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Internet Indian History Sourcebook

Ashoka, King of Behar:

The Rock Edicts, c. 257 BCE

[Tappan Introduction]

Ashoka, King of Behar, became a convert to Buddhism about 257 B.C. He was a most zealous missionary, and his little sermons, known as "Edicts," were carved upon the rocks and pillars, and may still be seen. The following are some of them.

The Fruit of Exertion

THUS saith His Sacred Majesty: --- For more than two-and-a-half years I was a lay disciple, without, however, exerting myself strenuously. But it is more than a year since I joined the Order, and have exerted myself strenuously. During that time the gods who were regarded as true all over India have been shown to be untrue. For this is the fruit of exertion. Nor is this to be attained by a great man only, because even by the small man who chooses to exert himself immense heavenly bliss may be won. For this purpose has the precept been composed:--- "Let small and great exert themselves." My neighbors too should learn this lesson; and may such exertion long endure! And this purpose will grow---yea, it will grow immensely---at least one-and-a-half-fold will it increase in growth. And this purpose must be written on the rocks, both afar off and here; and, wherever there is a stone pillar, it must be written on the stone pillar. And according to this text, so far as your jurisdiction extends, you must send it out everywhere. By (me) while on tour was the precept composed. 256 departures from staging-places (or possibly, days spent abroad).

Summary of the Law of Piety

Thus saith His Sacred Majesty:--- Father and mother must be hearkened to; similarly, respect for living creatures must be firmly established; truth must be spoken. These are the virtues of the Law of Piety which must be practiced. Similarly, the teacher must be reverenced by the pupil, and towards relations fitting courtesy must be shown. This is the ancient nature (of piety)---this leads to length of days, and according to this men must act. Written by Pada the scribe.

The Sacredness of Life

This pious edict has been written by command of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King. Here in the capital no animal may be slaughtered for sacrifice, nor may the holiday-feast be held, because His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King sees much offense in the holiday-feast, although in certain places holiday-feasts are excellent in the sight of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King. Formerly, in the kitchen of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King each day many hundred thousands of living creatures were slaughtered to make curries. But now, when this pious edict is being written, only three living creatures are slaughtered for curry, to wit, two peacocks and one antelope---the antelope, however, not invariably. Even those three living creatures henceforth shall not be slaughtered.

The Prompt Dispatch of Business

Thus says His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King:---For a long time past it has not happened that business has been dispatched and that reports have been received at all hours. Now by me this arrangement has been made that at all hours and in all places---whether I am dining, or in the ladies' apartments, in my bedroom, or in my closet, in my carriage, or in the palace gardens---the official Reporters should report to me on the people's business, and I am ready to do the people's business in all places. And if, perchance, I personally by word of mouth command that a gift be made or an order executed, or anything urgent is intrusted to the superior officials, and in that business a dispute arises or a fraud occurs among the monastic community, I have commanded that immediate report must be made to me at any hour and in any place, because I never feel full satisfaction in my efforts and dispatch of business. For the welfare of all folk is what I must work for---and the root of that, again, is in effort and the dispatch of business. And whatsoever exertions I make are for the end that I may discharge my debt to animate beings, and that while I make some happy here, they may in the next world gain heaven. For this purpose, have I caused this pious edict to be written, that it may long endure, and that my sons and grandsons may exert themselves for the welfare of all folk. That, however, is a difficult thing save by the utmost exertion.

Visit to the Birthplace of Buddha

His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King, when he had been consecrated twenty years, having come in person, did reverence; and, because "Here Buddha was born, the Sakya sage," a great railing of stone was prepared, and a stone pillar erected. Because "Here the Venerable One was born " the village of Lummini was made free of religious cesses and declared entitled to the eighth share of the produce claimed by the Crown.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. II: India, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, pp. 91-94

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton.

This text is part of the Internet Indian History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall November1998

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