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Mauryan Empire: Ashoka; Concept of Dharma; Edicts; External contacts; Religion; Spread of religion; Literature: Part I

Mauryan Empire: Ashoka; Concept of Dharma; Edicts; Polity, Administration; Economy; External contacts; Religion; Spread of religion; Literature: Part I

Ashoka(272- 232 BCE)

  • When Bindusara’s wife bore a son, it is from her exclamation “I am now without sorrow,” that Ashoka got his name.
  • The Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa refer to Ashoka killing 99 brothers, sparing only one, named Tissa.
    • He was helped by his father’s ministers. But a minister named Radhagupta seems to have played an especially important role.
    • Buddhist legends state that Ashoka was earlier bad-tempered and of a wicked nature. He built Ashoka’s Hell, an elaborate torture chamber.
  • Buddhist texts have a great deal to say about Ashoka (c. 268-232 BCE), we have to-careful while considering their version of events.
    • Because of his close association with Buddhism, Ashoka is presented as a great, ideal king in the Buddhist tradition, and account of his reign and personality in these texts is neither objective nor dispassionate.
  • During his father’s reign, Ashoka was stationed as governor at Ujjayini, and before that, possibly at Taxila (or he may have just gone there to put down a revolt). (as per Buddhist text Divyavadana)
  • The Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa tell the love story of Ashoka and Devi, daughter a merchant of Vidisha.
    • Devi went on to become the mother of Ashoka’s celebrated children, Mahinda and Sanghamitta, both of whom eventually joined  Buddhist sangha.
  • Ashoka fought a major war with Kalinga around 261 BC in which large number of people were killed or imprisoned.
    • Asoka himself in Rock Edict XIII describes his conquest of Kalinga which is said to have taken place eight years after his consecration.
    • Though on the battlefield Asoka, was victorious, the inscription goes on to describe his remorse which then ultimately turned him towards Dhamma.
  • A policy of conquest through war was given up and replaced by a policy of conquest through Dhamrnavijaya. And thereafter he favored  dhammaghosha (drum of dhamma) than bherighosha (war drum).
  • This was meant to work both at the State and personal levels, and totally transformed the attitude of the king and his officials towards their subjects.
  • Historian Romila Thapar presents the view that the Dhamma was an ideological tool used by Ashoka to weld and consolidate his far-flung empire.  It was aimed at political integration through social harmony and integration among different sects.

Extent of empire:

  • The extant major rock edicts are mostly located along the borders of the empire and are extremely useful in determining the extent of the Mauryan empire. In addition to that, the pillar edicts, the minor rock edicts and various inscriptions can also help in this regard.
  • In the north-west
    • Following evidences show that the Mauryan empire extended up to Kandahar in Afghanistan with the kingdom of Antiochus II of syria lying to the west:
      • Major rock edict and portions of pillar edict in Kandahar district, south Afghanistan;
      • A bilingual Greek-Aramaic inscription at Shar-i-kuna near Kandahar in south-east Afghanistan;
      • Two Aramaic inscriptions at Laghman in east Afghanistan and a bilingual Prakrit- Aramaic   inscription at kandahar.
  • In the north
    • Following evidences help in determining the northern boundary of the Mauryan empire.
      • The major rock edicts at Shahbazgarhi (Peshwar district), Mansehra (Hazara district), Kalsi (Dehradun district);
      • Inscriptions at Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra in Prakrit language and Kharoshthi script;
      • An Aramaic inscription at Taxila.
  • In the west
    • Following evidences help in establishing the fact that the Mauryan empire extended upto  saurashtra in south Gujarat.
      • The major rock edicts at Bombay-Sopara and Girnar (Junagadh district,Gujarat);
      • Junagarh inscription of Rudradaman, which attributes the beginning of the construction of a water reservoir known as the Sudarshana lake to Chandragupta’s reign.
  • In the east
    • The major rock edicts at Dhauli (Puri district) and Jaugada (Ganjam district) shows that the eastern frontier of the empire extended upto Orissa.
  • In the South
    • The major rock edicts at Erragudi (Kurnool district) and Sannati (Gulbarga district);
    • The noticeable clustering of minor rock edicts in the Andhra-Karnataka area. for example-at Maski, Gavimath, Palkigundu, Nittur, Brahmagiri, etc.
  • This shows that the empire included almost the entire subcontinent, except the southermost parts, which according to rock edict 2, were inhabited by the Cholas,  Pandyas, Keralaputras and Sathiyaputras.

