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Dharmarakṣa (Chinese, Zhu Fahu; ca. 233–310 c.e.) was one of the most prolific translators of Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese. According to traditional biographies, Dharmarakṣa was a descendant of the Yuezhi, a Central Asian people whose precise ethnicity and native language are still debated. He was born at Dunhuang, a military colony and mercantile hub in the westernmost reach of the Chinese empire. Although his family is said to have lived at Dunhuang for generations, Dharmarakṣa is the first mention of Buddhism in this region. He became a novice monk at an early age, studying with an Indian teacher while developing his skills in Chinese. His translation career began in 266 and continued for more than forty years, resulting in the translation of over 150 Buddhist texts into Chinese. He was assisted in his endeavors by a considerable number of Indian, Central Asian, and Chinese collaborators—some monks, some laymen—the most prominent of whom was Nie Chengyuan, a Chinese upāsaka with whom Dharmarakṣa worked in the northern Chinese city of Chang'an.

Dharmarakṣa translated a number of mainstream Buddhist works, but his most notable contributions are his translations of Mahāyāna texts, including such large and well-known sūtras as the Lotus SŪtra (SaddharmapuṆḌarĪka-sŪtra), the Guangzan jing (Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra; Perfection of Wisdom in 25,000 Lines), and the Xianjie jing (Bhadrakalpika-sūtra; Scripture on the Fortunate Aeon). Dharmarakṣa died at the age of seventy-eight amidst the social and political chaos that marked northern China at the beginning of the fourth century. His translations laid the foundation for the textual exegesis and doctrinal developments of the fourth century, epitomized in the work of the monk Dao'an (312–385). In the early fifth century, many of Dharmarakṣa's translations were superseded by the retranslations of the Kuchean monk KumarĀjĪva (350–409/413).

See also:China; Mahāyāna; PrajñāpāramitāLiterature


Boucher, Daniel. "Gāndhārī and the Early Chinese Buddhist Translations Reconsidered: The Case of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra." Journal of the American Oriental Society 118.4 (1998): 471–506.

Tsukamoto Zenryū. A History of Early Chinese Buddhism. From Its Introduction to the Death of Hui-yüan, Vol. 1, tr. Leon Hurvitz. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd., 1985.

Daniel Boucher