Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Contributions of King Asoka in the 3rd Century B.C. towards the spread of Buddhism




The king Asoka was the third ruler of Maurya Empire who ruled almost entire of Indian continent and it was one of the greatest empires in India of all time. He supported Buddhism in order to spread every part of India and outside of India. He was not a Buddhist but followers of Jainism as following of his family religious belief. According to Buddhist literary sources, he became a Buddhist and follow Buddhism zealously after the end of war. The kind Asoka was main supporter to spread Buddhism throughout of Indian and outside of India in the 3rd century. It is a clear that Buddhism was the most influential and dominates religion during Asoka ruling. Although he was a pious king of Buddhism and support much amount of money to build monasteries, pagodas, monument and other social activities, he had the power to control to all Sangha community and we can know clearly about that he could managed the Sangha community with his power. So the time of Asoka reign was one of the most glorious times in India histories despite Buddhism was fading and eventually died out from India after he passed away. Although Buddhism disappeared in India, Buddhism was flourished in other parts, particularly in Southeast Asia. 



Asoka Early life
   Asoka was born in 304 B.C and the meaning of Asoka is “happiness or without sorrow or without grief”. Since his father Bindusara had been ruled the country, Asoka had been trained and learned to be a militaristic ruler. And he was known as the most intelligent among many sons of his father. He was strong, fearless and had a great military skill.
Asoka was the grandson and second successor of Candragupta, who founded Mauryan dynasty and empire about 324 B.C.[1]
As described in paragraph, Asoka was the grandson of the founder of Mauryan dynasty Candragupta.  He was son of Bidusara the second Mauryan emperor and he had many half-brothers because his father Bidusara had several wives. Since young age, he was good at fighting and good at hunting as well. And he was strong young prince that he could even kill a lion with only a wooden rod. This was the reason why he was recognized as fearless, cruel and heartless young prince.
According to Buddhist literature sources, in his youth Ashoka was known to be a man of fierce temperament and called Canda Ashoka (fierce Ashoka).[2]
As a prince, Asoka was cruel person in his young age and he had ruthless character on others. As soon as he has known the situation of his father about to death, he immediately went to the capital, Pataliputra and occupied it and also killed all the princes. Asoka had a plan to expand his empire by establishing of powerful military.  According to Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, after his father Bidusara passed away, he had battle with his brothers that took 2 years and he killed 99 of his brothers in order to possess the throne. And he had to wait for four years for the crown moment in order to become the third Mauryan Empire ruler.
 At the thirteen rock-edicts described that many lives were devastated by war and many thousands of people were deported and captive.
Beloved of the God, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousands were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved of the God came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma.[3]
Asoka ruled the country as his grandfather Candragupta did, and he used military power to expand his empire. At the eight years of his reign, he defeat and invaded Kalinga kingdom. At war conquest of Asoka, people were devastated, thousands of people were killed, several thousands of people were injured and many thousands of people were arrested and put in the prisons.
After finished the war, King Asoka felt unhappy over the war, because many thousands of innocent people were killed by this war,  he was at pain, profound sorrow and regret thinking of about war what he did and turning out  into the pious life. Cruel king Asoka became transferred into a kind and pious king Asoka. He felt immense grief over the thousands of innocent death by war. After the battle of Kalinga, he decided not to make any war or not more killing any innocent live but to live in peacefully and religious way. He inspires other people in his country not to involve in the conflict or commit evil action but try to develop virtue, morality, and principle. And many edicts inscribed on stone pillars throughout of countries in order to inform the people about his new philosophy and concept. He made up his mind to make no more war but propagate more of Dhamma. In this case, what does mean by Dhama? It is not clear that the word Dhama used by Asoka is not refereeing to the Buddha’s Dharma. It seems that the word Dhama used by him is refer to social concern, moral conduct and religious tolerance rather than Buddhism.
