A Buddhist Reading of the Sanskrit Epics and Their Treatments of Dharma
This chapter on Aśvaghoṣa's Buddhacarita returns to the question of biography, and takes up the centrality of dharma in this text. Aśvaghoṣa, a Brahmin convert to Buddhism and a versatile poet‐scholar, tells the Buddha's life story from earlier Buddhist sources while taking cognizance of precedents from the Sanskrit epics. Most crucial in showing the uniqueness of the Buddhist dharma and of the Buddha's discovery of it is the repeated insistence that “there is no wrong time for dharma,” which provides opportunities for Prince Siddhārtha to trump Brahmanical concerns for the inherent timeliness of āśramadharma. It is argued that Aśvaghoṣa tells the episode of the Buddha‐to‐be entering Magadha during the reign of King Bimbisāra as a counter‐story to the Mahābhārata's narrative of Kṛṣṇa and two Pāṇḍavas entering Magadha to overthrow the tyrant Jarāsaṃdha, who is interpreted as a crypto‐Buddhist. Discussion then turns to Aśvaghoṣa's usage of the anomalous term mokṣadharma, which he seems to get from the Mahābhārata, raising questions about the treatments of mokṣa and mokṣadharma in the Mahābhārata, Manu, and the Buddhacarita. The chapter ends with a postscript on Aśvaghoṣa's closing tribute to Aśoka Maurya.
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