A Translation of the Edicts of Asoka
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.
-- Table of Contents --
The inscriptions have been divided as follows:
- Major Rock Edicts -- Fourteen edicts and the two separate
edicts found at sites in Kalinga.
- 1st Major Rock Edict
- 2nd Major Rock Edict
- 3rd Major Rock Edict
- 4th Major Rock Edict
- 5th Major Rock Edict
- 6th Major Rock Edict
- 7th Major Rock Edict
- 8th Major Rock Edict
- 9th Major Rock Edict
- 10th Major Rock Edict
- 11th Major Rock Edict
- 12th Major Rock Edict
- 13th Major Rock Edict
- 14th Major Rock Edict
- 1st Separate Edict (Dhauli and Jaugada).
- 2nd Separate Edict
- Minor Rock Inscriptions -- The Minor Rock Edict, the Queen's Edict, the Barabar Cave Inscriptions, and the Kandahar bilingual Inscriptions
- A second section of this division consists of minor rock inscriptions concerned entirely with the Buddhist community or Buddhist generally. These include the Bhabra Inscription, the Rummindei Pillar Inscription, the Nigalisagar Pillar Inscription, and the Schism Edict.
- The Pillar Edicts -- Seven Pillar Edicts.
1st Separate Edict (Dhauli and Jaugada).
By order of the Beloved of the Gods: the officers and city magistrates at Tosali / Sarnapa are to be instructed thus:
Whatever I approve of, that I desire either to achieve by taking action or to obtain by effective means. This is what I consider the chief method in this matter, and these are my instructions to you. You are in charge of many thousands of living beings. You should gain the affection of men. All men are my children, and just as I desire for my children that they should obtain welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, the same do I desire for all men. But you do not realize how far this principle goes - possibly one man among you may realize it, but even he only in part and not entirely, Reflect on it well even those of you who are well placed. Often a man suffers imprisonment or torture and then is released from prison, without reason, and many other people suffer further. You should strive to practice impartiality. But it cannot be practiced by one possessing any of these faults -jealousy, shortness of temper, harshness, rashness, obstinacy, idleness, or slackness. You should wish to avoid such faults. The root of all this is to be even-tempered and not rash in your work. He who is slack will not act, and in your official functions you must strive, act, and work. So he who approves this should say to you, 'Think of clearing the debt- thus and thus, does the Beloved of the Gods instruct.' There is great advantage in conforming to this instruction and great loss in not conforming to it. For by disregarding it you will gain neither heaven nor the favor of the king. Why do 1 devote my mind to this matter so extensively? Because by conforming you will reach heaven and will discharge your debt to me.
This edict is to he proclaimed on the eighth day of the star Tisya, and at intervals between the Tisya-days it is to be read aloud, even to a single person. By doing this you may be able to conform to my instructions. This inscription has been engraved here in order that the city magistrates should at all times ace to it that men are never imprisoned or tortured without good reason. And for this purpose, I shall send out on tour every five years, an officer who is not severe or harsh; who, having investigated this matter. . . , shall see that they carry out my instructions. The prince at Ujjain shall send out a similar group of officers, but at intervals not exceeding three years. Similarly at Taxila when the officers go out on tour they shall investigate this, without neglecting their normal duties and shall carry out the king's instructions.
2nd Separate Edict
By order of the Beloved of the Gods. At Tosali the prince and the officers at Samapa the officers charged with announcing the royal decrees, are to be ordered thus: Whatever I approve of, that I desire either to achieve by taking action or to obtain by some effective means. This is what I consider the chief method in this matter, and these are my instructions to you. All men are my children and just as I desire for my children that they should obtain welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, the same do I desire for all men. If the unconquered peoples on my borders ask what is my will, they should be made to understand that this is my will with regard to them --the king desires that they should have no trouble on his account, should trust in him, and should have in their dealings with him only happiness and no sorrow. They should understand that the king will forgive them as far as they can be forgiven, and that through him they should follow Dhamma and gain this world and the next.
For this purpose I instruct you, that having done so I may discharge my debt to them, by making known to you my will, my resolve and my firm promise. By these actions, my work will advance, and they will be reassured and will realize that the king is like a father, and that he feels for them as for himself, for they are like his own children to him. My couriers and special officers will be in contact with you, instructing you and making known to you my will, my resolve, and my firm promise. For you are able to give the frontier people confidence, welfare, and happiness in this world and the next. Doing this you will reach heaven and help me discharge my debt to my people.
This inscription has been engraved here for this purpose - that the Officers shall at all times attend to the conciliation of the people of the frontiers and to promoting Dhamma among them. This edict is to be proclaimed every four months on the day of the star Tisya; it may optionally be proclaimed from time to time in the interval between Tisya-days, and on occasions may be proclaimed even to a single person. By doing this you will be able to conform to my instructions.
