asoka the great

Asoka the Great Barbara Yen Buddhist Gem Fellowship 26 July 2011

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Asoka the Great. Barbara Yen Buddhist Gem Fellowship 26 July 2011. Personal Profile. Full name: Asoka Bindusara Asoka means ‘without any sorrow’ Born: 304 BC Birthplace: Pataliputra, Patna Reign: 274–232 BC Coronation: 270 BC - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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Asoka the Great

Barbara YenBuddhist Gem Fellowship

26 July 2011

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Personal Profile Full name: Asoka Bindusara

Asoka means ‘without any sorrow’ Born: 304 BC Birthplace: Pataliputra, Patna Reign: 274–232 BC Coronation: 270 BC Titles: Samraat Chakravartin (Emperor of

Emperors), Devanampriya (Beloved Of the Gods), Dhammashoka (Follower of Dharma), Piyadasī (Regards everyone with affection)

Wives: Rani Tishyaraksha, Rani Padmavati, Rani Kaurwaki, Consort: Maharani Devi

Children: Mahinda, Sanghamitra (twins born by 1st wife, Devi), Teevala, Kunala

Grandfather: Chandragupta Maurya (famous ruler) Religious beliefs: Hindhuism, later embraced

Buddhism Passed away: 232 BC, aged 72

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A Mauryan ruler known as Asoka the Great as he is one of greatest & most exemplary rulers in India & world history

Under him, whole of India was united with able administration

Played critical role in helping make Buddhism a world religion

Advocated state & individual morality based on Buddhist values of compassion, truth, tolerance, moderation & respect for all life:

• State morality - what he based his administration upon, to lead to more just, humane & spiritually inclined society

• Individual morality - respect towards parents, elders, teachers, friends, servants, ascetics & brahmins (Sigalovada Sutta)

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Expansion of Buddhism at time of king Asoka, according to his Edicts

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In his youth, Asoka excelled in what he was taught - warfare or reading holy scriptures

Reputation as frightening & heartless warrior, fearsome hunter

Known as ‘Chand Asoka’ meaning Asoka the fierce, ruthless & blood thirsty

Became king of Magadha around 268 B.C after father’s death

Able & courageous king but believed to have killed many of his half brothers in order to seize throne

Empire spread across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt

8 yrs later, conquored Kalinga (present day Orissa) Approx. 100,000 people killed & 150,000 deported.

10,000 from his army died Battle ground like graveyard & waters of River

Daya turned red with blood

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Asoka emerged victorious but he was heart-broken with shame, guilt & disgust

His famous monologue: “What have I done? If this is victory, what's defeat then? Is this victory or defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children & women? Do I do it to widen my empire & for prosperity or to destroy other's kingdom & splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant.. What's this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles messengers of death or evil?”

Pledged never to wage war again

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Conversion to Buddhism To seek solace, Asoka converted to Buddhism &

made pilgrimage to Buddhist holy sites “Sword is not as powerful as love; hatred gives birth

to hatred & love gives birth to love & mercy” “Sound of drum is replaced by sound of Dhamma” “Conquest by Dhamma considers to be best

conquest”His troops became his police force “Law of Dharma is excellent. What does it consist

of? Many good deeds, compassion, generosity, truthfulness, purity of life.”

Mission – to spread peace & prosperity in his kingdom & lead people to a higher level of living

Combined complexity of a king & simplicity of Buddhist monk

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At Place where Asoka gave up war

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Social Development Asoka’s belief - an able king should be responsible Progress for people through Dhamma was achieved

by 2 means - by Dhamma regulations & by persuasion

“Ceremonies can be performed but they bear little or doubtful fruit

“What bears great fruit is ceremony of Dhamma “Involves proper behavior towards servants &

employees, respect for teachers, restraint towards living beings, generosity towards all

Father, son, brother, master, friend, neighbor should say: "This ceremony is good, this should be performed, this I shall do.”

