Kumārajīva, (Sanskrit: कुमारजीव; simplified Chinese: 鸠摩罗什; traditional Chinese: 鳩摩羅什; pinyin: Jiūmóluóshí; Wade–Giles: Chiu1 mo2 lo2 shih2) (334–413 CE) was a Kuchean Buddhist monk, scholar, and translator. He first studied teachings of the Sarvastivada schools, later studied under Buddhasvāmin, and finally became a Mahāyāna adherent, studying the Madhyamaka Doctrine of Nagarjuna.
Kumārajīva settled in Chang'an, which was the imperial capital of China. He is mostly remembered for the prolific translation of Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit to Chinese he carried out during his later Life.
Family and background
Kumārajīva's father Kumārāyana (also Kiu-mo-yen) was from a Kashmiri Brahmin Noble family, and his mother was a Kuchean princess who significantly influenced his early studies. His grandfather Ta-to is supposed to have had a great reputation.
Childhood and Education
When his mother Jīva joined the Tsio-li nunnery, Kumārajīva was just seven but is said to have already committed many texts and Sutras to memory. He proceeded to learn Abhidharma, and after two years, at the age of nine, he was taken to Kashmir by his mother to be better educated under Bandhudatta.
There he studied Dīrgha Āgama, Madhyama Āgama and the Kṣudraka, before returning with his mother three years later. On his return via Tokharestan and Kashgar, an Arhat predicted that he had a bright future and would introduce many people to Buddhism.
Kumārajīva stayed in Kashgar for a year, ordaining the two princely sons of Tsan-kiun (himself the son of the king of Yarkand) and studying the Abhidharma Piṭaka of the Sarvastivada under the Kashmirian Buddhayaśa, as well as the four Vedas, five sciences, Brahmanical Sacred Texts, astronomy. He studied mainly Āgama and Sarvastivada doctrines at this time.
Kumārajīva left Kashgar with Jīva at age 12, and traveled to Turpan, the north-eastern limit of the kingdom of Kucha, which was home to more than 10,000 Monks. Somewhere around this time, he encountered the master Suryasoma, who instructed him in early Mahayana texts. Kumārajīva soon converted, and began studying Madhyamaka texts such as the works of Nagarjuna.
In Turpan his Fame spread after besting a Tirthika teacher in debate, and King Po-Shui of Kucha came to Turpan to ask Kumārajīva personally to return with him to Kucha city. Kumārajīva obliged and returned to instruct the king's daughter A-Kie-ye-mo-ti, who had become a nun, in the Mahāsannipāta and Mahāvaipulya (Mahāyāna) sūtras.
At age 20, Kumārajīva was fully ordained at the king's palace, and lived in a new Monastery built by king Po-Shun. Notably, he received Vimalākṣa who was his preceptor, a Sarvāstivādin Monk from Kashmir, and was instructed by him in the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya Piṭaka.
Capture, imprisonment, and release
Efforts were then made by Emperor Fu Jian (苻堅) of the Former Qin Dynasty to bring Kumārajīva to Qin capital of Chang'an. To do this, his general Lu Guang was dispatched with an army in order to conquer Kucha and return with Kumārajīva. Fu Jian is recorded as telling his general, "Send me Kumārajīva as soon as you conquer Kucha."
However, when Fu Jian's main army at the capital was defeated, his general Lu Guang declared his own state and became a warlord in 386 CE, and had Kumārajīva captured when he was around 40 years old. Being a non-Buddhist, Lu Guang had Kumārajīva imprisoned for many years, essentially as booty. During this time, it is Thought that Kumārajīva became familiar with the Chinese Language.
When the Lu family would not free Kumārajīva from their hostage, an exasperated Yao Xing had armies dispatched to Liangzhou in order to defeat the warlords of the Lu family and to have Kumārajīva brought back to them. Finally the armies of Emperor Yao succeeded in defeating the Lu family, and Kumārajīva was brought east to the capital of Chang'an in 401 CE.
Kumārajīva appeared to have a major influence on Emperor Yao Xing's actions later on, as he avoided actions that may lead to many deaths, while trying to act gently toward his enemies. At his request, Kumārajīva translated many Sutras into Chinese.
There can be no Doubt that he made use of SH and S as separate letters for he never confounds them in his choice of Chinese characters. The Chinese words already introduced by his predecessors he did not alter, and in introducing new terms required in the translation of the Mahayana literature, the 大乘 Tasheng or greater development, he uses SH for SH and usually B for V.
His translation style was distinctive, possessing a flowing smoothness that reflects his prioritization on conveying the meaning as opposed to precise literal rendering. Because of this, his renderings of seminal Mahayana texts have often remained more popular than later, more literal translations, e.g. those of Xuanzang.
- [W]here Kumarajiva's work can be compared with an extant Indic manuscript – that is, in those rare cases where part or all of a text he translated has survived in a Sanskrit or Prakrit version – a somewhat surprising result emerges.
While his translations are indeed shorter in many instances than their extant (and much later) Sanskrit counterparts, when earlier Indic-Language manuscript fragments are available they often provide exact parallels of Kumarajiva's supposed "abbreviations."
Among the most important texts translated by Kumārajīva are The Diamond Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñā pāramitā Sūtra, Mahā Prajñā pāramitā Upadeśa which was a commentary (attributed to Nagarjuna) on the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñā pāramitā Sūtra.