The Minor Rock Inscriptions
Minor Rock Edict (a conflation of the various versions)
From Suvarnagiri, on the order of His Highness the Prince, and the officers: good health to the officers of Isila who are to be instructed thus: Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, Asoka: I have been a Buddhist layman for more than two and a half years, but for a year I did not make much progress. Now for more than a year I have drawn closer to the Order and have become more ardent. The gods, who in India up to this time did not associate with men, now mingle with them, and this is the result of my efforts. Moreover this is not something to be obtained only by the great, but it is also open to the humble, if they are earnest and they can even reach heaven easily. This is the reason for this announcement that both humble and great should make progress and that the neighbouring peoples also should know that the progress is lasting, And this investment will increase and increase abundantly, and increase to half as much again. This matter must he inscribed here and elsewhere on the hills, and wherever there is a stone pillar it is to be engraved on that pillar. You must go out with this document throughout the length and breadth of your district. This announcement has been proclaimed while on tour; 256 nights have been spent on tour.
Thus says the Beloved of the Gods. Whatever the Beloved of the Gods orders must be carried out in every respect. The rajuka [rural officer] is to be instructed and he will instruct the people of the countryside, assembling them with the sound of the drum; likewise the local chiefs. 'Obey mother and father, obey the teachers, have mercy on living beings; speak the truth. These virtues of Dhamma should be followed.'
Thus you will instruct them on the orders of the Beloved of the Gods, and also you will ensure that elephant trainers, clerks, fortune-tellers, and Brahmans instruct their apprentices according to ancient tradition, that they should honour their masters.... righteous masters. In a family relatives must treat each other with respect.
This is the ancient custom, conducive to long life, and thus it must be carried out. Carved by the engraver Capada.
The Queen's Edict
On the order of the Beloved of the Gods, the officers everywhere are to be instructed that whatever may be the gift of the second queen, whether a mango-grove, a monastery, an institution for dispensing charity or any other donation, it is to be counted to the credit of that queen ……the second queen, the mother of Tivala, Karuvaki.
Barabar Cave Inscription
I. The king Piyadassi, when he had been consecrated twelve years, gave the Banyan Cave to the Ajivikas.
II. The king Piyadassi, when he had been consecrated twelve years, gave this cave on the Khalatika mountain to the Ajivikas.
III. The king Piyadassi, consecrated since nineteen years.
Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription
[Greek Version], Ten years being completed king Piyadassi showed piety (i.e. Dhamma) to men. And from that time [onwards] he made men more pious. And all things prosper throughout the whole world. And the king refrains from [eating] living beings, and indeed other men and whosoever [were] the king's huntsmen and fishermen have ceased from hunting, and those who were without control [over themselves] have ceased as far as possible from their lack of [self-] control, and [have become] obedient to father and mother and to elders, such as was not the case before. And in future, doing all these things, they will live more agreeably and better than before.
[Aramaic Version], Ten years having passed, our Lord the king Piyadassi, decided to instruct men in Dhamma. Since then, evil among men has diminished in the world. Among those who have suffered it has disappeared, and there is joy and peace in the whole world. And even in another matter, that which concerns eating, our Lord the king kills very few animal.
Seeing this the rest of the people have also ceased from killing animals. Even those who catch fish, their activity has been prohibited. Similarly those that were without restraint have now learnt restraint. Obedience to mother and father, and elders, and conformity with the obligations implied in this, is now in practice. There are no more trials for men of piety. Thus the practise of Dhamma is of value to all men, and it will continue to be so.
Minor Rock Inscriptions
(Concerned specifically with Asoka's interest in Buddhism.)
The king of Magadha, Piyadassi, greets the Order and wishes it prosperity and freedom from care. You know Sirs, how deep is my respect for and faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Samgha [i.e. the Buddhist creed]. Sirs, whatever was spoken by the Lord Buddha was well spoken. And Sirs, allow me to tell you what I believe contributes to the long survival of the Buddhist Dhamma. These sermons on Dhamma, Sirs - the Excellence of the Discipline, the Lineage of the Noble One, the Future Fears, the Verses of,the Sage, the Sutra of Silence, the Question, of Upatissa, and the Admonition spoken by the Lord Buddha to Rahula on the subject of false speech - these sermons on the Dhamma, Sirs, I desire that many monks and nuns should hear frequently and meditate upon, and likewise laymen and laywomen. I am having this engraved Sirs, so that you may know what I desire.
