Special character of Kumarajiva translation

According to the historical background of Buddhism in China, the Buddhist texts had been translated before Kumārajīva came to Chang’an, but those texts contained difficult words that made it difficult for Chinese readers to comprehend. However, through his retranslations, people could better understand them. He succeeded in doing this by borrowing terms from traditional Chinese writings, such as those of Confucius and of Taoism. For example, he used Toaist terms (that had similar meanings to the concepts used in Buddha teaching) that the people were familiar with in order to explain Buddhist terms that the people were not familiar with, a method of explanation known as "geyi" (concept-matching). His translation style was possessed a distinctive flow and smoothness that reflected the importance of conveying the meaning as opposed to precise literal rendering.
Sheng-jui, who realized the limitation inherent in the “geyi” method, atfter attending the sessions in which Kumarajiva produced his translations. He said “I was for the first time able to comprehend the concept of Shunyata, or emptiness, that lies at the core of the Prajnaparamita.” Thus, by comparing it to the similar Daoist concept of Wu (non-being), Kumārajīva was able to help people like Dao’an to gain a deeper understanding of Buddhist thought.
In light of these amazing accomplishments, notable Japanese scholars described Kumārajīva in the following way:
“Kumārajīva was a man of outstanding linguistic talent who possessed a command of Sanskrit, the languages of Central Asia, and Chinese. Second, he had a broad understanding of all phases of Buddhist doctrine, having mastered not only the Hinayana Sarvastivada writings but the Mahayana works dealing with the concept of prajna and the Madhyamika teachings, and he was conversant with the vinaya, or rules of monastic discipline, as well. Third, is the fact that Yao Hsing and the leaders of the Chinese Buddhist words of the time took steps to create conditions that would be ideal for the production of Kumarajiva's translations. Fourth and finally, Kumarajiva had many talented young disciples and assistants to aid him in his labours.”
In the same manner, descriptions left by his disciples reveal his genius and efficiency. Kumārajīva and his team would take the sutras coming from foreign lands in hand and would translate them orally into Chinese while ensuring that they never violated the meaning of the original. This was ensured by the fact that the other monks would hold the text of the older translations of the sutras in their hands and use them to check the translations for errors, constantly inquiring about the general purpose of the passage, thus ensuring that the doctrines of the sect were preserved.
For example, we have the translation of “lotus sutra”, which was initially translated in AD 286 by Chufahu. While an expert in linguistics, most notably in all the languages used in central Asia, he struggled to translate the Lotus sūtra into Chinese, requiring the assistance of other translators. He apparently did not have a sufficient understanding of Chinese syntax to translate the text himself. Kumārajīva, however, had sufficient learning and understanding to
avoid making the kind of errors that earlier translations had and could point out and correct such errors when they came to his translation.
However, it must be noted that he, too, still needed help from other scholar monks to check and reread the errors. For instance, when there was some point about Buddhism that he did not fully comprehend, he did not hesitate to ask for assistance from others who were more versed in the topic under consideration. An example of this was the monk named Buddhayashas, who was very learned in the field texts, having a profound understanding of these sacred texts. Kumārajiva would, in times when he struggled to understand certain texts, approach Buddhayashas. Thus, Kumārajīva never tried to hide the fact that he did not understand something in order to propagate the Buddhist teachings correctly. As a result, he was able to produce a lot of valuable translations that can be used until the present day.

Something to add (补充两句)

I have something to add concerning the way Kumarajiva did his translation. First, he emphasized on using contemporary Chinese language that is smooth and elegant in style and at the same time precision in the selection of words that never to misrepresenting the true meaning. In other words, he presented a scripture that is readable, understandable and at the same time without losing in its essence. Second, he tried to retain the original Indian favor in the translation. And third, he boldly slashed out the many repetition found in the original Sanskrit version of Sutra-s.

Moreover, Kumarajiva's method and standard of translation are very innovative. Apart from the above, he required the newly translated version to go through a series of chanting or reciting, ensuring it meets the standard of smoothness and eloquence, only then it can be released to the public. No wonder the Mahayana sutra-s like the 'Diamond Sutra' and the 'Lotus Sutra' are so nice to read and chant. Beside all these, another very important achievement by Kumarajiva is his decision to create new terms, never seen before in China, that are purely reserved for Chinese Buddhism, terms such as 'Shi Zun' (世尊), 'Pu Sa' (菩萨), 'Nie pan' (涅槃).


One cannot deny that due to Kumārajīva’s contribution to the translation of Buddhist scriptures to Chinese language, Buddhism was able to spread throughout China and later throughout the world. Before Kumārajīva passed away, he swore that his translation was in accord with the genuine principles of Buddhism. Upon his death, his tongue would be intact to prove his statement. According to Mahayana Buddhism, Kumārajīva’s tongue indeed remained intact upon the incineration of Kumārajīva’s body. In short, Kumārajīva vowed to learn and spread Buddhism as much as possible, and he achieved his goal through years of hard work and determination. Hopefully, we can learn and practice Kumārajīva’s qualities in our life.