Two boulders with rock
After the Mauryan
emperor Ashoka (269-232), or Piyadasi, had conquered almost the entire
Indian subcontinent, he was sick of all violence (below),
and he converted to Buddhism and adopted a more pacifist world view. On
several places in India and Pakistan (and Bangla Desh and Afghanistan),
he left large rock edicts, in which he tried to establish dhamma,
justice, which the king defines as much good and little evil, kindness,
generosity, truthfulness and purity.
The texts are written
in the kharoshthi alphabet,
which is derived of the script used in the cancellery of the Achaemenid
empire. There are also vague stylistic similiarities between the edicts
of Ashoka and the Achaemenid rock inscriptions (e.g., the Behistun
inscription and the lower
inscription at the tomb of Darius
the Great), but there is probably no direct influence.
The translation of
these fourteen edicts was made
by Ven. S. Dhammika. A similar text, from Kandahar, can be read here.
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, has caused this dhamma edict to
be written. Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered
or offered in sacrifice. Nor should festivals be held, for the beloved
of the gods, king Piyadasi, sees much to object to in such festivals,
there are some festivals that the beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi,
Formerly, in the kitchen of the beloved of the gods,
hundreds of thousands of animals were killed every day to make curry.
now with the writing of this dhamma edict only three creatures, two
and a deer are killed, and the deer not always. And in time, not even
three creatures will be killed.
Everywhere within the beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi's domain, and
among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the
the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochus
rules, and among the kings who are neighbors of Antiochus,
everywhere has the beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, made provision
two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and
treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or
are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical
roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown.
roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, speaks thus: Twelve years after
my coronation this has been ordered - Everywhere in my domain the
the Rajjukas and the Pradesikas shall go on inspection tours every five
years for the purpose of dhamma instruction and also to conduct other
Respect for mother and father is good, generosity to friends,
relatives, Brahmans and ascetics is good, not killing living beings is
good, moderation in spending and moderation in saving is good. The
shall notify the Yuktas about the observance of these instructions in
In the past, for many hundreds of years, killing or harming living
and improper behavior towards relatives, and improper behavior towards
Brahmans and ascetics has increased. But now due to the beloved of the
gods, king Piyadasi's dhamma practice, the sound of the [war] drum has
been replaced by the sound of the dhamma. The sighting of heavenly
auspicious elephants, bodies of fire and other divine sightings has not
happened for many hundreds of years. But now because the beloved of the
gods, king Piyadasi promotes restraint in the killing and harming of
beings, proper behavior towards relatives, Brahmans and ascetics, and
for mother, father and elders, such sightings have increased.
These and many other kinds of dhamma practice have been
the beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, and he will continue to promote
dhamma practice. And the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of the
of the gods, king Piyadasi, too will continue to promote dhamma
until the end of time; living by dhamma and virtue, they will instruct
in dhamma. Truly, this is the highest work, to instruct in dhamma. But
practicing the dhamma cannot be done by one who is devoid of virtue and
therefore its promotion and growth is commendable.
This edict has been written so that it may please my
successors to devote
themselves to promoting these things and not allow them to decline. The
beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, has had this written twelve years
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, speaks thus: To do good is
One who does good first does something hard to do. I have done many
deeds, and, if my sons, grandsons and their descendants up to the end
the world act in like manner, they too will do much good. But whoever
them neglects this, they will do evil. Truly, it is easy to do evil.
In the past there were no dhamma Mahamatras  but
such officers were appointed by me thirteen years after my coronation.
Now they work among all religions for the establishment of dhamma, for
the promotion of dhamma, and for the welfare and happiness of all who
devoted to dhamma. They work among the Greeks ,
Kambojas, the Gandharas, the Rastrikas, the Pitinikas and other peoples
on the western borders. They work among soldiers, chiefs, Brahmans,
the poor, the aged and those devoted to dhamma -for their welfare and
so that they may be free from harassment. The dhamma Mahamatras work
the proper treatment of prisoners, towards their unfettering, and if
Mahamatras think, "This one has a family to support," "That one has
bewitched," "This one is old," then they work for the release of such
They work here, in outlying towns, in the women's quarters belonging to
my brothers and sisters, and among my other relatives. They are
everywhere. These dhamma Mahamatras are occupied in my domain among
devoted to dhamma to determine who is devoted to dhamma, who is
in dhamma, and who is generous.
