The Dharma's Gatekeepers

Sakya Paṇḍita on Buddhist Scholarship in Tibet

By Jonathan C. Gold

Subjects: Religion, Buddhism, Asian Studies, Asian Religion And Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791471661, 279 pages, June 2008
Hardcover : 9780791471654, 279 pages, September 2007

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Table of contents

1. The Lion’s Roar in the Assembly:  Sa-pan’s Scholarly Ideal

The Gateway in the History of Tibetan Learning
Śākyaśrībhadra and the Indianization of Tibet
The Five Sciences and the Goal of Scholarly Perfection

2. Beware of the Dharma in Translation:  A Warning to Interpreters

Introduction: Translation in Tibet and in the Gateway
Obscure Vocabulary
The Techniques of Translators
Translation Mistakes
Unintelligible Context
Untranslatability Denied

3. The Dharma Is Only Words:  A Philosophical Authorization of the Linguist

Skill in Means in the Gateway
The “Term Generality” at the Foundation of Grammar
The “Term Generality” in Sakyapa Epistemology
Sa-pan and Saussure on the Conceptuality and Conventionality of Language
Sa-pan and Sönam Tsemo on the Dharma as Language
Linguistics as the Study of Convention: The “Speech Intention”

4. The Expert Knows the Context:  Sa-pan’s Appeals to Buddhist Hermeneutics

Introduction: Sa-pan’s Contribution to Buddhist Hermeneutics
Tantric Hermeneutics in the Background of the Gateway
How Words Get Their Meaning
Sa-pan’s Previous Position: Linguistic Analysis in the Treasury
Sa-pan’s Predecessors on “Well Known in the World” and “Well Known in Treatises”
Well-known Terminology and Linguistic Convention
Sa-pan’s General Theory of the “Well Known”  and Tantric Hermeneutics
Which Scholars Form the Community of Interpreters?

5. The Message in the Medium:  Intellectual Norms and Protocols

The Three Kinds of Meaning in a Good Verse of Reverence
Introductory Verses and the Social Function of Rhetoric
Synopsis as a Display of Mastery
Ensuring Excellence by Declaring a Legitimate Purpose
How to Make Meaning Evident

6. Appealing to the Translocal:  Sanskrit Poetics for a Tibetan Buddhist Elite

Sa-pan’s Buddhicization of the Rasas
Applying the Rasas
Poetics in Defense of the Dharma
Introducing Poetics to Tibetans
Conclusion: Who Benefits from Aesthetic Cultivation?

7. Conclusion: Thoughts on a Future Comparative Intellectual History

A: Outline
B: The Gateway to Learning


Tibetan Orthographic Equivalents

A study of the seminal Tibetan Buddhist work, Gateway to Learning.


The Dharma's Gatekeepers offers an incisive analysis of one of the most important works in Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history: Sakya Paṇḍita's Gateway to Learning (Mkhas pa 'jug pa'i sgo). Writing in a time when a distinctively Tibetan tradition of Buddhism was first emerging, Sakya Paṇḍita wanted to present Tibetan intellectuals with what he took to be an authentically Indian (and therefore, authentically Buddhist) understanding of the nature and tasks of intellectual life—with a view of how scholarship was understood and practiced in the great monastic colleges of India.

In The Dharma's Gatekeepers, we see Sakya Paṇḍita building the intellectual foundation for Tibetan scholasticism through a series of subtle, brilliant, and quintessentially Buddhist arguments about the nature of learning itself, with his elaboration of a model of scholastic education skillfully drawing together ideas in Buddhist epistemology, philosophy of language, translation theory, hermeneutics, and literary theory. In this study of Sakya Paṇḍita's remarkable work, Jonathan C. Gold shows that the Gateway to Learning addresses issues that remain of concern to contemporary intellectuals; this thirteenth-century work has much to contribute to our understanding of such issues as translation and translatability, theories of reading and authorship, the connections between religious values and academic institutions, and theories of language and literary aesthetics. The book includes a translation of significant parts of Sakya Paṇḍita's text.

Jonathan C. Gold is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Drew University.


"Sa-paṇ played a central part in the transfer of Buddhist culture to Tibet. Gold's book provides a valuable window into how this great scholar understood the enterprise of cultural translation in which he was engaged. It should be of interest not only to Tibetanists, but to many concerned with similar processes of cultural translation and adaptation in other contexts." — Religions of South Asia

"Gold has taken us a step forward in the exploration of the Tibetan intellectual history, and particularly of Sakyapa learning." — Journal of the American Oriental Society

"This book is a study of the Gateway to Learning … The writing throughout is elegant and entertaining. The book is naturally of specialist interest, but it also deals with larger issues surrounding translation, religious authority and language. The way these have been approached will appeal to everyone interested in the history of religion and Indian literature." — Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

"To its credit, this book poses a host of questions to the fields of translation studies, theoretical linguistics, and hermeneutics in addition to Indian and Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history." — Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"The Dharma's Gatekeepers strikes an impressive balance. Gold details the very specific concerns of a thirteenth-century Tibetan Buddhist scholar driven to maintain traditions adopted from ancient India. In the process, he casts light on currently debated issues in translation, aesthetics, hermeneutics, and authority." — H-Net Reviews

"The Gateway is not an easy text to understand. Happily … Gold has risen to the challenge. His translations are accurate and readable, and his penetrating analysis of the text elegantly connects Sakya Pandita's claims to issues in translation studies, the epistemology of testimony, linguistics and linguistic anthropology, hermeneutics, rhetoric, poetics, education, and the study of the aesthetic dimensions of political power in India and Tibet … a very fine book and one that deserves a wide readership." — International Journal of Hindu Studies

"Although parts of this important text have been previously translated and examined, Gold's analysis of what he calls Sakya Pandita's 'neoconservatism' is a fresh contribution, offering a fine examination of the ideals, methods, and anxieties of the Tibetan scholastic community." — Buddhadharma

"This is a fascinating study of a major work in Tibetan intellectual history. Written with nuance and grace, it is poised to make a major contribution to the study of some of the key conceptual and ethical foundations of Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism and its relation to the intellectual traditions of India. In wider terms, it contributes to important discussions in the humanities." — Janet Gyatso, coeditor of Women in Tibet