Sha-lo-pa Kuan-chao/ Shaluopa Guanzhao/ Shes rab dpal

Sha-lo-pa Kuan-chao沙羅巴was a Tibetan Buddhist cleric, introduced to the Mongol court by his influential teacher, ’Phags-pa Lama. He then spent the greater part of his life in China, not only as a monk cooperating with the government managing Buddhist affairs, but also as a scholar, who was versed in many languages, translating Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. The effort to reconstruct Sha-lo-pa’s life with clues found in Western literature and Tibetan sources is challenging, since there is no substantial information on his biography. He is merely mentioned along side Tibetan Buddhism under the Mongols in the 13th and 14th centuries. The only account regarding his life is in Chinese, in Fozu Lidai Tongzai 佛祖歷代通載, “Encyclopedia of Buddha and his patriarchs under successive dynasties,” an annalistic chronicle compiled by the Ch’an monk Nien-ch’ang. The following is a broad view of Sha-lo-pa’s biography in Fo-tsu li-tai t’ung-tsai:

Sha luo ba (1259-1314) came from Jining 積寧. His personal name was Sha luo ba Guanzhao. Due to the facts that he had spent a great part of his life in China and befriended with many Chinese intellectuals, he also adopted a Chinese name (hao), Xueyan xue yan 雪岩 “Snow Cliff”. He was the youngest of four brothers. At a very young age, he already shaved his head and became a monk, following the guidance of the Imperial Preceptor ’Phags-pa. ’Phags-pa ordered him to go to La-wen-pu, whose knowledge of the essentials of the esoteric Buddhism was impressive, and studied with him.

Sha luo ba’s role in translation is important. When Emperor Shizu [Qubilai] received lectures from the imperial Preceptor ’Phags-pa, Sha luo ba was ordered to translate his words. The emperor was impressed by his translation and honored him as Greatly Discerning and Vastly Wise Teacher of the Law大辯廣智法師 (Dabian Guangzhi Fashi). Later the Imperial Preceptor Grags-pa ‘od-zer recommended Sha-lo-pa to the emperor as the candidate to translate the esoteric materials, which were to be distributed widely. Treated with great respect and honor, the people from the former Tangut state of Xi Xia always addressed him with his family instead of personal name.

In 1295, Sha-lo-pa was made Inspector-General of the Buddhist Religion in all of Jiangzhe江浙等處釋教都總統. In 1298, he was appointed as Inspector-General of the Buddhist Religion in all of Fujian統福廣. Even after he expressed his wish for retirement, the emperor still consulted him about the Buddhist Law. Sometime during 1308-1312, Sha luo ba was summoned by the crown prince and honored with the rank of Guanglu dafu situ光祿大夫司徒. Afterwards, Sha-po-pa resided in the Temple of Felicitous Longevity慶壽寺 (Qingshou si) until he passed away in 1314, aged 56.

During his life time, Sha luo ba brought Anike (1244-1306), an architect and sculptor from Nepal to China. Aniko influenced Chinese sculpture greatly and planned the construction of the White Stuppa in Beijing.

  • Herbert Franke.1985. Sha-lo-pa (1259-1314), a Tangut Buddhist monk in Yüan China, Religion und Philosophie in Ostasien, Festschrift für Hans Steininger zun 65. Geburstag. Wuurzburg: Könighausen & Neumann. 22pp. 佛光大辭典

Entry by Agnes Lin, 2/13/07