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Ashoka Policy of Dhamma

Ashoka Policy of Dhamma

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Published by Ramita Udayashankar
Explain the salient features of Ashoka's policy of Dhamma and evaluate its impact on the downfall of Mauryan dynasty.
Explain the salient features of Ashoka's policy of Dhamma and evaluate its impact on the downfall of Mauryan dynasty.

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Published by: Ramita Udayashankar on May 08, 2013
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In spite of the prevalence of large number of sects and creeds, the votaries of different faithswere living in perfect harmony. Sometimes they even offered grants and endowments to oneanother. The Mauryan
religious charities were not confined to their own faithBrahmanism, but were liberally extended to Jainism and Buddhism also.Ashoka ascended the Mauryan throne around 269 BC. The diverse nature of the vast empireunder Ashoka was exposed to social tensions and sectarian conflicts. Ashoka deviced the policy of Dhamma, which later became famous, as it promoted a harmonious relationship between the diverse elements of the empire. His policy was neither a part of Jainism nor Buddhism, nor a teaching of Hinduism.The co-existence of the orthodox and the heterodox belief systems, of the contradictory philosophical orders and also of long tradition of common social ethics, made Ashoka drawupon the Dhamma
The essence of all religions as their common ground or root (mula)
” to
strengthen the bonds of mutuality and trust among the people.
Ashoka‟s policy of Dhamma has been a topic of discussion among historians. The word
Dhamma is the Prakrit form of the Sanskrit word dharma. It has been variously translated as piety, moral life, righteousness, and so on. However, many historians feel that Dhamma wasnot any particular religious faith or practice, so we should not translate Dhamma as religion.It was also not an arbitrarily formulated royal policy. Rather it was a way of life, a code of conduct and a set of principles to be adopted and practiced by the people at large. The policyof Dhamma was an earnest attempt at solving some of the problems that a complex societyfaced. However, the policy was nurtured in the mind of Ashoka and through it he attemptedto resolve some of the tensions within the society. In propagating the Dhamma, he aimed atthe social integration of the groups with the rest of the society and wished to cement therelations between the government and the people.The best way to understand what Ashoka means by Dhamma is to read his edicts. Ashokaused the medium of his edicts to expound the policy of Dhamma. The edicts were written primarily to explain to the people throughout the empire the principles of Dhamma. Most of the edicts have something or the other to say about Dhamma, i.e., about how keen Ashokawas that his subjects should practice Dhamma and how keen he was that the affairs of thestate too was carried out according to the principles of Dhamma. To make principle of Dhamma accessible and understandable to all, he put up edicts or inscriptions at the
important points throughout the empire and sent messengers of Dhamma outside the empire.Ashokan inscriptions are of various kinds such as Major rock edicts, Minor rock edicts, andPillar edicts. The rock edicts containing the principles of Dhamma have been found atShahbazgarhi, Mansera, Kalsi, Sopara, Girnar, Dhauli, Juagada, Chitaldroog, Rupnath,Sasaram, Bairat, Maski, and Bhabra. The pillar edicts have been found at Topara, Meerut,Kasumbi, Lauriya
Araraj, Lauriya
Nandangarh, Rampurva, Sanchi, Rummindei, and Nigliva.Regarding this Dhamma, Dr. Romila Thappar observes that
 Dhamma was Ashoka’s own
. It may have borrowed from Buddhist and Hindu thought but it was in essence anattempt on the part of the king to suggest a way of life which was both practical andconvenient, as well as being highly moral. It was intended as a happy compromise for thoseof his subjects who did not have leisure to indulge in philosophical speculation, in fact, themajority of his subject. Further she extended her views,
 Dhamma was aimed at building up an attitude of mind in which social responsibility, thebehavior of one person towards was considered of great relevance. It was a plea for thedignity of man and for humanistic spirit in the activities of society
.She also underlines the political rationale behind the propagation of Dhamma. She minimizesthe Buddhist ele
ment in Ashoka‟s Dhamma and asserts that there need
s to be no connection between personal beliefs of a statesman and his public proclamations. The institution of the
Dhamma mahamattas is one of the strongest arguments in support of the view that Ashoka‟s
