Asoka’s Dhamma

Asoka’s Dhamma
NEED OF DHARMA

1. There was considered intellectual ferment around 600 B.C. healthy rivalry was apparent among the number of sects such as the Charvaks, Jains and Ajivikas, whose doctrines ranged from bare materialism to determinism. This intellectual liveliness was reflected in the elected interests of the Mauryan rulers. It was claimed by the Jainas that Chandragupta was supporter and there is evidence that Bindusara favoured the Ajivikas.
Thus, the Empire of Asoka was inhabited by peoples of many cultures who were at many levels of development. The range of customs, beliefs, affinities, antagonisms, tensions and harmonies were galore. True,Magadha and the fringes of these areas. The north was in close contact with the Hellenized culture of Afganisthan and Iran. The far south was on the threshold of a creative efflorescence of Tamil culture. The ruler of such as Empire required the perceptions were addressed to the public at large. It is in these inscriptions that the king expounds his ideas on dhamma.
It appears, Asoka aimed at creating an attitude of mind among his subjects in which social behavior was accorded the highest place. The ideology of dhamma can be viewed as a focus of loyalty and as a point of convergence for the then bewildering diversities of the Empire. In a way, Asoka’s dhamma was akin to the preamble in the constitution ofIndia.
2. A centralized monarchy demands oneness of feeling on the part of its people. The ethics of the dhamma was intended to generate such a feeling, comparable to the preamble of the Indian Constitution.
3. The Mauryan Society with its heterogeneous elements and with economic, social and religious forces working against each other posed the threat of disruption. Asoka, therefore, needed some binding factor to allow the economic activity to proceed on an even keel and thereby ensure the security of his state.
4. Also as the commercial classes gained economic importance and resented the inferior social status as per the sanctions of the Brahmins, they want over to Buddhism, which preached social equality. Their support to the Mauryan king was very vital for the peace and prosperity of the Empire. Asoka thought that he could attract them by the propagation of this dhamma by weaning them away from too closely identifying themselves with Buddhism.
5. Asoka felt that the aforesaid forces of contrary pulls would threaten the peace of the realm not in the general interest of his Empire. Asoka’s dhamma therefore, was intended to serve a practical purpose.
The dhamma was not meant to be a religion but what behooves a man of right feeling to do, or what man of sense would do. Such being the nature of his dhamma, it is primarily an ethic of social conduct.
Asoka’s Moral code is most concisely formulated in the second Minor Rock Edict.
Thus saith His Majesty:
‘Father and mother must be obeyed; similarly respect for living creatures must be enforced, truth must be spoken. These are the virtues of the law of Duty (or “Peity”. Dhamma) which must be practisd. Similarly, the teacher must be reverenced by the pupil, and proper courtesy must be shown to relations.
This is the ancient standard of duty (or “Piety”) – leads to length of days and according to this men must act.
The three obligations – of showing reverence, respecting animal life, and telling the truth – are inculcated over and over again in the edicts.
Besides, it was meant for all – Buddhists, brahmins, Jains and Ajivikas, In the way, it was the sara or the essence of the good principles of all religions. Also, while pleading on behalf of his dhamma, Asoka passionately appealed for toleration towards all religions and a reverence for each other.
Had this dhamma got anything to do with Buddhist principles, Asoka would have openly stated so in his edicts since he never southt to hid/his support for Buddhism. For that matter, Asoka did not incorporate any of the fundamental tenets of Buddhist faith such as the Four Noble Truths, the chain of casualty the sacred eight-fold path, and the Nirvana. The omissions, also with repeated reference to the concept of svarga or heaven (a Hindu belief) show that his dhamma cannot be identified with Buddhism.
Since Asoka’s dhamma was not intended for the cause of Buddhims during his dharama-yatras, he not only visited various places of Buddhist importance, but also gave gifts to sramanas and Brahmins. Most of all, even after entrusting the propagation of dhamma to the Dharma Mahamatras, Asoka continued to style himself as the beloved of the devas, a Hindu concept, since there were no Gods in Buddhism at that time.
SUCCESS OF HIS DHARMA
Asoka specifically states that his missions were sent to various places (Ceylon and various Western countries) and maintains that they were all successful. It is difficult to accept this claim because historical evidence shows that his officials overshot the mark. Definitely, there was resentment against their way of doing things. It is known from evidence that Asoka presumed that not only he was a seeker of truth but also he did reach the truth. Such convictions are always harmful. Most of all, it is important to note that there is no authentic proof that his missions were a success. Significantly, none of Asoka’s successors continued the propagation of dhamma. Far worse is the fact that in the later ages, his pillar inscriptions came to be misunderstood as symbols of phallus.
