Ashoka: Wikis

Advertisements
  
  

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...


More interesting facts on Ashoka

Include this on your site/blog:

Encyclopedia

(Redirected to Ashoka the Great article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ashoka the Great
Mauryan Samrat
Chakravatin.JPG
A Chakravatin (possibly Ashoka the great) 1st century BC/CE. Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati. Preserved at Musee Guimet
Reign 273 BC-232 BC
Coronation 270 BC
Full name Ashoka Bindusara Maurya
Titles Samrat. Other titles include Devanampriya Priyadarsi, Dhammarakhit, Dharmarajika, Dhammarajika, Dhammaradnya, Chakravartin, Samrat, Radnyashreshtha, Magadhrajshretha, Magadharajan, Bhupatin, Mauryaraja, Aryashok, Dharmashok, Dhammashok, Asokvadhhan , Ashokavardhan, Prajapita,Dhammanayak, Dharmanayak
Born 304 BC
Birthplace Pataliputra, Patna
Died 232 BC (aged 72)
Place of death Pataliputra, Patna
Buried Ashes immersed in Ganges River, possibly in Varanasi
Predecessor Bindusara
Successor Dasaratha Maurya
Consort Maharani Devi
Wives Rani Tishyaraksha
Rani Padmavati
Rani Kaurwaki
Offspring Mahendra, Sanghamitra,Teevala, Kunala
Royal House Mauryan dynasty
Father Bindusara
Mother Rani Dharma or Shubhadrangi
Religious beliefs Buddhism, Humanism

Ashoka (Devanāgarī: अशोकः, IAST: Aśokaḥ, IPA: [aˈɕoːkə(hə)], 304 BC232 BC), popularly known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. One of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over most of present-day India after a number of military conquests. His empire stretched from present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan in the west, to the present-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra. He conquered the kingdom named Kalinga, which no one in his dynasty had conquered starting from Chandragupta Maurya. His reign was headquartered in Magadha (present-day Bihar, India). [1] He embraced Buddhism from the prevalent Vedic tradition after witnessing the mass deaths of the war of Kalinga, which he himself had waged out of a desire for conquest. He was later dedicated to the propagation of Buddhism across Asia and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. Ashoka in human history is often referred to as the emperor of all ages. Ashoka was a devotee of ahimsa (nonviolence), love, truth, tolerance and vegetarianism. Ashoka is remembered in history as a philanthropic administrator. In the history of India Ashoka is referred to as Samraat Chakravartin Ashoka- the Emperor of Emperors Ashoka.

His name "aśoka" means "without sorrow" in Sanskrit (a= no/without, soka= sorrow or worry). In his edicts, he is referred to as Devānāmpriya (Devanāgarī: देवानांप्रिय)/Devānaṃpiya or "The Beloved Of The Gods", and Priyadarśin (Devanāgarī: प्रियदर्शी)/Piyadassī or "He who regards everyone with affection". Another title of his is Dhamma (prakrit: धम्मः), "Lawful, Religious, Righteous".

Renowned British author and social critic H. G. Wells in his bestselling two-volume work, The Outline of History (1920), wrote of emperor Ashoka:

In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves 'their highnesses,' 'their majesties,' and 'their exalted majesties' and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.

Along with the Edicts of Ashoka, his legend is related in the later 2nd century Aśokāvadāna ("Narrative of Asoka") and Divyāvadāna ("Divine narrative"), and in the Sinhalese text Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle").

After two thousand years, the influence of Ashoka is seen in Asia and especially the Indian subcontinent. An emblem excavated from his empire is today the national Emblem of India. In the History of Buddhism Ashoka is considered just after Gautama Buddha.

Contents

Biography

Advertisements

Early life

Ashoka was born to the Mauryan emperor Bindusara and his Queen 'Dharma' (although she was a Brahmin or Shubhadrangi, she was undervalued as she wasn't of royal blood). Ashoka had several elder siblings (all half-brothers from other wives of Bindusara). He had just one younger sibling, Vitthashoka (a much loved brother from the same mother). Because of his exemplary intellect and warrior skills, he was said to have been the favorite of his grandfather Chandragupta Maurya. As the legend goes, when Chandragupta Maurya left his empire for a Jain living, he threw his sword away. Ashoka found the sword and kept it, in spite of his grandfather's warning. Ashoka, in his adolescence, was rude and naughty. He was a fearsome hunter. He was a kshatriya and was given all royal military trainings and other Vedic knowledge. According to a legend, he killed a Lion with just a wooden rod. Ashoka was very well known for his sword fighting. He was very adventurous and this made him a terrific fighter. Ashoka was a frightening warrior and a heartless general. Because of this quality he was sent to destroy the riot of Avanti.

Rise to Power

Maurya Empire at the age of Ashoka the Great. The empire stretched from Iran to Bangladesh/Assam and from Central Asia (Afganistan) to Tamil Nadu/South India.

Developing into an impeccable warrior general and a shrewd statesman, Ashoka went on to command several regiments of the Mauryan army. His growing popularity across the empire made his elder brothers wary of his chances of being favored by Bindusara to become the next emperor. The eldest of them, Susima, the traditional heir to the throne, persuaded Bindusara to send Ashoka to quell an uprising in Taxshila, a city in the north-west District of Pakistani Punjab region, for which Prince Susima was the Governor. Taxshila was a highly volatile place because of the war-like Indo-Greek population and mismanagement by Susima himself. This had led to the formation of different militias causing unrest. Ashoka complied and left for the troubled area. As news of Ashoka's visit with his army trickled in, he was welcomed by the revolting militias and the uprising ended without a conflict. (The province revolted once more during the rule of Ashoka, but this time the uprising was crushed with an iron fist)

Ashoka's success made his stepbrothers more wary of his intentions of becoming the emperor and more incitements from Susima led Bindusara to send Ashoka into exile. He went into Kalinga and stayed there incognito. There he met a fisher woman named Kaurwaki, with whom he fell in love. Recently found inscriptions indicate that she would later become either his second or third queen.

Meanwhile, there was again a violent uprising in Ujjain. Emperor Bindusara summoned Ashoka out of exile after two years. Ashoka went into Ujjain and in the ensuing battle was injured, but his generals quelled the uprising. Ashoka was treated in hiding so that loyalists of the Susima group could not harm him. He was treated by Buddhist monks and nuns. This is where he first learned the teachings of the Buddha, and it is also where he met Devi, who was his personal nurse and the daughter of a merchant from adjacent Vidisha. After recovering, he married her. It was quite unacceptable to Bindusara that one of his sons should marry a Buddhist, so he did not allow Ashoka to stay in Pataliputra but instead sent him back to Ujjain and made him the governor of Ujjain.

The following year passed quite peacefully for him, and Devi was about to deliver his first child. In the meanwhile, Emperor Bindusara died. As the news of the unborn heir to the throne spread, Prince Susima planned the execution of the unborn child; however, the assassin who came to kill Devi and her child killed his mother instead. In this phase of his life, Ashoka was known for his unquenched thirst for wars and campaigns launched to conquer the lands of other rulers and became known as Chandashok (terrible Ashoka), the Sanskrit word chanda meaning cruel, fierce, or rude, Chandi-devi being associated with Kali.


Ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded his empire over the next eight years, from the present-day boundaries and regions of BurmaBangladesh and the state of Assam in India in the east to the territory of present-day Iran / Persia and Afghanistan in the west; from the Pamir Knots in the north almost to the peninsular of southern India (i.e. Tamilnadu / Andhra pradesh).

Conquest of Kalinga

While the early part of Ashoka's reign was apparently quite bloodthirsty, he became a follower of the Buddha's teaching after his conquest of Kalinga (India) on the east coast of India in the present-day state of Orissa. Kalinga was a state that prided itself on its sovereignty and democracy. With its monarchical parliamentary democracy it was quite an exception in ancient Bharata where there existed the concept of Rajdharma. Rajdharma means the duty of the rulers, which was intrinsically entwined with the concept of bravery and Kshatriya dharma.

The pretext for the start of the Kalinga War (265 BC or 263 BC) is uncertain. One of Susima's brothers might have fled to Kalinga and found official refuge there. This enraged Ashoka immensely. He was advised by his ministers to attack Kalinga for this act of treachery. Ashoka then asked Kalinga's royalty to submit before his supremacy. When they defied this diktat, Ashoka sent one of his generals to Kalinga to make them submit.

The general and his forces were, however, completely routed through the skilled tact of Kalinga's commander-in-chief. Ashoka, baffled at this defeat, attacked with the greatest invasion ever recorded in Indian history until then. Kalinga put up a stiff resistance, but they were no match for Ashoka's brutal strength. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. Ashoka's later edicts state that about 100,000 people were killed on the Kalinga side and 10,000 from Ashoka's army. Thousands of men and women were deported.

Buddhist Conversion

A similar four "Indian lion" Lion Capital of Ashoka atop an intact Ashoka Pillar at Wat U Mong near Chiang Mai, Thailand showing another larger Dharma Chakra / Ashoka Chakra atop the four lions thought to be missing in the Lion Capital of Ashoka at Sarnath Museum which has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.

As the legend goes, one day after the war was over, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous monologue:

What have I done? If this is a victory, what's a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Do I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other's kingdom and splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant.... What's this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?

The brutality of the conquest led him to adopt Buddhism and he used his position to propagate the relatively new religion to new heights, as far as ancient Rome and Egypt. He made Buddhism his state religion around 260 BC. He propagated the Vibhajjavada school of Buddhism and preached it within his domain and worldwide from about 250 BC. Emperor Ashoka undoubtedly has to be credited with the first serious attempt to develop an Budhistic policy.

Ashokan Pillar at Vaishali

Prominent in this cause were his son Venerable Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra (whose name means "friend of the Sangha"), who established Budhism in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He built thousands of Stupas and Viharas for Buddhist followers. The Stupas of Sanchi are world famous and the stupa named Sanchi Stupa was built by Emperor Ashoka. During the remaining portion of Ashoka's reign, he pursued an official policy of nonviolence (ahimsa). Even the unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of people was immediately abolished. Everyone became protected by the king's law against sport hunting and branding. Limited hunting was permitted for consumption reasons but Ashoka also promoted the concept of vegetarianism. Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day of the year. He attempted to raise the professional ambition of the common man by building universities for study, and water transit and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics and caste. The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily overthrown, were instead made to be well-respected allies.

He is acclaimed for constructing hospitals for animals and renovating major roads throughout India. After this transformation, Ashoka came to be known as Dhammashoka (Sanskrit), meaning Ashoka, the follower of Dharma. Ashoka defined the main principles of dharma (dhamma) as nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for the Brahmans and other religious teachers and priests, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all. These principles suggest a general ethic of behaviour to which no religious or social group could object.

Some critics say that Ashoka was afraid of more wars, but among his neighbors, including the Seleucid Empire and the Greco-Bactrian kingdom established by Diodotus I, none could match his strength. He was a contemporary of both Antiochus I Soter and his successor Antiochus II Theos of the Seleucid dynasty as well as Diodotus I and his son Diodotus II of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. If his inscriptions and edicts are well studied one finds that he was familiar with the Hellenic world but never in awe of it. His edicts, which talk of friendly relations, give the names of both Antiochus of the Seleucid empire and Ptolemy III of Egypt. The fame of the Mauryan empire was widespread from the time that Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta Maurya defeated Seleucus Nicator, the founder of the Seleucid Dynasty.

Stupa of Sanchi.

The source of much of our knowledge of Ashoka is the many inscriptions he had carved on pillars and rocks throughout the empire. Emperor Ashoka is known as Piyadasi (in Pali) or Priyadarshi (in Sanskrit) meaning "good looking" or "favored by the gods with good blessing". All his inscriptions have the imperial touch and show compassionate loving. He addressed his people as his "children". These inscriptions promoted Budhist morality and encouraged nonviolence and adherence to Dharma (duty or proper behavior), and they talk of his fame and conquered lands as well as the neighboring kingdoms holding up his might. One also gets some primary information about the Kalinga War and Ashoka's allies plus some useful knowledge on the civil administration. The Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath is the most popular of the relics left by Ashoka. Made of sandstone, this pillar records the visit of the emperor to Sarnath, in the 3rd century BC. It has a four-lion capital (four lions standing back to back) which was adopted as the emblem of the modern Indian republic. The lion symbolizes both Ashoka's imperial rule and the kingship of the Buddha. In translating these monuments, historians learn the bulk of what is assumed to have been true fact of the Mauryan Empire. It is difficult to determine whether or not some actual events ever happened, but the stone etchings clearly depict how Ashoka wanted to be thought of and remembered.

