King Asoka conquered by Buddhist principles and propagated buddhism
King Asoka was one of 101 sons of King Bindusara who had 16 wives. His name means “No Sorrow”. His eldest brother, Prince Susima plotted to kill Asoka’s wife and child but was intervened by his mother who got killed instead. Because of this event, Prince Asoka was driven by hatred and vengeance, he killed all his brothers except one brother from the same mother. He started conquest of neighbouring territories with furious wars. After Kalinga war, the brutality of the conquest and the sight of the aftermath led Asoka to adopt Buddhism and he used his position to propagate the relatively new religion to new heights, as far as ancient Rome and Egypt. He made Buddhism his state religion around 260 BC, and propagated it and preached it within his domain and worldwide from about 250 BC. Asoka undoubtedly has to be credited with the first serious attempt to develop a Buddhist policy.
After the Kalinga war and conversion to Buddhism, Asoka ceased Digvijaya or ‘conquest by war’ and embarked on Dhammavijaya, meaning ‘conquest by Dhamma’.
His reign became more humane as he ruled according to the Dhamma.
He was the first king to build major edicts with Buddhist inscriptions all over India and Central Asia.
He set up a department of religious officers to look into the moral education for the people.
He went on Dhammayatra (pilgrimages) to the holy places.
He was generous with the requisites for the Sangha and supported them handsomely.
His son and daughter joined the Sangha, spreading the Dhamma most successfully in Sri Lanka.
He claimed to his neighbours that he had no expansionist intentions towards countries bordering his empire.
After the 3rd Buddhist Council, missionary work to the adjacent 9 countries saw the spread of Theravada Buddhism under his patronage. 9 countries are: Kashmir & Gandhara (N. Punjab), Mahisamandala (South of Vindhyan mountains), Vanavasi (N Kanara), Aparantaka (N. Gujarat, Kathiawar, Kacch & Sind), Maharattha (country of the Marathi, modern Bombay), Yona countries (clans of foreign race on NW frontier, Greeco-Bactrian kingdom), Himavanta (Himalayan region), Suvannabhumi (Lower Myanmar, Thailand, Java and even Malaya) and Tambapanni (Sri Lanka)
The most important and successful mission was to Sri Lanka. It was led by King Asoka’s own son, Ven. Mahinda, who converted the Sri Lankan king, and eventually all his subjects, to Buddhism. The Tipitaka was also brought over and eventually compiled into writing in Sri Lanka about 300 years later.
2. Firm & Humane Rule
Asoka’s rule became more humane and went according to the Dhamma.
He told his people that he considered them as his own children with nothing to fear from him. He promised readily access to them and for their problems.
He pursued an official policy of nonviolence (ahimsa).
Animal sacrificed were prohibited. Cruelty to domestic and wild animals were prohibited.
Hunting certain wild animal was banned. Only limited hunting was permitted for consumption reasons. King Asoka promoted the concept of vegetarianism.
Forest and wildlife reserves were established; burning of forest were prohibited.
Hospitals for men and animals were built. Medical herbs were cultivated. He had wells dug, trees planted and rest houses built.
He took care of the old, ascetics, widowed and prisoners. Eg. Spurning handlooms were provided for widows as a form of employment.
He encouraged fasting and meritorious deeds to be done by prisoners. He urged criminals to see the blunders of the crimes
Citizens were fined for littering or if they did not help in putting out fires.
3. Department of Religious Officers
Asoka created this ministry in the 13th year after his rule. It was staffed by high officials to pay attention to the following:
Moral Education to the people
Various of performances of gods
Improvement of jail administration (as inscriped on Rock edict V)
Humanization of ruthless criminal laws (Pillar edict IV)
Enforcement of various regulations of piety (Pillar edict V and VI)
These projects were carried out throughout his empire. To ensure that these were done, Asoka went on frequent inspection tours.
The protection and promotion of all religions, and the fostering of inter-religious harmony was seen as one of the duties of the state.
The department of Religious Affairs of Dhammamatras was established to look after the affairs of various religious bodies and to encourage the practice of religion.
He offered generously to all religious practitioners. In the 12th year of his reign, he bestowed excavated dwelling and shrines to the Ajivika Community.
In the past, kings used to go out on journey (yatra) for pleasure like hunting expeditions and other similar enjoyments. But King Asoka went out on pilgrimage (dhammayatra) to the holy places. He would donate to religious practitioners, assist elders with money; instruct and discuss with the citizens on dhamma.
He visited Bodh Gaya in the 10th year of his rule.