The splendour of the ‘Dark Centuries’
The five centuries which passed between the decline of the first great Indian empire of the Mauryas and the emergence of the great classical empire of the Guptas has often been described as a dark period in Indian history when foreign dynasties fought each other for short-lived and ephemeral supremacy over Northern India. Apart from Kanishka’s Indo-Central Asian empire which could claim to be similar in size and importance to has china, the parthians of Persia and to the contemporary Roman empire this period did lack the glamour of large empires. But this ‘dark period’ particularly the first two centuries AD was a period of intensive economic and cultural contact among the various parts of the Eurasian continent. Indian played a very active role in stimulating these contacts. Buddhism which has been fostered by Indian rulers since the days of Ashoka was greatly aided by the international connections of the Indo-Greeks and the Kushanas and thus rose to prominence in Central Asia. South India was establishing its important links with the West and with Southeast Asia in this period. These links especially those with southeast Asia, proved to be very important for the future course of Asian history.
But India it self experienced important social and cultural changes in this period. For centuries Buddhism had enjoyed royal patronage. This was partly due to the fact that the foreign rulers of India found Buddhism more accessible than orthodox Hinduism. The Vedic Brahmins had been pushed into the background by the course of historical development all though Hinduism as such did not experience a decline. On the contrary new popular cults arose around gods like Shiva, Krishna and Vishnu-Vasudeva who had played only a marginal role in an earlier age. The competition between Buddhism which dominated the royal courts and cities and orthodox Brahminism which was still represented by numerous Brahmin families every where left enough scope for these new cults to gain footholds of their own, of great importance for the further development of Hinduism and particularly for the Hindu idea of kingship was the Kushana rulers identification with certain Hindu gods – they were actually believed to attain a complete identity with the respective god after their death.
Religious legitimation was of greater importance to these foreign rulers than to other Indian kings. Menander’s ashes had been distributed according to the Buddhist fashion and Kanishka was identified with Mithras but wima kadphises and Huvishka were closer to shiva as shown by the images on their coins. Huvishka’s coins provide a regular almanac of the iconography of the early Shiva cult. The deification of the ruler which was so prevalent in the Roman and Hellenistic world as well as among the Iranians was thus introduced into India and left a mark on the future development of Hindu Kingship.
Another future of crucial importance for the future political development of India was the organization of the Shaka and Kushana Empires had been, but were based on the large-scale incorporation of local rulers. In subsequent centuries many regional Empires of India were organized on this pattern.
The most well-known contribution of the ‘dark-period’ was a course, to Indian art. After the early sculptures of the Mauryas which were greatly influenced by the Iranian style, a new Indian style, a new Indian style has fist emerged under Shungas and their successors in the Buddhist monuments of Bharhut and Sanchi which particularly showed a new style of relief sculpture. The merger of the Gandhara school of art, with its Graeco-Roman style and the Mathura school of art which included ‘archaic’ Indian elements and became the center of Indo-Kushana art, finally led to the rise of the Sarnath school of art. This school then set the pattern of the classical Gupta style.
Less-well-known, but much more important for the future development of Hindu society, was the compilation of the authoritative Hindu law books (dharmasastra), the foremost of them being the code of Manu which probably originated in the second or third century AD. After the breakdown of the Maurya and Shunga Empires, there must have been a period of uncertainty, which led to renewed interest in traditional social norms. These were then codified so as to remain inviolate for all times to come. If we add to this the resurgence of Sanskrit, as testified by Rudradaman’s famous rock inscription of the second century AD. We see that this ‘dark-period’ actually contained all the element of the classical culture of the Gupta age, Thus the many splendoured and much maligned ‘dark-period’ was actually the harbinger of the classical age.

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Posted on June 7, 2011, in General Studies, India at a glance, Indian History, Study Material. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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