ASHOKA’S PILLARS AND ROCKS
Asoka rock edict Ashoka (ruled 274-236 B.C.), the Maurya Empire Emperor and major figure in Indian history, placed rocks and stone pillars engraved with morally uplifting inscriptions on the sides of public roads to demarcate and define his kingdom. It was long thought they carried Buddhist messages but although some mentioned the idea of dharma they dealt mostly with the secular matters such as building wells, establishing rest houses for travelers, planting trees and founding medical services. Many of the commemorative stones pillars—at least 18 rocks and 30 stone pillars— he erected are still standing.
Throughout his kingdom, the emperor inscribed laws and injunctions inspired by dharma on rocks and pillars, some of them crowned with elaborate sculptures. Many of these edicts begin "Thus speaks Devanampiya Piyadassi [Beloved of the Gods]" and counsel good behavior including decency, piety, honoring parents and teachers and protection of the environment and natural world. Guided by this principle, Ashoka abolished practices that caused unnecessary suffering to men and animals and advanced religious toleration.
The huge tapering shafts are surmounted by what is known as the Persepolitan Bell-capital and appears to be an inverted lotus. Other parts of these columns are the necking, the abacus adorned with figures, and the sculpture in the round representing any of the following animals: the lion, the bull, the elephant, or the horse. The treatment of these crowning pieces is so naturalistic, exquisite, and spirited that some scholars have stoutly maintained that it was inspired by foreign art, either Greek or Persian. The excellence of these sculptures, if compared with the earlier crude pieces like the Parkham statue, is no doubt an enigma, and it cannot be satisfactorily explained unless we assume alien influences, or that there was a sudden artistic outburst in India. Another remarkable feature of the pillars is the fine polish of their surface, which misled some observers even into the belief that they were metallic. Curiously enough, this sort of polish is not to be found in later monuments. [Source:“History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Famous Ashoka Pillars
Ven. S. Dhammika wrote: These pillars in particular are testimony to the technological and artistic genius of ancient Indian civilization. Originally, there must have been many of them, 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. Each pillar was originally capped by a capital, sometimes a roaring lion, a noble bull or a spirited horse, and the few capitals that survive are widely recognized as masterpieces of Indian art. Both the pillars and the capitals exhibit a remarkable mirror-like polish that has survived despite centuries of exposure to the elements. The location of the rock edicts is governed by the availability of suitable rocks, but the edicts on pillars are all to be found in very specific places. Some, like the Lumbini pillar, mark the Buddha's birthplace, while its inscriptions commemorate Ashoka's pilgrimage to that place. Others are to be found in or near important population centres so that their edicts could be read by as many people as possible. [Source: “Edicts of King Ashoka: An English Rendering” by Ven. S. Dhammika, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka, 1993]
Allahabad Ashoka Pillar (inside Allahabad Fort in Allahabad) is 10.5 meters high. That Allahabad played an important role in Buddhism can be verified from the inscriptions that appear on this pillar that dates back to 232 B.C.. The imposing structure is said to be made of polished sandstone and according to local lore, is believed to have been erected in the ancient city of Kaushambi (in Uttar Pradesh) and moved to Allahabad later. In addition to Ashoka's inscriptions, the pillar also bears those of Samudragupta, a ruler of the Gupta empire (330-380), and Mughal emperor Jehangir. Inscriptions that praise the Gupta ruler were said to have been made by Harisena, a renowned poet of the royal court. The fort is currently used by the Indian Army and although the pillar is accessible to tourists, it is necessary to acquire permission to visit it.
Ashoka Rock Edict en route to Mount Girnar is one of the 14 edicts of emperor Ashoka, of the Maurya dynasty, inscribed on large boulders. Housed in a building, the boulder here is an uneven rock, about 10 meters high and with a circumference of 7 meters. , The inscriptions etched in the rock are in Brahmi script. These edicts convey the message of peace, communal harmony and tolerance. Added to the same rock are inscriptions in Sanskrit language by the Saka (Scythian) ruler of Malwa, Mahakshatrap Rudradaman I, around 150. It mentions the history of the turbulent waters of River Suvarna Sikta and River Palasini flowing down the hills and breaking the dam on Lake Sudarshan. Mt Girnar has been an important pilgrimage site in Gujarat for generations. Older than the Himalayas, it houses a number of Jain and Hindu temples that are spread over five different summits.
Ashoka Pillar of Sarnath
Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath (in its original position in Sarnath) is about 15.25 meters (50 feet) tall and weighs 50 tons and is also known as the Aśoka Column. Raised by Emperor Ashoka around 250 B.C and one of several Ashoka pillars still in existence today, it was carved out of a single block of polished sandstone. The wheel — ‘Ashoka Chakra’ — on its base sits at the center of India’s national flag. The Sarnath Pillar bears one of the edicts of Ashoka, which reads, “No one shall cause division in the order of monks.” Emperor Ashoka was a Buddhist and opposed any type of division within the Buddhist community.
Lion Capital of Ashoka (in the Sarnath Museum) is sculpture of four lions that sat on the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. Adopted as the national emblem of India and the greatest treasure of the Archeological Museum of Sarnath, it is 2.15 meters (7 feet) high including the base and is the most elaborate and well-preserved part of any Ashoka Pillar. The four lions sit back to back facing the four directions, symbolizing Ashoka's rule over the four directions,
The capital is carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, and was always a separate piece from the column itself. The four Asiatic Lions are mounted on an abacus with a frieze carrying sculptures in high relief of the elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion, separated by intervening chariot-wheels with 24 spokes. An inverted bell-shaped lotus forms a platform of the capital. The wheels are the symbols of Ashoka’s enlightened rule and the four animals (elephant, bull, horse, lion) symbolise four adjoining territories of India. The capital was originally crowned by a 'Wheel of Dharma' (known in India as the "Ashoka Chakra"), with 32 spokes, of which a few fragments were found on the site.