Ashoka's own words as known from his Edicts are: "All men are my children. I am like a father to them. As every father desires the good and the happiness of his children, I wish that all men should be happy always." Edward D'Cruz interprets the Ashokan dharma as a "religion to be used as a symbol of a new imperial unity and a cementing force to weld the diverse and heterogeneous elements of the empire".

Also, in the Edicts, Ashoka mentions Hellenistic kings of the period as converts to Buddhism, although no Hellenic historical record of this event remain:

The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400–9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni (Sri Lanka).
Ashoka the Great, Edicts of Ashoka, Rock Edict 13 (S. Dhammika)

Ashoka also claims that he encouraged the development of herbal medicine, for human and nonhuman animals, in their territories:

Everywhere within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi's [Ashoka's] domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochos rules, and among the kings who are neighbors of Antiochos, everywhere has Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals.
Ashoka the Great, Edicts of Ashoka, Rock Edict 2

The Greeks in India even seem to have played an active role in the propagation of Buddhism, as some of the emissaries of Ashoka, such as Dharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek (Yona) Buddhist monks, active in spreading Buddhism (the Mahavamsa, XII[2]).

Death and legacy

Ashoka ruled for an estimated forty years. After his death, the Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years. Ashoka had many wives and children, but many of their names are lost to time. Mahindra and Sanghamitra were twins born by his first wife, Devi, in the city of Ujjain. He had entrusted to them the job of making his state religion, Buddhism, more popular across the known and the unknown world. Mahindra and Sanghamitra went into Sri Lanka and converted the King, the Queen and their people to Buddhism. They were naturally not handling state affairs after him.

In his old age, he seems to have come under the spell of his youngest wife Tishyaraksha. It is said that she had got his son Kunala, the regent in Takshashila, blinded by a wily stratagem. The official executioners spared Kunala and he became a wandering singer accompanied by his favourite wife Kanchanmala. In Pataliputra, Ashoka hears Kunala's song, and realizes that Kunala's misfortune may have been a punishment for some past sin of the emperor himself and condemns Tishyaraksha to death, restoring Kunala to the court. Kunala was succeeded by his son, Samprati, but his rule did not last long after Ashoka's death.

The reign of Ashoka Maurya could easily have disappeared into history as the ages passed by, and would have had he not left behind a record of his trials. The testimony of this wise king was discovered in the form of magnificently sculpted pillars and boulders with a variety of actions and teachings he wished to be published etched into the stone. What Ashoka left behind was the first written language in India since the ancient city of Harappa. The language used for inscription was the then current spoken form called Prakrit.

In the year 185 BC, about fifty years after Ashoka's death, the last Maurya ruler, Brhadrata, was brutally murdered by the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pusyamitra Sunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honor of his forces. Pusyamitra Sunga founded the Sunga dynasty (185 BC-78 BC) and ruled just a fragmented part of the Mauryan Empire. Many of the northwestern territories of the Mauryan Empire (modern-day Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) became the Indo-Greek Kingdom.

When India gained independence from the British Empire it adopted Ashoka's emblem for its own, placing the Dharmachakra (The Wheel of Righteous Duty) that crowned his many columns on the flag of the newly independent state. In 1992, Ashoka was ranked #53 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history. In 2001, a semi-fictionalized portrayal of Ashoka's life was produced as a motion picture under the title Asoka. King Ashoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan dynasty, has come to be regarded as one of the most exemplary rulers in world history. The British historian H.G. Wells has written: "Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history ... the name of Asoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star."

Buddhist Kingship

One of the more enduring legacies of Ashoka Maurya was the model that he provided for the relationship between Buddhism and the state. Throughout Theravada Southeastern Asia, the model of ruler ship embodied by Ashoka replaced the notion of divine kingship that had previously dominated (in the Angkor kingdom, for instance). Under this model of 'Buddhist kingship', the king sought to legitimize his rule not through descent from a divine source, but by supporting and earning the approval of the Buddhist sangha. Following Ashoka's example, kings established monasteries, funded the construction of stupas, and supported the ordination of monks in their kingdom. Many rulers also took an active role in resolving disputes over the status and regulation of the sangha, as Ashoka had in calling a conclave to settle a number of contentious issues during his reign. This development ultimately lead to a close association in many Southeast Asian countries between the monarchy and the religious hierarchy, an association that can still be seen today in the state-supported Buddhism of Thailand and the traditional role of the Thai king as both a religious and secular leader. Ashoka also said that all his courtiers were true to their self and governed the people in a moral manner.

Historical sources

Bilingual inscription in (Greek and Aramaic) by king Ashoka, from Kandahar (Shar-i-kuna). Kabul Museum.

Western sources – Ashoka the great was almost forgotten by the historians of that age but James Prinsep (an important historian) contributed in the revelation of historical sources.Other important historian was British archaeologist Sir John Hubert Marshall who was director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. His main interests were Sanchi and Sarnath besides Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Sir Alexander Cunningham, a British archaeologist and army engineer and often known as the father of the Archaeological Survey of India, unveiled heritage sites like the Bharhut Stupa, Sarnath, Sanchi, and the Mahabodhi Temple; thus, his contribution is recognizable in realms of historical sources. Sir Mortimer Wheeler who was a British archaeologist also exposed Ashokan historical sources, especially the Taxila.

Eastern sources - Information about the life and reign of Ashoka primarily comes from a relatively small number of Buddhist sources. In particular, the Sanskrit Ashokavadana ('Story of Ashoka'), written in the 2nd century, and the two Pāli chronicles of Sri Lanka (the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa) provide most of the currently known information about Ashoka. Additional information is contributed by the Edicts of Asoka, whose authorship was finally attributed to the Ashoka of Buddhist legend after the discovery of dynastic lists that gave the name used in the edicts (Priyadarsi – 'favored by the Gods') as a title or additional name of Ashoka Mauriya. Architectural remains of his period have been found at Kumhrar, Patna, which include an 80-pillar hypostyle hall.

Edicts of Ashoka -The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty during his reign from 272 to 231 BC. These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Pakistan and India, and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history.It give more information about Ashoka's proselytism, Moral precepts, Religious precepts, Social and animal welfare .

Ashokavadana - The Ashokavadana is a 2nd century CE text related to the legend of the Maurya Emperor Ashoka the Great. The legend was translated into Chinese by Fa Hien in 300 CE.

Mahavamsa -The Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle") is a historical poem written in the Pali language, of the kings of Sri Lanka. It covers the period from the coming of King Vijaya of Kalinga (ancient Orissa) in 543 BC to the reign of King Mahasena (334–361).As it often refers to the royal dynasties of India, the Mahavamsa is also valuable for historians who wish to date and relate contemporary royal dynasties in the Indian subcontinent. It is very important in dating the consecration of the Maurya emperor Ashoka.

Dipavamsa -The Dipavamsa, or "Deepavamsa", (i.e., Chronicle of the Island, in Pali) is the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka. The chronicle is believe to be compiled from Atthakatha and other sources around the 3–4th century, King Dhatusena (4th century CE) had orderd that the Dipavamsa be recited at the Mahinda (son to Ashoka )festival held annually in Anuradhapura.

The use of Buddhist sources in reconstructing the life of Ashoka has had a strong influence on perceptions of Ashoka, as well as the interpretations of his edicts. Building on traditional accounts, early scholars regarded Ashoka as a primarily Buddhist monarch who underwent a conversion to Buddhism and was actively engaged in sponsoring and supporting the Buddhist monastic institution.Later scholars have tended to question this assessment. The only source of information not attributable to Buddhist sources – the Ashokan edicts – make only a few references to Buddhism directly, despite many references to the concept of dhamma (Sanskrit: dharma). Some interpreters have seen this as an indication that Ashoka was attempting to craft an inclusive, poly-religious civil religion for his empire that was centered on the concept of dharma as a positive moral force, but which did not embrace or advocate any particular philosophy attributable to the religious movements of Ashoka's age such as the Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, or Ajivikas. Most likely, the complex religious environment of the age would have required careful diplomatic management in order to avoid provoking religious unrest. Modern scholars and adherents of the traditional Buddhist perspective tend to agree that Ashoka's rule was marked by tolerance towards a number of religious faiths.

Important years in the life of Ashoka

Birth – 304 BC

Marriage with Maharani devi – 286 BC

Mahindra's birth – 284 BC

Sanghamitta's birth – 281 BC

Reign – 272/273 BC to his Nirvana / Death (232 BC)

Rajyabhisheka – 270 BC

Tending to Buddhism – 266 BC

Building Chaityas – 266/263 BC

Mahindra and Sanghamitta Become Buddhist – 264 BC

Kalinga Vijaya – 262/263 BC

Converted to buddhism – 263 BC

Dharmayatra – 263–250 BC

Third Buddhist council – 250–253 BC

Mahindra's Sri Lanka Yatra – 252 BC

Buddhist Proselytism – 250 to his Death / Nirvana

Edicts – 243/242 BC

Death / Nirvana of Sanghamitta – 240 BC

Rani Tishyaraksha becomes Pattarani – 236 BC

Prince Kunal becomes Upraja – 233 bc

Ashoka's Death / Nirvana – 232 BC

(Note – There are some historians according to whom Ashoka embraced Buddhism in 266 BC but became a true follower of Buddhism after the Conquest of Kalinga 262 BC or 263 BC)


Contributions

Global Spread of Buddhism

Sanghamitta (Emperor Ashoka's daughter) arriving in Sri Lanka to spread buddhism with the Holy Bodhi Tree

Ashoka, now a Buddhist emperor, believed that Buddhism is beneficial for all human beings as well as animals and plants, so he built 84,000 stupas, Sangharama, viharas, Chaitya, and residences for Buddhist monks all over South Asia and Central Asia. He gave donations to viharas and mathas. He sent his only daughter Sanghamitta and son Mahindra to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka (ancient name Tamraparni). Ashoka also sent many prominent Buddhist monks (bhikshus) Sthaviras like Madhyamik Sthavira to modern Kashmir and Afganistan; Maharaskshit sthavira to Syria, Persia / Iran, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey; Massim Sthavira to Nepal, Bhutan, China and Mongolia; Sohn Uttar Sthavira to modern Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (old name Suvarnabhumi for Burma and Thailand), Thailand and Vietnam; Mahadhhamarakhhita stahvira to Maharashtra (old name Maharatthha); Maharakhhit Sthavira and Yavandhammarakhhita Sthavira to South India. Ashoka also invited Buddhists and non-Buddhists for religious conferences. Ashoka inspired the Buddhist monks to compose the sacred religious texts, and also gave all types of help to that end. Ashoka also helped to develop viharas (intellectual hubs) such as Nalanda and Taxila. Ashoka helped to construct Sanchi and Mahabodhi Temple. Ashoka never tried to harm or to destroy non-Buddhist religions, and indeed gave donations to non-Buddhists. Ashoka helped and respected both Sramans (Buddhists monks) and Brahmins (Vedic monks). Ashoka also helped to organize the Third Buddhist council (c. 250 BC) at Pataliputra (today's Patna). It was conducted by the monk Moggaliputta-Tissa who was the spiritual teacher of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka.

As an Administrator

Mauryan ringstone, with standing goddess. Northwest Pakistan. 3rd century BC. British Museum.