Pillars and edicts were established in the Buddhist sacred places to mark his visit. The Lumbini Edict was erected when he visited the birthplace of the Buddha in the 20th year of his reign. To commemorate his visit, he exempted the local people for paying taxes to his government.
By going on religious pilgrimages to these sacred places, he was indirectly promoting Buddhism.
5. Dhamma Conquest of Neighbouring Land
The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily conquered, were instead made to be well respected allies.
Without any war or any aggressive policy, he maintained a very large empire and has friendly relations with foreign powers.
Instead of organising military expedition against other countries, he was busy organising peace mission under his Duta for the purpose of humanitarian work (building hospitals, supplying medicinal herbs, building wells and send engineers) in those foreign countries.
Silenced was the war-drum (bheri-ghosa), which was replaced by Dhamma-ghosa.
Asoka stood out as the pioneer of peace and universal brotherhood in history.
According to many European and Asian historians, the age of Asoka was the age of light and delight. He was perhaps the first emperor in human history who had taught the lesson of unity, peace, equality and love within and outside his empire.
In Asoka’s own words, the Dhamma-vijaya, a moral conquest was the principal conquest. The only true conquest lies in the conquest of self (by Dhamma). A king should first subdue himself and then seek to subdue his foes. How could a king who has not been able to conquer his own self be able to conquer his foes.
6.Construction of Religious Monuments
He spent lots of wealth for religious education, building monasteries and monuments.
Asoka also built the great stupa of Sanchi. He erected several thousands of Buddhist monuments to enshrine the Buddha’s relics. He built viharas for the monks and the famous vihara in Pataliputra was named after him like Asokarama.
He also helped to developed viharas (intellectual hubs) such as the Nalanda and Taxila. He also helped to construct Sanchi and Mahabodhi Temple.
7. Buddhist edicts and monuments
His pronouncements were written on rocks in the periphery of his kingdom, while pillars were erected along the main roads, and where pilgrims gather. Asoka’s edicts were written in his own words. Asoka’s edicts were found in more than thirty places throughout India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of them were written in the native language of the place.
Asoka was engaged in spreading Buddhism through the rock, stone and pillar edicts erected in his empire and beyond. The Bhabru inscription called upon his people to respect and have faith in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
The individual morality that Asoka hoped to foster includes respect towards parents, elders, teachers, friends, servants, ascetics and Brahmins. Girnar Rock Edict 3 stressed on filial duties.
He also encouraged generosity (dana), harmlessness towards life (avihimsa bhutanam), moderation in spending and saving, treating others properly and be well learned in others religions on some edicts
The qualities of heart that are recommended by Asoka in the edicts indicate his deep spirituality. They include kindness, self-examination, truthfulness, gratitude, and purity of heart, enthusiasm, loyalty, self- control and love of Dhamma.
Following Buddhist texts were encouraged for both sangha and lay disciples, namely 7 texts. These texts favoured by Asoka appeared to bear on the life of the monks, and the ethical standards to which Asoka was devoted. Asoka did not concern himself with the philosophy of Buddhism but in the ethical and practical application.
The texts are Vinayasamukkase, Ariyavasani, Anagata bhayani, Muni gatha, Mauneya sutte, Upatissa pasine and the Rahulovada. (Bairat rock edict). (Optional) • Vinayasamukkase, a text exhalting the vinaya. • Ariyavasani, Contentment of a monk in requisites, finding pleasure in ‘development’ and abandoning. • Anagatabhayas are the 5 fears for the future for monks in the forest. They might be killed by men, animals, accidents or bad food, etc. Thinking of this danger, they become more energetic in their meditative practice. • Munigatha is praise for the recluse who goes alone to find calm, annihilating further existences, strong in understanding, virtue and concentration. • Mauneya suttee praises calm and detachment of recluseship. • Rahulovada sutta where Buddha admonishes Rahula against conscious false speech. • Upatissapasine where Sariputta asked many questions.
Conclusion Asoka ruled for an estimated 40 years. After his death, the Mauryan Dynasty lasted just fifty more years. His children, Venerable Mahinda and Sanghamitta played an important role in the spread of Buddhism by entering the sangha and went to Sri Lanka to establish Buddhism there. Asoka appointed one of his sons, Kunala as his successor. Asoka died in 232 BCE. The Mauryan Dynasty ended during the rule of Brhadrata in 185 BCE. Without King Asoka’s effort to spread Buddhism to neighbouring countries, the teachings of the Buddha would not have remained intact till now. Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu fpr his gift of dhamma.
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