Stefano was one of my most treasured colleagues and dearest friends. We met for the first time at the IABS meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1999, but we became close friends when my husband (then fiance) John McRae and I moved to Japan in 2004, where Stefano was a member of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology. There we enjoyed countless hours of buddhological discussions, and we both came to admire his vast knowledge of both Indian and Chinese Buddhism.
Stefano was one of the two leading experts in the world (the other being Paul Harrison of Stanford University) on the works of the first Chinese Buddhist translator, An Shigao. His article published in 2002, where he demonstrated that An Shigao’s Yin chi ru jing 除持入經 (T603) corresponded to Chapter 6 of the Peṭakopadesa, was a stunning achievement, and this was followed by a number of ground-breaking articles on previously lost works of An Shigao that had surfaced in the Kongōji 金剛寺 temple in Japan.
He was also an authority on the Chinese Buddhist scriptures in general, and his first monograph (In Praise of the Light: A Critical Synoptic Edition with an Annotated Translation of Chapters 1-3 of Dharmarakṣa’s Guang zan jing 光讚經, Being the Earliest Chinese Translation of the Larger Prajñāpāramitā), published in 2005, contains the best discussion in English—and indeed, to the best of my knowledge, in any language—on the formation and evolution of the Chinese Buddhist canon.
Another of his enduring interests was the early history of Buddhist commentaries in China, and his article on the third-century commentary on An Shigao’s Yin chi ru jing (T1694), published in 2010, was a masterful treatment of this very difficult text.
Despite these extraordinary achievements, Stefano’s towering intellect was paired with an endearing modesty. He seemed to view each of his publications as a first attempt at understanding the topic at hand, while his colleagues saw each one as a stunning achievement. Indeed, it seems fair to say that each of his articles (not to mention his superb monograph) was a ground-breaking contribution to the field.
Stefano’s modesty was not limited to his scholarly accomplishments, for one of my fondest memories is of the many occasions when John and I were invited to his office for coffee. No matter how many times he had served us delicious cups of espresso, he would always look at them doubtfully and say “It might be strong….”
Stefano’s premature passing is a great loss not only to his family and his many friends, but to the Buddhist Studies field as a whole. But I take some comfort from the fact that he had just completed his second monograph, a study of the massive commentary on the Larger Prajñāpāramitā scripture preserved only in Chinese (the Da zhidu lun 大智度論, T1509) and what it can tell us about the interaction between Mahāyāna sūtras and their commentaries in India. He had not only finished the manuscript itself, but had also incorporated comments from two of his closest colleagues, and thus it was in its very final form. When I spoke with him just four days before his death, he told me that everything was finished except the acknowledgements.
So although we have all lost a treasured colleague and a dear friend, his voice will not fall silent. We can all look forward to reading the monograph that will be his final legacy, even as his first book—and his many articles—will continue to inspire us all (and to inspire our students) for many decades to come.