The author of the Mahâyânaçraddhotpâdaçâstra (Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahâyâna) is most commonly known in the Chinese Buddhist literature by the name of Açvaghosha. But according
to his Life he was also called Kung-tê-jih (i.e., merit-sun; in Sanskrit, Puṇyaditya?). For he was not only a philosopher, but a preacher and an organiser, for "while in North India he widely propagated the doctrine of Buddha, led and benefited the masses, and through good and excellent [missionary] methods perfected the merits of the people." The Record of Buddha and the Patriarchs (Fo tsou t‘ung tsai), where it is stated that his other name was Kung-chang (Puṇyaçrîka?), can be said almost to agree with the above. While thus no other name or appellation of his is known in China, Târanâtha mentions nine more names: Kâla (Time), Durdarsha (Hard-to-be-seen), Durdarshakâla (Hard-to-be-seen-time), Mâtṛceta (Mother-child), Pitṛceta (Father-child), Çûra (Hero), Dharmika-Subhûti (Virtuous-mighty), and Maticitra (Intelligence-bright). 1
In I-tsing's Correspondence from the South Sea (Nan hai chi kuei ch‘uan, 2 Chap. 32, "On chanting"), the name Mâtṛceta is mentioned, but I-tsing does not identify him with Açvaghosha, though the legend attached to the former closely resembles that of the latter told in Târanâtha. Târanâtha states that when Açvaghosha became a sthavira and advocate of the
[paragraph continues] Tripitaka, he had a dream one night in which the venerable Tara gave him the instruction to write hymns on Buddha for the expiation of his former sinful deeds; that according to this admonition he wrote many hymns praising the virtues of Buddha, amongst which one containing one hundred and fifty çlokas 1 is the best of all; that the hymns composed by him are full of benediction like the very words of Buddha, because he was predicted by the Blessed One to be a hymnist. 2
Compare the above with this from I-tsing:
"The venerable Mâtṛceṭa (Mother-child) was a man of great intellect, of excellent virtue, eminently standing above all sages in India. A tradition says that when Buddha was taking a walk one time with his kinsmen, disciples, and many other people, a nightingale (?), observing his personal feature as elegant and majestic as a gold mountain, uttered in the wood some pleasant, harmonious notes that sounded like praising the virtues of Buddha. Buddha then turning towards the disciples said: 'The bird overcome by the joy of seeing me utters a pitiful cry. By this merit it will after my death obtain a human form, Mâtṛceṭa by name, and praise and adore my intrinsic virtues with a number of hymns.' This man first followed the doctrine of a tîrthaka worshipping
[paragraph continues] Maheçvara 1 and composed many hymns to adore him. But in the meantime he came across his own name recorded [in a Buddhist writing]; inspired by this, he took refuge in Buddha, changed his garb, abandoned his laymanship, and in many ways praised, honored and adored Buddha. Regretting his misbehavior in the past and desiring to perform good deeds in the future and also lamenting the unfortunate fate that prevented him from having a personal interview with the Great Teacher rather than bowing before his bequeathed image, he at last decided with all his rhetorical talent and in solemn fulfilment of the Lord's prophecy, to praise his virtues and merits [in hymns]. He first composed four hundred çlokas and then one hundred and fifty çlokas; 2 all of which describe the six Pâramitâs [Perfections] and state the excellent virtues possessed by the World-Honored-One," etc.
At the end of the same Chapter (i.e., Chap. 32) in I-tsing's Correspondence he refers to Açvaghosha and Nâgârjuna both of whom composed some beautiful and popular hymns that were sung by Buddhists throughout India at the time of his pilgrimage. But if the Tibetan statement is reliable, I-tsing may have
been mistaken in recording Açvaghosha and Mâtṛceṭa as different characters. The Tibetan and Chinese version of the one hundred and fifty çloka hymn being still existent, the comparison of which, however, I have not yet been able to make, will furnish an interesting testimony for the identification.
Many legendary explanations have been invented about the name of Açvaghosha, as might be expected of the imaginative Indian mind, but not being worth while quoting from the materials at my command, no reference will be made to them here.
21:1 Geschichte des Buddhismus, p. 90.
21:2 by I-tsing who left China A. D. 671 for a pilgrimage to India and came back A. D. 695. The book is a work on the vinaya as observed by the Sarvâstivâdin, which the pilgrim witnessed in India as well as in Ceylon. An English translation by J. Takakusu, London.
22:1 Schiefner notes: Çatapantschâçatika nâma stotra, Tandjur B. I, unter den Stotra's.
22:2 Geschichte des Buddhismus, p. 91.
23:1 Cf. the following statement in Târanâtha, p. 90: "Als er (Açvaghosha) in den Mantra-und Tantra-Formeln und in der Dialektik sehr bewandert wurde, gab ihm Maheçvara selbst Anleitung."
23:2 "Hymn of One Hundred and Fifty Çlokas" (Çatapañacâshadbuddhastotra), translated into Chinese by I-tsing during his stay in the Nâlanda-vihâra, Central India. At the time of the compilation of the Chêng yüan catalogue the original is said to have existed.