Adapted from the original feature
To be a senior rinpoche or lama is a rare privilege. To be born into a family of ancient and illustrious lineage holders, such as the House of Khön, is an even rarer simultaneous blessing and burden. The Khön clan founded the Sakya school in the 11th and 12th centuries and has led it ever since. But perhaps most unusual and most interesting of all is to marry into such a family, to serve the Dharma from within the Khön clan at its very heart, as mother and wife, leader and nurturer. Dagmo Kalden Dunkyi Sakya holds not only this respected role, but also many others as a giver of service, which she discusses among other subjects in this extended conversation.
Dagmo Kalden Dunkyi Sakya is beloved among her Vajrayana community for her charisma, friendliness, and humor. Since since 12 September 2002, she has been married to Ratna Vajra Rinpoche, the 42nd Sakya Trizin from 2017–22. I remember interviewing her husband in 2016, and despite the passage of time, His Eminence was and remains the steadfast and tireless face of the Sakya teachings, second only to his father, the 41st Sakya Trizin, His Holiness Kyabgon Gongma Trichen Rinpoche.
As a senior female member of the family, Dagmo-la is also prominent in a different way: she is involved in many projects and sees herself as a giver of time, care, and service. She is one of the few senior members of a lineage-holding family to be an active user of social media, and indeed an influencer. Born in 1978 in Kalimpong, India, there was initially little indication of the religious life she would lead. “My life before 2002 was spent in a boarding school and then in college. All of my formative years were therefore immersed in a fairly academic environment. I worked hard both in the classroom and outside of it,” she tells me. Coincidentally, 2002 was the year I began my own time at boarding, while Dagmo-la was just finishing up.
“I really did not know life as anything else. A teacher once called me ‘Golden Girl,’ mainly because I was a good student and also because of all the sports I took part in. I was the captain of the girls’ swim team, and it seems like such a world away from where I am now,” Dagmo-la reminisces. She was busy, even during her holidays. “I used to volunteer at local NGOs when back home, so I think my interest in volunteerism and service was always there. After coming into the Sakya family, I am indeed very grateful that I have so many opportunities to serve others on a much larger scale than if I was by myself.”
Since marrying and building a family after 2002, Dagmo-la’s interest in social work has only grown, especially after she has seen the immense connections and opportunities she wields. At her fingertips are many means for helping people while involving members of the community themselves. “Being in this position, I also am very careful to not misuse my opportunities and resources for my personal gain. My social work with and for the community has given me incredible strength and satisfaction, and I now find myself automatically thinking of what needs to be done in the community and whether I can fulfill that need somehow,” she emphasizes.