The Early Years
In the year of the Wood-Dragon, corresponding to 1904, auspicious signs marked Khenchen Sangay’s birth in Tibet’s land of Sakya, fifty thousand yards to the north of Bodh Gaya. Sakya is the place prophesied by Buddha in the Sutra thus, “The so called syllables “sa” and “ka”, “will be renowned initially”. Furthermore, Sakya Pandita gives the poetical interpretation to the word “sa” & “skya” as “The Ground (earth = “sa”) on which the quality of merit is being produced.” “It is a stainless white (grey = “skya”) because it abandons non-virtuous deeds”. He lived with his parents until nine years old and then entered a life of monk hood at the tender age of ten. He was bestowed a Novice (dge tsul) vow by Khenpo Rinchen Gyaltsen, the then abbot of the Great Temple (Lhakhang Chenmo) in Sakya. Since then, he had many opportunities to study with many distinguished masters and progressively engaged himself in the religious practice of memorising all the ritual prayers in accordance to the rules of the Great Temple. Having memorised a vast corpus of scriptures, he appeared for the mandatory recitation examination before all the learned monks of the Great Temple (Lhakhang Chenmo) and gained great fame by virtue of his remarkable memory.
Scholastic Pursuits in Sutra
As a credit to his natural scholastic ability, he learnt the basic logical texts (such as “The Collected Topics” the manual of Pramanavartika of Acharya Dharmakirti) under the guidance of Ven. Lobpon Choe Woeser in a very short time span. Ever progressing towards more profound teachings, his philosophical studies continued in the Great Temple in Sakya and from there to other illustrious monasteries including Ngor E-wam Chodhen, Phenpo Nalanda, Samye Tsuglakhang, Tanak Thupten Namgyal Ling, Bhodhong, Ja Shong and Draeyul Kyumo-tsal, the main monastery of Kunkhyen Sangye Phel.
In his study of the “Eighteen Texts” (grags chen bcho brgyad) of the Sakya tradition including Abhidharma, Madhyamika and other philosophies, he was not only committed to mere learning (theoretical or academic) but also dedicated to thorough investigation and applications for his daily practice. Through this uncommon capacity to reason and research, he became a great scholar, intensively learning both Sutra and Tantra from many great learned abbots and scholars including the Venerable Khenpo Thupden Sangpo of Drakyap in Kham province.
At the age of thirty seven, he took the highest ordination vow (dGe slong) in Nalanda in Phenpo within the precious lineage of the Great Temple (Lhakang Chenmo) of Sakya. He received this vow of the most virtuous endeavour from the lineage holder Zimhog Rinpoche. Zimhog Rinpoche carried the lineage from Khenchen Ngodup Yarphel and was assisted by Lobpon Tsedhong Rinpoche, the master of introducing the rules and regulations of the Vinaya Sutra. Since then, Khenchen Sangay Tenzin preserved, observed and treated the two hundred and fifty three vows (highest ordination vow) more precious than his own eyes.
At the Sakya Monastery, he took a grand examination on A Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (sdom-gsum rab-dbye) commentary and also on the Ten Volumes of Scripture. Having thorough knowledge and understanding of these texts, he was granted the degree of bKa’ bchu pa. He then undertook the examination of the “Six Different Categories of Treatises” according to the Sakya tradition and also successfully completed the examination for the “Eighteen Texts” (grags chen bcho brgyad), the core texts of his tradition. Having become a learned expert through extensive research into the entire body of Sakya philosophy, he received the virtuous title of Rab ‘byjams pa (highest degree offered under Sakya religious education) and in commemoration of this title, he was awarded both honour and gifts from the local government of Sakya province in Tibet.
Studies in Tantra
When he was forty years old, he received all the initiations, transmissions and explanations of the “Common Path and its Fruit” or Lam ‘bras tshogs bshad from the then Throne Holder of Sakya order H.E. Sakya Ngawang Kunga Tenpai Gyaltsen Rinpoche. He received the initiations, transmissions and explanations of the “Seventy Two Root Tantric Teachings” (zab chos rgyud sde bdun bchu rtsa gnyis) of the Sakyapa tradition from Ngor Khangsar Khenchen Rinpoche. Over a period of six months, he received the “Thirteen Golden Dharma” (gser chos bchu gsum) from the same master at Sisum Namgyal Ling Monastery in Tsedong. Subsequently, he mastered the texts of the two different Dharma Protectors Gur and Zhal (specially dedicated to the protection of the Sakyapa tradition). He received the initiations, transmissions, explanations and teachings on “Compendium of Sadhana” (sgrub thabs kun btus) numbering 14 volumes from Ngor Khangsar Zhabdrung Tenzin Nyingpo in the Sakya Palace of Drolma Phodrang. Then he received the three Vajrayogini teachings (dmar-po skor-gsum) and all initiations for the gods of wealth including the White Mahakala. Irrespective of lineage and sect, he studied and received initiations, transmissions and explanations from a broad range of accomplished and respected lamas across the vast expanse of Tibet.
