Author Topic: After 7 years away, Tibetan Buddhist leader, 13, visits Seattle-area family  (Read 7428 times)


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Born into Tibetan royalty, a Seattle-area boy who left here at age 5 to study at a Buddhist monastery in Katmandu has returned for his first visit in seven years.

By Lornet Turnbull

Asanga Rinpoche Sakya,13, is greeted by his family at Seatac upon returning to Seattle. Grandmother Dagmola Sakya joins Asanga, center, along with his father Ani Vajra Sakya and sisters Mamaki, 6, left, and Aloki, 11, for the elevator ride to baggage claim. After over seven years of studies, training and meditation abroad, Asanga has returned to visit his family in Seattle for the summer.

For the past seven years, at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal's Katmandu, a Seattle-area boy has been living a most unusual life.

Up by 5 a.m., Asanga Sakya performs a ritual of morning prayers in his private quarters. His study of Buddhist scriptures follows breakfast prepared by loyal monks.

Soon, a Chinese language instructor arrives, and after lunch Asanga practices his Tibetan writing. In the afternoon, it's English classes and then dinner, followed by more religious studies and prayer before he goes to bed by 9.

In this place some 7,000 miles away from his parents and two younger sisters in Shoreline, Asanga has grown from the seemingly typical 5-year-old his parents delivered to the Tharlam Monastery in 2005, to a boy barely into his teenage years, yet venerated by Sakya Buddhists everywhere.

A lama and Tibetan Buddhist prince by birth, he is heir to a royal line that dates back nearly 1,000 years.

His father and four uncles are all lineage holders and his grandfather, founder of the Sakya Monastery in Greenwood, headquarters of Sakya Buddhism in North America, is one of the two top Sakya Buddhist leaders in the world.

Asanga's studies at the monastery in Nepal and the oral teachings he receives in India from Buddhist leaders — including the Dalai Lama — are preparing him to give his own religious teachings and to perhaps one day lead more than 100,000 Sakya Buddhists worldwide, if it comes to that.

It's a departure from the outwardly American life he had here with his family — his father, a corporate attorney, his stay-at-home mom and his two sisters, who are students at the neighborhood elementary school.

In June, the 13-year-old returned to the Seattle area for his first visit since he left. He'll spend the rest of the summer giving Buddhist talks in Seattle and California and receiving teachings from his grandfather, before returning to Asia in the fall.

After so much time away, Asanga is also getting to know his family again, including his two younger sisters — Aloki, 11 and Mamaki, 6.

Of the Seattle area, he has only fleeting memories — of coastal beaches, a few favorite restaurants, romping in the snow.

"I was wondering what it would be like, 'cause I couldn't remember that much about Seattle," he said in a quiet voice. "I remember going on a ... what are the big boats that go across the water ... ?"

Ferries, his mother gently prompts.

Next generation

Asanga Sakya is a slight boy, reserved and introspective, a ready smile set off by braces.

In public, people greet him as Asanga Rinpoche, meaning precious one, reflecting his status.

His black hair has grown long since he's been gone and, in the manner of high-ranking Sakya lineage holders, he wears it in a ponytail down his back.

On the Sunday last month after he got back, the family hosted a potluck at the monastery in Greenwood in his honor.

Sitting at a head table between his paternal grandfather, Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, and uncle Zaya Sakya, Asanga wore the traditional robes of a high-ranking lama.

Groups of young people performed before him.

Later, he thanked everyone, saying in a small, steady voice, "I hope to get to know you all through the course of the summer."

Stephanie Prince, a longtime member of the Sakya monastery, remembers the "brilliant child" who from a very young age was "engaged with practice and prayer."

"We were very happy that he wanted to and was going to be studying," she said. "I'm blessed to be in his presence That he has the capacity to carry on the lineage is so wonderful. I'm happy for the family and for the tradition."

His uncle Zaya Sakya, whose only two sons, now 15 and 19, are also studying in India, said these young people are part of the next generation of teachers and leaders of the Sakya line.

"It was hard to have them leave," he said. But, "we understand how important this is."

Dreaming of Nepal

Most parents may never understand the sacrifice Ani and Chimey Sakya made when they left Asanga behind in Nepal seven years ago to be trained by Buddhist monks — knowing he would likely never return to live with them here again.

