Sakya Pandita was born in Sakya in 1251. When he was crawling, he used to repeat some words that the mother did not understand, and it had her worried. She asked the boy's learned uncle Dragpa: "This boy says unclear words. Does he not have a speech defect?"
The young Sakya Pandita devoted himself to his studies. The Sakya Chronicles, p. 110, records that when he was eighteen, he had a dream. After his dream he understood the words and meanings of the Abhidharma.
Abidharma are ancient (3rd century BCE and later) Buddhist summaries or abstracts and systematic lists of Buddhist text.
Sakya Pandita was the nephew of Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147–1216), and became the main disciple of this scholar. Eventually his uncle gave him the religious name Künga Gyeltsen. He became the abbot-ruler of Sakya when his uncle Dragpa Gyaltsen passed away in 1216.
Sakya Pandita taught Buddhism in many places of Tibet, and became known as a great scholar in Tibet, Mongolia, China and India. He is one of the most important figures in the Sakya lineage. And the Sakya school is one of four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the Red Hat Orders along with the Nyingma and Kagyu.
Sakya Pandita composed many treatises. Among all his works the Treasury of Good Sayings is the most popular.
Later Tibetan historiography has it that Genghis Khan subjugated a king of Tibet in 1206, and that the grandson of Genghis Khan, Godan Khan sent an invasion force into Tibet in 1240. The Mongols reached the Phanyul Valley north of Lhasa, killing some 500 monks and destroying and looting monasteries, villages and towns. An abbot suggested the Mongols to contact Sakya Pandita. Godan drew the conclusion that Sakya Pandita was an important and wise lama who could show the road to salvation. Thus, in 1244, Sakya Pandita was summoned to come to Godan's royal camp at Liangzhou. As Sakya Pandita continually preached sermons along his way he did not come to Prince Godan's camp until 1246. At that time Godan was away. Sakya Pandita and Godan first met in early 1247. He gave religious instruction to the prince and is also said to have cured Prince Godan of a serious illness, probably leprosy.
In return, Sakya was used as the main agent of the Mongols in Tibetan affairs. Sakya Pandita sent a letter to the Tibetans from Mongol China. From it:
Please, do not say, "Sakya Pandita has gone to Mongolia, and is no longer helpful to us."
Sakya Pandita died in 1251, at the age of seventy, in the Trulpaide temple in Liangzhou. He was unmarried, so he had chosen his brother's son Chogyal Phagpa as his heir.
After Sakya Pandita's death, the new Mongol ruler was Möngke Khan. Chogyal Phagpa won a position in the court of Möngke's brother Kublai Khan and became the tantric guru of the prince in 1258. When Kubilai came to power in 1260 he appointed Phagpa "preceptor of the kingdom". Thus began a strong Sakya-Mongol alliance that lasted until about the middle of the 14th century.
Sakya Pandita is well known among Tibetans for his works. In addition to five major works there are three more. They include the Elegant Sayings of Sakya Pandita. His works are still included in the monastic curricula today.
In a ripe age he wrote:
By the power of previous lives' mastery,
Edited by Dharmabhadra
Sakya Pandita's text was edited by Dharmabhadra (1772–1851), and carved onto birchwood blocks. Dharmabhada's family were poor shepherds. The boy started learning reading and writing at the age of eleven from his uncle Genpo Lhabu. Because of his poverty he had to practice writing on smooth slates found in the mountains while watching his flock of sheep. He was later known for his beautiful handwriting.
At the age of fourteen, he joined a hermitage. After the death of his brother, mother, and maternal aunt, he moved to another hermitage at nineteen, and at twenty he became an ordained monk. The name he got then, may be translated into the Sanskrit Dharmabhadra.
He received many teachings on various subjects and topics, and studied grammar, poetry, Sanskrit phonology, composition, and related topics.
When he had become a renowned scholar, he started to meditate intensely at the age of thirty-five and kept at it until he drew his last breath. In between his meditation sessions he visited monasteries, gave teachings and attracted many students. He also found time to compose texts. His biography mentions that he wrote 185 written works that are collected into ten volumes.
He passed away at the age of eighty.
(Samten Chhosphel 2010)
A text aimed at Lojong training
Dr Nicolas Bommarito places the text into the setting of lojong, mind training - which is a marked feature of Tibetan Buddhist training. Lojong is a type of meditative practice with focus on salient, suitable points to build into one's living, and perhaps escalating one's altruism by stages too.
Just as birds with undeveloped wings cannot fly, people with undeveloped understanding cannot help others much, and may even hurt themselves by trying to soar high in altruist living. Therefore it is held that less severe teachings, practices, and requirements might better fit those of Small Ability so as to nurture the growth of their wings in ways that matter.
