Kumarajiva – The Transcreator of Buddhist Chinese Diction

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Item Code: NAC542
Author: Nirmala Sharma
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788189738198
Pages: 180 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W & Color)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.5 Inch X 9.0 Inch
Weight 1.13 kg
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Book Description
Back of the Book

Kumarajiva’s charismatic diction has cast its sheen on the succeeding centuries in East Asian lands. His masterfully crafted style like a diamond has been the radiance of Buddhism. His translation of the Satya-siddhi-sastra gave rise to Hsieh-ho’s Six Principles of Chinese Painting, which still remain the basis of theoretical discussions on the aesthetics of poetry, painting, sculpture and calligraphy in East Asia.

From the Jacket

This work by Prof. Nirmala Sharma is the first full—length narration of the extraordinary life, immense literary output, manifold philosophical perspectives of Kumarajiva and the development of a new translation methodology by him. He is the great transcreator of Buddhist Chinese diction his oeuvre covers all genres of Buddhist literature. All his works, both extant and lost are detailed. The author discusses at length his crucial texts that became the foundation of sects and philosophical systems in Last Asia. Kucha the homeland of Kumarajiva excelled in painting, music and dance, Around a hundred illustrations of murals and scrolls vividly portray this ambience of Kucha.

The author has added a writeup of President Daisaku Ikeda, whose devotion to the unparalleled monk-translator adds to the deep understanding of the mind and message of Kumarajiva to humanity. President Ikeda discusses Kumarajiva’s new systematization of terminology to bring greater clarity to Buddhist thought and practice.

The author ends the hook with the translation of the original Chinese lift, of Kumarajiva, translated by Prof. J. Nobel, from the Lives of Eminent Monks written by Hui-chiao in AD 519. The original text in Chinese has also been reproduced.

Nirmala Sharma is an Art Historian and a Professor of Buddhist studies at the International Academy of Indian Culture, New Delhi. She is working on a project of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts on “Iconography of the Mandalas of the Dukhang of Aichi”. With two masters degrees, one in Fine Arts and the other in Ancient Indian History Culture and Archaeology, her Phi) thesis is on the Ragamala paintings. She has been awarded two gold and a silver medal ft)r best papers read at the Gujarat Itihas Parishad. She is a recipient of National Fellowship in Fine Arts, Nagpur University and has been a senior fellow of the American Institute of Indian Studies. She has delivered lectures Of Indian Art and Culture (Paintings, Sculptures and Monuments) as a senior Faculty at the Academic Staff College, Gujarat University from 2001-2004. Being a member of the Association of l3ritish Scholars, she has delivered lectures at the British Library, Ahmedabad, also lectured to IFS probationers at New Delhi, School of International Studies, Nirma University, Gujarat on serveral occasions, Russian Centre for Science and Culture on the Roerichs, and to students of Osaka in India. She has also spoken at the Florida Atlantic University and the Granada University. Read papers in Indonesia on the Borobudur, on the Roerichs at Moscow, and on Buddhist sculptures at Budapest and in several places in India. She has made educative films for Doordarshan on the monuments, step wells, sculptures, textiles and paintings. She held a senior position as a designer of textiles and costumes in industries with specialization on the software for the weaving looms. She has published several articles on Textiles. She is a member of the Indian Art History Congress, Association of British Scholars and the Programme Advisory committee at IGNCA. Her books include Bamiyan Hariti and Kindred Iconics, Ragamala Paintings, Buddhist Paintings of Tunhuang in the National Museum, New Delhi.


Kumarajiva is the luminescent word of the endless reverie of the Buddhist Sutras and sastras where the grand cosmology of time and space finds harmony in the symbolic order of life. He broke through all bonds of Taoist parlance to create the new hierarchy of Buddhist values that transformed the consciousness of China so that illuminating structures of thought emerged. It was a glance that swept across heritage in the open poetry of the mind. His meditative imagery, and unusual association with Sanskrit, Tocharian and Chinese, transmitted the very rhythm of Being in a vocabulary of wonder. He opened the lion’s mouth of the so called barbarian’ pulsations of wisdom, their consciousness of nature, and that multiplicity entering the unity of divergences. He gave to China every moment of thought newly created in the symmetry and in the essence of the beautiful, the perennial language of creative spirituality.

Kumarajiva hailed from Kucha, from where the Bower Manuscript containing Sanskrit texts was discovered in 1896 by Major General H. Bower. He had gone there in quest of a murderer and instead found a very old book. In the ruins he found “the bodies of some cows which, on the first touch, crumbled into dust. On that occasion they found also the above-mentioned book” (Hoernle 1912: vi). It started the entire modern movement of the archaeological exploration of East Turkestan. The cow is given to a Brahmin that transports a deceased person over the Vaitarani River that flows between earth and the lower regions or abode of departed spirits presided over by Yama. “In the ante-mortem ceremonies the dying man’s hand is tied to the tail of a cow so that it might lead him to heaven” (Walker 1968: 1.257). The manuscripts must have belonged to a person, on whose death they were placed in a cow to accompany him to heaven. Its medical text Navanitaka indicates that he was a physician and his divination manual was to solve social problems of success in business, family life and so on. The Pasaka-kevali treats of divination by dice ascribed to the Sage Garga. Its manuscripts are found in several libraries in India. Playing of dice must have been a popular pastime in Kucha. Kumarajiva played dice with King Lii Tsuan during his years at Liang-chou. While playing dice with him, the king took Kumarajiva’s horse and said that he had chopped off the head of Hu-nu or the Barbarian Monk (i.e. Kumarajiva). By leading Bower to the manuscript, the spirit of Kumarajiva summoned international scholarship to unravel the rich literary, artistic and philosophical treasures, across several centuries.


