Ashoka (290-232 BC)

Anonymous (presumably Alan Mann)

Ashoka ("without sorrow" in Sanskrit) (290-232 BC) (no portrait or sculpture known) lived in the Ganges river valley where he succeeded his father and grandfather to rule as King for 42 peaceful years an India larger than 19th-C British India.

Using the dates of K. V. Rangaswami (as found in G. Srinivasa Murti and A. N. Krishna Aiyangar's, 1950, Edicts of Ashoka, 145p, ISBN 0-8356-7254-9) one can conclude that he took office at the age of 16 [274], was crowned 5 years later [269] (the same year he joined the Buddhists as a layman), fought a battle at Kalinga [266] & on seeing the consequences of that battle

(one hundred and fifty thousand persons were carried away as captives and one hundred thousand slain and many times that number died. (RT 13 {Rock Text 13})

underwent a profound change of heart and repentance.

Ashoka had become a lay Buddhist

(I had been a follower of the Buddha. (Maski text))

Before the Kalinga war but had presumably been unable to understand the significance of what he was studying;

(I did not progress well for a year. (found at three sites: Rupnath; Brahmagiri; Yerragudi))

It is easy to picture him walking the still smoking battle fields afterwards saying to himself: "Ah, so this is what I mustn't do. Now that I have done it, I know it. These are the dead. These are the wounded. This is suffering. These are the fruits of my actions. This is the result of the failure of Kingship."

The conquest is no conquest, for there was killing, death (and) banishment of the people. Injury or death or deportation of beloved relations may happen. This may befall all men. There is no part of the world where (the effects of my orders are not felt.) Nor is there any part of any country where there is any individual who is not attached to one form of religion or another. All beings should be left unhurt, should have equal (impartial) treatment and should lead happy lives. The only true conquest is conquest by Dharma. Let (us) not think that conquests by the sword merits the name of conquest. Let (us) see (our) ruin, confusion, and violence. (RT 13)

In 264-263 he ordered to be inscribed in rock some minor texts. In 262 he ordered the Fourteen Rock Texts to be carved. In 261 he instituted the deployment of ombudsmen,

devoted to Dharma and Charity, they are commissioned to promote the welfare and Dharma among followers of all religions; to promote the welfare and happiness of (border tribes, whether citizens or not); to prevent (unjust) imprisonment; as there may be an individual who undergoes (unjust) imprisonment ... even though the laws are well laid down. (RT 5)

He issued instructions for the Pillar Texts to be carved from 247 to 242, one of which contained prohibitions against killing some 22 species of birds, fish, and various mammals, and the specific prohibition:

Forest fire shall not be lit unnecessarily and with a view to kill living things. (pt 5 {Pillar Text 5}).

The Pillars were presumably erected where there was no suitable rock face, and were known, in every instance, to have been erected where they would be seen by large numbers of people.

Although the Buddha (623-543) had been dead for almost 300 years it would appear that Ashoka's rock inscription's contained the first Buddhist teachings committed to writing, although there is no mention either by name or instantiation of the Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, the Chain of Causation, or the word or idea of Nirvana. Svarga (heaven) is mentioned 3 times but ultimate peace not even once.

Content aside, Ashoka's texts have survived because they were cut into rock; the Fourteen Rock Texts in boulders & cliff faces, while the Pillars (of which 10 are known and at least 6 lost) were cut from the stone quarries of the Chunar Hills near Banaras.

The monolithic Pillars ranged from 30 to 70 feet in length & supposedly weigh some 50 tons each. It is not known how such objects were transported over the North Indian Rivers.

As the centuries passed, both the language of the inscriptions and the sites themselves were lost. In the 14th-C Sultan Feroz Shah had two of the pillars transported to Delhi. Another was rediscovered and re-erected in 1896 in the Lumbini Garden, where it had first been erected in 254 BC, to mark the site of the birthplace of the Buddha. Another, excavated in 1904, proved to be 70 feet long, and can be seen in the museum at Saranath. Some 42 Ashokan rock, pillar and cave text sites are known.

The language of the inscriptions was primarily a commoners West Ashokan, (a variant of Prakrit, derived from literary Sanskrit), certainly not the sacred tongues of either Brahmanism or Buddhism. By the 6th-C or earlier the language of the texts had been forgotten and they could no longer be read. The first Westerner to record a pillar inscription appears to have been a Roman Catholic priest (Tieffenthaler) in 1756. A first translation of an Ashokan text into English was done in 1837 by James Prinsep.

The Ashokan rock texts add up to about 5000 words, none of which contain any criticisms of any foreign country, any tribe, any clan or any person. The basis of all of Ashoka's edicts was that there was no greater god than truth, nothing surpasses truth {Satyameva Jayate). Never once did he invoke the name of any god, Hindu or otherwise, in his edicts.

With a few exceptions they contain no commemoration of any historical incident. They were intended not only for the guidance of contemporaries but for the perpetual guidance of posterity, of future generations of rulers and subjects,

to serve for the instruction of future generations in Dharma till the end of the kalpa. This rescript on Dharma has been promulgated that it may endure as long as the sun and the moon endure and that it may be followed. Wherever there are stone pillars or stone surfaces this edict should be inscribed on them so that it may endure for long ages. (pt 7)

Although his language was unornate and almost rough, Ashoka encouraged a knowledge of the ethical elements common to Buddhism and Brahmanism and did not propagandise for Buddhism as a separate and rival religion. That Buddhism wasn't a variety of Brahmanism may not have been evident to most people of the time. The virtues inculcated in the texts are truthfulness, compassion, purity, gentleness, thrift, self-control, gratitude, firm devotion and attachment to Dharma.

