Sakya Society of Canada

Sakya Namgyal Archive

Historical Documents

H.H. Sakya Trizin

H.E. Sakya Jetsunma

Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche

H.E. Chogye Rinpoche

Wesley Knapp

Angela Knapp



Sakya Thubten Namgyal Ling Canada

Early Sakya Namgyal History
A personal account by Wesley Knapp

Toronto and the Yukon
The Venerated Karma Tensing Dorje Namgyal Rinpoche became my Root Guru in 1968, although he was known then as the Venerable Ananda Bodhi. The instant we met I was captivated and simultaneously set free by the realisation that I was neither crazy nor alone in this world. He showed me sanity and set me free. At our first encounter he generously gave me a private, 'sacred afternoon' - I did not know then that he kept the afternoons as 'his time'. I gave him the traditional offerings, lifetimes of love and my astrological birth chart.

We pored over this together and after many explanations he finally announced that I was a healing therapist and dharma teacher and that I was destined to establish a new school. This was big news to me because at that time, age 23, I was the co-owner of a rock and roll club in Toronto's Yorkville entertainment district downtown. We lived in the three story building; had a terrace roof garden, a backyard swimming pool, a restaurant seating a hundred in the summer and a lounge, sauna and showers in the basement. I rarely felt a need to leave Yorkville and was immersed in the exploration of the young people's culture of change - hosting some its luminaries such as Jimi Hendrix's band, the Butterfield Blues Band and Led Zeppelin etc while I ingested vast quantities of texts from the Theosophical library a couple of blocks away.

In the fall of 1970, in response to my request for life guidance, Rinpoche recommended that I give up the rock and roll life and balance it with some wilderness living, make some money and then travel to India with him. He sent me to Yukon to help found a Dharma Community and I was there for two of the most magical years of my life - just as I had lived in Yorkville for two years. Balance - Rinpoche was a Libra…

I hitched a ride to Whitehorse with a new friend, arriving November 1970. I had about $80, no job, no place to live, didn't know anyone there, it was already deep in snow and fifty degrees below zero - frozen! We ended up that first winter living in a 12'x16' summer recreational cabin, several hours drive from Whitehorse; on a small, deeply frozen lake that the wolf pack frequented at the full moon, about six miles up a snow-shoe and toboggan trail to a lapsed mining claim high on a mountain in Kluane Valley - waiting for the spring thaw and work to begin.

I was a very young 'macro-biotic-Buddhist'. Whenever we wanted food we would head down the trail on foot and then about another mile or so past the bears at the roadside lodge cum grader station's garbage dump to the gravel road heading one way over the mountain plateau down to the land-locked Alaska Panhandle and the other way to join the Alaska Highway and eventually to Whitehorse, population 12,000.

We would wait at the lodge hoping that a vehicle would come by that day. If it did we got a ride to the frozen garbage bin behind the grocery store in Whitehorse. I would pick out the frozen, spoiled vegetables, put them in a cardboard box then reverse the whole trip. When we got to the cabin I would bring the produce in, thaw it, cut out the soggy rotten parts and eat it with brown rice from the 100 lb bag we had obtained from Mrs Schofield.

I met Angela in the Yukon that first winter of 1970 and shortly thereafter introduced her to the Rinpoche, who introduced us to the Rime, Non-Sectarian View after a Chenresi Wongkur.

In 1972 I travelled to India with the Rinpoche and a large group of his students and was fortunate to experience private encounters and many transmissions with HH the 41st Sakya Trizin and his Guru, HE Chogye Trichen Rinpoche in the fall, at his home Palace Monastery in Rajpur. And then again to meet with HH Gyalwa Karmapa 16 for the Vajra Crown ceremony in a huge tent for thousands at the Ladakh Temple in Delhi and then Christmas at the Bhutanese embassy for less than a dozen of Rinpoche's students.

The 'cool' students had word of this possibility at the Bhutanese embassy and kept it quiet as a large crowd was not wanted. I just went along with Jeff. (I was not cool, perhaps because I followed the Rinpoche's advice and didn't mingle too much with the main student body). Anyway, at that time Bhutan and Sikkhim were part of India's security border and they were having wars with China. On this particular day it felt as if we were grudgingly allowed into the embassy by very large warriors wearing 'kilts' who were heavily armed with swords, knives and guns.

