1. Asoka.– King of Magadha. He was the son of Bindusāra. Bindusāra had sixteen wives who bore him 101 sons. The Pāḷi Chronicles ¹ (Dīpavaṃsa and Mahāvaṃsa) mention only three of the sons, viz. Sumana (Susīma according to the northern legends) the eldest, Asoka, and Tissa (uterine brother of Asoka) the youngest. The Mahāvaṃsa Ṭīka ² gives the name of his mother as Dhammā and calls her Aggamahesī (Bindusāra’s chief queen); she belonged to the Moriyavaṃsa. The preceptor of Dhammā’s family was an Ājīvaka called Janasāna.³
In his youth Asoka was appointed Governor of Avanti with his capital at Ujjeni.⁴ When Bindusāra lay on his death-
Asoka had several wives. His first wife was the daughter of a merchant of Vedisagiri, whom he met when stopping at the merchant’s house on his way to Ujjeni.¹⁰ Her name was Devī, also called Vedisa-
According to the Mahāvaṃsa,¹⁴ Asoka’s accession was 218 years after the Buddha’s death and his coronation was four years later. The chronicles ¹⁵ contain various stories of his miraculous powers. His command spread a league into the air and a league under the earth. The devas supplied him daily with water from the Anotatta Lake and with other luxuries from elsewhere. Yakkhas, Nāgā, and even mice and karavīka birds ministered to his comfort, and thoughtful animals came and died outside his kitchen in order to provide him with food.
At first Asoka maintained the alms instituted by his father, but soon, being disappointed in the recipients, he began looking out for holy men. It was then that he saw from his window, his nephew, the young novice Nigrodha. Owing to their friendship in a past birth,¹⁶ Asoka was at once drawn to him and invited him into the palace. Nigrodha taught him the Appamādavagga and the king was greatly pleased. He ceased his benefactions to other religious orders and transferred his patronage to Nigrodha and members of the Buddhist Order. His wealth, which, according to the Samantapāsādikā (i.52), amounted to 500,000 pieces daily, he now spent in doing acts of piety — giving 100,000 to Nigrodha to be used in any manner he wished, a like sum for the offering of perfumes and flowers at the Buddha’s shrines, 100,000 for the teaching of the Dhamma, 100,000 for the provision of comforts for members of the Order, and the remainder for medicines for the sick. To Nigrodha, in addition to other gifts, he sent sets of robes three times each day, placing them on the back of an elephant, adorned by festoons of flowers. Nigrodha gave these robes to other monks.¹⁷
Having learnt from Moggaliputta-
His two children, Mahinda and Saṅghamittā, aged respectively twenty and eighteen, he ordained under Moggaliputta-
In order to purge the Order of undesirable monks and heretical doctrines, Moggaliputta-
At the conclusion of the Council, held in the seventeenth year of his reign,²⁰ Asoka sent forth theras.²¹ to propagate the Buddha’s religion: Majjhantika to Kasmīra and Gandhāra, Mahādeva to Mahisamaṇḍala, Rakkhita to Vanavāsa, Yona Dhammarakkhita to Aparantaka, Mahārakkhita to Yona, Majjhima to Himavā and Soṇa and Uttara to Suvaṇṇabhūmi; Mahinda with Iṭṭhiya, Uttiya, Sambala, and Bhaddasāla he sent to Laṅkā. In the eighteenth year of his reign he sent to Lankā, at Devanampiyatissa’s request, Sanghamittā, with a branch of the great Bodhi Tree at Buddhagayā.²² A little earlier he had sent by his grandson Sumana, some relics of the Buddha and the Buddha’s alms-
The Chronicles state that Asoka and Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka had been friends — though they had never seen each other — even before Mahinda’s mission to Sri Lanka. Tissa had sent him, as a friendly gesture, various gifts, and Asoka had returned the courtesy. He sent an embassy of his chosen ministers, bearing gifts marvellous in splendour, that Tissa might go through a second coronation ceremony, and the messengers were directed to give this special message to the king: “I have taken refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha and declared myself a follower of the religion of the Sakyaputta. Seek then, even thou, oh best of men, converting thy mind with believing heart, refuge in these best of gems.”²⁷
The Milindapañha ²⁸ mentions an encounter of Asoka with a courtesan of Pāṭaliputta, Bindumatī, who, in order to show the king the power of an Act of Truth, made the waters of the Gaṅgā to flow back. According to the Petavatthu Aṭṭhakathā ²⁹ there was a king of Suraṭṭha, called Piṅgala, who used to visit Asoka in order to give him counsel. Perhaps he was an old friend or tutor of the king.
¹ The chief Pāḷi sources of information regarding Asoka are Dīpavaṃsa, Chapters i., v., vi., vii., xi., etc., Mahāvaṃsa, Chapters v., xi., xx., etc., and the Samantapāsādikā (pp.35 ﬀ). Other sources are the Divyāvadāna passim, and the Avadānaśataka ii.200 ﬀ. For an exhaustive discussion of the sources and their contents see Prszlyski, La Légende de l’Empereur Asoka.
³ Which probably explains Asoka’s earlier patronage of the Ājīvakas.
¹³ Mhv.xx.1‑3. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription mentions another queen, Kāruvākī, mother of Tivara. The Divy. (chap. xxvii.) gives another, Padmāvatī, Kunāla’s mother. Besides the children mentioned above, names of others are given: Jalauka, Cārumatī (Mookherji. p.9).
¹⁴ Mhv.v.21, 22. ¹⁵ v.22 ﬀ. ¹⁶ Asoka, Devanampiyatissa, and Nigrodha had been brothers, traders in honey, and they gave honey to a Pacceka Buddha. Asandhamittā had been the maiden who showed the honey-
²¹ Ibid., xii.1‑8. For particulars of these missions and identification of the places mentioned, see under the different names; this list appears also in the Samantapāsādikā, where further interesting details are given. For a discussion on them see Mookherji, pp.33 ﬀ.
²⁶ E.g., vi.1, 2, 25. The title Devānampiya used by Asoka in his inscriptions was also used by Tissa, Asoka’s contemporary in Sri Lanka, and by Asoka’s grandson Dasaratha (Nāgarjunī Hill Cave Inscription). It was used also by other kings in Sri Lanka: Vaṅkanāsika Tissa, Gajabāhukagāminī, and Mahallaka-
References in the notes are to the Pāḷi texts of the PTS. In the translations, these are usually printed in the headers near the spine, or in square brackets in the body of the text.
2. Asoka.– See Kālāsoka.
3. Asoka.– See Vītāsoka.
4. Asoka.– A brahmin in the time of Kassapa Buddha. He provided eight meals daily for the monks and entrusted the distribution of them to his serving-
5. Asoka.– Attendant to Vipassī Buddha (J.i.41; Bu.xx.28). He was once ill and was cured by a doctor who, in this age, was Tikicchaka (Tekicchakānī) Thera. Ap.i.190; ThagA.i.442.
7. Asoka.– A monk of Ñātikā. Once when the Buddha was staying at Ñātikā in the Giñjakāvasatha, Ānanda mentions to the Buddha that Asoka Thera had died, and asks where he had gone. The Buddha tells him that Asoka was an Arahant and had realised nibbāna. S.i.358.
8. Asoka.– See Anoma (7).