Ashoka, The Great
Ashoka Maurya is considered as one of the greatest kings in Indian history. He is praised as much for his militaristic activity as he his admired for his policy of Dhamma. According to some scholars Ashoka was a follower of Buddhism and he tried to propagate the principle of Buddhism through his own created Dhamma.
But this somewhere contradicts as Dhamma had nothing to do with the propagation of Buddhism. It was a code of conduct or ideal social behavior common to all religions of the world, which he appealed to his subjects to follow. Although Ashoka himself believed in Buddhism as it had the principles of dhamma. He however, never discriminated against other faiths, or religion. Moreover, he never forced his subjects to convert into the religion he followed.
What was Dhamma all about?
A closer look at Asokan edicts illustrates that basic attributes of Dhamma included compassion (daya), charity (dana), truthfulness, purity and gentleness. In order to make all these features of Dhamma more apparent, let’s observe how the guiding principle of Dhamma developed by probing the contents of some of the Rock Edicts:
Rock Edict I call for a ban on animal sacrifice and social gatherings like samaj.
Rock Edict II declares measures to be taken to built roads, inns, wells, hospitals, and planting of shade giving trees.
Rock Edict III,IV, AND XIIth ask people to respect parents, relatives, brahmanas and shramanas (monks).
Ashoka also appointed a special type of officials called dhamma mahamatras. Their main function was to oversee and supervise the peaceful function of the principles of Dhamma. 12th rock edict is especially important since it says “the king of Piyadassi, the beloved of Gods, respected all sects whether ascetics or householders and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds…let an alien sect also be respected on every occasion.” It shows clearly that neither Dhamma was Buddhism nor Ashoka was trying to convert people to Buddhism.
However, the question is why he gave so much attention to this policy?
The after effects of the war of Kalinga in 261 BC had a major influence on Ashoka where a large number of people were killed or imprisoned. Perhaps this bloodshed moved his heart and he decided to abandon the policy of military expansion and declared that he would in future favor dhammaghosha (drum of dhamma) than bherighosha (war drum).
Besides, Historians believe that by the later half of Ashoka’s rule, expansion of the empire was almost complete. It was an empire having different cultural, social and religious groups. In order to save the empire from political tensions arising out of these differences there were two ways. He could either increase the size of armed forces to seek military solutions to these conflicts, which might have needed increased taxes and in turn could lead to more resistance. Another alternative was peaceful resolution of various conflicts by cementing and welding of divergent groups. Ashoka chose the second alternative in order to promote harmony and peace in his kingdom.
Ashoka thus has an important place in Indian history because he was the first king to initiate policies of peace rather than of war and aggression.
By: Deepti Verma