Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 361–382 | Cite as

The Nirvāṇa of the Buddha and the Afterlife of Aśvaghoṣa’s Life of the Buddha

  • Shenghai LiEmail author


Aśvaghoṣa follows his scriptural sources closely in his narration of the story of the Buddha’s last journey leading to his nirvāṇa. The Buddhacarita and the Pāli Mahāparinibbānasutta mirror each other in their accounts of most of the places that the Buddha visited and the many events that took place during that journey. What the Buddhacarita and the Pāli sutta have in common also suggests that Aśvaghoṣa’s sources are already highly literary, even though the Buddhist poet transforms the traditional materials through versification and literary embellishment. He also freshly designs occasional religious dialogs and philosophical meditation. Aśvaghoṣa’s literary accomplishments met with different responses outside South Asia. In China, the translation of the Buddhacarita was used as an authority and a source of information in erudite biographies of the Buddha, a Buddhist history, a Buddhist encyclopedia, and lexicographical works. In Tibet, where Indian literary classics were actively studied, interpreted, and used as literary models, the Buddhacarita has been surprisingly ignored after it was rendered by a lesser known Tibetan translator between 1260 and 1280.


Aśvaghoṣa Buddhacarita Nirvāṇa Buddhist literature Translation Reception 


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A previous version of this paper was presented in December 2015 at the “Reading Aśvghoṣa Across Boundaries” conference at Tel Aviv University, which was organized by Dr. Roy Tsohar. A fellowship from the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies allowed me to carry out the initial research. This paper was also supported by the Major Program of National Social Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 17ZDA235).


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for the Preservation and Study of Pre-modern Chinese BooksFudan UniversityShanghaiChina

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