They spent a month settling him into the monastery before returning to Seattle without him.

He was weeks shy of his 6th birthday.

"The first year was the hardest," said his mother, Chimey Sakya, "and the first few months were the most difficult."

Asanga shrugs it off: "This was something I always wanted to do," he said recently. "I had been dreaming of coming to Nepal many years before."

His sister Aloki remembers the pain of his absence: "I felt empty," she said.

In Tibetan culture it is customary for people to exchange white scarves, called khatas, during greetings and farewell. And Chimey Sakya said she was sobbing that last day in Nepal when she reached down to place one around her son's neck. "He said, 'Don't cry mamala. Don't be silly.' "

Back in Seattle, as she packed away his favorite toys and pulled his little shirts and shorts from the closet, the emptiness set in: "He was not coming back; he was really gone," she said.

Because of Asanga's status, his family couldn't simply donate his belongings to charity, but have stored them away instead.

"People would love to have a piece of his clothing to put on an altar — toys, books and anything that he physically wore, shoes, socks," his mother said. "When we travel to Tibet or India, we would hand them out."

"Different paths"

The Sakya family is deeply rooted in Tibet.

Before 1959, Asanga's paternal grandparents and their oldest sons lived in a palace in Sakya, Tibet, surrounded by servants.

That year, in the midst of the communist Chinese government crackdown, the family fled to India along with thousands of other Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama. The Sakyas came to the University of Washington as part of a research project about Tibetan culture, becoming one of the first Tibetan families in exile in North America.

Their order of Buddhism differs from the religion's other sects in that its teachings and instructions are passed down through blood lineage, which requires a male heir to perpetuate it.

From a large rental house in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood, Jigdal Dagchen Sakya raised his five boys as regular American kids — Asanga's dad and an uncle played football for Roosevelt High — never pressuring them to follow any specific path.

"My father didn't have the freedom to do what he wanted but he said, 'We are in America, I'll give my children all the freedom they need,' " said Asanga's dad, Ani Sakya, an attorney at Starbucks.

"We all took different paths." None received the formal Buddhist training needed to carry on the line. So that torch is being carried by their sons — Asanga's generation.

The boy's parents said they knew from the time he was very young that this was a commitment he wanted to make.

Always curious about the Buddha, he had, by age 2, memorized and could recite important Buddhist prayers, his parents said. By 3, he could repeat from memory what others at the monastery were reading from text.

"My son had choices, but he wanted to do this," Ani Sakya said.

Asanga expresses his desires more simply: "I wanted to know about Tibet, study the scripture and how to read and write," he said.

Surrogate family

At the monastery in Nepal founded by his grandmother's uncle, Asanga lives in private quarters. It's where he spends most of his time, hardly ever going outside.

Monks see to his daily needs — cooking his meals and caring for him when he's sick. They learned to make the pizza he loves.

Buddhist monks dedicate themselves to a life of humility, and those who teach and care for Asanga get no financial compensation other than the gifts the family brings on visits each year.

"They are honored to be his attendants and teachers," Ani Sakya said.

One monk is so close, the family calls him a substitute mother. "The monks stay with me almost 24 hours," Asanga said. "They're actually like my family since my parents aren't around in Nepal."

When he was younger, monks around his age were brought to his quarters to play with him. And a year after he arrived at the monastery, his parents bought him a computer on which he loaded several games, including the children's adventure series Freddi Fish.

He used to love board games, especially Monopoly, about which he now says, "I've forgotten how to play."

In his spare time — he gets off half a day Friday and all of Saturday — he enjoys reading biographies. His favorites: Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama.

During special ceremonies, Asanga sits on a high throne looking down, his father said.

"They all sit below my son," Ani Sakya said. "He sits higher on the throne in a public formal setting, just under my father and my uncle and then under the Dalai Lama."

Last September, in what Asanga called the "biggest exam of my life" he correctly led the congregation of monks in a daylong ritual called the Vajrakilaya, scoring the highest points possible and becoming the youngest to successfully take and pass the exam.

It involved chanting and proper use of instruments and hand movements and Asanga performed it before a packed monastery of lamas and nuns, with hundreds in the monastery courtyard outside.