Being an ex-British Royal Marine Commando I recognised the tension in the air as a security alert. For some time we were hustled from room to room until finally, we were ushered into what appeared to be Karmapa's private living room. He was affably seated on a couch, with his ritual implements on the coffee table in front of him. Through a translator he explained that he was going to give us a somewhat informal 'quickie' triad Wongkur, which he did.

At the end, when it was time to make our offerings to him, I - ever mindful of the Rinpoche's instructions to not go 'all holy' on the lama, 'look him in the eye, keep your senses alert, receive everything that's going on' etc - shuffled forward on my knees to his table to present the traditional white scarf. I looked His Holiness straight in his smiling eyes as he effortlessly placed his hand on the crown of my head. Without any change of expression on his part or any visible effort he began to press.

While he smiled at me so lovingly his hand became like a one ton weight. The effort of trying to maintain eye contact by keeping my head up became too much. The muscles in my neck, shoulders and eventually back let go and as I collapsed forward His Holiness heavily drove my forehead into the coffee table! A direct teaching on the wisdom of letting go and the nature of power in this particular relationship - which I did not fully realise, was in fact a relationship, until we met up again in the Yukon in 1977.

Yukon again
In the winter of early 1977 John Hatch went to Boston to meet the Karmapa and invited him to come to the Yukon. Then Angela, as the Yukon Dharma Society's Chairperson and I, as the Chair of the Karmapa Committee, hosted and co-ordinated with the others a month-long teaching tour of the Yukon by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa with 12 Tulkus and lamas. The day before they arrived, Angela left for a pre-arranged retreat with the Rinpoche in France.

This was the seven day spring retreat of 1977 at Banon in the south of France. Angela and eleven others received a 'Western Tantric' Healing and Teaching Transmission from Rinpoche. The retreat was limited to 12 healing professionals; Doctors, Psychologists, Therapists, Chiropractors and Nurses etc. Attendance was by Rinpoche's personal permission only. Rinpoche gave Angela permission to attend based on her experience as a young mother and nurturer. (Much later, in February of 2002, the Rinpoche publicly confirmed Angela as the holder of this transmission when giving her the Wong Kur of her yidam Sitapatra).

Guided by his instruction that each of the 12 should transmit this 'Essence Experience' to one person - and in this way evolve a Healing Lodge - she returned to the Yukon in the summer and transmitted the teaching to me. This experience was so powerful that it caused us to immediately become Life-Partners. (Through the years we have developed this set of sensory explorations into the 'Khema 7-Day Intensive Sensory Process').

In the summer of 1977, in the snow mountains of the Yukon, after Angela's return from Banon, we first received ordination as a Lama Couple (a 'lay' teaching couple) - in the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist Healing Tradition of the (Shangpa) Kargyu Lineage - according to the instructions of its Head, H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa - by his Guru, the senior Lama of the Kargyu Lineage and Lineage Holder for the Shangpa, H.E. the Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, whom the Karmapa had instructed me to invite for this very purpose.

On that day, His Holiness, the teen-aged Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche who was acting as translator and myself were out for a winter walk along 'rather red-necked' Whitehorse's small main street. As we passed a barber shop I saw the barber and a friend in the big window pointing to His Holiness and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche in their robes, talking and laughing, about the 'foreigners' one suspected.

As we passed their door His Holiness wheeled suddenly, went in and sat down in the chair, never saying a word. At this time his hair was already very short, monk-style. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche explained to the barber, whose friend had left very quickly, that His Holiness's hair once cut was extremely precious, sacred in fact and that not one hair was to fall on the floor - and that a brand new, unused cloth should be used to gather up His Holiness' clippings which we would then take away with us..

As we stood on either side of the chair, each holding up two corners of the cloth, the barber darted in and out, around and around, snipping nearly non-existent hair while chatting relentlessly and rapidly about how wonderful it was to be able to welcome foreigners to Whitehorse. The chatter continued as we walked out of the door with HH Karmapa's nearly empty cloth of hair in the Rinpoche's shoulder bag.

