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Lokakṣema (Ch: 支婁迦讖 Zhī Lóujiāchèn, sometimes abbreviated 支讖 Zhī Chèn), born around 147 CE, was the earliest known Buddhist monk to have translated Mahayana sutras into the Chinese language and as such was an important figure in Buddhism in China. The name Lokakṣema means 'welfare of the world' in Sanskrit.
Lokakṣema was the first Indian Monk who went to China to propagate Mahāyāna teachings. Among the texts he translated from Sanskrit into Chinese, the Sūtra of the Practice of Prajñā-pāramitā (T08n0224) was the first in a series of prajñā-pāramitā sūtras that laid the foundation of the Mahāyāna in China;
the Sūtra of Infinite Pure Equal Enlightenment (T12n0361) was the first of the five versions of the Amitāyus Sūtra that arrived in China; both versions of the Sūtra of Pratyutpanna Buddha Sammukhāvasthita Samādhi (T13n0417–18) prescribe an intense three-month Meditation Retreat.
Lokaksema was a Kushan of Yuezhi ethnicity from Gandhara. His ethnicity is described in his adopted Chinese name by the prefix Zhi (Chinese: 支), abbreviation of Yuezhi (Chinese: 月支). As a Yuezhi, his native tongue was one of the Tocharian languages, an Indo-European language group.
He was born in Gandhara (presently known as a center of Greco-Buddhist art) at a time when Buddhism was actively sponsored by the Kushan Emperor Kanishka, who convened the Fourth Buddhist Council.
The proceedings of this Council actually oversaw the formal split of Nikaya Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism.
It would seem that Kanishka was not ill-disposed towards Mahayana Buddhism, opening the way for missionary activities in China by monks such as Lokaksema.
Lokaksema came from Gandhara to the court of the Han dynasty at the capital Loyang as early as 150 and worked there between 178 and 189.
A prolific scholar-monk, many early translations of important Mahāyāna texts in China are attributed to him, including the very early Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra known as the "Practice of the Path" (Dào Xíng Bānruò Jīng 道行般若經), Pratyutpanna Sutra (Bān Zhōu Sānmèi Jīng 般舟三昧經), ādūshì Wáng Jīng 阿闍世王經, Za biyu jing 雜譬喩經, Shou lengyan jing 首楞嚴經, Wuliang qingjing pingdeng jue jing 無量淸淨平等覺經, and the Baoji jing 寶積經 .
The Sanskrit names of the sutras he translated are as follows: Astasahasrika, Aksobhyatathagatasyavyuha, Surangamasamadhisutra, an early version of a sutra connected to the Avatamsakasutra, Drumakinnararajapariprccha, Bhadrapalasutra, Ajatasatrukaukrtyavinodana, and the Kasyapaparivarta, which were probably composed in the north of India in the first century CE.
Activity in China
Lokaksema's work includes the translation of the Pratyutpanna Sutra, containing the first known mentions of the Buddha Amitabha and his Pure Land, said to be at the origin of Pure Land practice in China, and the first known translations of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (The "Astasahasrika-prajnaparamita Sutras", or "Perfection of Wisdom Sutras of the practice of the Way", which later became known as the "Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 lines"), a founding text of Mahayana Buddhism.
Lokaksema's translation activities, as well as those of the Parthians An Shih Kao and An Hsuan slightly earlier, or the Yuezhi Dharmaraksa (around 286 CE) illustrate the key role [[Wikipedia:Central Asian|Central Asian]]s had in propagating the Buddhist faith to the countries of East Asia.
Another Yuezhi monk and one of Lokaksema's students named Zhi Yao (Chinese: 支曜), translated Mahayana Buddhist texts from Central Asia around 185 CE, such as the "Sutra on the Completion of Brightness" (Chinese: 成具光明經 Chengiu guangming jing).
Lokakṣema (支婁迦讖 or 支讖, 147–?) was from Gandhāra, an ancient Indian kingdom in present-day Kashmir, northern Pakistan, and eastern Afghanistan area.
He was given the surname Zhi in Chinese, because he was a descendant of the Kushan (貴霜) tribe of Yuezhi ethnicity (月氏). He went to Luoyang (洛陽), China’s capital, in 167, the last year of Emperor Huan (漢桓帝) of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220).
During the last eleven years (178–89) of Emperor Ling (漢靈帝), he translated over twenty sūtras, of which twelve are extant.