1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Buddhaghosa

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BUDDHAGHOSA, a celebrated Buddhist writer. He was a Brahmin by birth and was born near the great Bodhi tree at Budh Gayā; in north India about A.D. 390, his father’s name being Kesī. His teacher, Revata, induced him to go to Ceylon, where the commentaries on the scriptures had been preserved in the Sinhalese language, with the object of translating them into Pāli. He went accordingly to Anuradhapura, studied there under Sanghapāla, and asked leave of the fraternity there to translate the commentaries. With their consent he then did so, having first shown his ability by writing the work Visuddhi Magga (the Path of Purity, a kind of summary of Buddhist doctrine). When he had completed his many years’ labours he returned to the neighbourhood of the Bodhi tree in north India. Before he came to Ceylon he had already written a book entitled Nānodaya (the Rise of Knowledge), and had commenced a commentary on the principal psychological manual contained in the Pitakas. This latter work he afterwards rewrote in Ceylon, as the present text (now published by the Pāli Text Society) shows. One volume of the Sumangala Vilāsinī (a portion of the commentaries mentioned above) has been edited, and extracts from his comment on the Buddhist canon law. This last work has been discovered in a nearly contemporaneous Chinese translation (an edition in Pāli is based on a comparison with that translation). The works here mentioned form, however, only a small portion of what Buddhaghosa wrote. His industry must have been prodigious. He is known to have written books that would fill about 20 octavo volumes of about 400 pages each; and there are other writings ascribed to him which may or may not be really his work. It is too early therefore to attempt a criticism of it. But it is already clear that, when made acceptable, it will be of the greatest value for the history of Indian literature and of Indian ideas. So much is uncertain at present in that history for want of definite dates that the voluminous writings of an author whose date is approximately certain will afford a standard by which the age of other writings can be tested. And as the original commentaries in Sinhalese are now lost his works are the only evidence we have of the traditions then handed down in the Buddhist community. The main source of our information about Buddhaghosa is the Mahāvamsa, written in Anurādhapura about fifty years after he was working there. But there are numerous references to him in Pāli books on Pāli literature; and a Burmese author of unknown date, but possibly of the 15th century, has compiled a biography of him, the Buddhaghos’ Uppatti, of little value and no critical judgment.

See Mahāvamsa, ch. xxxvii. (ed. Turnour, Colombo, 1837); “Gandhavaramsa,” p. 59, in Journal of the Pāli Text Society (1886); Buddhaghosuppatti (text and translation, ed. by J. Gray, London, 1893); Sumangala Vilāsinī, edited by T. W. Rhys Davids and J. E. Carpenter, vol. i. (London, Pāli Text Society, 1886).  (T. W. R. D.)