The first time I met Stefano Zachetti was on a balmy evening on the sidelines of the IABS conference in Bangkok in December 2002. We were joined by his close collaborator at the time, Karashima Seishi, and spent a lovely evening on the balcony of the drab dormitory on the Chulalongkorn campus where I stayed, talking about Buddhism, academia and life in general, while drinking and smoking. It was not only lovely but also inspiring to be in the company of these two lively intellectuals and exquisite scholars, and it is terrible that after mourning Karashima’s passing barely nine months ago we now also have to suffer the loss of Stefano.
Stefano and Karashima were not only close colleagues but academically they were also kindred spirits, working in particular on the earliest transmission of Indian scriptures to China, an important area about which we are now much better informed thanks to their momentous contributions. A particular focus of Stefano’s wide-ranging work was the early Prajñāpāramitā literature, and his “In Praise of the Light” is an exemplary study of Dharmaraksa’s Chinese translation of the Larger Prajñāpāramitā. Equally impressive is Stefano’s fine-grained and comprehensive treatment of the sprawling Prajñāpāramitā literature for the Brill Encyclopedia of Buddhism. In lucid term it displays his intimate knowledge of a complex and intricate network of interrelated texts, and provides the foundation for all future studies of this textual tradition. These are only two examples of Stefano’s impeccable scholarship, which for all the attention to detail and precision is never pedantic but always inspired by the quest for the larger picture.
Stefano impacted our field not only by his writings but also by the generosity and joy with which he shared his deep knowledge and boundless enthusiasm. In fall 2011 he served as visiting Numata professor at Berkeley (as Karashima-sensei did in spring 2019), teaching a reading seminar dedicated to An Shigao’s Yinchiru jing. Though I had invited Stefano, I unfortunately ended up being on sabbatical leave in Munich. However, when visiting Berkeley in that fall I met a Stefano who had earned the admiration and friendship of colleagues and students alike, and who through his seminar had made a lasting impression on our community.
The last time I saw Stefano was in Oxford in January this year when upon his invitation I served as external examiner for the fine dissertation of Francesco Bianchini, who now is the last student to have earned his Ph.D. under Stefano’s supervision. Stefano welcomed me at Balliol College with his warm smile and broad hug, and we proceeded to the senior common room where he introduced me with great pride to the luxurious espresso machine he had talked Balliol into acquiring. After savoring several cups of premier espresso, Stefano walked me across Oxford to Lady Margaret Hall, with our conversation ranging from family (his son, suffering from acute appendicitis, was set to undergo surgery that evening) to academics, and to life at Oxford. It became clear to me how much he had embraced the place and become home at Oxford despite all his reservations about British exceptionalism and jingoism in the Brexit era. In a word, Stefano had arrived and was at the height of his career, and his premature death could not be more cruel and pointless; I fail to find words of consolation.
Alexander von Rospatt (UC Berkeley)