Dharma Data: Buddhacarita

It was not until the 2nd century AD that the first complete biographies of the Buddha were written. At this time two works both titled Buddhacarita, meaning the life of the Buddha, were composed by monk poets at the court of the great Buddhist emperor Kaniska. The first of these was written by Sangharaksa and was a combination of verse and prose, and although the original Sanskrit has been lost, a Chinese translation of it still exists. The second of these works was written by the celebrated poet Asvaghosa.

In 28 chapters Asvaghosa uses striking imagery and polished language to tell the Buddha’s life from his birth to events immediately after his death. Based closely on the biographical information in the Pali Tipitaka Asvaghosa’s Buddhacarita is remarkably free from the mythological accretions that surrounded the Buddha at the time, and is widely considered a masterpiece of Sanskrit literature.

E.H. Johnstone, The Buddhacarita or Acts of the Buddha, Calcutta, 1939.