Tibetan Religious Culture Guide
Sakya Sect (Colorful Sect) and its characteristics
Tibetan BuddhismIn 1073 BC, Tibetan Lama Kongchog Gyalpo built Sakya Monastery and advocated his own Esoteric disciplines and called it “Sakya Sect”. Enclosures around the Sakya monasteries are painted with red, white and black stripes, which respectively symbolize the Wisdom Buddha, the Goddess of Mercy and the Diamond Hand Buddha. Hence, the Sakya sect is also known as the Colorful Sect.
The Khon family and Sakya Sect
The core of Sakya Sect was developed from the Khon family, a prosperous family during the period of Tobu which reigned an area of Lhasa, Angren and Sakya. After one of the seven nobles in the family tonsured at Samye Monastery , the family produced many early lamas and secular masters of Nyingma Sect. Konchog Gyalpo as one of them visited renowned monks and studied scriptures and mastered the doctrine of different schools. He built Sakya monastery (at the north bank of Zhongqu River in Sakya County) and began to teach to his own followers, Sakya Sect thus came into being. Sagya means "white land'' in the Tibetan language. The name of the Sagya Sect is from the fact that the Sagya Monastery is built on a grayish white hill. As the enclosure of the monastery is painted red, white and black, it is also called “Colorful Sect”.
Later, there came five figures who contributed greatly to this sect who were addressed “five Sagya Sect Forefathers” They were Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (the son of Konchog Gyalpo)，the second and the third son of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, Sapan Gonggar Gyaincain-the son of the fourth son of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo and Pagan ( nephew of Sapan Gonggar Gyaincain).The first three Forefathers didn’t renounced the family and they were called “red dress forefathers”, while the last two renounced the family and became monks and they were called “white dress forefathers”. Now in Sakya Monastery, Palkor (Kumbum) Monastery in Gyantse and other large Sakya monasteries are enshrined their statues.
Sapan Gonggar Gyaincain(1182-1251, and short for Sapan) was one of the most famous Buddhists in Tibet then. He once pursued studies after an Indian Buddhist master. He rose to fame after winning a debate between Tibetan monks and Indian scholars. It’s said that the braids of those six Indian scholars are still hanging in Sakya monastery and they renounced the family and became pupils of Sapan.
At the moment, Mongolian power desired to intrude Tibet while Tibet was in a situation of separatist regime and hard to unite. The power of Sakya Sect and the fame of Sapan were valued by Gotan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and he regarded him as the representative of Tibetan monks and laities and summoned him to Liangzhou to to dialup matters concerning Tibet pledging allegiance to the Yuan Dynasty. In 1246, Sapan and his nephews Pagan brothers arrived in Liangzhou. The next year, Sapan addressed “the letter to Tibetan chiefs of monks and laities” which represented Tibet admitted to Mongolian authority formally. In fact, Mongolian army had defeated Tibetan monk army in south-east Lhasa and other places. Submitting to Mongolia conformed to the historical trends and put an end to wars. Meanwhile it also protected the convalescence of local politics, religion and economy of Tibet after two to three hundred years of the rule of separatist regime. Since then, Sakya Sect became the center of Tibetan politics and religion. In 1260, Pagan, the Fifth Forefather of the Sagya Sect, emerged as a high-ranking official in the Yuan court and was in charge of Buddhism of the whole country and the administration of Tibet. Hence the status became steadier. In 1268, Pagba assembled 130,000 households in Tibet to build the Northern Sakya Monastery.
During more than a hundred years until the downfall of Yuan Dynasty(1368), Sakya Sect prevailed in Tibet. The masters of the Yuan emperors were mostly from Khon family and their students after Pagba. The highest chieftain in Tibet which was formulated by Pagba was also grasped firmly in the Khon family’s hands. Ever since then, the Pazu branch of Gagyu Sect in Shannan won the support of Ming Dynasty and took the place of Sakya. When it was time of the 13th owner of Sakya Monastery, Sakya Sect only controlled the Sakya monastery and its domain and subordinate people.
In the following years , the descendants of the Khon family gradually were divided into four branches which are up to now. Until 1951, there were altogether 8 owners of Sakya Monastery. Later, the owners were called “Sakya Emperor”. When Sakya Sect was in power, it laid stress on politics not religion, so the religious achievements were not remarkable. Pagba once refused the Mongolian ruler Kublai Khan’s suggestion that Tibet belonged to Sakya Sect, which was of great help to the development of the other sects. After the downfall of Sakya Sect, other sects gradually came into popularity.
Famous Sakya monasteries include Sakya Monastery, Gonggar Monastery near Gonggar county of Shannan Prefecture and the Erer Monastery near Shigatse. The central monastery Sakya Monastery is among the rank of most important Tibetan monasteries and is still one of the most important monasteries worshipped by Tibetan. The monastery has a large collection of books and is famous for its murals, which has a name of “the secondary Dunhuang”. Depending on the monastery, later Sakya Sect still had a great power. Even after Gelug Sect united Tibet, “Sakya Emperor” still enjoyed the power of rule and a high status. Now Sakya Sect as well as Nyingma Sect, spreads its doctrine overseas and is exerting a tremendous influence gradually.
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