Monday, November 19, 2012

King Ashoka (Maurya: 324-187 BC)


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According to the Pāli historical chronicles of Sri Lanka, the Dīpavaṃsa and Mahāvaṃsa, the coronation of Emperor Aśoka (Pāli: Asoka) is 218 years after the death of Buddha. According to two textual records in Chinese (十八部論 and 部執異論), the coronation of Emperor Aśoka is 116 years after the death of Buddha. Therefore, the time of Buddha's passing is either 486 BCE according to Theravāda record or 383 BCE according to Mahayana record.

Buddhist proselytism at the time of king Ashoka (260–218 BCE)

"In the 3rd century B.C., King Ashoka convened a Third Council of the noble Sangha; the teachings were recited to discuss difference of opinions. The teachings of the meeting were compiled into a book called Kathavathu and became known as Sthaviras, “Theravada or Teaching of the Elders.” The Abhidharma was recited openly at this Council and then Mahayana became more widely known. After that time many texts were committed to writing, in Pali for the Shravakayana and in Sanskrit for the Mahayana. After this Council, King Ashoka sent missionaries through India to Sri Lanka, Kashmir, remote Himalayan regions, Burma, and China. Thrangu Rinpoche tells us that during the Third Council, the complete collection of Vinaya, Sutras, and Abhidharma were read and that the Arhats corrected what had been written during the Second Council, so that from then on there would be no distortions, no misinterpretations, no alterations of the Buddha’s true words. This was the work of very learned Arhats who had a great deal of spiritual insight and an extremely clear understanding."......

"The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty during his reign from 269 BCE to 231 BCE. These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history. According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created......"

"In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as "Beloved of the Gods" and "King Priya-darshi." The identification of King Priya-darshi with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription discovered in 1915 by C. Beadon at Maski, the village in Raichur district of Karnataka. Another minor rock edict is found at the village Gujarra in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh. This also shows the Name "Asoka" in addition to usual "Devanam Piyadasi". The inscriptions found in the eastern part of India were written in the Magadhi language, using the Brahmi script. In the western part of India, the language used is closer to Sanskrit, using the Kharoshthi script, one extract of Edict 13 in the Greek language[citation needed], and one bilingual edict written in Greek and Aramaic[citation needed]. These edicts were deciphered by British archeologist and historian James Prinsep.....

In order to propagate the Buddhist faith, Ashoka explains he sent emissaries to the Hellenistic kings as far as the Mediterranean, and to people throughout India, claiming they were all converted to the Dharma as a result. He names the Greek rulers of the time, inheritors of the conquest of Alexander the Great, from Bactria to as far as Greece and North Africa, displaying an amazingly clear grasp of the political situation at the time.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT...(356-323 BC)..."Alexander of Macedonia shattered the power of the numerous petty kingdoms and tribal oligarchies of the Punjab in North-west India and created a political vacuum that was exploited by Chandragupta Maurya, who actually met Alexander in 327 BC. Chandragupta's grandson, Ashoka, ascended to the peacock throne of the Mauryas in 269 BC."

Under the reign of King Ashoka of the Indian Maurya dynasty (324-187 BC), Buddhism was helped to spread throughout the surrounding region. After his only conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka was so full of sorrow and remorse that he resolved to refrain from violence, took the vows of an upsaka (lay Buddha) and dedicated the rest of his life to helping spread Buddhism to distant parts of his Kingdom. A great number of Buddhist missionaries were sent to spread the teachings of Buddha, and rock edicts set up by Ashoka state that he sent some to his North-West territories.....In 1958, edicts inscribed on rock pillars promulgating the ethical standards of Buddhist teaching were discovered in Qandahar, Afghanistan and in 1962 a long inscription entirely in Greek (later identified as parts of Ashokas edicts) was found in the surrounding area. During the first century Balkh was famous throughout the region for its Buddhist temples and the Greek scholar Alexander Polyhistor mentions Buddhism's relationship with Iran and refers to Balkh and its temples specifically. It is widely agreed that without Ashokas patronage of Buddhism, it would have remained another minor Hindu sect as opposed to the world religion it is today.

