Sa skya paN+Di ta

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PeopleSa skya paN+Di ta


ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜི་ཏ་
Sakya Paṇḍita(1182 - 1251) 

Sakya Paṇḍita Kunga Gyaltsen, commonly referred to as Sapaṇ, was the fourth of the Five Patriarchs of Sakya and the sixth Sakya throne holder. A member of the illustrious Khon family that established and controlled the Sakya tradition, he was an advocate for strict adherence to Indian Buddhist traditions, standing in opposition to Chinese or Tibetan innovations that he considered corruptions. In this regard he was a major player in what has been termed the Tibetan Renaissance period, when there was a move to reinvigorate Tibetan Buddhism’s connections to its Indian antecedents. He was instrumental in transmitting the Indian system of five major and five minor sciences to Tibet. As an ordained monk, Sapaṇ was instrumental in laying the groundwork for adherence to the Vinaya at Sakya Monastery, built under his successors. He authored more than one hundred texts and was also a prolific translator from Sanskrit. His writings are among the most widely influential in Tibetan literature and prompted commentaries by countless subsequent authors. Sapaṇ’s reputation as a scholar and Buddhist authority helped him forge close ties with powerful Mongols, relations that would eventually lead to the establishment of Sakya Monastery and its position of political power over the Thirteen Myriarchies of central Tibet.

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Philosophical positions of this person

There is some discrepancy between Sapen's use of the term tathāgata-essence and buddha-nature and other thinkers that use these terms synonymously. In Sapen's view, sentient beings do not possess the former, but do possess a more general form of the latter. So while the answer is a qualified "no" in terms of the more general debate on this issue and the way others have addressed it and asserted Sapen's position, strictly speaking from Sapen's view the answer could more accurately be a qualified "yes" as he does state all beings have a basic "inherent" buddha-nature, though this does not correspond to an essence that is endowed with enlightened qualities. The tricky issue being the equivalency of these terms tathāgata-essence and buddha-nature and the perception of the Sakya position by later authors.

  • "In verses 59-63 of Sapen's Distinguishing the Three Vows, he argues against the presentation of the existence of a tathāgata-essence or sugata-essence endowed with enlightened qualities in sentient beings. Sapen demonstrates that such a position would be tantamount to holding the view of the Sāṃkhya School, that the "result is present in its cause." Wangchuk, Tsering, The Uttaratantra in the Land of Snows, p. 27.
  • "It is evident from Distinguishing the Three Vows that the tathāgata-essence endowed with enlightened qualities does not exist in sentient beings. But does that mean that Sapen completely rejects the existence of tathāgata-essence in sentient beings?" Wangchuk, Tsering, The Uttaratantra in the Land of Snows, pp. 27-28.
  • "In Distinguishing the Three Vows, Sapen argues that tathāgata-essence, sugata-essence, buddha-essence, and buddha-element are synonyms, but, interestingly, he never mentions the associated term "buddha-nature" in this context. However, in his Illuminating the Thoughts of the Buddha (thub pa'i dgongs pa rab tu gsal ba), Sapen explains buddha-nature in this way: "The inherent [buddha-]nature exists in all sentient beings. The developmental [buddha-]nature exists [from the time that] one has developed bodhicitta. [The latter] does not exist in those who have not developed [bodhicitta]....So Sapen obviously has a problem accepting tathāgata-essence teachings as definitive, whereas he has no issue asserting that buddha-nature exists in all beings." Wangchuk, Tsering, The Uttaratantra in the Land of Snows, p. 28.

He predates the distinction but is clearly in line with the rangtong perspective.

"An opinion shared by rNgog and Sapan is that Buddha-nature should be understood in the sense of emptiness. The difference is that rNgog directly equates Buddha-nature with emptiness, whereas Sapan regards the intentional ground (dgongs gzhi) of Buddha-nature to be emptiness." Kano, K., Buddha-Nature and Emptiness, pp. 309-310.

Other names

  • ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་ · other names (Tibetan)
  • ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜི་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་ · other names (Tibetan)
  • kun dga' rgyal mtshan · other names (Wylie)
  • sa skya paN+Di ta kun dga' rgyal mtshan · other names (Wylie)
  • Sapaṇ · other names
  • Sapen · other names
  • Sapan · other names

Affiliations & relations

On the topic of this person