What was the nature of Asoka's Dhamma?
Till very recently historians were confused as to the true nature of Asoka's Dhamma. Some pointed that Buddhism and Asoka's Dhamma are one and the same. But after a deep analysis of Asokan Edicts on Dhamma it has been found the these are two different things and one should not be confused with the other.
Indeed, Asoka embraced Buddhism after the Kalinga war.
- According to Romila Thapar, Dhamma was Asoka's own invention.
- In his Dhamma, Asoka had suggested a moral life that was convenient to follow.
- Dhamma incorporated a way of life that included a number of ideals and practices.
- Abstinence from killing, respect to elder moderation in behaviour, etc. were the ideals that could be follow- by all people.
No matter to what religion they belonged. In conclusion it may be said that Buddhism was the personal religion of Asoka while Dhamma was the way of life that he wanted, as a king, the people in general to follow.
- Ashoka’s dhamma meant ‘righteousness’.
- The concept of dhamma is well discussed in Ashoka edicts which were the oldest surviving documents of Indian history.
- The edicts found scattered all over the Indian subcontinent are basically official pronouncement of policy, and instructions of Ashoka to his officials and subjects.
- Ashoka is said to have underwent a complete charge of heart after Kalinga war during his eight regnal year and thus visualized ‘Dhamma’.
The traditional policy of territorial expansion was substituted by Dhamma. As mentioned in Ashokan edicts, Dhamma calls for certain virtues to be possessed and the negative traits to be abstained from. It gives a moral guidance to the subjects and stresses on social harmony and religious tolerance.
- Respect to elders, parents teachers; equal treatment to all religious sects, ahimsa, moderate accumulation of wealth and judicious spending etc, are dealt with in detail in the Major Rock Edicts VII and III respectively.
- The major rock edict IX condemns rituals as ‘the source of ignorance’ and Ashoka appeals for non-sacrifice of animals in ceremonies and food habits.
- The Major Rock Edict V speaks about the welfare activities undertaken and the appointment of Dhamma Mahavratas to propagate Dhamma. Ashoka strived for the moral and spiritual development of his subjects. He even undertook pilgrimages and sent his kith and kin as missionaries to propagate Dhamma abroad.
1. Ashoka's creation of the institution of the Dhammamahamattas convincingly proves that Asoka's Dhamma did not favor any particular religious doctrine. Had that been case, then there would have been no need for such an office, as Ashoka could have utilized the organisation of Samgha to propagate Dhamma.
2. A careful study of Rock Edicts depicts that Ashoka wanted to promote tolerance and respect to all religions sects and duty of the Dhammamahamattas included working for the Brahmans and Sarmans.
- In totality, Dhamma was not a religion but a ‘way of life.’
Relevance in the current Society ?
- Ashoka’s Dhamma holds good even in the present society.
- Dhamma is distinguished by several characteristic doctrines and philosophical positions.
- Tolerance was insisted upon as an absolute duty, which is very much necessary for multi-religious country India.
- Dhamma is completely cosmopolitan and has universal applicability.
- It can act as a panacea for the religious and social unrest currently prevailing in India.
In conclusion, Dhamma being secular in nature and advocates humanitarian approach, making it a very practical solution. Dhamma promotes social equality and is realistic. So, Dhamma is the need of the hour of the present India. Ashoka’s Dhamma has all-time applicability in a divergent Indian society.
Was Ashoka's Dhamma responsible for the downfall of his empire?
- According to the historians, the sole cause behind the decline of the Mauryas after Ashoka was his weak successors.
- After Ashoka`s demise, there was none among his heirs to equal the gigantic task of maintaining unity within the vast Empire.
- Moreover the successors of Ashoka had been reared in the tradition of non-violence and the policy of Dharma Vijaya.
- To them, aggressive imperialism initiated by Chandragupta Maurya was a dim idea.
- As a result they had neither will nor the strength to bridle the process of disruption within the Empire.
- None of Ashoka`s successors except Dasharatha could really understand and implement the Dharma Vijaya policy inaugurated by the enigmatic man.
- The later Mauryas followed the policy of Dharma Vijaya only by forbidding any armed resistance against the invaders and internal revolutionaries. As a result the very foundation of the Mauryas was shattered.
However downfall of the Mauryan Empire cannot solely be attributed to Ashoka's Dhamma..infact der were many other genuine reasons due which the EMPIRE could not STAND as follows :-
1. The Partition of the Mauryan Empire:
- An immediate cause for the decline was the partition of the Mauryan Empire into two halves .
- "Had the partition not taken place, the Greek invasions of the north-west could have been held back for a while. The partition of the empire disrupted the various services as well."
2. Weak later-Mauryan Rulers:
- The succession of weak Mauryan rulers after Asoka completely disrupted the Mauryan administration.
- The weakness of these rulers can be imagined from the fact that as many as six rulers could rule only 52 years over the eastern part of the empire and finally the last Mauryan King was assassinated by his own commander-in-Chief Pusyamitra Sunga.
- These weak later-Mauryan rulers could also not continue the traditional policies of the Mauryas.