Bommarito also says that "Elegant Sayings", a popular genre of ethical advice in Tibet, are related to the Indian subhashita format in verse form, usually with four line stanzas with seven syllables per line. Elegant sayings about secular affairs in daily life form part of traditional Indian literature. (Davenport 2000, 1-2). In Tibetan schools such elegant sayings (read: verses) are memorised and appreciated.
The most popular of such Tibetan texts, The Elegant Sayings of Sakya Pandita often explains the traits and conduct of the wise, the noble and the foolish, and offers advice about common human problems and tendencies. The advice often comes with metaphors from everyday life.
Sakya Pandita's text inspired many similar texts.
A book of "ordinary wisdom"
A well received fresh translation of Sakya Pandita's text is in John Davenport's Ordinary Wisdom (2000). It includes a commentary by Sakya Khenpo Sangyay Tenzin (1904–90), which aims to explain the obscure and enigmatic verses and the other verses too, and in part forms a tall guide to living our lives through well founded and proper shame (!) and developing 'yon tan' knowledge, too, says H.H. Sakya Trizin in the book's foreword. (cf. ib. xiv, xv)
India has a long tradition of folk wisdom expressed in short, easily meorised verses that form "treatises that deal with right or wise or moral conduct or behavior, prudence, policy, political wisdom or science." "Wise sayings" or "good advice" form a subgroup of this Indian genre. They are made to offer good, eluqient, witty counsel, by and large. Sakya Pandita's sayings are part of such a long-standing tradition. Three sources of this folk wisdom were available to him when he composed the work, namely the Jataka stories, the Panchatantra, and the nitishastras (several collections of wise sayings), says Davenport. (Ib. 5-7)
The wise are not satisfied by eloquent sayings. - Sakya Pandita, in NB 30
Two pertinent questions should arise:
1. What to do with his elegant sayings? Abridge them well and focus on the key points ("bare bones").
2. And what are the wise satisfied by? Superior meditation methods and skills.
The bare bones approach suits many who want to go into the main ideas, or go for the salient and wise thoughts to contemplate by some apt lojong, or a lot of it. Therefore, the following sayings are for most part rendered abstracts that are rooted in four translations of the work, namely 101 verses translated by Dr Nicolas Bommarito (NB); a translation edited by Dr Lozang Jamspal (2003); a translation of 234 verses by Tarthang Tulku (TT); and one more - There are about 130 abstracts and bon mots in the following.
A man who cares nothing for others, probably makes no sincere effort for them. (TT 40, mod)
A Nepali may know a pomegranate's flavour by its colour, without having to taste it. (22)
A person who wants prosperity should mainly preserve the Dharma. How can wealth that corrupts the Dharma last even in this world? (326)
A wise person in lands of declining fortune, even though he is not robbed he may be ruined by others' borrowing. (371)
A wise person looks wise to the wise. (116)
A wise person who lives in a land of plenty may not be robbed. (371)
Abandon even kinsmen if they harm you. (210)
After having thoroughly understood the nature of all phenomena, applied one's mind to meditation, and abandoned afflictions and their propensities, one may then become a Perfect Enlightened One. (446)
Among fools, the monkey-catcher is honoured with wealth and food, while the sage goes empty-handed. (75 abr)
Assign a task to someone who knows the job. (366)
Associate with good-natured people; those who act thus should be always happy. (350)
Bad activities . . . if someone asks you to do them and you agree, you are foolish. . . . Who could say, "Give away all you have"? (302)
Be cautious if you encounter a cunning learned person, and quickly abandon a cunning ignorant person. (364, partial)
Be honest to honest people and steady around unsteady ones. (382)
Because it can talk, the parrot is caged while chirping birds wander happily. (228)
Befriending a villain is a cause of destruction. (258, abr)
By avoiding worldly hustle and bustle, you may get happy, but if you don't avoid them, at least keep company with good people. (435)
Cage a swan in your house, and it wants to fly back to its lake. (214)
Can a virtuous person be honoured in a crowd of wicked people? (91)
Consider how those who want to slay their enemies first devote themselves to making weapons. (380)
Consider where things appropriately belong, and keep things in their proper places. (395)
Cunning people speak sweetly, not out of respect but to advance their own purposes. (145)
Be wisely and diligently discrete, so as to avoid losing much of what is valuable by flaunting. If the monkey didn't dance, why would anyone put a rope around its neck? (332, mod)
Diligently listen to wise teachings - out of fear of being reborn as a fool in the future. (440)
Don't people think you're crazy when you talk too much? The quiet person earns more respect than the talktive one. (351, 352)
Even a single man, by right action, can overcome a host of foes. (TT 4)
Even for a great expert in method, how difficult is it to bind a servant into servitude? (NB 17)
Even from children, wise men receive fine sayings. (TT 10)
