Sakya and Kālacakra: the Galo, Śākyaśrī and Vajrayogini lineages and contemporary master, Chogye Rinpoche

The Sakya are lineage teachers of many Jonang masters, including Dolpopa. They are also, holders of the most direct lineage of Kālacakra in the world today, given directly by Vajrayogini, the Sakya have a strong history and connection to Kālacakra.

In this short blog post, I discuss the Kālacakra lineages of Sakya, contemporary masters and post some photos of my recent visit to the late Sakya Kālacakra master, Chogye Trichen Rinpoche’s monastery (Jamchen Lhakhang) in Boudha, Nepal and his small kudung stupa housed in his former personal residence there.

Considering that much has been written the tradition of Kālacakra in relation to HH 14th Dalai Lama and Gelugpa and more recently, the Jonang, I have sought to balance this out, by writing about the Kālacakra traditions and masters in Kagyu: see here and here,  and Nyingma: see here and here.

The Sakya Lineages

The Sakya lineage are also important holders in the history of the Kālacakra tradition. As Jetsun Tāranātha writes in One Hundred Blazing Lights, there are seventeen identifiable lineages of Kālacakra that were brought from India to Tibet by Indian mahasiddhas. These were compiled by the Jonang master Kunpang Chenpo; see post about these lineages here.

Two of these lineages, distinct from the Dro and Rwa lineages that are mainly practised today, are clearly identifiable Sakya lineages. These are:

  • The six-branch yoga of the Hevajra mother tantra that Galo [Ga Lotsāwa  (1105/1110 – 1198/1202) was a great siddha and translator who visited India; also known as Palchen Galo [‘Galo’ is an abbreviation of Ga Lotsāwa, or “the translator of the Ga clan”] gave to the great Sakyapa Lama Kunga Nyingpo.[1]
  • That which the great Kashmiri Pandit Śākyaśrī[2] also gave to the Lord of Dharma Sakya Panchen[3], distinguished by the Six Vajra Verses of the hearing lineage.

In addition, Kunkhyen Dolpopa (1292-1361), one of the main Jonang master and founders, who was also considered to be an accomplished practitioner of Kālacakra, got the original transmission and instructions on it from Sakya lineage masters. As his Treasury of Lives biography states:

“In 1309 he traveled to Mustang (glo) to study the treatises on the vehicle of the perfections, epistemology, and abhidharma with the master Kyiton Jamyang Drakpa Gyeltsen (skyi ston ‘jam dbyangs grags pa rgyal mtshan, d.u.). Kyiton soon left Mustang and went to teach in the great monastery of Sakya (sa skya) in the Tsang region of Tibet, and Dolpopa followed him there in 1312.  Dolpopa received many teachings from Kyiton at Sakya, the most important of which were the Kālacakra Tantra, the Bodhisattva Trilogy (sems ‘grel skor gsum), the ten Sutras on the Buddha-nature (snying po’i mdo), the five Sutras of Definitive Meaning, and the Five Treatises of Maitreya. He became an expert in the Kālacakra tradition he received from Kyiton and served as his teaching assistant for several years. He also received teachings and initiations from other masters at Sakya, such as the Sakya throne-holder of the Khon (‘khon) family, Daknyi Chenpo Sangpo Pel (bdag nyid chen po bzang po dpal, 1262-1324). From Kunpang Drakpa Gyeltsen (kun spangs grags pa rgyal mtshan, d.u.) he again received the Vimalaprabhā commentary on the Kālacakra Tantra.”

In terms of contemporary Sakya masters, there appears to be few today alive who practice or give empowerments of it. I attended a Kālacakra empowerment in London in 2012, given by HH 41st Sakya Trizin, who has given the empowerments several times in different countries.

The only other contemporary Sakya master who practised and gave empowerments was Chogye Trichen Rinpoche (bco brgyad khri chen) aka Ngawang Khyenrab Thupten Lekshé Gyatso (ngag dbang mkhyen rab thub bstan legs bshad rgya mtsho) (1920-2007), who was also the root lama of one of the main scholars and translators of Dolpopa and the Jonang lineage, Dr. Cyrus Stearns. Chogye Rinpoche was the head of the Tsarpa branch of the Sakya school. He was born in Tsang in 1920 and was recognized by the Thirteenth Dalai Lamas the reincarnation of the previous Chogye Rinpoche of the Nalendra Monastery. For a more extensive biography of Rinpoche see this blog post here.

HE Chogye Trichen Rinpoche
Chogye Rinpoche and the direct lineage of Kālacakra from Vajrayogini

According to biographies, the previous Chogye Trichen Rinpoches, Khyenrab Choje (1436–97), beheld the sustained vision of the female tantric deity Vajrayogini at Drak Yewa in central Tibet, and received extensive teachings and initiations directly from her. Two forms of Vajrayogini appeared out of the face of the rocks at Drak Yewa, one red in color and the other white, and they bestowed the Kālacakra initiation on Khyenrab Choje. When he asked if there was any proof of this, his attendant showed the master the kusha grass that Khyenrab Choje brought back with him from the initiation. It was unlike any kusha grass found in this world, with rainbow lights sparkling up and down the length of the dried blades of grass.

