His Eminence Khöndung Asanga Vajra Rinpoche Returns to Seattle for the First Time after Studying abroad for the past Seven Years

By Kristine Honda, Beth Johansen, Allan Crouch and Kirsten Throneberry


HE Asanga Rinpoche

His Eminence Khöndung Asanga Vajra Sakya Rinpoche blessed the community of Sakya Monastery with his inspiring presence this past summer. This was his first visit to the United States since he departed Seattle in 2005 to pursue his studies at the Tharlam Monastery in Nepal. The effort this young spiritual visionary has put forth in order to develop his highest spiritual qualities for the benefit of all sentient beings is awe inspiring and truly deserves the utmost admiration and respect. In Western culture, there are scarce few examples of individuals foregoing personal pursuits so that they may bring grace and encouragement to the lives of others, particularly at such a young age. Luckily, his spiritual strivings were matched by the sacrifice, wisdom, and selflessness of his family who fully supported his aspirations and visited him often in Nepal and India.

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Asanga Rinpoche is the son of His Eminence Khöndung Ani Vajra Sakya Rinpoche, the second son of the Phuntsok Phodrang family, and Dagmo Chimey Dollkar. Asanga Rinpoche comes from a long, distinguished and accomplished lineage of highly realized spiritual masters from both the paternal and maternal branches of his family. Asanga Rinpoche is the paternal grandson of His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche of the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang (Auspicious Royal Palace of Sakya), a hereditary line of spiritual lineage holders who ruled over Sakya, Tibet. Asanga Rinpoche is also the maternal grandson of His Eminence Garje Khamtul Rinpoche, who is a highly respected and accomplished Nyingma master who also served as spiritual advisor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. Like his grandfather H.H Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche, Asanga Rinpoche is considered to be an emanation of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjushri.

Born on May 1st, 1999, Asanga Rinpoche spent his formative years with his family in Seattle. At a very young age the young Rinpoche displayed a remarkable interest in the life of the Buddha and in the Buddha Dharma. Asanga Rinpoche naturally and effortlessly memorized numerous prayers and enjoyed playing with religious musical instruments. Since the age of three he also regularly attended pujas at the Sakya Monastery of his own accord, displaying an extraordinary memory and deep focus on all things religious and spiritual.

Just before Asanga Rinpoche turned six years of age, he left Seattle to begin his studies, with great diligence, at Tharlam Monastery in Kathmandu Nepal. Here he has rigorously focused his energies so as to be able to carry on the Buddhist teachings and the Sakya lineage in the tradition of his forefathers. He has been privately tutored by a group of carefully selected monk scholars in reading and memorizing numerous volumes of Tibetan scriptures, sutra, grammar, use of religious musical instruments, and various rituals following a regimen of quintessential and highly structured education according to the Sakya Buddhist tradition. In addition to his traditional Tibetan spiritual education, he also studies English, Mandarin, Math, and Science. Given his studious nature, determination, quick mindedness, and inspiring humility, Asanga Rinpoche excelled in all aspects of his training and studies at Tharlam Monastery. His success is a testament not only to his own diligence and aptitude but also to the oversight of a loving and devoted family as well as uniquely capable and wise teachers.

Largely due to the above mentioned qualities and conditions, in September of 2011 (at the age of twelve) Asanga Rinpoche was able to lead a congregation of distinguished lamas, monks, and adept practitioners in the annual Vajrakilaya ritual puja and ceremony at the Sakya Center in Rajpur India. His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche (wearing a huge smile) graciously commented that Asanga Rinpoche’s performance was “100 plus!” Indeed, Asanga Rinpoche was able to lead the congregation flawlessly through the intricate oral prayers and use of various religious instruments in a ritual practice which commenced before dawn and concluded after sunset. Asanga Rinpoche’s efforts allow him to hold the unique distinction of being the youngest person ever to have successfully completed the rigorous day long Vajrakilaya exams with a perfect score.

