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Sa-skya Pandita's Letter to the Tibetans: A Late and Dubious Addition to His Collected Works Jackson, David Paul 1986

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David P. Jackson
In the Derge printed edition of Sa-skya Pandita's collected
works there exists a short letter that purports to have been
written by Sa-skya Pandita (Sa-pan) (1182-1251) in about 1247,
after he reached the Mongol camp in Liang-chou and had an
interview with the Mongol prince Koden. It bears the title Bu
slob mams la spring ba and, if authentic, is one of the earliest
sources on Tibetan-Mongolian political and religious relations.
Till now it has been accepted as authentic and used as a basic
source by scholars. It was translated in full and studied by G.
Tucci in his monumental Tibetan Painted Scrolls,1 and was
summarized by T. W. D. Shakabpa in his Tibet: A Political
History.2 It has also been described or mentioned by several
others.3 There are, however, some important reasons to doubt its
authenticity, one being that it is absent from some of the early
lists of Sa-pan's collected works and only enters Tibetan
historiography from about the first half of the 16th century.
The earliest evidence for the existence of this letter is its
mention in the record of teachings received (gsan yig) of Ngor-
chen Dkon-mchog-lhun-grub (1497-1557). In that work, which is
entitled Chos kyi rje dpal ldan bla ma mams las dam pa'i chos
thos pa'i chos thos pa'i tshul gsal bar bshad pa'i yi ge thub bstan
rgyas pa'i nyin byed, the letter is cited by the title Bu slob mams
la springs pa. It is the sixty-third work in that list.4 The letter is
also listed in the gsan yig of the Gong-dkar bla-ma 'Phrin-las-
rnam-rgyal (fl. c. 1700), a work entitled Thob yig bum pa bzang
po. There the letter is cited by the different title Chos rje Sa skya
Panditas bod  'bangs spyi la gdams pa, and the text is said to
have been four folios long in the manuscript upon which this
gsan yig list was based. In the latter list it was the fifty-second
work, the last work in volume dza.5
As for the actual text of the letter, the first place it is known to
have turned up is in the Sa skya gdung rabs chen mo of A-mes-
zhabs Ngag-dbang-kun-dga'-bsod-nams (1597-1659), a work that
he completed in 1629.6 It is found added to the long biography of
Sa-pan, which A-mes-zhabs took almost verbatim from the
commentary by Glo-bo mkhan-chen Bsod-nams-lhun-grub
(1456-1532) on Sa-pan's Mkhas pa mams 'jug pa'i sgo.7 The
inclusion of this letter, however, was one of the few instances
where A-mes-zhabs departed from Glo-bo mkhan-chen's
account and added some new material from elsewhere, two
other important additions being the letter of summons from
Koden to Sa-skya Pandita and the list of Sa-pan's writings.8
The second place the letter turned up in was the edition of
Sa-pan's collected works by Zhu-chen Tshul-khrims-rin-chen
(1700-1769), Sa-pan's works forming the fourth main part of the
1736 Derge edition of the Sa skya bka' 'bum.9 The letter
therefore is listed in the index compiled by Zhu-chen (ascribed to
the Ngor mkhan-po Bkra-shis-lhun-grub, 1672-1739),10 as well as
in the almost identical list of Sa-pan's works recorded in Zhu-
chen's record of teachings received (gsan yig).n In both index and
gsan yig, the title is marked with the numerals 9 and 24, thus
apparently showing that he found the same work listed in the
gsan yigs of Dkon-mchog-lhun-grub (1497-1557) and Sangs-
rgyas-phun-tshogs (1649-1705), who were respectively the 9th
(i.e. 10th ) and 24th (i.e. 25th) abbots of Ngor. As mentioned
above, the work indeed is listed in the record of teachings
received of Dkon-mchog-lhun-grub. However, Zhu-chen noted
in both the index and gsan yig that the letter is not actually listed
in Sangs-rgyas-phun-tshogs's gsan yig, the Gsan yig dbang gi
rgyal po.11 Instead, according to Zhu-chen, one finds there the
title Bod yul la sngags pa. This is the title of a work which
appears in the Derge edition before the letter (being no. 69 in the
Toyo Bunko reprint edition) and which, according to its
colophon, was written when Sa-pan was in his nineteenth year
(1200).13 Zhu-chen decided that this title (which appeared twice
in the gsan yig he was using?) must refer to the letter, since
"there was no other [similar work?] besides this." He also notes
that the letter itself had the title Bod 'bangs spyi la gdams pa in
the manuscript available to him.14 One hopes that the actual
gsan yig of Sangs-rgyas-phun-tshogs will become available so
that one can verify the presence or absence of the letter or of any
similarly entitled work in its list. But until it does, it is open to
doubt whether it lists this work, since Zhu-chen qualifies his
citation from the gsan yig of Sangs-rgyas-phun-tshogs in the
above way.
