The Debate on Asceticism as a Permanent Choice of Life: Some Late Clues from Mahākāvyas




Aśvaghoṣa, history of asceticism, pre-reformed sovereignty, Buddhist/brahmanical debate, sūkṣma dharma


The present paper is focused on a couple of apparently contradictory Buddhacarita (Bcar) passages. On the one hand, there is the attribution of the pre-classical pattern of constituting kings in the sacrificial arena, implying a cyclical exchange between asceticism and warrior sovereignty, to Buddha’s father and his ancestors, who possibly ignore the varṇāśrama system. On the other, King Śuddhodana himself wishes that his son would not choose asceticism as a permanent way of life, i.e., that he adheres to the ordered succession of āśramas, in accordance with the brahmanical inclusivistic varṇāśrama system. The interpretation proposed here consists in assuming a specific Aśvaghoṣa intellectual reading of the potential relation between Buddhist and brahmanic dharma, based on a shared past, denoted by the expression sūkṣma dharma. The poetic allusion to this epic expression might have denoted an uncertain common dharma path which was to be overpassed by both parts, respectively by means of the true Buddhist dharma, and through the brahmanical śrauta reform. The two questioned verses are assumed to be a further fragment of the history of the brahmanic-Buddhist debate dating back to the Itihāsa and Mahākāvya age reconstructed by Hiltebeitel over these last ten years.

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How to Cite

Pontillo, Tiziana. 2013. “The Debate on Asceticism As a Permanent Choice of Life: Some Late Clues from Mahākāvyas”. Cracow Indological Studies 15 (December):1-21.