Life as a Sakya Buddhist
I can recall many
past lives when I was a Buddhist. These lives were all over Asia
including Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, India, Indonesia, and Korea. In fact
from 1/4 to 1/2 of my past lives have been spent in Asia on a spiritual
path. Most of them will not be of interest to westerners except for the one
I spent as a Sakya Tibetan Buddhist.*
I spent at least two lives as a
prominent Sakya Buddhist but one in particular will be of interest
to most Westerners. [In this life I was initiated into Tibetan
Buddhism with nundro teachings by the lineage head of the Sakya sect in 1980. Back then any time I mentioned the Dalai Lama to people most of them thought I was talking about a Llama Doll (left).]
I think it was
around the year 1650 AD when I managed the science section of the
extensive Sakya library which has recently been rediscovered.
'A huge library
of as many as 84,000 scrolls were found sealed up in a wall 60 metres
long and 10 metres high at Sakya (Ch: Sagya) Monastery in 2003.' Wikipedia
was in effect the National Library of Tibet until the Gelugpa or Gelugs sect
took political power away from the Sakyas. About 80-100 years before I was born in that life the library was
hidden because the Gelugpas would have
either confiscated it and/or destroyed it like the early Christians destroyed the world's greatest and largest Library at
in 391 AD. It was unclear whether ours would have been destroyed or not
so us Sakyas took the incentive and prevented it. (I found out later
when I taught the Dalai Lama that their intention was indeed to destroy
When I worked in the library I was told this is what happened (but
the story may have been embellished by others before me): The Gelugpas or Gelugs sent
a small force to the monastery. They were going to destroy any Sakya
specific manuscripts. They thought they were going to find a few
hundred but they found thousands of manuscripts and most were not about
the Sakya religion at all. So the leader went back to Lhasa to get
instructions as to whether or not to burn the library and/or which
manuscripts to burn. While he was gone the Sakyas (not the lamas and
monks but the local peasant population) poisoned the Gelugpa
representative that he left in charge. He was really hated by everyone
including his own men. Then they place a sedative in the food of the
Gelugpa soldiers who were guarding the manuscripts and when they fell
asleep they hid the manuscripts. Then to 'honor the poisoned
representatives memory' they built a big bonfire and burned lots of old
unimportant records as well as split logs that were sandwiched between
manuscript covers (they looked like Tibetan manuscripts). The guards
they had drugged had to play along or they would have been executed for
falling asleep on the job.
Many years later I was born. When I worked there the library was not
walled in but hidden in a large cave where it was a working library. I
don't know when the manuscripts got walled in so it must have been
after that lifetime. The library wasn't a very well kept secret so I
would not be surprised if someone had told the authorities in Lhasa
about it. I do recall that we had stationed three spies in Lhasa to
warn us about any 'inspection tours' that were about to leave Lhasa and
probably later on after I died an 'inspection tour' or raid may have
triggered the hidding of the manuscripts that were found but that is
only a guess. However, that is likely what happened because that is
what our plans were if the manuscripts were reported.
Almost immediately after I became enlightened I moved to Lhasa. People
are in awe of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama (and I was too) but I was very
fond of and recall better the Pachen Lama, Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen's
because of his intelligence and very honorable nature. I think that was
because my office was located near his and I became close friends with
him. I was some kind of a diplomat. I saw my role
as being that of a teacher but I may have actually been a Sakya
representative and an advisor to the Tibetan government.
Somewhere along the line I do recall clearly a ceremony in which I was
recognized as a Tulku but I don't recall who I was a recognized as a
bad was the censorship of manuscripts? I recall receiving a Chinese
botany manuscript and submitting it to the authorities to have it
checked thinking that they could not find anything bad about a manual
on botany. To my surprise the monk removed every plant that he did not
recognize with a statement meaning 'without purpose'. When he finished
I had about 1/3 of the manuscript left. Amazed I appealed to his sense of
beauty by saying 'why not make everyone cut off their long hair because
it to is 'without purpose''?
I was met with the sly smile of a monk with very close cut hair and absolutely no
sense of aesthetics. I realized my mistake and then pointed to the
celibate clerics crotch and said 'why not cut those off since they are without purpose'.
I remember that
life nearly as clearly if it was only 20 years ago in this life. I
can answer lots of questions about events that happened then in Tibet.
Also, about some of the manuscripts that were recently re-discovered. I
can supply some information that may help researchers locate the more
scientifically important manuscripts. One shelf of the library is
an extensive section of at least 20 manuscripts about 'dragons' and
'dragon cemeteries' (dinosaur fossil deposits). It's a huge listing of
about 200 fossil deposits of large dinosaurs. These extensive
listings include the exact locations of 'dragon cemeteries' throughout
Asia. Literally hundreds of fossil deposits were listed and most had
detailed directions as well as descriptions of the type of 'dragons'
that were buried there. These were alway large dinosaurs but they
varied as to the type which was probably due to how old they were..
