QUERY> An Indian Translator in 6th c. China

Matthew Kapstein's picture

Dear friends,

I have been trying to locate information regarding *Upaśūnya 月婆首那  , active during the 6th century.

There are two entries about him in Bagchi's 1927 Le Canon Bouddhique en Chine (pp. 265-7, 431), but I have not located anything more up to date. Surely, there must be some more recent scholarship. I would be grateful to know of it. Bagchi (p. 431) attributes a version of the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa to him, but this seems to be a confusion and Lamotte, in his discussion of the Chinese translations, does not mention it. However, I am primarily interested in the other translations credited to   月婆首那 .

thank you in advance,

Matthew Kapstein

EPHE, Paris

Categories: Query

Hi Matthew,

Re: 月婆首那 Upaśūnya, an alternate Skt version of his name is *Ūrdhvaśūnya. He appears to be a mid-6th c translator of sutras during the Yuan Wei and Liang dynasties.

DDB gives the following short bio with additional references:
*Upaśūnya or *Ūrdhvaśūnya, also translated as 高空; active 538–565. Translator. Indian, son of a king of 優禪尼 Udyāna/Ujjayinī in central India. Worked in Ye 鄴 538–541, then settled in Nanjing 542–546; wandered China under the Chen 陳; was active in Jiangzhou 江州 in 565. Translator of: 勝天王般若波羅蜜經 Suvikrāntavikrāmi-paripṛcchā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra T 231; 摩訶迦葉會 Maitreyamahāsiṃhanāda-sūtra  in the Ratnakūṭa T 310 (23); 僧伽吒經 Saṃghaṭa sūtra T 423; 大乘頂王經 *Mahāvaipulyamūrdharāja sūtra T 478.

Further references:
Namikawa, Takayoshi. 1981. “Shin shiryō Dharmapāda no kiso kenkyū .” Jinbungaku ronshū  15 : 58–92.
Ono, Katsutoshi. 1988. “Shōgozō no Shō tennō hannyaharamitsu kyō no kyōjo ni tsuite.” Nanto bukkyō 59 : 48–67.
Sanada, Yasumichi 真田康道. 1980. “ Saṃghāṭasutra-dharmaparyāya ni tsuite.” Jinbungaku ronshū 人文学論集  14 : 57–73.
Takasaki, Jikidō. 1988. “ Mujōe kyō to Shō tennō hannya.” Naritasan bukkyō kenkyūjo kiyō 11 : 171–194.

There are four texts attributed to him in the canon.

T.8.231 [No. 220(6)]
[Tib] Rab-kyi-rtsal-gyis rnam-par-gnon-pas shus-pa śes-rab-kyi-pha-rol-tu phyin-pa bstan-pa
(7 fascicles)
Translation by Upaśūnya in 565 CE in Yangzhou (楊州).

But see https://dazangthings.nz/cbc/text/172/

a translation of the Maitreya-mahāsiṃhanāda (sūtra), included as fascicles 88 and 89 in the Ratnakūṭa collection.
《大寶積經》卷88 and 89.
元魏優禪尼國王子 月婆首那譯
[Tib] Byams-pa’i seng-ge’i-sgra chen-po
Translation by Upaśūnya: 3rd year of Xinghe (興和) (541 CE), Eastern Wei dynasty (東魏).

*Saṅghāṭī-sūtra-dharma-paryāya (sūtra) OR more likely Saṃghāṭa-sūtra
[Tib] Zung-gi mdo’i chos-kyi-rnam-grangs
Translation by Upaśūnya: 1st year of Yuan Xiang (元象) Eastern Wei Dynasty (東魏) (538 CE).
DDB offers this summary:
The sermon is delivered in Gṛdhrakūṭa-parvata 靈鷲山 of Rājagṛha 王舍城. Mainly in response to Puyongʼs 普勇 questions, the Buddha explains of the merits and benefits of the true Dharma of the great vehicle assembly and encourages people to keep these in mind. He also admonishes people that if they denigrate the teaching, they will fall into hell 地獄. Then the teaching of the real character of all dharmas 諸法實相, the merits of hearing the teachings and revering the saṃgha 聞法敬僧, the teaching of escaping from suffering and attaining joy 離苦得樂 and so forth is also given. There is probably some relationship between the Lotus Sutra 法華經 and the thought of mindfulness of the Buddha 念佛 in this sutra.
Variant translation: Da jihui zhengfa jing 大集會正法經 T 424.
According to Marcus Bingenheimer’s Bibliography of translations from the Chinese Canon: “Complete translation from Tibetan available at http://www.sanghatasutra.net (June 2009). Local copy here. Translation from Sanskrit: Oskar von Hinüber "Das Saṅghāṭa Sūtra. Ausgabe und kommentierte Übersetzung eines nordbuddhistischen Lehrtextes." Unpublished Habilitationsschrift, Mainz 1973.”