The third and last known appearance of Sa-pan's letter is its
quotation in the recent Hor chos 'byung by Blo-bzang-rta-mgrin
(1867-1937), as mentioned by D. Schuh.15
Besides its mention in the gsan yigs of Dkon-mchog-lhun-
grub and Gong-dkar 'Phrin-las-rnam-rgyal, and the Sa skya bka'
'bum index and gsan yig of Zhu-chen Tshul-khrims-rin-chen,
this letter is not cited in any other list of Sa-pan's works available
to me. It is absent from that in the gsan yig of Ngor-chen Kun-
dga'-bzang-po (1382-1456)16 and also from that of the fifth Dalai
Lama Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang-rgya-mtsho (1617-1682).17 It is
likewise missing from the lists of Sa-pan's works found within
the biography of Sa-pan in the Mkhas 'jug rnam bshad
composed in 1527 by Glo-bo mkhan-chen Bsod-nams-lhun-
grub,18 in the long biography of Sa-pan by Rin-spung-pa Ngag-
dbang-'jigs-med-grags-pa (composed in 1579),19 and in the Sa
skya gdung rabs chen mo of A-mes-zhabs Ngags-dbang-kun-
dga'-bsod-nams.20 As mentioned above, however, A-mes-zhabs
did present the letter itself in extenso in that genealogical
The absence of the letter from those lists is sufficient to show
that it was probably a later addition to Sa-pan's oeuvre. It
surfaced as early as the early-16th century, the time when Dkon-
mchog-lhun-grub received the lung for Sa-pan's works. It is
curious that Rin-spungs-pa did not list it, for he had access to
many works, and he also was quite free in including a number of
probably apocryphal letters and treatises among the works he
listed. The letter was also not included by Glo-bo mkhan-chen in
the biography of Sa-pan placed at the beginning of his
commentary on the Mkhas 'jug which he completed in 1527. In
this biography Glo-bo mkhan-chen did quote several of Sa-pan's
other letters, as well as some four letters ascribed to Sa-pan's
student Bi-ji Rin-chen-grags which he says were recovered from
Khams in the time of Rgyal-tshab Kun-dga'-dbang-phyug (1424-
1478; abbot of Ngor 1465-1478).21
All of this may not decisively disprove the letter's
authenticity, but it does cast doubt on it. There are, moreover,
some other dubious features of the letter. Stylistically it is quite
unlike anything else I have read in Sa-pan's works. In general,
the letter is colloquial in tone and not at all elegant. I do not
recall, for instance, seeing the e interrogative particle ever used
by Sa-pan elsewhere.22 The letter, if authentic, was admittedly
written in very unusual circumstances and its contents are
somewhat unique among Sa-pan's writings. When I first read
the letter some years ago, even without doubting its authenticity
I noted its strange style and wondered whether Sa-pan had not
received some official "help" in writing it, such as from a
bilingual scribe at the court. It was ostensibly meant to be an
official statement and, if authentic, it presumably was the
product of close consultations with the Mongols. Another
possibility that occurred to me was that it had survived in some
Mongolian or Chinese collection of edicts and correspondence,
and later had been translated back into Tibetan, thus giving it a
strange flavor. Indeed, the work it reminded me of most was the
putative letter of summons sent by the Mongol prince Koden to
Sa-pan, a letter which likewise first surfaced as a complete work
within the same section of A-mes-zhab's Sa skya gdung rabs
chen   mo.
One should not overlook the strong probability that these
two letters are closely connected. The letter of summons
attributed to Koden has already been investigated by D. Schuh,
who has shown it to be not only corruptly transmitted but also,
on formal grounds, probably a forgery.23 Therefore there is all
the more reason to doubt the authenticity of the related letter
ascribed to Sa-pan- In this connection one should also take note
of the fact that Koden's letter was known to Pan-chen Bsod-
nams-grags-pa (1478-1554), who quoted part of its beginning in
his New Red Annals (composed in 1538).24 As seen above, this
is also about the period in which the letter ascribed to Sa-pan is
first known to have been cited in a gsan yig.