According to Buddhist tradition, Asoka’s father Bindusara has favoured the Ajivaka religion. His grandfather Candragupta is said to have favoured Jainism. Asoka himself, like his father, favoured the Ajivakas in the early years of his reign, although all of these monarchs honoured the Brahmanic or “priestly” forebears of Hinduism.[4]
Before he converted to Buddhism, he had embraced the Ajivaka religion and also favoured Brahmanism as following of his father’s faith. And he supported Branhma and Jain ascetic monks. But after listening Dhamma by ethical conduct of novice Nigrodha young Buddhist monk, he interested in Dhamma and he converted to Buddhism and became a zealous follower of the Buddha.
When he had refreshed him with hard and soft food prepared for himself he questioned the samanera concerning the doctrine taught by Sambuddha. Then the samanera preacher to him the ‘Appamadavagga’. And when the lord of the earth had heard him he was won to the doctrine of the conqueror, and he said to Nigrodha: My dear, I bestow on three night perpetual supplies of the food.[5]
According to Mahavamsa, Asoka was interested in Buddhism, cherished the Dhamma and lived as the way of Buddhist life after he had been heard Dhamma from young novice Nigrodha. From that day, he donated foods for thousands of monks in his royal palace.
 He supported Buddhism more than other religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and otherwise. He lavished his wealth and built eighty-four thousands (84,000) pagodas and monasteries and generously supported four requisites for monks. His son Mahinda twenty years old and his daughter Sanghamitta eighteen years old were ordained and they had been striving to propagate Buddhism entire of his lifetime.
Asoka’s Contribution to Buddhism
His effort to expend the Dhamma around the country was effective and Buddhism was rapidly flourished from one part to another part of the country.
There he erected a pillar bearing an inscription which says that he visited the place to pay homage to the birth-place of the Buddha. Moreover, to commemorate his visit to the place he exempted the local people from paying taxes to his government.[6]
Asoka paid respect Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. He went pilgrimages to the Buddha holy places. He went to Lumbini garden where the Buddha was born, and he built a pillar carved inscription about his pilgrimage trip. He exempted the people from paying tax who came to visit and paid respect the Buddha. And he pilgrimage to Buddha Gaya where the Buddha attained enlightenment. He supported Buddhism as much as he could in order to spread Buddhism. 
From that time onwards the revenues of the brotherhood were exceeding great, and since those who were converted later caused the revenues to increase, heretics who had (thereby) lost revenue and honour took likewise the yellow robe, for the sake of revenue and dwelt together with Bhikkhus. They proclaimed their own doctrines as the doctrine of the Buddha and carried out their own practices and even as they wished.[7]
 On the other hand, other ascetic monks had suffered and gained less supporting by King Asoka then they try to join with different ways into Buddhism to survive their life. Some ascetic monks from Jainism and Brahmanism became Buddhist monks in order to survive their life easily and even gave preached Dhamma wrongly which was not the Buddha’s teaching. They practice as they did in Jainism and Brahmanism. They lived together with moral and pure monks. The real monks were disturbed by those fake monks and held no Uposatha-ceremony and the ceremony of Pavarana for seven years in these areas and in Asokarama monastery.
After King Asoka aware of this case, he sent a minister to manage Sangha community, but misguided minister commanded and killed the monks who were not listened to him. Again King Asoka feel unhappy hearing of his minister’s brutal and heartless  action over the monk or  killing  who were not listen to him. And again the king searching the leader monk who could manage this matter and finally he had found the monk named Moggaliputtatassa Thera by suggestion of group monks, then he invited the monk to his palace and discussed to handle this problem. King Asoka learned doctrines and also credos for several days.
King Asoka judged each monk concerning the wrong doctrine or right doctrine in order to have pure Buddhism.
