The following rock pillar inscriptions were planted throughout the Mauryan Empire of India, from around 264 to 233 BCE. They are stone carved memoranda of instruction from King Ashoka to his officials and subjects.
I lifted this translation from B.G. Gokhale’s book, Ashoka Maurya. Apart from a few textual and punctuation simplifications, the only changes I made were in the way King Ashoka addressed himself within these rescripts. Sometimes, Ashoka called himself the Prince, the King, King Devanampiaya Piyadasi, Devanampiaya, or Piyadasi, the last two meaning ‘Beloved of the Gods’ and ‘Of Benevolent Mien.’ For simplicity’s sake, I replaced them all with “King Ashoka.”
How often have you heard about Hitler, Genghis Khan, Alexander and other des Grossen butchers of history? How often about King Ashoka and his unsung moral peers?
Compare his rescripts with recent political declarations; note how little progress we’ve made. Then compare them with the rantings of Hitler, Stalin and like weapon demagogues given a lot more coverage; compare them with today’s decrees. “Primitive” states have outshone modern society on moral grounds; present-day moral progress is illusory.
You might suppose that Ashoka was some minor princeling who indulged his eccentricities among a handful of subjects. No way. His empire encompassed most of South Asia and boasted many rich cities, a massive army and a sophisticated civil service.
If King Ashoka could dedicate his life and administration to moral enlightenment, so can modern leaders. It would be a matter of heaving every anchor, releasing every sail at once, and leaving raft-loads of shrieking reactionaries bobbing in our wake. They’d change their tune soon enough, once they realized how much more profitable PeaceWorld would be. Few holdouts would remain to cry “Havoc!” when so many more began singing of peace. This hymn to peace that Learners should sing in chorus, Ashoka carved out its first verses in stone.
We need not follow Ashoka’s exact bidding. But while he forged ahead along the straight and narrow path, we loiter in the brambles and bemoan unjust fate. His heroic attempts to reach the moral high ground were neither utopian, idealistic nor unrealistic—as those words are misused today. Ashoka’s example remains magnificent and practical, a model for anyone with a little common sense and pride in idealism: a foundation to build upon.
For all I know, Ashoka’s reign may have been a tissue of hypocrisy, contradictions and vicious lies. The king may have preached peace while weapons mentality held sway among his sneering subordinates. Or not. His rescripts must have been recited to his followers and obeyed whenever possible. One more good deed done and one less bad one would have justified all his efforts.
We could share better rescripts with fewer tedious prohibitions, and obey them as best we could whenever possible. That could only do us good. We enjoy far more latitude than Ashoka’s followers. On PeaceWorld, the payoffs of better behavior would snowball and finance many more.
It is immaterial whether Ashoka succeeded, whether we succeed or not today. He did his heroic best – that’s important – and we must do so with even nobler heroism. Conserving the status quo or whining about it without making any significant change: that lets us off the hook too easy. Reaching out for the impossible … now, there’s a task worthy of our genius!
In comparison, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and like-minded militancies show their (weapon mentality) claws to progress. Yet they retain equally key components of peace.
We must reach into the collective superconscience and extract the best religious ideals from that hidden treasure trove. Then, perhaps awkwardly at first, we may begin to restore them. As soon as the elephant’s transplanted brain takes root in its planet-sized skull, many doors to peace will open up before us; each new entrance more propitious—leading us deeper and deeper into peace, as in a dream.
Paul Lackman wondered what Ashoka’s opinion would have been of the Hindu custom of sati. One or two grieving widows threw themselves onto their husband’s funeral pyre; later, others were “encouraged” to carry out this tradition by force. Ashoka would have objected to other habits some Hindus and their Muslim descendants consider proper today: such as burning new brides alive for inadequate dowries, and acid-scarring unavailable damsels (so-called honor crimes).
In private correspondence, B.G. Gokhale informed me that the custom of sati was “probably introduced by the Scythians, who appear in Indian history sometime during the 2nd to 1st centuries BCE.” He was kind enough to let me include his entire translation of Ashoka’s rescripts in Learner. Thank you, good soul.