Mauryan_Empire_Map

  • As monarch he was ambitious and aggressive, re-asserting the Empire’s superiority in southern and western India. But it was his conquest of Kalinga (262–261 BCE) which proved to be the pivotal event of his life.

Kalinga war:

  • The Kalinga War was fought between Ashoka and the ruler of the state of Kalinga, a feudal republic located on the coast of the present-day Odisha.
  • Causes of Kalinga war:
    • The main reasons for invading Kalinga were both political and economic.
    • Since the time of Ashoka’s father, King Bindusara, the Mauryan Empire based in Magadha was following a policy of territorial expansion.
    • Kalinga was under Magadha control during the Nanda rule, but regained independence with the beginning of the rule of the Mauryas. That was considered a great setback for the traditional policy of territorial expansion of the Magadhan emperors and was considered to be a loss of political prestige for the Mauryas.
    • Moreover since its independence Kalinga became an arch enemy of Magadha and allied itself with Chola and Pandya countries of South against Magadha. Thus, Ashoka invaded Kalinga.
    • Kalinga had a vast army and could be detrimental for the security of the Maurya Empire. It was also true that due to her commercial relation with Malay, Java and Ceylon Kalinga had enormous material prosperity. Possibly this had also provoked Asoka to invade Kalinga.
  • Aftermath of Kalinga War:
    • Ashoka’s response to the Kalinga War is recorded in the Edicts of Ashoka. The Kalinga War prompted Ashoka to devote the rest of his life to Ahimsa (non-violence) and to Dharma-Vijaya (victory through Dharma).
    • Following the conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka ended the military expansion of the empire, and led the empire through more than 40 years of relative peace, harmony and prosperity.
    • Rock Edict No.13 (Dhauli/ Tosali):
      • “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed. After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.”
    • He eventually foreswore conquest by war (Bherighosa) and replaced it with conquest by Dharma (Dhammaghosha).
  • Nigrodha (a 5 years old Buddhist monk) was responsible for the change in Ashoka. It is said that he was converted to Buddhism by Upagupta.

Ashoka and Buddhism

  • Ashoka’s connection with Buddhism:
    • It is reflected in Buddhist texts and in his inscriptions. Buddhist tradition considers him an exemplary king and a devout upasaha.
      • He had a close connection with the sangha and with leading monks of his time such as Upagupta.
    • He is credited with redistributing the relics of the Buddha and enshrining them in stupas in every important town.
      • He is supposed to have built 84,000 stupas and viharas.
    • He is described as having ‘undertaken pilgrimages to all the major places connected with the Buddha’s life, and having had them marked with signs for the benefit of future pilgrims.
    • He is also supposed to have exerted himself in spreading the teaching of the Buddha far and wide.
    • Ashoka was an ardent follower of the Buddha’s teaching, and had a position of authority the vis-a-vis the sangha, although he doesn’t seem to have become a member of the sangha order.
    • In minor rock edict 1, he states that he has been a lay follower for a little over two-and-a-half years.
    • Minor rock edict 3 has only been found at Bairat.
      • In this inscription, Ashoka greets the sangha, professes his deep faith in the Buddha, dhamma, sangha, and recommends six texts of dhamama that he desire monks, nuns, and laypersons to frequently listen to and reflect on. These six texts are all Buddhist texts.
    • Ashoka’s close relationship with the sangha is also evident from the so-called ‘schism edict‘, in which he warns members of the order against causing any division in its ranks.
    • The Rummindei inscriptions:
      • It states that 20 years after his consecration Ashoka visited Lumbini and worshipped here.
      • He had a stone wall built around the place, installed this pillar to commemorate his visit, and announced some tax concessions for the villagers.
    • The Pali chronicles assert that Ashoka convened a great Buddhist council at Pataliputra, presided over by Moggaliputta Tissa, in order to purge the sangha of certain unacceptable practices.
      • However, Ashoka’s inscriptions do not mention any such event.
      • There are several possible explanations. But, The ‘schism edict‘ of Ashoka may be indirect evidence of some kind of council having been held.
    • The Mahavamsa mentions a number of Buddhist missions dispatched by Ashoka at the conclusion of the third council.
      • e.g mission sent to Himalayan region, Yona (in the north-west), Kashmir and Gandhara, Mahishamandala (in central India), Western Malwa, Maharrattha (in the western Deccan), Suvarnabhumi (Myanmar or Southeast Asia) and Mahinda to Lanka (Sri Lanka).
  • How he came under influence of Buddhism:
    • Buddhist texts:
      • They present Ashoka as a vile and evil man until he came under the influence of the Buddha’s dhamma and present Ashoka’s ‘conversion’ to Buddhism as a sudden, transformative event.
      • Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa:
        • Ashoka turned to the Buddha’s dhamma when his nephew Nigrodha, who had become a monk at the tender age of 7, preached the doctrine to him.
      • Divyavadana (Xuanzang supports this account):
        • It ascribes his being drawn to the Buddha’s teaching to the influence of Samudra, a merchant-turned-monk who remained unaffected and unperturbed by the tortures to which he was subjected in Ashoka’s torture chamber.
      • Ashokavadana:
        • It mixes up the two stories and speaks of Samudra, the 12-year-old son of a merchant, as the key figure in Ashoka’s coming under the influence of the Buddhist dhamma.
    • Ashoka’s inscriptions:
      • 13th major rock edict:
        • It speaks feelingly of the Kalinga war (an event the Buddhist texts do not mention), which occurred in the ninth year after Ashoka’s consecration, and suggests that this event had an important role to play in his belief in a new kind of pacifism and non-military victory.
        • Thus, no stories mentioned inscription similar to any one of the text.
      • Minor rock edict 1:
        • It indicates very clearly that Ashoka turned towards the Buddha’s teaching gradually, not suddenly.
    • The king’s own candid confession must be given weightage over the stories given in Buddhist texts.