Ashoka's military power was so strong that he was able to crush those empires that went to war against him still, he was on friendly terms with kingdoms in the South like Cholas, Pandya, Keralputra, the post Alexandrian empire, Tamraparni, and Suvarnabhumi who were strong enough to remain outside his empire and continued to profess Hinduism. According to his edicts we know that he provided humanitarian help including doctors, hospitals, inns, wells, medical herbs and engineers to his neighboring countries. In his neighboring countries Ashoka helped humans as well as animals. Ashoka also planted trees in his empire and his neighboring countries. Ashoka was perhaps the first emperor in human history to ban slavery, hunting, fishing and deforestation. Ashoka also banned the death sentence and asked the same for the neighboring countries. [3] Ashoka commanded his people to serve the orders of their elders parents) and religious monks (shramana and Brahmin). Ashoka also recommended his people study all religions and respect all religions. According to Ashoka, to harm another's religion is a harm to someone's owns religion. Ashoka asserted his people to live with Dharmmacharana. Ashoka asked people to live with harmony, peace, love and tolerance. Ashoka called his people as his children, and they could call him when they need him. He also asked people to save money and not to spend for immoral causes. Ashoka also believed in dharmacharana (dhammacharana) and dharmavijaya (dhammavijaya). According to many European and Asian historians the age of Ashoka was the age of light and delightment. He was the first emperor in human history who has taught the lesson of unity, peace, equality and love. Ashoka's aim was not to expand the territories but the welfare of all of his subjects (sarvajansukhay). In his vast empire there was no evidence of recognizable mutiny or civil war. Ashoka was the true devotee of nonviolence, peace and love. This made him different from other emperors. Ashoka also helped Buddhism as well as religions like Jainism, Hinduism, Hellenic polytheism and Ajivikas. Ashoka was against any discrimination among humans. He helped students, the poor, orphans and the elderly with social, political and economic help. According to Ashoka, hatred gives birth to hatred and a feeling of love gives birth to love and mercy. According to him the happiness of people is the happiness of the ruler. His opinion was that the sword is not as powerful as love. Ashoka was also Kind to prisoners, and respected animal life and tree life. Ashoka allowed females to be educated. He also permitted females to enter religious institutions. He allowed female Buddhist monastic such as Bhikkhuni. He combined in himself the complexity a king and a simplicity of a buddhist monk. Because of these reasons he is known as the emperor of all ages and thus became a milestone in the History of the world.

Ashoka Chakra

The Ashoka Chakra, "the wheel of Righteousness" (Dharma in Sanskrit or Dhamma in Pali)"
Ashoka Chakra on the Indian National Flag.

The Ashoka Chakra (the wheel of Ashok the Great) is a depiction of the Dharmachakra or Dhammachakka in Pali, the Wheel of Dharma (Sanskrit: Chakra means wheel). The wheel has 24 spokes. The Ashoka Chakra has been widely inscribed on many relics of the Mauryan Emperor, most prominent among which is the Lion Capital of Sarnath and The Ashoka Pillar. The most visible use of the Ashoka Chakra today is at the centre of the National flag of the Republic of India (adopted on 22 July 1947), where it is rendered in a Navy-blue color on a White background, by replacing the symbol of Charkha (Spinning wheel) of the pre-independence versions of the flag. Ashoka Chakra can also been seen on the base of Lion Capital of Ashoka which has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.

The Ashoka chakra was built by Ashoka during his reign. Chakra is a Sanskrit word which also means cycle or self repeating process. The process it signifies is the cycle of time as how the world changes with time. The horse means accuracy and speed while the bull means hardwork.

A few days before India became independent on August 1947, the specially constituted Constituent Assembly decided that the flag of India must be acceptable to all parties and communities.[4] A flag with three colours, Saffron, White and Green with the Ashoka Chakra was selected. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who later became India's first Vice President, clarified the adopted flag and described its significance as follows:

Bhagwa or the saffron color denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the center is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to (the) soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends. The "Ashoka Chakra" in the center of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change. It also represents 24 hours in a day.

A widely held unofficial interpretation is that the saffron stands for purity and spirituality, white for peace and truth, green for fertility and prosperity and the wheel for justice/righteousness.

The twenty four spokes in this chakra wheel represent twenty four virtues:

  1. Love
  2. Courage
  3. Patience
  4. Peacefulness
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Gentleness
  9. Self-control
  10. Selflessness
  11. Self sacrifice
  12. Truthfulness
  13. Righteousness
  14. Justice
  15. Mercy
  16. Graciousness
  17. Humility
  18. Empathy
  19. Sympathy
  20. Supreme knowledge
  21. Supreme wisdom
  22. Supreme moral
  23. Love for all beings
  24. Hope, trust, or faith in the goodness of God or nature.

Pillars of Ashoka (Ashokstambha)

The Asokan pillar at Lumbini

The pillars of Ashoka are a series of columns dispersed throughout the northern Indian subcontinent, and erected by Ashoka during his reign in the 3rd century BC. Originally, there must have been many pillars of Ashoka although only ten with inscriptions still survive. Averaging between forty and fifty feet in height, and weighing up to fifty tons each, all the pillars were quarried at Chunar, just south of Varanasi and dragged, sometimes hundreds of miles, to where they were erected. The first Pillar of Ashoka was found in the 16 century by Thomas Coryat in the ruins of ancient Delhi. The wheel represents the sun time and Buddhist law, while the swastika stands for the cosmic dance around a fixed center and guards against evil. There is no evidence of a swastika, or manji, on the pillars.

Lion Capital of Asoka (Ashokmudra)

This is the famous original sandstone sculpted Lion Capital of Ashoka preserved at Sarnath Museum which was originally erected around 250 BC atop an Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. The angle from which this picture has been taken, minus the inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, has been adopted as the National Emblem of India showing the Horse on the left and the Bull on the right of the Ashoka Chakra in the circular base on which the four Indian lions are standing back to back. On the far side there is an Elephant and a Lion instead. The wheel "Ashoka Chakra" from its base has been placed onto the center of the National Flag of India.

The Lion capital of Ashoka is a sculpture of four "Indian lions" standing back to back. It was originally placed atop the Aśoka pillar at Sarnath, now in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The pillar, sometimes called the Aśoka Column is still in its original location, but the Lion Capital is now in the Sarnath Museum. This Lion Capital of Ashoka from Sarnath has been adopted as the National Emblem of India and the wheel "Ashoka Chakra" from its base was placed onto the center of the National Flag of India.

The capital contains four lions (Indian / Asiatic Lions), standing back to back, mounted on an abacus, with a frieze carrying sculptures in high relief of an elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion, separated by intervening spoked chariot-wheels over a bell-shaped lotus. Carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, the capital was believed to be crowned by a 'Wheel of Dharma' (Dharmachakra popularly known in India as the "Ashoka Chakra").

The Ashoka Lion capital or the Sarnath lion capital is also known as the national symbol of India. The Sarnath pillar bears one of the Edicts of Ashoka, an inscription against division within the Buddhist community, which reads, "No one shall cause division in the order of monks". The Sarnath pillar is a column surmounted by a capital, which consists of a canopy representing an inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, a short cylindrical abacus with four 24-spoked Dharma wheels with four animals (an elephant, a bull, a horse, a lion).

The four animals in the Sarnath capital are believed to symbolize different steps of Lord Buddha's life.

  • The Elephant represents the Buddha's idea in reference to the dream of Queen Maya of a white elephant entering her womb.
  • The Bull represents desire during the life of the Buddha as a prince.
  • The Horse represents Buddha's departure from palatial life.
  • The Lion represents the accomplishment of Buddha.

Besides the religious interpretations, there are some non-religious interpretations also about the symbolism of the Ashoka capital pillar at Sarnath. According to them, the four lions symbolize Ashoka's rule over the four directions, the wheels as symbols of his enlightened rule (Chakravartin) and the four animals as symbols of four adjoining territories of India.

Constructions credited to Ashoka the great

Quotations

Attributed to Ashoka the Great

Fragment of the 6th Pillar Edicts of Ashoka (238 BC), in Brahmi, sandstones. British Museum.
  • All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, which I desire for all men. You do not understand to what extent I desire this, and if some of you do understand, you do not understand the full extent of my desire.
  • Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice.
  • Respect for mother and father is good, generosity to friends, acquaintances, relatives, Brahmans and ascetics is good, not killing living beings is good, moderation in spending and moderation in saving is good.
  • To do good is difficult. One who does good first does something hard to do. I have done many good deeds, and, if my sons, grandsons and their descendants up to the end of the world act in like manner, they too will do much good. But whoever amongst them neglects this, they will do evil.

Truly, it is easy to do evil.

  • All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart.
  • King Piyadasi does not consider glory and fame to be of great account unless they are achieved through having my subjects respect Dhamma and practice Dhamma, both now and in the future.
  • Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others.
  • There is no gift like the gift of the Dhamma, (no acquaintance like) acquaintance with Dhamma, (no distribution like) distribution of Dhamma, and (no kinship like) kinship through Dhamma. And it consists of this: proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for mother and father, generosity to friends, companions, relations, Brahmans and ascetics, and not killing living beings.
  • King Piyadasi, honors both ascetics and the householders of all religions, and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds.But Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values this—that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions.
  • Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted. At intervals of eight //krosas//, I have had wells dug, rest-houses built, and in various places, I have had watering-places made for the use of animals and men. But these are but minor achievements. Such things to make the people happy have been done by former kings. I have done these things for this purpose, that the people might practice the Dhamma.
  • It is my desire that there should be uniformity in law and uniformity in sentencing. I even go this far, to grant a three-day stay for those in prison who have been tried and sentenced to death. During this time their relatives can make appeals to have the prisoners' lives spared. If there is none to appeal on their behalf, the prisoners can give gifts in order to make merit for the next world, or observe fasts.[5]

About Ashoka the Great

Mahabodhi Temple is credited to Ashoka the Great.
  • "Among the emperors and historical personalities, Samrath / Emperor Ashoka is the surely only being who had decided not to battle with enemy when he won the battle." – Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India (page no. 86).
  • "There is the only one period in Indian history which is a period of freedom, greatness and glory. That is the period of the Mauryan empire (Ashoka's empire)." – B. R. Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste (page no. 70–71).
  • "Ashoka is perhaps the only emperor who hated wars because of the blood shed and cruelty. He wanted to win the souls of people with love not the bodies with sword and terror." – V. G. Gokhale.
  • "In some cases Ashoka may be compared with Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Genghis Khan, Timur, Peter I of Russia, Napoleon I. But Ashoka was not extra ambitious like Alexander the Great. Ashoka was an ideal administrator like Augustus Caesar, but unlike Caesar, he didn't want to be known as a dictator. Ashoka was a strong general but unlike Napoleon I Ashoka never was unsatisfied. Ashoka wanted to be loved by his subjects. He never terrorized his subjects like Genghis Khan, Timur and Peter I of Russia. Nobility of soul, purity of mind, honesty of nature, clarity of dignity and love for all let Ashoka sit with Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ." – Madhav Kondvilkar in Devancha Priya Raja Priyadarshi Samrath Ashok (page no. 19).
  • "Nowadays wars, conflicts and blood shed have become very familiar, but about two thousand years ago Ashoka comprehended the evils of war and conflicts. Ashoka turned his all power to establish harmony and peace, in this way he has put a fine example to be followed before all mankind. In this way he has shown that in peacetime man would be a progressed being." – Dr. Binda Paranjape in Ashokache Shilalekha (page no.29).
  • "A hundred years after my death there will be an emperor named Ashoka in Pataliputra. He will rule one of the four continents and adorn Jambudvipa (old name to India) with my relics, building eighty four thousand stupas for the welfare of people. He will have them honored by gods and men. His fame will be widespread. His meritorious gift was just this: Jaya threw a handful of dust into the Tathaagata's bowl." Prediction of Buddha for Ashoka according to the Ashokavadana.
    Stupas at Deorkothar are built by Ashoka the great
  • "He (Ashoka) insisted on the recognition of the sanctity of all human life". Dr. Munshi.
  • "Asoka, one of the great monarchs of history, whose dominions extended from Afghanistan to Madras... is the only military monarch on record who abandoned warfare after victory. He had invaded Kalinga (255 B.C.), a country along the east coast of Madras, perhaps with some intention of completing the conquest of the tip of the Indian peninsula. The expedition was successful, but he was disgusted by what be saw of the cruelties and horrors of war. He declared, in certain inscriptions that still exist, that he would no longer seek conquest by war, but by religion, and the rest of his life was devoted to the spreading of Buddhism throughout the world. He seems to have ruled his vast empire in peace and with great ability. He was no mere religious fanatic. For eight and twenty years Asoka worked sanely for the real needs of men. Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Asoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star. From the Volga to Japan his name is still honored. China, Tibet, and even India, though it has left his doctrine, preserve the tradition of his greatness. More living men cherish his memory today than have ever heard the names of Constantine or Charlemagne." – H.G. Wells in The Outline of History (Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind) published in (1920) chapter no. 25.4 (Buddhism and Asoka) page no 365–366.
  • "A large number of international scholars agree that Emperor Aśoka of India in the third century B.C. was one of the greatest conquerors who later achieved the most difficult conquest of all — the conquest of himself — through self-conviction and his perception of human suffering. After embracing the Dhamma of the Buddha as his guide and refuge, he transformed the goal of his regime from military conquest to conquest by Dhamma. By providing royal patronage for the propagation of Buddhism both within and outside his vast dominion, he helped promote the metamorphosis of Buddhism from one among many sects of Indian ascetic spirituality into a world religion that was eventually to penetrate almost all of southern and eastern Asia." – Anuradha Seneviratna in King Asoka and Buddhism Historical & Literary Studies (editors preface ) (page. no. xi).
    The Dharmarajika stupa, Taxila, Pakistan is Commissioned under Ashoka the Great.
  • "We have no way of knowing how effective Asoka’s reforms were or how long they lasted but we do know that monarchs throughout the ancient Buddhist world were encouraged to look to his style of government as an ideal to be followed. King Asoka has to be credited with first attempt to develop a Buddhist polity. Today, with widespread disillusionment in prevailing ideologies and the search for a political philosophy that goes beyond greed, hatred, and delusion, Asoka’s edicts may make a meaningful contribution to development of a more spiritually based political system." – Ven. S. Dhammika in The Edicts of Ashoka.
  • "Many people ask: How can any nation be defended if all of its people adopt nonviolence? It is rather difficult to answer this hypothetical question. However, an emperor ruled over India with nonviolence and compassion in the third century B.C. Ashoka was the emperor - emperor of peace and social justice. He did not rule by force or by accumulating goods and means of comfort for himself or by pomp and show. He ruled by sacrificing material comforts and by treating all his subjects equal and with justice. His example can guide us, rulers and administrators, politicians and civil servants, religious leaders and laymen, to establish peace, justice and harmony in present-day world." – Sh. Duli Chandra Jain and Ms. Sunita Jain in Ashoka - Emperor Or Monk.
  • "Ashoka was a man dedicated to peace, and the only emperor in history to forsake warfare after victory in the Kalinga war, devoting the balance of his lifetime serving not only his people, but mankind, with magnanimity and benevolence seldom seen in history. Thus he was able to build the Golden Period of Indian history." – Dr. Kirthisinghe.