After coming into exile he received teachings from Dudjom Rinpoche of the Nyingma sect. Initially, he received the “Treasury of Precious Teaching” (Rin-chen gter mdzod) at Kalimpong and again at Yiga Choeling Monastery, now popularly known as Old Ghoom Monastery in Darjeeling; where he received the initiation of “Eight Different Meditation Systems” (sgrub-chen bka’ rgyad). In the holy city of Varanasi, he received once again the complete teachings of “Common Path and its Fruit” (Lam-’bras tsogs-bshad) from His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche. In 1980, he received the unique complete tradition of the “Uncommon Path and its Fruit” (Lam ‘bras slop-bshad) from His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche at Thupden Namgyal Ling, the main monastery of Sakya at Puruwala in the state of Himachal Pradesh. At that time, he also received many teachings from His Eminence Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche and His Eminence Ngor Luding Khenchen Rinpoche.
He also received other major initiations like Kalachakra, AvolokiteÅ›vara initiations etc. from His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama at Bodh Gaya in 1985. Then again in Dharamsala, he received the major initiations of Guhaya Samaja (gsang ba ‘dus pa) the transmission and explanation of the “Great Path of Tantricism” (sngags-rim chen-mo) and the oral transmissions of bla ma lnga bcu pa and sdom pa nyi shu pa from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
As an accomplished practitioner in Tibet, the revered Khenchen Sangay Tenzin undertook the “Great Retreat of Vajrapani” (phyag na rdo rje), the conqueror of evils at Sakya. Then in one hermitage of Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen in a place called rdo-rje brag, he accomplished the “Great Retreat of Hevajra.” He completed extensive retreats on Mahakala, White Tara and Amitabha too and in the special hermitage of Sakya Pandita, he undertook a meditation retreat on Manjushri. He practiced meditation retreats on Vajrayogini in Ngor E-wam Chodhen, Nalanda in central Tibet, Samye, Yamalung, Draeyul and Kyumoetsal. Near Bha-yul Khempalung in Khumbhu Tarpoche, he completed one special meditation on “Dakini Kurukulla” as a part of the “Thirteen Golden Dharma” (gser chos bhcu gsum) unique to the Sakya tradition. During this particular meditation, he experienced many different visions which cannot be openly discussed according to the sacred vows of Tantricism.
Following the advice of his Guru, Ngor Khenchen Ngawang Lodro Shenphen Nyingpo, he became the abbot of Ngor E-wam Chodhen monastery for three years. In Ngor E-wam Chodhen, he not only directed the rituals but also actively engaged in teaching Buddhist philosophy. Then he was appointed the abbot of Tanak Thupten Namgyal Ling, the monastery founded by Gho’o Ramjampa Sonam Senge where he served for fifteen years as an abbot.
Following the invasion of Tibet in 1959 and the brutal suppression of the Tibetan people, he began preparations to seek refuge in neighboring India. He subsequently managed to escape even though it was extremely hard and dangerous to traverse the border passes since the People’s Liberation Army had sealed the border.
One night in his dream, he had a clear vision of the image of Guru Padmasambhava Nangsi Zilnon, among many of the beautiful images made of clay in the private residence called Chokmophel within the Great Temple (lhakhang chenmo) area and it was prophesied thus: “If you recite the seven verse prayer continuously, you will be able to reach India”. The next day at the first sign of dawn, with full of joy and happiness, he spoke about his dream to his attendants and said, “Now let us prepare to leave for India, Guru Padmasambhava assured us a safe passage for our escape without hesitation.” After preparing the horses, they embarked on the journey from the northern part of Tibet. On the way they heard noises of fighting and shouting. Some members of their party saw conflicts between invading soldiers and Tibetan people but fortunately, they were not spotted by the Chinese forces. With the blessings of the Guru, they safely reached the border of LÅ in Nepal at Ghung Thang La-mo and saw the famous footprint on the stone of Padmasambhava, the Great Tamer of Beings. Having remembered the prophecy made by Guru Padmasambhava in his dream, Khenchen Sangay Tenzin began to weep and immediately performed prayers for the sake of spreading Buddhism and for the benefit of all sentient beings.