Ashoka Pillar in Sanchi
Ashoka Pillar of Sanchi (near the southern gateway of the Great Sanchi Stupa) is believed to have been erected around 250 B.C. on the orders of Ashoka and is very similar to the pillar at Sarnath. Although the entire structure has not been preserved, one can see the shaft of the pillar from main Torana gateway, and the crown has been displayed in the nearby Sanchi Archaeological Museum.
The crown of the pillar is its most attractive feature. It is adorned by four regal lions facing in four directions, with their backs to each other. The style of architecture has been hailed as Greco-Buddhist. The figure is considered to be an outstanding example of the aesthetic elegance and the exquisite structural balance characteristic of the Mauryan architecture. A representation of this figure containing the four lions has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.The lions of this Ashoka pillar probably supported a Dharmachakra, or the wheel of dharma law, as was the case with the Sarnath pillar.
Made of finely polished sandstone, the pillar has an Ashokan inscription and an inscription in the ornamental Sankha Lipi from the Gupta period. The Ashokan inscription, engraved in early Brahmi characters, unfortunately is badly damaged, but the commands it contains appear to be the same as those recorded in the Sarnath and Kausambi edicts, which together form the three known instances of Ashoka's "Schism Edict". It relates to the penalties for schism in the Buddhist sangha:
... the path is prescribed both for the monks and for the nuns. As long as (my) sons and great-grandsons (shall reign ; and) as long as the Moon and the Sun (shall endure), the monk or nun who shall cause divisions in the Sangha, shall be compelled to put on white robes and to reside apart. For what is my desire? That the Sangha may be united and may long endure. [Source: Edict of Ashoka on the Sanchi pillar]
The pillar, when intact, was about 13 meters (42 feet) in height and consisted of round and slightly tapering monolithic shaft, with bell-shaped capital surmounted by an abacus and a crowning ornament of four lions. The abacus is adorned with four flame palmette designs separated one from the other by pairs of geese, symbolical perhaps of the flock of the Buddha's disciples. The lions are now quite disfigured. The sandstone out of which the pillar is carved came from the quarries of Chunar several hundred miles away, implying that the builders were able to transport a block of stone over forty feet in length and weighing almost as many tons over such a distance. They probably used water transport, using rafts during the rainy season up until the Ganges, Jumna and Betwa rivers.
Ashoka’s inscriptions chiseled on rocks and stone pillars located at strategic locations throughout his empire — such as Lampaka (Laghman in modern Afghanistan), Mahastan (in modern Bangladesh), and Brahmagiri (in Karnataka) — constitute the second set of datable historical records. The inscriptions are a unique collection of documents. They give us insight into his inner feelings and ideals, and transmit across the centuries almost the very words of the great Emperor.
Ashoka's inscriptions on stone monuments have been found in northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, western India (Gujarat and Maharashtra), southern India (Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh), and eastern India (Orissa), demonstrating a network of administrative control radiating outwards from Pataliputra. These inscriptions were written in various dialects of Prakrit vernaculars, and are the earliest examples of writing in the Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts. Bilingual translations in Greek and Aramaic at Kandahar and Aramaic inscriptions in eastern Afghanistan illustrate the importance of promulgating his messages to the borderland inhabitants in their own languages. Sets of major and minor rock edicts, inscriptions on polished sandstone pillars, and inscriptions in caves record public proclamations of Ashoka's moral and administrative policies, declarations to the Buddhist community (sangha), and donations to the Ajivikas (another heterodox community that received Mauryan patronage). The conquest of Kalinga (modern Orissa) in the eighth year of his reign caused Ashoka to express great remorse in the thirteenth major rock edict. In that edict, he proclaims to his offspring and subjects that they should "consider the conquest of Dharma the real conquest." Ashoka goes on to implore the people and ministers of his realm to live and govern according to the principles of Dharma, which in his view include the ideals of non-violence, religious tolerance, and respect for parents, teachers, and elders.
Ven. S. Dhammika wrote: “Asoka's edicts are to be found scattered in more than thirty places throughout India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of them are written in Brahmi script from which all Indian scripts and many of those used in Southeast Asia later developed. The language used in the edicts found in the eastern part of the sub-continent is a type of Magadhi, probably the official language of Ashoka's court. The language used in the edicts found in the western part of India is closer to Sanskrit although one bilingual edict in Afghanistan is written in Aramaic and Greek. Ashoka's edicts, which comprise the earliest decipherable corpus of written documents from India, have survived throughout the centuries because they are written on rocks and stone pillars. [Source: “Edicts of King Ashoka: An English Rendering” by Ven. S. Dhammika, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka, 1993]
“In 1837, James Prinsep succeeded in deciphering an ancient inscription on a large stone pillar in Delhi. Several other pillars and rocks with similar inscriptions had been known for some time and had attracted the curiosity of scholars. Prinsep's inscription proved to be a series of edicts issued by a king calling himself "Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi." In the following decades, more and more edicts by this same king were discovered and with increasingly accurate decipherment of their language, a more complete picture of this man and his deeds began to emerge. Gradually, it dawned on scholars that the King Piyadasi of the edicts might be the King Ashoka so often praised in Buddhist legends. However, it was not until 1915, when another edict actually mentioning the name Ashoka was discovered, that the identification was confirmed.”
