MMW 2 Notes – Professor Chamberlain, Winter Quarter 2008
(Grandson of Chandra Gupta who conquered most of India, was helped
by Alexander causing disruptions on the western part of India, and allowed him to form a
new dynasty): Ashoka reigned from 269-232 BC
He also conquered a bit more territory.
He went on a public relations/information campaign and throughout his large dominion
he sets up inscriptions on rocks and pillars and columns. He is the first to do this in India
as far as we know. These inscriptions tell the people what is important to him. He seems
to be a convert to Buddhism, after he came to the throne. He didn’t try to convert
everybody to Buddhism, but he did talk a lot about Dharma.
Dhamra is used in both
Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
Ashoka is not specifically promoting Buddha Dharma,
but just Dharma in general, and he urges everyone in his large kingdom to follow
Ashoka seems to have had a life changing experience after a successful battle in the
south. And he experienced great regret for all of the killing which was involved in the
The first rock inscription talks about Ashoka’s profound regret at all of the death because
of the conquest, he doesn’t regret it enough to go into private life and become a Buddhist
monk, but he became devoted to the study of Dharma.
Why do we think he became a Buddhist?: He regrets taking so much life (in proto-
Hinduism you just worry about doing your duty, not about taking life), he says he will
give up killing and violence (wont have any preemptive wars, or aggressive wars), in
Buddhist writings he is portrayed as a saint.
He was a convert but didn’t promote
The edicts were lost for hundreds of years, and many of them got moved around, and the
writing could no longer be read for hundreds of years until the 19
archeology was getting started, and in the 20
century scholars turned their attention to
them. He did not have them written in Sanskrit, because he wanted to reach people and at
that time Sanskrit was like Latin, a language of learning and sophistication, and the
average person spoke a different language, so the pillars were written in the common
language. They are the earliest Indian writing that we have (the only surviving writing we
have). Another problem with deciphering these things, is that Ashoka doesn’t use his
name, but there is a title. It took a long time for people to figure out who this ruler was
who styled himself preadasi. Then someone had the idea that it was Ashoka, and now the
scholarly world today believes they are the edicts of Ashoka.
Confucious would have liked Ashoka’s way of ruling, by being a virtuous ruler. He