This book is an effort to outline the life and work of Kumarajiva who gave a new direction to the efflorescence of Sanskrit sutras in a new Chinese diction. In his linguistic creativity Kumarajiva laid the foundations of deep bonds of friendship between India and China, and thence with Korea, Japan and Vietnam. We have given the life of the Master from six different Chinese catalogues of the Tripitaka, his technique of transcreation, and the work of his eminent Chinese disciples. His translations of different genres are dealt with in a broad perspective: narrative literature, vinaya texts on monastic discipline which were urgently needed by the monastic order, and so on. His sutra of Vimalakirti became a cornerstone of Chinese Lay Buddhism which played the most important role in the spread of Dharma, as well as had an extensive representation in the visual arts. A number of sects regard his translations as the ‘root sutras’ of their belief.

and practice, like the Pure Land Sect, the Lotus Sutra Sects, the San-lun or Madhyamaka Sect. His treatise on the Prajnaparamita attributed to Nagarjuna is the main text of East Asian Buddhist philosophy. We have listed all his seventy four works included in the Taisho edition of the Chinese Tripitaka, along with references to them in the Tripitaka catalogues of the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries. These catalogues have interesting annotations on the various translations. Several of the translations of Kumarajiva have been lost, hut they are referred to in the aforesaid catalogues. We have listed them along with references to the catalogues where details are given.

Prof Johannes Nobel of the Marburg University of Germany translated into German the life of Kumarajiva from the Chinese Kao Seng Chuan ‘Lives of Eminent Monks’ compiled by Hui-chiao in AD 519. It is the longest version of his life. The German translation was published in the Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie tier Wissenschaften )O(, Berlin, in 1927. It has been translated into English by Ms Anya Malhotra, New Delhi. She has done justice to the German translation. Her hard effort and constant revision has given a readable version. It has been included as the most important ancient hagiography of the Master.

President Daisaku Ikeda of the Soka Gakkai International has graciously sent his contribution on a critical evaluation of the life and creativity, and of the new methodology of transcreation of Kumarajiva. President Ikeda is a Bodhisattva of our times who has contributed as much as Kumarajiva. His fluid prose and the clarity of his ideas have added richly to this book to present Kumarajiva in multiple perceptions.

The rich background of Kumarajiva was constituted by three linguistic cultures of Indic Sanskrit, European Tokharian and Chinese, besides the visual arts, music, dance and theatrical excellence of his Kuchean people.

To comprehend his psychosphere, we have included illustrations of the bizarre and riverine landscapes of his motherland in this volume. The multi-dimensional artistic creativity of his times has been depicted from the murals of the vast cave complexes of Kizil and Kumtura. Kumarajiva must have meditated in these caves like his fellow monks. The walls of the caves provided a delightful sensitivity of colours that paraphrased Buddhist thought and lent a depth to meditation in the projections of Sarvastivada where all categories are an existing reality. We have included the illustrations of murals as impressionistic evidence of Kumarajiva’s influence on the theory of Chinese aesthetics in Hsieh-ho’s Six Principles of Painting. They evolved from the Chengshi movement initiated by Kumarajiva’s translation of the Satyasiddhidstra in AD. 411-12 under the Chinese title Chengshi Lun.

We do not come across portraits of Kumarajiva. However, two scrolls of eminent masters of the three countries (India, China and Japan) illustrate him in line drawings as the monk artists envisioned him. The Kumarajiva Institute at Kucha has a statue of Kumarajiva dominating the city skyline. A stupa was dedicated to him during the Tang dynasty at Wu-wei where he had spent seventeen years of captivity under the local rulers Lu-Kuang and his successor. This volume includes these personal depictions. A famous contemporary Japanese artist has illustrated the complete life of Kumarajiva in line drawings which beautifully convey the spirit of the period. Some of his drawings have been reproduced in this book to give an intrinsic idea of the oeuvre of Kumarajiva. This volume is a presentation of the diversity of thought and values of Kumarajiva, along with the ineffable images of the space and mind in the verisimilitude of the times in which he worked.

Our gratitude to Prof. Lokesh Chandra for his perceptive foreward. Prof Jyotindra Jam, Member Secretary of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts has taken keen interest in the conception of this book and has provided all help to make it worthy of the great master Kumarajiva, who has been the crowning jewel of the cultural interflow between India and China.

Many thanks to the publishers of this book Mr Bikash Niyogi and Madame Tultul Niyogi who have put in their best to make it a visual delight as well as have ensured the accuracy of the diacritical marks and the Chinese characters in keeping with international standards. We hope that this volume does honour to the flowering of Sanskrit sutras in the elegance of Buddhist Chinese style transcreated by Kumarajiva and his disciples.


Foreword 7
Preface 21
Life and works of Kumarajiva 25
Kumarajiva and his translation activities 81
Kumarajiva’s biography in the Kao-seng-chuan of Hui-chiao AD-519 115
Biography of Seng Jui 133
Endnotes 136
Chinese text of the life of Kumarajiva 147
Index 177
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