Ashoka Today

In art and film

  • Asoka is a 2001 epic Bollywood historical drama. It is a largely fictional version of the life of the Indian emperor Ashoka. The film was directed by Santosh Sivan and stars Shahrukh Khan as Ashoka and Kareena Kapoor as Kaurwaki, a princess of Kalinga.The film ends with Asoka renouncing the sword and embracing Buddhism. The final narrative describes how Asoka not only built a large empire, but spread Buddhism and the winds of peace through it.

In Literature

  • Asoka and the Decline of the Maurya by Romila Thapar.
  • Early India and Pakistan: to Ashoka (1970) by Brigadier Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler.
  • Asoka the Great by Monisha Mukundan.
  • Asokan Sites and Artefacts, a Source-book with Bibliography. Harry Falk, Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2006 ISBN 978-3-8053-3712-0.
  • The Legend of King Asoka (1948) by John S. Strong.
  • Ashoka the Great (1995) by D. C. Ahir.
  • Ashoka text and glossary (1924) by Alfred C. Woolner .
  • Asoka: The Buddhist Emperor of India by Vincent A. Smith.
  • Discovery of the Exact Site of Asoka's Classic Capital of Pataliputra (1892) by L. A. Waddell.
  • Asoka Maurya (1966) by B. G. Gokhale.
  • The Legend of King Asoka (1989) by John S. Strong.
  • Asoka (1923) by D.R. Bhandarkar.
  • Ashoka, The Great by B. K. Chaturvedi.
  • Asoka by Mookerji Radhakumud.
  • King Aśoka and Buddhism Historical And Literaray Studies by Anuradha Seneviratna.
  • To Uphold the World: The Message of Ashoka and Kautilya for the 21st Century (2008) by Bruce Rich.
  • Asoka and His Inscriptions by Beni Madhab Barua.
  • Asoka's Edicts (1956) by A. C. Sen.
  • One of the most famous figures in modern Hindi literature, Jaishankar Prasad, composed Ashoka ki chinta (in English: Worry of Ashoka), a famous Hindi verse. The poem portrays Ashoka’s heart during the war of kalinga.
  • In Piers Anthony’s series of space opera novels, the main character mentions Asoka as a model for administrators to strive for.

Gallery

See also

Sources

  • Swearer, Donald. Buddhism and Society in Southeast Asia (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: Anima Books, 1981) ISBN 0-89012-023-4
  • Thapar, Romila. Aśoka and the decline of the Mauryas (Delhi : Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, 1998 printing, c1961) ISBN 0-19-564445-X
  • Nilakanta Sastri, K. A. Age of the Nandas and Mauryas (Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, [1967] c1952) ISBN 0-89684-167-7
  • Bongard-Levin, G. M. Mauryan India (Stosius Inc/Advent Books Division May 1986) ISBN 0-86590-826-5
  • Govind Gokhale, Balkrishna. Asoka Maurya (Irvington Pub June 1966) ISBN 0-8290-1735-6
  • Chand Chauhan, Gian. Origin and Growth of Feudalism in Early India: From the Mauryas to AD 650 (Munshiram Manoharlal January 2004) ISBN 81-215-1028-7
  • Keay, John. India: A History (Grove Press; 1 Grove Pr edition May 10, 2001) ISBN 0-8021-3797-0
  • Falk, Harry. Asokan Sites and Artefacts - A Source-book with Bibliography (Mainz : Philipp von Zabern, [2006]) ISBN 978-3-8053-3712-0

Notes

  1. ^ Ranajit Pal, however, points out that the first reference to Magadha is in the Edict of Ashoka near the North-west and that early Magadha was Magan in Baluchistan (western). The total absence of any relics of the Mauryas and Nandas in the Patna area shows that this was probably not Ashoka's capital. See Ranajit Pal, "Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander", New delhi – 2002.
  2. ^ Full text of the Mahavamsa Click chapter XII
  3. ^ Available at: Asoka: Rock and Pillar Edicts. Then Again: David Koeller. Retrieved on: 2009-02-21
  4. ^ Heimer, Željko (2 July 2006). "India". Flags of the World. http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/in.html. Retrieved 2006-10-11. 
  5. ^ These quotations are taken directly from the Edicts of Ashoka. Available at: Asoka: Rock and Pillar Edicts. Then Again: David Koeller. Retrieved on: 2009-02-21

External links

Ashoka the Great
Mauryan dynasty
Born: 304 BC Died: 232 BC
Preceded by
Bindusara
Mauryan Emperor
272 BC–232 BC
Succeeded by
Dasaratha

Ashoka the Great
Mauryan Samrat
[[File:|149px]]
A Chakravatin (possibly Ashoka) 1st century BC/CE. Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati. Preserved at Musee Guimet
Reign 273-232 BC
Coronation 270 BC
Full name Ashoka Bindusara Maurya
Titles Samrat. Other titles include Devanampriya Priyadarsi, Dhammarakhit, Dharmarajika, Dhammarajika, Dhammaradnya, Chakravartin, Samrat, Radnyashreshtha, Magadhrajshretha, Magadharajan, Bhupatin, Mauryaraja, Aryashok, Dharmashok, Dhammashok, Asokvadhhan , Ashokavardhan, Prajapita,Dhammanayak, Dharmanayak
Born 304 BC
Birthplace Pataliputra, Patna
Died 232 BC (aged 72)
Place of death Pataliputra, Patna
Buried Ashes immersed in Ganges River, possibly in Varanasi, Cremated 232 BC, less than 24 hours after death
Predecessor Bindusara
Successor Dasaratha Maurya
Consort Maharani Devi
Wives Rani Tishyaraksha
Rani Padmavati
Rani Kaurwaki
Offspring Mahendra, Sanghamitra,Teevala, Kunala
Royal House Mauryan dynasty
Father Bindusara
Mother Rani Dharma or Shubhadrangi
Religious beliefs Buddhism, Humanism

Ashoka (Devanāgarī: अशोक, IAST: Aśoka, IPA: [aˈɕoːkə], 304–232 BC), popularly known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. One of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over most of present-day India after a number of military conquests. His empire stretched from present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan in the west, to the present-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra. He conquered the kingdom named Kalinga, which no one in his dynasty had conquered starting from Chandragupta Maurya. His reign was headquartered in Magadha (present-day Bihar, India).[1] He embraced Buddhism from the prevalent Vedic tradition after witnessing the mass deaths of the war of Kalinga, which he himself had waged out of a desire for conquest. He was later dedicated to the propagation of Buddhism across Asia and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. Ashoka was a devotee of ahimsa (nonviolence), love, truth, tolerance and vegetarianism. Ashoka is remembered in history as a philanthropic administrator. In the history of India Ashoka is referred to as Samraat Chakravartin Ashoka- the Emperor of Emperors Ashoka.

His name "aśoka" means "without sorrow" in Sanskrit (a= no/without, soka= sorrow or worry). In his edicts, he is referred to as Devānāmpriya (Devanāgarī: देवानांप्रिय)/Devānaṃpiya or "The Beloved Of The Gods", and Priyadarśin (Devanāgarī: प्रियदर्शी)/Piyadassī or "He who regards everyone with affection". Another title of his is Dhamma (prakrit: धम्मः), "Lawful, Religious, Righteous".

Renowned British author and social critic H. G. Wells in his bestselling two-volume work, The Outline of History (1920), wrote of emperor Ashoka:

In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves 'their highnesses,' 'their majesties,' and 'their exalted majesties' and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.

Along with the Edicts of Ashoka, his legend is related in the later 2nd century Aśokāvadāna ("Narrative of Asoka") and Divyāvadāna ("Divine narrative"), and in the Sri Lankan text Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle").

After two thousand years, the influence of Ashoka is seen in Asia and especially the Indian subcontinent. An emblem excavated from his empire is today the national Emblem of India. In the History of Buddhism Ashoka is considered just after Gautama Buddha.

Contents

Biography

Early life

Ashoka was born to the Mauryan emperor Bindusara and his Queen 'Dharma' (although she was a Brahmin or Shubhadrangi, she was undervalued as she wasn't of royal blood). Ashoka had several elder siblings (all half-brothers from other wives of Bindusara). He had just one younger sibling, Vitthashoka (a much loved brother from the same mother). Because of his exemplary intellect and warrior skills, he was said to have been the favorite of his grandfather Chandragupta Maurya. As the legend goes, when Chandragupta Maurya left his empire for a Jain living, he threw his sword away. Ashoka found the sword and kept it, in spite of his grandfather's warning. Ashoka, in his adolescence, was rude and naughty. He was a fearsome hunter. He was a kshatriya and was given all royal military trainings and other Vedic knowledge. According to a legend, he killed a Lion with just a wooden rod. Ashoka was very well known for his sword fighting. He was very adventurous and this made him a terrific fighter. Ashoka was a frightening warrior and a heartless general. Because of this quality he was sent to destroy the riot of Avanti.

Rise to Power

File:Maurya Dynasty in 265
Maurya Empire at the age of Ashoka. The empire stretched from Iran to Bangladesh/Assam and from Central Asia (Afganistan) to Tamil Nadu/South India.

Developing into an impeccable warrior general and a shrewd statesman, Ashoka went on to command several regiments of the Mauryan army. His growing popularity across the empire made his elder brothers wary of his chances of being favored by Bindusara to become the next emperor. The eldest of them, Susima, the traditional heir to the throne, persuaded Bindusara to send Ashoka to quell an uprising in Taxshila, a city in the north-west District of Pakistani Punjab region, for which Prince Susima was the Governor. Taxshila was a highly volatile place because of the war-like Indo-Greek population and mismanagement by Susima himself. This had led to the formation of different militias causing unrest. Ashoka complied and left for the troubled area. As news of Ashoka's visit with his army trickled in, he was welcomed by the revolting militias and the uprising ended without a conflict. (The province revolted once more during the rule of Ashoka, but this time the uprising was crushed with an iron fist)

Ashoka's success made his stepbrothers more wary of his intentions of becoming the emperor and more incitements from Susima led Bindusara to send Ashoka into exile. He went into Kalinga and stayed there incognito. There he met a fisher woman named Kaurwaki, with whom he fell in love. Recently found inscriptions indicate that she would later become either his second or third queen.

