I think I first met Stefano in 1996, at a symposium I convened in Leiden for the International Institute for Asian Studies on the works of An Shigao. He may still have been a graduate student then, or not long past graduation. His Doktorvater Tilmann Vetter asked me to include him, and I was so glad I did. We have been friends ever since. That symposium was productive in all sorts of ways (it was there that the Buddhist Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection project was born), and we both went on being interested in and publishing on An Shigao, but Stefano soon established himself as the leading authority on him, writing some really influential papers on his work. He was the one, for example, to spot the fact that An Shigao’s Yin chi ru jing (T 603) corresponds to a section of the Pāli Peṭakopadesa, a truly terrific discovery. No surprise that Stefano was asked to do the entry on An Shigao for the Brill Encyclopedia of Buddhism. He could handle, in a way that few could, the exceedingly difficult language of these early Chinese Buddhist translations, something which I had frequent occasion to marvel at, since for many years we had an international Skype reading group which met regularly online to translate these thorny texts (Stefano, Jonathan Silk, Jan Nattier, Stephen Bokenkamp and myself, with Michael Radich joining us later).
Consequently Stefano was always the person I would turn to if I found myself unable to make sense of some text. More recently I made a translation of T 101, an archaic Chinese Saṃyuktāgama compilation, part of which may be by An Shigao, which is so horribly difficult I despaired of being able to do justice to it, and turned to Stefano and Michael Radich, who both kindly looked at my efforts and made extensive comments on my first draft. When it is published it will be dedicated to Stefano’s memory, since it is, in a very real way, a testament to his generosity of spirit.
Stefano’s work was always distinguished by deep erudition, and one could, for example, mention his In Praise of the Light, a study of the opening chapters of the first Chinese translation of the Larger Prajñāpāramitā, published in 2005. It not only does a remarkable job with that text itself, but Stefano’s exhaustive study of the history of Chinese editions of the Buddhist canon is worth the price of admission alone.
My most revealing tribute to Stefano’s scholarship is this: working on the history of the Vajracchedikā as I have been for many years, and knowing the quality of his work, I knew I just had to read Stefano’s masters thesis (Tesi di Laurea) on that sūtra. The problem for me, however, was that it was in Italian (Le versioni cinesi del Sūtra del diamante), a language of which I had practically no knowledge. So I made myself learn it, at least to the point where I could work my way through Stefano’s thesis with the aid of a dictionary. I can tell you that the payoff more than justified the effort, I learned so much from it. He remains the only colleague of mine whose MA thesis I have read, to say nothing of having to learn another language to do it.
All this à propos Stefano’s phenomenal scholarly accomplishments and abilities, but as you yourself say, what we will really miss him for is the kind of person he was. When the footnotes are forgotten we will still recall his lively, generous, goodhearted, unpretentious presence, and the great pleasure of being in his company. Words cannot convey my sadness at his premature death.
Paul Harrison (Stanford University)