King Ashoka Day

We celebrate King Ashoka, who died 232 years before Christ was born. Upon learning the Dharma of Gotama, he adopted Ahimsa, and gave up war.  He freed those peoples he had conquered, and made reparations for their dead. When it was learned that he adopted Ahimsa, and gave up war, he was attacked. His response was diplomacy, and this succeeded in restoring peace without bloodshed. He then sent diplomatic missions across the world to establish friendship among all nations, and to teach Ahimsa - and the Dharma. In an edict declaring his policy of Diplomacy, not war, he said,

I conquered the Kalingas eight years after my 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, I came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now I feel deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.

He was the first monarch to guaranty the right to freedom of religion.  His proclamation is still remembered:

Those who are content with their own religion should be told this: I do 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 [Officers of State] are working. The fruit of this is that one's own religion grows and the Dhamma is illuminated also.

He created highways, and rest stops along the highways where travelers could find safety, shelter, rest, and trade.  He provided universal healthcare. He provided for the welfare of wildlife and other animals, not only with reserves and preserves, but through veterinary and other care.  He protected species from being overhunted, and overfished.  He protected the quality of the water.  In so many ways, he was the model of our most modern ideals.

But when he died, his family fought bitterly over the vast empire, and it dissolved.  In anger against the Buddha, his wife (who, like his children, did not practice or study Buddhism) cut down the tree where the Buddha found enlightenment.  In the following years, Buddhism left India - for a time.  But the missionaries whom Ashoka had sent ensured Buddhism survived in far-away places, as far as Africa, Europe, and East Asia.

No image of Ashoka remains, but his words, and his law, were beloved by his people, and preserved.  This is some of what he said,

Indeed, I am deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered. But I am 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 me.

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 me. Now I think that even those who do wrong should be forgiven where forgiveness is possible.

Now it is conquest by Dhamma that I consider to be the best conquest. And it (conquest by Dhamma) 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 my instructions in Dhamma. Even where my envoys have not been, these people too, having heard of the practice of Dhamma and the ordinances and instructions in Dhamma given by me 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 Dhamma can give. But even this joy is of little consequence. I consider the great fruit to be experienced in the next world to be more important.

I have had this Dhamma 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 Dhamma 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.