I cannot help saying a few words here about the importance of Açvaghosha's main work which is scarcely known in the West, and if so, wrongly. Even Samuel Beal who is considered one of the best authorities on Chinese Buddhism, makes a misleading reference to our author in his Buddhism in China. The following quotation from the same apparently shows that at least when he wrote it, in 1884, he had a very insufficient knowledge of the subject. He says (page 138):
"His (Açvaghosha's) writings still survive in a Chinese form, and when examined will probably be found to be much tinged by a pseudo-Christian element. . . . But there is one book, the K‘i-sin-lun, or 'Treatise for Awakening Faith,' which has never yet been properly examined, but, so far as is known, is based on doctrines foreign to Buddhism and allied to a perverted form of Christian dogma." The incorrectness of this statement will readily be seen by the reader when we proceed further on.
Wassiljew, another of the highest Western authorities on the subject, seems to be entirely ignorant of the existence of the present work. It is very strange that those who are considered to be quite well acquainted with the development of the Mahâyânistic thought, do not place in the right light a prominent, if not the principal, actor, who, so far as is known to us, practically initiated this great spiritual and intellectual movement in India. Wassiljew says in his Buddhismus (pp. 83-84):
"Zu welcher besonderen Schule Açvaghosha gehörte, wird nicht mit Bestimmtheit überliefert: aus der Legende, nach welcher er sich bei der Abfassung der Vibhâshâ betheiligte, dürfen wir jedoch den Schluss ziehen, dass er zu den Repräsentanten der Vaibhâschika's gerechnet ward."
It is true that in the Life of Vasubandhu Açvaghosha is said to have taken part in the compilation of the Vibhâshâ, but it is of no account whatever in the
face of the present book in which we can clearly trace almost all elements of the thought fully developed afterwards by Nâgârjuna and other later Mahâyâna representatives.
I wish here, in order to show the significance of Açvaghosha, to call the attention of the reader to the three most salient points in his doctrine which will distinguish him from all Hînayâna schools. The three points constituting the gist of this Çâstra then are: (1) the conception of suchness (Bhûtatathatâ); (2) the theory of the triple personality; (3) the salvation by faith or the Sukhâvati doctrine.
The conception of suchness assumes other names, namely, The Womb of the Tathâgata (Thatâgatagarbha), when considered from its embracing all possible merits, and the All-Conserving Mind (Âlayavijñâna), when it becomes the principle of evolution and is said to have developed from the teaching of Buddha as expounded in the old canonical sûtras, such as the Lankâvatara and the Çrîmâlâ. Whatever the origin of the idea of suchness might have been, its "absolute aspect" evidently foreshadows the Çûnyatâ philosophy of the Mâdhyamika school. It is very doubtful whether Nâgârjuna, as told in a Chinese tradition, was a personal disciple of Açvaghosha, but it is highly probable that he was much influenced by him in forming his system.
The second thesis, the theory of the triple personality, that is one of the most distinctive characteristics
of the Mahâyâna Buddhism, seems to have been first established by Açvaghosha. The pantheistic idea of suchness (Bhûtatathatâ), and the religious consciousness which always tends to demand something embodied in infinite love (karunâ) and infinite wisdom (jñâna), and the scientific conception of the law of causation regulating our ethical as well as physical world, or in short the doctrine of karma,--these three factors working together in the mind of Açvaghosha, culminated in his theory of the triple personality.
The doctrine of salvation by faith whereon the Japanese Shin Shyû (True Sect) and Jôdô Shyû (Pure Land Sect) laid down their foundation also, appears first in the present çâstra. If the quotation in the Mahâyânaçraddhotpâda actually refers to the Sukhhâvatî Sûtras, as we may fairly assume, there is a great probability in the statement that during the first four centuries after the Nirvâna there was already a variety of free interpretations about the teaching of the Master, which, commingled with the other religio-philosophical thoughts in India, eventually made a full development under the general names of the Mahâyâna and the Hînayâna schools.
A supplementary point to be noticed in Açvaghosha is the abundance of similar thoughts and passages with those in the Bhagavadgîta. The coincidence between the latter and the Saddharmapuṇḍarîka has been pointed out by Kern in his Buddhismus und seine Geschichte (Vol. II., p. 500, footnote). While it is an
open question which of the two has an earlier date, the Mahâyâna Buddhism as a whole must be permitted to have some common points with the canonical book of Çivaism.
In conclusion I wish to state that as this book, the Awakening of Faith, is of paramount importance in its being the first attempt of systematising the fundamental thoughts of the Mahâyâna Buddhism, as well as in its forming a main authority of all the Mahâyânistic schools, those who study the doctrinal history of Buddhism cannot dispense with it; and that, in spite of its highest importance, no attempt has yet been made to make it accessible to the reader who is not familiar with the Chinese language, and so I here offer to the public an English translation of the entire text.