After arriving in LÅ Mustang, he was requested to stay a little longer in the local Sakya Monastery. He politely refused and travelled on to Kalimpong to meet Kyabje Dujom Rinpoche who was then giving a teaching on “Treasury of Precious Teachings” rin chen gter mdzod.
In 1961, upon the suggestion of His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche, he came to Darjeeling and was appointed as abbot (mkhan po) in the Sakya Guru Monastery at Ghoom. From then on, he remained in this monastery in strict observation of the Vinaya codes of conduct. Maintaining Tibetan traditions, he upheld the bi-monthly confession ceremony for monks (gso sbyong) and re-established the Monsoon Retreat (dbyar gnas).
Khenchen Sangay Tenzin with Kunga Shedrub Ling’s first group of students. Darjeeling 1979.
In 1979, he founded Kunga Shedrub Ling, the Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies for philosophical studies within the campus of the local Sakya monastery. Until his last breath, he maintained the traditions according to the Sakya discipline and taught philosophy tirelessly. He was also involved in the wider community of the region dedicating his time to the Tse Chu Kyidhu association in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. He became an active member of this association overseeing the continued activity of prayer on every tenth day (tshes bchu) of each month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.
Khenpo Sangay Tenzin is remembered for his wide array of accomplished written works. He wrote commentaries and clarifications on the following texts: - Sakya Pandita’s root text A Clear Differentiation of Three Vows (sdom-gsum rab-dbye), Kunkyen Gorampa’s Appendix on A Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (sdom-gsum kha-skong), Shenphen Nyingpo’s Ornament of the Lama of Manjushri (sdom-gsum ‘jam-dbyangs bla-ma’i dgongs-rgyan), Ngor Khenchen Dorje Chang’s Commentary on MadhyamakÄvatara (dbu ma ‘jug pa’i sbyor tika), MadhyamakÄvatara of Acharya Chandrakirti, CatuÅ›ataka or Four Hundred Verses of Madhayamika (dbu-ma bzhi- brgya-pa) of Aryadeva, Surlekha (bshes-pa’i spring-yig) of Nagarjuna, Sakya Pandita’s Treasury of Reasoning (tshad-ma rigs-gter) and the Root of Vinaya Sutra (‘dul-ba mdo-rtsa).
He made a written clarification on the Summer Retreat, a commentary on the SubhÄshit Ratna Nidhi (sa-skya legs-bshad) of Sakya Pandita and added suitable examples on the second chapter of KÄvyÄdarÅ›a (snyan-ngag me-long) of Acharya Dandi. In addition, he wrote several dedicational prayers of Sakya Pandita, composed an explanation on the lineage vows of all the abbots of the Great Temple (Lhakhang Chenmo) of Sakya and an appendix to the prayers of the Khon lineage. He composed dedicational prayers with ritual cake (torma) as a short supplication to Mahakala, offering prayers to Vajrayogini, the White Mahakala along with prayers of aspirations and dedication towards the flourishing of the Buddha dharma. He left behind these valuable works for the benefit of all sentient beings in this period of degeneration as their precious wealth.
Khenchen Sangay Tenzin in his main seat, Sakya Guru Monastery, Ghoom, Darjeeling. (1961)
He imparted teachings according to the capacities of his disciples and audience giving thorough insights. Under instructions of the great Ngor Khenchen, he gave the teaching on Pratimoksha Sutra (so-thar gyi mdo), Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (spyod ‘jug), Madhyamaka (dbu ma), Prajnaparamita (phar phyin) and A Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (sdom-gsum rab-dbye). He taught various major Buddhist philosophical literatures including the six voluminous works credited to Khenchen Ngagchoe and the important teachings of the five founding masters of the Sakya sect at the Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies in Tanak Thupten Namgyal Ling. He also taught Tibetan literature, poetry, grammar and lexicography.
While living at the Sakya monastery in Ghoom, he frequently imparted Dharma teachings, gave initiations, oral transmissions and spiritual instructions on the Law of Karma to a great number of monks and laymen as well. As mentioned earlier, these teachings were always conveyed according to the mental capacity and the interest of his disciples.
