Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

5
The Ācāryas

a. MERGER OF PERNALALITIES: AŚVAGHOSA, AND VASUBANDHU
IN the roll of the first generation of Mahāyānist schoolmen and philosophers who are known as Ācāryas or 'Śāstra-masters', the outstanding names are: Aśvaghoṣa, the two brothers Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, Dinnāga, Nāgārjuna, Kumāralabdha, Buddhapālita and Bhāvaviveka (or Bhāvya). In respect of at least three of them, of pre-eminent position, the phenomenon we have referred to as 'merger of personalities' is evident. AŚVAGHOSA is perhaps the most venerable name among the ācāryas. The legend about him (both Chinese and Tibetan) is that he played a most important part in the 'council' convened by Kaniṣka, which, according to Tibetan legend, was the first great gathering in Buddhist history of Bodhisattvas--the first Mahāyānist council. Aśvaghoṣa was among the assembled Bodhisattvas and his literary genius was availed of for precise and effective formulation of the doctrines arrived at by the council. The legend thus points to the reign of Kaniṣka ( first or second century AD) as the time of his advent, though there are other legends that assign him to a later period.1His name became a 'prestige name': in the Chinese and Tibetan canonical collections a large number of Mahāyānist works, different in kind and diverse in character, are fathered on him. They are highly esteemed by Mahāyānists:
1. Treatises on the Mahāyāna:
A. Mahāyāna-śraddhotpāda
B. Sūtrālaṅikara-śāstra
C. Gaṇḍistotra, and a large number of minor works.
2. Epic poems:
D. Buddha-caritam
E. Saundarānanda-Kāvya
3. Dramatic work:
F. Śāriputra-prakaraṇa
____________________
1
The Chinese and Tibetan legends of AŚaghosa are summarised in Susuki Awakening of Faith, etc. pp. 2-32. One of these legends (Chinese) speaks of six Aśvaghoṣas (Ibid, p. 6) who flourished at different times.

-277-

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