image of In Memoriam: Diego Loukota
(© Private photo by Stephanie Balkwill, 2023.)

In Memoriam: Diego Loukota

We just received the very sad news that Diego Loukota, our dear friend, colleague, and cooperation partner in the BuddhistRoad project, passed away on March 17 at the young age of 38. Diego Loukota had just started his promising career as Assistant Professor in Indian and Central Asian Buddhism at the University of California, Los Angeles, a few years ago after accomplishing degrees in three continents (a B.A. in Asian History from the University of Bologna in Italy, an M.A. in Sanskrit and Pāli from Beijing University in China, and a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from UCLA in the US). He mastered not only the main canonical languages of Buddhism (Sanskrit, Pāli, Chinese, and Tibetan), but also the rare Central Asian scripts of Gāndhārī and Khotanese. Diego Loukota was one among a mere handful of scholars worldwide able to pair his exemplary philological expertise with the remarkable skill of placing bits and pieces of micro-history, deciphered from ancient Central Asian manuscript fragments, into his expert analysis of macro-historical processes of the medieval spread of Buddhism in Central Asia—thus exceptionally investigating local and translocal dimensions alike.

Diego Loukota kindly accepted our invitation to present a lecture at the BuddhistRoad project’s final conference on impacts of non-Buddhist influences, and doctrines, held online in July 2021 with the results published in our forthcoming volume Buddhism in Central Asia III. He was at that time probably the only Buddhologist able to contribute scholarship to the non-Buddhist traces from Persian, Indic, and Sinitic spheres impacting the formation of Khotanese Buddhism. We are extremely happy to be able to publish this final work of fine scholarship in our volume. Following the lively interactions enjoyed during the conference, we were then very glad that Diego Loukota agreed to join the BuddhistRoad team as cooperation partner two years ago. He contributed the BuddhistRoad Paper 1.7 entitled “Ne Hāḍe Vajrropamä Vaśärä: Indic Loanwords in the Khotanese Book of Zambasta and the Chronology of the Spread of Buddhism to Khotan”, published in August 2023, but had to withdraw his commitment to the forthcoming co-authored volume of the BuddhistRoad Team, The Buddhist Road: Major Themes in Central Asian Buddhism II, when he was diagnosed with an incurable and aggressive form of brain tumor.

On a more personal note, it was moving, heartbreaking, and admirable to witness how Diego Loukota carried his fate, kept writing to us whenever he had the strength for it, and shared with us some glimpses of his final journey through fear, hope, faith, friendship, gratitude, and letting go. Our last e-mail exchange was on November 13, 2023, closing with my wish:

“Dear Diego, my favourite slogan of the mind training (blo sbyong) in the Tibetan tradition is this one:

                   Always apply only a joyful mind. 

May you stay in this spirit—whatever the future will be.”

The whole BuddhistRoad team is grateful for his dedication to the project’s research agenda until his very end. We all miss him but are comforted to know that his creative thinking will continue to inspire scholars in Central Asian religions and beyond.

Carmen Meinert

         Bochum, March 19, 2024