Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Edicts of Asoka

Rao S. Maradani

THE EDICTS OF ASOKAtc "The Edicts of Asoka"

What is an edict?

An edict is a royal command desiring the citizens to do or not to do a particular thing.  It is also an official decree publicly proclaimed.  Asoka’s edicts are in the nature of official pronouncements of policy and instructions to his officers and subjects.  They contain many personal touches and the drafts were probably composed by the emperor himself.  The most ancient and popular edicts in India are the edicts of Asoka, which he got engraved on rocks and pillars alike.  These edicts provide us an insight into the mind of Asoka, his concept of Dharma, the eternal good and the measures taken by him for the welfare and happiness of all living things.

So far 16 Major rock edicts, 4 Minor rock edicts, 3 Inscriptions and 7 major pillar edicts, 4 minor rock edicts, 2 pillar inscriptions have been discovered.

The edicts of Asoka, engraved on the rocks and pillars were discovered at 42 places viz. India (36), Nepal (2), Pakistan (2) and Afghanistan (2).  The chronology of Asoka edicts are reckoned from the year of coronation of Asoka. The edicts recount not his victories and deeds of glory like other rulers but exhorts his people towards virutious conduct, warns them of the perils of sin and preaches love of neighbours and tolerance.

The inscriptions of Asoka which are scattered all over of his vast empire definitely provide an  authentic account of the various steps taken by him to spread Dhamma, the ethical and religious content, state policy and social transformation he sought to bring about a glimpse of his personal life.  In all modesty he disclaimed the use of any of the grand titles customary for imperial monarchs to display.  He mentions  his own name only in two inscriptions of maski (Karnataka) and Gujarat.  The wonderful rock inscriptions may be described generally as Sermons and Dhamma, the law of piety.

Asoka the Mauryan emperor is remembered not so much for the extent of his empire, decidedly the largest in the ancient world, not even for promoting Buddhism, a regional faith, into a world religion. Rather he is cherished more as the only ruler in history to have abjured violence and avoided expansion as state policy.  Stricken with remorse at the horror of Kalinga war the sensitive king felt great revulsion against bloodshed and exhorted his progeny not to seek fresh conquests.

Asokan Empire comprised the countries now known as Afghanistan and spread as far as the Hindu Kush, Baluchistan Mahran, Sind, Kutch, and the Swat Valley with adjoining regions.  Kashmir, Nepal and the whole of India proper, except the extreme southern peninsula held by Chola, Pandya, Satyapura and Keralaputra kings.  His dominion was far more extensive than the British India of yester years.

The edicts contain many personal touches and the drafts were probably composed by the emperor himself.  One Dhamma, one language, one script called Brahmi, was used, in most of his inscriptions.  The two inscriptions at Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra are in Karosthi script.  An inscription discovered at Kandahar in Afghanistan is bilingual and the other one at Lamghan near Jallalabad is in Arabic.

The text of the documents is nearly perfect.  A clerical error or engrave’s blunder very rarely occurs.  The language was invariably a forum of Prakrit, the vernacular language of the day, which people spoke.

The edicts were written on rocks and pillars situated in great cities on the main lines of communication or at sacred spots frequented by pilgrims.  It implies that knowledge of reading and writing was widely diffused and that many people must have been able to read the documents.  The percentage of literacy amongst the Buddhist population in Asoka’s time was higher than it was in many provinces of the British India.

The edicts of Asoka are a living testimony of his genius as a king and man. They depict the philosophy of humanized culture of which he himself was the true representative.  As the whole personality of Asoka is embedded in his edicts, it is impossible to understand him without studying them.  Thus, Asokan edicts tell their own tale in a simple way. He was an unrewarded specimen of humanity.  How Buddhism and Humanism blended in the personality of Asoka is a miracle.

The edicts are written in the name of King Priyadarsi, the beloved son of the god in first person.  He used the word T in all the edicts.  I am reproducing the gist of the many edicts that are relevant.  A number of books on Asoka and his edicts can be purchased and read. 1. Asoka, Vincent A Smith, 2. Asoka Dr. Bhandarkar, 3. Asoka the Great, D.C.Ahir 4. Asoka the Beloved Son of the Gods.

Now let us read Asoka’s edicts drafted by him in the name of king Priyadarsi, the beloved son of the Gods.

Kalinga Rock Edict ii
Against aggression and tension between states

All men are my children.  Just as I seek the welfare and happiness of my own children in this world and the next I seek the same thing for all men.