“Rendering of King Ashoka's Edicts is based heavily on Amulyachandra Sen's English translation, which includes the original Magadhi and a Sanskrit and English translation of the text. However, many parts of the edicts are far from clear in meaning and the numerous translations of them differ widely. Therefore, I have also consulted the translations of C. D. Sircar and D. R. Bhandarkar and in parts favored their interpretations. Any credit this small book deserves is due entirely to the labors and learning of these scholars. [Source: “Edicts of King Ashoka: An English Rendering” by Ven. S. Dhammika, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka, 1993]
Content of Ashoka Edicts
According to some of the inscriptions, in the aftermath of the carnage resulting from his campaign against the powerful kingdom of Kalinga (modern Orissa), Ashoka renounced bloodshed and pursued a policy of nonviolence or ahimsa, espousing a theory of rule by righteousness. His toleration for different religious beliefs and languages reflected the realities of India's regional pluralism although he personally seems to have followed Buddhism (see Buddhism). Early Buddhist stories assert that he convened a Buddhist council at his capital, regularly undertook tours within his realm, and sent Buddhist missionary ambassadors to Sri Lanka. [Source: Library of Congress]
“Although the policies of Dharma outlined in Ashokan inscriptions do not correspond precisely to Buddhist doctrines, Ashoka declared himself an ardent lay patron of Buddhism who personally visited several pilgrimage places linked with events in the life of the historical Buddha. Buddhist texts provide many illustrations of Ashoka's role in giving donations to the Sangha, redistributing the Buddha's relics, and calling the third Buddhist council at Pataliputra. With Ashoka's support, Buddhist missionaries (according to Pali texts, these included his son Mahinda and daughter Samghamitta) expanded the network of Buddhist monastic institutions throughout the Mauryan empire and in Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Gandhara, and the Swat Valley. Archaeological remains of stupas and monasteries established during the Mauryan period show that Buddhist centers in these regions functioned as bases for the transmission of Buddhism to Southeast Asia and Central Asia.
Ven. S. Dhammika wrote: “The contents of Ashoka's edicts make it clear that all the legends about his wise and humane rule are more than justified and qualify him to be ranked as one of the greatest rulers. In his edicts, he spoke of what might be called state morality, and private or individual morality. The first was what he based his administration upon and what he hoped would lead to a more just, more spiritually inclined society, while the second was what he recommended and encouraged individuals to practice. Both these types of morality were imbued with the Buddhist values of compassion, moderation, tolerance and respect for all life. The Ashokan state gave up the predatory foreign policy that had characterized the Mauryan empire up till then and replaced it with a policy of peaceful co-existence. [Source: “Edicts of King Ashoka: An English Rendering” by Ven. S. Dhammika, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka, 1993]
“There is little doubt that Ashoka's edicts were written in his own words rather than in the stylistic language in which royal edicts or proclamations in the ancient world were usually written in. Their distinctly personal tone gives us a unique glimpse into the personality of this complex and remarkable man. Ashoka's style tends to be somewhat repetitious and plodding as if explaining something to one who has difficulty in understanding. Ashoka frequently refers to the good works he has done, although not in a boastful way, but more, it seems, to convince the reader of his sincerity. In fact, an anxiousness to be thought of as a sincere person and a good administrator is present in nearly every edict. Ashoka tells his subjects that he looked upon them as his children, that their welfare is his main concern; he apologizes for the Kalinga war and reassures the people beyond the borders of his empire that he has no expansionist intentions towards them. Mixed with this sincerity, there is a definite puritanical streak in Ashoka's character suggested by his disapproval of festivals and of religious rituals many of which while being of little value were nonetheless harmless.
Reforms on the Ashoka Edicts
Ven. S. Dhammika wrote: “Asoka's edicts are mainly concerned with the reforms he instituted and the moral principles he recommended in his attempt to create a just and humane society. As such, they give us little information about his life, the details of which have to be culled from other sources. Although the exact dates of Ashoka's life are a matter of dispute among scholars, he was born in about 304 B.C. and became the third king of the Mauryan dynasty after the death of his father, Bindusara. His given name was Ashoka but he assumed the title Devanampiya Piyadasi which means "Beloved-of-the-Gods, He Who Looks On With Affection." There seems to have been a two-year war of succession during which at least one of Ashoka's brothers was killed. In 262 B.C., eight years after his coronation, Ashoka's armies attacked and conquered Kalinga, a country that roughly corresponds to the modern state of Orissa. The loss of life caused by battle, reprisals, deportations and the turmoil that always exists in the aftermath of war so horrified Ashoka that it brought about a complete change in his personality. It seems that Ashoka had been calling himself a Buddhist for at least two years prior to the Kalinga war, but his commitment to Buddhism was only lukewarm and perhaps had a political motive behind it. But after the war Ashoka dedicated the rest of his life trying to apply Buddhist principles to the administration of his vast empire. He had a crucial part to play in helping Buddhism to spread both throughout India and abroad, and probably built the first major Buddhist monuments. Ashoka died in 232 B.C. in the thirty-eighth year of his reign.[Source: “Edicts of King Ashoka: An English Rendering” by Ven. S. Dhammika, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka, 1993]
“The judicial system was reformed in order to make it more fair, less harsh and less open to abuse, while those sentenced to death were given a stay of execution to prepare appeals and regular amnesties were given to prisoners. State resources were used for useful public works like the importation and cultivation of medical herbs, the building of rest houses, the digging of wells at regular intervals along main roads and the planting of fruit and shade trees. To ensue that these reforms and projects were carried out, Ashoka made himself more accessible to his subjects by going on frequent inspection tours and he expected his district officers to follow his example. To the same end, he gave orders that important state business or petitions were never to be kept from him no matter what he was doing at the time. The state had a responsibility not just to protect and promote the welfare of its people but also its wildlife. Hunting certain species of wild animals was banned, forest and wildlife reserves were established and cruelty to domestic and wild animals was prohibited. The protection of all religions, their promotion and the fostering of harmony between them, was also seen as one of the duties of the state. It even seems that something like a Department of Religious Affairs was established with officers called dharma Mahamatras whose job it was to look after the affairs of various religious bodies and to encourage the practice of religion.
