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From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Following the religious preceptorship that emerged in Tangut state (Chin.: Great Hsia or Hsi Hsia 西夏, 1038-1227) as a model, Mongol rulers adopted this institution of imperial preceptorship (Chin.: ti-shih 帝師) as a means of dealing with the increasing multiethnic population within its territory. First Chinese Buddhism, and then Tibetan Buddhism won over the Mongol Royal family. 'Phags-pa was a well known Tibetan scholar-monk who was recognized as “imperial preceptor” (1260) and “state preceptor” later by Kublai Khan.

'Phags-pa (1235-1280) was a member of the Sa skya sect of Buddhism. 'Phags-pa accompanied his uncle Kunga Gyaltsen, the fourth forefather of the Sa skya sect to Liangzhou for an interview with Prince Godan in 1244. After Kunga Gyaltsen died in Liangzhou in 1251, 'Phags-pa remained in the Huanhua monastery in Liangzhou at his age of sixteen. 'Phags-pa became an important historical figure since he had an interview with the then Prince Kublai on Mt. Liupanshan in 1253. Kublai received a Buddhist consecration (Abhiseka) by 'Phags-pa in 1253 and treated him as his tutor thereafter. When Kublai ascended the throne, he granted 'Phags-pa the title of “Imperial Preceptor” and gave him responsibility for Buddhist affairs within Yuan dynasty’s territory. Later, 'Phags-pa was also granted a title “Great Treasure Prince of Dharma” due to his invention of a Mongolian script, called “'Phags-pa Script” nowadays, which was promoted throughout the state in the course of Yuan dynasty; and honored with the title of “Imperial Preceptor of the Yuan Dynasty”.

In addition to invent “'Phags-pa Script”, 'Phags-pa also introduced the cult of Yamantaka into China, and it seems that 'Phags-pa had knowledge of medicine as well. 'Phags-pa, therefore, was not merely a powerful religious figure, but also was an important scholar in other areas. His huge influence on Mongol was mainly accomplished by tutoring or advising the member of the royal family, rather than the civilians within the state. Kublai’s choice of 'Phags-pa remains controversial, in part due to the young age at which he was recognized as Kublai’s tutor. Nevertheless, 'Phags-pa was a promising monk and the Mongolian influence on him was hugely important for Kublai to control the multiethnic state.

From the Tibetan perspective, 'Phags-pa was a prominent Lama for many reasons. 'Phags-pa went back to Sa skya in the summer of 1264 and he set up thirteen official posts. 'Phags-pa came back Sa skya in 1274 due to the social disorder in Tubo, with the permission from Kublai Khan. He died in Sa skya on November 24, 1280. Ye Rinchen, 'Phags-pa’s brother succeeded his position of Imperial Preceptor afterwards. 'Phags-pa was granted posthumously a title of “Lord Under the Divine Sky, Propagator of Literature of the Court, Great Sage of the Highest Virtue, Profound Wisdom and Accomplished Enlightenment, Great Treasure Prince of the Dharma, Prince of the Deities of Paradise, Pandita the Imerpial preceptor.” by Kublai. In memory of 'Phags-pa, Kublai ordered temples built for him in each prefecture and stupas in many areas; Significantly, the temples were supposed to be larger than that for Confucius, which signified the importance of Tibetan Buddhism as compared to the traditional Confucianism in the political realm of the Yuan dynasty.


    Petech, Luciano, Tibetan Relations with Sung China and with the Mongols, China among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries. Morris Rossabi (ed.) UC.P. 172-203
    Dunnell, Ruth, The Hsia Origins of the Yuan Institution of Imperial Preceptor, Asian Major, 3rd series, Vol. V, Part I, 1992, 85-111
    Watt, James C.Y., Wardwell, Anne E., When Silk Was Gold: Central Asian and Chinese Textiles, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 95-99
    Bechwith, Christopher I., Tibetan Science at the Court of the Great Khans, J Tib Society Vol.7, 1987, 5-7
    Rinchen Drashi, Tibetan Buddhism and the Yuan Royal Court, Tibetan Studies, 1-26.
    Herbert, Franke, From Tribal Chieftain to Universal Emperor and God: The Legitimation of the Yuan Dynasty, Munich, 1978, 58- 64;
    Herbert, Franke, Consecration of the “White Stupa” in 1279, Asian Major, 3rd series, Vol, II, Part 1, 155-183

Entry by Lan Wu

see also; Drogön Chögyal Phagpa