Along with the Nyingma, the Kagyu, and the Geluk, the Sakya (Tib. sa-skya) school is one of the four main Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Sakya is both a religious and political project—an eminent monastic community affiliated with, and controlled by, the royalty of the noble Khön clan. Sakya means “gray earth,” for the appearance of the land around the main monastery, Sakya, which was founded by Khön Konchog Gyalpo in 1073. In the mid-13th century Sakya Paṇḍita (called “Sa-paṇ”), the tradition’s greatest scholar, was summoned to the Mongol court; he died shortly thereafter, but his nephew Phakpa became state preceptor under Kubilai Khan and viceroy over Tibet, a position the Sakyapa kept for nearly a century. After the monastery’s founder, the tradition often honors eleven famous and influential Sakyapas: the “Five Great Throne-holders” and the “Six Ornaments.” The first five throne-holders established (1) a unique heritage of practices based upon the Hevajra Tantra called the Lamdré, “The Result as the Path”; (2) a reputation for comprehensive, scholastic precision and expertise, especially in the epistemological (tshad ma) and literary sciences; and (3) a distinctive combination of religious and temporal power. The first three (Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, Sönam Tsemo, and Drakpa Gyaltsen) may be primarily associated with the first concern, Sakya Paṇḍita with the second, and Chögyal Phakpa with the third. Of the Six Ornaments, the first pair (Yakdön Sangye Pal and Rongtön Shecha Kunrig) are known for their expertise in “Sūtra” (the second concern), and the second pair (Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrup and Dzongpa Kunga Namgyel) for “Tantra” (the first concern). In addition, Rongtön is famous as founder of Phanpo Nalendra monastery and Ngorchen as founder of Ngor Ewan Choden. The final pair of “ornaments,” Gorampa Sonam Senge and Śākya Chogden, are said to have been experts in both sūtra and tantra, but we may add that they were, in addition, focused on a new, fourth concern. After the great founder of the Gelukpa, Tsongkhapa (who was a Sakyapa), developed a following for his innovative approach to Madhyamaka philosophy, these were his two great challengers from Sakya. Śākya Chogden’s “other-emptiness” (gzhan stong) view was in conflict with Sakya Paṇḍita’s and, consequently, was never adopted by the Sakya mainstream. Gorampa, however, who charges that Tsongkhapa affirms a conceptually constructed ultimate, came to challenge Geluk philosophical and doctrinal hegemony. Both thinkers were suppressed by the Geluk and have seen a revival in recent decades.
These are overviews of the Sakya tradition, centering on biographies of the founders. Powers 2007 is a Western textbook’s introduction to the Sakya tradition. Amipa 1980 is a modern composition by a Tibetan for Western students, as is the final chapter of Tseten 2008. The latter also includes a number of famed short texts, translated into English for an introductory contemplation of the venerable tradition. Gyaltsen, et al. 2000 is a translation into English of biographies written in the 17th century and earlier. Smith 2001 and Stearns 2001 (cited under Hevajra and Lamdré) are careful historical studies, as well as translations of newly discovered sources. Tucci 1999 remains essential reading on Tibetan religious culture, history, and art. Roerich 1988 is an early history of Tibet, with crucial, detailed sections on the Sakyapas.
Amipa, Sherab Gyaltsen. Une Goutte d’eau du splendide ocean: Un récit concis de l’avènement du Bouddhisme en général et des enseignements de la Tradition Sakyapa en particulier. Strasbourg, France: Université des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg, 1980.
Contains three texts written by this Sakya master with a large European following: an autobiography describing his early life and education at Sakya; an introduction to basic Buddhism and the Mahāyāna path; and a history of the dharma, focusing on Sakya monastery. Includes a detailed royal lineage chart.
Gyaltsen, Kalsang, Ane Kunga Chodron, and Victoria Huckenpahler, trans. Holy Biographies of the Great Founders of the Glorious Sakya Order. Silver Spring, MD: Sakya Phuntsok Ling, 2000.
Readable translations of hagiographies of the founders of Sakya—Khön Konchog Gyalpo and the Five Great Sakyapa Throneholders. All of these were written by Sakyapa Ngawang Kunga Sonam except the Sakya Paṇḍita hagiography, which was written by Lodu Gyaltsen.
Powers, John. “Sakya.” In Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Rev. ed. By John Powers, 433–466. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.
Readable, clear summary of the history and central lineages of the Sakya.
Roerich, George N., trans. The Blue Annals. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988.
This massive, early history of Tibet by Gö Lotsawa Zhönu Pel (b. 1392–d. 1481) contains a great many references to Sakya teachers, including a section of Book 4 (pp. 204–218) dedicated to the early lineages of the Lamdré and the Sakyapas up to ‘Phags-pa.
Smith, E. Gene. “The Early History of the ’Khon Family and the Sa skya School.” In Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. By E. Gene Smith, 99–109. Boston: Wisdom, 2001.
Smith analyzes the available sources for the early history of the Sakya and then provides a translation of a previously unknown historical work, the Rgya bod yig tshang by one Stag-tshang-pa, which antedates all other known sources.
Tseten, Migmar. Treasures of the Sakya Lineage: Teachings of the Masters. Boston: Shambhala, 2008.
Collection containing nine translations of short, beloved works by the Sakya founding fathers Chogyal Phakpa and Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen, and sixteen teachings by the modern teachers Khenpo Appey, His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Chogye Trichen, and Migmar Tseten. The last chapter (pp. 228–256) is Migmar Tseten’s “History of the Sakya School.”
Tucci, Giuseppe. Tibetan Painted Scrolls: An Artistic and Symbolic Illustration of 172 Tibetan Paintings Preceded by a Survey of the Historical, Artistic, Literary and Religious Development of Tibetan Culture. With an Article of P. Pelliot on a Mongol Edict, the Translation of Historical Documents and an Appendix of Prebuddhistic Ideas of Tibet. 1st ed. 3 vols. Bangkok: SDI, 1999.
This classic study of Tibetan history and culture includes treatments of the following: the rise of Sakya and its struggles with Phagmodru, as well as its administration; numerous Tibetan historical writings; Sakya monastery; and Sakya lineages depicted in art. Includes several historical documents, including a translation of Dalai Lama V’s oft-cited history. Originally published in 1949.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese