What does Sakya Monastery provide?
Where is Sakya Monastery located?
What is the purpose of Sakya Monastery?
What is the history of the Sakya Monastery building?
What programs does Sakya Monastery offer?
How is Sakya Monastery governed?
Who is H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya?
What is the lineage of H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya?
Where did the Sakya name come from?
What makes Sakya Tibetan Buddhist Lamas special?
How did the Sakya family become located in Seattle, Washington?
Who is Buddha?
What does Tibetan Buddhism teach?
What are Buddhist values?
What is Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism?
What is the role of the Lama in Tibetan Buddhism?
What is appropriate etiquette when attending Sakya Monastery?
What to Wear?
While in the Shrine room…
What is Sakya Monastery’s Children’s Dharma School?
Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism provides access to the Buddha’s teachings and guidance in a community of practitioners. Sakya Monastery provides a place to learn from highly qualified and spiritual Tibetan Lamas in a beautiful traditional setting.
Sakya Monastery in Seattle is a seat of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism in North America. It is also a non-sectarian religious center, and hosts visits and teaching from leading lamas of all four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Sakya Monastery occupies a beautiful renovated building, which houses a pristine example of a Tibetan Buddhist shrine that is one of only a few in North America. It is located at 108 NW 83rd Street in Seattle’s Greenwood district a few blocks from the intersection of Greenwood Avenue North and North 85th Street in Seattle. While called a monastery, it is primarily a community of lay practitioners, with various levels of experience in the Buddhist tradition. It is led by its founder, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya (called Dagchen Rinpoche, meaning “Precious One” in Tibetan). He is a head lama of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s four main Schools.
The purpose of Sakya Monastery is to share and preserve Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture. It does this through teaching and practicing traditional Tibetan Buddhism and by upholding Tibetan customs and traditions. Since the purpose of the Buddha’s teaching, as practiced in Tibet, is to develop loving-kindness and compassion, the main meditation practices at Sakya Monastery focus on the cultivation of these qualities. In keeping with the emphasis in Buddhism (and especially in the Sakya School) on education and learning, Sakya Monastery and VEI offer a variety of educational programs to foster a better understanding of the teachings of the Buddha.
Sakya Monastery’s building was initially erected in 1928 as the First Presbyterian Church. Over the years, different Christian denominations have owned the building. In 1984, a Baptist group sold it to Sakya Tegchen Choling center (Sakya Monastery’s predecessor). Since its founding in 1974, this center had successively outgrown accommodations in the Ravenna-Bryant, Capitol Hill, Wallingford, and University districts. When it moved to the Greenwood area, the center reorganized under H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, and adopted the name Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism.
Buying the large structure in Greenwood was a big step for the small center. A remarkable event helped catalyze the purchase of the building. While the search was being conducted for the center’s new home, Dagchen Rinpoche had a dream in which he saw the destined building. Upon waking, he had architectural plans drawn for the building as revealed to him in his vision. Amazingly, the Baptist Church was an exact match for these vision-based plans, and the decision was made to acquire the 108 building (Tibetan Buddhism prayer beads have 108 beads, hence, 108 is a sacred number in Tibetan Buddhism).
Since the purchase, many years of hard work and renovation by dedicated volunteers have brought the building to its present form and grace. At various stages of the renovation, the highest-ranking lamas in Tibetan Buddhism, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, have consecrated Sakya Monastery’s building and its contents, imbuing them with the enlightened spirit of the Buddha and transforming the building into a North American home for the Buddha’s teaching. In addition, Sakya Monastery contains many holy objects from India, Tibet, and Nepal.
