Most Prevalent Buddhist Recitation of Sacred Book in Ancient India

According to I-tsing (635 A.D.-713 A.D.) Buddhacharita of Ashvaghosha was the most sacred text in Buddhism.

Today in Sanatan religion, texts such as Geeta, Ramayana, Ramacharitmanasa of Tulasidasa, Durga Saptashati, Bhagavat Purana etc. are considered to be the work of virtuousness. In the same way in ancient India, for the followers of Buddhism in the seventh century, the recital of the book Buddhacharita was considered to be the work of virtuousness.

Testimony of I-tsing

Yijing (635–713 c.e.), formerly romanized as I-ching or I-tsing, a Tang-era Chinese Buddhist monk a traveler and a translator of Buddhist scripture, 7th century C.E.

Yijing (635–713 c.e.), formerly romanized as I-ching or I-tsing, a Tang-era Chinese Buddhist monk famed as a traveller and translator came to India in search of Buddhist knowledge in 671 A.D. He studied at Nalanda University. He has written his travelogue named “A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago (A. D. 671-695).”

I-tsing has mentioned that Buddha-charitam was so popular in the country that this sacred book was widely read or sung throughout India and South-east countries.

I-tsing is quoted here:-

“Aśvaghosha also wrote some poetical songs and the Sûtrãlankãra-śãstra. He also composed the Buddhacaritakãvya (or ‘Verses on the Buddha’s career’). This extensive work, if translated, would consist of more than ten volumes. It relates the Tathãgata’s chief doctrines and works during his life, from the period when he was still in the royal palace till his last hour under the avenue of Sãla-trees: — thus all the events are told in a poem.

quoted from the book “A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago (A. D. 671-695).”

It is widely read or sung throughout the five divisions of India, and the countries of the Southern Sea. He clothes manifold meanings and ideas in a few words, which rejoice the heart of the reader so that he never feels tired from reading the poem. Besides, it should be counted as meritorious for one to read this book, inasmuch as it contains the noble doctrines given in a concise form.”(pp.165-166)

quoted from the book “A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago (A. D. 671-695).”

Testimony of Yuan Chwang

The Chinese traveler to India in search of Buddhist knowledge, 7th century C.E.

Aśvaghosha has been mentioned with utmost reverence by Yuan Chwang in his book “Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World”. The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim calls him Aśvaghosha Bodhisattva. He writes:

“At this time lived Aśvaghosha Bodhisattva (0-shi-po-kiu-sha-pu-sa). His Wisdom embraced all subjects, and in his career he had traversed the arguments of the three Vehicles (Little, Great, and Middle Vehicle?)(Vol. II, p. 100)

quoted from the book “Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World”

About the unparallel arguing capacity of Aśvaghosa Yuan chwang writes,

“Then Aśvaghosha discoursed on the minute words of the three Pitakas, and alluded to the great principles of the five Vidyãs, and nicely divided the length and breadth of his argument with a high and various discourse.”

quoted from the book “Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World”

Yuan Chwang further informs,

“At this time in the east was Aśvaghosha, in the south Deva, in the West Nagarijuna, in the north Kumaralabdha. These four were called the four sons that illumined the world.”

quoted from the book “Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World”

Thus it is clear that Ashvaghosha’s Buddhacharita was most sacred book in seventh century in India.

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