Born in a Brahman family, Asvaghosa was a noted poet and is considered to be instrumental in the spread of Buddhism. He was born in Central India and was a noted philosopher and poet. He was considered as great as Kalidasa. He was born in Ayodhya; he is also connected to places like Benares and Patna. He is described in Tibetan history as someone who could just solve any question, any query and could give a solution to any problem. His opponents were, intellectually, beaten down by him. He was also known for his musical talents. He used to roam around with his musical partners, men and women, playing music and singing songs in the market places. His song used to talk of the banalities of life and the meaninglessness of human existence without faith and belief. Later, he made this one of his techniques to spread the message of his religion. To know more about Asvaghosa, continue to read this insightful biography on him.
Though a written biography of Asvaghosa does not exist, legends say that he was a strict opponent of Buddhism. Then one day he lost a heated debate to the noted Buddhist scholar. It is said that this incident triggered him to accept Buddhism and he became one of the most noted disciples of Buddhism. The term Ashwaghosa Bodhisattva has an interesting story behind it.
Asvaghosa was once teaching and singing the principles of Dharma to a crowd in the royal city, when the king deliberately fed seven hungry horses to test their reaction to Asvaghosa's teaching. The horses were distressed due to hunger, but they did not touch the food to be relieved of their distress. Instead they understood Asvaghosha's sermon and were relieved. That is how the name Ashwaghosa bodhisattva came into being. It literally means "horses that listen to Bodhisattva".
Asvaghosa was a great orator and spoke in great details about the Buddhist doctrine and its principles. He could easily explain complex concepts of Mahayana Buddhism. His famous works include Mahayana-sraddhotpada-sastra, which means Awakening of faith in Mahayana, Buddhacharita or Life of Buddha and Mahalankara or the Book of Glory. He also wrote a poem called Saundarananakavya. It was about the conversion of Nanda (Buddha's half brother) to Buddhism in order to attain salvation.
Asvaghosa was also the writer of a famous court poem of his times called the saundaranandakavya. This poem was discovered and edited by Pandit Haraprasada Shastri. This poem is also on the life of Buddha, but completely different from anything that has ever been written on Buddha's life before. There is a special mention to the city of Kapilavastu in the poem. The poem is dedicated on the love story of Sundari and Nanda. Nanda was the half-brother of Buddha. The story goes like this: Nanda is initiated into being a Buddhist against his will. This sickens the heart of Sundari, his wife and Nanda also longs to be his wife. All the other monks try to console him but all that effort goes to vain because Nanda continues to suffer. Even the word of Buddha does not put his heart and mind to peace. To this, Buddha takes Nanda to heaven with him. On their way to the heaven, they pass the mighty mountains of Himalayas. Nanda comes across a dreadful looking one-eyed female monkey. Buddha asks him if he thought Sundari was prettier than that female monkey to which Nanda replied yes vehemently. Later when they reach heaven, they meet many heavenly and celestial nymphs. Nanda falls for them and feels very passionate towards them, forgetting all about Sundari. He comes back to earth with Buddha and resigns to ascetic practices in hope to attain heaven when he dies. Seeing this, Buddha's disciple Ananda teaches Nanda that even the pleasures of heaven are transitory and in vain. This convinces Nanda that he does not want the joys of heaven and he goes to confess that with Buddha. Buddha becomes very impressed with Nanda and decides to teach him lessons from the Buddhist doctrine himself. After sometime Nanda renounces everything and goes in exile to forests. There he practices four great meditations dedicatedly, which results in him becoming an arhat. This spiritual achievement of Nanda pleases Buddha to a great extent and he asks Nanda to preach other people and work towards the emancipation of the mankind.
Sraddhotpada was translated in Chinese language first time in 534 A.D. and then 710 A.D. After its second translation, it was finally translated into English language by T. Suzuki. It was called the Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana. Suzuki claims that the author of the book is indeed Asvagnosa. In the Tibetan literature it is mentioned that Asvaghosa was the composer of Satapancasatikastotra. This poem has about 150 verses. But I-tsing is of the view that it is the work of another poet called Matrceta.