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Since his recent return to America on June 24, 2012, Asanga Rinpoche has been staying at his family’s home in Shoreline, where he has been able to spend quality time with his parents and his two sisters, Jetsunma Aloki, age 11 and Jetsunma Mamaki, age 6. In the course of the summer, Asanga Rinpoche had the opportunity to spend some time traveling, sightseeing, and enjoying an active summer vacation with his family after being away for the past 7 years. Among other things, Rinpoche visited the Space Needle, the Great Wolf Lodge (waterpark), Pacific Science Center, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Aquarium, Northwest Trek, and a Seattle Sounders soccer game, where the Sounders had a resounding 3-1 win against Dallas. Asanga Rinpoche also joined his family and members of the Sakya Monastery at the Camano Island State Park, for the monastery’s annual camp out. Here he was able to enjoy nature while also becoming reacquainted with the sangha members.

Asanga Rinpoche was also able to visit the Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island touring the retreat center and participated in a ritual puja before the sanctuary stupa. Taking advantage of the long and warm summer this year, Rinpoche and family enjoyed a quiet vacation at a beachfront home of a good friend in Ocean Shores, Washington. Rinpoche and his sisters flew kites along the beach, swam in the Pacific Ocean, built sand castles, rode horses, drove Go-carts, peddled cycle-carts, and picnicked on the sandy beaches with their parents. One of the highlights of Rinpoche’s vacation was a five-mile hike with his father, his teacher, his monk attendants, and his father’s best friend David Guterson (author of the famous Snow Falling on Cedars novel) on the Duckabush Trail in the Olympic National Park. David Guterson who previously traveled to Nepal and stayed at the Tharlam Monastery Guest House with his youngest son, Henry Guterson, is especially close to Asanga Rinpoche and is much impressed by Rinpoche’s focus, devotion, discipline and dedication to his purpose in life. Although on vacation, Asanga Rinpoche maintained his priorities and continued his education and spiritual practice though at a more leisurely pace.

During Asanga Rinpoche’s stay in Seattle, the Sakya Monastery requested and organized various teachings to be given by him. On July 29th, Asanga Rinpoche bestowed his first public initiation in the West. He graciously bestowed the Amitayus-Hayagriva combination long life Initiation at the Sakya Monastery and also gave a comprehensive teaching and instructions on the practice of the deities. Amitayus is the Buddha of Long-life and Hayagriva is the wrathful deity who protects against obstacles and misfortune. As Asanga Rinpoche is fluent in both Tibetan and English, he spoke Tibetan within the initiation and gave translation and instructions in English, making it easy for the sangha members to understand. Everyone came away feeling inspired by his teachings as well as his kind, calm, and humble nature as he bestowed the initiation with both grace and poise.

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On August 19, 2012, at the Sakya Monastery, Asanga Rinpoche also gave a teaching on The Significance and Meaning of Taking Refuge and an Oral Transmission and Commentary on the Aspiration of Samantabhadra. During his teachings Asanga Rinpoche reminded the listeners that when one takes refuge it is done with total faith in the Three Jewels (The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha). At the same moment however, we must remember that a force outside of oneself cannot free us from our negative emotions and karma—only we can work towards that end. It was a declaration that reminded everyone of both the preciousness of the Buddhist teachings as well as our own responsibility to cultivate their manifestation within ourselves.

Likewise, while speaking on the importance of the Aspirations of Samantabhadra (a prayer he fully learned by the age of five), Asanga Rinpoche reiterated that we all have within us the seeds of the Buddha nature but in order for these seeds to grow we must be our own watch guards—always practicing mindfulness in regards to our speech, thought, and deeds. His sincerity and conviction truly inspired those who had gathered to listen to his words of insight and wisdom for someone so young.

While visiting Seattle, Asanga Rinpoche also attended several monthly Board of Advisors meetings at the Sakya Monastery. Rinpoche made it clear he wanted to attend as he knew that the Board of Advisors were volunteers who devoted their time, effort, and resources to serving his respected grandfather, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche, helping to ensure that the monastery continues to function and operate in accordance to His Holiness’ vision. Asanga Rinpoche listened attentively to what was discussed at the board meetings and took great interest in its operation and aim. At the end of each board meeting, Asanga Rinpoche thanked each board advisor for their dedication, devotion and service. He made it clear that without their valued service, the monastery could not operate as well as it has and for that, he conveyed his heartfelt and sincere gratitude for their devotion and service.

