Ashoka’s Dhamma Policy
The Dhamma Policy of Emperor Ashoka the Great was guided with the mission of social welfare. We have a clear and precise idea about the constituents of Ashoka’s Dhamma from the attributes he mentions that fall under the term as well as the specific practices thereof.
In the 2nd and seventh Pillar Edicts Ashoka mentions the qualities that constitute his Dhamma. These are:
- Sadhave or bahukayane, i.e. much good,
- Apasinave, i.e. freedom from depravity,
- Daya, i.e. mercy,
- Dane, i.e. liberality,
- Sache i.e. truthfulness,
- Sochaye i.e. purity and
- Madav, i.e. gentleness.
Ashoka also left indication of how these virtues could be practiced or put into action. The enumeration of duties in this connection which vary slightly in difference inscriptions are as follows:
Daya means anarambha prananam and avihisa bhutanam i.e. non-slaughter of animate beings and non injury to creatures.
Dane means liberal behavior towards friends, acquaintances and relatives, also towards Brahmanas and Sramanas.
Madave means hearkening to parents, elders, seemly behavior to friends, relatives, acquaintances, Brahmanas and Sramanas.
By Sadhava or Kayana he means work of public utility and refers to his own doings in this regard, such as planting of trees by roadside, digging of wells and inns for travelling public. Establishment of healing arrangements of men and animals, etc. also falls under Sadhava or Kayana.
These are all on the positive side of Ashoka’s Dhamma Policy which one had to perform but there is also a negative side where one has to refrain from doing certain things. These are apasinava which mean freedom from asinava, i.e., sins like cruelly, anger, conceit and envy.
Ashoka also recommended self-examination and introspection to the followers of his Dhamma. He discouraged religious intolerance and stressed the virtue of Samavaya, i.e., concord among peoples of different religions. He clearly pointed out that “those who out of attachment to their own religion disparage the religion of others, in fact, do much harm to their own religion”. Thus Ashoka’s Dhamma is a comprehensive moral code, comprising positive as well as negative duties as well as warnings against falling victim to normal weakness such as religious bigotry or intolerance.
Now let us turn to the summum bonum or the ultimate end for which the Dhamma was to be practiced. Even here his Edicts come to our help. In the 6th Rock Edict Ashoka says that all his efforts are directed towards making his people happy in this world and in order that they may attain heaven in the next world. He also compares this world and the world hereafter. In one place he mentions that performance of Dhamma begets endless merit in the next world and enables men to attain heaven.