‘Buddhacharitam’, an epic in the tradition of classical Sanskrit language and literature composed by the great Buddhist scholar Ashvaghosh is highly respected in Asian Buddhism. This epic describes the Life, Acts and Sermons of Lord Buddha in poetic way with a musical softness. According to I-tsing, the Chinese Buddhist monk, who travelled India in the seventh century, had found the daily recital of this Sanskrit-epic in Indian Buddhist temples. The author Ashvaghosh also had been respected as Bodhisattva i.e. an incarnation of Lord Buddha and the Sermons composed in this epic had been regarded as canonical texts in the Chinese tradition.
The complete epic is in 28 cantos. But unfortunately this is available only up to the 31st verse of the 14th canto. E. B. Cowbell, E.H. Johnston and many scholars have tried for long to find the complete manuscript of this epic but they did not succeed. Only one incomplete manuscript of this epic was found from Nepal which became the only base of various editions of the original Sanskrit text of Buddhacharitam.
But fortunately two ancient translations of the complete epic are available. The first is in the Chinese entitled “The Fo-Sho-Hing-Tsan-King: A Life of Buddha by Asvaghosha Bodhisattva”. This translation was made by Dharmaraksha or Dharmakshara in 420 A.D. This Chinese version of Buddhacharitam was translated into English by Samuel Beal and published in the 19th Vol. of the series of “Sacred Books of the East” by Max Muller in 1883. This version refers 2310 verses and 28 cantos. The second English translation of this Chinese version was done by Charles Willemen and published from Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2620 Warring Street, Berkeley, California 94704 in 2009 by the name “Buddhacharit, In Praise of Buddha’s Acts” (Taishō Volume 4, Number 192)
While comparing the concerned Chinese translation with available original Sanskrit text we see that the Chinese version is not verbatim translation but many times the translator has explained the words in his way and many times has shortened the poetic features and has mixed two verses into one. This version does not denote the actual arrangement and number of verses in original. E.H. Johnston has cleared it in detail in his edition of Buddhacharitam.
The second translation of the original was done in the Tibetan by an anonymous Buddhist scholar in the 8th century. It is available in totality and Mr. E.H. Johnston has done its English translation which is published with the caption “Buddhacharit or the Acts of the Buddha” previously from Punjab University and subsequently from Motilal Benarasidas, New Delhi. This Tibetan version is verbatim and much close to the original. But at some places the translation is unclear and damaged. Mr. Johnston also has skipped at these verses and clauses. There are many broken points in the English translation done by E.H. Johnston.
After the publication of this English translation by Johnston, Pt. Surynarayan Chaudhari of Purnia Sanskrit Collage has made the Hindi-Translation of Buddhacharitam. He followed the original Sanskrit text up to the 31st Shloka and afterwards he produced a verbatim translation of the English by E.H. Johnston. He also suggested some Sanskrit words and roots of the verb for some expressions. He restored the 7 verses in the starting of the 1st canto which was done by Johnston in the way of restoration of the original text. This translation was published in 1940 from Purnia and subsequently from Motilal Banarasidas, New Delhi.
In the 9th decade of the 20th century Mahant Ramchandra Das Shastri from Jabalpur (M.P.) had tried to complete the epic by translating into Sanskrit on the basis of Hindi translation by Suryanarayan Chaudhari. He completed the work using only ‘Anustup’ meter. It was published from ‘Chaukhamba Vidyabhavan’ Varanasi. Although he has completed it, yet the translation does not represent the original because of the use of a short meter. Mahant Ram Chandra Das did not consider the use of meter in original. So the translation became brief and many poetic effects remained unexpressed. For example I am producing here the second verse of the 15th canto comprising with the English translation given by Johnston:-
Mahant Ram Chandra Das has translated:-
अर्हन् ये विषयासक्ताः दुर्दान्तकरणानुगाः।
तेषु त्वं जितसंसारो विदितात्मा जितेन्द्रियः।।
But Johnston originally translated this verse as follows:-
“Inasmuch as you are devoid of attachment and have tamed the horse of senses, while (abiding) among beings who are subject to attachment and have tamed the horse of senses, while (abiding) among beings who are subject to attachment and horses of whose senses still sun wild, your form (akriti?) like that of the moon, shows contentment through the sweet-tasting savour (rasa) of a new wisdom.”
Here we see that originally the metaphor of ‘the senses’ and the horses’, famous in Indian philosophy i.e. indriyãshva’ has been omitted in Sanskrit translation by Ram chandra Das. This verse can be translated better in the following manner:-
आसक्त्यधीनेषु भवाननारतो दुरिन्द्रियाश्वेषु तथा जितेन्द्रियः।
प्रज्ञा नवीना रसमाधुरीभरा तुष्टाकृतिश्चन्द्रकलेव भाति ।।
This type of omission is frequent in the Sanskrit translation by Mahant Ramchandra Das.