In cultures other than Ashoka’s, a tyrant’s habit of sacrificing householders as part of his funeral ceremony may have served a purpose more pragmatic than hysterical. Only one successor and his retinue were required after a tyrant’s death. Every other attendant, concubine and offspring was a potential rival, conspirator and assassin. Tyrants, lions (and apparently, porpoises) are remarkably similar in their use of lineal violence to eliminate genetic rivals.
But we could set aside this kind of rivalry, like the tired bickering of the partners in a bad marriage. We could sing hymns of peace more often and with more feeling.
But let Ashoka tell his own story …
Inscription 1: This rescript on morality has been commanded to be written by King Ashoka. Here no animal may be slaughtered and offered in sacrifice. No convivial assembly, too, may be held. For King Ashoka sees many a blemish in convivial assemblies. But there are some assemblies considered good by King Ashoka. Formerly in the kitchen of King Ashoka, every day hundreds of thousands of animals were slaughtered for curry. But now, since this rescript on morality has been written, only three animals are slaughtered for curry: two peacocks and one deer, and that deer, too, not always. Even these three animals will not be slaughtered, hence.
Inscription 2: In all the dominions of King Ashoka, even on the frontiers and in the territories of the Cholas, Pandiyas, Satiyaputra, Keralaputra, even up to Tambraparni, and in the domains of the Greek King Antiochus and his neighbors, everywhere King Ashoka has arranged for two kinds of treatments, of men and of animals. And those medicinal herbs that are beneficial to men and animals have been brought, and are planted wherever they did not exist. Roots and fruits too have been brought, and planted wherever they did not exist. On the highways, wells have been dug and trees planted, for the use of men and animals.
Inscription 3: King Ashoka says thus: Twelve years after my coronation have I ordered thus! Everywhere in my dominions (administrative officers) will embark on tours of inspection every five years, for the inculcation of morality and other such works. (They will instruct my subjects that) obedience to father and mother is excellent, liberality to friends, acquaintances and kinsmen, to Brahmins and ascetics is excellent; excellent is abstention from the slaughter of animals; and abstemiousness and few possessions are excellent. The Council will also order the officers to enforce these, both in the letter and spirit.
4: For a long time in the past, for many hundreds of years, have increased the sacrificial slaughter of animals, violence toward creatures, unfilial conduct toward kinsmen, improper conduct toward Brahmins and ascetics. Now, with the practice of morality by King Ashoka, the sound of war drums has become the call to morality. As has not come to pass for many hundreds of years, through the rescript of morality issued by King Ashoka, and by the exhibition of heavenly mansions, elephants, columns of fire and other heavenly forms, all this has increased, namely: the non-slaughter of animals for sacrificial purposes, non-violence toward beings, proper attention to kinsmen, proper attention to Brahmins and ascetics, the welfare of mother and father, the welfare of the aged, and many other kinds of moral behavior; all these have increased. This shall increase further. And the sons, grandsons and great grandsons of King Ashoka will further the practice of morality, until the very end of the universe, by standing firm in morality and character, and will instruct therein. That, indeed, is the best of deeds, namely, the inculcation of morality. For those lacking in character, the practice of morality is not possible. Hence good, verily, is the furtherance of morality and the decrease in immorality. For this purpose, this has been commanded to be written, that everyone shall exert for the progress of morality, and not for its decrease. This has been commanded to be written by King Ashoka, since he was crowned twelve years ago.
5: King Ashoka says thus: Benevolence is difficult; he who performs a benevolent act accomplishes something difficult. I have performed much that is benevolent. Benevolence shall also be practiced by my sons, my grandsons and their descendants, even until the very dissolution of the universe. But he who neglects even a part hereof, does evil. To commit sin, indeed, is easy.
In times past, formerly, there were no morality officers. Since I was crowned thirteen years ago, I have appointed morality officers. They are engaged with votaries of all faiths, for the firm establishment of morality, for its progress, for the happiness here and hereafter, of those who are devoted to morality. They are employed among the Greeks, Kambojas, Gandharas, Rashtrikas, Petenikas, and among the frontier peoples.