Meanwhile, there was again a violent uprising in Ujjain. Emperor Bindusara summoned Ashoka out of exile after two years. Ashoka went into Ujjain and in the ensuing battle was injured, but his generals quelled the uprising. Ashoka was treated in hiding so that loyalists of the Susima group could not harm him. He was treated by Buddhist monks and nuns. This is where he first learned the teachings of the Buddha, and it is also where he met Devi, who was his personal nurse and the daughter of a merchant from adjacent Vidisha. After recovering, he married her. It was quite unacceptable to Bindusara that one of his sons should marry a Buddhist, so he did not allow Ashoka to stay in Pataliputra but instead sent him back to Ujjain and made him the governor of Ujjain.

The following year passed quite peacefully for him, and Devi was about to deliver his first child. In the meanwhile, Emperor Bindusara died. As the news of the unborn heir to the throne spread, Prince Susima planned the execution of the unborn child; however, the assassin who came to kill Devi and her child killed his mother instead. Ashoka beheads his elder brother to ascend the throne. In this phase of his life, Ashoka was known for his unquenched thirst for wars and campaigns launched to conquer the lands of other rulers and became known as Chandashok (terrible Ashoka), the Sanskrit word chanda meaning cruel, fierce, or rude, Chandi-devi being associated with Kali.

Ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded his empire over the next eight years, from the present-day boundaries and regions of BurmaBangladesh and the state of Assam in India in the east to the territory of present-day Iran / Persia and Afghanistan in the west; from the Pamir Knots in the north almost to the peninsular of southern India (i.e. Tamilnadu / Andhra pradesh).

Conquest of Kalinga

While the early part of Ashoka's reign was apparently quite bloodthirsty, he became a follower of the Buddha's teaching after his conquest of Kalinga on the east coast of India in the present-day state of Orissa. Kalinga was a state that prided itself on its sovereignty and democracy. With its monarchical parliamentary democracy it was quite an exception in ancient Bharata where there existed the concept of Rajdharma. Rajdharma means the duty of the rulers, which was intrinsically entwined with the concept of bravery and Kshatriya dharma.

The pretext for the start of the Kalinga War (265 BC or 263 BC) is uncertain. One of Susima's brothers might have fled to Kalinga and found official refuge there. This enraged Ashoka immensely. He was advised by his ministers to attack Kalinga for this act of treachery. Ashoka then asked Kalinga's royalty to submit before his supremacy. When they defied this diktat, Ashoka sent one of his generals to Kalinga to make them submit.

The general and his forces were, however, completely routed through the skilled tact of Kalinga's commander-in-chief. Ashoka, baffled at this defeat, attacked with the greatest invasion ever recorded in Indian history until then. Kalinga put up a stiff resistance, but they were no match for Ashoka's brutal strength. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. Ashoka's later edicts state that about 100,000 people were killed on the Kalinga side and 10,000 from Ashoka's army. Thousands of men and women were deported.

Buddhist Conversion

[[File:|thumb|200px|left|A similar four "Indian lion" Lion Capital of Ashoka atop an intact Ashoka Pillar at Wat U Mong near Chiang Mai, Thailand showing another larger Dharma Chakra / Ashoka Chakra atop the four lions thought to be missing in the Lion Capital of Ashoka at Sarnath Museum which has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.]]

As the legend goes, one day after the war was over, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous monologue:
What have I done? If this is a victory, what's a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Do I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other's kingdom and splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant.... What's this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?
The brutality of the conquest led him to adopt Buddhism and he used his position to propagate the relatively new religion to new heights, as far as ancient Rome and Egypt. He made Buddhism his state religion around 260 BC, and propagated it and preached it within his domain and worldwide from about 250 BC. Emperor Ashoka undoubtedly has to be credited with the first serious attempt to develop a Buddhist policy.

[[File:|right|thumb|200px|Ashokan Pillar at Vaishali]]

Prominent in this cause were his son Venerable Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra (whose name means "friend of the Sangha"), who established Buddhism in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He built thousands of Stupas and Viharas for Buddhist followers. The Stupas of Sanchi are world famous and the stupa named Sanchi Stupa was built by Emperor Ashoka. During the remaining portion of Ashoka's reign, he pursued an official policy of nonviolence (ahimsa). Even the unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of people was immediately abolished. Everyone became protected by the king's law against sport hunting and branding. Limited hunting was permitted for consumption reasons but Ashoka also promoted the concept of vegetarianism. Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day of the year. He attempted to raise the professional ambition of the common man by building universities for study, and water transit and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics and caste. The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily overthrown, were instead made to be well-respected allies.

He is acclaimed for constructing hospitals for animals and renovating major roads throughout India. After this transformation, Ashoka came to be known as Dhammashoka (Sanskrit), meaning Ashoka, the follower of Dharma. Ashoka defined the main principles of dharma (dhamma) as nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for the Brahmans and other religious teachers and priests, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all. These principles suggest a general ethic of behaviour to which no religious or social group could object.

Some critics say that Ashoka was afraid of more wars, but among his neighbors, including the Seleucid Empire and the Greco-Bactrian kingdom established by Diodotus I, none could match his strength. He was a contemporary of both Antiochus I Soter and his successor Antiochus II Theos of the Seleucid dynasty as well as Diodotus I and his son Diodotus II of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. If his inscriptions and edicts are well studied one finds that he was familiar with the Hellenic world but never in awe of it. His edicts, which talk of friendly relations, give the names of both Antiochus of the Seleucid empire and Ptolemy III of Egypt. The fame of the Mauryan empire was widespread from the time that Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta Maurya defeated Seleucus Nicator, the founder of the Seleucid Dynasty. [[File:|thumb|250px|left|Stupa of Sanchi.]]

The source of much of our knowledge of Ashoka is the many inscriptions he had carved on pillars and rocks throughout the empire. Emperor Ashoka is known as Piyadasi (in Pali) or Priyadarshi (in Sanskrit) meaning "good looking" or "favored by the gods with good blessing". All his inscriptions have the imperial touch and show compassionate loving. He addressed his people as his "children". These inscriptions promoted Buddhist morality and encouraged nonviolence and adherence to Dharma (duty or proper behavior), and they talk of his fame and conquered lands as well as the neighboring kingdoms holding up his might. One also gets some primary information about the Kalinga War and Ashoka's allies plus some useful knowledge on the civil administration. The Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath is the most popular of the relics left by Ashoka. Made of sandstone, this pillar records the visit of the emperor to Sarnath, in the 3rd century BC. It has a four-lion capital (four lions standing back to back) which was adopted as the emblem of the modern Indian republic. The lion symbolizes both Ashoka's imperial rule and the kingship of the Buddha. In translating these monuments, historians learn the bulk of what is assumed to have been true fact of the Mauryan Empire. It is difficult to determine whether or not some actual events ever happened, but the stone etchings clearly depict how Ashoka wanted to be thought of and remembered.

Ashoka's own words as known from his Edicts are: "All men are my children. I am like a father to them. As every father desires the good and the happiness of his children, I wish that all men should be happy always." Edward D'Cruz interprets the Ashokan dharma as a "religion to be used as a symbol of a new imperial unity and a cementing force to weld the diverse and heterogeneous elements of the empire".

Also, in the Edicts, Ashoka mentions Hellenistic kings of the period as converts to Buddhism, although no Hellenic historical record of this event remain:

The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400–9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni (Sri Lanka).
Edicts of Ashoka, Rock Edict 13 (S. Dhammika)

Ashoka also claims that he encouraged the development of herbal medicine, for human and nonhuman animals, in their territories:

Everywhere within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi's [Ashoka's] domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochos rules, and among the kings who are neighbors of Antiochos, everywhere has Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals.

The Greeks in India even seem to have played an active role in the propagation of Buddhism, as some of the emissaries of Ashoka, such as Dharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek (Yona) Buddhist monks, active in spreading Buddhism (the Mahavamsa, XII[2]).

Death and legacy

Ashoka ruled for an estimated forty years. After his death, the Mauryan dynasty lasted just fifty more years. Ashoka had many wives and children, but many of their names are lost to time. Mahindra and Sanghamitra were twins born by his first wife, Devi, in the city of Ujjain. He had entrusted to them the job of making his state religion, Buddhism, more popular across the known and the unknown world. Mahindra and Sanghamitra went into Sri Lanka and converted the King, the Queen and their people to Buddhism. They were naturally not handling state affairs after him.

In his old age, he seems to have come under the spell of his youngest wife Tishyaraksha. It is said that she had got his son Kunala, the regent in Takshashila, blinded by a wily stratagem. The official executioners spared Kunala and he became a wandering singer accompanied by his favourite wife Kanchanmala. In Pataliputra, Ashoka hears Kunala's song, and realizes that Kunala's misfortune may have been a punishment for some past sin of the emperor himself and condemns Tishyaraksha to death, restoring Kunala to the court. Kunala was succeeded by his son, Samprati, but his rule did not last long after Ashoka's death.

The reign of Ashoka Maurya could easily have disappeared into history as the ages passed by, and would have had he not left behind a record of his trials. The testimony of this wise king was discovered in the form of magnificently sculpted pillars and boulders with a variety of actions and teachings he wished to be published etched into the stone. What Ashoka left behind was the first written language in India since the ancient city of Harappa. The language used for inscription was the then current spoken form called Prakrit.

In the year 185 BC, about fifty years after Ashoka's death, the last Maurya ruler, Brhadrata, was assassinated by the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pusyamitra Sunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honor of his forces. Pusyamitra Sunga founded the Sunga dynasty (185 BC-78 BC) and ruled just a fragmented part of the Mauryan Empire. Many of the northwestern territories of the Mauryan Empire (modern-day Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) became the Indo-Greek Kingdom.

When India gained independence from the British Empire it adopted Ashoka's emblem for its own, placing the Dharmachakra (The Wheel of Righteous Duty) that crowned his many columns on the flag of the newly independent state. In 1992, Ashoka was ranked #53 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history. In 2001, a semi-fictionalized portrayal of Ashoka's life was produced as a motion picture under the title Asoka. King Ashoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan dynasty, has come to be regarded as one of the most exemplary rulers in world history. The British historian H.G. Wells has written: "Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history ... the name of Asoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star."

Buddhist Kingship

One of the more enduring legacies of Ashoka Maurya was the model that he provided for the relationship between Buddhism and the state. Throughout Theravada Southeastern Asia, the model of ruler ship embodied by Ashoka replaced the notion of divine kingship that had previously dominated (in the Angkor kingdom, for instance). Under this model of 'Buddhist kingship', the king sought to legitimize his rule not through descent from a divine source, but by supporting and earning the approval of the Buddhist sangha. Following Ashoka's example, kings established monasteries, funded the construction of stupas, and supported the ordination of monks in their kingdom. Many rulers also took an active role in resolving disputes over the status and regulation of the sangha, as Ashoka had in calling a conclave to settle a number of contentious issues during his reign. This development ultimately lead to a close association in many Southeast Asian countries between the monarchy and the religious hierarchy, an association that can still be seen today in the state-supported Buddhism of Thailand and the traditional role of the Thai king as both a religious and secular leader. Ashoka also said that all his courtiers were true to their self and governed the people in a moral manner.

Historical sources

[[File:|thumb|Bilingual inscription in (Greek and Aramaic) by king Ashoka, from Kandahar (Shar-i-kuna). Kabul Museum.]] Western sources – Ashoka was almost forgotten by the historians of the early British India but James Prinsep contributed in the revelation of historical sources. Another important historian was British archaeologist Sir John Hubert Marshall who was director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. His main interests were Sanchi and Sarnath besides Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Sir Alexander Cunningham, a British archaeologist and army engineer and often known as the father of the Archaeological Survey of India, unveiled heritage sites like the Bharhut Stupa, Sarnath, Sanchi, and the Mahabodhi Temple; thus, his contribution is recognizable in realms of historical sources. Sir Mortimer Wheeler who was a British archaeologist also exposed Ashokan historical sources, especially the Taxila.

Eastern sources - Information about the life and reign of Ashoka primarily comes from a relatively small number of Buddhist sources. In particular, the Sanskrit Ashokavadana ('Story of Ashoka'), written in the 2nd century, and the two Pāli chronicles of Sri Lanka (the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa) provide most of the currently known information about Ashoka. Additional information is contributed by the Edicts of Asoka, whose authorship was finally attributed to the Ashoka of Buddhist legend after the discovery of dynastic lists that gave the name used in the edicts (Priyadarsi – 'favored by the Gods') as a title or additional name of Ashoka Mauriya. Architectural remains of his period have been found at Kumhrar, Patna, which include an 80-pillar hypostyle hall.

