Asvaghosa

Asvaghosa

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(Devanagari
Devanagari
Devanagari |deva]]" and "nāgarī" ), also called Nagari , is an abugida alphabet of India and Nepal...

: अश्वघोष) was an India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n philosopher-poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, born in Saketa in northern India to a Brahmin family. He is believed to have been the first Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 dramatist, and is considered the greatest India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n poet prior to Kālidāsa
Kalidasa
Kālidāsa was a renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language...

. He was the most famous in a group of Buddhist court writers, whose epics rivaled the contemporary Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

. Whereas much of Buddhist literature prior to the time of Aśvaghoṣa had been composed in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is a modern linguistic category applied to the language used in a class of Indian Buddhist texts, such as the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. BHS is classified as a Middle Indic language...

, Aśvaghoṣa wrote in Classical Sanskrit.

According to the traditional biography of Aśvaghoṣa, which was translated into Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 by Kumārajīva
Kumarajiva
Kumārajīva; was a Kuchean Buddhist monk, scholar, and translator. He first studied teachings of the Sarvastivada schools, later studied under Buddhasvāmin, and finally became a Mahāyāna adherent, studying the Madhyamaka doctrine of Nagarjuna. Kumārajīva settled in Chang'an, which was the imperial...

, and preserved in that language, he was originally a wandering ascetic who was able to defeat all-comers in debate.

He set a challenge to the Buddhist monks that if none could meet with him in debate then they should stop beating the wood-block which signalled to the people to bring offerings to them. There was no one there to meet the challenge so they stopped beating the wood-block.

However, in the north there was an elder bhikṣu named Pārśva at the time, who saw that if he could convert this ascetic, it would be a great asset to the propagation of the Dharma
Dharma
Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...

, so he traveled from northern India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and had the wood-block sounded.

The ascetic came to ask why it had been sounded and though thinking the old monk would be unable to debate with him, he accepted his challenge, and after seven days the debate was held in front of the King, his Ministers, and many ascetics and brahmans. The loser agreed to become the disciple of the other.

They agreed that the elder Pārśva should speak first, and he said: "The world should be made peaceable, with a long-lived king, plentiful harvests, and joy throughout the land, with none of the myriad calamities", to which the ascetic had no response and so was bound to become Pārśva's disciple, and he was given full ordination as a bhikṣu.

Although he had to consent to this, he still wasn't convinced of the elder's virtues until he showed him he had mastered the Bases of Spiritual Power (r̥ddhipādāḥ), at which point he gained faith. Pārśva then taught him the 5 Faculties, the 5 Powers, the 7 Factors and the 8-fold Noble Path and he eventually mastered the teaching.

Later the central kingdom was besieged by the Kuṣāna King's army, who demanded 300,000 gold pieces in tribute. The King could not pay so much as he had only 100,000. The Kuṣāna King therefore asked for the Buddha's begging bowl, the converted monk and the 100,000 gold pieces for his tribute.

Although the King of the central kingdom was unhappy, the monk persuaded him it would be for the good of the propagation of the Dharma which would spread across the four continents if he went with the Kuṣāna King. He was therefore taken away.

The Kuṣāna's King's Ministers however, were unhappy, not thinking that the bhikṣu was priced correctly at 100,000 gold pieces. The King, who knew his worth, ordered that seven horses be starved for six days, then he made an assembly and had the bhikṣu preach the Dharma.

Even the horses, whose favourite food was placed in front of them, were entranced by the Teaching of the monk, and listened intently. Eveerybody was thereby convinced of his worth, and he then gained the name Aśvaghoṣa, Horse-Cry.

He travelled throughout northern India proclaiming the Dharma and guiding all through his wisdom and understanding, and he was held in great regard by the four-fold assembly, who knew him as The Sun of Merit and Virtue.

He was previously believed to have been the author of the influential Buddhist
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 text Awakening of Mahayana Faith, but modern scholars agree that the text was composed in China. And it is now believed he was not a Mahayanist, and seems to have been ordained into a subsect of the Mahasanghikas.

He wrote an epic
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 life of the Buddha called Buddhacarita
Buddhacarita
Buddhacharita is an epic poem in the Sanskrit mahakavya style on the life of Gautama Buddha by , composed in the 2nd century AD...

 (Acts of the Buddha) in Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

. I-tsing (Yijing) mentioned that in his time Buddhacarita was "...extensively read in all the five parts of India and in the countries of the South Sea (Sumātra, Jāva and the neighbouring islands). He clothed manifold notions and ideas in a few words which so delighted the heart of his reader that he never wearied of perusing the poem. Moreover it was regarded as a virtue to read it in as much as it contained the noble doctrine in a neat compact form."

It described in 28 chapters the whole Life of the Buddha from his birth until his entry into Parinirvāna, but during the Muslim invasions of the 10th - 12th centuries half of the original text was lost in Sanskrit, and today the second half only exists in Chinese and Tibetan translations.

He also wrote Saundaranandakavya, a kāvya
Kavya
Kavya refers to the Sanskrit literary style used by Indian court poets flourishing from the first half of the seventh century AD. This literary style is characterised by abundant usage of figures of speech, metaphors, similes, and hyperbole to create its emotional effects...

 poem with the theme of conversion of Nanda, Buddha’s half-brother, so that he might reach salvation. The first half of the work describes Nanda’s life, and the second half of the work describes Buddhist doctrines and ascetic practices.

He is also thought to be the author of the Mahālaṅkāra (Great Ornament).

According to Geshe
Geshe
Geshe is a Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monks...

 Ngawang Dakpa of Sera Je
Sera Monastery
Sera Monastery is one of the 'great three' Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet, located north of Lhasa. The other two are Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. The origin of the name 'Sera' is attributed to a fact that the site where the monastery was built was surrounded by wild roses in...

 Monastery in a 2008 Dharma Talk, "Aryadeva
Aryadeva
Aryadeva , was a disciple of Nagarjuna and author of several important Mahayana Madhyamaka Buddhist texts. He is also known as Kanadeva the 15th patriarch in the Zen tradition and Bodhisattva Deva in Sri Lanka where he was born as the son of a king. Some Chinese sources however, suggest he was...

 was an Ayurvedic medicine doctor monk just like Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna
Nagarjuna
Nāgārjuna was an important Buddhist teacher and philosopher. Along with his disciple Āryadeva, he is credited with founding the Mādhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism...

."