This dhamma edict has been written on stone so that it
long and that my descendants might act in conformity with it.
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, speaks thus: In the past, state
business was not transacted nor were reports delivered to the king at
hours. But now I have given this order, that at any time, whether I am
eating, in the women's quarters, the bed chamber, the chariot, the
in the park or wherever, reporters are to be posted with instructions
report to me the affairs of the people so that I might attend to these
affairs wherever I am. And whatever I orally order in connection with
or proclamations, or when urgent business presses itself on the
if disagreement or debate arises in the Council, then it must be
to me immediately. This is what I have ordered. I am never content with
exerting myself or with dispatching business. Truly, I consider the
of all to be my duty, and the root of this is exertion and the prompt
of business. There is no better work than promoting the welfare of all
the people and whatever efforts I am making is to repay the debt I owe
to all beings to assure their happiness in this life, and attain heaven
in the next.
Therefore this dhamma edict has been written to last
long and that my
sons, grandsons and great-grandsons might act in conformity with it for
the welfare of the world. However, this is difficult to do without
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, desires that all religions
reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of
But people have various desires and various passions, and they may
all of what they should or only a part of it. But one who receives
gifts yet is lacking in self-control, purity of heart, gratitude and
devotion, such a person is mean.
In the past kings used to go out on pleasure tours during which there
hunting and other entertainment. But ten years after the beloved of the
gods had been coronated, he went on a tour to Sambodhi 
and thus instituted dhamma tours. During these tours, the following
took place: visits and gifts to Brahmans and ascetics, visits and gifts
of gold to the aged, visits to people in the countryside, instructing
in dhamma, and discussing dhamma with them as is suitable. It is this
delights the beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, and is, as it were,
type of revenue.
The beloved of the gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: In times of
for the marriage of sons and daughters, at the birth of children,
embarking on a journey, on these and other occasions, people perform
ceremonies. Women in particular perform many vulgar and worthless
These types of ceremonies can be performed by all means, but they bear
little fruit. What does bear great fruit, however, is the ceremony of
dhamma. This involves proper behavior towards servants and employees,
for teachers, restraint towards living beings, and generosity towards
and Brahmans. These and other things constitute the ceremony of the
Therefore a father, a son, a brother, a master, a friend, a companion,
and even a neighbor should say: "This is good, this is the ceremony
should be performed until its purpose is fulfilled, this I shall do."
ceremonies are of doubtful fruit, for they may achieve their purpose,
they may not, and even if they do, it is only in this world. But the
of the dhamma is timeless. Even if it does not achieve its purpose in
world, it produces great merit in the next, whereas if it does achieve
its purpose in this world, one gets great merit both here and there
the ceremony of the dhamma.
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, does not consider glory and
to be of great account unless they are achieved through having my
respect dhamma and practice dhamma, both now and in the future. For
alone does the beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, desire glory and
And whatever efforts the beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, is making,
all of that is only for the welfare of the people in the next world,
that they will have little evil. And being without merit is evil. This
is difficult for either a humble person or a great person to do except
with great effort, and by giving up other interests. In fact, it may be
even more difficult for a great person to do.
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, speaks thus: There is no gift
the gift of the dhamma, no acquaintance like acquaintance with dhamma,
no distribution like distribution of dhamma, and no kinship like
through dhamma. And it consists of this: proper behavior towards
and employees, respect for mother and father, generosity to friends,
relations, Brahmans and ascetics, and not killing living beings.
a father, a son, a brother, a master, a friend, a companion or a
should say: "This is good, this should be done." One benefits in this
and gains great merit in the next by giving the gift of the dhamma.
