The Story of an Asokan Rock Edict in Karnataka
In 1915, C Beadon, a British gold-mining engineer traveled through the rocky terrain of Raichur district (in present-day Karnataka, India) in search of Gold. He chanced upon something that later turned out to be far more precious than Gold. Over a rocky hill near Maski village, he found a small cave and a boulder on its side. The boulder had some inscriptions in Brahmi script. His discovery tuned out to be a major milestone in archeologically tracing the history of India, as this was the first among the edicts of Ashoka to be discovered where his name appeared as Asoka. (We shall come to its significance down the line). The content of inscription is also far more precious than Gold, as an inexhaustible treasury of meaningful instructions. Today, that boulder remains well protected by the Archeology Survey of India on that remote hill, though not many people are aware of it.
Recently, we visited that place. We stood there soaked in the deep silence of that rocky hill surrounded by the green fields that stretched to the horizon. The only sound that broke the silence was the sweet melody of the breeze that gently grazed the letters on that boulder and carried its timeless message on the teachings of the Buddha as a resonance to the limits of space.
We were awestruck as the thought came to mind that we are in front of one of the earliest of the written messages on the teachings of the Buddha. The visionary Emperor Ashoka felt that casting these messages in stone is the best service he could do to humanity for generations to come, far exceeding the construction of statues and other memorials. Thus, his rock edicts and pillar edicts spanning all through his kingdom became the first written records of the Buddha. He was careful in his selection of the teachings. He chose to inscribe what everyone can practice in their daily life without much difficulty, so as to attain happiness in this life and beyond.
The Archeological Significance of Maski Rock Edict
Even before the discovery of the Maski rock edict, the British archeologists had uncovered many rock edicts and pillar edicts all over India. They could infer that these were inscribed by an emperor in the 3rd Century BCE (BC). These edicts contained administrative orders of the emperor as well as many counsels about moral life, and notes on the Dharma and the Buddha. Some of the edicts also contained mentions about his relationship with neighboring countries such as Yonas (Greece), Kamboja and Gandharas to the West and, Chola and Pandya (Tamil Nadu), Keralaputra (Kerala), Satyaputra (Southern Karnataka) and Tamraparni (Sri Lanka) to the South.
At that time, the archeologists had a puzzle that was not completely solved. All those edicts had the name of the emperor inscribed as Devanampriya (The Beloved of the Gods) or Priyadarshin (He who Watches with Love). or Devanampriya Priyadarshin Raja (The King who Watches with Love, and the Beloved of Gods). It wasn’t clear whom this was referring to, though the inferences from the historical time period indicated that it is an Emperor from Magadha with Pataliputra as the capital. Finally, the Maski edict revealed the name as “Devanampriya Ashoka”. This proved beyond doubt that it is none other than Emperor Ashoka whose glory has been eulogized widely in the Buddhist legends. Devanampriya and Priyadarshin were the titles he chose to address himself. As all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit together nicely, the history of India of the 3rd Century BCE was coming to light vividly.
Translation of the Inscription
A proclamation of Devanam-priya Asoka:
Two and a half years have passed since I started following Buddha Shakya. For the last one year and more, I have been very zealously engaging with the Sangha. Heavens that were not mingled with our land (Jambudvipa) earlier are now mingling well. This is possible through following righteous life (dharmayukta). Even a lowly person can attain this. Do not think that only a person of high status can reach [the mingling with heavens]. All must be told, “If you act thus (in accordance with righteousness), there will be auspiciousness that goes on increasing and becomes everlasting.”
The Golden Message
Emperor Ashoka held the view that he is indebted to his subjects and he wanted to do whatever possible to make their lives fruitful and full of happiness – in this life and beyond. To this end, he not only planted trees, dug wells, established medical care for humans and animals, he also wanted to counsel his subjects about Ways to increase their happiness in this life and beyond. Thus, he ordered inscription of messages of Dharma all across his country.
His counsel as in the Maski rock edict is simple yet very practical, “Follow a righteous life in accordance with Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) and you can see this life on earth turning into a heavenly one.”
What does it mean? As the Buddha said,
“ Abandon negativity whatsoever,
Abide in deeds that are wholesome,
Perfectly conquer one’s own mind,
This is the teaching of the Buddha.” – Dhammapada, 183
(See The Way of Wholesome Living – Buddhism for Day to Day Life for an explanation on the above verse.)
When it comes to the effectiveness of this path, there is no distinction between the poor and rich, and no distinction of varna, caste or class. Anybody can follow this well within one’s capacity.
It sounds so simple, yet people continue to oversee this message. This Golden Way remains unnoticed as most of the people, even in this modern era, hope for heavens elsewhere and try hard to please the Gods through elitist ‘agents of Gods’. They do everything to please the Gods but overlook what is essential – that is, to abandon negativity and to perform wholesome deeds. As Ashoka rightly says, the heavens were not mixed with the earth through pleadings to Gods and brokered ceremonies even at his time. Instead, by simply following a righteous path he claims that he was able to turn his life in this earth into a heaven. Though it sounds simple, the possibility of such a Golden Way needs to be refreshed again and again even in this modern era.
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- Precious than Gold – The Maski Rock Edict of Ashoka - December 3, 2018
- The Way of Wholesome Living – Buddhism for Day to Day Life - August 30, 2018