At the request of the Tibetan government in exile, he taught the monks gathered there irrespective of their sects, on major Buddhist philosophy and literature at the Buxa Religious Center in West Bengal. Accompanied by the abbots of the three great Gelug monasteries of Ganden, Sera and Drepung (gdan sa gsum) and other sects, he traveled to Mussoorie and Kushinagar for discussions concerning how best to contribute towards the preservation of Lord Buddha’s teachings. Following the successful deliberations on the above matter, he was appointed as main lecturer on Mool Shastra (rgya gzhung, the root text of Indian Buddhist philosophy) at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
After serving for several years in Varanasi, he returned to Sakya Guru Monastery at Ghoom. Here he resumed the task of teaching philosophical texts of Indian Pandits and Tibetan masters viz. A Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (sdom-gsum rab-dbye, Skt. Trisamvara pravedha), the Mulamadhyamika karika (dbu-ma rtsa-ba shes-rab), MadhyamikÄvatara, (dbu-ma ‘jug-pa) and CatuÅ›ataka (dbu-ma bzhi-brgya-pa), Prajnaparamita (phar phyin), Pramanashastra (tshad ma), Vinaya (‘dul ba), Abhidharma (mngon pa) and the six voluminous works of Khenchen Ngagchoe. He left a strong impression of gratefulness from his disciples by his lucid explanations through the application of various methods of teaching. To His Eminence Chobgyay Trichen Rinpoche, he taught A Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (sdom-gsum rab-dbye) with the commentary that he had written.
He offered oral transmissions and teachings to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama on the Uncommon Three Different Stages of Meditation (sgom-rim thog-mtha’ bar-gsum) written by KamalaÅ›ila, Devatisaya-stotra (lha-las phul-byung gi bstod-pa), ViÅ›esa-stava (khyad par ¡phags bstod), his own commentary to Sakya Pandita’s Treasury of Reasoning (rigs-gter rang-’grel) along with his commentary on A Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (sdom-gsum rab-dbye).
His close and intimate relationship with great lamas including His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was apparent in their veneration towards him as a gifted guru. At the Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies in Puruwala, Sakya College and Sakya Centre in Rajpur, he taught The Illumination of Buddha’s View (thub-pa dgongs-gsal) and explained many other important Buddhist philosophical teachings. Upon completion of the transmissions of these rare teachings and in accordance with his dharmic responsibilities and aspirations, he gave many other sacred and rare oral transmissions and teachings.
He implemented and executed the production of statues with single minded dedication and faith. A statue of Sakya Pandita, radiant with blessings was an object of devotion inseparable from the great lineage guru himself. In 1980, he requested a Tibetan handicraft centre to produce one hundred and fifty statues of Sakya Pandita. Once gilded and adorned in magnificent attire, he offered one hundred of these statues to the main Sakya monastery Thubten Namgyal Ling and distributed many to his gurus and lamas including His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche.
With utmost devotion, he executed the making of numerous gold painted Thankas including Sakya Pandita, White Tara, three Varjrayoginis (dmarpo skor gsum), Dakini Kurukulli, Sixteen Arhats (gnas-brtan bchu-drug), Protector Mahakala (mgon-po gur and mgon-po zhal) and all the other Dharma Protectors, the Merit Field (tshogs zhing) of the sacred lineage of Lamdre, the lineages of Vajrayogini and the lineages of Mahakala depicting Buddha Vajradhara in the centre. At Sakya Guru Monastery, Ghoom he made frescoes of the Buddha and his two disciples (Åšariputra & Maha Muggalayana), Indian Panditas, many erudite masters of Tibet, the hundred frescoes of three long-life deities - AmitÄyus, White Tara and UÅŸniÅ›avijaya. All of these holy images and statues continue to serve as the objects of worship and veneration for countless devoted people.
In addition to his iconographic feats, he printed and produced a great deal of scriptures. He made a wooden block for a prayer to Sakya Pandita and the Commentary on A Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (sdom-gsum rab-dbye’i mchan ‘grel). After reaching India he printed his commentary on MadhyamikÄvatara and an addition to A Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (sdom-gsum rab-dbye) commentary. He wrote a commentary on SubhÄshit Ratna Nidhi (sa-skya legs bshad) of Sakya Pandita and published this root text along with his own commentary. It must be mentioned here that it will be too elaborate to give details of all the books that he had collected and published.
Khenchen Sangay Tenzin’s list of disciples extends to include so many learned lamas, scholars, teachers and ascetics including H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, Pal Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang Kyabgon Dulzin Ngawang Kunga Trinlay Rinpoche, H.E. Chobgay Trichen Rinpoche, Geshe Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche of Switzerland, Dongthog Rinpoche Tenpai Gyaltsen, Tenche Tulku Tenzin Sangpo Rinpoche, Khen Rinpoche Tashi Tenzin of Mustang, Serdog Geshe Tenzin Lhundrup and Khensor Tashi Sangpo of Varanasi etc.
Like his lineage forefathers, His Eminence Khenchen Sangay Tenzin followed the graded path to enlightenment with accomplishments of listening, contemplation, meditation etc. But it was the last deed of his life which transcended all others. When the thought of proceeding to the heavenly fields occurred in his mind, he gave up all the ordinary worldly affairs and began focusing only on the Tantric practice of the Stages of Generation and Perfection. When he was eighty-seven years old, he expressed indifference to any pursuit other than his own practice.