Rummindei Pillar Inscription
The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, when he had been consecrated twenty years, came in person find referenced the place where Buddha Sakyamuni was born. He caused a stone enclosure to be made and a stone pillar to be erected. As the Lord was born here in the village of Lumbini, he has exempted it from tax, and fixed its contribution [i.e. of grain] at one-eigth.
Nigalisagar Pillar Inscription
The Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, when he had been consecrated fourteen years, increased the stupa of Buddha Konakamana to double [its former size] ... And when he had been consecrated ... years he carne in person, .worshiped ... brought…..
Schism Edict (a conflation of the various versions)
The Beloved of the Gods orders the officers of Kausambi/Pataliputra] thus:
No one is to cause dissension in the Order. The Order of monks and nuns has been united, and this unity should last for as long as my sons and great grandsons, and the moon and the sun. Whoever creates a schism in the Order, whether monk or nun, is to be dressed in white garments, and to be put in a place not inhabited by monks or nuns. For it is my wish that the Order should remain united and endure for long. This is to be made known to the Order of monks and the Order of nuns. Thus says the Beloved of the Gods: You must keep one copy of this document and place it in your meeting hall, and give one copy to the laity. The layman must come on every uposatha day [day of confession and penance] to endorse this order. The same applies to special officers who must also regularly attend the uposatha, and endorse this order, and make it known. Throughout your district you must circulate it exactly according to this text. You must also have this precise text circulated in all the fortress districts [under military control].
The Pillar Edicts
1st Pillar Edict
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: When I had been consecrated for twenty-six years, 1 had this inscription of Dhamma engraved. It is hard to obtain happiness in this world and the next without extreme love of Dhamma, much vigilance, much obedience, much fear of sin, and extreme energy. But, through my instructions, care for Dhamma and love of Dhamma have grown from day to day, and will continue to grow. My subordinates too, whether high or low or of middle station, endorse it and practise it sufficiently to win over the wavering, and likewise do the frontier official For this is my principle: to protect through Dhamma, to administer affairs according to Dhamma, to please the people with Dhamma, to guard the empire with Dhamma.
2nd Pillar Edict
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: Dhamma is good. And what is Dhamma? It is having few faults and many good deeds, mercy, charity, truthfulness, and purity.
I have given the gift of insight in various forms. I have conferred many benefits on man, animals, birds, and fish, even to saving their lives, and I have done many other commendable deeds. I have had this inscription of Dhamma engraved that men may conform to it and that it may endure. He who conforms will do well.
3rd Pillar Edict
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: One only notices one's good deeds, thinking, 'I have done good', but on the other hand one does not notice one's wicked deeds, thinking, 'I have done evil', or 'this is indeed a sin'. Now, to be aware of this is something really difficult. But nevertheless one should notice this and think, 'Cruelty, harshness, anger, pride, and envy, these are indeed productive of sin.' let them not be the cause of my fall. And this one should especially notice, thinking, 'This is important to my happiness in this world; that, on the other hand, for the next.'
4th Pillar Edict
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: When I had been consecrated twenty-six years I had this inscription on Dhamma engraved. My rajukas [rural officers) are appointed over many hundred thousands of people. In judgment and punishment I have given them independent authority, so that the rajukas may fulfill their functions calmly and fearlessly and may promote the welfare and happiness of the country people and benefit them. They will learn what makes for happiness and unhappiness ,and together with those devoted to Dhamma, they will admonish the country people that they may obtain happiness in this world and the next. The rajukas are eager to obey me and they will likewise obey my envoys who know my wishes. These likewise will admonish [the erring rajukas] so that they will be able to give me satisfaction.
Just as one entrusts his child to an experienced nurse, and is confident that the experienced nurse is able to care for the child satisfactorily, so my rajukas have been appointed for the welfare and happiness of the country people. In order that they may fulfill their functions fearlessly, confidently, and cheerfully, I have given them independent authority in judgment and punishment. But it is desirable that there should be uniformity in judicial procedure and punishment.
This is my instruction from now on. Men who are imprisoned or sentenced to death are to be given three days respite. Thus their relations may plead for their lives, or, if there is no one to plead for them, they may make donations or undertake a fast for a better rebirth in the next life. For it is my wish that they should gain the next world. And among the people various practices of Dhamma are increasing, such as self-control and the distribution of charity.
5th Pillar Edict
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: When I had been consecrated for twenty-six years I forbade the killing of the following species of animals, namely: parrots, mainas, red-headed ducks [?], cakravaka-geese, swans, nandi-mukhas [birds encountered in rice fields?], pigeons, bats, ants, tortoises, boneless fish, vedaveyakas, pupulas of the Ganges [fish?], skate, porcupines, squirrels, deer, lizards, domesticated animals, rhinoceroses, white pigeons, domestic pigeon and all quadrupeds which are of no utility and are not eaten. She goats, ewes, and sows which are with young or are giving suck are not to be killed, neither are their young up to the age of six months. Capons must not be made. Chaff which contains living things must not be set on fire. Forests must not be burned in order to kill living things or without any good reason. An animal must not be fed with another animal.
