Ashoka

THE DHARMA DECREES OF KING ASHOKA

Rock Edict 13

(1)

King Priyadarshi, Beloved of the Gods*, conquered Kalinga, eight years after his consecration.  One hundred and fifty thousand persons were taken away captive, one hundred thousand were slain, and many times that number perished.     *devanampriyah

 

(2)

After the Kalingas had been conquered,  the Beloved of the Gods became intensely devoted to the study of Dharma, to the love of Dharma, and to the inculcation of Dharma.

 

(3)

The Beloved of the Gods is now feeling remorse over the conquest of the Kalingas.  Vanquishing an unconquered country involves slaughter, death, and deportation of people, and regret now weighs heavily on the Beloved of the Gods.

 

(4)

A weightier reason for his remorse is that the victims of the injury, death, and deportation are the loved ones of Brahmins, Shramanas*, followers of other religions, and householders, who all practise such virtues as obedience to superiors, parents, and teachers, and proper courtesy and firm devotion to friends, acquaintances, companions, and relatives, as well as to slaves and servants....  The fact that all the people share in the misfortune weighs heavily on the Beloved of the Gods.     *Buddhist ascetics

And there is no country, except that of the Yonas, [’Ionians’, Greeks] where these two groups are not found, namely Brahmins and Shramanas, nor any place where people are not devotees of one religion or another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(5)

Therefore, even if the numbers of the slain, or the dead, or the prisoners taken in the Kalinga war, had been a hundred or thousand times smaller, it would still have weighed heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods.

 

(6)

The Beloved of the Gods now thinks that any person who wrongs him should be forgiven for wrongs that can be forgiven.

 

(7)

And the forest peoples who now live under his dominion, the Beloved of the Gods entreats and exhorts them too.  However, he explains to them that in spite of his repentance he still has the power to punish them, so as to induce them to desist from their wrongdoings and not be executed for their crimes.

 

(8)

For all living creatures the Beloved of the Gods desires security, restraint, impartiality, and gentleness.

 

(9)

Conquest through Dharma*, is now considered by the Beloved of the Gods to be the best kind of conquest.  He has achieved this kind of moral victory not only here but also among the peoples beyond his borders, six hundred yojanas* away, where the Yona king named Antiyoka rules, and even beyond Antiyoka, in the realms of the four kings* Turamaya, Antikini, Maka, and Alikasundara;  and to the south, among the Cholas and Pandyas, as far as Tamraparni*....

*dharma-vijaya

*3,000 miles

*see Notes below

*Ceylon, Sri Langka, Greek Taproban

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(10)

Even where the envoys of the Beloved of the Gods have not penetrated, people have heard about the practice of Dharma, and about his ordinances and instructions on Dharma, and they are conforming to Dharma and will continue to do so.

 

(11)

Wherever conquest is achieved in this way, with Dharma, it produces satisfaction, among the victors and the vanquished alike.  However, such satisfaction is of little importance.  The Beloved of the Gods only esteems the happiness that ensues in the next world.

 

(12)

This record relating to Dharma has been inscribed so that my sons and great-grandsons should not consider new conquests as worth achieving.  If they do make conquests, they should favour moderation and mild punishment.  And they should regard conquest by Dharma as the true conquest, because that is good here and hereafter.  Let their pleasure be pleasure in Dharma*, because that alone is good, here and hereafter.

*dharma-rati

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock Edict 3

 

 

King Priyadarshi Beloved of the Gods, says:

Twelve years after my consecration I decreed thus:

Everywhere in my dominions, every five years, local, provincial, and state officials shall make a tour of their districts, for the special purpose of preaching Dharma, as well as performing other functions, as follows:

Obedience to mother and father is meritorious.

Liberality to friends, acquaintances, relatives, Brahmins and Shramanas is meritorious.

Abstention from killing living creatures is meritorious

Spending little and acquiring little is meritorious.....

 

 

Rock Edict 1

 

(1)

This record relating to Dharma has been inscribed by order of King Priyadarshi, Beloved of the Gods.

 

(2)

Here no living creature shall be slaughtered, and no festive gatherings shall be held.  King Priyadarshi, Beloved of the Gods, sees much that is bad in festive gatherings, but he sees some good in some festive gatherings.

 

(3)

Formerly, in the kitchens of Priyadarshi Beloved of the Gods, many hundreds of thousands of living creatures were slaughtered for curries every day.  At present, as this Dharma decree is being inscribed, only three living creatures are killed daily, two peacocks and a deer, and the deer is not slaughtered regularly.  In future these three living beings shall not be killed either.

 

Rock Edict 9

(1)

King Priyadarshi, Beloved of the Gods, says:

People perform various ceremonies, on such occasions as illnesses, marriages of sons or daughters, births, and journeys.  Women in particular perform many diverse ceremonies, which are futile and meaningless.

 

(2)

Rites should certainly be performed, but these kinds of ceremonies are not very profitable.  However, the Dharma ceremony* is a rite that is very profitable.  It involves:  courtesy towards slaves and servants,

reverence towards teachers,

restraint towards living beings,

liberality towards Shramanas and Brahmins.

These and similar virtues constitute the Dharma ceremony....

*dharma-mangala

 

 

 

(3)

Other ceremonies are of doubtful value.  They may achieve their object, or they may not.  But performance of such rites produces results in this world only.