They are employed among the servants and masters, among Brahmins, the destitute and the aged, for their benefit and happiness, for the removal of hindrances for those devoted to morality. They are engaged in helping those incarcerated, in preventing harassment, and in securing release of those who have large families, or have been overwhelmed with calamity, or are old. Here in Pataliputra or elsewhere, they are employed in all towns, in all the harems of my brothers, and the establishments of my sisters and other kinsmen. They are employed among all those who are devoted to morality, or are established therein, everywhere in my dominions. For this purpose has this rescript on morality been written, that it may long endure, and that my subjects may practice it.
6: King Ashoka says thus: For a long time past, the speedy dispatch of business and reporting at all times, did not exist. That I have done. At all times, whether I am eating, or in the women’s apartments, or in the inner chambers, in the cattle-pen or riding, or in the garden, everywhere reporters are posted, so that they may inform me of the people’s business. Everywhere, I transact the people’s business. Whatever I command orally, whether it concerns a gift or a proclamation, or whatever that is entrusted to officers, or whenever there is an urgent matter in dispute, or a deliberation in the Council, the matter may be reported to me speedily, in all places and times. This I have commanded. I am never too satisfied with exertion or the dispatch of business. For I regard the welfare of the people as my chief duty. The basis of that is exertion, and the proper dispatch of public business. There is no other work more important than the welfare of all people. And why? For the discharge of my debt to the people, so that I may give happiness to some here, and win heaven hereafter. For this purpose, this rescript on morality has been written, that it may last long, that my sons, grandsons and great grandsons may exert for the welfare of the entire world. This is most difficult of accomplishment, except through strenuous effort.
7: King Ashoka desires that all sects may live everywhere. All of them desire restraint and purity of the mind. But men are of diverse desires and passions. They will practice all (points of their faith), or only a part. Even for a generous man, if he has not restraint, purity of mind, gratefulness, or steadfastness in faith, there is no greatness.
8: For a long time past, kings used to go on pleasure tours, such as hunting and other amusements. But since he was crowned ten years ago, King Ashoka went on a pilgrimage (to the place) of Enlightenment of the Lord. Therein his tour of piety comprised visits to Brahmins and ascetics, charity, and visits to the Elders (of the Buddhist Order), and gifts of gold, and visits to the country folk, instruction in the law or morality, and inquiries pertaining thereto. The pleasure thereof is great indeed, exceeding any other.
9: King Ashoka says thus: People perform many and diverse propitious ceremonies. In sickness, or the marriage of sons and daughters, or for the gift of a son, or for (safety in) a journey; in these and other matters, people perform diverse propitious ceremonies. And in this, wives and mothers particularly indulge in ceremonies that are useless and empty. But ceremonies would be performed, though such ceremonies are of little value. But that, indeed, is a very valuable ceremony, namely, the ceremony of morality. It comprises proper treatment of slaves and servants, respect toward teachers, restraint toward living beings, gifts to Brahmins and ascetics, these and many such others are the ceremony of morality. Now, therefore, this should be said by a father, or a son, or a master, or a husband, a friend or an acquaintance, or a neighbor. This is good; this is the kind of ceremony that should be performed apurpose.
And this too has been said: charity is good. There is no charity or favor (greater) than the gift of morality or the favor of morality. And in this, an acquaintance or a friend, or a kinsman, or a companion should instruct: this should be done, this is good. By this, heaven may be gained. What is more worthy of performing for the accomplishment of heaven, than this?
10: King Ashoka does not think glory or renown great, but the renown or glory he may acquire if the people hearken to and act upon the Law of Morality he has enjoined. For this alone King Ashoka wishes for glory and renown. Whatever exertion King Ashoka undertakes, it is solely for the hereafter. And what is that? That all may be without blemish. Blemish is sin. That indeed, is difficult of accomplishment by high or low, except through the highest exertion and renunciation of all possessions. But his is indeed most difficult, for one of high rank.
11: King Ashoka says thus: There is no gift like the gift of morality, praise of morality, sharing of morality, or kinship with morality. It comprises proper treatment of slaves and servants, proper support of mother and father, liberality to friends, relations and kinsmen, Brahmins and ascetics, non-slaughter of beings. This should be addressed by a father to his son, brother, or friend, relation or kinsman, or even by a neighbor: this is good, this should be done. Acting thus, he secures this world and the next, and acquires infinite merit, by that gift of morality.
