Brief note on Ashoka’s Dhamma

The scholars believe that the Dhamma (the Sanskrit Dharma) which Ashoka tried to propagate was not simply the teachings of Buddhism, but it contained the noblest ideas of humanism which are the essence of all religions.

His pillar and rock edicts enlighten us about Ashoka’s idea of Dhamma. The positive aspect Ashoka’s policy of Dhamma is that he laid stress on:

  • Daya (compassion),
  • Dana (charity),
  • Suchita (purity),
  • Sadhuta (saintliness),
  • Samyama (self-control),
  • Satyam (truthfulness), etc.

At the same time he laid great stress on obedience and respect for parents, preceptors, elders, etc. Thus, Ashoka put great emphasis on pursuing a popular code of conduct that would make a man a useful member of the society. Many of these aspects bore a striking resemblance to Confucianism.

Ashoka had also said that proper performing of Dhamma required abstention from pursuing some conducts. By it he asked men to:

  • Avoid papam (sin) which was generated from krodha (anger),
  • Irsha (jealousy), as well as nishthurata (cruelty), etc. These ideals are more or less common to all the religions. To him, therefore, goes the credit of conceiving the idea of a universal religion.

According to R.K. Mukherjee, the Dhamma may be regarded as the precursor of some modern reformist movement. Ashoka’s Dhamma was a moral law independent of any caste or creed. The greatest virtue of Ashoka’s Dhamma was its catholicity and tolerance to all other religions and sects.

Propagation of Dhamma: For the purpose of permanently recording the doctrines of the Dhamma, Ashoka inscribed them on rocks and pillars. He also appointed a special class of officers called Dhamma-Mahamatras for propagating Dhamma and for promoting its practice throughout the kingdom. He sent his emissaries to the independent kingdoms of southern India and to Hellenistic kingdoms to propagate his ideas.

As an integral part of Dhamma he tried to promote the welfare of men and beasts by digging wells, planting trees, establishing hospitals, etc. To facilitate medical treatment he planted medicinal herbs not only within his kingdom, but also outside its limit as well for the benefit of the inhabitants of those countries, which shows his greatness as a ruler and as a man.

Though Ashoka embraced Buddhism, he remained a true humanist. Inspired by the idea of humanism Ashoka tried to propagate true humanitarian ideas to all.

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