Sagya means "white land'' in the Tibetan language. The Sagya Sect, founded in 1703 AD, derived its name from the fact that the Sagya Monastery, the sect's most important monastery, is grayish white in color. Enclosures in the sect's monasteries are painted with red, white and black stripes, which respectively symbolize the Wisdom Buddha, the Goddess of Mercy and the Diamond Hand Buddha. Hence, the sect is also known as the Stripe Sect. The ever increasing influence of the sect and the expansion of feudal forces throughout its formation led to the increasing fame of the "five Sagya Sect Forefathers''. The Fourth Forefather Sapan Gonggar Gyaincain was summoned to Liangzhou in 1247 AD by the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) ruler to dialup matters concerning Tibet pledging allegiance to the Yuan Dynasty. This was followed by Sapan bringing various feudal forces in Tibet under control of the Mongols. Following the death of Sapan, Pagan, the Fifth Forefather of the Sagya Sect, emerged as a high-ranking official in the Yuan court. Pagba Was granted honorary titles such as "State Tutor", ''Imperial Tutor'' and ''Great Treasure Prince of Dharma.'' Thereafter, the Sagya Sect emerged as the Yuan Dynasty representative in Tibet. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Gonggar Zhaxi, an eminent monk with the Sagya Sect, journeyed to Nanjing, capital of the Ming Dynasty, to pay homage to Emperor Yongle. Gongar was granted an honorary title as the "Mahayana Prince of Dharma'', one of the three Princes of Dharma.
The Gelug Sect, founded in 1409 AD, was the most famous Buddhist sect in Tibetan history dating to the 15th century. The sect was founded during the reform of Tibetan Buddhism initiated by Zongkapa. Zongkapa himself was born at a time when the Pagmo Zhuba replaced the Sagya Regime in power. At that time, upper-class monks involved in political and economic power struggle led a decadent life, and rapidly lost popularity with society. Faced with this situation, Zongkapa called for efforts to follow Buddhist tenets. He proceeded to undertake lecture tours in many areas and wrote books accusing decadent monks of failing to abide by Buddhist tenets. Zongkapa spared no effort to press ahead with Buddhist reform. For example, in the first month of 1409 according to Tibetan calendar, Zongkapa initiated the Grand Summons Ceremony in Lhasa's Jokhang Monastery. The ceremony remains in practice even today. This effort was closely followed by the construction of the famous Gandain Monastery and the founding of the Gelug Sect which was famous for its strict adherence to commandments. The Tibetan language meaning of Gelug is "commandments''. Zongkapa and his followers wore yellow hats, and thus the Gelug Sect is also known as the Yellow Sect. Since its founding, the Yellow Sect has built the Zhaibung, Sera, Tashilhungpo, Tar and Labrang monasteries, which join the Gandain Monastery as the six major monasteries of the Gelug Sect. The Yellow Sect is also known for formation of the two largest Living Buddha reincarnation systems - the Dalai and Bainqen systems.
The Gagyu Sect, founded in the 11th century, stresses the study of Tantrism and advocates that Tantrist tenets be passed down orally from one generation to another. Hence the name Gagyu, which in the Tibetan language means "passing down orally.'' Marba and Milha Riba, the founders of the Gagyu Sect, wore white monk robes when practicing Buddhism, leading to the name White Sect. In the early years, the White Sect was divided into the Xangba Gagyu which declined in the 14th and to 15th centuries, and the Tabo Gagyu. The Tabo Gagyu was powerful and its branch sects were either in power in their respective localities or otherwise dominant amongst feudal forces.