Persuasion and Entertainment at Once Kumārajīva’s Buddhist Storytelling in His Commentary on the Vimalakīrti-sūtra

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Persuasion and Entertainment at Once Kumārajīva’s Buddhist Storytelling in His Commentary on the Vimalakīrti-sūtra

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  Persuasion and Entertainment at Once: Kumrajva’s Buddhist Storytelling in His Commentary on the Vimalakrti-stra   2002989116 Persuasion and Entertainment atOnce: Kumrajva ’ s BuddhistStorytelling in His Commentary onthe Vimalak rti-s tra   ERSUASION  is often based on formal arguments and formal arguments are typically characterized by analytical disputation over abstract ideas.But if philosophical persuasion can be won over with formal arguments, persuasion to action is seldom exclusively dependent upon them. Belief and awillingness to practice beliefs depend on motive, and motive is stimulated byemotions. To stimulate emotions, we need something else such as storytelling inaddition to, and sometimes perhaps other than, formal arguments. Stories caninspire people to action, and formal arguments are seldom by themselvessufficient to motivate. This paper addresses how Kumrajva (344-413), one of thegreatest Buddhist translators in China, practiced his storytelling in the form of  philosophical commentary. Through an analysis of his commentary on thefamed Buddhist classic Vimalakrti-stra  , this paper willdemonstrate thatKumrajva appreciated the virtue of storytelling in religious proselytization and that he told stories throughout his lengthy commentary evenwhen the textual contexts do not seem to call for them. Storytelling was craftedto be entertaining and, in the disarming presence of fun and pleasure, Buddhistosmosis, it was hoped, would materialize. As a secondary issue, this paper alsoattempts to examine the issue of orality in Kumrajva’s commentary. As far aswe can surmise, it is unlikely that Kumrajva himself would write his Yuet Keung LO Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore Keywords:  Kumrajva  Vimalakrti-stra  Buddhist storytelling commentary orality entertainment I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to the three anonymous reviewers for their astutecomments and helpful suggestions.  commentary in Chinese, even though he presumably had learned Chinese for more than a decade before he finally arrived in central China in 401. 1  However,virtually no scholar has been curious enough to examine the exact nature of thewriting itself in his commentary. 2  It, then, appears to be a non-issue to mostscholars whether Kumrajva’s commentary on the Vimalakrti-stra  was penned down by himself or it was in fact transcribed from an oral delivery. This paper will show that apart from tacit assumption, the commentary was, in alllikelihood, delivered orally to a live audience and was probably committed towriting as a record of extemporaneous sermons. Kumrajva: Buddhist Storyteller qua Commentator  It is well known that the Buddha was fond of using stories and parablesin his preaching. Indeed, stories and the life stories of the Buddha himself in hisnumerous previous lives were part and parcel of many Buddhist scriptures.While many Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese prior to the fifthcentury, there was virtually no Buddhist commentarial literature introduced andtranslated during the same period. There do exist commentaries written onBuddhist scriptures, but they were all written, in Chinese, by Chinese Buddhistscholars or monks. 3  So far as I know, the only commentary we have today from a non-Chinese Buddhist person is the commentary on the Vimalakrti-stra  attributed  1 Kumva wasdetained in Wuwei in the state of Latter Liang for eighteenyears before he was welcomed to Chang’an in 401 by Yao Xing (366-416),ruler of the Latter Qin . According to Wang Wenyan , Kumva had notmastered the Chinese language while in Wuwei, and it took him six years after he arrivedin Chang’an to finally become proficient in the language. See his  Fodian hanyi zhi yanjiu  (A Study of Chinese Translations of Buddhist Scriptures) (Taipei:Tianhua chuban shiye gufen youxian gongsi, 1984), pp. 221-222. Various other sourcesdated Kumva’s arrival in Chang’an to 395, 400, or 402, but 401 is the date accepted by most scholars.  