In late summer, much to the delight and relief of Asanga Rinpoche and his family, his entourage of four monks finally received their religious worker visas and they were then able to join the family in Seattle. Rinpoche’s teacher, Venerable Gen Ngawang Rigdro, treasurer and his former teacher Venerable Gen Nyima Tsering, attendants Venerable Sopon Tashi Tenzin and Venerable Sopon Ngawang Rinchen were able to travel to the United States for the first time. Three of the four monks had served Asanga Rinpoche since 2005 when Asanga Rinpoche was only five years old. Asanga Rinpoche’s parents had invited the monks to come and join them in Seattle in appreciation of their years of service to their son. Together with family and monastery sangha, the Sakya Monastery hosted a Welcome potluck reception in honor of his teachers and attendants’ first trip to America and the Sakya Monastery. These four very loyal and dedicated monks continued to serve Asanga Rinpoche even here in the West

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When asked to share any personal words for our Sangha members, Asanga Rinpoche wanted to relay the following. “I have had a wonderful summer visiting family, friends, and the Sakya Monastery here in Seattle. As always, I find Seattle to be a most beautiful place and the people are so kind and gracious. I want to thank the people of this great State of Washington for making us feel so welcomed and I would especially like to thank the members of Sakya Monastery for helping my grandparents and my family to preserve our unique and ancient culture through the presence of the Buddha Dharma activities taking place all the time at the monastery. When I return back to my studies in Nepal and India, I will carry back some really wonderful memories I will treasure forever. However, no matter where I am, I feel that I have with me, the dual blessings of a rich background of ancient Buddhist traditions to follow and the very modern conveniences of technology to enable me to stay close to my family and loved ones. The world is indeed a small place and we are all very closely connected”.

It should be noted that due to his remarkable personal achievements which are widely known by all, Asanga Rinpoche has also been featured on various media outlets ranging from cable, print, radio, and news print to name a few. Two of the most public examples include broadcast on the cable Seattle Channel and King 5 News. These wonderful videos can be viewed at (Penny Legate Seattle Channel Interview 9/20/12) and at (Lori Matsukawa King 5 Interview 8/23/12), respectively. He was also featured on the Seattle Times newspaper front page of the Sunday edition dated June 21, 2012. The article and pictures of his reunion with his family at Sea-Tac Airport, Sakya Monastery and home in Shoreline can be found at Lornet Turnbull Seattle Times Article 7/21/12 and Pictures of Asanga Rinpoche's arrival - Seattle Times respectively.

After his stay in America, Asanga Rinpoche made his first trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong in October-November visiting Buddhist centers with his grandparents, H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche and H.E. Dagmo Kushok, who wanted to introduce him to their many Chinese students and visit their centers. Following their trip to Taiwan, Hong Kong and India, Asanga Rinpoche will return to Seattle in December with his esteemed grandparents to receive special teachings from his grandfather, H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche. On December 30th, Sunday at 10:00am, Asanga Rinpoche bestowed the Medicine Buddha Initiation and Teachings which not only the empowerment but also clear teachings on the deity and the practice both in Tibetan and English. In February 2013, after the completion of these events including the Long Life Ceremony for H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche and Losar (Tibetan New Year), Asanga Rinpoche will return to Tharlam Monastery in Nepal and go into solitary retreat to further develop his meditative and Buddhist practice on a higher level. Then in pursuit of further studies, in July 2013, Asanga Rinpoche will be joining the prestigious Sakya College in Mussoorie, India where he embarks upon the next stage of his education and learning by enrolling in a nine-year intensive study program where upon completion, he will graduate with a degree equivalent to a Ph.D in Higher Buddhist studies. He is one of the youngest monastic to be admitted to this esteemed Sakya College and will be under the tutelage of scholar Venerable Khenpo Gyatso Rinpoche, the principal, abbot and head scholar of Sakya College who has been eagerly waiting for Asanga Rinpoche to attend his institute of higher Buddhist studies. In addition to his making special residential accommodations for Asanga Rinpoche, Khenpo Gyatso Rinpoche has also agreed to personally educate and give special teachings privately to Asanga Rinpoche befitting his intellect, position and aptitude.


Long Live the Buddha Dharma!

Long Live the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism!

Long Live H.E. Khöndung Asanga Vajra Sakya Rinpoche!


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