Aśvaghosa (AHSH-vah-GOH-sah), poet, musician, dramatist, scholar, philosopher, and religionist, flourished in India during the second century c.e., when the Kushān Dynasty of Kaniska paved the path for Indian civilization to extend to Central and Eastern Asia. Events of his life are sketchy, but he resided in the court of Kaniska at Peshāwar. Born a Brahman, he became a Sarvāstivādin but championed the Mahāyānist doctrine of the saving power of the buddhas. Regarded as the first exegete of Mahāyāna, he contributed to its spread outside India and participated in the Fourth Buddhist Council convened to settle codification of Buddhist scripture. However, the council had the effect of splitting Buddhism into Hināyāna and Mahāyāna schools.
Distinguished in Sanskrit epic, dramatic, and lyric poetry, his works, Buddhacarita (first or second century c.e.; Buddhacharitam, 1911), a masterful epic life of the Buddha; Saundarānanda (first or second century c.e.; The Saundarananda of Asvaghosa, 1928), an account of the conversion of his half brother Nanda; and Mahāyāna-śraddhotoāda (first or second century c.e.), a treatise of Mahāyāna doctrine, are ranked with works of Vālmīki and Kālidāsa. Other works ascribed to him are doubtful. His literary style is characterized by simplicity in diction and clarity in meaning. His dramatic plays successfully Indianized Greek drama....
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