“If they achieve their purpose, it is only in this world but ceremony of Dhamma is timeless

“One gets great merit both here & in hereafter”

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1st emperor in history to ban slavery, hunting or fishing for pleasure & deforestation

Provided humanitarian help - doctors, & engineers to his neighboring countries for humans & animals

He helped students, the poor, orphans & elderly with social, political & economic help

Allowed women to be educated Built roads, hospitals, rest houses Constructed irrigation systems for trade &

agriculture “Along roads I have dug wells, watering-places &

planted fruit trees for benefit of humans & animals in this empire & neighboring countries (Edicts of Asoka, Rock Edict 2)

“Wherever medical herbs, roots or fruits suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have them imported & grown”

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“Past kings used to go on pleasure tours, animal hunts & entertainment

“But our King made himself accessible to his subjects

“Went on Dhamma & inspection tours to ensue reforms & projects were carried out

“Expected his district officers to follow his eg. “Visited people in countryside, instruct & discuss

Dhamma with them as is suitable “Offered gifts to Brahmans & ascetics, gifts of gold

to aged. It is this that delights him “I have ordered my children & children of other

queens to distribute gifts so that noble deeds of Dhamma & practice of Dhamma will be promoted”

“In my women's quarters, they organise charitable activities here & in provinces

“Patronised architects & artists “Encouraged savings & not to spend on immoral


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Human Rights Against violence & discrimination to humans & all beings Treated his subjects as equals regardless of religion,

politics, gender & caste Permitted women to enter religious order Reformed Judicial system - more fair, less harsh, less open

to abuse Showed mercy to prisoners - those sentenced to death were

given 3 day stay of execution to prepare appeals “In 26 yrs since my coronation, prisoners have been given

amnesty on 25 occasions” “Prisoners sentenced to death can give gifts in order to

make merit for next world or observe fasts. It is my wish that in this way, even if prisoners’ time are limited, they can prepare for next world.”

Allowed them leave for the outside 1 day of year Requested same merciful actions from neighboring


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“All should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions to promote tolerance, mutual respect, religious harmony & protection of all religions”

“To harm another's religion is a harm to one's own religion.”

Gave donations to ascetics of Jainism, Hinduism Invited Buddhists & non-Buddhists for religious conferences Believed that a king should treat his subjects same way a

father does. "All humans are my children. As every father desires good & happiness of his children, I wish that all humans should be well & happy always.“

Believed that happiness of people was happiness of the ruler

Kingdoms surrounding his were turned to well-respected friends, in peaceful co-existence

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Sent monastics to teach at various regions in India & beyond its borders

Built thousands of temples & stupas in India - Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, Sanchi Stupa, Sarnath, Sariputta Stupa & Barabar cave temples in Bihar; edicts in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Dhamek

Helped to develop Nalanda & Taxila Universities Inspired Buddhist monastics to compose sacred

religious texts & gave help for this “Whoever splits Sangha which is now united, is not

to be admitted into it. Whoever, whether monk or nun, splits Sangha is to be made to wear white clothes & reside somewhere other than in monastery (Minor Pillar Edicts 2)

Organised 3rd Buddhist Council (c. 250 BC) at Pataliputra (today's Patna) to resolve disputes among monks

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Animal Rights “Respect for all living creatures, refrain from killing” “No living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in

sacrifice” (1st Rock Edict at Girnar) Reduced killing of hundreds of animals in his kitchen

to only 3 a day & in time, not even these were killed Animals giving milk to their young & young ones less

than 6 mths old are protected Set list of protected animals, fish, birds, insects Prohibited cruelty to domestic & wild animals Built world’s 1st animal hospital (Edict Established wildlife reserves Forests not to be burnt without reason One animal is not to be fed to another Instituted law against hunting & fishing for sport &

limited them for consumption only Against rituals & banned Vedic animal sacrifices Introduced vegetarianism on certain days

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Good Governance Appointed ‘Dhamma Mahamatras’ (religious officers)

to establish & promote welfare & happiness of all devoted to Dhamma

Work among soldiers, chiefs, Brahmans, householders, women, the poor, aged, proper treatment of prisoners & those devoted to Dhamma, among peoples on western borders - so that they may be free from harassment

“They will go on tours of inspection each year to ascertain if judicial officers are acting according to king's instructions”

“Whatever efforts I am making is to repay debt I owe to all beings to assure their happiness in this life & attain heaven in the next”

Credited with 1st serious attempt to incorporate Buddhist values in Govt. & set new model of statesmanship

He sought to legitimise his rule not through descent from heaven, but by supporting & earning approval of people & monastics (sangha)

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Asoka Pillars & Rock Edicts Erected pillars to mark main sites in life of Buddha Inscribed on rocks & pillars his policies & reforms based

on Buddha’s teachings in India, Nepal, Pakistan & Afghanistan

Pillars made of sandstone, btw 40 & 50 ft. high & weigh 50 tons each

Quarried at Chunar, south of Varanasi, dragged, hundreds of miles, to where they were erected

10 pillars, 10 major rock edicts, 19 minor rock edicts remained

4 texts used - Kharoshti, Greek, Aramic & Brahmi Inscription 1st deciphered in 1837 by James Prinsep in