12: King Ashoka honors all sectarians and those who have renounced household life, as well as householders, with liberality and honors of various kinds. But King Ashoka does not value gifts or honor for themselves. Why? For there should be growth of the Essential among all sects. That Essential is of many kinds. But the root of that is restraint in speech. Why? There should not be glorification of one’s own sect, and denunciation of the sect of others, for little or no reason. For all sects are worthy of reverence, for one reason or another. Acting thus, one helps grow one’s own sect, and does good to the other’s sect. Acting otherwise, he belittles his own sect and does ill to the sect of another. He who glorifies his own sect and denounces the sect of another, does so because of love for his own sect. And why? (That) his own sect may shine brighter. Acting thus, however, he harms his own sect. Harmony is good. Why? That people may listen to each other’s doctrine. This is the wish of King Ashoka. What is it? All sectarians may be learned in the lore of another, and fare well on the benevolent path. Those who are pleased with this, should speak thus. King Ashoka considers no liberality or honor greater that the growth of the Essential of all sects. For this purpose are engaged the morality officers, and officers in charge of women and herdsmen, and other groups. And this is its fruit: that one’s sect is advanced, and that moral truth is illumined.
13: Eight years after his coronation, King Ashoka conquered the Kalingas. In that (conquest), one hundred and fifty thousand people were deported, one hundred thousand were killed or maimed, and many times that number died. Thereafter, with the conquest of Kalinga, King Ashoka (adopted) the practice of morality, love of morality, and inculcation of morality. For there arose in King Ashoka remorse for the conquest of Kalinga. For when an unsubdued country is conquered, there occur such things as slaughter, death and the deportation of people, and these are regarded as very painful and serious by King Ashoka. Brahmins and ascetics live everywhere, as well as votaries of other sects, and householders who practice such virtues as support of mother and father, service to elders, proper treatment of friends, relatives, acquaintances and kinsmen and slaves and servants, and steadfastness in devotion to duties. They, too, suffer injury (separation from loved ones), slaughter and deportation of loved ones. And for those whose love is undiminished, their friends, acquaintances, relatives and kinsmen suffer calamity. And that is an injury to them. This plight of men is regarded as serious by King Ashoka. Outside of the territory of the Greeks, there is no land where communities such as those of Brahmins and ascetics are not to be found. Nor is there any land where men do not have faith in one sect or another.
Hence, whatever the number of men then killed or wounded and died and were deported at the annexation of Kalinga, a hundredth or a thousandth part, even, is regarded as serious by King Ashoka. Furthermore, if anyone does wrong, that person should be suffered, or pardoned. To the forest folk who live in the royal dominions of King Ashoka, it may be pointed out that the king, remorseful as he is, has the strength to punish wrongdoers who do not repent. For King Ashoka desires that all beings should be safe, self-restrained, tranquil in thought, and gentle.
King Ashoka considers the victory of morality as the greatest. And this victory has been accomplished by King Ashoka, up to all his frontiers, even to a distance of six hundred yjanas, where the Greek King Antiochus rules, and beyond Antiochus’ realm, in the dominions of the four kings called Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magus and Alexander, downwards into the dominions of the Cholas and Pandyas, even up to Tamraparni. Similarly, in the royal domains where live the Greeks, the Kambojas, Nabhaks, Nabhapantis, Bhojas, Pitinikas, Andhras and Paridas, everywhere people follow the instruction in morality by King Ashoka. And wherever the ambassadors of King Ashoka have fared, there, too, people hear of his moral acts, his teaching and his instruction on morality, and they follow morality, and will do so.
Whatever has been gained by this victory of morality, that has been pleasant. This happiness has been secured through the victory of morality, yet even that is not as great for King Ashoka, as the gain of the next world. For this purpose this rescript on morality has been written, that my sons and great grandsons should cease to think of new conquests, and in all the victories they may gain, they should be content with forbearance and slight punishment. For them, the true conquest should be that of morality; all their delight should be delight in morality, for benefit in this world and the next.