In any case, it is not yet possible to determine the authenticity
of these materials in a decisive way. Moreover, if the letter is a
forgery, one should be able to attribute a motive for it. I must
leave that, as well as the detailed examination of its contents and
style, to scholars who are specialized in the study of Tibetan
political history and Tibeto-Mongolian relations. I do think,
however, that all scholars who use this letter should henceforth
do so with caution, since it is probably a later accretion to Sa-
pan's collected works, and its ultimate origins are still by no
means clear.
1. G. Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls (Roma: 1949), pp. 10-12.
2. T. W. D. Shakabpa, Tibet A Political History (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1967; reprinted New York: Potala
Publications, 1984), p. 63f.
3. See for instance D. Schuh, "Wie ist die Einladung des
fiinften Karma-pa an den chinesischen Kaiserhof als
Fortfuhrung der Tibetpolitik der Mongolen-Khane zu
verstehen?" Altaica Collecta (Weisbaden: O. Harrasowitz, 1976),
pp. 21 If, and Erlasse und Sendschreiben mongolischer Herrscher
fur Tibetische Geistliche, Monumenta Tibetica Historica, Abt. 3,
Bd. 1 (St. Augustin: VGH-Wissenschaftsverlag, 1977), pp. xvii, 18,
51 f, and 76 n. 125; and J. Szerb, "Glosses on the Oeuvre of Bla-ma
'Phags-pa: II. Some Notes on the Events of the Years 1251-
1254,'Vlcta Orientalia Hungarica, vol. 34, p. 264, n. 6.
4. Dkon-mchog-lhun-grub, Chos kyi rje dpal ldan bla ma
dam pa mams las dam pa'i chos thos pa'i tshul gsal bar bshad
pa'i yi ge thub bstan rgyas pa'i nyin byed (dbu-med MS, 159 ff), p.
120b. For the full list see Appendix N of D. Jackson, Sa-skya
Pandita on Indian and Tibetan Traditions of Pramana and
Philosophical Debate: The Entrance Gate for the Wise, Section
HI, forthcoming in Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und
Buddhismuskunde,  vol. 17.
5. Gong-dkar 'Phrin-las-rnam-rgyal, Thob yig bum pa bzang
po (dbu-med MS, 244 ff), fascicle da, p. 4b. For the complete list of
Sa-pan's works from this source, see Appendix M of the study
cited in the previous note.
6. A-mes-zhabs Ngag-dbang-kun-dga'-bsod-nams, 'Dzam
gling byang phyogs kyi thub pa'i rgyal tshah chen po dpal ldan sa
skya pa'i gdung rabs rin po che ji Itar by on pa'i tshul gyi rnam
par thar pa ngo mtshar rin po che'i bang mdzod dgos 'dod kun
'byung (New Delhi: Tashi Dorje, 1975). The letter occurs near the
end of Sa-pan's biography, which extends from pp. 93.6-170.6.
See pp. 156.4-162.1 (78b.4-81b.l).
7. Glo-bo mkhan-chen Bsod-nams-lhun-grub, Mkhas pa
mams 'jug pa'i sgo'i rnam par bshad pa rig gnas gsal byed (New
Delhi: N. Topgye, 1979). The biography of Sa-pan is found on pp.
94.4-154.5 (=47b.4-77b.5).
8. A-mes-zhabs, 'Dzam gling, pp. 60a.4-61a.6 and 67b.l-6.
9. Sa-skya Pandita, Bu slob mams la spring ba, Collected
Works, Derge Edition, vol. na, pp. 214b-217a. See also the Sa skya
pa'i bka' 'bum, Toyo Bunko reprint (Tokyo: 1968), vol. 5, pp.
10. [Zhu-chen Tshul-khrims-rin-chen], Dpal Sa skya'i rje
btsun gong ma Inga'i gsung rab rin po che'i par gyi sgo 'phar
'byed pa'i dkar chag 'phrul gyi Ide mig, Sa skya pa'i bka' 'bum
(Tokyo: Toyo Bunko, 1969), vol. 7, p. 329.4.2 (ba 449b.2).
11. Zhu-chen Tshul-khrims-rin-chen, Dpal ldan bla ma dam
pa mams las dam pa'i chos thos pa'i yi ge don gnyer gdengs can
rol pa'i chu gter (Dehra Dun: D. Gyaltsan, 1970), vol. 2, p. 429.1
12. Ibid., and [Zhu-chen Tshul-khrims-rin-chen], Dpal sa skya'i
rje btsun gong ma Inga'i gsung rab rin po che'i par gyi sgo 'phar
'byed pa'i dkar chag 'phrul gyi Ide mig, p. 329.4.2 (449b.2): gsan
yig dbang gi rgyal par bod yul la bsngags pa zhes byung ba 'di min
pa gzhan mi 'dug pas yig skyon yin nam snyamf bod 'bangs spyi
la gdams pa zhes dpe dngos la 'dug/.