“We have no way of knowing how effective Ashoka'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 Ashoka has to be credited with the 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 (capitalism), hatred (communism) and delusion (dictatorships led by "infallible" leaders), Ashoka's edicts may make a meaningful contribution to the development of a more spiritually based political system.”
Buddhist Doctrine Expressed in the Ashoka Edicts
Ven. S. Dhammika wrote: “It is also very clear that Buddhism was the most influential force in Ashoka's life and that he hoped his subjects likewise would adopt his religion. He went on pilgrimages to Lumbini and Bodh Gaya, sent teaching monks to various regions in India and beyond its borders, and he was familiar enough with the sacred texts to recommend some of them to the monastic community. It is also very clear that Ashoka saw the reforms he instituted as being a part of his duties as a Buddhist. But, while he was an enthusiastic Buddhist, he was not partisan towards his own religion or intolerant of other religions. He seems to have genuinely hoped to be able to encourage everyone to practice his or her own religion with the same conviction that he practiced his. [Source: “Edicts of King Ashoka: An English Rendering” by Ven. S. Dhammika, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka, 1993]
“Scholars have suggested that because the edicts say nothing about the philosophical aspects of Buddhism, Ashoka had a simplistic and naive understanding of the dharma. This view does not take into account the fact that the purpose of the edicts was not to expound the truths of Buddhism, but to inform the people of Ashoka's reforms and to encourage them to be more generous, kind and moral. This being the case, there was no reason for Ashoka to discuss Buddhist philosophy. Ashoka emerges from his edicts as an able administrator, an intelligent human being and as a devoted Buddhist, and we could expect him to take as keen an interest in Buddhist philosophy as he did in Buddhist practice.
“The individual morality that Ashoka hoped to foster included respect (“susrusa”) towards parents, elders, teachers, friends, servants, ascetics and brahmins — behavior that accords with the advice given to Sigala by the Buddha (Digha Nikaya, Discourse No. 31). He encouraged generosity (“dana”) to the poor (“kapana valaka”), to ascetics and brahmins, and to friends and relatives. Not surprisingly, Ashoka encouraged harmlessness towards all life (“avihisa bhutanam”). In conformity with the Buddha's advice in the Anguttara Nikaya, II:282, he also considered moderation in spending and moderation in saving to be good (“apa vyayata apa bhadata”). Treating people properly (“samya pratipati”), he suggested, was much more important than performing ceremonies that were supposed to bring good luck. Because it helped promote tolerance and mutual respect, Ashoka desired that people should be well-learned (“bahu sruta”) in the good doctrines (“kalanagama”) of other people's religions. The qualities of heart that are recommended by Ashoka in the edicts indicate his deep spirituality. They include kindness (“daya”), self-examination (“palikhaya”), truthfulness (“sace”), gratitude (“katamnata”), purity of heart (“bhava sudhi”), enthusiasm (“usahena”), strong loyalty (“dadha bhatita”), self-control (“sayame”) and love of the dharma (“Dhamma kamata”).”
Different Ashoka Edicts
The Ashoka edicts may be divided into several classes as follows : 1) The two Minor Rock Edicts : No. II appears at Siddapur, Jatiriga Rameshwar, Brahmagin — all in the Chitaldroog district (Mysore). No. I is found at the above-mentioned places, and also at Rupnath (Jubbulpur district), Sahasram in Arrah district, Bairat, near Jaipur; and Maski, Gavimath, Palkigundu, iragudi in the Nizam’s dominions.
2) The Fourteen Rock Edicts, discovered at Shahbazgarhl (Peshawar district) and Manschra (Hazara district); Girnar, near Junagadh; Sopara (Thana district); Kalsi (Dehra-Dun district); Dhauli (Puri district); Jaugada (Ganjam district); Iragudi (Nizam’s State). 3) The two Kalinga Separate Edicts at Dhauli and Jaugada in lieu of R.E. XI, XII, XIII. 4) The Bhabru Edict. 5) The three Cave Inscriptions at Barabar.
6) The Seven Pillar Edicts, viz., Topra-Delhi; Meerut-Delhi; KauSambi- Allahabad; Rampurwa, Lauriya-Araraj, Lauriya-Nandangarh (the last three being in Champaran district, Bihar). 7) The two Tarai Edicts at Rummindei and Nigllva. 8) The Minor Pillar Edicts at Sanchi, Kaushambi, — Allahabad and Sarnath.