Once a week in Nepal, Asanga talks to his family via Skype. And every summer, his parents and sisters visit for a month, always taking him and his teachers away from the monastery for a small vacation. Each time, they ask the same question: Does he want to come back with them?

Asanga's answer is always the same: He wants to continue his studies in Nepal.

Studies and games

Even in Seattle this summer — away from the watchful eyes of his teachers — the young lama is continuing his daily studies.

Every Thursday, he connects with the monks via Skype and many mornings they call to make sure he's doing his work.

Asanga said he's enjoying the time back with his family. He declines his mother's suggestions to swap his traditional skirtlike shemdap for regular shorts, but he and his sisters spend hours hanging out, sometimes playing rock-paper-scissors in a tent their parents pitched in the backyard.

The day after he arrived in Seattle, he visited his sisters' elementary school for their last day of class. It was his first time in a public school.

The family has trips planned to Mount Rainier, the Space Needle and the ocean. In August, they'll visit relatives in California where, in addition to a trip to Disneyland, Asanga will deliver Buddhist teachings.

His return to Asia is still open.

Ani Sakya said he may take his son back to Nepal in the fall.

Alternatively, if the boy's grandfather is well enough, the two will travel on a teaching tour through Asia over the next year. Asanga is to begin Sakya College in India in 2013.

"He's my father's grandson," Ani Sakya said. "There are Sakya monasteries all over Asia and they are clamoring for him."


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It is always interesting to read inspiring articles like this. Asanga Rinpoche is truly mature at such a young age knowing what he wants. And even though when He went back to visit His family, he continued to do what he was supposed to. And most of the time He spends it in His quarters and doing His prayers.

Young Monk & Future Tibetan Spiritual Leader, Asanga Rinpoche Small | Large

Tenzin K

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Such a young kid carrying a great responsibility from the lineage can never by easy but such a great lama incarnation, form his endless compassion for other to return and continue his virtue works can never be question.

From the age of 5 has has been sent to monastery at Nepal for 7 years for his spiritual studies. Not an easy decision from a parent but due to their understanding of the spiritual practice, it’s important and crucial for Asanga to be in the monastery at young age. The younger he learns up the earlier he can come out to benefit more people. What a beauty if we can understand the Dharma and it make us choose and make the right decision even though it’s hard but what most important it the right one.

Asanga return to Seattle still continue his responsibility to give talk in Seattle and California and receiving teachings from his grandfather. He still keep up his monastic practice and duty. What an inspiring Tulku.
May the we have more and more Asanga to spread the Dharma from generation to another generation.


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The following is a brief overview of the history of the Sakya tradition from You'll notice that Virupa or Drogmi Lotsawa played an important role in this lineage along with Sakya Pandita. Virupa and Sakya Pandita are one of the incarnations of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen.

The history of the Sakya Lineage begins with a race of celestial beings who descended from the Clear Light heavens in the Realm of Form to take up residence in the snow mountains of Tibet for the benefit of living beings. This was ten generations before the arrival of Guru Padmasambhava . At this time they were known as "Lha Rig" which means "The Celestial Race".

After eight generations the "Lha Rig" also became known as the "Khön", which means 'dispute' or 'strife', due to a dispute with a Yaksha leader. In 750 AD, the Khön family became students of Guru Padmasambhava receiving especially the Vajrakilaya empowerment, and one of the Khön sons received novice monk ordination from Shantarakshita at Samye, becoming one of the first seven monk translators in all of Tibet. For the next thirteen generations, (750-1073), the Khön family was a central pillar of the Nyingma School in Tsang Province.

In the eleventh century, due to the obscurations of beings, Dharma practice became very lax in Tsang. It was decided by the head of the Khön family, Sherab Tsultrim, that it was time to seek out the new Tantras from India. The younger brother, Konchog Gyalpo, went to India and studied with Drogmi Lotsawa (992-1074). Guru Padmasambhava had prophesised and wrote; "An emanation of the Indian Virupa - Drogmi Lotsawa will appear."  Also prophesied by Guru Padmasambhava and Lord Atisha was the building of a great temple.  It was built by Khön Konchog Gyalpo in 1073 and named the Gorum Zimci Karpo at an auspicious location, below a white patch of earth.  The name Sakya derives from the Tibetan sa-skya which means "white earth".  This is the beginning of the name "Sakya." The holy family who are the hereditary leaders of this precious lineage are known by these three names, "Lha Rig", "Khön" and "Sakya."