Edicts of Ashoka -The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty during his reign from 272 to 231 BC. These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Pakistan and India, and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history.It give more information about Ashoka's proselytism, Moral precepts, Religious precepts, Social and animal welfare .

Ashokavadana - The Ashokavadana is a 2nd century CE text related to the legend of the Maurya Emperor Ashoka. The legend was translated into Chinese by Fa Hien in 300 CE.

Mahavamsa -The Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle") is a historical poem written in the Pali language, of the kings of Sri Lanka. It covers the period from the coming of King Vijaya of Kalinga (ancient Orissa) in 543 BC to the reign of King Mahasena (334–361).As it often refers to the royal dynasties of India, the Mahavamsa is also valuable for historians who wish to date and relate contemporary royal dynasties in the Indian subcontinent. It is very important in dating the consecration of the Maurya emperor Ashoka.

Dipavamsa -The Dipavamsa, or "Deepavamsa", (i.e., Chronicle of the Island, in Pali) is the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka. The chronicle is believe to be compiled from Atthakatha and other sources around the 3–4th century, King Dhatusena (4th century CE) had ordered that the Dipavamsa be recited at the Mahinda (son to Ashoka )festival held annually in Anuradhapura.

The use of Buddhist sources in reconstructing the life of Ashoka has had a strong influence on perceptions of Ashoka, as well as the interpretations of his edicts. Building on traditional accounts, early scholars regarded Ashoka as a primarily Buddhist monarch who underwent a conversion to Buddhism and was actively engaged in sponsoring and supporting the Buddhist monastic institution. Some scholars have tended to question this assessment. The only source of information not attributable to Buddhist sources are the Ashokan edicts, and these do not explicitly state that Ashoka was a Buddhist. In his edicts, Ashoka expresses support for all the major religions of his time: Buddhism, Brahmanism, Jainism, and Ajivikaism, and his edicts addressed to the population at large (there are some addressed specifically to Buddhists; this is not the case for the other religions) generally focus on moral themes members of all the religions would accept.

However, there is strong evidence in the edicts alone that he was a Buddhist. In one edict he belittles rituals, and he banned Vedic animal sacrifices; these strongly suggest that he at least did not look to the Vedic tradition for guidance. Furthermore, there are many edicts expressed to Buddhists alone; in one, Ashoka declares himself to be an "upasaka", and in another he demonstrates a close familiarity with Buddhist texts. He erected rock pillars at Buddhist holy sites, but did not so for the sites of other religions. He also used the word "dhamma" to refer to qualities of the heart that underlie moral action; this was an exclusively Buddhist use of the word. Finally, the ideals he promotes correspond to the first three steps of the Buddha's graduated discourse.[3]

Important years in the life of Ashoka

Birth – 304 BC

Marriage with Maharani devi – 286 BC

Mahindra's birth – 284 BC

Sanghamitta's birth – 281 BC

Reign – 272/273 BC to his Nirvana / Death (232 BC)

Rajyabhisheka – 270 BC

Tending to Buddhism – 266 BC

Building Chaityas – 266/263 BC

Mahindra and Sanghamitta Become Buddhist – 264 BC

Kalinga Vijaya – 262/263 BC

Converted to Buddhism – 263 BC

Dharmayatra – 263–250 BC

Third Buddhist council – 250–253 BC

Mahindra's Sri Lanka Yatra – 252 BC

Buddhist Proselytism – 250 to his Death / Nirvana

Edicts – 243/242 BC

Death / Nirvana of Sanghamitta – 240 BC

Rani Tishyaraksha becomes Pattarani – 236 BC

Prince Kunal becomes Upraja – 233 bc

Ashoka's Death / Nirvana – 232 BC

(Note – There are some historians according to whom Ashoka embraced Buddhism in 266 BC but became a true follower of Buddhism after the Conquest of Kalinga 262 BC or 263 BC)


Contributions

Global Spread of Buddhism

Ashoka, now a Buddhist emperor, believed that Buddhism is beneficial for all human beings as well as animals and plants, so he built 84,000 stupas, Sangharama, viharas, Chaitya, and residences for Buddhist monks all over South Asia and Central Asia. He gave donations to viharas and mathas. He sent his only daughter Sanghamitta and son Mahindra to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka (ancient name Tamraparni). Ashoka also sent many prominent Buddhist monks (bhikshus) Sthaviras like Madhyamik Sthavira to modern Kashmir and Afganistan; Maharaskshit sthavira to Syria, Persia / Iran, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey; Massim Sthavira to Nepal, Bhutan, China and Mongolia; Sohn Uttar Sthavira to modern Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (old name Suvarnabhumi for Burma and Thailand), Thailand and Vietnam; Mahadhhamarakhhita stahvira to Maharashtra (old name Maharatthha); Maharakhhit Sthavira and Yavandhammarakhhita Sthavira to South India. Ashoka also invited Buddhists and non-Buddhists for religious conferences. Ashoka inspired the Buddhist monks to compose the sacred religious texts, and also gave all types of help to that end. Ashoka also helped to develop viharas (intellectual hubs) such as Nalanda and Taxila. Ashoka helped to construct Sanchi and Mahabodhi Temple. Ashoka never tried to harm or to destroy non-Buddhist religions, and indeed gave donations to non-Buddhists. As his reign continued his even-handedness was replaced with special inclination towards Buddhism.[4] Ashoka helped and respected both Sramans (Buddhists monks) and Brahmins (Vedic monks). Ashoka also helped to organize the Third Buddhist council (c. 250 BC) at Pataliputra (today's Patna). It was conducted by the monk Moggaliputta-Tissa who was the spiritual teacher of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka.

As an Administrator

[[File:|thumb|left|250px|Mauryan ringstone, with standing goddess. Northwest Pakistan. 3rd century BC. British Museum.]]

Ashoka's military power was so strong that he was able to crush those empires that went to war against him still, he was on friendly terms with kingdoms in the South like Cholas, Pandya, Keralputra, the post Alexandrian empire, Tamraparni, and Suvarnabhumi who were strong enough to remain outside his empire and continued to profess Hinduism. According to his edicts we know that he provided humanitarian help including doctors, hospitals, inns, wells, medical herbs and engineers to his neighboring countries. In his neighboring countries Ashoka helped humans as well as animals. Ashoka also planted trees in his empire and his neighboring countries. Ashoka was perhaps the first emperor in human history to ban slavery, hunting, fishing and deforestation. Ashoka also banned the death sentence and asked the same for the neighboring countries.[5] Ashoka commanded his people to serve the orders of their elders parents) and religious monks (shramana and Brahmin). Ashoka also recommended his people study all religions and respect all religions. According to Ashoka, to harm another's religion is a harm to someone's owns religion. Ashoka asserted his people to live with Dharmmacharana. Ashoka asked people to live with harmony, peace, love and tolerance. Ashoka called his people as his children, and they could call him when they need him. He also asked people to save money and not to spend for immoral causes. Ashoka also believed in dharmacharana (dhammacharana) and dharmavijaya (dhammavijaya). According to many European and Asian historians the age of Ashoka was the age of light and delightment. He was the first emperor in human history who has taught the lesson of unity, peace, equality and love. Ashoka's aim was not to expand the territories but the welfare of all of his subjects (sarvajansukhay). In his vast empire there was no evidence of recognizable mutiny or civil war. Ashoka was the true devotee of nonviolence, peace and love. This made him different from other emperors. Ashoka also helped Buddhism as well as religions like Jainism, Hinduism, Hellenic polytheism and Ajivikas. Ashoka was against any discrimination among humans. He helped students, the poor, orphans and the elderly with social, political and economic help. According to Ashoka, hatred gives birth to hatred and a feeling of love gives birth to love and mercy. According to him the happiness of people is the happiness of the ruler. His opinion was that the sword is not as powerful as love. Ashoka was also Kind to prisoners, and respected animal life and tree life. Ashoka allowed females to be educated. He also permitted females to enter religious institutions. He allowed female Buddhist monastic such as Bhikkhuni. He combined in himself the complexity a king and a simplicity of a buddhist monk. Because of these reasons he is known as the emperor of all ages and thus became a milestone in the History of the world.

Ashoka Chakra

File:Ashoka
The Ashoka Chakra, "the wheel of Righteousness" (Dharma in Sanskrit or Dhamma in Pali)"
File:Flag of
Ashoka Chakra on the Indian National Flag.

The Ashoka Chakra (the wheel of Ashoka) is a depiction of the Dharmachakra or Dhammachakka in Pali, the Wheel of Dharma (Sanskrit: Chakra means wheel). The wheel has 24 spokes. The Ashoka Chakra has been widely inscribed on many relics of the Mauryan Emperor, most prominent among which is the Lion Capital of Sarnath and The Ashoka Pillar. The most visible use of the Ashoka Chakra today is at the centre of the National flag of the Republic of India (adopted on 22 July 1947), where it is rendered in a Navy-blue color on a White background, by replacing the symbol of Charkha (Spinning wheel) of the pre-independence versions of the flag. Ashoka Chakra can also been seen on the base of Lion Capital of Ashoka which has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.

The Ashoka chakra was built by Ashoka during his reign. Chakra is a Sanskrit word which also means cycle or self repeating process. The process it signifies is the cycle of time as how the world changes with time. The horse means accuracy and speed while the bull means hardwork.

A few days before India became independent on August 1947, the specially constituted Constituent Assembly decided that the flag of India must be acceptable to all parties and communities.[6] A flag with three colours, Saffron, White and Green with the Ashoka Chakra was selected. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who later became India's first Vice President, clarified the adopted flag and described its significance as follows:

Bhagwa or the saffron color denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the center is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to (the) soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends. The "Ashoka Chakra" in the center of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change. It also represents 24 hours in a day.

A widely held unofficial interpretation is that the saffron stands for purity and spirituality, white for peace and truth, green for fertility and prosperity and the wheel for justice/righteousness.

The twenty four spokes in this chakra wheel represent twenty four virtues:

  1. Love
  2. Courage
  3. Patience
  4. Peacefulness
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Gentleness
  9. Self-control
  10. Selflessness
  11. Self sacrifice
  12. Truthfulness
  13. Righteousness
  14. Justice
  15. Mercy
  16. Graciousness
  17. Humility
  18. Empathy
  19. Sympathy
  20. Supreme knowledge
  21. Supreme wisdom
  22. Supreme moral
  23. Love for all beings
  24. Hope, trust, or faith in the goodness of God or nature.

Pillars of Ashoka (Ashokstambha)

]] The pillars of Ashoka are a series of columns dispersed throughout the northern Indian subcontinent, and erected by Ashoka during his reign in the 3rd century BC. Originally, there must have been many pillars of Ashoka although only ten with inscriptions still survive. Averaging between forty and fifty feet in height, and weighing up to fifty tons each, all the pillars were quarried at Chunar, just south of Varanasi and dragged, sometimes hundreds of miles, to where they were erected. The first Pillar of Ashoka was found in the 16th century by Thomas Coryat in the ruins of ancient Delhi. The wheel represents the sun time and Buddhist law, while the swastika stands for the cosmic dance around a fixed center and guards against evil. There is no evidence of a swastika, or manji, on the pillars.

Lion Capital of Asoka (Ashokmudra)

The Lion capital of Ashoka is a sculpture of four "Indian lions" standing back to back. It was originally placed atop the Aśoka pillar at Sarnath, now in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The pillar, sometimes called the Aśoka Column is still in its original location, but the Lion Capital is now in the Sarnath Museum. This Lion Capital of Ashoka from Sarnath has been adopted as the National Emblem of India and the wheel "Ashoka Chakra" from its base was placed onto the center of the National Flag of India.

The capital contains four lions (Indian / Asiatic Lions), standing back to back, mounted on an abacus, with a frieze carrying sculptures in high relief of an elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion, separated by intervening spoked chariot-wheels over a bell-shaped lotus. Carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, the capital was believed to be crowned by a 'Wheel of Dharma' (Dharmachakra popularly known in India as the "Ashoka Chakra").

The Ashoka Lion capital or the Sarnath lion capital is also known as the national symbol of India. The Sarnath pillar bears one of the Edicts of Ashoka, an inscription against division within the Buddhist community, which reads, "No one shall cause division in the order of monks". The Sarnath pillar is a column surmounted by a capital, which consists of a canopy representing an inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, a short cylindrical abacus with four 24-spoked Dharma wheels with four animals (an elephant, a bull, a horse, a lion).