14: This rescript on morality has been commanded to be written by King Ashoka. Some of it is short, some medium-length, and other(s) extensive. Everything has not been given everywhere. For my dominions are large, wherein much has been commanded to be written and will be written. But some has been repeated again and again, for its very sweetness, for the people to follow it. In some places, it may be incorrectly written because of incompleteness, for want of space, or because of damage to the stone, or an error of the scribe.
Separate Rock Edict 1: By the command of King Ashoka, the Princes and high officers of Tosali are to be addressed thus: Whatever I perceive, that I desire to be put into practice by appropriate means. In this I hold my instruction to you, to be the principal instrument, for you are appointed over thousands of human beings, in the expectation that you will win the affection of all men. All men are my children. Just as I desire that my children fare well and be happy in this world and the next, I desire the same for all men ... You may not comprehend what all this means. Some individuals may understand this, but some may understand it only in part and not entirely. You must ensure this, that this policy is well carried out. There may be some who may suffer imprisonment or torture, and in some cases there may be imprisonment without due process, causing suffering and grief. In this you must follow a course of moderation in justice. But there may not be success, because of certain mental blemishes such as envy, the loss of balance, harshness, impatience, lack of application, sloth and weariness. But you must ensure that you do not display these blemishes. The basis of the whole matter lies in preventing the absence of loss of balance, and haste in the implementation of principles. He who is slothful is not likely to exert himself. But you must act, move ahead in your official duties. You must ensure this. And for this, you must be told: discharge the debt in this wise, King Ashoka advises. Compliance with these instructions will be very fruitful; non-compliance, harmful. Non-compliance will secure neither the next world, nor the service of the king. And why do I emphasize this so much? For your compliance will win you the next world, and you will discharge your debt to me.
This proclamation must be made on the Tishya constellation days, and in the interval between the Tishya days, and may be read aloud even to a single person. Acting in this wise, you will obey my instructions. This Edict has been inscribed for this purpose, that the town officers may exert themselves always, that none be imprisoned or tortured without due process. To ensure this, I shall dispatch the high officers on tours of inspection every five years, who are neither harsh nor wrathful, and are efficient and honest in their acts, for they will know my intent and act accordingly. The Prince at Ujjayini, however, shall send out similar inspection teams every three years. This holds true for Takshashila, too. The high officers on their tours of duty, will perform their functions in the awareness of my instructions.
Separate Rock Edict 2: (Beginning text similar to Separate Rock Edit 1) ... The unsubdued frontier peoples may wonder what the king designs for them. But my desire toward them is that they should understand that the king will forgive them, as far as it is possible to forgive. For my sake, they should practice the Law of Morality and win this world and next. For this, I instruct you thus. This is the way to make you understand my will, my resolve and promise, and discharge my debt to the people. Thus should you act. The people must be assured, so that they may think that the king is to us even as a father, he feels for us even as he feels for himself, for we are to him even as his children. My resolve is firm and so is my promise, and I command unto you my will and my instruction. My messengers and special officers will contact you soon. For you are able to assure the frontier peoples, and ensure their welfare in this world and next. Acting thus, you will gain the next world and discharge your debt to me. For this purpose has this Edict has been commanded to be written, that my high officers may engage themselves for all the future, in inspiring the frontier peoples and making them advance in the Law of Morality. This should be proclaimed by recitation, on the Tishya day in all seasons and months, and also in the intervals. On special occasions, it may be recited even to one person. Acting in this wise, you will comply with my instructions.
Minor Rock Edict 1: From Suvarnagiri, by order of the Prince and high officers, the high officers of Isila are to be wished well and addressed as follows: for more than two and one-half years since I have been a lay-devotee, I have not been exerting myself energetically. But for over a year since I approached the Order, I have been exerting myself strenuously. In this time, men who were separate from the gods in Jambudvipa have now mingled with them. This, verily, is the result of exertion. And this may be accomplished, not by the great alone. For even a smaller man through his exertion can accomplish the great heaven. For this purpose this message is proclaimed: that the great and small alike may exert themselves, that even the frontier peoples may know about it, and that such great exertion may long endure. This will increase and further increase, at least one and one-half times.
