Two Great Masters of Buddhist Translation in China
By Householder Fo'en
Q: I've heard about the large-scale translation work of Kumarajiva. Could you please tell me more about it?
A: The large-scale, systematic translation of the Buddhist scriptures began with Kumarajiva in the early 5th century. His translation work enjoyed unprecedentedly favorable conditions, being supported by the Yao Qin kingdom and assisted by a large group of learned volunteer monks influenced by Master Dao'an.
The 300-odd fascicles of canonical works translated by Kumarajiva are not only a Buddhist treasure but an important literary legacy. They had a tremendous impact on the philosophical thought and literature of China. In Buddhist thought, Kumarajiva's most important contribution was to introduce the works of the Madhyamaka school founded by Nagarjuna. The brilliant translator and Dharma teacher was born in Kucha, Xinjiang. Kumarajiva and the later Xuanzang were known as the two great masters of translation of Buddhist scriptures.
Q: Was Master Xuanzang the same as the "Tang monk" or "Tripitaka" who went to the "Western Heaven" in search of Buddhist scriptures (as narrated in the classic novel Journey to the West)?
A: Yes. But the terms "Tang monk" and "Tripitaka" originally referred to Chinese monastics and Tripitaka masters of the Tang Dynasty, rather than Master Xuanzang alone.
Q: Please say something about the life and work of Master Xuanzang.
A: Master Xuanzang took monastic vows as a teenager. He traveled widely in pursuit of learning and called on eminent monks. After carefully studying the doctrines of Chinese Buddhist schools, he found that they conflicted with one another and there were inaccuracies and contradictions in the translations of Buddhist scriptures. He made up his mind to go to India to seek the Dharma.
A series of natural disasters occurred in the year 629. Government authorities lifted their ban on citizens leaving China, allowing them to seek livelihoods in other countries. Master Xuanzang was able to travel westward. He journeyed alone for more than 15,000 miles and visited over 130 nations in the western regions and India, overcoming countless dangers and difficulties.
Xuanzang spent five years studying at Nalanda Monastery -- India's highest seat of learning at the time. After four years' criss-crossing the kingdoms of southern India, he returned to Nalanda and became a presiding lecturer there. He wrote the Treatise on the Harmony of the Principles with 3,000 odes, which covered the theories of Madhyamaka and Yogacara schools. He also composed the Treatise to Restrict Malicious Views with 1,600 odes, refuting anti-Mahayana heterodoxy. With that, his mission was complete.
On Xuanzang's return journey to China, King Siladitya (Harsa) convened an assembly in honor of the Chinese monk. Xuanzang's two treatises were set as benchmarks. No one could challenge him successfully as he proclaimed his tenets and presented his views. Participants at the 18-day conclave included 18 monarchs, more than 3,000 Mahayana and Theravada monks from various kingdoms, 1,000 monks from Nalanda and over 2,000 male and female representatives of Brahmanism and other creeds. From then on, Master Xuanzang became well-known all over India. He was honored as Mahayanadeva (a deity of Mahayana) by Mahayana scholars, and Moksadeva (a divinity of liberation) by Theravada counterparts. He was recognized as Tripitakacarya (Tripitaka Dharma master) by Buddhists of the Great and Smaller Vehicles alike.
In 645, Xuanzang went back to China. With the support of Emperor Taizong, he set up a large translation bureau at Hongfu Monastery in Chang'an. Xuanzang devoted himself to the translation of Buddhist texts for 19 years. He comprehensively and systematically rendered not only the sutras and treatises of the Yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism, but also the encyclopedic collection of the emptiness sect, the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra (Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra), with its 200,000 odes into Chinese. In addition, he translated almost all the important treatises of the Theravada Sarvastivada school. In all, 75 sutras and treatises were translated -- some 1,335 fascicles or 500,000 odes. Nearly all the finest works available during Nalanda's peak period spread to China through translations that passed through the hands of Master Xuanzang. He is respected worldwide for his courage and dedication to the propagation of Buddhism. And his Journey to the Western Regions of the Great Tang Dynasty is considered an essential work in the study of Indian history.
From Buddhism for Beginners – Questions and Answers
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings