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Dharmakṣema(385 - 433)

Indian Buddhist monk who was an early translator of Buddhist materials into Chinese. A scion of a brāhmaṇa family from India, Dharmakṣema became at the age of six a disciple of Dharmayaśas (C. Damoyeshe; J. Donmayasha) (d.u.), an Abhidharma specialist who later traveled to China c. 397-401 and translated the Śãriputrãbhidharmaśãstra. Possessed of both eloquence and intelligence, Dharmakṣema was broadly learned in both monastic and secular affairs and was well versed in mainstream Buddhist texts. After he met a meditation monk named "White Head" and had a fiery debate with him, Dharmakṣema recognized his superior expertise and ended up studying with him. The monk transmitted to him a text of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra written on bark, which prompted Dharmakṣema to embrace the Mahāyāna. Once he reached the age of twenty, Dharmakṣema was able to recite over two million words of Buddhist texts. He was also so skilled in casting spells that he earned the sobriquet "Great Divine Spell Master" (C. Dashenzhou shi). Carrying with him the first part of the Mahãparinirvãṇasūtra that he received from "White Head," he left India and arrived in the Kucha kingdom in Central Asia. As the people of Kucha mostly studied hīnayāna and did not accept the Mahāyāna teachings, Dharmakṣema then moved to China and lived in the western outpost of Dunhuang for several years. Juqu Mengxun, the non-Chinese ruler of the Northern Liang dynasty (397-439 CE), eventually brought Dharmakṣema to his capital. After studying the Chinese language for three years and learning how to translate Sanskrit texts orally into Chinese, Dharmakṣema engaged there in a series of translation projects under Juqu Mengxun's patronage. With the assistance of Chinese monks, such as Daolang and Huigao, Dharmakṣema produced a number of influential Chinese translations, including the Dabanniepan jing (S. Mahāparinirvãṇasūtra; in forty rolls), the longest recension of the sūtra extant in any language; the Jinguangmingjing ("Sūtra of Golden Light"; S. Suvarṇaprabhāsottamasūtra; in four rolls); and the Pusa dichi jing (S. Bodhisattvabhūmisūtra; in ten rolls). He is also said to have made the first Chinese translation of the Laṅkāvatārasūtra (C. Ru Lengqie jing, but his rendering had dropped out of circulation at least by 730 CE, when the Tang Buddhist cataloguer Zhisheng (700-786 CE) compiled the Kaiyuan Shijiao lu. The Northern Wei ruler Tuoba Tao, a rival of Juqu Mengxun's, admired Dharmakṣema's esoteric expertise and requested that the Northern Liang ruler send the Indian monk to his country. Fearing that his rival might seek to employ Dharmakṣema's esoteric expertise against him, Juqu Mengxun had the monk assassinated at the age of forty- nine. Dharmakṣema's translation of Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese had a significant impact on Chinese Buddhism; in particular, the doctrine that all beings have the buddha-nature (foxing), a teaching appearing in Dharmakṣema's translation of the Mahāparinirvãṇasūtra, exerted tremendous influence on the development of Chinese Buddhist thought. (Source: "Dharmakṣema". In The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, 247–48. Princeton University Press, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46n41q.27)

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