My only wish to the unconquered people along the borders of my domnion is that they should not fear me, but trust me that they should expect only happiness from me, not misery.  They should understand further that I will forgive them for offences which can be forgiven.  I want that they should be induced by my example to practice Dhamma and they should attain happiness in this world and the next.  They must perform their duties in this way and establish their confidence in the king, being assured that he is like a father to them, and that he loves them as he loves himself and that they are like his own children.

Obedience to Parents: Rock edict

One should obey mother, father and elders.  One should be steadfast towards living beings, one should adhere to truth. Pupils should honour the teachers, and show proper behaviour towards relatives, friends, Brahman, Sarmana ascetics, and the right kind of behaviour towards slaves and servants.

Rock Edict II:  Medical and Welfare

Provision has been made for two kinds of medical treatment. Treatments for men and for animals, medicines, herbs suitable for men and animals have been imported and planted wherever they were not previously available.  Also where roots and fruits were lacking they have been imported and planted for the use of men and animals.

Rock Edict VI

I consider the promotion of people’s welfare as my highest duty.  No task is more important to me than promoting the well being of all people.  Such work as I accomplish, contributes to discharging the debts I owe to all living creatures to make them happy in this world and to help them attain heaven in the next.

Pillar Edict VII

I have ordered banyan trees to be planted along the roads to give shade to men and animals.  I have ordered mango trees to be planted.  I have ordered a well to be dug every half kos (about half a mile) and I have ordered rest houses to be built.  I have had many watering stations built for the convenience of men and animals.  I have done what I have done primarily in order that the people may follow the path of Dhamma with faith and devotion.

Pillar Edict XIII

King Priyadarshi thinks that even a person who wrongs him must be forgiven for wrongs that can be forgiven.  King Priyadarshi considers moral conquest (that is conquest by Dhamma), Dharma Vijay as the most important conquest.

Kalinga Edict II (Rock Edict XIII)

King Priyadarshi desires security, self control, impartiality and cheerfulness for all living creatures.  This edict on Dhamma has been inscribed so that my sons and great grandsons who may come after me should not think of new conquests. Let them consider moral conquest as the only true conquest.

The Objectives of inclusion of Dhamma (Rock Edict IV)

The sound of war drums has become the call to Dhamma (rather than to war) summoning the people – to abstain from killing animals and from cruelty to living beings, Kindliness or human and family relations, respect for priests and ascetics and obedience to mother, father and elders.

Rock Edict VII: Welfare of all

I have ordered my officials to look after the affairs of the Samgha (the Buddhist religious order), some to take care of the Brahmin and Ajivika, some to work among the Nirgrandhas (the Jain monks) and some among the various other religious sects.

Rock Edict VIII: 
Asoka’s participation in the Dhamma program as administrator

King Priyadarshi undertakes moral tours (Dharma yatras). He visits priests and ascetics and makes gifts to them.  He interacts with the aged and gives them money, he visits the people of rural areas instructing in Dhamma and discussing it with them.

Rock Edict VI:  

I consider the promotion of the people’s welfare as my highest duty.  No task is more important to me than promoting the well being of all the people. I owe to all living creatures to make them happy in this world and to help them in heaven in the next.

Rock Edict II
Respect and Truth; Brahmangiri

King Priyadarsi says – one should obey one’s father and mother. One should respect the supreme value and sacredness of life. One should speak the truth. In the same way, pupils should honour their teachers. In families one should behave with fitting courtesy to elders. One should practice these virutes of Dhamma.

Rock Edict XI
Charity and the Kingship of mankind

King Priyadarsi says there is no gift that can equal the gift of Dhamma. The gift consists in proper treatment of slaves and servants, obedience to mother and father liberality to friends, acquaintances, relatives, priests and ascetics and abstention from the slaughter of animals.

If one acts this way one achieves the gift of Dhamma, happiness in this world and infinite merit in the world to come.

Rock Edict VII & Rock Edict XII
Against religious tolerance and discrimination within the community

King Priyadarsi wishes members of all faiths to live everywhere in his kingdom. King Priyadarsi honours men of all faiths, members of religious orders and laymen alike, with gifts and various marks of esteem. The faith of all others deserves to be honoured for one reason or another. By honouring them one exalts ones own faith and at the same time performs a service to other faiths. King Priyadarsi desires men of all faiths to know each other’s doctrines and to acquire a sound doctrine.

Pillar Edict V, Rock Edict I
Restrictions on feasts and the slaughtering of animals, pardoning prisoners

No living creature shall be slaughtered here (Pataliputra, Asoka’s capital city) and no festive gathering shall be held. King Priyadarsi sees a great many evils in festive gatherings yet he also approves of some kind of festivals.

