By Aśvaghoṣa
Translated by Patrick Olivelle


“Life of the Buddha” (Buddhacarita) was composed by a Buddhist monk named Ashva·ghosha in the first or second century CE probably in the north-central Indian city of Ayódhya. This text is the earliest surviving example of the Sanskrit literary genre called kāvya (ornate epic poetry) and probably provided models for Kali·dasa’s more famous poetical works. The fourteen Cantos extant in Sanskrit take the reader from the birth of Siddhártha, the future Buddha, to his Awakening when he discovered the truths of the Buddhist doctrine. Some of the most poignant scenes of the text take place when the young prince is, on the one hand, confronted by the reality of human life subject to sickness, old age, and death, and, on the other, seduced by the charms of the women employed by his father to keep him at home.

Although it is a poetic composition of the highest order, Ashva·ghosha’s main aim is not to entertain but to instruct, to present the Buddha's teaching as the culmination of the Brahmanical tradition. His wonderful descriptions of the lovely bodies of the courtesans are ultimately meant to show the transience of beauty:

Others, grasping branches
of mango in full bloom,
bent down to expose breasts
resembling golden pots. (4.35)

In sleep these same lovely girls reveal their true nature, which prompts Siddhártha to leave home and become an ascetic:

Another was lying as if she was drunk,
mouth wide open and saliva oozing,
legs wide open and genitals exposed,
body distorted, looking repulsive. (5.61)

561 pp.  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-6216-5  |  ISBN-10: 0-8147-6216-6  |  Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation

About the Translator

Patrick Olivelle is Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions, University of Texas. He has also translated Five Discourses on Worldly Wisdom for the CSL.

Note from the publisher
The following information was not included in the printed volume:
The translation was originally published as: The Pañcatantra: The Book of India’s Folk Wisdom. Translated by Patrick Olivelle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
We apologize for the omission. The Introduction which appears in our volume is an edited version based on the original introduction.