Ashoka’s dhamma

  • Most of Ashoka’s inscriptions are about dhamma (the Prakrit form of dharma).
    • There have been attempts to define and find equivalent English words for Dhamma, such as “piety”, “moral life” and “righteousness” but scholars could not translate it into English because it was coined and used in a specific context.
  • Ashoka seems to have been obsessed with explaining and propagating dhamma. We can only speculate on the implications of this obsession for his more routine royal duties.
  • The theme of ahimsa (non-injury) is an important aspect of Ashoka’s dhamma and is frequently mentioned and emphasized.
    • Rock edict 1:
      • It announces bans on animal sacrifices and on certain kinds of festive gatherings that probably included the killing of animals, and also reports a reduction in the killing of animals for food in the royal kitchens.
    • Pillar edict 5:
      • It refers to more sweeping prohibitions promulgated by Ashoka, 26 years after his consecration.
    • Clearly, it would have been impossible to implement such prohibitions over the vast Maurya empire.
  • The good conduct and social responsibilities that were part of dhamma were anchored to certain key relationships.
  • Rock edict 9:
    • It begins with a criticism of ceremonies performed by people, especially women, on occasions such as illness, marriage, birth, and setting forth on journeys.
    • Such rituals are described as producing uncertain and meagre results.
    • Ashoka contrasts these with the ceremony of dhamma, which is bound to yield results in this world (i.e., life) and the next.
    • The ceremony of dhamma is described ‘as consisting in
      • proper courtesy to slaves and servants,
      • respectful behaviour towards elders,
      • restraint in one’s dealings with all living beings, and
      • liberality to shramanas and Brahmanas.
  • Rock edict 11:
    • It refers to the gift of dhamma being the best of all gifts. It is said to comprise the following:
      • proper courtesy to slaves and servants,
      • obedience to mother and father,
      • liberality (i.e., generosity) towards friends, acquaintances, and relatives as well as Brahmanas and shramanas, and
      • abstaining from killing living beings.
  • Pillar edict 2:
    • It describes dhamma as consisting of the least amount of sin, performing many virtuous deeds, compassion, liberality, truthfulness, and purity.
  • Another important aspect of Ashoka’s dhamma was the generation of mutual respect and concord among people belonging to different sects or religious communities:
    • This clearly indicates that dhamma did not consist in the promotion of a particular sect, Buddhist or otherwise.
    • Rock edict 12 makes it clear that the king expected people to exercise restraint in criticizing other sects and in praising their own.
      • But he was also asking for something much more positive.
      • He was urging people honour and try to understand the dhamma of others.
      • He considered it possible promote the essentials of the different dhammas of different people through such means.
  • Ashoka’s inscriptions for the dhamma of the king:
    • Rock edict 6 talks of his ideals and goals:
      • to promote the welfare of all his people,
      • discharge the debt he owes to all beings,
      • ensure their happiness in this world and the next.
    • Rock edict 2:
      • he refers to having made provisions for medical treatment, planting beneficial medicinal herbs, roots, and fruits, and the digging of wells.
    • The Ashokan edicts present the king as exemplifying dhamma in his ideas and actions.
    • Uniqueness of his dhamma of the king:
      • While all this might come under what would be considered a king’s dharma in all traditions, what makes it unique is that the edict states that all these things had been done for the benefit not only of people, but also animals.
      • Pillar edict 7: 
        • Similar activities are mentioned but in not only in his own kingdom, but also in the kingdoms of neighbouring rulers such as Antiochus in the north-west and the Cholas and Pandyas in the far south.