 

(4)

However, the Dharma ceremony is not restricted to the present time;  if it does not achieve its object in this world, it nevertheless produces unlimited merit in the next world.  But if it does achieve its object in this world it produces both results:  the purpose desired in this world and unlimited merit in the next...

 

(5)

And what achievement is greater than the attainment of heaven?

 

 

Maski Rock Edict

(1)

Ashoka, Beloved of the Gods, issues the following proclamation:  For some two and a half years I have been a lay follower* of the Buddha.  More than a year ago I approached the Sangha and I have since been energetic in my endeavours for Dharma.

*upâsaka

 

 

 

 

(2)

In Jambudvîpa*, people who previously had no relations with gods, are now in communion with them....

*India

 

 

 


 







Bhabra Rock Edict

(1)

King Priyadarshi of Magadha greets the Sangha and wishes them good health and prosperity.

 

(2)

You know, Venerable Sirs, the extent of my reverence and faith towards the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

 

(3)

Whatever the Lord Buddha has said, Venerable Sirs, is well said.  But I deem it appropriate for me to indicate texts which enduringly express true Dharma:

Vinaya-samukasa  (The Exaltation of Discipline)

Ariyavasa (The Ideal Mode, of Life)

Anâgata-bhaya (Fears to Come)

Muni-gâthâ  (The Songs of the Hermit)

Mauneya-sûta (Discourse on the Hermit Life)

Upatisa-pasina (The Questions of Upatishya), and also

Râhula-vâda (The Sermon to Rahula), which was delivered by the Blessed Buddha on the subject of falsehood.*

*See Notes below


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(4)

I desire, Venerable Sirs, that many monks and nuns should listen to these Dharma texts frequently, and meditate on them.  Lay disciples of the Buddha, men and women alike, should do the same.

 

 

Sanchi Pillar Edict

 

The Sangha of the monks and the Sangha of the nuns have each been united, to remain united for as long as my sons and great-grandsons shall reign, and for as long as the sun and the moon shall shine....  It is my desire that the Sangha be united and endure for ever.

 

 

Sarnath Pillar Edict

 

A monk or nun who disrupts the Sangha shall be required to put on a white* robe and to live in non-residence*.

*not yellow

*outside the monastery

 

 

This decree should be published in the Sangha of the monks and in the Sangha of the nuns.

 

 

Place one copy of this document in the meeting hall, and make another copy accessible to lay disciples.  Lay disciples shall assemble every fast day....

 

 

Rock Edict 12

 

King Priyadarshi, Beloved of the Gods, honours people of all religious groups, whether they are ascetics or householders....

The religions of other people all deserve to be honoured....

King Priyadarshi desires that people of all religious groups should know the teachings of other religions, and acquire pure knowledge.

 

 


 

Rummindei Pillar Edict

 

Twenty years after his consecration, King Priyadarshi, Beloved of the Gods, visited this place in person and worshipped here, because the Buddha, the Sage of the Shâkyas was born here.

He had a stone wall constructed around the place, and he erected this stone pillar to commemorate his visit.

He declared the village of Lumbinî free from taxes....

 


NOTES

In preparing these free renderings of selections the inscriptions of King Ashoka, the following books were consulted:

Jules Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka (Paris 1950), Prakrit texts and French translation.

N.A. Nikam and Richard McKeon, The Edicts of Asoka (Chicago 1959), English translation.

D.C. Sircar, Inscriptions of Asoka (Delhi 1957).

Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, Buddhist Texts as recommended by Asoka (Calcutta 1948), text and translation of the Bhabra Rock Edict, and texts and translations of what he identifies as the seven scriptures recommended by Ashoka to the monks and nuns of his kingdom;  these are all from the Pali Canon.

 

Ashoka ruled India in the 3rd century B.C.E.  This fact is confirmed by the foreign kings he names as his contemporaries (in Rock Edict 13):

Antiyokia = Antiokhos II Theos of Syria (261-246)

Turamaya = Ptolemaios II Philadelphos of Egypt (285-247)

Antikini = Antigonos Gonatas of Macedonia (278-239)

Maka = Magas of Cyrene (300-258)

Alikasu(n)dara = Alexandros of Epirus (272-258).

 

This edict would have been issued in or before 258 BCE, which is the only date at which all five were still alive.  India was obviously in diplomatic contact with Europe at that time.

The Inscriptions of Ashoka are written in various Prakrit dialects (related to Sanskrit and Pali).  Some Aramaic inscriptions are also known outside India.

King Ashoka (also called Priyadarshi, and ‘the Beloved of the Gods’) tells us that after his return from the Kalinga war he was filled with remorse over the bloodshed and suffering he had caused (Rock Edict 13).  He turned his back on military conquest and for the rest of his life devoted himself to the pleasure of moral conquest, achieving victories for and through Dharma.  As used by Ashoka, Dharma does not mean the teaching of the Buddha, even though Ashoka became a lay-disciple of Buddhism and a defender of the Buddhist Sangha.  For him it signifies morality and the truth common to all religions.  He sought to combat sectarianism by promoting religious tolerance in his kingdom.  Note that he does not mention Nirvana as a religious goal, but happiness in ‘heaven’ or ‘the next world’.



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