We proceeded to the Travel Lodge Hotel's restaurant. Over lunch I asked His Holiness what were his plans for the Yukon now that about 500 people had attended the 'Crown Ceremony' at the FH Collins High School Gymnasium and he had been received by all three levels of government (federal, territorial and municipal on the same day - the first religious leader ever welcomed officially to the Yukon); and with the mountaintop property which Bob Mcallum had spent seven years of his life to secure and transform (before he gave it to me to offer to His Holiness, and being blinded in one eye by a collapsing building during this process), from a disused mining claim on top of a big snow mountain into Monastery Mountain, consecrated by His Holiness after a winter helicopter landing on the peak in very deep snow. Not to mention all the transmissions he had given?

This time he delivered a 'verbal forehead smash' by informing me that he was appointing me to be his personal representative in the Yukon and that I would be his resident teacher and further, that he authorised me to give the Kargyu Teachings, including the Karmapakshi! And this was despite my protests that I was incompetent for such a task even unable, because I would be leaving the Yukon at some point. Still he insisted, gave me texts and Kalu Rinpoche's phone number telling me to invite Kalu Rinpoche who would come and give me further instruction - which he did.

However, in the fall of 1977, a pregnant Angela and I loaded the children and belongings into a small van and drove south on the Alaska Highway to Prince Rupert, to take the ferry from there to Vancouver. The family stayed at the Namgyal House in Vancouver until I came back from Australia where I had gone to visit my first wife and 2 children. When I returned, Angela and I gave the first transmission of the Khema Intensive, known early on as the 7 Rays of Healing, to the Namgyal House members.

Upon the completion of this retreat we determined to drive across Canada to establish a Namgyal Centre in Nova Scotia, where there was no dharma centre at that time. However, the first snow of the winter accompanied us eastwards up into the mountains and all across the prairies. We endured blizzards and ice storms so bad that the police frequently closed highways, forcing us to stay in motels. Exhausted, sick, out of money and energy, we arrived in Toronto, barely in time for Christmas.

Here, we were fortunate to encounter one of Rinpoche's students, Dr. David Lee, a chiropractor who had been with the group in Banon. He was moving to a new building and gave me work on its renovation, as well as letting us stay in his old apartment until its lease expired. Thus supported, in December of 1977 we found an apartment in Toronto's west end of so Angela, getting more pregnant for Christmas, could give birth.

The original site of Sakya Namgyal - the house on Lakeshore Boulevard West
The apartment was on the second floor of a beautiful old estate house constructed with foot thick stone walls lined with very elegant imported English Oak paneling and shaded by old growth leafy trees. A big bedroom (with a fireplace), had French windows opening onto a veranda overlooking a large grassy peninsula jutting out south into Lake Ontario. This offered an unobstructed, vast view of the sunrise, sky, sunset, lake and horizon.

Three other smaller rooms (one virtually a large closet) - a lovely old bathroom and a kitchen were located around a wide, curving staircase that formed a hollow, two story space in the centre of our part of the building and led to what had been the main upper part of the home, divided off to form another apartment.

This building had been the office (moved to the motel next door) for motel units that stretched a little way south and north a hundred yards or so from the house to the expressway leading east into downtown Toronto. On the other side of the expressway was the western terminal for the streetcar system to/from downtown Toronto. These environmental and location details became important later that summer of 1978, when His Holiness Sakya Trizin, his family and two attendant lamas came to stay with our family at our invitation for a couple of weeks of Teaching Transmissions.

On the main floor of the house lived a proper young paralegal secretary whom we rarely saw. The motel units were sporadically populated by transient refugee claimants waiting on papers from bureaucrats; as well as, reputedly, criminals and prostitutes - although we never saw evidence of this - just people, mainly kind and often lonely.

A children's circus and petting farm had rented the peninsula to overwinter their animals until the spring. There were trailers for them as well as for the circus clowns who also owned the circus. To the side of the main house was a very small trailer where lived a Swiss 'wild man', banished by his independently wealthy family to Canada, for some transgression? Combined with the huge beard, bald dome and long, flowing hair his tiny, round black sunglasses, tiny, tight shorts and large, powerful, matted-with-hair body gave a 'raksha'-like, bizarre appearance. To complete this ensemble he would come to Wong Kurs with His Holiness wearing a white, silk scarf dashingly flung around his throat. This outlandish appearance totally belied his gentle heart of gold.