Excepting those at Shahbazgarhl and Mansehra, which are inscribed in the KharosthI script running, like Arabic, frem right to left, the rest are all engraved in the Brahml lipi, which is the parent of modern Indian alphabets and is written from left to right
Notable Ashoka Rock Edict Passages
Fruit of Exertion: “Thus saith His Sacred Majesty: — - For more than two-and-a-half years I was a lay disciple, without, however, exerting myself strenuously. But it is more than a year since I joined the Order, and have exerted myself strenuously. During that time the gods who were regarded as true all over India have been shown to be untrue. For this is the fruit of exertion. Nor is this to be attained by a great man only, because even by the small man who chooses to exert himself immense heavenly bliss may be won. For this purpose has the precept been composed: — - "Let small and great exert themselves." My neighbors too should learn this lesson; and may such exertion long endure! And this purpose will grow — -yea, it will grow immensely — -at least one-and-a-half-fold will it increase in growth. And this purpose must be written on the rocks, both afar off and here; and, wherever there is a stone pillar, it must be written on the stone pillar. And according to this text, so far as your jurisdiction extends, you must send it out everywhere. By (me) while on tour was the precept composed. 256 departures from staging-places (or possibly, days spent abroad). [Source: “The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art,” edited by Eva March Tappa (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. II: India, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, pp. 91-94
Summary of the Law of Piety: “Thus saith His Sacred Majesty: — - Father and mother must be hearkened to; similarly, respect for living creatures must be firmly established; truth must be spoken. These are the virtues of the Law of Piety which must be practiced. Similarly, the teacher must be reverenced by the pupil, and towards relations fitting courtesy must be shown. This is the ancient nature (of piety) — -this leads to length of days, and according to this men must act. Written by Pada the scribe.
Sacredness of Life: “This pious edict has been written by command of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King. Here in the capital no animal may be slaughtered for sacrifice, nor may the holiday-feast be held, because His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King sees much offense in the holiday-feast, although in certain places holiday-feasts are excellent in the sight of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King. Formerly, in the kitchen of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King each day many hundred thousands of living creatures were slaughtered to make curries. But now, when this pious edict is being written, only three living creatures are slaughtered for curry, to wit, two peacocks and one antelope — -the antelope, however, not invariably. Even those three living creatures henceforth shall not be slaughtered.
The Prompt Dispatch of Business: “ Thus says His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King: — -For a long time past it has not happened that business has been dispatched and that reports have been received at all hours. Now by me this arrangement has been made that at all hours and in all places — -whether I am dining, or in the ladies' apartments, in my bedroom, or in my closet, in my carriage, or in the palace gardens — -the official Reporters should report to me on the people's business, and I am ready to do the people's business in all places. And if, perchance, I personally by word of mouth command that a gift be made or an order executed, or anything urgent is intrusted to the superior officials, and in that business a dispute arises or a fraud occurs among the monastic community, I have commanded that immediate report must be made to me at any hour and in any place, because I never feel full satisfaction in my efforts and dispatch of business. For the welfare of all folk is what I must work for — -and the root of that, again, is in effort and the dispatch of business. And whatsoever exertions I make are for the end that I may discharge my debt to animate beings, and that while I make some happy here, they may in the next world gain heaven. For this purpose, have I caused this pious edict to be written, that it may long endure, and that my sons and grandsons may exert themselves for the welfare of all folk. That, however, is a difficult thing save by the utmost exertion.
Visit to the Birthplace of Buddha: “His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King, when he had been consecrated twenty years, having come in person, did reverence; and, because "Here Buddha was born, the Sakya sage," a great railing of stone was prepared, and a stone pillar erected. Because "Here the Venerable One was born " the village of Lummini was made free of religious cesses and declared entitled to the eighth share of the produce claimed by the Crown.
Toleration Edict: His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the king is honouring all sects, both asceiics, and house-holders; by gifts and offerings of various kinds is he honouring them. But His Sacred Majesty does not value such gifts or honours as that how should there be a growth of the essential elements of all religious sects. The growth of this genuine matter, is, however, of many kinds. But the root of it is restraint of speech, that is, that there should not be honour of one’s own sect and condemnation of others’ sects without any ground. Such slighting should be for specified grounds only. On the other hand, the sects of others should be honoured for this ground and that. Thus doing, one helps his own sect to grow, and benefits the sects of others, too. Doing otherwise, one hurts his own sect and injures the sects of others. For whosoever honours his own sect and condemns the sects of others wholly from devotion to his own sect, i.e., the thought, “How I may glorify my own sect”, — one acting thus injures more gravely his own sect on the contrary. Hence concord alone is commendable, in this sense that all should Jisten and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others. This, is, in fact, the desire of His Sacred Majesty, viz., that all sects should be possessed of wide learning and good doctrines. And those who are content in their respective faiths, should all be told that His Sacred Majesty does not value so much gift or external honour as that there should be the growth of the essential elements, and breadth, of all sects ” [Source:“History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Fourteen Rock Edicts
Ashoka's First Rock inscription at Girnar: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has caused this dharma edict to be written.] Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice. Nor should festivals be held, for Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, sees much to object to in such festivals, although there are some festivals that Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does approve of....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 dharma 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.
Second Rock Edict: “Everywhere ] 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 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.]
Third Rock Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus:] Twelve years after my coronation this has been ordered — Everywhere in my domain the Yuktas, the Rajjukas and the Pradesikas shall go on inspection tours every five years for the purpose of dharma instruction and also to conduct other business.] 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.
Seventh Rock Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart. 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.
Eighth Rock Edict: “In the past kings used to go out on pleasure tours during which there was hunting and other entertainment. But ten years after Beloved-of-the-Gods had been coronated, he went on a tour to Sambodhi and thus instituted dharma tours. During these tours, the following things took place: visits and gifts to Brahmans and ascetics, visits and gifts of gold to the aged, visits to people in the countryside, instructing them in dharma, and discussing dharma with them as is suitable. It is this that delights Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, and is, as it were, another type of revenue.