On the first full moon days of the three four-monthly seasons, and for three days when the full moon falls on the star Tisya, and the fourteenth and fifteenth of the bright fortnight, and the first of the dark, and regularly on fast days, fish are not to be caught or sold. And on these same days in the elephant-park and fisheries, other classes of animals likewise must not be killed. On the eighth, fourteenth, and fifteenth days of the fortnight, on the days of the star Tisya and Punarvasu, on the three first full moons of the four-monthly seasons, and on festival days, bulls, goats rams, boars, and other animals which it is customary to castrate are not to be castrated. On the days of the stars Tisya and Punarvasu, on the first full moon days of the four-monthly seasons, and on the fortnights following them, cattle and horses are not to be branded.
In the period [from my consecration] to [the anniversary on which] I had been consecrated twenty-six years, twenty-five releases of prisoners have been made.
6th Pillar Edict
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi. When I had been consecrated for twelve years I had an inscription of Dhamma, engraved for the welfare and happiness of the world. Whoever follows it should obtain progress in Dhamma in various ways. Thus do I provide for the welfare and happiness of the world - in the same way as I bring happiness to my relatives,both close and distant and work for it, so do I provide for all sects. I honour all sects with various kinds of reverence, and I consider visiting them in person to be most important. When I had been consecrated for twenty-six years I had this inscription of Dhamma engraved.
7th Pillar Edict
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi. In the past, kings searched for means whereby people's interest in Dhamma would increase, but the people did not respond accordingly with a greater devotion to Dhamma. Hence the Beloved of the God the king Piyadassi says. This idea occurred to me. In the past kings sought to make the people progress ... but they did not. . . How then could people be made to conform to Dhamma and increase their interest in it? . . . How could I elevate them through devotion to Dhamma? I shall make them hear proclamations of Dhamma, and instruct them with the knowledge of Dhamma. When they have heard this, the people will endorse it and will be elevated, and will progress greatly in Dhamma .. For this reason there have been proclamations of Dhamma and many instructions of Dhamma were ordered, and my administrators were appointed over many people; they will admonish them and explain Dhamma to them.
The rajukas [rural officers) are appointed over many hundreds of thousands of people; I have instructed them duly to encourage those people devoted to Dhamma.
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: With this same idea in mind I have made pillars of Dhamma, appointed officers of Dhamma, and made proclamations of Dhamma.
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: On the roads I have had banyan trees planted, which will give shade to beasts and men, I have had mango-groves planted and I have had wells dug and rest houses built at every eight kos. And I have had many watering places made every-where for the use of beasts and men. But this benefit is important, and indeed the world has enjoyed attention in many ways from former kings as well as from me. But I have done these things in order that my people might conform to Dhamma.
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: My officers of Dhamma are busy in many matters of public benefit, they are busy among members of all sects, both ascetics and householders. I have appointed some to concern themselves with the Buddhist Order, with brahmans and Ajivikas, with the Jainas .... and with various sects. There are many categories of officers with a variety of duties, but my officers of Dhamma are busy with the affairs of these and other sects.
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi.: These and many other chief officers are busy with the distribution of charity both on my behalf and on that of my queens; and in all my harem, in various forms, they . . . assist in the recognition of virtuous deeds, here and in all regions. And I have ordered them to be concerned with the distribution of charity, on behalf of my sons, and of the other princes, that they may glory in Dhamma and conform to it. Thus the glory of Dhamma will increase throughout the world, and it will be endorsed in the form of mercy, charity, truthfulness, purity, gentleness, and virtue.
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: Whatever good deeds I have done, the world has consented to them and followed them. Thus obedience to mother and father, obedience to teachers, deference to those advanced in age, and regard for brahmans and sramanas, the poor and wretched, slaves and servants, have increased and will increase.
Thus speaks the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi: The advancement of Dhamma amongst men has been achieved through two means, legislation and persuasion. But of these two, legislation has been less effective, and persuasion more so. I have proclaimed through legislation for instance that certain species of animals are not to be killed, and other such ideas. But men have increased their adherence to Dhamma by being persuaded not to insure living beings and not to take life.
I have done all this so that among my sons and great grandsons and as long as the sun and moon endure, men may follow Dhamma. For by following it one gains this world and the next. When I had been consecrated twenty-seven years I had this inscription of Dhamma engraved. The Beloved of the Gods speaks thus. This inscription of Dhamma is to be engraved wherever there are stone pillars or stone slabs, that it may last long.