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Kumarajiva ཀུ་མ་རཤྲི། 鸠摩罗什 (around 344-413), the great translator

Updated: Feb 18



The statue of Kumarajiva in front of Kizil Caves of Kucha

While in Wuwei, we went to the Kumarajiva Temple located right in the city in the evening.

Kumarajiva ཀུ་མ་རཤྲི། was a Buddhist monk and scholar from the ancient kingdom of Kucha. His father was from ancient India and mother a princess of the ancient Buddhist Kingdom of Kucha (亀慈 in Chinese ). Both were devoted Buddhists. Kucha was one of the great Buddhist centers of Central Asia, located on the Northern Route of Silk Road along the Takalamakan Desert. Kumarajiva's life story was one of extraordinary and tragic.


Mural Painting in Kizil Caves of ancient Kucha kingdom.

The extravagant mural paintings and statues in the Kizil caves located only 7km from the present Kizil Town of Baicheng(拜城)county of Xingjiang represented the prosperous culture of ancient Kucha. (Check out the related

Silk Road travel itineraries)


He translated the Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to Chinese in large quantity, with clarity, accuracy and elegance. One of the most important translators in history, his works greatly advanced the transmission of Mahayana Buddhism in Asia (specially that of China and Japan).


It’s said that he was held captive by a local general for 17 years in Liangzhou, and he became familiar with Chinese language, which led to his destined work in Dharma transmission. Well he was not the only one who became familiar with Chinese language during the imprisonment.


A lecture post of Dorshi Rinpoche in Singapore.

A recent example is Dorshi Rinpoche, དོར་ཞི་རིན་པོ་ཆེ། alek Dorshi as the local Tibetans would call him, a Lama from Chortentang Monastery (Tiantang Si, as introduced in the previous blog post), the great scholar of Buddhism, linguist, and distinguished professor at Northwest University for Nationalities in Lanzhou. He was, like Kumarajeva, showed the exceptional sharpness in the study of Buddhism at a very young age, and probably wouldn’t have thought the life path ahead for them was that of Dharma transmission in a foreign language. In the 1950s, Alek Doshi was imprisoned in jail and the years led him to become a prolific writer in Chinese. He is the author of many books in Chinese language, and the revered teacher clarifying the critical views of Buddhism to the Chinese readers and audience. His home base of Chortentang Monastery (Tiantang Si) is only 200 km from Wuwei / Liangzhou where Kumarajeva had stayed around 1600 years ago.


Walking in the temple built 1600 years ago to commemorate Kumarajeva, the swallows flied low, shooting and chirping in the dusk. The wooden tower stood tall and silent.



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