Ashoka and Dhamma

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UNIT 21 ASOKA'S POLICY OF DHAMMA
Structure
Objectives Introduction Historical Background
21.2.1 Socio-Economic Background 21.2.2 Religious Conditions 21.2.3 Polity

Distributiop of Inscriptions Dhamma - Causes Contents of Dhamma Asoka's Dhamma as State Policy Dhamma - Interpretations Let Us Sum U p Key Words Answers to Check Your Progress Exercises

21.0 OBJECTIVES
This Unit deals with Asoka's Policy of Dhamma. After reading this Unit you will be able to understand: the historical background of the formulation of the policy of Dhamma, the way Dhamma figures prominently in Asokan Edicts, the essence of Asoka's policy of Dhamma as explained by him and as manifested in his welfare activities, paternal attitude, etc., the distinction between Asoka as an individual-a believer in Buddhism and Asoka as an emperor initiating a state policy, and the various means employed by Asoka to propagate his policy of Dhamma-the role of the Dhamma mahamatras.

21.1 INTRODUCTION
Asoka Maurya, succeeded to the Mauryan throne around 269 B.C. Many historians consider him as one of the greatest kings of the ancient world. His policy of Dhamma has been a topic of lively discussion among scholars. The word Dhamma is the Prakrit form of the Sanskrit word Dharma. Dharnma has been variously translated as piety, moral life, righteousness and so on, but the best way to understand what Asoka means by Dhamma is to read his edicts. The edicts were written primarily to explain to the people throughout the empire the principles of Dhamma. This is why most of the edicts have something o r the other to say about Dhamma, about how keen Asoka W S ; that his subjects should practise Dhamma and how keen he was that the affairs of the state too were carried out according to the principles of Dhamma. T o make principles 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. It must be clearly understood that Dhamma was not any particular religious faith or practice; so we should not translate Dhamma (or its Sanskrit equivalent Dharma) as religion. It was also not an arbitrarily formulated royal policy. Dhamma related to norms of social behaviour and activities in a very general sense and in his Dhamma Asoka attempted a very careful synthesis of various norms which were current in his time. T o understand why and how Asoka formulated Dhamma and what he meant hy it, one has therefore to understand the characteristics of the time in which he lived' and to refer to Buddhist, Brahmanical and various other texts where norms of social behaviour are explained.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
To understand the various aspects of the policy of Dhamma and the reasons for its formulation we would necessarily need to sketch the historical background against which it became possible for Asoka to enunciate it. In the next three sub-sections we shall deal with this historical background.

Asoka's Policy of Dhnrnn

21.2.1 Socio-economic Background
The Mauryan period witnessed a change in the economic structure of the society. With the use of iron, resulting in surplus production, a changeover took place from a simple rural economy to a pattern of economy in which cities and towns also played an important part. It has been generally argued that the use of the Northern Black Polished Ware P0ttery.i~an indicator of material prosperity of the period. The use of Punch-marked silver coins and some other varieties of coins, the conscious intervention of the State to safeguard trade routes and the rise of urban centres point to a structural change in the economy requiring necessary adjustments in the society. The commercial classes had also come to the forefront. The emergence of urban culture by its very logic demanded a more flexible social organisation. The incorporation of tribes and peoples from the outlaying areas into the social fabric also presented a...
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