Explain the essential elements of the Dharma King Ashoka sought to promote throughout his land, and whether or not Buddhist teachings were a part of it.
King Ashoka refers dharma as an abstention from sin (Dhammika 1). As evident in the 7th and 11th pillars of the edicts, King Ashoka fostered individual morality as reflected in the essential dharma elements such as purity, truthfulness, generosity, kindness and much good. These positive virtues are the main components of the fourteen edicts written in rock to increase endurance so that Ashoka's "descendants might act in conformity with it for the welfare of the world" (Dhammika 3). Dharma, through the 14 edicts, is the foundation of moral principles and reforms that King Ashoka instituted in is a quest to establish a human and just society. The elements of dharma constitute the philosophical features of Buddhism as evident in the "Wheel of Dharma" constituting Eight-Fold Path elements of religious Buddhists' lives such as right concentration, right mindfulness, right speech, right views, right occupation, right action and right intention (Vail 4). Therefore, Buddist teachings influence King Ashoka's edicts as dharma's elements of morality are entrenched within Buddhist ideals of tolerance, moderation, and compassion. In episode 2 of The Story of India, The Power of Ideas film directed by Jeffs, Buddha says "Let the truth be your light" implying that before Ashoka's reign, Buddist teachings guided morality in ancient India. Dalai Lama in a meeting with Michael Wood explained the relevance of Buddism today such that Buddist teaching was part of Ashoka's edicts as the film shows that Buddism as the then prevalent religion shaped Ashoka's beliefs and character (dir. Jeffs).
Discuss how King Ashoka presented himself to his subjects.
Other than communicating with his subjects through the rock edicts, King Ashoka presented himself to the people by doing regular inspection tours to ensure the implementation of various projects and reforms as seen in the film when Ashoka made visits to the countryside giving gifts to the aged and Brahmins (dir. Jeffs). Dharma tours was another form of presentation to his subjects that replaced King Ashoka's hunting and pleasure tours (Israel 88). In the visits, King Ashoka urged young individuals to show respect to their parents, demonstrate courteousness to servants and become truthful, compassionate and liberal as they treat others.
Explain why King Ashoka chose to issue these edicts.
As the 3rd monarch of Mauryan empire, King Ashoka's decided to release the edicts to ensure the spiritual and moral well-being of his subjects (Israel 86). The edicts demonstrate individual morality as manifested in Dhammika's description of King Ashoka as a "capable and powerful ruler" who tried to create an empire whose basis was righteousness. During King Ashoka reign between 268 and 232 BCE, the people of the Mauryan Empire were apprehensive of "uniform distribution of justice and efficient revenue collection" (Israel 88). Therefore, King Ashoka issued the edicts to ensure humane and just society for equal distribution of resources across different zones in the empire.
Dhammika, Ven. The Edicts of King Ashoka. The Wheel Publication No. 386/387. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddist Publication Society, 1994. Print.
Israel, George. "Chapter 3: Ancient and Early Medieval India." Berger et.al. World History: Cultures, States, and Societies to 1500. 2016. 62-109. Print.
The Story of India: Episode 2 - The Power of Ideas. Dir. Jeremy Jeffs. Perf. Chris Baily and Michael Wood. 2007. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63Jw0Ky6ZpQ&feature=youtu.be>.
Vail, Lise F. The Origins of Buddhism. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan Publishers, 2009. Print.
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