‘Sir, what did the blessed one teach?’ and they each expounded their wrong doctrine, the Sassata-doctrine and so forth. And all these adherents of false doctrine did the king cause to be expelled from the order; those who were expelled were in all sixty thousands. And now he asked rightly-believing bhikkhus: what does the Blessed One teach? And they answered: he teaches the Vibhajja-doctrine.[8]
King Asoka invited all monks to Asokarama monastery to investigate whether monks who follow the doctrine of the Buddha or not by asking their credos. Fake monks could not answer the question of Asoka but real monks could answer well. Then King Asoka had known clearly either moral or immoral monks and expelled who followed heresy. For those monks who answered well, he let them to stay as Buddhist monks. In this case, many thousands of monks were deported from the county by judging of King. Since sangha community is purified, monks hold Uposatha ceremony. We can note that King Asoka had the power even to commanded the Sangha community.
Third Buddhist Council
   Mogaliputtatassa pointed out Katha vitthu to all monks about right view and wrong view or heresy in order to survive pure Buddhism last longer. After finished talking about Katha vitthu to the monks, Mogaliputtatassa other monks hold the third Buddhist council by supporting of King Asoka. Mogapiputtatassa chose a thousands monks to participate in the third Buddhist council. The council was took 9 months to finished completely. Mongaloputtatassa talk about the Katha vitthu again at the third Buddhist council about for those who believed wrong view or had heresy and also removed from the country. In the first rock edict, he showed his loving-kindness on all beings which described not to kill any living beings.
Here no living being are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice. Nor should festival be held, for the Beloved of the God, King Piyadasi, sees much to objects in such festivals, although there are some festivals that Beloved of the God, king Piyadasi, does approve of.[9]
Asoka indicated his religious tolerance and appreciated of all lives whether human or animal. He banned killing animals whether in sacrifices or otherwise. He realized that huge number of animals were killed for human’s food every day and he has declared not to kill any animals whether for sacrifice of religions or food for human. Because he wanted the people to cultivate moral virtues, and to develop loving-kindness, compassion to all living beings. Asoka himself observed the moral conduct, practicing to have generous mind, kindness, purity, gentleness and respect to teachers as well as elders. And he advocated tolerance for all religious sects, such as the Sramanahs, Brahmins, Jain and Ajivikas.  He wanted all religious denominations to desist from self-praise and condemnation of others. We can note that how his idea is closed to Buddhism. He drew up a list different kinds of living beings which were to be exempted from slaughter. And he condemned the castration of animals and their branding on Buddhist holy days. He also released prisoners firm his prisons from time to time.
Asoka appointed religious officer in different province in order to help the people to follow pious life. He performed pious acts such as planting trees, digging wells, and opening hospitals in both places of his own land and neighbour.
As a pious Buddhist and in his effort to propagate to Buddhism, King Asoka build many monuments, monasteries, Buddha shrines and inscribed Dhamma on the rock and pillar in many places that we can explore and study  today.
King Asoka sent missionary to 9 regions
   Mongalitassa Thera decided to send religious missions to various places including outside of India by supporting of King Asoka. The king wanted to expand Buddhism all parts of India. This is why; he had sent religious missions to 9 regions.
When the Thera Moggaliputta, the illuminator of religion of the conqueror, had brought the (third) council to an end and when, looking into the future, he had beheld the founding of the religion in adjacent countries, (then) in the month Kattika he sent forth theras, one here and one there.[10]
According to Mahavamsa, He sent religious missionary to 9 regions are as follows
1 Majjhantika was sent to Kasmara-Gandhara region where he faced with fury the Naga king Aravala but he won by using his supernatural power and finally they convert to Buddhism. Later hundred thousand people converted to Buddhism.
2 Mahadeva went to Mahisamandala where he preached the Devaduta sutta, then many thousands of people converted to Buddhism and also few thousands of people became Buddhist monk by the leading of Mahadeva.
3 Rakkhita went to Vanavasa where he preached Anamatagga-samyutta. As result, sixty-thousand people were converting to Buddhism and thirty-seven thousands were became Buddhist monks as well as five hundred temples were established in the country.