Many lamas used
to perform a Chod meditation at these dragon cemeteries just like they still do at human cemeteries. So we had almost a
complete listing of the ones in Tibet, Mongolia and
China. We also had a listing of about half of them in Eastern Asia, as
far away as Japan to the east and past Afghanistan to the west. One of the most important of
the manuscripts has a picture of what appears to be a cute little
lizard on the frontispiece.
Sakya Monastery is located south west of Lhasa and only about 50 miles from
India and Nepal (see map) so many of the travellers from both these
countries stopped and rested at our Monastery. This was before Tibet's leaders took steps to seal off
the country from the rest of the world so there were many travellers going between India and China.
dragons as being very much like humans. They had to be highly
intelligent and very respectful of their dead since they buried them in
cemeteries like spiritual humans did. That is why we prayed at their
cemeteries and kept extensive records about their locations. I myself
went to at least two of the 'dragon cemeteries' to pray for their
souls. One is less than 25 miles from the Sakya Monastery. Of course
some of the deposits located to the east in China have probably been
stripped for use as medicine but many of those located in Tibet and Mongolia
will still be intact.
a tie for the most important part of the library is probably the music
section which is a huge repository for Tibetan and regional music. (Of
course the religious texts excede all the other manuscripts in number but that should be understood.)
There are also a lot of manuscripts about astronomical events that will
be found no where else. Also, there are manuscripts about forgotten
medicinal plants. My sense is that there are plants in these
manuscripts that have anti tumor and others that have antibiotic
properties which would be commercially useful. Some pharmaseutical
company should leap at this. In fact if a pharmaceutical company were
to sponser a project to digitally record all these manuscripts and even
put them on line it would be worth their while just for the possibility
of finding a new medicine as a result. Just the patent on one
discovered medicine could pay for this whole project.
Also there were many manuscripts of historical events. Some of
these records probably no longer exist anywhere else in the world.
travellers came through we copied their manuscripts. Sometimes we had up to 45 monks and
lamas who would work all night to make copies of them. I
remember that I often ended up directing those all night sessions.
we purchased manuscripts. I recall that once 40
pack animals brought in many thousands of manuscripts that we had
purchased from China. (Now that I think about this event, I distinctly
recall the arrival of the pack train but for the life of me I cannot
recall if these were manuscripts or just tens of thousands of blank
pages that we used for making manuscripts.)
Also, other sects gave their manuscripts to us when they felt it was too dangerous to keep them.
Since we were adding to the library all the time those 84,000
manuscripts that were discovered recently is several times as large as
the library was 350 years ago. We may have had over a million
manuscripts. I have the strange feeling that they have not yet located
many of the manuscripts that are still hidden.
I am almost certain that later in that life I became the head of the Sakyas.
In another life I was possibly Sakya Pandita.**
That life is harder for me to prove and I wish to present you only
with lives that can be proven and are useful in the present to westerners. It stretches my credibility to present a
past life to westerners without proof. Many people claim past lives of
glamor and glitz without any substance. For the life of
me I can't understand why anyone would want to have been someone
important in a past life. It makes my life fraught with responsibilities that I
would certainly wish to avoid if I could possibly do so.
Even though I recall about 70 past lives with clarity I
won't bother you with any claims unless: 1) It can be proven. 2) It will
be of a practical benefit to mankind.
Oh, I have included one life with glamor and glitz, in renaissance England, but it also has plenty of substance.
have had many lives as a Buddhist going way back to the start. From
that reservoir of knowledge I can explain many things which have been
forgotten. (The understanding that I have is often more correct than
the terms I use. The terms I use are sometimes accidently the wrong
ones. Past life memories provide the understandings but not usually the
actual words that we used at the time to explain the understandings. So
please excuse me if I use the wrong term.)
schism between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism (actually their predecessors, the Sthaviras and the Mahāsāṅghikas) was
created when Buddha
answered a question about 'changing the rules'. I may be
oversimplifying things but it is recorded that he stated something to
the effect that some of the minor rules could be changed. The schism which then occurred was over which rules were minor rules.
months after the Buddha's Mahaparinibbana, his immediate
disciples convened a council at Rajagaha. Maha Kassapa, the
most respected and elderly monk, presided at the (First) Council.....Before the Buddha's Parinibbana,
(death) he had told Ananda that if the Sangha wished to amend
or modify some minor rules, they could do so. But on that
occasion Ananda was so overpowered with grief because the
Buddha was about to die that it did not occur to him to ask
the Master what the minor rules were. As the members of the
Council were unable to agree as to what constituted the minor
rules, Maha Kassapa finally ruled that no disciplinary rule
laid down by the Buddha should be changed, and no new ones
should be introduced. No intrinsic reason was given." Here
This shows the absurd lengths that people go to break rules and take an
easy way out of doing hard work. The Buddha never put forward a major
teaching in response to a question in his entire life.
