Lokaksema (Buddhist Monk)
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Lokaksema Buddhist Monk
Lokaksema (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zh? Chèn).
Born147 CE
OccupationBuddhist monk, scholar, translator, and missionary

Lokak?ema (, Chinese: ?; pinyin: Zh? Lóuji?chèn) (flourished 147-189) was a Buddhist monk of Indian origin who traveled to China during the Han dynasty and translated Buddhist texts into Chinese, and, as such, is an important figure in Chinese Buddhism.


Details of Lokak?ema's life come to us via a short biography by Sengyou (; pinyin: S?ngyòu; 445-518 AD) and his text "Collected Records concerning the Tripitaka" ( Chu sanzang jìjí, T2145).

The name is usually rendered in Sanskrit as Lokak?ema, though this is disputed by some scholars, and variants such as Lokak?ama have been proposed. [1]. In particular the character ? can be read as chen or chan. Sengyou refers to him as Zh?chèn (Chinese: ). The Zh? (Chinese: ?) prefix added to his Chinese name suggests that Lokaksema was of Yuezhi (Chinese: ) 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.[2]

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 Lokak?ema.[]

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 Mahay?na Buddhist texts into Chinese.[3] The editors of the Taish? Tripi?aka attribute twelve texts to Lokak?ema. These attributions have been studied in detail by Erik Zürcher, Paul Harrison and Jan Nattier, and some have been called into question.[4]

Zürcher considers it reasonably certain that Lokak?ema translated the following:

  • T224. . A translation of the Aas?hasrik? Prajñ?p?ramit? S?tra.
  • T280. . The Scripture on the Tusita Heaven, part of the proto-Avatamsaka Sutra
  • T313. . Ak?ohhya-vy?ha
  • T350. ?. Ka?yapaparivrata
  • T418. . Pratyutpanna Sam?dhi S?tra
  • T458. . Mañju?r?'s Inquiry Concerning the Bodhisattva Career.
  • T626. . Aj?ta?atru Kauk?tya Vinodana S?tra
  • T807. ?. The Hundred Jewels of the Inner Treasury.

Harrison is doubtful about T626, and considers that T418 is the product of revision and does not date from Lokak?ema's time. Conversely, Harrison considers that T624 Druma-kinnara-r?ja-parip?cch?-s?tra ought to be considered genuine.

A characteristic of Lokak?ema'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. [5] Based on evidence from Chinese catalogues of texts, Nattier suggests that T224 and T418 are representative of Lokak?ema 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 Lokak?ema's core texts, though with occasional anomalies. T624 and T626 form a third tier with more deviations from the distinctive style of Loksk?ema. If T313 was indeed a translation by Lokak?ema, it has been extensively revised by an unknown editor, though the prose sections are closer to his style than the verse.[6]

Several translations attributed to Lokak?ema have been lost:

  • Shoulengyan jing (a version of the Suramgama-sam?dhi-siitra, already lost in Sengyou's time)
  • Guangming sanmei jing "Sutra on the Samadhi of Luminosity"
  • Hu banniehuan jing "The Hu Parinirva Sutra"
  • Bo benjing ("The Original *Pu?ya Sutra")

Lokaksema's translation activities, as well as those of the Parthians An Shigao and An Xuan slightly earlier, or his fellow Yuezhi Dharmarak?a (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 Lokak?ema disappears from the historical record so that we do not know the date of his death.

See also


  1. ^ Nattier 2008: 73-4
  2. ^ Nattier 2008: 73
  3. ^ Nattier 2008: 73
  4. ^ Nattier 2008: 76-7
  5. ^ Nattier 2008: 75-6
  6. ^ Nattier 2008: 78-85


  • Nattier, Jan (2000). "The Realm of Aksobhya: A Missing Piece in the History of Pure Land Buddhism". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 23 (1): 71-102.
  • Nattier, Jan. 2008. A Guide to the Earliest Chinese Buddhist Translations: Texts from the Eastern Han and Three Kingdoms Periods. The International Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University.

Further reading

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