PART II: THE TRANSLATOR
Translated by Tripitaka Master Kumarajiva of Yao Qin.
Yao Qin is the name of the reign period of emperor Yao Xing. It is not the same period as that of Qin Shi Huang called the Ying Qing, or that of Fu Jian, which is called Fu Qin.
Before the time of Emperor Yao Xing, and during the time of Fu Jian, a man named Qin Tian Jian said to Fu Jian, “Now one of great wisdom should come to China to aid our government.”
Fu Jian said, “It is probably Kumarajiva, for he is honored and respected in India for his wisdom.”
Kumarajiva’s father, Kumarayana, was the son of a prime minister. He should have succeeded his father, but instead he left his home and went everywhere looking for a teacher. Although he hadn’t left the home-life in the formal sense by taking the complete precepts, he still cultivated the Way, and in his travels went to the country of Kucha in central Asia. The King of Kucha had a little sister, and when she saw Kumarayana she said to the King, “I really love this man.” The King gave his sister in marriage to Kumarayana and she soon became pregnant.
When Kumarajiva was still in his mother’s womb, it was much like the situation with Shariputra and his mother. Kumarajiva’s mother could defeat everyone in debate. At that time an Arhat said, “The child in this woman’s womb is certainly one of great wisdom.”
When Kumarajiva was seven years old, his mother took him to a temple to worship the Buddha. Kumarajiva picked up a large bronze incense urn and effortlessly lifted it over his head. Then he thought, “Hey, I’m just a child. How can I lift this heavy urn?” With this one thought, the urn crashed to the ground. From this he realized the meaning of the doctrine, “Everything is made from the mind alone,” and he and his mother left the home-life.
Kumarajiva’s mother had difficulty leaving the home-life. Although Kumarajiva’s father had previously cultivated the Way, he was now too much in love with his wife to permit her to leave home. Thereupon, she went on a strict fast. “Unless you allow me to leave home,” she said, “I won’t eat or drink. I’ll starve myself.”
“Then don’t eat or drink, if that’s what you want,” said her husband, “but I’ll never let you leave home.”
For six days she didn’t eat or drink, not even fruit juice, and she became extremely weak. Finally, Kumarayana said, “This is too dangerous. You’re going to starve to death. You may leave home, but please eat something.”
“First call in a Dharma Master to cut off my hair,” she said, “and then I’ll eat.” A Dharma Master came and shaved her head, and then she ate. Shortly after leaving home, she certified to the first fruit of Arhatship.
Soon after that, Kumarajiva, her son, also left the home-life. Everyday he read and recited many sutras, and once he read them, he never forgot them. He was not like some of you who have recited the Shurangama Mantra for several months, but still need the book. Because of his faultless memory he defeated all non-Buddhist philosophers in India and became very well known.
His reputation spread to China, and when Fu Jian heard of him he sent the great General Lu Guang and seventy thousand troops to Kucha to capture Kumarajiva and bring him back to China. Kumarajiva said to the King of Kucha, “ China is sending troops, but do not oppose them. They don’t wish to take the country. They have another purpose and you should grant them their request.”
The King’s uncle wouldn’t listen to Kumarajiva and he went to war with the general from China, Lu Guang. As a result, the King of Kucha was put to death, the country defeated, and Kumarajiva captured.
On the way back to China, General Lu Guang one day prepared to camp in a low valley. Kumarajiva, who had spiritual powers, knew a rain was coming which would flood the valley. He told the General, “Don’t camp here tonight. This place is dangerous.”
But Lu Guang had no faith in Kumarajiva. “You’re a monk,” he said. “What do you know about military affairs?” That night there was a deluge and many men and horses were drowned. General Lu Guang then knew that Kumarajiva was truly inconceivable.
They proceeded until they heard that there had been a change in the Chinese government. Emperor Fu Jian had been deposed, and Yao Chang had seized the throne. General Lu Guang maintained his neutrality, and did not return to China. Yao Chang was Emperor for several years, and when he died, his nephew Yao Xing took the throne. It was Yao Xing who dispatched a party to invite Kumarajiva to China to translate sutras. A gathering of over eight-hundred Bhikshus assembled to assist him in this work.
We have proof that Kumarajiva’s translations are extremely accurate. When he was about to complete the stillness, that is, die, he said, “I have translated numerous sutras during my life-time, and I personally don’t know if my translations are correct. If they are, when I am cremated my tongue will not burn; but if there are mistakes, it will.” When he died, his body was burned, but his tongue remained intact.
The Tang dynasty Vinaya Master Dao Xuan once asked the god Lu Xuan Chang, “Why does everyone prefer to read and study Kumarajiva’s translations?” The god replied, “Kumarajiva has been the Translation Master for the past seven Buddhas and so his translations are accurate.”
The Tripitaka is the collection of Buddhist scriptures. It is divided into three parts: sutras , which deal with samadhi, sastras , which deal with wisdom, and the vinaya , which is the study of moral precepts.
A Dharma Master 1) takes the Dharma as his master and 2) gives the Dharma to others. Some Dharma Masters chant sutras, some maintain them in their minds and practice them with their bodies, some write them out, and some explain them to others.
The Dharma Master spoken of here is Kumarajiva. This Sanskrit name means “youth of long life.” One could say, “Young Kumarajiva will certainly live to a great age.” One could also say, “He is young in years, but mature in wisdom, eloquence, and virtue. He has the wisdom of an old, old man, and so he is called “Youth of Long Life.”
It was Kumarajiva, the youth with the virtuous conduct of an elder, who translated the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra from Sanskrit into Chinese.
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