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, honors both ascetics and the
of all religions, and he honors them with gifts and honors of various
But the beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, does not value gifts and
as much as he values this - that there should be growth in the
of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways,
all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not
one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good
And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way.
it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing,
own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise
harms one's own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises
own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the
"Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion.
contact between religions is good. One should listen to and respect the
doctrines professed by others. The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi,
desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other
Those who are content with their own religion should be
told this: the
beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as
much as he values that there should be growth in the essentials of all
religions. And to this end many are working - dhamma Mahamatras,
in charge of the women's quarters, officers in charge of outlying
and other such officers. And the fruit of this is that one's own
grows and the dhamma is illuminated also.
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas 
eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were
one hundred thousand were killed and many more died from other causes.
After the Kalingas had been conquered, the beloved of the gods came to
feel a strong inclination towards the dhamma, a love for the dhamma and
for instruction in dhamma. Now the beloved of the gods feels deep
for having conquered the Kalingas.
Indeed, the beloved of the gods is deeply pained by the
and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is
But the beloved of the gods is pained even more by this -that Brahmans,
ascetics, and householders of different religions who live in those
and who are respectful to superiors, to mother and father, to elders,
who behave properly and have strong loyalty towards friends,
companions, relatives, servants and employees- that they are injured,
or separated from their loved ones. Even those who are not affected by
all this suffer when they see friends, acquaintances, companions and
affected. These misfortunes befall all as a result of war, and this
the beloved of the gods.
There is no country, except among the Greeks, where
these two groups,
Brahmans and ascetics, are not found, and there is no country where
are not devoted to one or another religion. Therefore the killing,
or deportation of a hundredth, or even a thousandth part of those who
during the conquest of Kalinga now pains the beloved of the gods. Now
beloved of the gods thinks that even those who do wrong should be
where forgiveness is possible.
Even the forest people, who live in the beloved of the
are entreated and reasoned with to act properly. They are told that
his remorse the beloved of the gods has the power to punish them if
so that they should be ashamed of their wrong and not be killed. Truly,
the beloved of the gods desires non-injury, restraint and impartiality
to all beings, even where wrong has been done.
Now it is conquest by dhamma that the beloved of the
to be the best conquest. And conquest by dhamma has been won here, on
borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochus
rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonus,
and Alexander rule , likewise in
the south among the
Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni.
in the king's domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the
Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas,
people are following the beloved of the gods' instructions in dhamma.
where the beloved of the gods' envoys have not been, these people too,
having heard of the practice of dhamma and the ordinances and
in dhamma given by the beloved of the gods, are following it and will
to do so. This conquest has been won everywhere, and it gives great joy
- the joy which only conquest by dhamma can give. But even this joy is
of little consequence. The beloved of the gods considers the great
to be experienced in the next world to be more important.
I have had this dhamma edict written so that my sons and
may not consider making new conquests, or that if military conquests
made, that they be done with forbearance and light punishment, or
still, that they consider making conquest by dhamma only, for that
fruit in this world and the next. May all their intense devotion be
to this which has a result in this world and the next.
The beloved of the gods, king Piyadasi, has had these dhamma edicts
in brief, in medium length, and in extended form. Not all of them occur
everywhere, for my domain is vast, but much has been written, and I
have still more written. And also there are some subjects here that
been spoken of again and again because of their sweetness, and so that
the people may act in accordance with them. If some things written are
incomplete, this is because of the locality, or in consideration of the
object, or due to the fault of the scribe.
These people lived outside Ashoka's realm. The Cholas, Pandyas,
and Keralaputras lived in the deep south of India; Tamraparni, or
is modern Sri Lanka. King Antiochus II Theos was ruler of the Seleucid
The exact responsibilities of the Yuktas, Rajjukas and Pradesikas,
which are obviously royal inspectors, are unknown.
Teachers and missionaries.
the Great, who conquered the area now known as Pakistan
and 325, had left many Greeks and Macedonians
in Sogdia and Gandara.
By the end of his reign, the Europeans of the Punjab and Sind were
Sambodhi, or Bodh Gaya, was the place of Buddha's enlightenment.
In eastern India.
II Theos of the Seleucid
Empire (261-246), Ptolemy
II Philadelphus of Ptolemaic
Egypt (282-246), king Antigonus
II Gonatas of Macedonia (283-239), king Magas of Cyrenaica
(275-250/249) and king Alexander of Epirus (272-258).
Jona Lendering for
Revision: 28 May 2008