Dhamma did not conform to the religious policy of any one of the existing religions of histime, and further that it was not a purely religious policy but in fact covered a more extensivefield, including broad aspects of economic, social, and political life. Dhamma was thereforean ideology intended to weld a sub continental society.
Ashoka‟s Dhamma emerges as a way of life incorporating a number of ideals and practices.The theme of ahimsa is an important aspect of Ashoka‟s Dhamma and is frequently
mentioned and emphasized. Rock Edict I declare prohibition of animal sacrifice and holidayof festive gatherings. Pillar Edict 5 refers to more sweeping prohibitions promulgated byAshoka, 26 years after his consecration.The good conduct and social responsibilities that were part of Dhamma were anchored tocertain key relationships. Rock Edict IX begins with a criticism of ceremonies performed by people, especially women, on occasions such as illness, marriage, birth, and setting forth on journeys. Rock Edict XI refers to the gift of Dhamma being the best of all gifts. It emphasisedon respecting our elders, proper courtesy to slaves and servants, abstaining from killinganimals, and liberty towards friends which is also the way in which ceremony of Dhamma is performed.
Another important aspect of Ashoka‟s Dhamma was the generation of mutual respect and
concord among people belonging to different sects or religious communities. This aspect of 
Dhamma has often been referred to as „
religious toleration
‟, a very po
or understanding of 
Ashoka‟s policy.
R. K. Mukherjee rightly stated that,
The Dhamma or religion which he preached in his edicts was not Buddhism or any particular creed. It was really the code of morals, the common foundation of the essence of all religions
 Rock Edict XII reflects the anxiety the king felt due to the conflict between sects and carrieshis plea for harmony.
Ashoka‟s inscriptions have a great deal to say about the Dhamma of the king. Rock Edict VI
talks of his ideas and goals
to promote the welfare of all his people, discharge the debt heowes to all beings, and ensure their happiness in this world and next. Rock Edict II mentionsmedical treatment of humans and animals, mentions construction of roads, wells, tree planting, etc. In his Rock Edict VII, Ashoka proclaims his desire that
all sects should settleeverywhere
”. The edict is a plea for toleration amongst all the sects.
From Ashoka‟s statements in his inscriptions it is clear that the Dhamma he propagates
consists simply of a set of desired forms of conduct and attitudes of mind. Rock Edict IIIdeclares that liberty towards Brahmanas and Sramanas is a virtue, respect to parents, etc areall good qualities. Rock Edict IV comments that due to the policy of Dhamma the lack of morality and disrespect towards Brahmanas and Sramanas, violence, unseemly behaviour tofriends, relatives and others and evils of this kind have been checked. Rock Edict V refers tothe appointment of Dhamma
mahamattas for the first time in the twelfth year of his reign.These special officers were appointed by the king to look after the interests of all sects andreligions and spread the message of Dhamma in each nook and corner of the society. Rock Edict VIII states that Dhammayatras (tours) would be undertaken by the emperor. Thisenabled the emperor to come in contact with various sections of people in the empire. Rock Edict X denounces fame and glory and reasserts the merits of following the policy of Dhamma. The Dhamma is also negatively defined as aparisravam, i.e. freedom from evil.Rock Edict XIII is of paramount importance in understanding the Ashokan policy of Dhamma. The Dhamma that is thus presented in these Edicts is another name for the moraland virtuous life and takes its stand upon the common ground of all religions.Regarding the Ashoka Dhamma, Dr. Ray Chaudhari has pointed out that,
 Ashoka preached the virtues of concord and toleration in an age when religious feelings ranhigh and disruptive influences were at work within the fold of the Jains and Buddhists. He preached non violence when violence in war, religious rituals, royal pastime and festive gathering was the order of the day. He eschewed military conquest not after defeat but after victory and pursued a policy of patience and gentleness while still possessed of the resourcesof a mighty empire
.He considered that Dhamma highlighted the moral and ethical principles common to allreligious beliefs.D.R. Bhandarkar points out that:
 Ashoka’s idea was to promote material and spiritual welfare of 
the whole world consisting not only of men but also of beasts and other creatures, not only again in his own kingdom but also over the world known or accessible to him
The source of his idea was his Dhamma. Ashoka‟s Dhamma is a code of certain ethical
 principles and humanitarian ideals with its universal dimension.

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