There is not so much discordance in the traditions about the wanderings of Açvaghosha as about his date, though indeed we do not have as yet any means of ascertaining his birth-place, other than the statements
of discordant authorities. According to Târanâtha, 1 he was a son of a rich Brahman called Samghaguhya who married the tenth and youngest daughter of a merchant in Khorta. As a youth, when thoroughly familiar with every department of knowledge, he went to Odiviça, Gaura, Tîrahuti, Kâmarûpa, and some other places, defeating everywhere his Buddhist opponents by his ingenious logic.
All these places are situated in Eastern India, and among the Chinese traditions the Record of the Triratna (Li tai san pao chi) as well as the Accounts of Buddha and the Patriarchs (Fo tsu tung chi) agree with Târanâtha in placing Açvaghosha's native land in the East; but the Life of Vasubandhu makes Açvaghosha a native of Bhâshita in Çrâvastî, while in Nâgârjuna's work, the Mahâyânaçâstravyâkhyâ (Shih mo ho yen lun), he is mentioned as having been born in Western India, Loka being the father and Ghoṇâ the mother. The Record of Buddha and the Patriarchs Under Successive Dynasties (Fo tsu li tai t‘ung tsai) agrees with neither of the above statements, for it says (fasciculus 5): "The twelfth patriarch, Açvaghosha Mahâsattva was a native of Vârâṇasî." A further contradicting tradition is pointed out by Prof. S. Murakami in one of his articles on the history of Buddhism, 2 quoting the Shittanzô (fas. 1), which makes Açvaghosha a man of South India.
A majority of the traditions place his native country in East India; but there is no means of confirming these. One thing, however, seems to be certain, namely, that Açvaghosha was not born in the northern part of India, which place is supposed by most Western Buddhist scholars to be the cradle of the Mahâyâna school.
Wherever the native country of Açvaghosha may have been, both the Chinese and Tibetan records agree that he made a journey to Central India, or Magadha. it seems that every intellectual man in India, the people of which, living in affluence, were not occupied with the cares of making a living, sought to gain renown by dialectics and subtle reasonings, and Açvaghosha, as a Brahman whose "intellectual acquirements were wonderfully deep," and whose "penetrating insight was matchless," 1 could not resist the temptation. Not satisfied with his intellectual campaign against commonplace Buddhists in his neighborhood, who were crushed down as "rotten wood before a raging hurricane," 2 he went, according to a Chinese tradition, to Pâṭaliputra, and according to the Tibetan, to Nâlanda. The Life of Açvaghosha evidently refers to this fact when it states that Parçva, the eleventh patriarch and eventual teacher of Açvaghosha, on being informed of the paramount influence of the Brahman
tîrthaka (i.e., Açvaghosha) in Central India and of the fact that his conquest over Buddhists had silenced the bell (ghanta) in some monastery (vihâra), journeyed from Northern India to convert the bitterest opponent into a faithful follower of Buddha. He adds that Açvaghosha left his home and lived henceforth in Central India. But according to the Transmission of the Dharmapitaka (Fu fa tsang ch‘uan, fas. 5) we find Açvaghosha even after his conversion still in Pâṭaliputra, from which he was taken by King Kanishka to the latter's own capital, Gandhâra, in the Northwest of India.
Thus all that we can say about the birth-place and wanderings of Açvaghosha is: (1) he was a Brahman by birth either of South, or of West, or of East, but not of North India; (2) he acquired in Central India his highest reputation as a Brahman disputant, and, after his conversion, as the greatest Buddha follower of the time, intellectually as well as morally; (3) his later life was spent according to the Chinese authority in the North where he wrote probably the Mahâlamkâra-sûtraçâstra (Book of Great Glory) which describes matters mostly relating to Western India.
18:1 Geschichte des Buddhismus, p. 90.
18:2 The Bukkyô Shirin, Vol. I., No. 6. 1894. Tokyo, Japan.
19:1 The Transmission of the Dharmapitaka (Fu fa tsang ch‘uan, fas. 5).
19:2 The same as above.