The son of Khön Konchog Gyalpo was Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158).  He was a person of extraordinary skill and spiritual attainment who held all the lineage of Sutra and Tantra. Sachen had four sons - Kunga Bar, Sonam Tsemo, Drakpa Gyaltsen and Palchen Rinpoche. The first died while studying at Nalanda in India. The second son Sonam Tsemo (1142-82) became a learned scholar at the early age of sixteen. At the age of forty-one he ascended bodily to Khecara, the divine realm of Vajra Yogini. He had visions of many meditational deities and also produced many realized disciples. Jetsun Dakpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), the third son, received lay celibacy vows and showed strong signs of spiritual maturity in his youth. At the age of eleven he gave his first Hevajra teaching.  The main student of Jetsun Dakpa Gyaltsen was his nephew, son of Palchen of Opochey, the famous Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251).

Sakya Pandita studied Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophy, tantra, logic, Sanskrit, poetry, astrology and art with countless Indian, Nepalese, Kashmiri and Tibetan masters and achieved mastery over them. When he was twenty-seven years old, after meeting with the Kashmiri Pandita Shakya Shribhadra, he became a fully ordained monk and maintained his vows without the least infraction. His works, such as the Treasury of Logic on Valid Cognition (Tsad-ma rigs-gter), and the Discrimination of the Three Vows (sDom-gsum rab-dbye), are famous to the present day. In all he wrote 114 religious treatises. The Treasury of Logic on Valid Cognition (Tsad-ma rigs-gter) was the only text of Tibetan origin ever to have been translated into Sanskrit. The translation was rendered by his Indian students at Nalanda University in Magadha, and was received with much acclaim.

In 1244, intrigued by Sakya Pandita's reputation, Godan Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan, invited Sakya Pandita to Mongolia, where he gave Buddhist teachings. Later, in 1253, after both Sakya Pandita and Godan Khan had passed away, the emperor, Sechen Kublai Khan invited Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, the nephew of Sakya Pandita, to his court. Phagpa invented a new script in which to write the Mongolian language. Kublai Khan was so impressed by Phagpa's performance that he declared Buddhism the state religion of Mongolia and presented him the rule of the three provinces of Tibet. Thus, Phagpa was the first person in Tibetan history to gain religious and secular authority over the whole country. It was at this time that the great temple Lhakang Chenmo was completed in Sakya. To this day it still stands and houses the greatest religious library in Tibet. Phagpa was succeeded by his brother Chagna and altogether the Sakyapas ruled Tibet for more than a hundred years.

The present heads of these two palaces are His Holiness Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga (b. 1945) of the Drolma Palace and His Eminence Dagchen Rinpoche (b. 1929) of the Phuntsok Palace.  His Holiness Sakya Trizin, the head of the Drolma Palace, the current head of the Sakya tradition and the 4lst holder of the Sakya Throne is living in Dehra Dun, India. His Holiness has two sons and he has a sister, Jetsunma Chimey Luding, who teaches extensively throughout the world.  His Eminence Dagchen Rinpoche founded Sakya Thegchen Choling in Seattle, Wash. U.S.A.  Dagchen Rinpoche has one brother, HE Thinley Rinpoche, who is a monk and also teaches. Dagchen Rinpoche has five sons. The second son, Ananda Vajra Rinpoche, an accomplished lawyer, is currently living in Dharamsala, India, assisting the Dalai Lama with legal and constitutional matters. Succession to the position of Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya tradition, has been hereditary since the time of Khön Konchog Gyalpo and recently alternates between the two palaces.

The heart of the Sakya Tradition is Lamdre (Lam-'bras), the Path and Its Result, one of the most comprehensive and systematically organized meditative systems of Buddhism in Tibet. Originating with the Mahasiddha Virupa who received the Hevajra empowerment directly from Vajra Nairatmya, the teaching has continued down through Indian Mahasiddhas and Tibetan translators to the great masters of the Sakya Tradition.

Positive Change

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It is truly inspiring to see such compassionate beings returning for our benefit. Truly a testament that reincarnation exists... how else can such a young boy have such strong Dharma inclings or imprints.