Following the first year of renovation, the downstairs cultural hall began to be used as an interim location for Sakya Monastery’s religious services. For the next twelve years, the main worship hall (the shrine room) underwent remodeling. Numerous Buddhist artworks were donated by Sakya Monastery members, friends, as well as by professional artists and Dagchen Rinpoche’s family. Extensive murals were painted on site. During this period, Bernardo Bertolucci shot scenes for the film Little Buddha at Sakya Monastery. This venture helped pay for the wood parquet floor in the shrine room. Outside the building, in keeping with the style of traditional Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, a portico was added over the front entrance. By 1997, the remodeling was sufficiently finished so that the main shrine room could be used for meditations.
In 1998, the outside of Sakya Monastery’s building was painted in traditional Tibetan colors and a memorial stupa was erected to H.E. Deshung Rinpoche (the lama who co-founded the original Sakya Tegchen Choling center). The bell shaped stupa is located in front of the Monastery and symbolizes the Buddha’s enlightened mind. In 2001, a library addition capable of holding at least 5,000 volumes was finished and opened.
Sakya Monastery offers a variety of activities for its members and friends. Foremost are the public meditations: Chenrezi meditations for developing loving-kindness and compassion are held on Sunday morning at 10:00 am and Thursday evenings at 8:00 pm during daylight savings time (spring/summer) and 7:30 pm during standard time (fall/winter). This is the main communal practice of Sakya Monastery. Calm Abiding meditations, which are useful for the development of concentration and mental stability, are held on Friday nights at 7:00 pm.
Numerous other ceremonies and meditations are held at the Monastery:
- Buddhist holy days – such as the birth of the Buddha and memorials to special lamas.
- Refuge ceremonies are regularly scheduled for people who wish to formally join the community of Buddhist practitioners and become a Buddhist.
- Initiatory ceremonies, called “empowerments”, are bestowed by Dagchen Rinpoche and other lamas upon request. These empowerments are required as a basis for special meditation practices involving meditational deities such as Chenrezi (the embodiment of compassion) or green Tara (the grantor of protection).
- Monthly meditations are also held that have specific requirements for attending, such as being a Buddhist, or having received a specific empowerment or level of empowerment.
Additionally, the Monastery offers a variety of other programs and resources:
- The Children’s Dharma School for children ages 5 and up is available on Sundays during Chenrezi practice.
- The Sakya Monastery library, available to members and visiting scholars, houses 2,500 books on Buddhism, Tibet, and comparative religion, as well as audiotapes of teachings in Tibetan by noted lamas. The library has a connection with the Tibetan Works & Archives in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India (home of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile).
- The Virupa Educational Institute administers and organizes numerous classes, talks, book groups, discussions, and video showings held at the Monastery. These programs are open to the public and are widely attended.
Following Tibetan tradition, Sakya Monastery’s Head Lama, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, is the administrative and spiritual leader of the non-profit Sakya Monastery. Sakya Monastery is a “corporation sole” in Washington State. As such, the Head Lama is the “CEO” and makes all decisions. He consults regularly with an Advisory Board [link to photo page]. Ten of the Board’s members are elected by the members of the Monastery; the other four are the Head Lama, the Tibetan Cultural Advisor, the Executive Director, and an appointee drawn from the Sakya family.
His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya was born in 1929 in Sakya, Tibet. He was educated to be the head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the successor to the throne of Sakya, the third most important political position in Tibet in earlier times. The Communist Chinese occupation of Tibet, and the peril that ensued, precipitated his departure from the world his family had known for generations, and led him to a new role as a leader in the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.
Dagchen Sakya’s immigration in 1960 makes him one of the first Tibetans-in-exile in North America. He was the first Head of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism to live in the United States. From the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Seattle, Washington, and its precursor (which he co-founded in 1974), he had taught and preserved Tibetan culture and religion. Because he was a non-sectarian master within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, he defined Sakya Monastery as a non-denominational and ecumenical center for teachings about Tibetan Buddhism. His work included the founding of Tibetan Buddhist communities overseas in India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Nepal, Bhutan and Southeast Asia, and teaching at Buddhist centers around the world.
