His family lived at Dunhuang, where he was born around 233 CE. At the age of eight, he became a novice and took the Indian monk named Zhu Gaozuo (Chinese: 竺高座) as his teacher.
As a young boy, Dhamaraksa was said to be extremely intelligent, and journeyed with his teacher to many countries in the Western Regions, where he learned Central Asian languages and scripts. He then traveled back to China with a quantity of Buddhist texts and translated them with the aid of numerous assistants and associates, both Chinese and foreign, from Parthians to Khotanese. One of his more prominent assistants was a Chinese upāsaka, Nie Chengyuan (Chinese: 聶承遠), who served as a scribe and editor.
Dharmaraksa first began his translation career in Chang'an (present day Xi'an) in 266 CE, and later moved to Luoyang, the capital of the newly formed Jin Dynasty. He was active in Dunhuang for some time as well, and alternated between the three locations. It was in Chang'an that he made the first known translation of the Lotus Sūtra and the Dasabhūmika Sūtra, two texts that later became definitive of Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism in 286 CE and 302 CE, respectively. He died at the age of seventy-eight after a period of illness; the exact location of his death is still disputed.
Altogether, Dharmaraksa translated around 154 sūtras. Many of his works were greatly successful, widely circulating around northern China in the third century and becoming the subject of exegetical studies and scrutiny by Chinese monastics in the fourth century. His efforts in both translation and lecturing on sūtras are said to have converted many in China to Buddhism, and contributed to the development of Chang'an into a major center of Buddhism at the time.
Some of his main works are:
The Saddharmapundarika Sūtra (Chinese: 正法華經; pinyin: Zhèng Fǎhuá Jīng)