Even if foes speak pleasantly, intelligent people do not trust them. (317)
Even if you strive for the sake of this present life, you may succeed happily if you act in accord with Dharma. Observe the difference between the prosperity of virtuous people and that of thieves. (430)
Even though a wise person knows how to perform unworthy acts, he should not perform them. (339)
Even when you have grown very old, you should still accumulate much learning. (306)
Even when wise people become very weak, they make others happy by telling proverbs. (118)
Foolish ones imitate celebrities. (117)
Gold and silver, though hard, can be melted, but melting a dog's ordure raises an awful stench. (106)
Harm done to the great may actually help them, but harm done to the just hurts. (113, mod)
Having caught a human, the old monkeys jeer, "There's one without a tail." (80)
How can a boat move in a field? (366)
How could oxen look with interest at a beautiful gold ornament adorned with jewels? (447)
However much you boil water, it's impossible for it to burn as fire. (280)
"I have demonstrated the holy Dharma of the Buddha in accord with the ways of the people," said Sakya Pandita (558)
If a skilful teacher teaches a parrot, it may learn how to recite. (Cf. p. 158)
If a wise person is not careful, faults can arise. If an intelligent one is very careful, faults will rarely arise. (315)
If many are in agreement, even the weak can achieve great aims. (253)
If someone is very fortunate, that is a sign of accumulated merit. (295)
If wise people grow old, they still study for the sake of future lives. (438)
If you apply yourself to something, sooner or later it may become easy. (400)
If you cannot tolerate that others prosper, then your intolerance destroys your own prosperity by being jealous. (422)
If you do not know other great activities, you are prone to get stuck in your ruts. (Cf. 357)
If you know religious theory yet do not practice it, what use is your religion? (270)
If you scrub charcoal, there's no chance it will turn white. (175)
If you see the hustle and bustle of worldly affairs as a cause of misery, then give up most hopes for worldly attainments. (362)
If you wait until a meteor comes crashing down on your head, what will you do then? (418)
If you want to increase the water in a well, it can be good advice to draw some water from it. (361)
If you want to walk the paths of good conduct, maintain your conduct rightly. (450, abr)
In a land where evil people make trouble, good people are neglected. (176)
In the wise person's own region, less reverence is received than in other regions. (NB 23)
In this world, it is uncertain whether something loaned will be returned. (403)
In whatever manner you fashion a wicked man, it is impossible to make his nature good. You may wash charcoal with zeal, but you will not make it white. (TT 93)
"Is your work finished?" Death doesn't ask you that. Hence, work that you much want to finish, finish it as soon as you can. (433 abr)
Inferior beings do not renounce harmful actions. (NB 35)
Inferior people may manifest good, artificial conduct. (60)
Judging a cow's age is no great accomplishment. (28)
Knowing that tomorrow brings another death, one must learn today. (NB 7)
Learning how to is the cause of gaining Buddhahood. (562)
Mantras that are not practised and the studies of a forgetful person - in times of need, many have been deceived by these. (242)
Many can get milk from a cow. (NB 20)
Many have been destroyed by taking bribes from the powerful. (TT 94)
Misers don't give gifts. (405)
Molten gold and silver soon harden when taken from the fire. (443)
To know well . . . is a mark of an excellent man. (Cf. TT 29)
Observe how the creeping vine that leans on a big tree reaches the topmost heights. (236)
Old monkeys when conceiving of people, laugh and say "They have no tails!" (NB 80)
One must accept a waterfall flows downwards. (NB 59)
One who wants to debate without knowing the issues may become an object of people's ridicule. (cf. 259)
People born together get separated by the force of their actions from previous lives. (426)
People pray for long life and look with fear on old age. (267 abr)
People search for flaws in great-hearted people, not in inferior people. People look for cracks in precious gems, but who looks for them in firewood? (53)
People sometimes succeed accidentally, but can you consider them capable because of that? (85)
People who are slaves to their cravings pursue wealth even at the cost of their own lives. (412)
People who are very virtuous within, may be despised if they look bad on the outside. (217)
People who say good things are rare, but even rarer are those who are mindful. (169)
Poison can ruin the body yet can also become medicine. (313)
Possessions of those without insight, usually bring few benefits to them. (NB 88)
Rare in this world is a person of virtue who speaks good sayings among the wise. (239)
Riches without understanding are of little advantage. (TT 52
Some people seized by ghosts are seen leaping to their deaths to be rid of their pain. (65)
Some who simply strive for a full stomach are just hogs minus the bristles. (68)
Superior and inferior persons repay kindness differently. (45)
Swans flock together of their own accord at a lotus-covered lake. (233)
The best friend is one who does not deceive. (252)