His formal title of “His Holiness” indicates the high degree of esteem with which the Tibetan Buddhist community holds him. Dagchen is a title meaning “Lineage Holder.” Among his followers he is known as Dagchen Rinpoche, or simply as Rinpoche (“Precious One”).
After a lifetime of 85 years devoted to the practice, preservation and sharing of the Holy Dharma, Dagchen Rinpoche passed away on April 29, 2016. At the moment of his passing, he entered into a state of luminosity for one week, which is known as Thukdam meditation. During this period, a highly realized Lama is able to meditate on the “clear light stage,” the ultimate process of the inner dissolution of the five elements and consciousness. Remaining in the state of Thukdam for seven days, His Holiness then passed into Parinirvana on May 5, 2016.
You can read more about his life and work here.
Lineage is all-important in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and Dagchen Rinpoche’s lineage is noble and revered for its holiness. It extends back for over a thousand years.
His father was Trichen (“Great Throne-holder”) Nawang Tutop Wangchuk, the last great throne-holder of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, and his mother was Gyalyum (“Mother of the Khön Children”) Dechen Drolma.
Dagchen Rinpoche’s family lineage is thought of as divine because family records and Tibetan histories state that his family is descended from celestial beings from the realm of heavenly clear light. Five generations of these celestial beings are said to have lived in Tibet. A famous ancestor of his from the late eighth century was Khön Lu’i Wangpo (Nagendrarakshita), one of the first seven Tibetans ordained as a Buddhist monk, a noted translator, and a personal disciple of Padmasambhava (who erected the very first Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Samye). Since the 11th century, the Sakya male progenies are also regarded as emanations of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion, or Vajrapani, Bodhisattva of Power.
In 1042, Atisha, the great Indian Buddhist master who helped revive Buddhism in Tibet, was traveling in Tibet spreading the Buddha’s teachings. At the side of a mountain where there was “pale earth,” he foresaw the emanations of three bodhisattvas whom he knew would spread the Buddhist doctrine in Tibet: Avalokiteshvara (the embodiment of compassion), Manjushri (the embodiment of infinite wisdom), and Vajrapani (the embodiment of infinite power).
It was at the same site of pale earth some thirty years later, in 1073, that Khön Gönchok Gyalpo (1034-1102), ancestor of Dagchen Rinpoche, built the first Sakya Monastery. The monastery took its name from the pale earth (in Tibetan “sa-kya”) where the monastery was founded. Subsequently, the town that arose there, the family of the monastery’s founder (the Khön lineage), and the school of Tibetan Buddhism also took the name of the monastery: Sakya. Additionally, the Sakya name is renowned for having lamas as rulers of Tibet. The Sakya patriarch, Chogyal Pakpa (1235 – 1280) was given temporal authority over Tibet through the patronage of the Mongol rulers of China. Subsequently, the Sakya lamas governed Tibet for over 90 years.
In Tibetan Buddhism there are several ways to become a lama (a spiritual teacher and guide). Some lamas are recognized as rebirths of former lamas and are called Tulkus. Some of these are also considered to be emanations of bodhisattvas. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama is a good example, being the thirteenth reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup, as well as an emanation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Some, through their spiritual development in this life, are deemed to become lamas, but are not regarded as rebirths of previous lamas.
Finally, in some special families, all family members with blood relations to the father are considered to be lamas. The Sakya-Khön lineage, Dagchen Rinpoche’s lineage, is just such a family. In each generation of the Sakya-Khön lineage, in order to preserve the family line, one of the males must keep the custom of the Lineage-holder (ngachang) – a white-robed, married lama. This tradition is distinct from the more common ordained (rapchung) – red-robed monk-lama tradition prevalent in some of the other Tibetan Buddhist schools. Thus, in each generation, some Sakya-Khön lineage lamas are not monks, but married lamas who continue the spiritual lineage.