Ninth Rock Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus:7] In times of sickness, for the marriage of sons and daughters, at the birth of children, before embarking on a journey, on these and other occasions, people perform various ceremonies. Women in particular perform many vulgar and worthless ceremonies. These types of ceremonies can be performed by all means, but they bear little fruit. What does bear great fruit, however, is the ceremony of the dharma. This involves proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for teachers, restraint towards living beings, and generosity towards ascetics and Brahmans. These and other things constitute the ceremony of the dharma. Therefore a father, a son, a brother, a master, a friend, a companion, and even a neighbor should say: "This is good, this is the ceremony that should be performed until its purpose is fulfilled, this I shall do." Other ceremonies are of doubtful fruit, for they may achieve their purpose, or they may not, and even if they do, it is only in this world. But the ceremony of the dharma is timeless. Even if it does not achieve its purpose in this world, it produces great merit in the next, whereas if it does achieve its purpose in this world, one gets great merit both here and there through the ceremony of the dharma.
Tenth Rock Edict: “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 dharma and practice dharma, both now and in the future. 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.
Eleventh Rock Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: There is no gift like the gift of the dharma, (no acquaintance like) acquaintance with dharma, (no distribution like) distribution of dharma, and (no kinship like) kinship through dharma. 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 dharma.
Fourteenth Rock Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has had these dharma edicts written in brief, in medium length, and in extended form. Not all of them occur everywhere, for my domain is vast, but much has been written, and I will have still more written. And also there are some subjects here that have been spoken of again and again because of their sweetness, and so that the people may act in accordance with them. If some things written are incomplete, this is because of the locality, or in consideration of the object, or due to the fault of the scribe.
Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Rock Edicts
Fourth Rock Edict: “In the past, for many hundreds of years, killing or harming living beings and improper behavior towards relatives, and improper behavior towards Brahmans and ascetics has increased.] But now due to Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi's dharma practice, the sound of the drum has been replaced by the sound of the dharma.] The sighting of heavenly cars, auspicious elephants, bodies of fire and other divine sightings has not happened for many hundreds of years. But now because Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi promotes restraint in the killing and harming of living beings, proper behavior towards relatives, Brahmans and ascetics, and respect for mother, father and elders, such sightings have increased.]
“These and many other kinds of dharma practice have been encouraged by Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, and he will continue to promote dharma practice. And the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, too will continue to promote dharma practice until the end of time; living by dharma and virtue, they will instruct in dharma. Truly, this is the highest work, to instruct in dharma. But practicing the dharma cannot be done by one who is devoid of virtue and therefore its promotion and growth is commendable.
“This edict has been written so that it may please my successors to devote themselves to promoting these things and not allow them to decline. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has had this written twelve years after his coronation.
Fifth Rock Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: 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.
“In the past there were no dharma Mahamatras but such officers were appointed by me thirteen years after my coronation. Now they work among all religions for the establishment of dharma, for the promotion of dharma, and for the welfare and happiness of all who are devoted to dharma. They work among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Gandharas, the Rastrikas, the Pitinikas and other peoples on the western borders.2] They work among soldiers, chiefs, Brahmans, householders, the poor, the aged and those devoted to dharma — for their welfare and happiness — so that they may be free from harassment. They (Dhamma Mahamatras) work for the proper treatment of prisoners, towards their unfettering, and if the Mahamatras think, "This one has a family to support," "That one has been bewitched," "This one is old," then they work for the release of such prisoners. They work here, in outlying towns, in the women's quarters belonging to my brothers and sisters, and among my other relatives. They are occupied everywhere. These dharma Mahamatras are occupied in my domain among people devoted to dharma to determine who is devoted to dharma, who is established in dharma, and who is generous. This dharma edict has been written on stone so that it might endure long and that my descendants might act in conformity with it.
Sixth Rock Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus:3] In the past, state business was not transacted nor were reports delivered to the king at all hours. But now I have given this order, that at any time, whether I am eating, in the women's quarters, the bed chamber, the chariot, the palanquin, in the park or wherever, reporters are to be posted with instructions to report to me the affairs of the people so that I might attend to these affairs wherever I am. And whatever I orally order in connection with donations or proclamations, or when urgent business presses itself on the Mahamatras, if disagreement or debate arises in the Council, then it must be reported to me immediately. This is what I have ordered. I am never content with exerting myself or with despatching business. Truly, I consider the welfare of all to be my duty, and the root of this is exertion and the prompt despatch of business. There is no better work than promoting the welfare of all the people and whatever efforts I am making is to repay the debt I owe to all beings to assure their happiness in this life, and attain heaven in the next.
“Therefore this dharma edict has been written to last long and that my sons, grandsons and great-grandsons might act in conformity with it for the welfare of the world. However, this is difficult to do without great exertion.
Twelfth Rock Edict
“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.2] 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. 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. 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.
“Those who are content with their own religion should be told this: Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. And to this end many are working — dharma Mahamatras, Mahamatras in charge of the women's quarters, officers in charge of outlying areas, and other such officers. And the fruit of this is that one's own religion grows and the dharma is illuminated also.
Thirteenth Rock Edict
“Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. 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 dharma, a love for the dharma and for instruction in dharma. 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 Brahmans, 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, Brahmans and ascetics, are not found, and there is no country where people are not devoted to one or another religion. 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.
