Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Latest Updates: Biden drops out

A Tibetan Princess Considers the Future of the Throne, from her Home in Seattle

Gabriel Spitzer
Her Eminence Dagmo Kusho Sakya, at the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.

This story originally aired on September 2, 2017.

In the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, tucked among the bungalows sits an ornate yellow and red building. On one side flies the American flag, and on the other flies what’s called the Dharma Flag.

This monastery is one of the most important sites in the world for one of the four major traditions  of Tibetan Buddhism -- the Sakya school. And it houses a genuine princess: Her Eminence Dagmo Kusho Sakya is one of the most prominent female lamas in Tibetan Buddhism, and the widow of the man man once held the Sakya throne. She goes by Dagmola to her friends.

She met her husband, a prince and future Sakya throne-holder, on a religious pilgrimage. A few years and three babies into their marriage, the Chinese invaded Tibet, and the Sakya family fled to Bhutan and India.

They would eventually find their way to Seattle, at the invitation of Turrell Wylie, a professor and founder of the Tibetan Studies program at the University of Washington. As one of the first Tibetan refugee families to settle in the US, they would grapple with what it means to be a Tibetan-American.

“I never, never thought that we were going to leave forever,” she said. “When we first came here on a three-year grant, I said this is my second home. My first home is Tibet, still. But then I went in 1986 to Tibet. I saw that that’s not my home. There was nothing. Destroyed homes, monasteries, monks disrobed. At that time it’s very sad. I almost cried every day, because it was nothing like when we were there.”

They also faced the challenge of who would carry on  what they say is 1000 years of unbroken Sakya lineage, That got complicated when it became clear that Dagmola’s five sons weren't interested in going into the family business. But then a solution presented itself -- it just took another generation.  

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.