13. Sa-skya Pandita, Bod yul la bsngags pa, Sa-skya pa'i bka'
'bum, vol. 5 (Tokyo: Toyo Bunko, 1968), pp. 395.3.2-396.1.2 (=na
202a.2-203a.2). The colophon reads: bdag nyid chen po grags pa
rgyal mtshan gyi zhabs kyi rdul la reg pas bio gros gtsang ba'i
'khon jo sras kun dga' rgyal mtshan gyis lo bcu dgu ion pa'i
tshel dpal sa skya'i dben gnas yon tan rin po che'i 'byung gnas su
nye bar sbyar ba'o//.
14. See above, note 9.
15. Blo-bzang-rta-mgrin, 'Dzam gling byang phyogs chen po
hor gyi rgyal khams kyi Hogs pa brjod pa'i bstan bcos chen po
dpyod ldan mgu byed ngo mtshar gser gyi deb ther (New Delhi:
Lokesh Chandra, 1964), p. 92a.5-6, as cited by D. Schuh, Erlasse
und Sendschreiben, p. 192, YIG, and p. 185, GSER.
16. Ngor-chen Kun-dga'-bzang-po, Thob yig rgya mtsho, Sa
skya pa'i bka' 'bum (Tokyo: Toyo Bunko, 1969), vol. 9, pp. 62.1.1-
62.3.4 (ka 124b.l-125b.4).
17. Dalai Lama V, Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang-rgya-mtsho, Zab pa
dang rgya che ba'i dam pa'i chos kyi thob yig gang ga'i chu rgyun
(Delhi: 1971), vol. 2, pp. 126.2-134.1 (kha 63b.2~67b.l).
18. Glo-bo mkhan-chen Bsod-nams-lhun-grub, Mkhas pa
mams 'jug pa'i sgo'i mam par bshad pa, pp. 40.1-43.3 (=20b.l-
19. Rin-spungs-pa Ngag-dbang-'jigs-med-grags-pa, 'Jam pa'i
dbyangs dngos smra ba'i mgon po sa skya pandita kun dga' rgyal
mtshan dpal bzang po'i mam par thar pa bskal pa bzang po'i legs
lam, Lam 'bras slob bshad (Derge ed.), vol. 1 (ka), pp. 109b-112b.
20. A-mes-zhabs, 'Dzam gling, pp. 60a.4-61a.6.
21. Glo-bo mkhan-chen Bsod-nams-lhun-grub, Mkhas pa
mams 'jug pa'i sgo'i rnam par bshad pa, pp. 30a.3-32a.4; 32a.4-
33b.4; 33b.4-34a.4; and 39a.3-42a.6. These are the minor works
listed in the index to the Toyo Bunko reprint, vol. 5, nos. 97, 99,
and 32.
22. Sa-skya Pandita, Bu slob mams la spring ba, pp. 401.3.5 (na
114b.5): de ngas mi shes pa e yin, and khyed kyis lha chos [line 6]
kyis bskyangs na shakya mu ne'i bstan pa yang phyi'i rgya
mtsho'i mtha' tshun chad khyab par mi 'gro ba e yin gsungs
so//. And on p. 401.4.2 (115a.2): nga bzang por e gtong gnam shes
gsungs/. All three of the above sentences are from supposed
direct quotes of Koden's words. Cf. Koden's letter of invitation,
D. Schuh, Erlasse und Sendschreiben, pp. 32f, line 13: khyod kyi
chos go ba'i dam bca' dang e 'gal/ and lines 16-17: (sems can)
mang po la gnod pa byas na (khyod) mi skrag pa e yin/.
23. D. Schuh, Erlasse und Sendschreiben, p. 41.
24. Bsod-nams-grags-pa, Pan-chen. Rgyal rabs 'phrul gyi Ide
mig gam deb ther dmar po'am deb gsar ma [Deb ther dmar po
gsar ma]. Text and partial translation published in G. Tucci, Deb
t'er dmar po gsar ma, Serie Orientale Roma, vol. 24 (1971). The
origin of this passage of the Deb ther dmar po gsar ma was
noticed by D. Schuh, Erlasse und Sendschreiben, p. 40.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Mr. Y. Fukuda for
help in obtaining some of the sources used in this article, and
Prof. D. Seyfort Ruegg for several useful comments.


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