Delhi Most remarkable set of inscriptions in world Provide knowledge about his life, administration, spread

of Buddhism in India, Pakistan, Rome, Greece, Egypt & Mediterranean (Edict 13)

Record his compassion & most remarkable - his remorse after the wars

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Edicts described Asoka as "Beloved of Gods“ Asoka: “This edict has been written that “people

might follow it & it might endure for long time. One who follows it properly will do something good”

“Written so that it might endure long & it may please my successors to devote themselves to promoting Dhamma & not allow it to decline”

“So that my sons & great-grandsons may not consider making new conquests, or that if military conquests are made, they be done with forbearance & light punishment, or better still, they only consider making conquest by Dhamma”

“These Dhamma texts, reverend sirs, I desire that all monks & nuns may constantly listen to & remember. Likewise laymen & laywomen, I have this written that you may know my intentions” (Minor Rock Edict 3)

Edicts recorded donors from 4 fold sangha to building of temples & stupas

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Asoka: “Whether I am at dinner or in ladies’ apartments, in my private study, in royal mews, in my carriage or walking in palace gardens, wherever I may be, I have given orders that any matter of importance shall be reported to me without delay”

“I am never completely satisfied with my efforts & way business is despatched. It is welfare of all people that I must work for & that means constant effort”

“Whatever exertions I may make are all for one end - that I may discharge my debt to all living beings & that while I may succeed in making some people happy here, they may in next world attain to heaven.”

Assured his unconquored neighbours that they could live without fear of him. “All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, I desire their welfare & happiness both in this & next world, that I desire for all men.”

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His inscriptions are so “transparently honest - no boastings of his treasures, wealth, pomp or power, no vain, glorious inscriptions like other emperors

Most famous pillar at Sarnath - marks site where Buddha preached 1st sermon to 5 monks

4 lions placed back to back, keeping guard over ‘Chakra’ (Wheel of Righteousness) of Buddha

Lion symbolises Asoka's imperial rule, kingship of Buddha & signifies his enlightenment

On 22 July 1947, ‘Chakra’ adopted at centre of National flag of India, replacing spinning wheel of pre-independence versions of flag

‘Chakra’ also became National Emblem of India Following Asoka's example, kings established

monasteries, funded construction of stupas & supported ordination of monks in their kingdom

“Kalinga war thus became one of decisive events in history of world” (Vincent Smith in ‘Oxford History of India’)

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Asoka’s pillar to mark site where Buddha was born

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Asoka’s pillar at Bodhgaya, place of Buddha’s Enlightenment

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Pillar records Asoka building hospitals for humans & animals

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These pillars have Edicts of King Asoka

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Inscriptions on one of the Pillars

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One of the Stupas

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 Stupa was built by Asoka around 3rd century BCE

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Stupa & Asoka Pillar, Vaishali, Bihar

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Stupa constructed by Asoka

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Spread of Buddhism outside India

Asoka promoted this peaceful religion by sending many monks throughout India & countries eg. Sri Lanka, Burma south east Asian countries, Egypt & west Asian countries

His son, Venerable Mahindra & daughter Venerable Sanghamitra (friend of Sangha) established Buddhism in Sri Lanka by converting King, Queen & their people

Following Ashoka's example, kings established monasteries, funded construction of stupas & supported ordination of monks in their kingdom

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Ven.Sanghamitta brought branch of Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka

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Recognition for Asoka

1992 - Asoka ranked No.53 on Michael H. Hart’s list of most influential figures in history

2001 – His life was produced by Bollywood titled ‘Asoka.’ Film was directed by Santosh Sivan & stars Shahrukh Khan as Ashoka & Kareena Kapoor as Kaurwaki, a princess of Kalinga

"Amidst tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd columns of history, their majesties & graciousness & serenities & royal highnesses & the like, name of Asoka shines & shines, almost alone - a star.“ (British historian H.G. Wells)

According to many European & Asian historians, age of Asoka was age of light

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Conclusion First known emperor in history who taught lesson of

unity, peace, equality & love Reflects his deep spirituality – kindness, self-

reflection, truthfulness, gratitude, purity, enthusiasm, loyalty, self-control & love of Dhamma

Asoka's subsequent aim was not to expand territories but welfare of his subjects & animals

No evidence of mutiny or civil war during his reign Today, with widespread disillusionment, in search

for political policy that goes beyond greed (capitalism), hatred & delusion (dictatorships), Asoka's edicts can make meaningful contribution to development of a more just & spiritual political system

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