      • One of the most remarkable and innovative aspects of Ashoka’s idea of dhamma was his renunciation of warfare and his redefinition of righteous conquest.
    • While the king as a maintainer of dharma (especially of varnashrama dharma) is a familiar notion in the Indian tradition, Ashoka’s idea of the king as an active teacher, proclaimer, and propagator of dhamma, is unique.
      • Also significant is the fact (evident from rock edict 4) that Ashoka claims to attach greatest value to this duty, above all others.
    • Ashoka’s goals and activities correspond in many ways to the image of the ideal king of the Buddhist tradition.
      • This king establishes his control over the four quarters through righteousness, not through violence or force.
      • Rival king do not resist, and happily accept his sovereignty, which in any case is not about territorial conquest but spreading dhamma.
      • Ashoka seems to have taken the Buddhist idea of dhamma-vijaya one step further, with dhamma missionaries replacing the king and his army.
      • 13th rock edict:
        • This inscription gives Ashoka’s account of the war against Kalinga and his consequent feeling of proround remorse.
        • Dhamma-Vijaya described as the best kind of conquest.
        • Dhamma-Vijaya outside of sub-continent: Syria,North Africa, Egypt, Macedonia.
        • King also claim to achieve Dhamma-Vijaya over Yavanas, Kambojas, Andhras, Pulindas, Cholas, and Pandyas.
        • However, tucked away in this pacifist manifesto is a stern warning issued to the forest people.
  • Oral propagation of message:
    • Relatively few people would have known how to read or write at the time, and Ashoka therefore made elaborate arrangements for the oral propagation of his message
    • Even in the inscriptions, the king is ‘speaking’ to his subjects—many of the edicts begin with the phrase, ‘Thus speaks Devanampiya Piyadasi.
    • The separate rock edicts suggest that the edicts were read out and that people listened to them on certain auspicious days such as the full moon days of the months of Ashadha, Karttika, and Phalguna.
    • It was also orally propagated by officials such as the kumaras, yutas, rajukas, mahamatas, anta-mahamatas, pulisani, and members of the parishad.
    • Ashoka created a special cadre of dhamma mahamatas (13 years after his consecration) to spread dhamma within the kingdom and among border people.
      • They were to move around among members of all sects and were to promote the welfare and happiness to servants, masters, traders, farmers, Brahmanas, prisoners, the aged, the destitute, and the king’s relatives.
  • Dhamma tours (dhamma-yatas):
    • The chief disseminator of the dhamma message was, however, Ashoka himself.
    • In major rock edict 8, he states that earlier kings used to go on pleasure tours consisting of hunts and other past times.
    • Ten years after his abhisheka, he made a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya. Thenceforth, the royal pleasure tours (vihara- yatas) were replaced by dhamma tours (dhamma-yatas).
      • It involve visiting Brahmanas and shramanas and giving them gifts, visiting aged folk and distributing gold to them, meeting people of the countryside, instructing them in dhamma, and questioning them about dhamma.
  • The Greek and Aramaic inscriptions are not literal translations of the Ashokan edicts.
    • B. Mukherjee points out that although there is a basic conformity in the elements of dhamma (non-injury towards living beings, restraint, truthfulness, liberality, compassion, respect towards parents, etc.), the Greek and Aramaic inscriptions also display some interesting differences. For instance,
      • the Kandahar Greek inscription refers to the subjects’ devotion to the king’s interest as being an important part of dhamma.
      • None of the Greek or Aramaic inscriptions refer to the attainment of heaven as a goal or consequence of following dhamma, something which the Prakrit inscriptions mention frequently
  • As his reign progressed, Ashoka seems to have become increasingly obsessed with propagating dhamma.
    • Some of the Greek and Aramaic inscriptions and the later pillar edicts reflect his highly exaggerated idea of the transformation that he had brought about the conduct and lives of his people.
