In the spring of 2019, our Classical Tibetan II class met twice weekly under the guidance of Gen Pema Bhum. Class members consisted of Constantine Lignos, now a Ph.D. student at Columbia University; Xinyi Zhang, masters student at Columbia University; and myself, Bart Qian, Ph.D. student at Columbia University.

sa gdung-1



The Genealogy of the Sakya Khon Lineage was compiled by the monk Jamgön Amnye Zhab in 1269 and based on several previous versions of the Sakya genealogy. The excerpt we translated records the conversation between Pakpa Lodrö Gyeltsen (1235-1280, BDRC P1048) and the Mongol King Kublai Khan (1215-1294), who in establishing a patron-priest relationship is offering to his religious teacher Pakpa what is referred to here as "chol kha gsum."  (The term generally refers to the tripartite geo-political division of Tibet: Dbus gtsang, Mdo stod, and Mdo smad).

After Sakya Pandita wrote a letter to call the people of Tibet pay tribute and submit to the Mongols in 1247 (https://library.columbia.edu/locations/eastasian/tibetan/translations.html), the Sakya Lineage became the main proxy between Tibet and the Mongol Empire, which territory ranged from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea, from Siberia to what is now Afghanistan. Paul Pelliot argues that the Tibetan word chol kha is a transcription of an originally Mongol word čölgä, meaning “district,” corresponding to the Chinese administrative unit lu (Ch. 路). Though common understanding of this geopolitical division chol kha gsum was introduced during the Sakya-Yuan administration of Tibetan areas, based on primary source research, Eveline Washul discovers that this was a Sakya pa creation in a later period. She argues that the offering of chol kha gsum was “a rewriting of history by those who were once powerful to secure and elevate their place in historical memory.” (Washul, 2016) Our translation project provides context to understanding Sakya pa's creation of the Tibetan three districts chol kha gsum. 

Translation (folia 1-12)

(For the 12 Tibetan manuscript folia, click here.)


   In the ox year, Se Chen Khan (Kublai Khan) invited Pakpa to arrive in the palace (court). Kublai Khan asked questions [to Pakpa] which he had [previously] asked others, but they remained unanswered with doubts, and [Pakpa] answered with reasoning. [The King] was delighted. 

   Then the King said, “In your Tibetan land, who were great figures in the past?”

   Pakpa Rinpoche said, “In my Tibetan land, there existed the three dharma raja ancestral kings who were great.”

   “For what reasons are these three great?” [Kublai Khan] asked.

   “Songtsen Gampo was the emanation of Avalokiteshvara; Trisong Detsen was the emanation of Manjushri; Ralpacan was the emanation of Vajra Dorje.  Therefore they are great figures.”

   “In your Tibetan land, who were brave and capable men in the past?” [Kublai Khan] asked.

   “There existed a brave and capable man called Milarepa”, [Pakpa] answered

   [Kublai Khan] asked: "Why is that?” 

   “In his first part of life [he] subdued enemy; during his second part of life, he practiced Dharma and attained spiritual accomplishment”, [Pakpa] answered.


   “In you country, who’s man with great knowledge existed before ?” King asked

   “The man with great knowledge is like my guru, Chos rje sa skya pa (Sakya Pandita).” answered Pakspa.

   “How much knowledge does this Lama Chos rje ba have?  How much he knows? How much did you learn from your guru?”

   “I took around of one handful of water from ocean-like knowledge of my lama.  My guru’s knowledge is like ocean, I just got a handful water of knowledge from that.  The king is going to put military tax on Tibet.  Then the king said he is going to send (people) to put military tax and to collect wealth from Tibet.

"There’s no siazable land and wealth.”  Pakspa begged the king many times that Tibet is a remote and small place.  "Please don’t send soldiers! Here’s no expanded land and wealth in Tibet so please don't soldiers to Tibet."

   Although he asked, the king does not agree with that.  Pakspa’s wish is not accomplished and Pakspa is not happy.

   “Because there’s no need for me to stay here, let me go home.” he said.

   “Okay, your request is permitted,” Therefore the king said.

   Queen Chabu said to the king: “A monk like this is rare.”


   “Then, you are allowed to go,” the king said.

   The queen, Chabu, suggested: “My king, before this monk, Phagpa, the old monks of the Tselpa Kagyu or any of the others didn’t have even a part of his knowledge of old legends.  Because of that, don’t send him back to Tibet and still have priest-patron conversations with him and ask religious questions of him.”

   The king listened and then asked [Phagspa] many questions.  Phagspa appeared very arrogant.

   The king said, “How can you be so arrogant? What do you have [to be arrogant about]?”

   “I don’t have any power.  But before I was in a high enough position as a priest for kings from Xixia, India, Bhutan, and Tibet that they could make requests of me,” said Phagpa.

   “When were [you] the Tibetan king?”[1] the king said, “Which king respected you? Who requested initiations from you? The size of your body doesn’t match the size of the lies you tell.”