The intelligent one is skillful about what should be accepted or rejected. (4)
The marks of a wicked person are many to tell. (100)
The process of karma travels a long distance. (398)
The rainbow in the sky is beautifully coloured, but seldom lasts a long time. (Cf. 346)
The virtuous rejoice in true speech. (225)
The wise accumulate merit. (295)
The wise declare gentleness itself to be sharp. (328)
The wise have an understanding of what to adopt and discard. (NB 2)
There are many forests, but few have the choice soil for growing sandalwood trees. Thus, too, even when there are many wise people, it is difficult for good sayings to appear. (454)
There is no certainty in the knowledge of a forgetful one and the friendship of the selfish in time of need. (220 abr)
Those who are even a little thoughtful should get rid of a fault on observing it. Someone who practises in this way, progresses from one stage to the next. (356)
Those who see into the distant future, have awareness. (NB 39)
Those worthy of respect and their retinues are attracted by generosity (for example being offered cakes). (320)
Though you may not become a sage in this life, your knowledge will be preserved for the future, just like wealth deposited and then reclaimed. (7)
Though equal benefits be conferred on the excellent and the vulgar, the return is not equal. (TT 21)
Under the roof of a ruined house and under a mountain given to landslides - people who dwell beneath these are always in fear. (164)
What a difference there is between the sandal-tree and the coal made of its wood. (TT 79)
What is helpful to one may cause pain to another. (TT 77)
What rich people say is considered wonderful, but what poor people say is discounted, even though it be true. (227)
What wise people would destroy themselves pretending to be altruistic? (191)
What wise person would want the unclean food that is eaten by dogs and pigs? (334)
When a lake dries up, many who depended on it leave. (TT 66, mod)
When good sayings are very plentiful there may no longer be a great demand for them. (353)
When learned people understand on their own, they should also look devotedly at the doctrines of the wise. (453)
When many work together for a goal, great things may be accomplished. (TT 100)
When one has a bad companion in the practice of raising a corpse, the performer will be eaten first. (373)
When the clouds are full of water, they move and rumble with thunder. (TT 106)
When virtuous people associate with wicked, they become affected by vice. (141)
When wicked people are praised too much, eventually they'll despise you. If you throw filth up into the sky, it can fall back down on your head. (393)
When you lift both feet at the same time you risk falling. (331)
When you lose sound modesty, your learning may become a means to a bad reputation. (123)
When you put ghee in a vessel, will not mice bite into it? (389)
When you yourself become appointed to leadership, it is for you to understand your own responsibilities. Though you have eyes for observing others, you need a mirror to look at yourself. (193 ampl.)
Wicked people first beguile you with their words, and if you don't watch out, they'll eventually deceive you. (146)
Wicked people look for the faults of others. (109)
Wicked persons tend to blame others for their own faults. (63)
Wise people should not make bad friends, have bad study habits, or indulge in bad thoughts or bad behaviour. Those who do are none other than fools. (376)
Wise people study things that improve both themselves and others. (378)
Without examining another place well, a previous home should not be abandoned. (331)
Without hurting his subjects, a ruler should gather taxes in a suitable way. If too much incense sap drips away, the Sala tree goes dry. (324)
You may become weak even if you take care. (129)
You should never do to others what you dislike (to be done] to you. (347)
Bommarito, Nicolas. 2010. "Tibetan Philosophy." In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Monthly Archives: April 2010.
Davenport, John T II, Sally D. Davenport, and Losang Thongden, trs. 2000. Ordinary Wisdom: Sakya Pandita's Treasury of Good Advice. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Samten Chhosphel. 2010. "Ngulchu Dharmabhadra," Treasury of Lives, accessed November 04, 2018,
Sakya Pandita. 2003. Treasury of Good Sayings of Sa skya Pandita, the Eminent Tibetan Lama, 1182–1251: Development of Awareness and Conduct. Ed. Lozang Jamspal. -- Geshe Lozang Jamspal holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, among other attainments. In his translation, the Tibetan words are translated one by one, and an English translation of each verse is offered also. One thing that one may see from it, is that there is room for different translations, a feature that Davenport et al (above) cover.
Sakya Pandita. nd. The Precious Treasury of Elegant Sayings. Tr. Nicolas Bommarito (University at Buffalo). -- The first three chapters, focusing on the wise, the noble, and the foolish, are translated by Dr. Bommarito, a philosophy professor at New York University and The University at Buffalo.
Tarthang Tulku, tr. nd. A Precious Treasury of Elegant Sayings by Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen. Budapest, HU: H.H. Sakya Trizin website.
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