2 Étienne Lamotte, in myknowledge, is the only exception.  3 The two extant Buddhist commentaries written by Chinese monks prior to Kumva’sarrival in China are Chen Hui’s (fl. third century) Yin chi ru jing zhu  in Takakusu Junjir and Watanabe Kaikyoku eds., Taish shinsh daizky  (The Taish edition of the Chinese Buddhist canon),(1927; rpt., Tky: Taish shinsh daizky kankkai, 1968), work no. 1694, vol. 33, page 9b, line 7 to p. 24, line 28 (hereafter T.1694:33.9b7-24b28) and Daoan’s (312-385)  Ren ben yusheng jing zhu  (T.1693:33.1a4-9a29). Daoan infact had annotated and commented on another sixteen Buddhist scriptures but they werelong lost. They were either called  zhu  or  jie  . See Sengyou (445-518), Chu sanzang ji ji  (Collection of Notices from the Tripitaka ),  juan  5, T.2145:55.39b29-39c29. Yan Fudiao (aka Fodiao ) (fl. third century) also wrote acommentary called Shami shihui zhangju  ; it was long lost but Yan’s prefacesurvives. See Chu sanzang ji ji, juan  10, T.2145:55.69c9-70a8.  Persuasion and Entertainment at Once: Kumrajva’s Buddhist Storytelling in His Commentary on the Vimalakrti-stra to Kumrajva. 4  As is generally known, Kumrajva was one of the greatesttranslators in Buddhist history.5 Before Kumrajva came to China in the latefourth century, Chinese translations of Buddhist scriptures were not alwaysreliable. Linguistic imprecision often hampered the Chinese understanding of theforeign doctrine, and the Chinese frequently resorted to native Chinese philosophical categories to grasp exotic Buddhist concepts. Instrumental inintroducing the authentic Buddhist doctrine to China, Kumrajva in facttranslated three important scriptures for the first time in China, on the basis of which a Chinese Mdhyamika School was later established. 6  He translated newscriptures and retranslated old ones, setting the standard of Buddhist translationin Chinese history and asserting Buddhism as an independent system of  philosophy and religious thinking inChina.While scholarly attention has been entirely, and deservedly, focused on hisaccomplishment in translation, virtually no onehas ever noticed Kumrajva’scommentary on the Vimalakrti-stra . Translated seven times by seven differentmonks including Kumrajva himself, 7  the Vimalakrti-stra  was one of the  4 Kumva probably also wrote a commentary on the  Diamond Stra , which he alsoretranslated, and a commentary on the  Laozi  . The former is no longer extant andthe latter exists in fragments today, but its authenticity is questionable.  5 There are six biographies written of Kumva by both Buddhist and non-Buddhisthistorians in traditional China. See Huijiao (497-554), Gaoseng zhuan  (Biographies of Eminent Monks) (T.2059:50.330a10-333a12); Sengyou, Chu sanzang  ji ji  (T.2145:55.100a4-102a13); Fei Zhangfang ,  Lidai Sanbaoji  (Accounts of the Three Jewels from Various Dynasties); Daoxuan ,  Datang neidian lu  (Records of Buddhist Literature of the Tang Dynasty); Fang Xuanling,  Jinshu  (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974) 8:2499-2502; and Fayun (fl.eleventh century),  Fanyi mingyi ji  (Collection of Names and Their Explanations in Buddhist Translations), see T.2131:54.1069a. For modern studies, see,for instance, Juzan , “Jiumoluoshi fashi” (Dharma Teacher Kumva)in Huang Xianian ed.,  Juzan ji  (Beijing: Zhongguo shehuikexuechubanshe, 1995), pp. 180-189. The article was srcinally published in 1955. More recentstudies include Xu Kangsheng , “Lu elun Jiumoluoshi fojiao sixiang ji qi zai woguofoxue shi shang de diwei” (A Brief Discussion of Kumva’s Buddhist Thought and his Role in the History of ChineseBuddhism) in Zhongguo beifang shaoshu minzu zhexue ji shehui sixiang shixuehui comp.,  Zhongguo shaoshu minzu zhexuesixiang shi lunji  (Essayson the Philosophies of Minority Peoples in China) (Beijing: Zhongguo shehuikexuechubanshe, 1985), pp. 142-156; Zheng Yuqing,  Jiumoluoshi yanjiu  (A Study of Kumva) (Taipei: Wenjin chubanshe, 1988); Chen Shiliang ,“Jiumoluoshi nianbiao kaolüe” (A Chronological Biography of Kumva), and Yin Ding , “Lüelun Jiumoluoshi” (On Kumva), both in Xinjiang Qiuci Shiku Yanjiusuo ed., Qiuci Fojiao wenhualunji  (Essays on the Buddhist Culture in Kucha) (Xinjiang: Xinjiangmeishu sheying chubanshe, 1993), pp. 15-38 and pp. 39-54 respectively.  