Here is an old article on His Eminence Sakya Dhungsey Asanga Rinpoche with some beautiful photos:

On April 12, 2009, on a warm, sunny, breezy morning in the northern plains of India, near Dharamsala, hundreds of people waited for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to arrive to consecrate Lhundrup Chime Gatsal Ling, a new Tibetan Buddhist monastery founded by His Eminence Garje Khamtrul Rinpoche. Garje Khamtrul Rinpoche is a renowned visionary Dzogchen master from the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and a personal advisor to H.H. the Dalai Lama.

Among the many dignitaries present at this auspicious consecration were all the heads of the Tibetan Government-in Exile, His Holiness the Karmapa, many high Nyimapa lamas and His Eminence Sakya Dhungsey Ani Vajra Rinpoche (second of five sons of His Holiness Sakya Dagchen Rinpoche) and His Eminence Sakya Dhungsey Asanga Rinpoche (son of Dhungsey Ani Rinpoche and Dagmo Chimey Dollkar, eldest daughter of Kamtrul Rinpoche). Dhungsey Ani Rinpoche’s and Dagmo Chimey la’s two daughters were also present, Jetsun Aloki la and Jetsun Mamaki la.

H.E. Asanga Rinpoche, who is now ten years old, has been studying for the past five years at the Tharlam Monastery, a Sakya monastery in Boudhanath, Nepal. As the maternal grandson of Khamtrul Rinpoche, Asanga Rinpoche was accorded the distinct honour of performing in the monastery’s first event, a long long-life ceremony to honour and pay homage to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Upon the initial arrival of H.H. the Dalai Lama, and after brief prayers at the temple door, His Holiness cut the red ribbon, officially opening the monastery to the public. Once inside the monastery, a long-life ceremony was performed for H. H. the Dalai Lama. As part of the long-life ceremony, there was “The Offering to His Holiness the Dalai Lama of the Articles Representing the Eight Auspicious Symbols” which was performed solely by H.E. Asanga Rinpoche. Standing directly in front of H. H. the Dalai Lama, Asanga Rinpoche chanted the long offering prayer to His Holiness from memory. There were several hundred people sitting inside the monastery and many more watching from T.V. monitors outside the monastery. This long and elaborate prayer, lasted over 20 minutes during which time, Asanga Rinpoche held up towards H.H. the Dalai Lama, a tray containing each of the eight auspicious symbols with his two hands and offered each one-at-a time, while reciting prayers particular to each of the auspicious symbols. His Holiness the Dalai Lama received each item with a big smile. It was very unusual for these particular prayers to be performed at a monastery inauguration, especially by such a young lama. Asanga Rinpoche has the unique status of being a Sakya Khon lineage holder as well as the maternal grandson of the monastery’s Nyingmapa founder. His participation in the monastery’s inauguration was very special indeed!

Several days after the inauguration, Khamtrul Rinpoche, still beaming, asked his grandson, Asanga Rinpoche to bestow at Lhundrup Chime Gatsal Ling monastery the oral transmission for the Manjushri practice called "Ghang-lo-ma." Asanga Rinpoche agreed to do so for the benefit of the Khamtrul Rinpoche’s many students who had come from around the world to witness the monastery’s inauguration ceremonies. Asanga Rinpoche made an introduction to the oral transmission, its meaning and significance first in Mandarin Chinese and then in English. Finally, he gave the actual Ghang-lo-ma oral transmission and recitation of the mantras in Tibetan.


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It is always nice to read stories about Rinpoches who know that they are high lama when they are young. Asanga Rinpoche knows what he wants since he was young and asked for it. This shows that reincarnation exists yet again with evidence. Asanga RInpoche is an inspiration also as he was able to perform the rituals at a very young age and passed with flying colours.

His parents are also an inspiration as they gave up their child to the monastery for the greater good of people as they know that their son will bring benefit to many if given the proper training and teachings. Now easy for a mother or father to part with their son at a young age and the young Asanga Rinpoche even consoled his mom when they were parting ways in Nepal when he was 5 yrs old.

His story is similar to Domo Geshe Rinpoche whose parents also send him abroad to India's Shar Gaden monastery for his further studies.

Thank you Positive change for the great photos!! It is great to see grandson and grand father in the same prayer hall on their throne.