Every major teaching went through a long process. First the
Buddha thought about for days or weeks. Then it was presented to a
small group of students who were bodhisattvas. They discussed it at
length with arguments stating both pro and con. They also thought
it over and discussed it among themselves overnight. In a few days the group
gathered again with the Buddha and discussed it further. Then finally
it was taught to others but it was always presented alone, at a separate time from all other teachings
so as not to create any confusion.
The Buddha probably answered 100,000 questions over a period of 40
years. Why do people think that this answer is the only one which
conflicts with the other 100,000 questions and their answers. It simply
doesn't make sense.
Probably either the question which was asked of him by Ananda or the answer he gave was misunderstood. Both
of these great men were about 80 years old. It is very likely that one
of them was hard of hearing and misunderstood the other one. It's
a shame nobody realizes
this. Half of the wars and three quarters of the divorces are due to
misunderstandings of religious teachings. Even the enlightened (and certainly the
unenlightened Ananda) misunderstood people and should have realized this.
It's also a shame that
nobody including Ananda asked the Buddha for clarification.
is one of the most important teachings the Buddha allegedly
taught. As such it is certainly not an answer that he would have thrown out in
ten seconds in response to a question and then never again commented
on. That would be like Moses, after delivering the ten commandments,
having told the Jews that they can change the unimportant commandments.
In any case it
sounds to me like a bunch of lazy Buddhists got a hold of this misunderstanding
and then twisted it around to get out of doing real (inner) work.
Most likely The Buddha was thinking about the Dharma and Vinaya as being the 'major' and 'minor' rules.
The dharma never changes. The Vinaya can be changed.
dharma (relationship with the infinite or God) is contingent on a person and their
interaction with the infinite. It's based on natural laws and is often
called 'the way of the higher truths'. Since the infinite never changes
rules will never change and are absolute.
On the other hand the Vinaya
rules (relationship with others including society) are contingent on the interaction
between people and their behavior. People and this world change so
these rules may need to
be changed in order to create
the most favorable conditions and relationships. They tend to favor society
over the individual or should I say the rules tilt towards favoring
society and away from the individual.
The nature of this world is impermanent and changing so the rules between aspects of
it obviously will also be impermanent and need to change. All of the Vinaya rules could
considered to be 'minor' since nearly any of them can and may need to be
changed at some time or another.
As simple examples the rules against the taking of life and handling gold and silver immediately come to mind.
Vegetarianism works in India but it is next to impossible to adhere to
on the high Tibetan Plateau where almost nothing grows except for
barley and yaks. So that rule gets broken by Tibetan Buddhist often.
Handling gold and silver means money and I don't know any way to avoid
doing that these days. When Buddha walked the earth coins had just been
invented and were not used in India in any great amount until another
couple hundred years had passed. Even coming in contact
with silver and gold was very rare even for the
I guess you could have someone else hold your money and they could pay
someone to slaughter animals so you could eat them but that's not what
Buddha had in mind. This sounds like the logic used by those that split
In all honesty many of the Buddhists at the first council
questioned what Ananda had heard. The doubts they had were the main, if not
the only, reason that no decision was made at the First Council. This
in turn created room for more doubt and caused people from then on to
question most aspects of Buddhism. That is not bad. In all probability
it prevented Buddhism from being 'locked in stone' and becoming just
another dictated religion based on unchanging rules.
On the other hand had either the Buddha or the First Coucil fully
endorsed or codified changing rules then it is highly likely that later Buddhist
would have seen it as a license to change every rule. Buddhism would
have fragmented to such an extent that it become corrupted. It likely would have lost a considerable amount of it's bearing and essence. (I think I'm beginning to pontificate a bit so I'll stop.)
**We Buddhist don't often recall past lives. It's not a direction that is encouraged
as it can take a person off their path unless recalling previous lives is a part of their path. It is part of my path but just a small part of it.
For me, every few lifetimes I recall my past lives and integrate them. This is one of
those lives. When it's one of those lifetimes I simply start recalling
past lives. I can't avoid them. It provides me with nearly endless
wisdom. Actually, recalling past lives in this lifetime is perfect for the rest of
mankind since mass communication
methods which are now available allow me to share this
information with you.
About half the time when I see the past life of a person's who has been
enlightened in a previous life then they suddenly see that past life
too. For those of you who have been enlightened in previous lives being
able to recall that life and the enlightened state puts you very
close to becoming enlightened. After all, an enlightened person is
enlightened today mainly because they recall being enlightened
yesterday. If they recall being enlightened in a past life then it can
have a very similar effect. So recalling past lives can be of the
greatest benifit to certain people.
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2007-8 John Pinil