   “When I was the Tibetan king, there was a battle with China.  Tibet won and two-thirds of the whole world came under the power of Tibet[‘s king]…”


“…After that, Tibet and China aligned with marriage; a princess and [a statue of] Jowo Shakyamuni were dispatched and arrived in Tibet.  It was like that, and it was recorded in written documents in rgyal thogs med, please [go] look,” [Pakpa] said. 

   Upon reviewing the previous Chinese archives, it was recorded exactly as Pakpa said, and the King’s mind was pleased. 

   Then Pakpa talked again: “In addition, ten million years ago, rain of blood had been falling to the world for a week.” 

   The Chinese archives also recorded this, and the king་was very convinced. 

   Again Pakpa continued: “My ancestors were offered by the Tangut Kings a silken canopy that can cover a deer’s horn.”

   The king sent [someone] to Sakya to check and [the messenger replied], “There is.” The king and his son both generate faith. Then, the queen (Chabi) [said]: “It is good that you didn’t send him back to Tibet, Sakya pa has some profound secret Tantric initiation, that the other sects do not especially have. [We] should ask for that [Tantric initiation].” [Chabi] said.


   The king said, “You go first. If it’s not so bad, then I will also request the initiation.”

   The queen received the initiation of the Kye Dorje and became very pleased. Then, the queen said, “What is the price for the initiation?”

   Phagspa replied: “Offer your body, wealth, and social power, all of these.  Especially whatever you are attached to and has great value to you.”

   The queen said, “When I [married] my husband, my parents gave me this most valuable earring with a pearl on it.”  She offered that.

   [Later on,] Phagspa sold the pearl to a Mongolian for one full dre[2] of gold and 1,000 dre of silver.  [With that money,] he founded the Sakya Golden Roof Chos ‘Khor Temple/Monatery in Tsang Chu Mik.  T


   Then, the queen said, :“Because of that it is good to listen.”

   The king said: “Do like that.” Then the king asks the lama: "In general, you are not able to keep loyalty."

   “At that time, there's no good translator, so let's do it later.” said Pakspa.

   The king said, “What loyalty I need to keep?” [Kublai Khan asks]

   “After receiving initiation, Lama sits on seat of honor, you prostrate your body [to Lama], whatever Lama says you should listen.  Your mind should not go against Lama’s mind.”

   “That's not going to happen.” said the king.

   The queen reconciliates that when Lama gives teaching and when a small number of people receiving teaching, lama sits on seat of honor. When the king's lineage, son-in-law, local chiefs and people get together, the king needs to show his control over these people, so he needs to sit on seat of honor. Whatever Lama said on anything related to Tibetan issues, the king has to accept, the king cannot give any order on that without consulting the lama.

   [Queen Chabu continues the reconciliation]: “The other major and minor affairs (that has nothing to do with Tibet), because Lama has so big compassion, I’m afraid if Lama is asked for a favor, the kingdom cannot be controlled, so lama cannot interfere with words.”


   Lama’s speech proclaimed: “It is like that time [when] you Mongols could not enter a strong fortification, without fighting for a long time. I haven’t even completed my sevasadhana (service and worship); so prior to the Tantric initiation I [need to] accomplish sevasadhana.” [Pakpa] said.


   During the meditation, the king’s messenger, Lotsawa, was quickly summoned. The king lead the 25 people who received the initiation three times and the Sakya dpal kye rdor rje initiation was given completely.  From that, the Mongol Kingdom began to be supported by the Vajrayana.

   For the first initiation fee, [according to the author] 130,000 households were offered to Phagspa.  Each household contains 4,000 lha lde and 6,000 people. 

   The second initiation fee was the primary gift of three areas of Tibet by means of the dharma shell.  Since all of this was offered, the three areas of Tibet are known as one province.  About that, from Upper Ngari to above Sog la skya po is called, “The Dharma Province [Central Tibet]”.  From below Sog la skya bo to above the curve of the Yellow River is called “Mdo stod Province.”  From below the curve of the Yellow River to above Gya mchod rten dkar po is called, “Chad gyad gling rda Province” (Amdo).


   The house size should be six pillars, and the family members are two couples, one boy and one girl. And then servants of one male and one female. The total family members are six. As for animals, there are some sheep, horse and donkey, female and male cow.

   For fields, that takes 12 loads of yak burden in Mongolian measurement system. 25 of like that (dud qiong) qis one dud chen (big unit).  Two dud chen is one rta mgo  (horse head), known like that.


   Two [rda mgo] forms one hundred-household. Ten [hundred-households] forms one thousand-household. Ten [thousand-household] forms one ten-thousand-household. Ten [ten-thousand-household] forms one klu. Ten [klu] forms one zhing.  Under the territory of Mongol Sechen Khan, there are eleven zhing. Though the three Tibetan areas is a bit smaller for one zhing because it is where the Lama (Pakpa) is from, where he teaches and spreads the dharma, so it will be offered as one zhing.

   For the last initiation offering, according to Lama’s order, [Mongols] stopped throwing people in the river in the Chinese area. Pakpa was very pleased.


[1] Alt: “When did Tibet have a king?”

[2] One dre equals about 13kg.