In accordance with the prophecy of the great Atisha, these Sakya lamas are regarded as emanations of Avalokiteshvara (the embodiment of compassion), Vajrapani (the embodiment of Buddha’s power), or especially Manjushri (the embodiment of Buddha’s wisdom).
Dagchen Rinpoche is in the twenty-sixth generation of the Sakya-Khön lineage descended from Khön Gönchok Gyalpo. Dagchen Rinpoche is regarded as an emanation of Manjushri as well as the rebirth of a Sakya Abbot from the Ngor sub-school, Ewam Luding Khenchen (The Great Abbot from the Luding family) Gyase Chökyi Nyima.
In 1959, owing to the violent changes taking place in Tibet, Dagchen Rinpoche and his family (including his younger brother H.H. Trinly Rinpoche and his wife’s uncle Deshung Rinpoche) fled to Bhutan and then to India. Professor Turrell V. Wylie from the Tibetan Studies Program at the University of Washington, the first such program in the country, invited Dagchen Rinpoche to participate in a research project on Tibet sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. This enabled Dagchen Rinpoche to bring his family to Seattle, Washington, in 1960. The research project funding lasted for three years. Following that, over the next decade Dagchen Rinpoche had several positions at the University of Washington, including working in the Anthropology Department and at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
The historical Buddha (named Siddhartha at birth and commonly known as Shakyamuni Buddha) lived in northern India approximately five centuries before Christ. He was a prince who renounced a privileged royal life in order to search for ultimate peace and the highest good. He realized the highest level of enlightenment at the age of thirty-five. Through arduous practices, concentrated meditation, and deep reflection he became a fully awakened being – a Buddha. He then taught the path of spiritual liberation to numerous disciples for over forty years, until his passing at the age of eighty. Afterward the communities of monks and nuns that he founded dedicated themselves to preserving and upholding his teachings, thereby laying the foundations for what has become known as Buddhism.
The term “Buddha” means an “awakened” or “enlightened” one who has discovered true wisdom and attained nirvana (the cessation of desire) in this world. It is a descriptive title given to all fully enlightened beings, rather than being the exclusive name of a single individual. There have been Buddhas in the past (for example Kashyapa, Dipangkara, or Shakyamuni – the historical Buddha), and other Buddhas are expected in the future.
Tibetan Buddhism teaches that we are all potential Buddhas, because we are essentially pure and luminous at the most basic level of existence. That purity, called Buddha-nature, is typically clouded over by a dense layer of ignorance and negativity, which dominates us and leads to suffering. The Tibetan Buddhist path encourages its practitioners to adopt the traits and characteristics of enlightened beings through the use of special meditation techniques, thereby realizing their innate Buddha-nature.
Buddhism is a tolerant religion that places emphasis on practical methods for cultivating spiritual awareness and on the importance of finding the truth for oneself. It treasures loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, clarity of mind, and wisdom. Its hope is to alleviate suffering and to create healing and transformation so that all beings may experience the highest peace (nirvana).
Tibetan Buddhism draws upon the teachings, meditation techniques, and ordination vows of the Theravada, and the philosophy and cosmology of Mahayana. But it was in Tibet that many of the Vajrayana teachings were preserved, and most of the distinctive qualities of Tibetan Buddhism can be found in its Vajrayana heritage.
The Vajrayana path largely follows the Mahayana philosophical teachings, but there are some variations in attitude. Whereas Mahayana seeks to destroy the poisons of craving, aggression, and ignorance, Vajrayana places an emphasis on transmuting them directly into wisdom. This is based in the Tibetan Buddhist belief that the mundane world (samsara) is inseparable from enlightenment.
Tibetan Buddhism is distinguished by its many methods and techniques of spiritual development and for its great acceleration of the spiritual journey. Theoretically, the path of the Mahayana practitioner takes three incalculable eons to reach full awakening; by contrast, the path of the Vajrayana practitioner can be as short as one lifetime.
