4th century Indian monk Kumarajiva was venerated by the Chinese as 'national teacher': scholars

Beijing, Nov 18 (PTI) Indian Buddhist monk Kumarajiva, who was instrumental in translating Buddhist sutras into Chinese language during his stay in China over 2,000 years ago was the first among the numerous scholars who laid a firm foundation for civilisational links between the two countries, scholars from both the countries said here.

Kumarajiva, hailing from a Kashmiri Brahmin family from the then Kucha Kingdom, spent about 23 years in China in 4th century AD both as a prisoner and as a most revered scholar.

Considered among the greatest of hundreds of masters, who came to China for spreading Buddhism, Kumarajiva was conferred the title of 'National Teacher of China' by the then Chinese Emperor, said Tarun Vijay from India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Vijay along with BJP MP from Bengaluru Tejasvi Surya traversed the 1,150-km Kumarajiva trail in China for the past one week, visiting the monk's temple in Wuwei, Pagoda and other monuments built in his memory.

Famed for his encyclopaedic knowledge of vedantic and Buddhist learnings, Kumarajiva was known as one of the greatest translators of Buddhist Sutras (scriptures) in ancient China.

He translated many Buddhist scriptures from Indian languages, including Sanskrit, into Chinese. This enabled the spread of Buddhist ideas in China and the rest of East Asia.

Kumarajiva personified the cultural connect which runs deep between the two ancient civilisations of India and China, and served as a bridge of friendship and knowledge between the two nations, the Indian leaders said.

At the end of their journey, they, accompanied by several Chinese scholars, held a seminar at the Indian Embassy here on Sunday on the life and times of the monk, who is venerated in China but of whom very little is known in India.

'Kumarajiva became the greatest exponent of Mahayana Buddhism which has become a dominant form of Buddhism in China. His achievements are more wondrous as Kumarajiva has not achieved all this in necessarily peaceful or monastic of environments,' Indian Ambassador to China Vikram Misri said addressing the meeting.

In the 10 years he spent in Xian until his death, Kumaravijaya went on to produce some of the greatest translations of Buddhist sutras into Chinese.

His greatest contribution was the departure from the old literal tradition of translation style and adopting more intuitive method that conveyed the inner meanings of Lord Buddha's teaching, he said.

'He reached the pinnacle of his work with the rendition in Chinese of Lotus Sutra known in Sanskrit as Saddharma Pundarika Sutra. It would not be exaggeration to say Kumarajiva's exploits perhaps fundamentally changed the direction of Buddhism in China,' Misri said.

Vijay said the India-China relation must be seen through the prism of civlisational and cultural links.

The Bengaluru MP said his travels made him feel Chinese and Indian people are the 'closest people to each other on this earth beyond political, economic and military relations. We are civilisaitional friends and brothers in arms.' The Chinese have so much respect for Indian culture in their hearts, he said.

Surya said during his week of travels to China on the Kumarajiva trail he not only learnt more about China but also about India.

Similar to how the Chinese venerated Kumarajiva with his temple and Pagoda where his relics were kept, Surya said sculptures of Chinese scholars Fa Xian and Xuan Zang could be found in Indian temples.

The MP said many monks he met in China requested help to facilitate a pilgrimage to India. 'The holiness and reverence attached by the Buddhists of this land and the Hindus of India is something only to be seen to be believed,' he said.

Both Vijay and Surya said they would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and apprise him of their journey.

Surya said he would suggest setting up an India-China pilgrim tour, besides an award in the name of Kumarajiva in India to popularise his contribution.

Professor Yan Shijing and research scholar Ge Weijun, (formerly of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) also spoke on the life and contribution of Kumarajiva to Buddhist learning in China. PTI KJV INDIND