Also parked in the lot was a trailer with a large houseboat sitting on it which was to be launched after the spring thaw. It turned out to be occupied by a middle-aged man who, 35 years earlier, had actually served with my father in the British Army's Ordinance Corps in Egypt during the Second World War. He recalled that together they had opened the pyramids to store ammunition therein and had experienced strange phenomenon in the course of their work. With him lived a middle-aged woman whose husband came to visit and drink with them from time to time. Sometimes this went well and others, not.

It was in this setting that Angela's and my first child was born at home in the breezy beautiful bedroom with the dappled sunlight, aided in his arrival by Dr. Len Levine who had also attended the retreat in Banon. Within weeks of Radhi's birth His Holiness Sakyapa, his wife the Jetsun Dhagmo Kusho and their five-year old son Ratna Vajra Rinpoche would make their home in this room to conclude their teaching tour of Canada.

The tour began with the Sakyapa's stay in New York City in late 1977. On his return to Toronto around that time, the then chairperson of the Dharma Centre of Canada said in casual conversation that he had encountered His Holiness at his centre in New York, where a dZambala Wealth Empowerment was being given.

At the conclusion of the Wong Kur, when offerings are traditionally made to the lama, the chairperson apologised for not inviting His Holiness to Canada, explaining that although the Dharma Centre had hosted His Holiness previously they could not afford to do so at that particular time. I discussed all this with Angela who had not yet met His Holiness and we decided to extend a personal invitation to His Holiness, which was accepted!

India Reprise
I had met His Holiness and his Guru, His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche at the Sakya Lineage's home palace/monastery in Rajpur, India in 1972; as part of a group of over 100 of Namgyal Rinpoche's students who had travelled with him to Rajpur in the Himalayan foothills after the conclusion of the six-month Moroccan Adventure.

Earlier, as part of getting to know some of Namgyal Rinpoche's students that interested me I had been in business, lived and travelled with Jeff Olson, now known as Lama Lodro. Jeff had told me stories of a previous visit to India with Rinpoche when they had met His Holiness, who was known amongst the Tibetans as the embodiment of Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom - who, not surprisingly, spoke very good English. At the first mention of His Holiness a bond of friendship and respect was re-awakened for me and when we met in Rajpur an instant 're-connection' manifested.

His Holiness was kind enough to offer to audit my notes of the teachings given by himself and his Guru on a daily basis for months, so that I could print and circulate his English commentaries on the Wongs for the rest of Namgyal Rinpoche's students. (This was really the start of the Sakya Namgyal Archive, prior to this my notes were personal for myself). Fortunately, this entailed daily, more intimate contact with His Holiness than the wongkurs with a hundred of Namgyal Rinpoche's students, not to mention 100's of Tibetans!

Friendship unfolded immediately. His Holiness also entrusted me with personal family affairs at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi on his behalf concerning his sister and her family in Canada; and ultimately offered me a place as the first westerner at the recently inaugurated Sakya College in Mussourie, higher in the Himalayas.

Meanwhile, His Eminence Chogye Rinpoche had also asked me to travel with him to Mustang in Nepal to liaise and supervise the construction of the Sakya Monastery at Lumbini, the Buddha Sakyamuni's birthplace. Although these almost overwhelming offers of kindness could not be accepted because I was enroute to the 6 Yogas of Naropa retreat with Namgyal Rinpoche in New Zealand for 1973, this respectful, warm and intimate friendship with these two great Lamas was never severed. It led to Angela and I in Nepal helping Namgyal Rinpoche to receive from His Eminence Chogye Rinpoche what we believe to be the last Wongkur that Namgyal Rinpoche received in this life, (the White Manjusri in the Lineage of Mati), on his last trip to India.

Back in Toronto
All this was discussed by Angela and Wesley. They recalled the Sakya Lineage and its refugee community's kindness in Rajpur to Namgyal Rinpoche, hosting and billeting over 100 of his students for months on end. So I phoned His Holiness in New York and invited him to come to Toronto with a request to give his Dharma Darshan there.

It was mentioned that this was a private invitation for a week-end, unsponsored by any group, that we were very pregnant and that his family would have to share our apartment with us. His Holiness graciously acknowledged all of this and agreed to come nonetheless. This was in February of 1978.

