Journey on Learning Buddhism
When his mother joined the monastery, it was said that Kumarajiva had already memorised many texts and sutras. Kumarajiva proceeded to learn the Dharma further and followed his mother into monastic life at the age of seven. When he was nine years old, mother and son undertook the arduous journey to India, eventually reaching the Kashmiri kingdom known to the Chinese as Chi-pin, which was probably his father’s native home. Bandhudatta, a renowned Buddhist teacher and cousin of the king, instructed Kumarajiva in the agamas (the nikayas of the Theravadin tradition). During the next two years Kumarajiva mastered these texts and was honoured by the king. Once he defeated several non-Buddhist teachers in a debate held before the ruler, and from this moment his reputation preceded him wherever he travelled. In addition to learning the scriptures and treatises of the Sarvastivadin school, Kumarajiva seized the opportunity afforded by his presence in India to study medicine, astronomy and astrology, exegetical and hermeneutical methods of exposition, logic and the applied sciences.
By the time Kumarajiva was twelve, he and his mother set out on the journey back to Kucha. The pace was leisurely, for every kingdom and principality along the way fêted and honoured him, and several urged him to take up residence as a teacher and adviser. As he was making his way through the mountains of the Yueh-chih region, he met an arhat who volunteered a prediction to his mother:
You must watch over and protect this novice. If by the time he reaches the age of thirty-five he has not abandoned the rules of religious discipline, he will become a great propagator of buddhadharma, enlightening countless people, and he will be the equal of Upagupta.
Upagupta was the fourth Indian patriarch after Buddha, famous for having converted the emperor Ashoka to the Buddhist way. Though Kumarajiva was forced by circumstances to break one vow late in life, he met the conditions of the prophecy and fulfilled the prediction.
Passing through Yueh-chih, Kumarajiva and his mother came to Kashgar, a Buddhist kingdom known for its excellent teachers and libraries. He settled there for a year and completed his studies of the Abhidharma and the texts revered by the Sarvastivadins. During this time he concentrated intently on Vedic literature and studied the most important systems of chanting the Vedas. Whilst he learnt a great deal about Hindu philosophical schools, he focussed upon the power of sound to affect the receptivity of consciousness to transcendental truths. The knowledge he gained later influenced his stirring translations of sutras and texts into Chinese. He also expanded his considerable grounding in Sanskrit and Pali and learnt more of the languages of Central Asia. On the advice of a monk, the king of Kashgar invited Kumarajiva to take the seat of honour and expound a sutra to a prestigious assembly which included the king himself. Kumarajiva did so, and as a result the monks of Kashgar were indirectly impelled to reform their previously lax monastic disciplines. At the same time, the king of Kucha heard of the high esteem in which Kumarajiva was held in Kashgar and sent a delegation to cement friendly relations between the two kingdoms.
While living in Kashgar, Kumarajiva met Sutyasoma, a prince of Yarkend (So-ch’e), perhaps as a result of his public discourse. Sutyasoma had renounced his royal inheritance and gone to Kashgar for spiritual instruction, and he was a revered teacher when he took Kumarajiva under his guidance. As a follower of Sarvastivadin doctrines, Kumarajiva held that the dharmas or ultimate constituents of existence are eternally real, whereas empirical phenomena which arise out of the momentary confluence of dharmas under karma are unreal. Sutyasoma adhered to the Mahayana view that all dharmas are themselves unreal; ontologically, dharmas are like empty space and assume distinct existence only in their momentary, ever-changing combinations. Although Kumarajiva initially found such teachings difficult to comprehend, Sutyasoma’s more universal application of Buddha’s doctrine of impermanence soon won him over to the Mahayana standpoint. Kumarajiva felt a tremendous sense of release and emancipation, declaring that he had been like a person who did not know what gold is and had previously taken brass for something wonderful.
Kumarajiva took up an intensive study of the sutras with the same enthusiasm he had brought to all his earlier training. He learnt the doctrines of the Madhyamika schools, memorized treatises by Nagarjuna and Aryadeva and rapidly assimilated Mahayana teachings. Just how fundamental a turning point Kumarajiva’s encounter with Sutyasoma was for his life is illustrated by his insistence that Bandhudatta, his first teacher in India, come to Kashgar. There Kumarajiva and Bandhudatta engaged in friendly but intensive debate, and eventually Bandhudatta was won over. During this time Sutyasoma foresaw something of the magnificent work Kumarajiva would undertake in China. Years after he left Kashgar, Kumarajiva recounted to his disciples in China what Sutyasoma once told him:
The sun of Buddha has gone into hiding behind the western mountains, but its lingering rays shine over the Northeast. These texts are destined for the lands of the Northeast. You must make sure that they are transmitted to them.
After spending a memorable year in Kashgar, Kumarajiva and his mother set out for Kucha. They stopped for a time in the kingdom of Wen-su and then moved on to their home. By the time Kumarajiva reached Kucha, his reputation had gone ahead of him as far as northern China. Monks from all over Central and East Asia gathered in Kucha to learn from him, even though he was only twenty years old and still officially a novice or shramanera. Within the year he was made a full monk in the Sangha and spent much of his time teaching others. For almost a decade he prepared himself for the mission to China which had been prophesied and which he felt was the central focus of his life work.’ This period lacked the peacefulness and prosperity that had marked his earlier years, for he witnessed the steady decline of the Kuchan state and heard reports of the incessant internal struggles which plagued northern China. Nonetheless, he worked quietly in the conviction that he was destined to go to the East one way or another.
Around this time, Jiva said to her son, “You should propagate the profound teachings of the Vaipulyasutras (the most important of the Mahayana sutras) in China. Its dissemination in the eastern countries will depend only on you. Does it matter that there will be no personal advantage for you (in this)?” To which he famously replied, “The teachings of the great master are there to serve (others) and to forget oneself (in the process). If one is able to spread the great conversion and awaken the blind masses, then, even if one’s body were burning in a red hot oven, one may suffer but feel no regret.” His mother, seeing the decline in Kucha’s fortunes and believing that she had done all she could for her son, exhorted him to follow unwaveringly the Bodhisattva Path and left to return to India. They never met again.
Kumarajiva stayed in Kucha and studied extensively the Pancavimsatika-Prajnaparamita and other Mahayana sutras and shastras. When he was first exposed to the Prajnaparamita texts, legend has it that Mara came to distract him by covering the pages so that they appeared blank. Ever more resolute when he discovered it was the devil’s work, Kumarajiva recited the sutras with vigour. Mara then spoke to him, declaring him already wise and questioned his need to read the sutras. Kumarajiva responded by telling him he was “a small devil” and to leave immediately. Reflecting the celebrated words of Buddha Shakyamuni, he declared, “My heart is (firm) like the earth; it is immutable.”
The Life and Legacy of A Great Translator — Kumarajiva (II)
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Source: https://www.tsemrinpoche.com/tsem-tulku-rinpoche/great-lamas-masters/kumarajiva-the-great-translator-from-kucha.html, https://khyentsefoundation.org/the-life-and-legacy-of-kumarajiva/, https://japanesemythology.wordpress.com/study-notes-the-influence-of-kumaraju-kumarajiva-upon-japan/