Finally, on the 24th day in the 9th month of the year of the Iron-Horse (year 2117-Tibetan calendar) corresponding to 11th November 1990, he attained Parinirvana (breathed his last).
He passed away for his disciples to witness the impermanent nature of worldly existence and as an inspiration to them to practice the dharma. For a period of nine days which lasted until November 19, (the 2nd day of the 10th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar), he remained in a state of profound meditation. Though his pulse had stopped, his body did not decompose and his mind remained concentrated in Clear Light.
At that time, the Most Venerable Tantric Master, His Eminence Chatral Rinpoche of the Nyingma sect entered into a state of meditation to examine the sacred body. After the nine-day period, at nine o’clock in the morning, Venerable Khenchen Sangay Tenzin freed himself from his meditative state, passing the fluids of Bodhichitta with a heavier quantity of white than red.
During this event, rainbows were seen above the monastery and both the outside and inside of his room was filled with the perfume of flowers, the scent of his morality. The head of the monastery, his attendants, relatives, and other dignitaries, having witnessed that he was not an ordinary person but a highly attained spiritual master, were moved by his accomplishments. When Chadral Rinpoche completed his meditation, special prayers were offered with religious instrumental accompaniments and the sacred body anointed with holy water. Under the direction of Chadral Rinpoche, a stupa befitting the eminence and stature of the departed Rinpoche was built.
Once everything was prepared, His Eminence Chatral Rinpoche brought incense from the monastery and commenced the procession bringing the sacred body inside the temple followed by decorations and adornments of religious articles. He led the complete ritual and prayer ceremony. Following this grand ceremony, the lay devotees flocked in large numbers to receive blessings which continued for one and a half days.
At 8.00 a.m. on November 21st, (the 4th day of the 10th month of Tibetan calendar), His Eminence Chatral Rinpoche along with the assembly of monks presided over a Vajrasattva Fire Puja while another group of monks carried out the Maha Vairocana ritual. With the completion of these rituals, they offered the flame to the sacred body. For a period of one week, the monks continued in ritual and the general public recited prayers with offerings.
When this ceremony was completed, the doors of the newly consecrated stupa was opened, revealing the formations of Guru Padmasambhava, the orange dust of sindhura, five different colours of conch shells, relics and his skull, which had remained intact. Upon seeing this, everyone was deeply impressed filling them with even more stronger faith in the great departed soul and causing the seeds for the spiritual attainment of Nirvana to be sown. At the time of offering the flame to his sacred deceased body, his non-sectarianism was reflected in the manifestation of a clear bright sky illuminated by the coloured light rays of arched rainbows. Most of the relics appeared blue in colour. His accomplishments of Vajrayogini were revealed in the sindhura and his realisation had crystallised forming natural images of Guru Padmasambhava. Though many of these sacred articles were distributed to his faithful disciples as objects of worship, most of the relics including the conch shells were placed inside the golden memorial stupa, which is kept inside the main temple in his monastery at Ghoom.
At the time of the consecration and blessing of the golden memorial stupa, his followers made a fervent request to His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche for his quick rebirth. Thereafter, by traditional methods of verification, His Holiness Sakya Trizin selected a boy as the reincarnation of the previous Khenchen Sangay Tenzin.
H. H. Sakya Trizin in turn approached His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for further confirmation of Khenchen Sangay Tenzin’s incarnation. His Holiness reconfirmed the same boy as the incarnation and named him Tenzin Kunga Gyaltsen Rinpoche. The new incarnation symbolically offered his first hair cut to H.H. the Dalai Lama and was ordained and blessed by him. He was enthroned initially on 18th May 1997 in Rajpur.
He returned to Ghoom for the formal grand enthronement ceremony in late 1997. In a brief span of time, he learned all the prayers and rituals very rapidly without much hardship. On June 23rd, 2001, i.e. the 1st day of the fifth Tibetan month in the Iron-Snake Year, he took the special examination on the elaborate and essential rituals and mudras of Maha Vairocana. On September 10th, 2003; i.e. the 15th day of the seventh Tibetan month in the Water-Sheep year, he completed the important ritual examination of Vajrakila.
Presently, he is pursuing his philosophical studies in the Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies at Rimbick in Darjeeling district. His persistent application towards learning philosophy demonstrates the continued mind stream of his illustrious predecessor.
May all sentient beings find peace and happiness
May Peace prevail on Earth