“Even the forest people, who live in Beloved-of-the-Gods' domain, are entreated and reasoned with to act properly. They are told that despite his remorse Beloved-of-the-Gods has the power to punish them if necessary, so that they should be ashamed of their wrong and not be killed. Truly, Beloved-of-the-Gods desires non-injury, restraint and impartiality to all beings, even where wrong has been done.
“Now it is conquest by dharma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest.7] And it (conquest by dharma) has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas 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. Here in the king's domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods' instructions in dharma. Even where Beloved-of-the-Gods' envoys have not been, these people too, having heard of the practice of dharma and the ordinances and instructions in dharma given by Beloved-of-the-Gods, are following it and will continue to do so. This conquest has been won everywhere, and it gives great joy — the joy which only conquest by dharma can give. But even this joy is of little consequence. Beloved-of-the-Gods considers the great fruit to be experienced in the next world to be more important.
“I have had this dharma edict written so that my sons and great-grandsons may not consider making new conquests, or that if military conquests are made, that they be done with forbearance and light punishment, or better still, that they consider making conquest by dharma only, for that bears fruit in this world and the next. May all their intense devotion be given to this which has a result in this world and the next.
Kalinga Rock Edicts
First Kalinga Rock Edict: ““Beloved-of-the-Gods says that the Mahamatras of Tosali who are judicial officers in the city are to be told this: I wish to see that everything I consider to be proper is carried out in the right way. And I consider instructing you to be the best way of accomplishing this. I have placed you over many thousands of people that you may win the people's affection.
“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.
“This edict is to be listened to on Tisa day, between Tisa days, and on other suitable occasions, it should be listened to even by a single person. Acting thus, you will be doing your duty.
“This edict has been written for the following purpose: that the judicial officers of the city may strive to do their duty and that the people under them might not suffer unjust imprisonment or harsh treatment. To achieve this, I will send out Mahamatras every five years who are not harsh or cruel, but who are merciful and who can ascertain if the judicial officers have understood my purpose and are acting according to my instructions. Similarly, from Ujjayini, the prince will send similar persons with the same purpose without allowing three years to elapse. Likewise from Takhasila also. When these Mahamatras go on tours of inspection each year, then without neglecting their normal duties, they will ascertain if judicial officers are acting according to the king's instructions.
Second Kalinga Rock Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: This royal order is to be addressed to the Mahamatras at Samapa. I wish to see that everything I consider to be proper is carried out in the right way. And I consider instructing you to be the best way of accomplishing this. 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.2]
“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 dharma 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."
“By instructing you and informing you of my vow and my promise I shall be applying myself in complete fullness to achieving this object. You are able indeed to inspire them with confidence and to secure their welfare and happiness in this world and the next, and by acting thus, you will attain heaven as well as discharge the debts you owe to me. And so that the Mahamatras can devote themselves at all times to inspiring the border areas with confidence and encouraging them to practice dharma, this edict has been written here.
“This edict is to be listened to every four months on Tisa day, between Tisa days, and on other suitable occasions, it should be listened to even by a single person. Acting thus, you will be doing your duty.
Minor Rock Edicts
1) “Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: It is now more than two and a half years since I became a lay-disciple, but until now I have not been very zealous. But now that I have visited the Sangha for more than a year, I have become very zealous. Now the people in India who have not associated with the gods do so. This is the result of zeal and it is not just the great who can do this. Even the humble, if they are zealous, can attain heaven. And this proclamation has been made with this aim. Let both humble and great be zealous, let even those on the borders know and let zeal last long. Then this zeal will increase, it will greatly increase, it will increase up to one-and-a-half times. This message has been proclaimed two hundred and fifty-six times by the king while on tour.
2) “Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: 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 dharma 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. Written by the scribe Chapala.
3) “Piyadasi, King of Magadha, saluting the Sangha and wishing them good health and happiness, speaks thus: You know, reverend sirs, how great my faith in the Buddha, the dharma and Sangha is. Whatever, reverend sirs, has been spoken by Lord Buddha, all that is well-spoken.7] I consider it proper, reverend sirs, to advise on how the good dharma should last long.
4) “These dharma texts — Extracts from the Discipline, the Noble Way of Life, the Fears to Come, the Poem on the Silent Sage, the Discourse on the Pure Life, Upatisa's Questions, and the Advice to Rahula which was spoken by the Buddha concerning false speech — these dharma texts, reverend sirs, I desire that all the monks and nuns may constantly listen to and remember. Likewise the laymen and laywomen. I have had this written that you may know my intentions.
First Six of the Seven Pillar Edicts
First Pillar Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: This dharma edict was written twenty-six years after my coronation. Happiness in this world and the next is difficult to obtain without much love for the dharma, much self-examination, much respect, much fear (of evil), and much enthusiasm. But through my instruction this regard for dharma and love of dharma has grown day by day, and will continue to grow. And my officers of high, low and middle rank are practicing and conforming to dharma, and are capable of inspiring others to do the same. Mahamatras in border areas are doing the same. And these are my instructions: to protect with dharma, to make happiness through dharma and to guard with dharma.
Second Pillar Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: dharma is good, but what constitutes dharma? (It includes) little evil, much good, kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity. I have given the gift of sight in various ways. 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.
“This dharma edict has been written that people might follow it and it might endure for a long time. And the one who follows it properly will do something good.
Third Pillar Edict: “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. 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."