"The 7th century Chinese pilgrim Hsuan-tsang observed a large number of Stupas in the Ashokan style [which were markedly different from the ones built later by the Kushanas] in the north-west, three at Taxila, five in Gandhara three near Jalalabad and dozens in Qandahar" (Emmrick 1983)

The Gandhāran Buddhist Texts (oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered, from ca. 1 CE) are attributed to the Dharmaguptaka school. And some believe that the founder of that Buddhist school was...a Greek ...."Dhammarakkhita (Pali, "protected by the Dharma"), was one of the missionaries sent by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka to proselytize the Buddhist faith. He is described as being a Greek (Pali yona) in the Mahavamsa, and his activities are indicative of the strength of the Hellenistic Greek involvement during the formative centuries of Buddhism. ( ......."One of the major missionaries was Yonaka Dhammarakkhita. He was...a Greek monk, native of ‘Alasanda’ (Alexandria). He features in the Pali tradition as a master of psychic powers as well as an expert on Abhidhamma.

Chandragupta....."Scholars believe that king Raghu, the hero of Kalidasa's Sanskrit play Raghuvamsha (4th/5th c AD) was in fact king Chandragupta Vikramaditya of the Gupta Dynasty. According to the epic,he had started a military expedition and after defeating and subjugating the local peoples along the way he reached the Parasikas of Sassanian Iran and defeated them after fierce fighting. Then he proceeded to north from Iran and reached river Vamkshu (or Oxus) where he battled with the Hunas. After conquering the Hunas, he crossed the Oxus and encountered the Kambojas, an ancient Iranian people who find frequent mention in South Asian texts.[.....Brihat Katha Manjari of Kashmiri Pandit Kshmendra (11th c AD) also claims that king Vikramaditya had slaughtered the Shakas, Barbaras, Hunas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Parasikas and the Tusharas etc. and hence unburdened the earth of these sinful Mlechhas. There is still another ancient Brahmanical text Katha-Saritsagara by Somadeva which also attests that king Vikramaditya had invaded the north-west tribes including the Kashmiras and had destroyed the Sanghas of the Mlechhas (reference to Sanghas here obviously alludes to the Sanghas of the Madrakas, Yaudheyas, Kambojas, Mallas or Malavas, Sibis, Arjunayans, Kulutas and Kunindas etc). Those who survived accepted his suzerainty and many of them joined his armed forces.

The Buddhist play Mudrarakshas of Visakhadutta as well as the Jaina works Parisishtaparvan refers to Chandragupta's alliance with Himalayan king Parvatka. The Himalyan alliance gave Chandragupta a composite army made up of the Yavanas, Kambojas, Sakas, Kiratas, Parasikas and Bahlikas as stated in the Mudra-rakashas.

"Ashoka......Kalhana claims that though it was situated far from the Mauryan capital (Pataliputra), Kashmir enjoyed all the benefits of Ashoka's benign rule. The provincial capital Shrinagari (Srinagar) was 'resplendent with prosperity and wealth.' According to some Buddhist writers including Taranatha, the Buddhist preacher Madhyantika introduced saffron cultivation into Kashmir. Buddhism and Shaivism flourished side by side in Kashmir during Ashoka's time and received the Emperor's patronage in equal measure. Kalhana notes that Ashoka built two Shiva temples at Vijayeshvara (Bijbihara), and ordered several others renovated. In Vitastatra (Vethavutur) and at Shuskaletra (Hukhalitar) he built a number of viharas and stupas. He deputed Madhyantika for the propagation of Buddhism in Kashmir and Gandhara.".......

"Most ancient Indian political theorists glorified war and kings displayed their power through military might. War was central to defining the epic traditions of early India, and it is described in graphic detail in the texts. However, few of the reigning monarchs of the period left records of their thoughts on the nature of human suffering as a result of war. One exception occurred during the period of Mauryan rule (321–185 BCE), which included one of the first attempts at empire-building on the Indian subcontinent. Emperor Ashoka Maurya, who in his edicts is called "Beloved of the Gods" (Devanampiya Piyadassi), invaded a region then called Kalinga in about 260 BCE. In his thirteenth Rock Edict, the emperor admits: "A hundred and fifty thousand people were deported, a hundred thousand were killed and many times that number perished." This record is unique, because the king also expresses remorse for the "slaughter, death and deportation of the people [that was] extremely grievous to the Beloved of the Gods and [had weighed] heavily on his mind. In the same record, Ashoka recognizes that everyone, from the Brahmins (priests) and shramans (ascetics) down to the ordinary householders, had suffered "violence, murder, and separation from their loved ones" (Thapar, 1997, pp. 255–256).".....


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….November 2012


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