And for this purpose this must be written on rocks. This must be spread all over your jurisdiction. This proclamation I have made while on a tour for 256 nights.
Minor Rock Edict 2: King Ashoka says this: Mother and Father must be shown due respect; likewise the elders; proper regard for living beings must be firmly established, truth must be spoken. These values of morality must be propounded: pupils must honor teachers; kinsmen must be well regarded. This is the ancient law of long duration; this must be practiced. Written by the scribe Chapada.
Bairat Stone Inscription: Ashoka, the Magadhan King salutes the (Buddhist) Order, and wishes them good health and comfort.
Sirs, you are aware of my reverence and faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saga. Whatever has been said by the Lord Buddha has been well said. However, Reverend Sirs, it occurs to me that the good doctrine may long endure, the following passages of the good doctrine may be especially pointed out, to wit: The Vinaya Glorified, the Powers of the Elect, the Dangers of the Unknown, the Song of the Sage, the Discourse on Seclusion, the Question of Upatishya, the Advice to Rahula on Falsehood spoken by the Lord Buddha. I desire that many monks and nuns may listen to and meditate upon these, and so should the male and female lay-devotees. For this purpose, Sirs, I cause this to be written, in order that people may know my wishes.
Barabar Hill Cave Inscriptions: Since he was crowned twelve years ago, King Ashoka gave this Banyan Cave to Ajivikas.
Since he was crowned twelve years ago King Ashoka gave this cave in the Khalatika Mountain to the Ajivikas.
Since he was crowned nineteen years ago King Ashoka declares: “I have given this cave in the very pleasant Khalatika Mountain.”
Samchi-Sarnath-Kaushambi Edict: To the high officials (of Pataliputra and Kaushambi), this is the command of King Ashoka: “I have united the Order. No one, monk or nun, shall split the Order. Whosoever, monk or nun, causes a schism in the Order, shall be made to wear white garments and expelled from the community.” This command should be proclaimed to the Order of the monks and nuns. King Ashoka says this: such an order must be posted on the highways within your jurisdiction. A copy of this should be made available to the lay-devotees. On the fasting days, the lay-devotees should familiarize themselves with this order. Within your jurisdiction, you should expel the schismatic. Similarly, you must ensure the expulsion of the schismatic in all forts and districts, in accordance with this command.
It is my desire that during the times of my sons and great grandsons, even so long as the sun and the moon endure, the Order may live completely united.
Kandahar Inscription (Greek version): Ten years after his coronation, King Ashoka instructed the people in morality. After that, he made the people practice morality more and more.
There is prosperity in all the world.
The king refrains from violence to living beings, as do the others, and even the hunters and fishermen refrain from killing.
Those that were unrestrained have practiced restraint, as much as it was possible for them to do.
Obedience to father and mother and elders has in the past led to a better life, and will do so in future, with the practice of the rules given above.
Kandahar Inscription (Aramaic version):
Ten years after his coronation King Ashoka began to follow the true pattern of life. After that, evil decreased for all men, and misfortune disappeared due to the exertion of the king.
There was peace and happiness all over the earth. And this also happened, namely: the few animals that were slaughtered for royal food have not been slaughtered, and even the fishermen have been commanded to desist from fishing.
Those who were unrestrained, now practice restraint. There is obedience to father and mother and elders, as ordained, and all those devoted to morality live confidently.
All of this has benefited all men, and will do so in future.
Rummindie Pillar Inscription: Here worshipped King Ashoka when he was crowned twenty years ago, for here was born the Buddha, the sage of the Shakyas. A figure of an elephant and a stone pillar were set up. And because the Blessed One was born here, the village of Lumbini was exempted from taxes and partook of prosperity.
Nigali Sager Pillar Inscription: Since he was crowned fourteen years ago, King Ashoka enlarged the Stupa of the former Buddha Konagamana for the second time. And after twenty years since he was crowned, he came here in person to offer worship and set up a stone pillar.
Queen’s Edict: By the command of King Ashoka, the high officials everywhere are to be addressed thus. Whatever gift is given by the Second Queen, to wit: mango-grove, garden, or almshouse, or any other, is to be regarded as her gift. These must be reckoned as the gifts of the Second Queen Kuruvaki, the mother of Tivara.