The four animals in the Sarnath capital are believed to symbolize different steps of Lord Buddha's life.

  • The Elephant represents the Buddha's idea in reference to the dream of Queen Maya of a white elephant entering her womb.
  • The Bull represents desire during the life of the Buddha as a prince.
  • The Horse represents Buddha's departure from palatial life.
  • The Lion represents the accomplishment of Buddha.

Besides the religious interpretations, there are some non-religious interpretations also about the symbolism of the Ashoka capital pillar at Sarnath. According to them, the four lions symbolize Ashoka's rule over the four directions, the wheels as symbols of his enlightened rule (Chakravartin) and the four animals as symbols of four adjoining territories of India.

Constructions credited to Ashoka

Quotations

Attributed to Ashoka

[[File:|thumb|350px|Fragment of the 6th Pillar Edicts of Ashoka (238 BC), in Brahmi, sandstones. British Museum.]]

  • All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, which I desire for all men. You do not understand to what extent I desire this, and if some of you do understand, you do not understand the full extent of my desire.
  • Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice.
  • Respect for mother and father is good, generosity to friends, acquaintances, relatives, Brahmans and ascetics is good, not killing living beings is good, moderation in spending and moderation in saving is good.
  • To do good is difficult. One who does good first does something hard to do. I have done many good deeds, and, if my sons, grandsons and their descendants up to the end of the world act in like manner, they too will do much good. But whoever amongst them neglects this, they will do evil.

Truly, it is easy to do evil.

  • All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart.
  • King Piyadasi does not consider glory and fame to be of great account unless they are achieved through having my subjects respect Dhamma and practice Dhamma, both now and in the future.
  • Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others.
  • There is no gift like the gift of the Dhamma, (no acquaintance like) acquaintance with Dhamma, (no distribution like) distribution of Dhamma, and (no kinship like) kinship through Dhamma. And it consists of this: proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for mother and father, generosity to friends, companions, relations, Brahmans and ascetics, and not killing living beings.
  • King Piyadasi, honors both ascetics and the householders of all religions, and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds.But Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values this—that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions.
  • Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted. At intervals of eight //krosas//, I have had wells dug, rest-houses built, and in various places, I have had watering-places made for the use of animals and men. But these are but minor achievements. Such things to make the people happy have been done by former kings. I have done these things for this purpose, that the people might practice the Dhamma.
  • It is my desire that there should be uniformity in law and uniformity in sentencing. I even go this far, to grant a three-day stay for those in prison who have been tried and sentenced to death. During this time their relatives can make appeals to have the prisoners' lives spared. If there is none to appeal on their behalf, the prisoners can give gifts in order to make merit for the next world, or observe fasts.[7]

About Ashoka

[[File:|220px|left|thumb|Mahabodhi Temple is credited to Ashoka.]]

  • "Among the emperors and historical personalities, Samrath / Emperor Ashoka is the surely only being who had decided not to battle with enemy when he won the battle." – Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India (page no. 86).
  • "There is the only one period in Indian history which is a period of freedom, greatness and glory. That is the period of the Mauryan empire (Ashoka's empire)." – B. R. Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste (page no. 70–71).
  • "Ashoka is perhaps the only emperor who hated wars because of the blood shed and cruelty. He wanted to win the souls of people with love not the bodies with sword and terror." – V. G. Gokhale.
  • "In some cases Ashoka may be compared with Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Genghis Khan, Timur, Peter I of Russia, Napoleon I. But Ashoka was not extra ambitious like Alexander. Ashoka was an ideal administrator like Augustus Caesar, but unlike Caesar, he didn't want to be known as a dictator. Ashoka was a strong general but unlike Napoleon I Ashoka never was unsatisfied. Ashoka wanted to be loved by his subjects. He never terrorized his subjects like Genghis Khan, Timur and Peter I of Russia. Nobility of soul, purity of mind, honesty of nature, clarity of dignity and love for all let Ashoka sit with Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ." – Madhav Kondvilkar in Devancha Priya Raja Priyadarshi Samrath Ashok (page no. 19).
  • "Nowadays wars, conflicts and blood shed have become very familiar, but about two thousand years ago Ashoka comprehended the evils of war and conflicts. Ashoka turned his all power to establish harmony and peace, in this way he has put a fine example to be followed before all mankind. In this way he has shown that in peacetime man would be a progressed being." – Dr. Binda Paranjape in Ashokache Shilalekha (page no.29).
  • "A hundred years after my death there will be an emperor named Ashoka in Pataliputra. He will rule one of the four continents and adorn Jambudvipa (old name to India) with my relics, building eighty four thousand stupas for the welfare of people. He will have them honored by gods and men. His fame will be widespread. His meritorious gift was just this: Jaya threw a handful of dust into the Tathaagata's bowl." Prediction of Buddha for Ashoka according to the Ashokavadana.
    File:Deorkothar
    Stupas at Deorkothar are built by Ashoka
  • "He (Ashoka) insisted on the recognition of the sanctity of all human life". Dr. Munshi.
  • "Asoka, one of the great monarchs of history, whose dominions extended from Afghanistan to Madras... is the only military monarch on record who abandoned warfare after victory. He had invaded Kalinga (255 B.C.), a country along the east coast of Madras, perhaps with some intention of completing the conquest of the tip of the Indian peninsula. The expedition was successful, but he was disgusted by what be saw of the cruelties and horrors of war. He declared, in certain inscriptions that still exist, that he would no longer seek conquest by war, but by religion, and the rest of his life was devoted to the spreading of Buddhism throughout the world. He seems to have ruled his vast empire in peace and with great ability. He was no mere religious fanatic. For eight and twenty years Asoka worked sanely for the real needs of men. Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Asoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star. From the Volga to Japan his name is still honored. China, Tibet, and even India, though it has left his doctrine, preserve the tradition of his greatness. More living men cherish his memory today than have ever heard the names of Constantine or Charlemagne." – H.G. Wells in The Outline of History (Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind) published in (1920) chapter no. 25.4 (Buddhism and Asoka) page no 365–366.
  • "A large number of international scholars agree that Emperor Aśoka of India in the 3rd century B.C. was one of the greatest conquerors who later achieved the most difficult conquest of all — the conquest of himself — through self-conviction and his perception of human suffering. After embracing the Dhamma of the Buddha as his guide and refuge, he transformed the goal of his regime from military conquest to conquest by Dhamma. By providing royal patronage for the propagation of Buddhism both within and outside his vast dominion, he helped promote the metamorphosis of Buddhism from one among many sects of Indian ascetic spirituality into a world religion that was eventually to penetrate almost all of southern and eastern Asia." – Anuradha Seneviratna in King Asoka and Buddhism Historical & Literary Studies (editors preface ) (page. no. xi). [[File:|thumb|right|The Dharmarajika stupa, Taxila, Pakistan is Commissioned under Ashoka.]]
  • "We have no way of knowing how effective Asoka’s reforms were or how long they lasted but we do know that monarchs throughout the ancient Buddhist world were encouraged to look to his style of government as an ideal to be followed. King Asoka has to be credited with first attempt to develop a Buddhist polity. Today, with widespread disillusionment in prevailing ideologies and the search for a political philosophy that goes beyond greed, hatred, and delusion, Asoka’s edicts may make a meaningful contribution to development of a more spiritually based political system." – Ven. S. Dhammika in The Edicts of Ashoka.
  • "Many people ask: How can any nation be defended if all of its people adopt nonviolence? It is rather difficult to answer this hypothetical question. However, an emperor ruled over India with nonviolence and compassion in the 3rd century B.C. Ashoka was the emperor - emperor of peace and social justice. He did not rule by force or by accumulating goods and means of comfort for himself or by pomp and show. He ruled by sacrificing material comforts and by treating all his subjects equal and with justice. His example can guide us, rulers and administrators, politicians and civil servants, religious leaders and laymen, to establish peace, justice and harmony in present-day world." – Sh. Duli Chandra Jain and Ms. Sunita Jain in Ashoka - Emperor Or Monk.
  • "Ashoka was a man dedicated to peace, and the only emperor in history to forsake warfare after victory in the Kalinga war, devoting the balance of his lifetime serving not only his people, but mankind, with magnanimity and benevolence seldom seen in history. Thus he was able to build the Golden Period of Indian history." – Dr. Kirthisinghe.

Ashoka Today

In art and film

  • Asoka is a 2001 epic Bollywood historical drama. It is a largely fictional version of the life of the Indian emperor Ashoka. The film was directed by Santosh Sivan and stars Shahrukh Khan as Ashoka and Kareena Kapoor as Kaurwaki, a princess of Kalinga.The film ends with Asoka renouncing the sword and embracing Buddhism. The final narrative describes how Asoka not only built a large empire, but spread Buddhism and the winds of peace through it.

In Literature

  • Asoka and the Decline of the Maurya by Romila Thapar.
  • Early India and Pakistan: to Ashoka (1970) by Brigadier Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler.
  • Asoka the Great by Monisha Mukundan.
  • Asokan Sites and Artefacts, a Source-book with Bibliography. Harry Falk, Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2006 ISBN 978-3-8053-3712-0.
  • The Legend of King Asoka (1948) by John S. Strong.
  • Ashoka the Great (1995) by D. C. Ahir.
  • Ashoka text and glossary (1924) by Alfred C. Woolner .
  • Asoka: The Buddhist Emperor of India by Vincent A. Smith.
  • Discovery of the Exact Site of Asoka's Classic Capital of Pataliputra (1892) by L. A. Waddell.
  • Asoka Maurya (1966) by B. G. Gokhale.
  • The Legend of King Asoka (1989) by John S. Strong.
  • Asoka (1923) by D.R. Bhandarkar.
  • Ashoka, The Great by B. K. Chaturvedi.
  • Asoka by Mookerji Radhakumud.
  • King Aśoka and Buddhism Historical And Literaray Studies by Anuradha Seneviratna.
  • To Uphold the World: The Message of Ashoka and Kautilya for the 21st Century (2008) by Bruce Rich.
  • Asoka and His Inscriptions by Beni Madhab Barua.
  • Asoka's Edicts (1956) by A. C. Sen.
  • One of the most famous figures in modern Hindi literature, Jaishankar Prasad, composed Ashoka ki chinta (in English: Worry of Ashoka), a famous Hindi verse. The poem portrays Ashoka’s heart during the war of kalinga.
  • In Piers Anthony’s series of space opera novels, the main character mentions Asoka as a model for administrators to strive for.

Gallery

See also

Sources

  • Swearer, Donald. Buddhism and Society in Southeast Asia (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: Anima Books, 1981) ISBN 0-89012-023-4
  • Thapar, Romila. Aśoka and the decline of the Mauryas (Delhi : Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, 1998 printing, c1961) ISBN 0-19-564445-X
  • Nilakanta Sastri, K. A. Age of the Nandas and Mauryas (Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, [1967] c1952) ISBN 0-89684-167-7
  • Bongard-Levin, G. M. Mauryan India (Stosius Inc/Advent Books Division May 1986) ISBN 0-86590-826-5
  • Chand Chauhan, Gian. Origin and Growth of Feudalism in Early India: From the Mauryas to AD 650 (Munshiram Manoharlal January 2004) ISBN 81-215-1028-7
  • Keay, John. India: A History (Grove Press; 1 Grove Pr edition May 10, 2001) ISBN 0-8021-3797-0
  • Falk, Harry. Asokan Sites and Artefacts - A Source-book with Bibliography (Mainz : Philipp von Zabern, [2006]) ISBN 978-3-8053-3712-0

Notes

External links

Ashoka
Mauryan dynasty
Born: 304 BC Died: 232 BC
Preceded by
Bindusara
Mauryan Emperor
272 BC–232 BC
Succeeded by
Dasaratha



Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Ashoka the Great article)

From Wikiquote

Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others.

Ashoka the Great (Devanagari: अशोक; IAST transliteration: Aśoka, 304 BCE – 232 BCE)), known also as Piyadasi (Pali. Sanskrit:Priyadarsi – meaning 'good looking', or 'beloved of the Gods') , was the emperor of the Mauryan Empire from 273 BCE to 232 BCE. After a number of military conquests, Ashoka reigned over most of South Asia and beyond, from present-day Afghanistan to Bengal and as far south as Mysore. An early supporter of Buddhism, Ashoka established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, and according to Buddhist tradition was closely involved in the preservation and transmission of Buddhism.

