Buddhaghosa

I’ve quoted Buddhaghosa very recently, about anger. 

It occurred to me that many of you may be interested to know more about Buddhaghosa himself.

Buddhaghosa lived about 1000 years after the Buddha, in the 5th Century AD.  His name means “Voice of the Buddha” in Pali. He was called this because he completed many respected written works on Buddhism. 

We don’t know a lot about his life, but it’s likely he was born into a Brahmin family (a priestly caste) in either East or South India. 

It’s said that he was a Vedic Master who travelled around ancient India debating spiritual topics with others. He was a debating superstar, with a flawless record of victories.  That was until the day he came across a Buddhist monk named Revata.

Buddhaghosa and Revata first debated a Vedic teaching, and afterwards they debated a teaching from the Buddhist texts. Revata triumphed in both debates and Buddhaghosa was so impressed he decided he would become a Buddhist monk. 
Buddhaghosa, with his academic leanings, soon became a knowledgeable scholar of the Buddhist texts. One day he came across evidence of a missing text, long lost in Indian records. 

Obviously not being one to simply accept this knowledge gap, he began a pilgrimage to Sri Lanka where it was said a preserved version still existed. Whilst there he discovered many other preserved texts that were missing from the Indian collection. As a result he approached the Buddhist Elders for permission to compile a joint collection written in Pali.

Legend has it that the Elders and even deities forced him to undergo several tests before he was granted permission, but the eventual result was a systemised collection of Theravada Teachings and the Visuddhamagga – a comprehensive summary of the teachings of the Buddha, organised into a manual of sorts. 

He went on to write several other commentaries on the Pali cannon of texts and his words became respected interpretations of the scriptures.

It’s said that after he finished his work in Sri Lanka he returned to India and pilgrimaged to the Bodhi Tree, under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. 

Nothing is known about the rest of his life, or how he died. His commentaries live on and are still respected and studied to this day. 

To round off the post, here’s a lovely Visuddhamagga sample I wanted to share; about compassion:

“When there is suffering in others it causes good people’s hearts to be moved, thus it is compassion. 

Or alternatively, it combats others’ suffering, attacks and demolishes it, thus it is compassion.

Or alternatively, it is scattered upon those who suffer, it is extended to them by pervasion, thus it is compassion.”

If you enjoyed this post you might find others you like in the Bite-Size Dhamma archive!

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Author: Bite-Size Dhamma

I'm a Buddhist layperson, trying to live well and skilfully with compassion, generosity, and discernment. I work in the field of housing law and homelessness casework. I have a beautiful kind wife, a very cute dog, and two loveable but surly cats.

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