4 Yonaka-Dhammarakkhita went to Aparantaka where he preached Aggikkhanopama sutta. There were thirty-seven thousand people converting to Buddhism and a thousand men and a thousand women were became Buddhist monk.
5 Mahadhammarakkhita to Maharattha where he preached Mahanaradakassapa jakata. Eighty-four thousand people embraced Buddhism and thirteen-thousand people become Buddhist monks. 
6 Maharakkhita to Yonakaloka where he preached kalakalama sutta and there a hundred and seventy thousand people converted to Buddhism as well as ten thousand people were became Buddhist monks.
7 Majjhima went to Himalaya region with other four monks where he preached Dhammacakkappavattana sutta and where hundreds thousands of people converted to Buddhism.
8 Sona and Uttara went to Suvannabhumi.
According to Burmese legend, people believe that Buddhism was introduced in Burma since the Buddha time and the Buddha even came to Burma for many times. There was a controversial issue regarding the region of Suvannabhumi because there was not particular place which called Suvannabhumi. And Thailand said, Suvannabhimi belong to Thailand, Burma also said the same thing. But we still cannot find the exact place of Suvannabhumi land. However, the land of Suvannabhumi might be called the region of some part of Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia. 
9 Mahinda, who was the son of Asoka, went to Lanka with other four monks where the Buddhism was the prominent and main religion till now.
Asoka had done many significant contributions for the expansion of Buddhism. His royal patronage to spread of Buddhism was great impact throughout of the kingdom and he was trying not only to spread of Buddha’s teaching throughout of the country but also maintain Buddhism as dominant religion during his reign. 
Conclusion
   Asoka was one of the greatest kings in Indian history and a pioneer of humanitarian value. By analysing of his great effort in order to expand Buddhism and other humanitarian activities, he was a role model of all human. Although he was a cruel or heartless prince in his young age, his remorseful consciousness could turn into truly a pious life by witnessing of massacre killing, carnage and suffering of war in which thousands of innocent people were killed. Buddhism was rapidly flourished all parts of India during the king Asoka ruling period. He lavished on establishing pagodas, temples, well and he even built hospitals for both human and animal. By patronage of King Asoka, the third Buddhist council was held at Pataliputra in order to remove those who practice which was not Buddhist teaching as well as to have pure doctrine or Buddhism. And Asoka sent Buddhist missionary to 9 regions which included both India and outside of India. We can see today some countries have been flourishing Buddhism such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. Asoka had been played a major role in the expansion of Buddhism and he had done many significant contributions for both religion and social welfare which are still highlighting to all human being as a great example today.



[1] Seneviratana, Anuradha, King Asoka and Buddhism: Historical & Literary Studies, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1994, P.1
[2] Bapat, P.V, 2500 Years of Buddhism, Publication Division: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Government of India, New Delhi, 1959, P.50
[3] Dhammika. Ven.S, The Edicts of King Asoka, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1993, P. 9

[4] Ross Reat. Noble, Buddhism: A History, Jain Publishing Company, Fremont, California, 1994, P.63
[5] Wilhelm Geiger, Ph.D, The Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle Of Ceylon, Oxford University Press, 1912, P.31
[6]Bapat, P.V. 2500 years of Buddhism, Government of India, 1959, P.51
[7] Wilhelm Geiger, Ph.D, The Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle Of Ceylon, Oxford University Press, 1912, P.46
[8] Wilhelm Geiger, Ph.D, The Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle Of Ceylon, Oxford University Press, 1912, P.46
[9]Dhammika,Ven.S, The Edicts of King Asoka, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1993, P. 1
[10] Wilhelm Geiger, Ph.D, The Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle Of Ceylon, Oxford University Press, 1912, P.82

 Photo credit - http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/ashoka-great-cruel-king-benevolent-buddhist-004259

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