Pillar Edict 1: King Ashoka says thus: This rescript on morality has been commended to be written by me, since I was crowned twenty-six years ago. Happiness in this world and the next is difficult to achieve, except through utmost devotion to morality, keen introspection, complete obedience, fear of evil, and great exertion. Now, because of my instruction, this reliance on morality and devotion to it have increased daily, and will increase. My officers, too, whether of the highest, the middling, or of low rank, must follow my instruction and practice it, so that they may encourage the weak or hesitant as much as they can. Similarly the high officers of the frontiers must act. And this should be the norm of conduct, that administration must conform to morality, that legislation should be according to morality; this alone can make people happy according to morality, and protect them according to the law of morality.
Pillar Edict 2: King Ashoka says thus: Morality is good. But what is morality? Few blemishes, much merit; compassion, liberality, truth and purity. Of my gifts there are many kinds, for I have given the gift of eyes (truth), and I have conferred many benefits on bipeds and quadrupeds alike, even unto birds and creatures that live in the waters, even to the extent of the gift of life. And I have done benevolent deeds of many other kinds. For this purpose this rescript on morality is commanded to be written, that it may be acted upon and may last long. He who accomplishes this, does good.
Pillar Edict 3: King Ashoka says thus: One sees only good actions; I have done this good deed. One does not see evil; I have done this evil, or that this is a blemish. These are difficult to notice. But one should see this: that anger, ruthlessness, wrath, pride, envy, all these result in evil. May these not cause my degradation. And this must be seen especially, this is beneficial to me, in this world and the next.
Pillar Edict 4: King Ashoka says thus: Since I was crowned twenty-six year ago, I have commanded this rescript on morality to be written. My officers are appointed (to rule) over many hundreds of thousands of people. I have given them freedom in judging cases and inflicting punishments. Why? Because these officers must function fearlessly and confidently, and strive to ensure the benefit and happiness of city people and country folk; that they shall show favor to people, and comprehend what caused happiness or suffering to them. And they shall instruct the city people and the country folk in the principles of morality, so that a beneficial here and hereafter may be ensured. These officers are keen to serve me, and will instruct their agents about my intentions. And they shall inform the officers about the ways in which the officers may act to please me. For even as a man who has given over his child to the care of a skillful nurse says, “the skillful nurse is energetic enough to look after my child’s happiness”; so the officers have been appointed to ensure the benefit and happiness of the country folk, in the expectation that they may perform their functions fearlessly, confidently, quietly, and without distraction. For this I have granted my officers freedom in judging cases and inflicting punishments.
This much is desirable. And what is that? Equality in judicial proceedings and equality in penalties. And henceforth, this is my rule: that to those in prison, condemned to death, a grace period of three days has been granted by me. For during this time, their kinsmen will urge them to ponder over the possibility of sparing their life; or in case there is none to do this, then to meditate, give charity, or perform acts of fasting for the next life. For this is my desire: that even in this short time, they may serve the next world, and that among people, the practice of morality of various kinds may grow, to wit: self-restraint and the distribution of charity.
Pillar Edict 5: King Ashoka says thus: Since I was crowned twenty-six years ago, I have made inviolate the species, to wit: parrots, starlings, arunas, brahmany ducks, wild geese, nandimukhas, gelatas, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, vedaveyakas, gangapuputakas, skate, turtles, squirrels, Borasting stags, Brahmany bulls, rhinoceros, white pigeons, common pigeons, all quadrupeds that are not in use or are not eaten. Similarly she-goats, ewes and sows, whether young or milch, are inviolable; also young ones within six months of age, are not to be killed. Cocks must not be caponed. Husks with living things in them, must not be burnt. Forests must not be burnt, just for mischief or to destroy living things in them. Life must not be fed on life. On the three seasonal full moon days, and on full moon days of the month of Tichya, for three days in each instance, to wit: the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the first half of the lunar month, and the first day of the second half of the lunar month, as well as on fast days through the whole year, fish must not be killed or sold. During these days, in the elephant-forests and fishponds, no other species of animal must be destroyed.