  • The nature of the dhamma of Ashoka’s inscriptions.
    • Historians hold different views.
    • Equating it with Buddhism
      • (Representative historians– R.C. Majumdar, Harprasad Shastri and others.)
      • It is argued that after the Kalinga war, Ashoka became so disgusted with the massacre of people in the war that he gave up war and converted to Buddhism. Now the Buddhism was made state religion and Asoka through his rock edicts and pillar inscriptions propagated the Buddhism among the masses.
      • However the recent writings of scholars like Romila Thapar, B.N. Mukherji, Upinder Singh, Ranabir Chakravarti and others have provided different interpretations and come out with a more nuanced explanation of Ashoka’s policy of Dhamma.
      • According to them, dhamma was not a religious concept and influence of Buddhism should be conceived in the light of Buddhism not just being a religion but a social movement which influenced all facet of life.
    • The Moral and ethical principles common to all religions
      • (Representative historian- H. C. Raychaudhuri and others)
      • Dhamma was a short of universal religion, containing certain common elements in many religious traditions.
      • It is intepreted as a form of raja-dharma (dharma of a king), consisting moral and ethical principles borrowed from both Buddhism and Brahmanism.
      • Dhamma was humanistic concept which focused on human values and ideals and antithesis to violence.
    • An ethical code of conduct
      • (Representative historian- Nilakantha Shastri and others)
      • Dhamma was an ethical code of conduct formed by Ashoka for his subjects, who were expected to follow it. It was guiding principles of social behaviour.
      • Dhamma was a social concept which had definite social objective of societal integration. Its larger aim was to bring about social harmony and integration among different religious sects.
      • Ashoka taught the virtue of toleration and non-violence through dhamma at an age when religious tension was high and violence though war was prevalent.
    • An invention of Ashoka to consolidate the empire
      • (Representative historian- Romila Thapar)
      • Dhamma was an invention of Ashoka based on the moral ethical principles based on both Buddhism and Brahmanism.
      • Romila Thapar underlines the political rationale behind the propagation of Dhamma.
        • She minimizes the Buddhist elements in Ashoka’s Dhamma.
        • She said there need be no connection between the personal beliefs of a statesman and his public proclamations.
      • She presents the view that the Dhamma was an ideological tool used by Ashoka to weld and consolidate his far-flung empire.
        • Due to lack of support in the early years of his reign, he sought the support of non-orthodox elements and saw the practical advantages of adopting and propagating dhamma, which was basically an ethical concept that focused on the relationship between the individual and society.
      • Hence, according to Thapar, dhamma was a political concept which had political objective. It aimed at political integration through social harmony and integration among different sects.
      • The Mauryan Society with its heterogeneous elements and with economic, social and religious forces working against each other posed the threat of disruption.
        • Ashoka’s empire was a conglomerate of diverse groups; farmers, pastoral nomads and hunter-gatherers, there were Greeks, Kambojas, and Bhojas and hundreds of groups with different traditions.
        • Ashoka, therefore, needed some binding factor to allow the economic activity to proceed on an even keel and thereby ensure the security of his state.
        • The plea for tolerance was a wise course of action in an ethnically diverse, religiously varied, and class divided society.
        • Ashoka tried to transcend the parochial cultural traditions with a board set of ethical principles.
        • Asoka aimed at creating an attitude of mind among his subjects in which social behavior was accorded the highest place. The ideology of dhamma can be viewed as a focus of loyalty and as a point of convergence for the then bewildering diversities of the Empire.