6 For a discussion of the Mdhyamika School that Kumva helped to establish inChina, see Richard Robinson,  Early Mdhyamika in India and China  (rpt., Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978), esp. pp. 71-85.  7 For the various translations of the Vimalakrti-stra  in Chinese, Tibetan, Sogdian andKhotanese, see Étienne Lamotte, The Teaching of Vimalakrti (Vimalakrtinirdea) , trans.  most popular and influential Buddhist scriptures in the early medieval period.That Kumrajva himself created a singular commentary on the scripture is perhaps a most convincing testimony to its importance. In the early years of Buddhist scripture translation during the fourth and fifth centuries, sermonizingwas typically conducted during the process of translation. Foreign Buddhistmasters translated scriptures and explicated them at once at the site of translation. Their audience could amount to several thousands, and they oftenraised questions that prompted the masters to employ various exegeticalstrategies to explain the translated text in question and enlighten the audience. 8 Kumrajva’s commentary on the Vimalakrti-stra  was probably the result of such a translation cumexplication process. It should be noted that Kumrajvatranslated the scripture with the aid of his Chinese disciples,most notable of whom were Sengzhao (384-414), 9  Sengrui , 10  Daorong , 11  andDaosheng (ca. 360-434). 12  It was only serendipity that some of thesedisciples also wrote commentaries of their own on the Vimalakrti-stra. 13  Thishistorical coincidence offers us an unusual opportunity to compare Kumrajva’scommentary to those of his disciples, who were native Chinese.The commentaries of Sengzhao, Sengrui, and Daosheng on the Vimalakrti- stra  are highly and consistently philosophical, and it is perhaps not surprisingthat they are verymuch characteristic of the Neo-Taoist exegetical approach as Sara Boin (London: ThePali Text Society, 1976). The srcinal French version under thetitle of  L’Enseignement    de   Vimalakrti  appeared as Volume 51 in the collectionBibliothè que du  Muséon , (Louvain: Publications universitaires, 1962), pp. xxvi-lxxxix.According to Lamotte, the earliest Chinese translation attributed to Yan Fodiao, whichwas dated to 188, never existed. See pp. lxxxix-xci.  8 For a fine discussion of sites of Buddhist translation, see Wang Wenyan,  Fodian hanyi zhiyanjiu , pp. 129-201, esp. pp.131-141.  9 Sengzhao’s biography can be found in Huijiao’s Gaoseng zhuan . See T.2059:50.365a9-366a29.  10 Sengrui’s biography can be found in Huijiao’s Gaoseng zhuan . See T.2059:50.364a14-366b22. Kumrajva once said that he had no regrets whatsoever in his translation career  because he had met Sengrui, with whom he consulted on every work of his translation.See T.2059:50.364a9-11.  11 Daorong’s biography can be found in Huijiao’s Gaoseng zhuan . See T.2059:50.363b22-363c29. Curiously, according to his biography in the Gaoseng zhuan , Daorongindeedwrote a commentary on the Vimalakrti-stra , but only one entry survived today. See LiYizhuo , Weimojie jing jizhu  , 2nd ed. (Taipei: Laogu chubanshe,1983), pp. 313-314; T.1775:38.371c28-372a12. We shall see the implication of this uniquesituation later.  12 Daosheng’s biography can be found in Huijiao’s Gaoseng zhuan . See T.2059:50.366b23-367a28. For a study of Daosheng, see Young-Ho Kim, Tao-sheng’s Commentary on the Lotus Stra: A Study and Translation  (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).  