By Alok Deshwal : Buddhist savants who traveled from India to China and from China to India have contributed to the evolution of Sino–Indian cultural relations in the classical age. They contributed not only to the spread of Buddhism but also to an understanding of social and economic relations, as torchbearers of Indian civilization to Central Asia and China. Unfortunately ancient records of India are silent about them but there are a large number of documents preserved in Chinese and Central Asian languages.
Only a few Chinese records are so far discovered narrating the lives and works of Indian monks in China. One such record is the Gao Seng Chuan (Biographies of eminent monks) and another important work is the Kuang hungming chi (Seng chao’s obituaries). One of the eminent scholars was Kumarajiva, who broke political, geographical, cultural and linguistic barriers with a long cherished mission: propagation of the true spirit of Buddhism.
Kumarajiva or Jik mó luó shí in Chinese, was born in the Central Asiatic city of Kucha. He was the son of an Indian Brahmin and a Kuchean princess. His father’s name was Kumarayana and his mother’s name was “Jiva”. Jiva could clearly recognize penetrating intelligence of her son. She became determined to give him the best available philosophical and spiritual training. Thus Kumarajiva learnt the vast literature of Abhidharma at a tender age. When he was seven years old, his mother became a Buddhist nun, and he began to spend his life following her and studying the Buddhist doctrine in Kucha, Kashmir and Kashgarh under eminent scholars. He was ordained in the royal palace in Kucha at the age of twenty. In Kashgarh he got converted from Hinayana to Mahayana Buddhism. He was a brilliant monk and thoroughly versed in the Buddhist learning of the schools then current in northern India. In AD 379 Kumarajiva’s fame spread into China, and efforts were made to bring him there. Fu Chien, the former Ch’in Emperor, was so eager to have him at his court that, as certain sources suggest, he sent his general Lü Kuang to conquer Kucha in AD 384 in order to bring Kumarajiva to China. Lü Kuang captured Kumarajiva and kept him as a captive in the Western Kingdom of the latter Liang for seventeen years, first humiliating him and forcing him to break his vows of celibacy and then using him as an official at his court. The long span of captivity gave Kumarajiva an opportunity to learn Chinese more thoroughly.
The rulers of the Later Ch’in dynasty, the Yao family was trying hard to bring Kumarajiva to Ch’ang-an. But lu Kuang kept on refusing to release him. Eventually an army was sent and Kumarajiva was brought to Ch’ang-an in 402 with a warm welcome by the rulers. Soon he took up translation work that was sponsored by the state. Yao Hsing bestowed on him the title of “Teacher of the Nation” (rajaguru). He presided over a team of Chinese specialists before an audience of hundreds of monks. Within a few years he translated 54 texts from Sanskrit into Chinese in about 300 volumes.
Some of the important texts attributed to Kumarajiva are- Diamond sutra, Amitabha Sutra, Lotus Sutra, Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra, Mulamadhyamakarika and Astasahasrika-prajnaparamita Sutra.
To critically study and evaluate the contribution of Kumarajiva in enhancement of Indo-Chinese cultural relations and other related issues, the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts has organized an International Seminar and exhibition.
The Seminar is valuable because generations after generations acknowledge his brilliance, wisdom, proficiency in Sanskrit and Chinese languages and above all his obeisance to the sacred voice. Kumarajiva along with Dharmaraksa and Hsuan-tsang is the master who stands out by his preeminence virtue and by spreading the subtle philosophical systems of Buddhism. The process was begun by Dharmaraksa who was a Yueh-chih which found its full flowering in Kumarajiva and culmination in Hsuan-tsang. Kumarajiva remains central to practical Buddhism in East Asia. He has bequeathed to us a casket of sacred sutras as the most authoritative presentations by creating pure, boundless and unthinkable versions. The impact of his works can still be felt in almost all the schools/sects of Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia