Translating and Explaining: Early Central Asian and Chinese Commentaries to the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra
Rudolf G. Wagner, Senior Professor, Chinese Studies, Heidelberg University, Cluster "Asia and Europe"; Asssociate, John K. Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University
|Tuesday, November 10, 4:30 pm
McFadden Room, Barker Center 24
Abstract: The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra has met with an enthusiastic response in China with no less than four translations and a stream of manuscripts preserved in Dunhuang and Turfan. The figure of the “householder” Vimalakīrti, whose insight even tops that of luminary Bodhisattvas such as Maitreya, was an inspiration to the Six Dynasties Buddhist lay nobility, and scenes from the Sūtra have inspired paintings, sculptures, poems and plays down to Mei Lanfang’s Tiannü sanhua 天女散花. While this Sūtra has been treated in scholarship as one of the earliest and most articulate presentations of “Mahāyāna” doctrine, the meaning of this concept itself has become controversial in recent discussion. Focusing on the commentaries of Kumārajīva, Seng Zhao and Zhu Daosheng (5th cent), the talk will explore their strategies of reading and explaining the Sūtra to a Chinese-reading audience; highlight the information they provide on northern Indian religious contexts; and detail the bandwidth of their notion of “Mahāyāna” in comparison to that offered by the Sūtra itself.