Dhamma is a Prakrit form of Sanskrit means Dharma (law). Ashoka’s Policy of Dhamma is a set of edicts that formed a policy of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, who succeeded to the Mauryan throne in modern-day India around 269 C.E. Many historians consider him one of the greatest kings of ancient India for his policies of public welfare.
The Policy of Dhamma was an earnest attempt at solving some of problems and tensions faced by a complex society.
Besides these Ashoka’s Dhamma did not involve worship of any god , or performance of sacrifice. He felt that just as a father tries to teach his children , he had a duty to instruct his subjects . He was also inspired by the teachings of Buddha .
There were a number of problems that troubled him. People in the empire followed different religions , and this sometimes led to conflict.
- Animals were sacrificed.
- Slaves and servants were ill treated .
- Besides , there were quarrels in families and amongst neighbours.
Ashoka felt it was his duty to solve these problems . So , he appointed officials known as Dhamma Mahamatta who went from place to place teaching people about dhamma.
- Ashoka got his messages inscribed on Rocks and Pillars , instructing his officials to read his message to those who could not read themselves .
- Ashoka also sent messengers to spread ideas about Dhamma to other lands , such as Syria , Egypt ,Greece and Sri Lanka .
- He built roads , dug wells and built rest houses . Besides , he arranged for medical treatment for both human biengs and animals .
The following are the Main Principles of Ashoka’s Policy of Dhamma:
- People should live in peace and harmony.
- Everyone should practise the principle of ahimsa, i.e. non-violence and non-injury to all living beings.
- People should love one another and display respect and tolerance towards other religious faiths.
- Children should obey their elders and elders should treat children with understanding.
- People should be truthful, charitable and kind to all, even towards servants and slaves.
Main Features of The Ashoka’s Policy of Dhamma
The edicts gave Asoka the opportunity to expound his dhamma. While different major rock edicts talk about various aspects of the dhamma, the Major Rock Edict XI contains an elaborate explanation of the dhamma, apart from dealing with charity and kinship of humanity.
It clearly indicates that Dhamma was a secular teaching. From this major rock edict as well as the other major rock edicts we can mention the following as the main features of the dhamma:
1. Major Rock Edict I:
- Prohibition of animal sacrifices and festive fathering’s.
2. Major Rock Edict II:
- Describes the medical missions sent everywhere (land of Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras, Keralaputras, Ceylon, Antiochus) for men and animals.
- Plantation of medicinal herbs and trees and digging of wells along the roads.
3. Major Rock Edict III:
- On 12 years of his consecration, Yuktas (subordinate officers) rajukas (rural administrators) and the Pradesikas (head of the districts) were ordered to tour every five years and propagate Dhamma.
- It also mentions about being generous to Brahmans and sramanas and obedient to one’s mother and father, friends and relatives.
4. Major Rock Edict IV:
- The sound of the drum has become the sound of Dhamma showing the people the divine form.
5. Major Rock Edict V:
- Mentions about the introduction of the institution of the dhamma-mahammatas, the officers of the Dhamma in his fourteenth year of reign.
- It also mentions about human treatment of servants by masters and of prisoners by government officials.
6. Major Rock Edict VI:
- It-makes the relationship between the king and his subjects via the Mahamattas more clear and now the Mahamattas are told to make their reports to the king at any time and place.
7. Major Rock Edict VII:
- It pleads for toleration amongst all sects.
8. Major Rock Edict VIII:
- In the tenth year of his reign Asoka went on a visit to Bodh-Gaya, to see the Bodhi-tree. Following this event he started a system of Dhamma-yatas which is described in this edict.
- Dhamma-yatas were occasions when he toured the country for the furtherance of Dhamma.
9. Major Rock Edict IX:
- All ceremonies are useless except Dhamma which includes respect for others and regard even for slaves and servants and donations to sramanas and Brahmans.
10. Major Rock Edict X:
- In this edict, Asoka denounces fame and glory and reasserts that the only glory he desires is that his subjects should follow the principles of Dhamma.
11. Major Rock Edict XI:
- It contains a further explanation of Dhamma.
- Here he refers to the gift of Dhamma, the distribution of Dhamma, the kinship thorugh Dhamma.
12. Major Rock Edict XII:
- It is a direct and emphatic plea for toleration amongst the various sects.
13. Major Rock Edict XIII:
- It is among the most important document of Asokan history.
- It clearly states that the Kalinga war took place eight years after his consecration.
- It mentions about the replacements of bherighosa (sound of war drums) by dhammaghosa (sound of peace), i.e., conquest through dhamma instead through war.
14. Major Rock Edict XIV:
- It is a short edict in which Asoka explains that he has had these edicts inscribed throughout the country in complete or abridged versions.