In order to accelerate the process of enlightenment, Vajrayana uses advanced yoga techniques in combination with elaborate meditations. The meditations incorporate visualizations of personified archetypes of enlightenment, frequently referred to as “meditational deities.” These archetypes are often represented in Tibetan religious art in the form of bronze sculptures, or in painted portable scroll icons, known as tangkas. The scriptures containing the esoteric teachings for yogic practices (such as meditative visualizations) are called tantras, and are part of a larger body of Buddhist sacred texts, based on the public teachings of the Buddha, called sutras. (Vajrayana’s use of tantric literature explains why it is sometimes referred to as “Tantric Buddhism.”) Mantras (chanted sacred syllables or phrases), mudras (ritual hand gestures), and mandalas (symbolic representations of enlightened worlds) are all used as part of Tibetan Buddhist meditational practices.
Tibetan Buddhist tradition places great emphasis on the importance of the lama (the Tibetan equivalent of the Sanskrit term guru). These venerable teachers are often given the honorific title of Rinpoche (“Precious One”). All lamas complete a long course of study that prepares them for their future role as the bestowers of initiations and esoteric teachings. Qualified lamas introduce students to particular teachings and through “empowerments” bestow spiritual energy so that specific practices can be successfully undertaken by students. Formal and informal face-to-face oral transmissions of spiritual insight and wisdom typically occur between lama and student. The lama is the focus of passionate devotion for the aspirant, and is acknowledged to embody the Three Jewels (the Buddha, his teachings, and the sangha) as well as the qualities of the meditational deities.
Tibetan Buddhism innovated the idea of “incarnate lamas,” the belief that the mind of a deceased lama can reappear in the new body of a child. The most famous example of recognizing reincarnated lamas is the centuries-long tradition by which H. H. the Dalai Lama is identified.
Please turn off all cell phones. Photography is not allowed without the specific permission of the Monastery administrator.
- Dress in clean, neat clothing and remove shoes before entering (preferably downstairs).
- Please do not wear revealing clothing—knees, legs, and midriffs should be covered.
- Men and boys should wear pants, no shorts. Women and girls should wear pants or a long skirt.
- Please remove hats.
- Do three prostrations to the altar (optional).
- Respect the ordained persons’ (i.e., lamas, monks & nuns) vows and help us have a very spiritual environment for all.
- Be quiet and respectful.
- Be respectful to all religious objects in the Shrine room.
- While sitting in the Shrine Room, do not point the soles of your feet towards the altar.
- As symbolic respect for the Dharma, do not put practice books directly on the floor or cushion. Put them on a bookstand or cloth.
- Treat Lamas with respect and reverence.
- When a lama (i.e., H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, H.E. Dagmo Kusho, and Tulku Yeshi Gyatso) enters or leaves the Shrine room, stand with your hands in the prayer position at your heart, and bow forward slightly.
- When visiting a lama, offer a white scarf (katag) and a heart-felt offering gift such as flowers, fruit, incense, or money.
- Treat monks and nuns with respect, dignity and courtesy.
Children are welcomed at the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. They are an integral part of the spiritual community and are greatly cherished. The programs for children at Sakya Monastery are created to help support families. They fill an important need that has been expressed by children, parents, and the larger community.
The Children’s Dharma School is held on Sundays starting at 10:00 am when the Chenrezi Meditation service begins. The “Sunday School for Buddhist Kids” is for children between the ages of 5 and 12. It is located in the Tibetan Cultural Hall, on the lower level of the Sakya Monastery building. This volunteer-based program is free and available to drop-ins, but pre-registration is recommended and donations are welcomed for snacks and supplies. The Children’s Dharma School is part of the Virupa Educational Institute (VEI), the educational branch of Sakya Monastery.
The curriculum of the Children’s Dharma School is designed to support a non-denominational education in Buddhism. It has the aim of keeping children engaged and interested while improving their body, mind, heart and spirit.