AÇVAGHOSHA, the first expounder of the Mahâyânistic doctrine and one of the deepest thinkers among the Buddhist patriarchs, is known to most Western Buddhist scholars simply as the author of the Buddha-caritakâvya, 1 the famous poem on the life of Buddha. The accounts of his life and of the significance of his philosophy are so few that the important influence exercised by him upon the development of the Mahâyâna Buddhism has been left almost entirely unnoticed. That he was one of the most eminent leaders among earlier Buddhists; that he was in some way or other connected with the third convocation in Kashmir, probably presided over by the Bhikshu Parçva; that he had a wonderful poetical genius which rendered great service in the propagation of Buddhism,--these facts sum up almost all the knowledge possessed by scholars about Açvaghosha. The reason why he is not known as he ought to be, is principally that the Sanskrit sources are extremely meagre,
while the accounts obtainable from Chinese and Tibetan traditions are confusing and full of legends.
This fact has led Professor Kern to say that Açvaghosha was not an historical man, but a personification of Kâla, a form of Çiva. 1 But the sources from which the Professor draws his conclusion are rather too meagre and I fear are not worth serious consideration. In the following pages we shall see by what traditions Açvaghosha's life is known to the Buddhists of the East.
1:1 The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XLIX. Beal's English translation of the Chinese translation The Fo sho king tsan king, S. B. E., Vol. XIX.
2:1 Der Buddhismus und seine Geschichte in Indien, authorised German translation, Leipsic, 1884, Vol. II., p. 464.