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Buddhacarita or Acts of the Buddha

Product no.: 81-208-1279-4
Asvaghosa's epic poem recounting the main stages of the Buddha's life, translated from the original Sanskrit, supplemented by the Tibetan and Chinese versions.

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Publisher's Synopsis

The Buddhacarita is the most famous work of Asvaghosa, the well-known Buddhist poet-philosopher supposed to have been a contemporary of King Kaniska of the early 2nd century AD. Of the twenty-eight cantos of the epic poem a little less than half is now available in the original, but complete translations in Chinese and Tibetan have been preserved. This edition consists of three parts.

The first part contains the Sanskrit text and the second the translation of the first fourteen cantos, filling up the lacunae in the Sanskrit from the Tibetan, together with an Introduction dealing with various aspects of the poet's works, with notes which discuss the many difficulites of text and translation, and an Index. The third part contains translation of Cantos XV-XXVIII based on the available Tibetan and Chinese versions so as to arrive as near the meaning of Asvaghosa's original text.

The poem falls into four distinct quarters of seven cantos describing birth and youth of the hero, enlightenment after long questing, how the Buddha made his discovery by teaching available to all beings, a mission ending with a universal conquest in which the hero converts the rulers and people in many countries to the new doctrine and the events leading up to the Parinirvana of the Buddha.

"This is a reprint of the 1936 University of the Punjab (Lahore) edition of Asvaghosa's Buddhacarita or Acts of the Buddha, translated into English by E.H. Johnston. Part I is the complete Sanskrit text of Cantos I to XIV, using as its chief authority a Sanskrit manuscripts dating from approximately 1300 A.D., supplemented by the Tibetan version and a fifth century A.D. Chinese translation. Part II is a translation into English of the Sanskrit text, plus a lengthy introduction by the translator on Asvaghosa's life and works and his achievements as a Buddhist, as a scholar, and as a poet.

In Johnston's words, the works of Asvaghosa, in all probability a former Brahman living in the first century A.D. in the eastern regions of India, 'are invaluable to us, not for their originality of thought, but as giving us a complete and coherent picture of the faith of a typical Buddhist at a particular epoch.' This is especially true with regard to his devotion to the Buddha, his handling of legend, and his exposition of doctrine. While not the only translation of this text into English, it is certainly the most useful. The reprinted edition is therefore of major importance. This volume belongs in all libraries which deal seriously with the Buddhist tradition and its textual materials."       ~Bardwell L. Smith, Carleton College


72. "Ho! ho! listen ye to the words of me who have now attained perfect knowledge; everything is achieved by meritorious works, therefore as long as existence lasts acquire merit.
73. Since I ever acted as liberal, pure-hearted, patient, skilful, devoted to meditation and wisdom, - by these meritorious works I became a Bodhisattva.
74. After accomplishing in due order the entire round of the preliminaries of perfect wisdom, - I have now attained that highest wisdom and I am become the All-wise Arhat and Gina.
75. My aspiration is thus fulfilled; this birth of mine has borne its fruit; the blessed and immortal knowledge which was attained by former Buddhas, is now mine.
76. As they through the good Law achieved the welfare of all beings, so also have I; all my sins are abolished, I am the destroyer of all pains.
77. Possessing a soul now of perfect purity, I urge all living beings to seek the abolition of worldly existence through the lamps of the Law." Having worshipped him as he thus addressed them, those sons of the Ginas disappeared.
78. The gods then with exultation paid him worship and adoration with divine flowers; and all the world, when the great saint had become all-wise, was full of brightness.
79. Then the holy one descended and stood on his throne under the tree; there he passed seven days filled with the thought, "I have here attained perfect wisdom."
80. When the Bodhisattva had thus attained perfect knowledge, all beings became full of great happiness; and all the different universes were illumined by a great light.
81. The happy earth shook in six different ways like an overjoyed woman, and the Bodhisattvas, each dwelling in his own special abode, assembled and praised him.

~CANTO XIV: Enlightenment (Verses 72-81)

Aśvaghoṣa (c. 80 – c. 150 AD) Indian philosopher and poet considered the father of Sanskrit drama. Born a Brahman, he opposed Buddhism until a debate with a Buddhist scholar led to his conversion. Asvaghosa became known as a brilliant orator, and he spoke on Mahayana at the fourth Buddhist council. He is considered India's greatest poet before Kalidasa. Works attributed to him include the Buddhacarita (“Life of the Buddha”) and the Mahalankara (“Book of Glory”).

Author Asvaghosa
Coauthor Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama
Translator Johnston, E. H.
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 527 pp.
Publisher Motilal Banarsidass Publishers 2004
Gold Medal

Gold Medal


  Gold Medal Essential Reading

Browse these categories as well: Theravada Suttas, Southern Buddhism, Spiritual Biography and Autobiography, Noteworthy Releases 2004, Gold Medal Essential Reading

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