On the eighth day, the fourteenth day and the fifteenth day in each fortnight, as well as on the Tishya and Punarvasu days, no bulls must be castrated, nor must goats, rams, boars or other animals be castrated.
On the Tishya and Punarvasu days, on the seasonal full-moon days, and during the fortnight of the seasonal full moons, horses and kine must not be branded. Since I was crowned twenty-six years ago, I have granted twenty-five jail deliveries.
Pillar Edict 6: King Ashoka says thus: Since I was crowned twenty-two years ago, I have commanded rescripts on morality to be written for the benefit and happiness of the world, so that the giving up of old ways may lead to the advancement of morality. This do I desire, the benefit and happiness of the world. To wit, I may accomplish the happiness and welfare of some of my relatives and persons near and far, for which I may provide accordingly. In the same manner, I regard all communities. I have honored all sects by diverse acts of worship. But this is the chief thing, namely, personal attention to the needs of the people. Since I was crowned twenty-six years ago, I have commanded this rescript on morality to be written.
Pillar Edict 7: King Ashoka says thus: In times past, Kings used to desire thus. How shall we make the people progress in morality? But the people did not progress appropriately in morality. But how may the people be encouraged to act so that they progress in morality? In what way can I help at least some of them to progress in morality? In this King Ashoka says thus. “This occurred to me. I shall cause the proclamation of morality to be proclaimed; I shall cause instruction in morality to be given so that people may practice it, and will advance themselves in it, and thus will grow mightily the law of morality.”
For this purpose proclamations on morality have been made, instructions of diverse kinds in morality commanded so that my agents, appointed to rule a multitude of people, may expound and expand my teachings. My officers, too, set over many hundreds of thousands of men, have also been commanded by me thus: Instruct in this, and thus the people (will be) devoted to morality.
King Ashoka says thus: With this very intention, have I set up monuments to morality, appointed morality officers, and caused proclamations of morality.
King Ashoka says thus: On the highways, banyan trees have been planted so that they may afford shade to men and animals, mango-groves have been planted, wells have been dug at an interval of every half a kos, resting places have been set up, watering places have been established, for the benefit of animals and men. But the joy thereof has been slight indeed. In many ways, kings in the past, as well as I, have attempted to comfort the world. I have done this in the desire that they may practice morality.
King Ashoka says thus: My morality officers have engaged themselves in acts of royal benevolence in diverse ways. They are engaged among those who have renounced the world, as well as the householders, and among all sects. I have ordered them to be engaged in the welfare of the Order, and also the welfare of Brahmins, Ajivikas, Nigranthas and other sects.
These high officers will engage themselves in their diverse and respective duties, whereas the morality officers are engaged specifically among all denominations, in addition to other duties.
King Ashoka says thus: These, and many other officers, are engaged in distribution of royal charity, on my account as well as on the Queen’s account, and in all the royal households, here and in the provinces; also in dispensing charity on behalf of my sons and other princes, so as to promote meritorious acts and encourage the practice of morality; so that compassion, generosity, truth, mindfulness, gentleness and goodness will progress among mankind.
King Ashoka says thus: Whatever good I have done, has indeed been accomplished for the progress and welfare of the world. By these shall grow virtues, namely: proper support of mother and father, regard for preceptors and elders, proper treatment of Brahmins and ascetics, of the poor who are destitute, slaves and servants.
King Ashoka says thus: Men have been enabled to progress in morality by two means, namely: by moral regulation and persuasion. But regulations are of little effect, whereas persuasion is of higher efficacy.
I have made diverse moral regulations, such as declaring classes of being inviolate; and many other kinds of moral regulations have I promulgated. By persuasion I have accomplished the growth of morality among men, through non-violence and the non-slaughter of creatures. That has been done for this purpose, namely: in the time of my sons and grandsons, even as long as the sun and moon endure, this shall be practiced. Doing this, this world and the next may be secured. Since I was crowned twenty-seven years ago, have I commanded this rescript on morality to be written.
King Ashoka says thus: Wherever there are stone pillars or slabs, there these rescripts on morality must be inscribed, so that it may long endure.