This direct lineage from Vajrayogini is the ‘shortest’, the most recent and direct, lineage of the Kālacakra empowerment and teachings that exists in this world. Not much as been written or studied about this lineage, I am thinking of writing another post soon about this lineage and transmission in more detail, if the materials are easily accessible.

In addition to being known as the emanation of Manjushri, Khyenrab Choje had previously been born as many of the Kings of Shambhala as well as numerous Buddhist masters of India. These are some indications of his unique relationship to the Kālacakra tradition.

Chogye Trichen Rinpoche is the holder of six different Kālacakra initiations, four of which, the Bulug, Jonang, Maitri-gyatsha, and Domjung, are contained within the Gyude Kuntu, the Collection of Tantras compiled by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and his disciple Loter Wangpo. Rinpoche has offered all six of these empowerments to Sakya Trizin, the head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism.

Rinpoche has given the Kālacakra initiation in Tibet, Mustang, Kathmandu, Malaysia, the United States, Taiwan, and Spain, and is widely regarded as a definitive authority on Kālacakra. In 1988 he traveled to the United States, giving the initiation and complete instructions in the practice of the six-branch Vajrayoga of Kālacakra according to the Jonangpa tradition in Boston.

Chogye Rinpoche has completed extensive retreat in the practice of Kālacakra, particularly of the six-branch yoga (sadangayoga) in the tradition of the Jonangpa school according to Jetsun Taranatha.  According to one report, when Chogye Rinpoche was young, one of his teachers dreamed that Rinpoche was the son of the King of Shambhala, the pure land that upholds the tradition of Kālacakra. (See biography of Chogye Trichen Rinpoche in “Parting from the Four Attachments”, Snow Lion Publications, 2003.)

Cyrus Stearns, who translated for Chogye Rinpoche when he was in the USA for the teachings on the six vajra-yogas, told me that:

“As far as I know, the Kālacakra and six yogas (Sbyor drug) are not practiced at all in the Sakya tradition these days. Chogye Rinpoche was the only Sakya lama who taught the six yogas and had a special interest in that practice. Early six yogas texts from India and Tibet, some of the later ones such as Taranatha’s Mthong ldan, Rtags tshad yi ge, etc., and more recent works by Kongtrul are included in the Gdams ngag mdzod and Rgyud sde kun btus collections. Chogye Rinpoche was the main holder of the Rgyud sde kun btus collection, which he passed to HH the Sakya Trizin. Other lamas were also present when Rinpoche gave the empowerment and taught the Mthong ldan, and gave the lung for all the six yogas texts in the collection and the Kālacakra Tantra, and all the other related texts in the Kangyur.”

Monastery in Nepal

I recently visited Chogye Trichen Rinpoche’s monastery in Boudha, Nepal and went up to see his small stupa and personal room at the monastery, which is normally closed to visitors.  I spoke to an old lama, Lama Wangdu (who according to Stearns was always with Rinpoche and was his personal assistant during the Kālacakra empowerments and teachings), who stated, confirming what Stearns said, that there were no other Sakya lamas who could give the transmission of the six yogas text in Nepal. The Kālacakra six-yogas tradition appears to be dying out within the Sakya lineage. The 42nd Sakya Trizin gave the Kālacakra empowerment last year in the USA.

Since Chogye Trichen Rinpoche passed away in 2007, his two assistants, Chogye Shabdrung and Gar Shabdrung have been working together.  The Chogye Shabdrung Rinpoche is now the 26th Chogye Trichen.

See below some photos I took of the stupa and room of Chogye Rinpoche at his monastery in Nepal.

The kundung stupa at Chogye Rinpoche’s former personal residence at his monastery in Boudha, Nepal.

Special thanks to Lordshri Gurung for his helpful suggestion to visit this monastery.

Photo below of Chogye Rinpoche with the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, HH 41st Sakya Trizin and HH 14th Dalai Lama.


[1] Sakyapa Lama Kunga Nyingpo (1092 – 1158) was the first Sakya throne holder and the founder of Sakya monastery.

[2] Śākyaśrī Bhadra (1127­- 1225), whose immense learning was incomparable even in India, was head of the famed dharma universities of Vikramaśilā  and Nalanda, and  who was continually blessed with visions of the mother of the buddhas, Arya Tara, was the last of the great Indian panditas to visit Tibet.

[3] Sakya Paṇḍita Künga Gyeltsen (chos rje sa skya paṇḍita kun dga’ rgyal mtshan (1182- 1251)) was a Tibetan spiritual leader and Buddhist scholar and the fourth of the Five Sakya Forefathers (sa skya gong ma lnga). Künga Gyeltsen is generally known simply as Sakya Paṇḍita, a title given to him in recognition of his scholarly achievements and knowledge of Sanskrit. He is considered to be the fourth Sakya Forefather and sixth Sakya Trizin and one of the most important figures in the Sakya lineage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s