The name "Ashoka" means "without sorrow" in Sanskrit. Asoka was the first ruler of ancient Bharatavarsha (India), after the famed Mahabharata rulers, to unify such a vast territory under his empire, which in retrospect exceeds the boundaries of the present-day Republic of India. The British author H.G. Wells wrote of Ashoka: "In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves 'their highnesses,' 'their majesties,' and 'their exalted majesties' and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day."

Contents

Quotes from edicts

Progress among the people through Dhamma has been done by two means, by Dhamma regulations and by persuasion. Of these, Dhamma regulation is of little effect, while persuasion has much more effect.
Bilingual inscription (Greek and Aramaic) by king Ashoka, from Kandahar (Shar-i-kuna). Kabul Museum.
Fragment of the 6th Pillar Edicts of Ashoka (238 BCE), in Brahmi, sandstones. British Museum.
The lion capital of Ashoka
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has caused this Dhamma edict to be written.[1] Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice. Formerly, in the kitchen of Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, hundreds of thousands of animals were killed every day to make curry. But now with the writing of this Dhamma edict only three creatures, two peacocks and a deer are killed, and the deer not always. And in time, not even these three creatures will be killed.
  • Everywhere [2] within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi's domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochos rules, and among the kings who are neighbours of Antiochos,[3] everywhere has Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals.[4]
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus:[6] Respect for mother and father is good, generosity to friends, acquaintances, relatives, Brahmans and ascetics is good, not killing living beings is good, moderation in spending and moderation in saving is good. The Council shall notify the Yuktas about the observance of these instructions in these very words.
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus:[10] To do good is difficult. One who does good first does something hard to do. I have done many good deeds, and, if my sons, grandsons and their descendants up to the end of the world act in like manner, they too will do much good. But whoever amongst them neglects this, they will do evil. Truly, it is easy to do evil.[11]
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart.[14] But people have various desires and various passions, and they may practice all of what they should or only a part of it. But one who receives great gifts yet is lacking in self-control, purity of heart, gratitude and firm devotion, such a person is mean.
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not consider glory and fame to be of great account unless they are achieved through having my subjects respect Dhamma and practice Dhamma, both now and in the future.[19] For this alone does Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desire glory and fame. And whatever efforts Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, is making, all of that is only for the welfare of the people in the next world, and that they will have little evil. And being without merit is evil. This is difficult for either a humble person or a great person to do except with great effort, and by giving up other interests. In fact, it may be even more difficult for a great person to do.
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus:[20] There is no gift like the gift of the Dhamma,[21] (no acquaintance like) acquaintance with Dhamma, (no distribution like) distribution of Dhamma, and (no kinship like) kinship through Dhamma. And it consists of this: proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for mother and father, generosity to friends, companions, relations, Brahmans and ascetics, and not killing living beings. Therefore a father, a son, a brother, a master, a friend, a companion or a neighbor should say: "This is good, this should be done." One benefits in this world and gains great merit in the next by giving the gift of the Dhamma.
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, honors both ascetics and the householders of all religions, and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds.[22] But Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values this -- that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions.[23] Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good.[24] One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation.[25] One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas. Indeed, Beloved-of-the-Gods is deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered. But Beloved-of-the-Gods is pained even more by this -- that Brahmins, ascetics, and householders of different religions who live in those countries, and who are respectful to superiors, to mother and father, to elders, and who behave properly and have strong loyalty towards friends, acquaintances, companions, relatives, servants and employees -- that they are injured, killed or separated from their loved ones. Even those who are not affected (by all this) suffer when they see friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives affected. These misfortunes befall all (as a result of war), and this pains Beloved-of-the-Gods. There is no country, except among the Greeks, where these two groups, Brahmins and ascetics, are not found, and there is no country where people are not devoted to one or another religion.[26] Therefore the killing, death or deportation of a hundredth, or even a thousandth part of those who died during the conquest of Kalinga now pains Beloved-of-the-Gods. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods thinks that even those who do wrong should be forgiven where forgiveness is possible.
  • All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men. You do not understand to what extent I desire this, and if some of you do understand, you do not understand the full extent of my desire.
  • You must attend to this matter. While being completely law-abiding, some people are imprisoned, treated harshly and even killed without cause so that many people suffer. Therefore your aim should be to act with impartiality. It is because of these things -- envy, anger, cruelty, hate, indifference, laziness or tiredness -- that such a thing does not happen. Therefore your aim should be: "May these things not be in me." And the root of this is non-anger and patience. Those who are bored with the administration of justice will not be promoted; (those who are not) will move upwards and be promoted. Whoever among you understands this should say to his colleagues: "See that you do your duty properly. Such and such are Beloved-of-the-Gods' instructions." Great fruit will result from doing your duty, while failing in it will result in gaining neither heaven nor the king's pleasure. Failure in duty on your part will not please me. But done properly, it will win you heaven and you will be discharging your debts to me.
  • The people of the unconquered territories beyond the borders might think: "What is the king's intentions towards us?" My only intention is that they live without fear of me, that they may trust me and that I may give them happiness, not sorrow. Furthermore, they should understand that the king will forgive those who can be forgiven, and that he wishes to encourage them to practice Dhamma so that they may attain happiness in this world and the next. I am telling you this so that I may discharge the debts I owe, and that in instructing you, that you may know that my vow and my promise will not be broken. Therefore acting in this way, you should perform your duties and assure them (the people beyond the borders) that: "The king is like a father. He feels towards us as he feels towards himself. We are to him like his own children."
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus:[35] Father and mother should be respected and so should elders, kindness to living beings should be made strong and the truth should be spoken. In these ways, the Dhamma should be promoted. Likewise, a teacher should be honored by his pupil and proper manners should be shown towards relations. This is an ancient rule that conduces to long life. Thus should one act.
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Dhamma is good, but what constitutes Dhamma? (It includes) little evil, much good, kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity. I have given the gift of sight in various ways.[40] To two-footed and four-footed beings, to birds and aquatic animals, I have given various things including the gift of life. And many other good deeds have been done by me.
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: People see only their good deeds saying, "I have done this good deed." But they do not see their evil deeds saying, "I have done this evil deed" or "This is called evil." But this (tendency) is difficult to see.[41] One should think like this: "It is these things that lead to evil, to violence, to cruelty, anger, pride and jealousy. Let me not ruin myself with these things." And further, one should think: "This leads to happiness in this world and the next."
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Whatever good deeds have been done by me, those the people accept and those they follow. Therefore they have progressed and will continue to progress by being respectful to mother and father, respectful to elders, by courtesy to the aged and proper behavior towards Brahmans and ascetics, towards the poor and distressed, and even towards servants and employees.
  • Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: This progress among the people through Dhamma has been done by two means, by Dhamma regulations and by persuasion. Of these, Dhamma regulation is of little effect, while persuasion has much more effect. The Dhamma regulations I have given are that various animals must be protected. And I have given many other Dhamma regulations also. But it is by persuasion that progress among the people through Dhamma has had a greater effect in respect of harmlessness to living beings and non-killing of living beings.

Notes

1. Girnar version issued in 257 B.C. These fourteen edicts, with minor differences, are found in five different places throughout India. In two other places, they are found minus numbers 11, 12 and 13.

2. Girnar version, issued in 257 B.C.

3. The Cholas and Pandyas were south Indian peoples living outside Asoka's empire. The Satiyaputras and Keralaputras lived on the southwest seaboard of India. Tamraparni is one of the ancient names for Sri Lanka. On Antiochos see Note 28.

4. By so doing, Asoka was following the advice given by the Buddha at Samyutta Nikaya, I:33.

5. Girnar version, issued in 257 B.C.

6. The exact duties of these royal officers are not known.

7. Girnar version, issued in 257 B.C.

8. This probably refers to the drum that was beaten to announce the punishment of lawbreakers. See Samyutta Nikaya, IV:244.

9. Like many people in the ancient world, Asoka believed that when a just king ruled, there would be many auspicious portents.

10. Kalsi version, issued in 256 B.C.

11. This seems to be a paraphrase of Dhammapada 163.

12. The Greeks (Yona) settled in large numbers in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan after the conquests of Alexander the Great, although small communities lived there prior to this.

13. Girnar version, issued in 256 B.C..

14. Girnar version, issued in 256 B.C.

15. Girnar version, issued in 256 B.C.

16. Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment, was known in ancient times as either Sambodhi or Vajirasana.

17. Kalsi version, issued in 256 B.C. Asoka obviously had the Mangala Sutta (Sutta Nipata 258-269) in mind when he issued this edict. The word here translated as ceremony is //mangala//.

18. Other versions substitute the following up to the end of the edict. It has also been said: "Generosity is good." But there is no gift or benefit like the gift of the Dhamma or benefit like the benefit of the Dhamma. There a friend, a well-wisher, a relative or a companion should encourage others thus on appropriate occasions: "This should be done, this is good, by doing this, one can attain heaven." And what greater achievement is there than this, to attain heaven?

19. Girnar version, issued in 256 B.C.

20. Girnar version, issued in 256 B.C.

21. Similar to Dhammapada 354.

22. Girnar version, issued in 256 B.C.

23. Asoka probably believed that the essentials (//saravadi//) of all religions were their ethical principles.

24. (//Ta samavayo eva sadhu//). This sentence is usually translated "Therefore concord is commendable." //Samavayo// however comes from //sam// + //ava// + //i//, "to come together."

25. Kalsi version, issued in 256 B.C. Kalinga corresponds roughly to the modern state of Orissa.

26. The Buddha pointed out that the four castes of Indian society likewise were not found among the Greeks; see Majjhima Nikaya, II:149.

27. Perhaps Asoka had in mind Dhammapada 103-104.

28. Antiochos II Theos of Syria (261-246 B.C.), Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt (285-247 B.C.), Antigonos Gonatos of Macedonia (278-239 B.C.), Magas of Cyrene (300-258 B.C.) and Alexander of Epirus (272-258 B.C.).

29. Girnar version, issued in 256 B.C.

30. Dhauli version, issued in 256 B.C. These two edicts are found in two different places.

31. Dhauli version, issued in 256 B.C.

32. This is reminiscent of the Buddha's words: "Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so, let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings." Sutta Nipata 149.

33. Gavimath version, issued in 257 B.C. This edict is found in twelve different places.

34. First Asoka was a lay-disciple (//upasaka//) and then he visited or literally "went to the Sangha" (//yam me samghe upeti//). Some scholars think this means that Asoka became a monk. However it probably means that he started visiting Buddhist monks more often and listening to their instructions more carefully.

35. Brahmagiri version.

36. This edict was found inscribed on a small rock near the town of Bairat and is now housed at the Asiatic Society in Calcutta. Its date is not known. 37. This sentence is the converse of a similar one in the Tipitaka:

"...that which is well-spoken is the words of the Lord." Anguttara Nikaya, IV:164.

38. There is disagreement amongst scholars concerning which Pali suttas correspond to some of the text. Vinaya samukose: probably the Atthavasa Vagga, Anguttara Nikaya, 1:98-100. Aliya vasani: either the Ariyavasa Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya, V:29, or the Ariyavamsa Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya, II: 27-28. Anagata bhayani: probably the Anagata Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya, III:100. Muni gatha: Muni Sutta, Sutta Nipata 207-221. Upatisa pasine: Sariputta Sutta, Sutta Nipata 955-975. Laghulavade: Rahulavada Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya, I:421.

39. The following seven edicts are from the Delhi Topra version, the first six being issued in 243 B.C. and the seventh in 242 B.C. The first six edicts also appear on five other pillars.

40. //Cakhu dane//. The meaning is unclear. It may mean that Asoka has given "the eye of wisdom," but taking into account the context, it more likely means he has stopped blinding as a form of punishment.

41. Similar to the ideas expressed by the Buddha in Dhammapada 50 and 252.

42. The identification of many of these animals is conjectural.

43. The Ajivikas were a sect of ascetics in ancient India established by Makkhali Gosala, a contemporary of the Buddha. The Niganthas are the Jains.

44. This inscription is found on a pillar in Lumbini where the Buddha was born. It was issued in 249 B.C., probably at the time of Asoka's visit to the place.

45. Allahabad version, date of issue not known. The words in brackets are missing due to damage on the pillar, but they can be reconstructed from the three other versions of this edict.

46. The white clothes of the lay followers rather than the yellow robe of a monk or nun.

External links

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about:

References


Advertisements






Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message