Rules for Observation (study) both in Letter and Spirit. (RT 3)
Meritorious is the minimizing of expenditure and of possessions accumulated. It is commendable not to hoard too much gold, to borrow little and to refrain from exploiting others. (RT 3)
This is the most meritorious work i.e. this instruction in Dharma. For this purpose this edict has been written. (RT 4)
It is very difficult to do a benevolent act; it is easy to do ill. (RT 5)
I am never completely satisfied with my work of wakefulness or despatch of business. There is no other work more important than doing what is good for the well-being of all people. This indeed is most difficult to achieve save by utmost exertion. (RT 6)
People are of different inclinations and passions ... and commendable is the restraint of passion, also inner purity, steadfastness, and gratitude. All desire in common to achieve mastery of the senses and purity of mind ... Some will attend to the performance of the whole of the law, and some, of only a part. Mastery of the senses, purity of mind, gratitude and steadfast devotion are certainly essential. (RT 7)
Auspicious rites have certainly to be performed. But they bear small fruit. The ceremonial of the Dharma bears, however, great fruit. (RT 9)
Morality is difficult to achieve for the lowly as well as for the highly placed. It is particularly so unless one attends to it with concentrated effort, renouncing trivial interests, sacrificing all else. This is meritorious. This ought to be done. (RT 11)
You are true to your own beliefs if you accord kindly treatment to adherents of other faiths. You harm your own religion by harassing followers of other creeds. The one root of essential growth (of the increase of spiritual strength) is the guarding of one's speech so as to avoid the extolling of one's own religion to the decrying of the religion of another, or speaking lightly of it without occasion or relevance. Acting in a contrary manner, one injures one's own religion and also does disservice to the religions of others. One who reverences one's own religion and disparages that of another from devotion to one's own religion and to glorify it over all other religions does injure one's own religion more certainly. It is verily concord of all religions that is meritorious as persons of other ways of thinking may thereby hear the Dharma and serve its cause. (Ashoka) does not value gifts and reverential offerings so much as the increase in the spiritual strength of all religions. The objective of these measures is the promotion of each man's particular faith and the glorification of Dharma. (RT 12)
Nor is there any part of any country where there is any individual who is not attached to one form of religion or another. (RT 13)
This Text on Dharma has been caused to be inscribed by (Ashoka). Some of these are abridged, some are middling, and some are inscribed in full. The whole is not suited to all places. Vast is the country; much has been inscribed and more is to come. Some of these have been written again and again for the sweetness (importance) of the teachings (thoughts). Some parts are incomplete because of lack of space, damage to the stones or errors of the scribes. (RT 14)
At the root of all of this lie the two qualities viz. steady action and action without haste. Nor is it correct to hold that this can be achieved only by the great ones. For, even the humblest person can achieve the ideal of heavenly bliss by force of exertion, by following the path of Dharma.
It is very difficult to gain happiness in this world and in the next except by utmost devotion to Dharma, utmost examination, most devoted service, utmost fear (of sin) and utmost enthusiasm. (pt 1)
To follow or practise Dharma is meritorious. But what constitutes Dharma? It is the avoidance of sin: the performance of (that which is) compassionate, liberal, truthful and pure. (pt 2)
Man notices only his meritorious actions thinking he has done meritorious deeds. But he does not notice the sins (committed by him), the evil deed he has committed or that it is a sinful act. This is most difficult to recognize. (pt 3)
It is most desirable that there should be absolute equality for all in all legal proceedings and in the punishments awarded. (pt 4)
Thus I watch to see what makes for the welfare and happiness of the people; and I see to whom what good can be done, and act accordingly. (pt 6)
By what means and whom may I lift up ... ? Whatever increase in devotion to Dharma is found among the people has been due to two causes, namely, disciplinary regulations of Dharma and deep meditation. Among these two, the regulations are of less importance (inferior), while deep meditation is of greater importance (superior).
(Progress in Dharma may be obtained in two manners -- by formal rules and by the feelings that they help to arouse in the heart. In this double influence the first has a very inferior value, the inner quickening is what is really important.)
These indeed are regulations of Dharma that have been promulgated by me e.g. such and such lives shall not be slaughtered; and there are also many other regulations of Dharma made by me; but, it is by meditation that there is increase of devotion to Dharma among the people resulting in the abstention from injury to living beings and abstention from killing of living beings. ... {When thou plantest trees along the roads, allow their shade to protect the wicked as the good.} On the roads, banyan trees have been raised, so as to give shade to traveling people and animals. {When thou buildest a Rest Home, let its doors be thrown open to men of all religions, to the opposite of thine own creed, and to thy personal enemies as well as to thy friends.} Rest houses for travelers have been constructed. (pt 7, {HPB-CW-XII-p419})
As far as your jurisdiction extends, spread this message with a literal copy through (yatra). (Rupnath text)
Concord, harmony alone is excellent. And this manner of acting should be what? Of long duration! These edicts may on appropriate occasions be read calmly to individuals. (Kalinga text 2)

The history of India records no ruler of Ashoka's stature for the next 18 centuries, until Akbar, a Muslim, who flourished in the 16th Century.