It unfolded that His Holiness decided to travel to Seattle to connect with another of his Gurus, the Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche so that together they would travel north to Vancouver to meet with His Holiness' sister, the senior female Tibetan Rinpoche, Jetsun Kusho Chimey Luding - (whose young son sat on His Holiness' lap during all those wongkurs in Rajpur in 1972 and is now the Head of the Ngor sub-lineage of Sakya) - and try to convince her to start teaching again, which she had not publicly done since leaving Tibet and marrying. This effort was motivated in part by His Holiness in response to a surging demand amongst his western students for authentic female dharma teachers, concurrent with the re-emergence of the 'feminist liberation movement'.

So we helped His Holiness with visas and travel documents, made travel and accommodation arrangements for his party on the tour across Canada from Vancouver to Toronto and did all this with no budget (trusting that it would all happen), and very little funds, mostly by long distance phone calls with people we didn't know; aided by donations from many generous beings, Namgyal Centres and the Dharma Centre itself.

The highlight of this transcontinental teaching tour was arranging a meeting for a week-end between His Holiness and Namgyal Rinpoche (who was then conducting a Western Mysteries retreat at Neepawa, relatively close-by), at the Saskatoon Namgyal House - hosted by Gretchen Mehegan, Rinpoche's first tantra translator, who learned Tibetan from His Holiness in Rajpur and Freyda Olson, the residents at the Namgyal House.

Ultimately, the invitation for a 'week-end' of teaching in Toronto became a six-month trans-continental effort by us culminating in weeks of Teaching in Toronto by His Holiness: the establishment of the Sakya Society of Canada (with Namgyal Rinpoche and Jetsunma as part of the Board of Directors) and its Ontario teaching centre, Sakya Thubten Namgyal Ling - known as Sakya Namgyal; the first public teaching in the west by Jetsunma at Sakya Namgyal some months later and an invitation to New York for us from His Holiness to receive ordination into his lineage, instructions for teaching, together with the bestowal of the Tibetan title Sakya Shasanadhara (Upholder of the Sakya Lineage) by him upon each of us and our appointment as his personal representatives in Canada.

At this time he gave his blessing for the establishment of the archive which would also include the audio and video recordings of the wongkurs and teachings that he gave in Toronto and any Sakya Teachings available in English - as well as the publication of a dharma periodical, which he named Dharma Vijjaya, Sanskrit for Dharma Victory.

Upon his return to Canada the Rinpoche telephoned Wesley for the first time - phone calls from the Rinpoche were extremely rare in those days - and said that it was not often that a student 'got the jump' on him. He had been intending for many years to reciprocate the kindness shown to him personally and his students from His Holiness and the Sakya Lineage by establishing a Sakya Centre in Eastern Canada. So he was much pleased by what we were doing and would support us in every way possible

Sakya is a family lineage, recommended by Namgyal Rinpoche as 'easily accessible for westerners'. In the past we crafted children's, families' and teenager's programs at Sakya Namgyal and the Dharma Centre of Canada when the children were younger. His Eminence Sharma Tulku Rinpoche cam to Sakya Namgyal and gave a Manjusri Wongkur for children here. After lunch he played some classical composers beautifully on our piano. In later years our focus was more on young adults, single mothers and couples. Through the years we have provided a temporary surrogate home, family and jobs for those in need, as well as providing a venue where families would feel free to receive the teaching in a relaxed way. We have also provided care and teaching opportunities for the Venerated Namgyal Rinpoche and many other Lamas...

At the present moment we await the Ontario Appeals Court's decision on our landlords' spurious (we believe) attempt to evict us - after we have been here for nearly 29 years now - Based on the landlord's claim that they cannot afford to maintain this and many other homes here as a landlord should. Our Landlord is the Federal Government of Canada's Ministry of Transport, who operates the 18,000 acres expropriated here in Pickering for an international airport which has never been built of course; we believe they intend to sell the land off to the developers, which would be an environmental crime in our opinion. Nonetheless, pray for us if you are so inclined, thank you.

There could be more at another writing…
Sakya Namgyal, January 01, 2007

Click To Visit His Holiness' Site Click To Visit Her Eminence's Site