Many hundreds of thousands of living creatures were formerly slaughtered every day for curries in the kitchen of his majesty. At present when this ediction Dhamma is inscribed, only three living creatures are killed daily (two peacocks and a deer) and the deer is not slaughtered regularly. In future not even these animals shall be slaughtered.

Pillar Edict V
This is about killing animals, birds etc. some of his orders are as follows:

1. Forests must not be burned without reason or in order to kill living creatures.
2. Bulls, rams etc should not castrated on full moon days. During the twenty six years, since my coronation, I have ordered the release of prisoners 25 times.

Rock Edict III
Public Administration

King Priyadarsi says, obedience to mother and father, liberality to friends, acquaintances, relatives, priests and ascetics, abstentions from killing living creatures, and moderation in spending money and acquiring possessions are all meritorious.

Rock Edict V

His officers are commissioned to work with all sects in establishing and promoting Dhamma in seeing to the welfare and happiness of all those devoted to Dhamma among the Yonas, Kambhojas, Pitinikas and other people living on the western borders of my kingdom.

My officers are also commissioned to work among prisoners to distribute money to those who have many children to secure the release of prisoners, pardon those who are very aged.

I command my descendents will follow this Dhamma.

Pillar Edict IV

King Priyadarsi says that provincial governors (Rajukas) have to administer fearlessly and impartially in securing the welfare and happiness of the people etc.

Sanchi Pillar Edict
Sangha and disruption of Sangha

The Sangha of the monks and Sangha of the nuns have each been visited to unite as long as my sons and great grandchildren rule and as long as the sun and moon shine. It is my desire that the Sangha be united and endure forever.

Sarnath Pillar Edict

If a monk or a nun disrupts the Sangha, he or she shall be required to put on a white robe and to live in non residence. This edict shall be published both in the Sangha of the monks and in the Sangha of the nuns.

King Priyadarsi instructs his officials, those stationed in Pataliputra to take precautions so that no one shall disrupt the Sangha.

Bharbra Rock Edict

King Priyadarsi of Maghada conveys his greetings to the Sangha and wishes them good health and prosperity. You know revered sirs, the extent of my reverence and faith in Budda, the Dhamma and Sangha. Whatever the Lord Buddha has said, reverend Sirs, is of course  well said but it is proper for me to enumerate the texts which express true dharma and which may last  for ever.

The following are the texts on Dhamma.

1. The exhibition of moral discipline (Vinaya, Samokasa)
2. The modes of ideal life. (Aliya – Vasani)
3. Fears of the future (An agata Bhayani)
4. The song of the hermits (muni-gatha)
5. Discourse on the saintly life (mauneyasute)

Against Sins and passion in the individual

King Priyadarsi says: One should obey one’s father and mother and should respect the supreme value and sacredness of life. One should speak the truth. One should parctice these virtues of Dhamma. In the same way, pupils should honour their teachers and in families one should behave with fitting courtesy to relatives. This is the traditional rule of Dhamma and it is conducive to long life. Men should act according to it.

Rock Edict IX
As rite and ceremonial

King Priyadarsi the beloved of the gods says:

1. People perform various ceremonies. Among the occasions on which ceremonies are performed are sickness, marriages of sons, daughters, children’s birth and departures on journeys. It is right that ceremonies be performed. But this bears little fruits. The ceremony of Dhamma (Dharma mangala) on the contrary is very fruitful. It consists in proper treatment of slaves and servants, reverence to teachers, restraint of violence towards living creatures and liberality to priests and ascetics.

These and like actions are called the ceremonies of Dharma.

2. Women in particular have recourse to many diverse trivial and meaningless ceremonies.

The objectives of inculcation of Dhamma Rock Edict IV

For many hundreds of years in the past, slaughter of animals, cruelty to living creature, discourtesy to relative and disrespect for priests and ascetics have been increasing.

But now because of Priyadarsi’s practice of Dhamma the sound of war drum has become the call to Dhamma. Priyadarsi’s inculcation of Dhamma has increased beyond anything observed in many hundreds of years, abstention from killing animals and from cruelty to living beings, kindliness in human and family relations respect for priests and ascetics and obedience to mother, father and elders.

Reporting the affairs of the people
A Major Rock Edict VI Girnar

The reporters may appear before me for reporting the affairs of the people whether I am engaged in eating or in harem or in the bedchamber or on a promenade or in the carriage, or carriage in the march. And I am now attending people’s affairs at all places.

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