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PARAMĀRTHA was the religious name of Kulanātha (499569), an Indian monk and translator of Sanskrit texts. Paramārtha was a central figure in the introduction of the Buddhist Yogācāra, or Vijñānavāda (idealist), doctrines to China. Born in Ujjain, India, Paramārtha traveled widely as a Buddhist missionary and was probably living in Cambodia prior to arriving in Canton, baggage full of sūtras, in 546. Two years later he reached the Liang capital at Jiankang, present Nanjing, and was summoned to audience by Emperor Wu, a great patron of Buddhism. Impressed by both the knowledge and volume of sūtras Paramārtha possessed, the emperor had decided to appoint him director of an ambitious translation project when the Hou Jing rebellion forced him to abandon his plan.

Fleeing to the coastal provinces, Paramārtha wandered about translating and teaching and for a year or so enjoyed the patronage of Lu Yuanzhe, the governor of Fuchun in the Fuyang district of Zhejiang. In 552 he was recalled to the capital by a victorious Hou Jing. After only 120 days on the throne, Hou jing was overthrown by Xiao I (Emperor Yuan), during whose three-year reign Paramārtha enjoyed imperial support and resided at the Zhenguan temple in Nanking, translating the Suvaraprabhāsa Sūtra (Jinguangming jing ). After three years in Nanjing, Paramārtha was forced by the unsettled political situation to resume the life of a wanderer, which, however, did not inhibit his prodigious translation activities. Yet despite such apparent energy he was depressed by his unstable circumstances, was constantly nostalgic for India, and repeatedly attempted to return home, only to be dissuaded each time by disciples and friends.

One of the more fateful of these attempts occurred in 562, when he managed to board a ship and journey the open sea for two months before a storm blew the boat into Canton. Ouyang Wei, the governor there, and his son Ouyang Ho, old acquaintances from Paramārtha's previous days in Canton, came to his aid and soon became his disciples. Under their patronage he translated many texts, including the Mahāyānasagraha (Compendium of the Mahāyāna; Chin., Shedasheng lun ), that were central to the development of uniquely Chinese traditions in Buddhism. The completion of these works brought him evident satisfaction, but nevertheless he lapsed into depression again, and his disciples had to thwart a suicide attempt in 568.

Hoping to brighten his outlook, his followers planned to return him to the capital, but the monks already entrenched there, fearing that Paramārtha might threaten their status, convinced the emperor of the newly founded Chen dynasty that his doctrines were a threat to the government. Paramārtha therefore stayed on in Canton until he succumbed to illness at the age of seventy.

A number of Paramārtha's translations proved influential in the development of indigenous Chinese Buddhist traditions during the Sui (581618) and Tang (618907) periods. These include the Abhidharmakośa (Epidamozhushe lun, Treasury of the Abhidharma), Madhyāntavibhāga (Zhongbian fenbie lun, On distinguishing the extremes from the middle), Viśatikā, and Triśikā, by Vasubandhu; the Mahāyānasagraha, the Saptadaśabhūmikaśāstra (Youjia shidi lun qishi lun) portion of the Yogācārabhūmi ; and Vasubandhu's treatise on Asaga's Mahāyānasagraha, the Mahāyānasagraha-bhāya. The last text provided the foundation for Paramārtha's own Shelun school, which came to be patronized during the Sui by Emperor Wen, and was championed and modified during the Tang by the monk Xuanzang. Paramārtha's work was the point of departure for Zhiyi (538597) and Fazang (738?838?), the principal masters of the Tiantai and Huayan schools, respectively. His thought was also important to the development of the Faxiang and Chan (Zen) schools of the Tang dynasty.


An important source for information on the life and thought of Paramārtha is Ui Hakuju's Shindai sanzōden no kenkyū, volume 6 of Indo tetsugaku kenkyū (Tokyo, 1965). For a superb review of Paramārtha's influence on the development of Chinese Buddhism, including a complete bibliography of modern critical studies, see Diana Y. Paul's Philosophy of Mind in Sixth Century China: Paramārtha's "Evolution of Consciousness" (Stanford, Calif., 1984).

Miyakawa Hisayuki (1987)

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