I thought, “Oh no! I better pray for the rain to stop!” Then I realized that Dagchen Rinpoche, such a powerful lama, is with us today so he will be able to stop the rain. As we neared Anacortes, the heavy downpour turned into just a light sprinkle. By the time we arrived at Black Rock Seafood Company the rain had completely ceased. Dr. Honda, Lama Migmar and others had already arrived. We purchased the crabs from the Black Rock Seafood Company and headed to the beach where they would be released.

At the beach, we set up a beautiful orange tent that Dr. Honda and other Sangha members had purchased with their donations. Underneath, we set up all the tables, chairs, prayer books and a photo of H.H. Dalai Lama. The business people brought four big bins full of the crabs we had purchased. After about a half hour, Dagchen Rinpoche, Dagmo Kusho-la, Sakya Dungsey, Ani Rinpoche, Zaya Rinpoche, Sadu Rinpoche, Sakya Jestunmas and Dagmos, and around 30 other guests gathered. First, katags were offered to Dagchen Rinpoche. I was very thankful because he has come to this event every year since it first began, and even now that he is 86 years old, he still comes! I am also very thankful to have Dagmo Kusho-la’s blessings every year, and the support from the Sakya family and Sangha members.

Dagchen Rinpoche began by leading the group in reciting OM MANI PEME HUNG 108 times. During this time, Lama Migmar and Tsering Gaga sprinkled the crabs with holy water which had been brought by Dagmo Kusho-la and me. I used the sound system brought by Zaya Rinpoche to lead the chant of Aspiration of Samantabhadra, the mantras of Buddha Amitabha, Medicine Buddha and Three Long-life Deities, and Long-life Prayers for H.H. Dalai Lama, H.H. Sakya Trinzin, H.H. Sakya Dagchen and HE Dagmo Kusho-la. Then we released the crabs into the ocean. Two bins of crabs were released by hand, one by one, at the water’s edge. The other two bins were taken by Trinidad and kids, Losel and Meadow-lark, by boat to be released in the deeper waters where the sea gulls could not catch them. Zaya Rinpoche took many beautiful pictures. Marsha and Keli also documented the event with photos.

Then we packed up all the supplies, put the tent and chairs and everything back in the car. Most of us went to Sakura, a Japanese restaurant in Anacortes, for lunch.  We took up 3 tables; one for the whole Sakya family. The hibachi grills were fired up in front of us and the cooks prepared our meals with much flair. We had a total of 27 people; some people had already left right after the crab release. Dr. Honda generously sponsored the meal for the whole Sakya family, Lama Migmar and me. After lunch, we returned to Seattle to find amazingly sunny weather. A few light clouds danced in the sky, a gentle breeze flowed through the tree tops. I felt so thankful, blissful and joyful for this day’s wonderful practice. May our great spiritual leaders have long lives! May there be world peace! May all sentient beings be happy!

We saved $300 for an upcoming fish release in the ocean waters of Hong Kong . We will be releasing fish in Hong Kong because it is less expensive this way and therefore the money we spend can have a greater impact; saving more lives! 

2015 Live Animal Release Photos

Here are some photos from our recent Live Animal Release, courtesy H.E. Zaya Rinpoche. Enjoy!

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