        • A centralized monarchy demands oneness of feeling on the part of its people. The ethics of the dhamma was intended to generate such a feeling.
    • Ashoka’s Dhamma was not anti-Brahmanical because respect for the Brahmans and Sarmanas is an integral part of his Dhamma.
    • His emphasis on non-violence did not blind him to the needs of the state. He warned the forest tribes that although he hates to use coercion, he may be required to resort to force if they continued to create trouble.
      • By the time Ashoka stopped war, the entire Indian sub-continent was under his control. In the south he was on friendly terms with the Cholas and Pandyas. Sri Lanka was an admiring ally.
      • Thus, Ashoka’s decline of war came when his empire had reached its natural boundaries.
    • Asoka continued to style himself as the beloved of the devas, a Brahmanical concept, since there were no Gods in Buddhism at that time.
    • In conclusion, it can be said that dhamma was a secular concept, non-sectarian concept, humanistic concept, social concept and political concept. It was guiding principles of social behaviour and a way of life.
  • Link between Buddhism and Dhamma:
    • It is true that Ashoka’s Inscriptions do not contain certain key ideas associated with Buddha’s teaching, such as the explanation of dukka, the Eight-fold Path, the doctrine of impermanence, or the goal of nibbana. Nevertheless, there is a definite Buddhist core, which is clear from the repeated emphasis on ahimsa.
    • Though Arthashastra  too mentions ahimsa and welfare of animals, in Ashokan inscription there is degree of emphasis that is important.
      • And in 3rd century BCE, it was Buddhism (also Jainism) that emphasized on ahimsa.
    • There is striking similarity between the duty-oriented ethics of the inscriptions and the Buddhist upasaka dhamma.
    • The minor rock edict at Bhabru (Bairat) lists six Buddhist texts as texts on dhamma is significant.
    • Buddhist resonances can be seen in the king’s assertion of the debt he owes all beings and his concern for the whole world (rock edict 6), and virtues such as self-control and purity of mind that he prescribes in rock edict 7.
    • Ashoka started the dhamma tours after a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya (according to rock edict 8).
    • Beyond textual analysis, we can look at buddhist element in Ashoka’s dhamma in the sculptural motifs associated with the pillars.
      • All of them have a very wide symbolic appeal, but all of them have a special Buddhist significance as well.
      • Given Ashoka’s personal belief in Buddhism, the elephant at Girnar, Dhauli, and Kalsi can be seen as a Buddist symbol, symbolizing the Buddha-to-be, who is supposed to have entered his mother’s womb in the form of a white elephant.
      •  The fact that this Buddhist ‘stamp’, so to speak, appears on rocks bearing the set of dhamma edicts suggests that there was a connection between Ashoka’s dhamma and the Buddhist dhamma.
    • The fact that Buddhist remains have been found in the vicinity of many Ashokan pillars suggests the possibility that many of them marked sites of stupas or monasteries established by the king, again suggesting a link between the dhamma of the  edicts and Buddhism.
  • Although Ashoka’s dhamma was clearly inspired by the Buddhist upasaha dhama, it was not identical to it. Ashoka was an innovator.
    • His insistence on mutual and concord between people of different sects and beliefs was a feature that was not emphasized in any religious tradition of the time.
    • His dhamma was a set of teachings that could not be identified with narrow sectarian belief. This is clear from the fact that dhamma mahamatas were to occupy themselves with all sects. 
    • He honours all sects and that people should respect one another’s dhamma. Inscriptions in the Barabar hills indicate that Ashoka extended his patronage to ascetics of the Ajivika sect.
    • His idea of dhamma-vijaya also took the ideal reflected in Buddhist texts one step further.
    • These innovations must have stemmed from his personal convictions, as well as his position as ruler of a vast empire.