At Some times Mahantji has used two verses for the one original. For example the 1st verse of the 15th canto has been translated into Sanskrit in two verses. Somewhere Mahantji has inserted ideas related to the doctrine which had been developed after Ashvaghosh. It makes confusion for readers of history and cultural heritage. Mahantji has translated the 12th verse of the 17th canto as follows:-
चतुर्विंशति तत्त्वानां सांख्योक्तानां कलेवरम्।
संघातं तेन दोषाणां स्थूलानामेव संशयः।।
Here he indicates the twenty-four elements according to the Samkhya doctrine, which is nowhere mentioned in the Buddha-charitam, neither in the Chinese version nor in the Tibetan. This idea of 24 elements was developed in the doctrine long after Ashvaghosh. So this type of insertion has decreased the value of this Sanskrit translation.
While translating or restoring the text in Sanskrit one should consider that he is living in the 1st Century A.D. He should maintain the language and ideas of 1st Century. Here it is remarkable that Sanskrit language in the Gupta period became very rich, many words came in existence and the composition of sentence became compact. The word ‘dj’ in the sense of ‘tax’ is used by Banabhatta and does not figure in text before the Gupta period. This word is substituted as ‘cfy’. So one should not use the word ‘dj’ in the translation of the text of the 1st century.
Ashvaghosh has named the river nearby Kashi as ‘वराणसी’ in Saundarnand (वराणसीपरिकरामियात्पुरीम्~) and the city on the bank of this river has been called as ‘वाराणसी’. But the idea of वरणा and असी seems to be developed in post period. Therefore while translating 14th verse of 15th canto the name of the river should be वराणसी not ‘वरणा’.
The present translator Mr. Bhavanath Jha has considered these factors in his translation maintaining historical aspects of the period of the poet Ashvaghosh. He has also studied the available compositions of Ashvaghosh viz. the first half of Buddhacharit and the complete epic Saundarnand. He has considered the meteoric zest and style of this text and has come to the conclusion that Ashvaghosh has usually used ‘Upajati’ of 44 letters and the ‘Anustup’ of 32 letters. Some cantos viz. 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 27 and 28 should have been mainly in the ‘upajati’ and others in the ‘Anustup’. The use of the appropriate meter can be concluded on the basis of the length of the translation given by Johnston. The present translator has used the rhythm of meter, moods, figure and other poetic features.
Some verses are attached herewith for example.
Thus we see that the present Poetic – Translation is the verbatim to the Tibetan-English text given by Johnston and supposed to be much close to the original Sanskrit text. The present translator has also completed the broken portion in the English translation done by Johnston borrowing the concerned expressions from the Chinese text to maintain fluency of the poetry in the way of Indian tradition of the poetics. Therefore it can be mentioned as the restoration of the doomed text of the Buddhacharitam. It will give the original taste, rhythm and musical effect to readers and devotees of Lord Buddha as it has been produced in the original rhythm and language.
This Sanskrit translation has been seen and sometimes corrected by two eminent scholars Pt. Govind Jha, the great linguist at Patna (Bihar) and Prof. Shri Shashinath Jha, Head of the Post-graduate Department, Sanskrit Grammar, at Kameshvar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University. Darbhanga, Bihar. They have appreciated this translation.
The present translator Mr. Bhavanath Jha is a traditional scholar of Sanskrit language and literature. He has studied at Lalit Narayan Mithila University and subsequently at Kameshwar Shingh Darbhanga Sanskrit University, Darbhanga up to the post-graduate level. His father Pt. Amarnath Jha was a great traditional grammarian and elder brother Pt. Shambhunath Jha is also an eminent scholar of Sanskrit language and literature. Thus the translator has got a long tradition of Sanskrit scholarship in his family. He has also composed the poetry Bhruna-panchasika, ‘Cira-haranam’ and many other poems in Sanskrit. He is very sensitive to the glory of ancient Indian history and culture.
At present Mr. Bhavanath Jha, lecturer in Sahitya Department at Ajit Kumar Mehta Sanskrit Shikshan Sansthan, Umakant Nagar, Ladora, Samastipur is also related with the Publication and Research at Mahavir Mandir, Patna. This temple of Lord Hanuman is famous for its work done in the field of communal harmony and social unity beyond caste and creed. Mahavir Mandir has installed the deity of Lord Buddha in the premises. The secretary, Acharya Kishore Kunal is also a prominent scholar of Sanskrit language and literature and has a great enthusiasm to the religious unity assimilated in Indian cultural tradition.
Therefore this translation may be taken as the reliable, useful for the Buddhism on the international level and should be promoted.
This work is now published by Mahavir Mandir Prakashan with introduction by Acharya Kishore Kunal.
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