T.14.478. This is the text sometimes considered a version of the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa sūtra.
Translation by Upaśūnya: last year of Datong (大同), Liang dynasty (梁) (545 CE).

Perhaps others have additional information on him.

For all such translator attributions the first port of call should be the database curated by Michael Radich. In this case, look here: https://dazangthings.nz/cbc/text/172/

Jonathan Silk

Dear Matthew,

Another way to retrieve information like that given by Dan is to consult my CBC@ database. In this instance:


will also give you the attributions to this figure in the canon.

As you see, you can then follow links to whatever notes the database might have about scholarship on individual works (coverage incomplete, in all likelihood always will be; restricted to the stated purposes of the database). For example, for T231:


The database currently has no entries on the other three texts ascribed to this translator.

Other relevant scholarship, apart from the work by Takasaki summarised at CBC@:

Ikuma Hiromitsu 伊久間洋光. "Nyorai himitsu kyō to Shōtennō hannya no taiō kankei ni tsuite『如来秘密経』と『勝天王般若』の対応関係について." IBK 60, no. 2 (2012): 175-179[L].

Ikuma, Hiromitsu. “Shyōtennōhannya kyō no hensan katei: Nyōraihimitsu kyō bonpon to no hikaku o chūshin ni”『勝天王般若経』の編纂過程:『如来秘密経』梵本との比較を中心に [On the Compilation Process of the *Devarājapravaraprajñāpāramitā-sūtra: Focusing on the Comparison with the Sanskrit Manuscript of the Tathāgataguhyaka-sūtra]. Buzan kyōgaku taikai kiyō豊山教学大会紀要 43, (March, 2015): 288–302.

Ikuma, Hiromitsu. “Kongōshu no juki: Nyōraihimitsu kyō oyobi Shōtennōhannya kyō o chūshin ni” 金剛手の授記:『如来秘密経』及び『勝天王般若』を中心に [On the Vyākaraṇa to Vajrapāṇi: Mainly on the Tathāgataguhyaka-sūtra and the *Devarājapravaraprajñāpāramitā-sūtra]. Mikkyōgaku kenkyū密教学研究, no.46 (march. 2014): 75–82.

Junoes, Fitri. "The *Anuttarāśraya-sūtra—The Discourse on the Supreme Support-Basis: A Study and Translation." PhD dissertation, University of Hong Kong, 2014.

Li, Weiying 李偉穎. “Lüe tan Sheng tianwan banre boluomi jing zhi shiliao ji xiangguan wenti” 略探《勝天王般若波羅蜜經》之史料及相關問題 [A Brief Inquiry into the Historical Records and Relevant Issues of *Devarājapravaraprajñāpāramitā-sūtra]. Zhengguan zazhi 正觀雜誌, no.18 (Sept. 2001): 129–170.

Ochiai Toshinori 落合俊典. “Gatsubashyū na yaku kashō kyō ni kanserareta kyōshode no yukue” 月婆首那訳迦葉経に冠せられた経序の行方 [Articles tracing of the preface appended the Jiashe jing (Arya-Maitreya-mahāsimhanāda-nāma-mahāyānasūtra) translated by *Ūrdhvaśūnya]. 佛教史学研究 [Journal of the History of Buddhism] 35, no. 2 (Nov. 1992): 61–77.

Ono Katsutoshi 小野勝年. “Shōgozō no Shōtennō hannya haramitsu kyō no kyōjo ni tsuite” 聖護(sic!)藏の「勝天王般若波羅蜜経」の經序について[*Devarājapravaraprajñāpāramitā-sūtra], Nanto bukkyō 南都佛教, no.9 (1988): 48–67.