Asoka’s Moral code (Dhamma) formulated in Rock Edicts:

  • Major Rock Edict I:
    • prohibits of animal sacrifice and holidays of festive gathering.
  • Major Rock Edict II:
    • relates to measures of social welfare.
    • It mentions medical treatment for men and animals, construction of roads, wells and tree planting.
  • Major Rock Edict III:
    • declares that liberality towards Brahmans and Sramanas is a virtue, and that respecting one’s parents is a good quality.
  • Major Rock Edict IV:
    • comments that because of the policy of Dhamma the lack of morality and disrespect towards Sramanas and Brahmans, violence, unseemly behaviour to friends, relatives and others, and evils of this kind have been checked.
    • The killing of animals to a large extent was also stopped.
  • Major Rock Edict V:
    • refers to the appointment of Dhamma-mahamatta for the first time in the twelfth year of his reign.
    • These special officers were appointed by the king to look after the interests of all sects and religions and spread the message of Dhamma.
  • Major Rock Edict VI:
    • It is an instruction to Dhamma-mahamattas.
    • They are told that they could bring their reports to the king at any time.
    • The second part of the Edict deals with speedy administration and the transaction of smooth business.
  • Major Rock Edict VII:
    • It is a plea for tolerance amongst all sects.
    • It appears from the edict that tensions among the sects were intense perhaps in open antagonism. The plea is a part of the overall strategy to maintain unity.
  • Major Rock Edict VIII:
    • It states that Dhammayatras (tours) would be undertaken by the emperor. The earlier practice of the emperor going out on hunting expeditions was given up.
    • Dhammayatras enabled the emperor to come into contact with various sections of people in the empire.
  • Major Rock Edict IX:
    • It attacks ceremonies performed after birth, illness, marriage and before going on a journey.
    • A censure passed against ceremonies observed by wives and mothers.
    • Ashoka instead lays stress on practice of Dhamma and the uselessness of ceremonies.
  • Major Rock Edict X:
    • It denounces fame and glory and reasserts the merits of following the policy of Dhamma.
  • Major Rock Edict XI:
    • It is a further explanation of the policy of Dhamma.
    • It emphases the respect of elders, abstaining from killing animals, and liberality towards friends.
  • Major Rock Edict XII:
    • It is another appeal for tolerance among sects.
    • This edict reflects the anxiety the king felt because of conflict between sects and carries his plea for harmony.
  • Major Rock Edict XIII:
    • It is of paramount importance in understanding the Ashokan policy of Dhamma.
    • The Rock Edict pleads for conquest by Dhamma instead of war. This is logical culmination of the thought processes which began from the first Rock Edict, and by conquest what is perhaps meant is the adaptation of the policy of Dhamma by a country, rather than its territorial control.
  • Major Rock Edict XIV:
    • Ashoka said, My dominions are wide, and much has been written, and i shall cause still no more to be written. And some of this has been stated again and again because of the charm of certain topics and in order that men should act accordingly.
  • In a minor edict, Asoka says:
    • In ‘Father and mother must be obeyed; similarly respect for living creatures must be enforced, truth must be spoken. These are the virtues of the law of Duty (or “Peity”. Dhamma) which must be practiced. Similarly, the teacher must be reverenced by the pupil, and proper courtesy must be shown to relations.

Success of his Dhamma?

  • Asoka specifically states that his missions were sent to various places (Ceylon and various Western countries) and maintains that they were all successful. It is difficult to accept this claim. There is no authentic proof that his missions were a success.
  • His policy to Dhamma failed to achieve the desired goal, social tension continued.
    • Taxila which had revolted earlier in his father’s reign, was goaded to rebellion again by ministerial oppression.
  • Power of official Dhammamahamattas to interfere the lives of people increased over time. There was resentment against officials.
  • None of Asoka’s successors continued the propagation of dhamma.
    • His policy did not make any lasting impact and may vassals declared their independence after retirement of the king in 232 BC.
  • Ashoka’s “Dhamma” could not survive him; as such it was a failure.
    • However, he was not establishing a new religion but was trying to impress upon the society the need for ethical and moral principles.
  • His policy to consolidate the empire through Dhammma bore fruit.
    • The Kandhar inscription speaks of the success of his policy with the hunters and fishermen who gave up killing animals and took settled agricultural life.

Was Ashoka a complete pacifist?

  • We actually have reason to believe that Ashoka wasn’t infact as Pacifistic or unmilitaristic as believed earlier. Buddhist Literature seems to exaggerate Ashoka’s pacifism.
  • Various Ashoka inscriptions as well as some stray Hindu texts indicate that the Mauryans during Ashoka’s time maintained a fairly strong army, and even used it to quell uprisings amongst tribal societies and other groups.
    • There are inscriptions warning against further revolts, particularly in line with Piyadasi’s benevolence.
  • He did not gave up his imperial ambitions but modified them in accordance with the humanitarian ethics of Buddhism.
  • Within the empire he appointed a class of officers known as rajukas, who were vested with the authority of not only rewarding people but also punishing thm whenever necessary.
  • He maintained death penalty and merely granted a stay of execution of 3 days to men condemned to death, so that they their minds for the next world. Though according to Buddhist tradition, he abolished judicial torture but this is not stated his edicts.

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