Aśvaghoṣa’s Apologia: Brahmanical Ideology and Female Allure
The question I pose in this paper is simple but crucial: Why did Aśvaghoṣa present Brahmanism as the backdrop for the emergence of Buddhism? In both his epic poems, he presents Brahmanism as the obvious and natural condition of society and kings, in the same way that it is depicted in the Brahmanical writings themselves. It has become increasingly clear that Brahmanical texts present ideologically motivated programs for social engineering rather than accurate descriptions of social reality. If social reality did not obligate Aśvaghoṣa to adopt this posture, then why did Aśvaghoṣa buy into this ideological position of Brahmanism? Why did he not describe the social reality underlying Buddhism in a way similar to Aśoka? While attempting to explore these questions, I will analyze Aśvaghoṣa’s arguments against some central theological positions of Brahmanism: First, there is the theological argument that a person must turn to asceticism only after he has raised a family and performed his other religious obligations spelt out in the trivarga and the āśrama system. Second, there is the issue of kāma, both within the trivarga and within the common conception of a householder’s life. The paper will attempt to analyze the way Aśvaghoṣa in his two epic poems deals with these two areas, one more strictly theological and the other dealing with themes of sex, eroticism, and conjugal love, all of which present obstacles to the Buddhist path of liberation that runs through the celibate monastery.
KeywordsAśvaghoṣa Buddha Nanda Trivarga Renunciation Brahmanism
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- Covill, L. (2007). Handsome Nanda by Aśvaghoṣa. New York: Clay Sanskrit Library, New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Covill, L. (2009). A metaphorical study of Saudarananda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Google Scholar
- Hiltebeitel, A. (2001). Rethinking the Mahābhārata: A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Johnston, E. H. (Ed.). (1928). The Saundarananda of Aśvaghoṣa. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Johnston, E. H. (Ed.) (1936). Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddhacarita, or Acts of the Buddha. Reprint. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984.Google Scholar
- Olivelle, P. (1992). The Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads: Hindu scriptures on asceticism and renunciation. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Olivelle, P. (1993). The Āśrama system: The history and hermeneutics of a religious institution. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Olivelle, P. (2008). Life of the Buddha by Ashvaghosha. New York: Clay Sanskrit Library, New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Olivelle, P. (2012). ‘Aśoka’s inscriptions as text and ideology.’ In P. Olivelle, H. P. Ray, & J. Leoshko (Eds.), Reimagining Aśoka: Memory and history (pp. 157–183). Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Olivelle, P. (2016). Aśvaghoṣa and the brahmanical theology of the epics and Dharmaśāstras. In I. Andrijanić, & S. Sellmer (Eds.), On the growth and composition of the Sanskrit Epics and Purāṇas. Zagreb: Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts and Ibis grafika.Google Scholar
- Olivelle, P. (Ed.) Forthcoming. The householder in ancient India: A history of the Gṛhastha. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Winternitz, M. (1923). Ascetic literature in ancient India. Calcutta Review. October 1–21.Google Scholar