Fourth Pillar Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: This dharma edict was written twenty-six years after my coronation. My Rajjukas are working among the people, among many hundreds of thousands of people. The hearing of petitions and the administration of justice has been left to them so that they can do their duties confidently and fearlessly and so that they can work for the welfare, happiness and benefit of the people in the country. But they should remember what causes happiness and sorrow, and being themselves devoted to dharma, they should encourage the people in the country (to do the same), that they may attain happiness in this world and the next. These Rajjukas are eager to serve me. They also obey other officers who know my desires, who instruct the Rajjukas so that they can please me. Just as a person feels confident having entrusted his child to an expert nurse thinking: "The nurse will keep my child well," even so, the Rajjukas have been appointed by me for the welfare and happiness of the people in the country.
“The hearing of petitions and the administration of justice have been left to the Rajjukas so that they can do their duties unperturbed, fearlessly and confidently. 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. Indeed, it is my wish that in this way, even if a prisoner's time is limited, he can prepare for the next world, and that people's dharma practice, self-control and generosity may grow.
Fifth Pillar Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected — parrots, mainas, “aruna”, ruddy geese, wild ducks, “nandimukhas, gelatas”, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, “vedareyaka”, “gangapuputaka”, “sankiya” fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, “okapinda”, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible.2] Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another. On the three Caturmasis, the three days of Tisa and during the fourteenth and fifteenth of the Uposatha, fish are protected and not to be sold. During these days animals are not to be killed in the elephant reserves or the fish reserves either. On the eighth of every fortnight, on the fourteenth and fifteenth, on Tisa, Punarvasu, the three Caturmasis and other auspicious days, bulls are not to be castrated, billy goats, rams, boars and other animals that are usually castrated are not to be. On Tisa, Punarvasu, Caturmasis and the fortnight of Caturmasis, horses and bullocks are not be branded. In the twenty-six years since my coronation prisoners have been given amnesty on twenty-five occasions.
Sixth Pillar Edict: “Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: Twelve years after my coronation I started to have dharma edicts written for the welfare and happiness of the people, and so that not transgressing them they might grow in the dharma. Thinking: "How can the welfare and happiness of the people be secured?" I give attention to my relatives, to those dwelling near and those dwelling far, so I can lead them to happiness and then I act accordingly. I do the same for all groups. I have honored all religions with various honors. But I consider it best to meet with people personally. This dharma edict was written twenty-six years after my coronation.
Seventh Pillar Edicts
“Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: In the past kings desired that the people might grow through the promotion of the dharma. But despite this, people did not grow through the promotion of the dharma. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, said concerning this: "It occurs to me that in the past kings desired that the people might grow through the promotion of the dharma. But despite this, people did not grow through the promotion of the dharma. Now how can the people be encouraged to follow it? How can the people be encouraged to grow through the promotion of the dharma? How can I elevate them by promoting the dharma?" Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, further said concerning this: "It occurs to me that I shall have proclamations on dharma announced and instruction on dharma given. When people hear these, they will follow them, elevate themselves and grow considerably through the promotion of the dharma." It is for this purpose that proclamations on dharma have been announced and various instructions on dharma have been given and that officers who work among many promote and explain them in detail. The Rajjukas who work among hundreds of thousands of people have likewise been ordered: "In this way and that encourage those who are devoted to dharma." Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: "Having this object in view, I have set up dharma pillars, appointed dharma Mahamatras, and announced dharma proclamations."
“Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, says: 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 dharma.
“Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: My dharma Mahamatras too are occupied with various good works among the ascetics and householders of all religions. I have ordered that they should be occupied with the affairs of the Sangha. I have also ordered that they should be occupied with the affairs of the Brahmans and the Ajivikas. I have ordered that they be occupied with the Niganthas. In fact, I have ordered that different Mahamatras be occupied with the particular affairs of all different religions. And my dharma Mahamatras likewise are occupied with these and other religions.
“Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: These and other principal officers are occupied with the distribution of gifts, mine as well as those of the queens. In my women's quarters, they organize various charitable activities here and in the provinces. I have also ordered my sons and the sons of other queens to distribute gifts so that noble deeds of dharma and the practice of dharma may be promoted. And noble deeds of dharma and the practice of dharma consist of having kindness, generosity, truthfulness, purity, gentleness and goodness increase among the people.
“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 dharma has been done by two means, by dharma regulations and by persuasion. Of these, dharma regulation is of little effect, while persuasion has much more effect. The dharma regulations I have given are that various animals must be protected. And I have given many other dharma regulations also. But it is by persuasion that progress among the people through dharma has had a greater effect in respect of harmlessness to living beings and non-killing of living beings.
“Concerning this, Beloved-of-the-Gods says: Wherever there are stone pillars or stone slabs, there this dharma edict is to be engraved so that it may long endure. It has been engraved so that it may endure as long as my sons and great-grandsons live and as long as the sun and the moon shine, and so that people may practice it as instructed. For by practicing it happiness will be attained in this world and the next.
“This dharma edict has been written by me twenty-seven years after my coronation.
Minor Pillar Edicts
1) “Twenty years after his coronation, Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, visited this place and worshipped because here the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyans, was born. He had a stone figure and a pillar set up and because the Lord was born here, the village of Lumbini was exempted from tax and required to pay only one eighth of the produce.
2) “Beloved-of-the-Gods commands: The Mahamatras at Kosambi (are to be told: Whoever splits the Sangha) which is now united, is not to be admitted into the Sangha. Whoever, whether monk or nun, splits the Sangha is to be made to wear white clothes and to reside somewhere other than in a monastery.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: “Edicts of King Ashoka: An English Rendering” by Ven. S. Dhammika, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka, 1993; “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated September 2020