A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes

Essential Distinctions among the Individual Liberation, Great Vehicle, and Tantric Systems

By Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltshen
Translated by Jared Douglas Rhoton

Subjects: Tibetan Buddhism
Series: SUNY series in Buddhist Studies
Paperback : 9780791452868, 384 pages, April 2002
Hardcover : 9780791452851, 384 pages, April 2002

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Table of contents



Note on Transcription

List of Abbreviations

Part I: Sakya Pandita’s Life and Work


Part II: A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes


Vows of Individual Liberation

Vows of the Bodhisattva

Vows of the Vajra Vehicle


Part III: Six Letters by Sakya Pandita

1. Reply to the Questions of the Translator from Chak

2. Reply to the Questions of the Translator of Lowo

3. A Letter to the Noble-Minded

4. A Letter to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Ten Directions

5. Reply to the Questions of Dokorwa the Kadampa

6. Reply to the Questions of Namkha Bum the Kadampa

Appendix A: Gorampa's Outline of A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes

Appendix B: Transliteration of the Tibetan Text of A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes




About the Cover

The first English translation of the influential and controversial Tibetan Buddhist classic.


A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes presents the first English translation of the sDom gsum rab dbye, one of the most famous and controversial doctrinal treatises of Tibetan Buddhism. Written by Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltshen (1182–1251), a founder of the Sakya school and one of Tibet's most learned sages, The Three Codes strongly influenced subsequent religious and intellectual traditions in Tibet—and sparked a number of long-lasting doctrinal and philosophical disputes, some of which persist today.

In The Three Codes, Sakya Pandita discusses the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Tantric vows of Buddhist conduct, which often diverge and contradict each other. He criticizes, on at least one point or another, later practitioners of almost every lineage, including the Kadampa, Kagyupa, and Nyingmapa, for contradicting the original teachings of their own traditions.

Jared Douglas Rhoton received a Ph.D. in Indic Studies from Columbia University and was the translator of Deshung Rinpoche's The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception: An Oral Commentary on "The Three Visions" (Nang Sum) of Ngorchen Könchog Lhündrub.


"[Sakya Pandita's] treatise addresses both major and minor errors or unlawful deviations from the Dharma, and Rhoton's ample notes help the reader through the conceptual jungle of a philosophical work of this nature." — Traditional Yoga Studies Interactive

"The first English translation of Sakya Pandita's thirteenth-century The Three Codes, together with his epistles, provides ready access to one of the pivotal scholastic polemic works of Tibetan Buddhism. Sakya Pandita offers a remarkable lens upon a culture struggling to define what authentic appropriation of Buddhist thought and practice from other cultures should entail, pointedly criticizing opposing systems that represent other Tibetan attempts at such appropriation." — John Makransky, coeditor of Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars