A Translation of the Edicts of Asoka

(anonymous)

In preparing this translation, we have had in mind the reader who is not familiar with the standard translations of Hultzsch and Bloch, or for whom these texts are not readily available. The translation is therefore not a literal one. Footnotes giving lengthy explanations of variations of meaning have been excluded. The emphasis has been on providing a readable version of the original inscriptions. Information on Asoka

-- Table of Contents --

The inscriptions have been divided as follows:

The Major Rock Edicts 

1st Major Rock Edict

The Beloved of the Gods, Piyadassi the king, has had this inscription on Dhamma engraved. Here, no living thing having been killed, is to be sacrificed; nor is the holding of a festival permitted. For the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, sees much evil in festivals, though there are some of which the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, approves.

Formerly in the kitchens of the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, many hundreds of thousands of living animals were killed daily for meat. But now, at the time of writing this inscription on Dhamma, only three animals are killed, two peacocks and a deer, and the deer not invariably. Even these three animal will not be killed in future.

2nd Major Rock Edict

Everywhere in the empire of the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, and even in the lands on its frontiers, those of the Colas, Pandyas, Satyaputras, Keralaputras, and as far as Ceylon, and of the Greek king named Antiochus and of those kings who are neighbours of that Antiochus, everywhere the two medical services of the Beloved ofthe Gods, the king Piyadassi, have been provided. These consist of the medical care of man and the care of animals. Medicinal herbs whether useful to man or to beast, have been brought and planted wherever they did not grow; similarly, roots and fruit have been brought and planted wherever they did not grow. Along the roads wells have been dug and trees planted for the use of men and beasts.

3rd Major Rock Edict

Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: When I had been consecrated twelve years I commanded as follows: Everywhere in my empire, the yuktas [subordinate officers] with the rajukas [rural administrators] and the pradesikas [heads of the districts], shall go on tour every five years, in order to instruct people in the Dhamma as well as for other purposes. It is good to be obedient to one's mother and father, friends and relatives, to be generous to brahmans and sramanas, it is good not to kill living beings, it is good not only to spend little, but to own the minimum of property. The council will instruct the officials to record the above, making it both manifest to the public and explaining why.

4th Major Rock Edict

In the past, the killing and injuring of living beings, lack of respect towards relatives, brahmans and sramanas had increased. But today, thanks to the practice of Dhamma, on the part of the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, the sound of the drum has become the sound of Dhamma,showing the people displays of heavenly chariots, elephants, balls offire, and other divine forms. Through his instruction in Dhamma abstention from killing and non-injury to living beings, deference to relatives; brahmans and sramanas, obedience to mother and father, and obedience to elders have all increased as never before for many centuries. These and many other forms of the practice of Dhamma have increased and will increase.

The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, his sons, his grandsons and his great grandsons will advance the practice of Dhamma, until the end of the world and will instruct in the law, standing firm in Dhamma. For this, the instruction in the law, is the most valuable activity. But there is no practice of Dhamna without goodness, and in these matters it is good to progress and not to fall back. For this purpose, the inscription has been engraved -- that men should make progress in this matter, and not be satisfied with their shortcomings. This was engraved here when the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, had been consecrated twelve years.

5th Major Rock Edict

Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: It is hard to do good and he who does good, does a difficult thing. And I havedone much good. And my sons, my grandsons and my descendants after them until the end of the world if they will follow my example, they too will do good. But he who neglects my reforms even in part will do wrong, for sin is easy to commit.

In the past there were no officers of Dhamma. It was I who first appointed them, when I had been consecrated for thirteen years. They are busy in all sects, establishing Dhamma, increasing the interest in Dhamma, and attending to the welfare and happiness of those who are devoted to, among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Gandharas, the Risthikas, the Pitinikas, and the other peoples of the west. Among servants and nobles, brahmans and wealthy householders, among the poor and the aged, they [the officers of Dhamma], are working for the welfare and happiness of those devoted to Dhamma and for the removal of their troubles. They are busy in promoting the welfare of prisoners should they have behaved irresponsibly, or releasing those that have children, are afflicted, or are aged. They are busy everywhere, here [atPataliputra] and in all the women's residences, whether my own, those of my brothers and sisters, or those of other relatives. Everywhere throughout my empire the officers of Dhamma are busy in everything relating to Dhamma, in the establishment of Dhamma and in the administration of charities among those devoted to Dhamma. For this purpose has this inscription of Dhamma been engraved. May it endure long and may my descendants conform to it.

6th Major Rock Edict

Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi. In the past the quick dispatch of business and the receipt of reports did not take place at all times. But 1 have now arranged it thus. At all times, whether I am eating, or am in the women's apartments, or in my inner apartments, or at the cattle-shed, or in my carriage, or in my gardens - wherever I may be, my informants should keep me in touch with public business. Thus everywhere I transact public business. And whatever I may order by word of mouth, whether it concerns a donation or a proclamation or whatever urgent matter is entrusted to my officers, if there is any dispute or deliberation about it in the Council, it is to be reported to me immediately, at all places and at all times.

This I have commanded. In hard work and the dispatch of business alone, I find no satisfaction. For I consider that I must promote the welfare of the whole world, and hard work and the dispatch of business are the means of doing so. Indeed there is no better work than promoting the welfare of the whole world. And whatever may be my great deeds, I have done them in order to discharge my debt to all beings. I work for their happiness in this life, that in the next they may gain heaven. For this purpose has this inscription of Dhamma been engraved. May it endure long. May my sons, grandsons, and great grandsons strive for the welfare of the whole world. But this is difficult without great effort.

7th Major Rock Edict

The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, wishes that all sect may dwell in all places, for all seek self-control and purity of mind. But men have varying desires and varying passions. They will either practise all that is required or else only a part. But even he who is generous, yet has no self control, purity of mind, gratitude, and firm faith, is regarded as mean.

8th Major Rock Edict

In the past, kings went on pleasure tours, which consisted of hunts and other similar amusements. The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, when he had been consecrated ten years, went to the tree of Enlightenment. From that time arose the practice of tours connected with Dhamma, during which meetings are held with ascetics and brahmans, gifts are bestowed, meetings are arranged with aged folk, gold is distributed, meetings with the people of the country side are held, instruction in Dhamma is given, and questions on Dhamma are answered.The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, derives more pleasure from this, than from any other enjoyments.

9th Major Rock Edict

Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi. People practise various ceremonies. In illness, at the marriage of sons and daughters, at the birth of children, when going on a journey- on these and on other similar occasions people perform many ceremonies. Women especially perform a variety of ceremonies, which are trivial and useless. If such ceremonies must be performed they have but small results. But the one ceremony which has great value is that of Dhamma. This ceremony includes, regard for slaves and servants, respect for teachers, restrained behaviour towards living being and donations to sramanas and brahmans -- these and similar practices are called the ceremony of Dhamma. So father, son, brother, master, friend, acquaintance, and neighbour should think, 'This is virtuous, this is the ceremony I should practice, until my object is achieved.'

[Kalsi version]. Or else they should say to themselves: Other ceremonies are doubtful in their effectiveness. They may achieve their objects or they may not, and they are only effective in temporal matters. But the ceremony of Dhamma is effective for all time, forever, if its object is not attained in this fife, endless merit is produced for the life to come. But if the object is attained in this life, there is a gain in both respects. For in this life the object is attained, and in the next life, endless merit is produced through that ceremony of Dhamma.

[Girnar version]. Moreover, they say: 'Giving is good.' But there is no gift or favour comparable to the gift of Dhamma or the favour of Dhamma. So it is essential that a friend, companion, relative,or colleague should advise on all occasions, saying, 'This should be done. Through this one can gain heaven' - and what can be more important than to gain heaven?

10th Major Rock Edict

The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, sets no great store by fame or glory, except in, that he desires fame and glory both now and in the future, in order that his people may obey Dhamma with obedience and follow the way of Dhamma. To this extent the Beloved of the Gods desires fame and glory. Whatever efforts the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, makes, it is all done with a view to the after-life, that all men may escape from evil inclinations, for there can be no merit in evil inclinations. But this is difficult for men, whether humble or highly placed, without extreme effort and without renouncing everything else, and it is particularly difficult for the highly placed.

11th Major Rock Edict

Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: Thereis no gift comparable to the gift of Dhamma, the praise of Dhamma, the sharing of Dhamma, fellowship in Dhamma. And this is - good behaviour towards slave and servants, obedience to mother and father, generosity towards friends, acquaintances, and relatives and towards sramanas and brahmans, and abstention from killing living beings. Father, son, brother, master, friend, acquaintance, relative, and neighbour should say, 'this is good, this we should do'. By doing so, there is gain in this world, and in the next there is infinite merit, through the gift of Dhamma.

12th Major Rock Edict

The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, honours all sects and both ascetics and laymen, with gifts and various forms of recognition. But the Beloved of the Gods do not consider gifts or honour to be as important as the advancement of the essential doctrine of all sects. This progress of the essential doctrine takes many forms, but its basis is the control of one's speech, so as not to extoll one's own sect or disparage another's on unsuitable occasions, or at least to do so only mildly on certain occasions. On each occasion one should honour another man's sect, for by doing so one increases the influence of one's own sect and benefits that of the other man; whileby doing otherwise one diminishes the influence of one's own sect and harms the other man's. Again, whosoever honours his own sect or disparages that of another man, wholly out of devotion to his own, with a view to showing it in a favourable light, harms his own sect even more seriously. Therefore, concord is to be commanded, so that men may hear one anothers principles and obey them. This is the desire of the Beloved of the Gods, that all sects should be well-informed, and should teach that which is good, and that everywhere their adherents should be told, 'The Beloved of the Gods does not consider gifts or honour to be as important as the progress of the essential doctrine of all sects.' Many are concerned with this matter - the officers of Dhamma, the women's officers, the managers of the state farms, and other classes of officers. The result of this is the increased influence of one's own sect and glory to Dhamma.

13th Major Rock Edict

When he had been consecrated eight years the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, conquered Kalinga. A hundred and fifty thousand people were deported, a hundred thousand were killed and many times that number perished. Afterwards, now that Kalinga was annexed, the Beloved of the Gods very earnestly practised Dhamma, desired Dhamma, and taught Dhamma, On conquering Kalinga the Beloved of the Gods felt remorse, for, when an independent country is conquered the slaughter, death, and deportation of the people is extremely grievous to the Belovedof the Gods, and weighs heavily on his mind. What is even more deplorable to the Beloved of the Gods, is that those who dwell there, whether brahmans, sramanas, or those of other sects, or householders who show obedience to their superiors, obedience to mother and father, obedience to their teachers and behave well and devotedly towards their friends, acquaintances, colleagues, relatives, slaves, and servants - all suffer violence, murder, and separation from their loved ones. Even those who are fortunate to have escaped, and whose love is undiminished [by the brutalizingeffect of war], suffer from the misfortunes of their friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and relatives. This participation of all men in suffering, weighs heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods. Except among the Greeks, there is no land where the religious orders of brahmanas and sramanasare not to be found, and there is no land anywhere where men do not support one sect or another. Today if a hundredth or a thousandth part of those people who were killed or died or were deported when Kalinga was annexed were to suffer similarly, it would weigh heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods,

The Beloved of the Gods believes that one who does wrong should be forgiven as far as it is possible to forgive him. And the Beloved of the Gods conciliates the forest tribes of his empire, but he warns them that he has power even in his remorse and he asks them to repent, lest they be killed. For the Beloved of the Gods wishes that all beings should he unharmed, self-controlled, calm in mind, and gentle.

The Beloved of the Gods considers victory by Dhamma to be the foremost victory. And moreover the Beloved of the Gods has gained this victory on all his frontiers to a distance of six hundred yojanas [i.e.about 1500 miles], where reigns the Greek king named Antiochus, and beyond the realm of that Antiochus in the lands of the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas, and Alexander; and in the south over the Colas and Pandyas as far as Ceylon. Likewise here in the imperial territories among the Greeks and the Kambojas, Nabhakas and Nabhapanktis, Bhojasand Pitinikas, Andhras and Parindas, everywhere the people follow the Beloved of the Gods' instructions in Dhamma. Even where the envoys of the Beloved of the Gods have not gone, people hear of his conduct according to Dhamma, his precepts and his instruction in Dhamma, and they follow Dhamma and will continue to follow it.

What is obtained by this is victory everywhere, and everywhere victory is pleasant. This pleasure has been obtained through victory by Dhamma yet it is but a slight pleasure, for the Beloved of the Gods only looks upon that as important in its results which pertains to the next world.

Ths inscription of Dhamma has been engraved so that any sons or great grandsons that I may have should not think of gaining newconquest, and in whatever victories they may gain should be satisfied with patienceand light punishment. They should only consider conquest by Dhamma to be a true conquest, and delight in Dhamma should be their whole delight, for this is of value in both this world and the next.

14th Major Rock Edict

This inscription of Dhamma was engraved at the command of the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi. It exists in abridged, medium length, and extended versions, for each clause has not been engraved everywhere. Since the empire is large, much has been engraved and much has yet to be engraved. There is considerable repetition because of the beauty of certain topics, and in order that the people may conform to them. In some places it may be inaccurately engraved, whether by the omission of a passage or by lack of attention, or by the error of the engraver.

1999