Shinoda Masashige 篠田正成. "Shōtennō hannya kyō ni okeru Mujō e kyō to no ruijibun 勝天王般若経における無上依経との類似文." IBK 13, no. 2 (1965): 195-197.

Takasaki Jikidō 高崎直道. "Structure of the Anuttarāśrayasūtra (Wu-shang-i-ching)." IBK 8, no. 2 (1960): 30-37[L].

My MA student, Huang Mengji (now a PhD student) wrote her MA on T231. I owe many of the above references to her work:

"The Transmission of Adbhutadharmaparyāya: From Indic Texts to the *Devarājapravaraprajñāpāramitā-sūtra Composed in China." 2021, Heidelberg.

Best wishes,

Michael Radich

Dear Prof. Kapstein,

You may try also the new Hôbôgirin catalogue web site:

You enter the name "月婆首那" in the Search field, and press Enter. You will get the wanted data.

Best regards,

Nobumi Iyanaga

Many thanks to all those who kindly took the time to reply to my query.
I believe that I now have the information I required.

Matthew Kapstein
EPHE, Paris

Dear Matt:

The monk to whom Prof. Kapstein refers was known in Chinese either by the transliteration of his name as 月婆首那, or by its translation as 高空. The combination of the translation with the transliteration would seem to suggest (pace Bagchi) that his Sanskrit name may have been Ūrdhvaśūnya rather than Upaśūnya.

Biographical information on this translator may be found in the late 6th century (ca. 597) 《Record of the Three Treasures in Successive Dynasties》 (歷代三寶記 T2034), the mid-7th century (645-660) 《Further Biographies of Eminent Monks》 (續高僧傳 T2060), and the early 8th century (730) 《Kaiyuan Era Catalogue of Śākyamuni’s Teachings》 (開元釋教錄 T2154). References to this translator in later sources are all based on these three.

Said to have been the son of the King of Ujjayanī, he worked in several regions of N. and S. China (and, for a time, also in Khotan) from sometime before 538 until sometime after 565 (the exact dates of his birth, arrival in China, and death were never recorded).

Bagchi takes note of, and identifies, all of the texts, extant and inextant, that are mentioned in the traditional sources listed above.

As to the confusion Prof Kapstein mentions: The references to a “Vimalakīrti” scripture in these classical biblio-biographical sources — and in Bagchi, Nanjō Bun’yu, et al. — pertain not the 《Vimalakīrtinirdeśa》 but to another text in which the saintly laymen figures. This text — translated by Ūrdhvaśūnya (Taishō 479) but surviving also in translations by two other translators, viz. 法護 Dharmarakṣa (T477) and 闍那崛多 Jinagupta or Jñānagupta (T478) — was known by three different titles:

1. 頂王經 or 大方等頂王經 — the presumed or reconstructed Sanskrit of which is 《[Mahāvaipulya] Mūrdharājasūtra》.

2. 善思童子經, and

3. 維摩詰子問經.

The principle character in this other scripture is, as the second and third titles indicate, a youth (童子) named Shansi 善思, who presents offerings and puts questions to the Buddha. Empowered by the teachings thus elicited he attains anutpattikadharmkṣānti He is identified in the text as none other than a son of the great Licchavī sage!

I am not aware of — and a quick search of standard bibliographical sources has not turned up — any modern scholarship specifically on this translator. However, it is clear from Bagchi and his sources that he had a broad range, including the 《Ratnakūṭa》 and the 《Prajñapāramitā》 canons, and that he merits attention. There is, however, work treating not so much of the man himself as of some of the texts he translated and Michael Radich’s databases are probably a good place to tract this down.

An aside: It’s good to see reference to Prabodh Chandra Bagchi’s 《Le Canon Bouddhique en Chine》. This impressive reference work, now nearly a century old (vol. 1: 1927, vol. 2: 1938), is still a valuable source and an extraordinary feat of early scholarship. If only it could be modernized (e.g., with Taishō Canon citation, use of 漢字, use of Pinyin romanization, and perhaps translation into English) it would certainly merit republication today, but the task of revision is probably too difficult and is therefore not to be expected.