13 The commentaries of Kumrajva and his disciples were collated together in  Zhu   Weimojie jing   in T.1775:38.327a9ff. Another monk, Tan Shen , whowas a disciple of Huiyuan (334-416), also wrote a commentary in five scrollson the Vimalakrti-stra  titled Weimojiezi zhu jing   , but apparently it waslost. See T.2059:50.363a25 and T.2149:55.244b19, 248c11.  Persuasion and Entertainment at Once: Kumrajva’s Buddhist Storytelling in His Commentary on the Vimalakrti-stra exemplified in Wang Bi’s (226-249) commentary on the  Laozi   14  andGuo Xiang’s (d.312) commentary on the  Zhuangzi  . 15  While closeattention is given to Buddhist philosophical concepts, there is very little interestin explicating historical details or proper nouns of non-philosophical nature intheir commentaries. In comparison, Kumrajva’s commentary as a whole isquite similar, but there are a few features that separate it from those of hisdisciples.First, and only Kumrajva could dothis, he occasionally would cite theSanskrit variants for certain words in the Vimalakrti-stra . 16  Similarly,hewould take the trouble to offer, in Chinese, the meaning of Sanskrit termswhich were routinely transliterated in the scripture. 17  Sometimes, he would citethe locus classicus for a Buddhist allusion, or he would, on very rare occasion,cite another scripture to interpret a passage in the Vimalakrti-stra . 18  Second,unlike his disciples, Kumrajva sometimes has a keen eye for empirical andhistorical details, and he often cites the customs and practices in foreigncountries to make his commentary more intelligible. He discusses, for instance,the literary characteristics of Sanskrit literature when he explains the principles  14 For a recent translation of the commentary, see Richard John Lynn translated, TheClassic of the Way and Virtue: A New Translation ofthe Tao-te ching of Laozi as Interpreted by Wang Bi  (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).  15 An English translation of GuoXiang’s commentary on the first seven chapters of theZhuangzi can be found in Yu-lan Fung’s Chuang Tzu: A New Selected Translation withan Exposition of the Philosophy of Kuo Hsiang   (Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1933).  16 See, for example, Li, pp. 60 (T.1775:38.334b5-7), 66 (335a27-b3), 128(344a9), 248 (362b13-14), 398 (385a5-17), 400 (385b10-11), 413 (387b2-3), 416 (387c8-9), 461 (394b7), 516(402b6-9), 544 (406b26-28), 556 (408b6-7), 588 (413a22-26), 597 (414a21-22) and 598(414b7-8). According to Wang Wenyan, Kumrajva’s translations are characterized by a proclivity for literary adornments, frequent abbreviation and extrapolation of thetranslated works, and correction of technical terms, proper nouns, and historical or legendary details. See his  Fodian hanyi zhi yanjiu,  pp. 219, 233-234. Sengyou even made aspecial inventory of terms that Kumrajva created in his translations to replace impreciseones used in earlier translations. The list is cited in Wang Wenyan’s  Fodian hanyi zhiyanjiu, pp. 234-236. Evidently, Kumrajva’s interest in non-philosophical details wasalso exhibited in his explicative commentary on the Vimalakrti-stra .  17 These Sanskrit terms were typically personal names. It should be noted that in hiscommentary Sengzhao also had a tendency to offer the literal meanings of personalnames inChinese, although his renditions were invariably identical to those given byKumrajva.  18 . For instance, Kumrajva cited the  Za baozang jing   (* Samyuktaratnapitka- stra ) (T.203) and the  Dazhidu lun  (*  Mahprajñpramitstra ) (T.1509) toexplain the term aura  and  zongchi  (conviction) respectively. See Li, pp. 42-43; T.1775:38.331c21-23, and p. 91; 339a13-14. It should be noted that Kumrajva himself translated the  Dazhidu lun . And he cites the  Miji jing   (Scripture on Secret Traces)to interpret “the secrets of the Buddha” mentioned in the Vimalakrti-stra . See Li, p.307; T.1775:38.371a7. This scriptural citation seems to be the only case in the entirecommentary, and notably, it does not concern any profound philosophical issue.
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