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Lokakṣema (C. Zhi Loujiachan 支婁迦讖) (flourished 147-189) was a Buddhist monk from Gandhara who traveled to China during the Han dynasty and translated Buddhist texts into the Chinese language. He is one of the earliest known translators to have produced Chinese translations of the Mahayana sutras from Sanskrit.[1] His translations are therefore of great historical importance, since they represent some of the earliest literary sources for the Mahayana available today.[1]

The Princeton Dictionary states:

Some fourteen works in twenty-seven rolls are typically ascribed to him (although the numbers given in the literature vary widely), of which twelve are generally presumed to be authentic. The translations thought to be genuine include the first Chinese renderings of sūtras from some of the earliest strata of Indic Mahayana literature, including the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā (Xiaopin bore jing), the Kāśyapaparivarta (Yi rimonibao jing), the Pratyutpannabuddha-saṃmukhāvasthita-samādhi-sūtra (Banzhou sanmei jing), and the Akṣobhyatathāgatasyavyūha (Achu foguo jing).[2]


Details of Lokakṣema's life come to us via a short biography by Sengyou (445–518 CE) and his text “Collected Records concerning the Tripitaka” (出三藏記集 Chu sanzang jìjí, T2145).

The name 婁迦讖 is usually rendered in Sanskrit as Lokakṣema, though this is disputed by some scholars, and variants such as Lokakṣama have been proposed.[3] In particular the character 讖 can be read as chen or chan. Sengyou refers to him as Zhīchèn (Chinese: 支讖). The Zhī (Chinese: ) prefix added to his Chinese name suggests that Lokaksema was of Yuezhi (Chinese: 月支) ethnicity. He is traditionally said to have been a Kushan, though the Chinese term Yuezhi covered a broad area of what is now Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.[4]

Lokaksema was born in Gandhara, a center of Greco-Buddhist art, at a time when Buddhism was actively sponsored by the king, Kanishka the Great, who convened the Fourth Buddhist council. The proceedings of this council actually oversaw the formal split of Nikaya 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 Lokakṣema.

Lokaksema arrived in the Han capital Luoyang toward the end of the reign of Emperor Huan of Han (r.147-168), and between 178-189 CE translated a number of Mahayāna Buddhist texts into Chinese.[5]

Lokaksema's translation activities, as well as those of the Parthians An Shigao and An Xuan slightly earlier, or his fellow Yuezhi Dharmarakṣa (around 286 CE) illustrate the key role Central Asians had in propagating Buddhism to the countries of East Asia. With the decline and fall of the Han, the empire fell into chaos and Lokakṣema disappears from the historical record so that we do not know the date of his death.

Extant translations

The editors of the Taishō Tripiṭaka attribute twelve texts to Lokakṣema. These attributions have been studied in detail by Erik Zürcher, Paul Harrison and Jan Nattier, and some have been called into question.[6]

Zürcher considers it reasonably certain that Lokakṣema translated the following texts:[7]

According to Nattier, Harrison "expresses reservations" concerning the Akṣohhya-vyūha (T313), and considers that T418 is the product of revision and does not date from Lokakṣema's time.[7]

Conversely, Harrison considers that the following ought to be considered genuine:[7]

A characteristic of Lokakṣema's translation style was the extensive transliteration of Indic terms and his retention of India stylistic features such as long sentences. He typically rendered Indic verse as Chinese prose, making no attempt to capture the meter.[8] Based on evidence from Chinese catalogues of texts, Nattier suggests that T224 and T418 are representative of Lokakṣema and might stand as "core texts", i.e. as representative of his style of translating, although both show some signs of later editing. A second tier of texts—T280, T350, T458, and T807—all strongly resemble Lokakṣema's core texts, though with occasional anomalies. T624 and T626 form a third tier with more deviations from the distinctive style of Lokakṣema. According to Nattier, if T313 was indeed a translation by Lokakṣema, it has been extensively revised by an unknown editor, though the prose sections are closer to his style than the verse.[9]

Lost works

Several translations attributed to Lokakṣema have been lost:

  • Shoulengyan jing (a version of the Suramgama-samādhi-siitra, already lost in Sengyou's time)
  • Guangming sanmei jing "Sutra on the Samadhi of Luminosity"
  • Hu banniehuan jing "The Hu Parinirvāṇa Sutra"
  • Bo benjing ("The Original *Puṣya Sutra")

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 84000.png Dharmachakra Translation Committee (2023), The Questions of the Kinnara King Druma, "Introduction", 84000 Reading Room
  2. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Lokakṣema.
  3. Nattier 2008: 73-4
  4. Nattier 2008: 73
  5. Nattier 2008: 73
  6. Nattier 2008: 76-7
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Nattier (2008), pp. 76-77.
  8. Nattier 2008: 75-6
  9. Nattier 2008: 78-85


Further reading

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