3. Asoka's Responsibility for the Decline:
- Many scholars have accused Asoka as being directly responsible for the decline of the Mauryan Empire.
- H.C. Raychaudhuri maintains that Asoka's pacifist policies were responsible for undermining the strength of the empire.
- He says: "From the time of Bimbisara to Kalinga war the history of India was the story of the expansion of Magadha from a tiny state in South Bihar to a gigantic empire extending from the foot of the Hindukush to the borders of the Tamil country.
4. Pressure on Mauryan Economy:
- D.D. Kosambi has expressed the opinion that there was considerable pressure on Mauryan economy under the later Mauryas.
- This view is based on the increase of taxes and debasement of later- Mauryan punch- marked coins.
- But contrary to the above, the foreign accounts and the material remains of the period give a picture of an expanding economy
5. Highly Centralized Administration:
- Prof. Romila Thapar is of the view: "The machinery of the Mauryan administrative system was so centralized that an able ruler could use it both to his own advantage and that of his people, to the same degree it could become harmful to both under a weak ruler who would lose its central control and allow forces of decay to disintegrate and wreck it."
Ashoka, also spelled Aśoka, (died 238? bce, India), last major emperor in the Mauryandynasty of India. His vigorous patronage of Buddhism during his reign (c. 265–238 bce; also given as c. 273–232 bce) furthered the expansion of that religion throughout India. Following his successful but bloody conquest of the Kalinga country on the east coast, Ashoka renounced armed conquest and adopted a policy that he called “conquest by dharma” (i.e., by principles of right life).
In order to gain wide publicity for his teachings and his work, Ashoka made them known by means of oral announcements and by engravings on rocks and pillars at suitable sites. These inscriptions—the rock edicts and pillar edicts (e.g., the lion capital of the pillar found at Sarnath, which has become India’s national emblem), mostly dated in various years of his reign—contain statements regarding his thoughts and actions and provide information on his life and acts. His utterances rang of frankness and sincerity.
According to his own accounts, Ashoka conquered the Kalinga country (modern Orissa state) in the eighth year of his reign. The sufferings that the war inflicted on the defeated people moved him to such remorse that he renounced armed conquests. It was at this time that he came in touch with Buddhism and adopted it. Under its influence and prompted by his own dynamic temperament, he resolved to live according to, and preach, the dharma and to serve his subjects and all humanity.
Ashoka repeatedly declared that he understood dharma to be the energetic practice of the sociomoral virtues of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, mercifulness, benevolence, nonviolence, considerate behaviour toward all, “little sin and many good deeds,” nonextravagance, nonacquisitiveness, and noninjury to animals. He spoke of no particular mode of religious creed or worship, nor of any philosophical doctrines. He spoke of Buddhism only to his coreligionists and not to others.
Toward all religious sects he adopted a policy of respect and guaranteed them full freedom to live according to their own principles, but he also urged them to exert themselves for the “increase of their inner worthiness.” Moreover, he exhorted them to respect the creeds of others, praise the good points of others, and refrain from vehement adverse criticism of the viewpoints of others.
To practice the dharma actively, Ashoka went out on periodic tours preaching the dharma to the rural people and relieving their sufferings. He ordered his high officials to do the same, in addition to attending to their normal duties; he exhorted administrative officers to be constantly aware of the joys and sorrows of the common folk and to be prompt and impartial in dispensing justice. A special class of high officers, designated “dharma ministers,” was appointed to foster dharma work by the public, relieve sufferings wherever found, and look to the special needs of women, of people inhabiting outlying regions, of neighbouring peoples, and of various religious communities. It was ordered that matters concerning public welfare were to be reported to him at all times. The only glory he sought, he said, was for having led his people along the path of dharma. No doubts are left in the minds of readers of his inscriptions regarding his earnest zeal for serving his subjects. More success was attained in his work, he said, by reasoning with people than by issuing commands.
Among his works of public utility were the founding of hospitals for men and animals and the supplying of medicines, and the planting of roadside trees and groves, digging of wells, and construction of watering sheds and rest houses. Orders were also issued for curbing public laxities and preventing cruelty to animals. With the death of Ashoka, the Mauryan empire disintegrated and his work was discontinued. His memory survives for what he attempted to achieve and the high ideals he held before himself.
Most enduring were Ashoka’s services to Buddhism. He built a number of stupas (commemorative burial mounds) and monasteries and erected pillars on which he ordered inscribed his understanding of religious doctrines. He took strong measures to suppress schisms within the sangha (the Buddhist religious community) and prescribed a course of scriptural studies for adherents. The Sinhalese chronicle Mahavamsa says that when the order decided to send preaching missions abroad, Ashoka helped them enthusiastically and sent his own son and daughter as missionaries to Sri Lanka. It is as a result of Ashoka’s patronage that Buddhism, which until then was a small sect confined to particular localities, spread throughout India and subsequently beyond the frontiers of the country.
A sample quotation that illustrates the spirit that guided Ashoka is:
All men are my children. As for my own children I desire that they may be provided with all the welfare and happiness of this world and of the next, so do I desire for all men as well.