Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 257–268 | Cite as

Aśvaghoṣa’s Apologia: Brahmanical Ideology and Female Allure

  • Patrick OlivelleEmail author


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.


Aśvaghoṣa Buddha Nanda Trivarga Renunciation Brahmanism 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Asian StudiesUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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