[The Chronicle of the Island]

VI. [Asoka’s Conversion]

1. Two hundred and eighteen years after the Parinibbāna of the Sambuddha Piyadassana was anointed king.

2. When Piyadassana was installed, the miraculous faculties of royal majesty entered into him; he diffused the splendour which he had obtained in consequence of his merits, one yojana above and one beneath (the earth); the wheel of his power rolled through the great empire of Jambudīpa.

3. The Devas constantly brought to him (?) every day sixteen jars of water (?), filled with medical herbs of every description, from the Anotatta lake at the [147] top of the Himavat mountains.

4. The Devas then constantly brought every day fragrant teeth-cleansers made of the betel vine, which were grown in the mountains, soft, smooth, sweet, endowed with flavour, and delightful.

5. The Devas then constantly brought every day fragrant myrobalans, which were grown in the mountains, soft and smooth, endowed with flavour, desirable to great kings (?).

6. The Devas then constantly brought every day divine drinks and ripe mangos endowed with flavour and fragrance.

7. The Devas then constantly brought every day from the Chaddanta lake upper and under garments dyed with the five colours.

8-9. The Nāga kings then constantly brought every day fragrant powder for washing the head, and also unguents, and fine seamless clothes to put on of the colour of jessamine, and precious collyrium; all these things (they brought) from the Nāga world.

10. The Devas then constantly brought every day sugar cane, quantities of Areca-nuts, yellow towels.

11. The parrots brought nine thousand loads of hill paddy which was picked out by rats; the bees made honey; the bears forged with sledge-hammers.

12. Heaven-born birds, sweet-voiced cuckoos constantly sang to men, (attracted) by the splendour of Asoka’s merit.

13. The great Nāga whose age endures through a Kappa, the attendant of four Buddhas, wearing a golden chain, came, (attracted) by the splendour of (Asoka’s) merit.

14. The glorious Piyadassi honoured him with garlands of jewels. Splendid rewards were received for alms (given to religious mendicants).

15. This grandson of Candagutta, the son of Bindusāra (king Asoka), whilst a mere prince, was sub-king of Ujjenī charged with collecting the revenue (of that province). During his progress he came to the town of Vedissa.

16. There the daughter of a Seṭṭhi, known by the name of Devī, having cohabited with him, gave birth to a most noble son.

17. Mahinda and Saṅghamittā chose to receive the Pabbajjā ordination; having obtained Pabbajjā, they both destroyed the fetter of (individual) existence.

18. Asoka ruled in Pāṭaliputta, best of towns; three [148] years after his coronation he was converted to Buddha’s faith.

19. How great is the number of years between the time when the Sambuddha attained Parinibbāna in the Upavattana (at Kusinārā), and when Mahinda, the issue of the Moriya family, was born?

20. Two hundred years and four years more had elapsed: just at that time Mahinda, the son of Asoka, was born.

21. When Mahinda was ten years old, his father put his brothers to death; then he passed four years reigning over Jambudīpa.

22. Having killed his hundred brothers, alone continuing his race, Asoka was anointed king in Mahinda’s fourteenth year.

23. Asokadhamma, after his coronation, obtained the (above-mentioned) miraculous faculties; exceedingly splendid and rich in meritorious works (he was), universal monarch of (Jambu)dīpa.

24. They crowned Piyadassi after full twenty years (?); he passed three years doing honour to Pāsaṇḍa infidels.

25. (There were) adherents of the sixty-two false doctrines, ninety-six kinds of Pāsaṇḍas who proceeded from the Sassata and Uccheda doctrines, all of them established on these two principles; –

26. Nigaṇṭhas and Acelakas and other ascetics and other Brahmans and sectarians.

27. Searching where truth and where falsehood was, he invited the infatuated, infidel Nigaṇṭhas (?) and sectarians of the Sassata and Uccheda doctrines, and Pāsaṇḍa and Titthiya infidels of different creeds outside the Faith, sectarian people.

28. After having invited the numbers of Titthiyas and having introduced them into his palace and having bestowed on them great gifts, he asked them an exceedingly difficult question.

29. Being asked this question, they could not answer it by their own power; the ignorant people answered like a man who being asked about the mango tree, replies concerning the Lakucha tree.

30. They all were content with low seats (?) (in the royal hall). The king invited all the ascetics of different creeds to take the seats of which they deemed themselves worthy. All were content with lower seats, except Nigrodha, a Buddhist novice, who took his seat on the royal throne. [149] After having annihilated all the Pāsaṇḍas and defeated the sectarians, –

31. the king thought: “Which other men may we find who are Arahats in this world or see the path towards Arahatship?

32. (Surely) they are to be found in the world; this world cannot be void of them (?). How may I obtain the sight of such worthy men? If I hear his (i. e. such a man’s) well spoken words, I will give up to him my paternal realm and my conquests.”

33. The king, thinking thus, found nobody worthy of his presents; unceasingly the king searched after virtuous, clever men.

34. Walking about in his palace and looking at many people, he saw the Samaṇa Nigrodha who went along the road for alms.

35–41. When he saw Nigrodha whose walking, turning back and looking was graceful, who turned his eyes to the ground, who was adorned (by decent deportment), an Arahat, whose mind was peaceful, who had reached perfect self-control, who had subdued himself and protected and well defended himself (against human passions), who did not mix with noble people, who was stainless like the moon amidst clouds, fearless like a lion, brilliant like a fire-brand, venerable, unconquerable, firm, of a peaceful disposition, steadfast, who had destroyed his passions, had cleansed himself of all sins, who was the most excellent of men, who led a wandering life, the most excellent Samaṇa, who was endowed with all virtues, the thought occurred to him, that he had been his companion during a former life (?). See the story in the Mahāvaṁsa (Seeing) that ascetic who led a life worthy of a Muni, who was happy in consequence of his meritorious deeds in former existences, who had reached the fruition which is obtained by the path of Arahats, walking along the road in search of alms, that wise man thought, full of longing:

42. “Indeed this Thera is one of the venerable ones; like Buddha, the holy One in this world, and like his disciples, he has reached the fruition which is obtained by the transcendent path, and has reached liberation and salvation.” [150]

43. (Asoka) obtained the enjoyment of the five-fold delight, high bliss; delighted, he who was comparable to Sakka rejoiced like a poor man who has found a treasure, like one who has gained the desire of his heart (?).

44-45. He spoke to one of his ministers: “Well, quickly conduct hither that Bhikkhu, that handsome young man of tranquil appearance, who walks along the road like an elephant, fearless and endowed with the ornament of tranquillity.”

46. The king felt great content; highly delighted he thought in his mind: “Without doubt this excellent person whom I have never seen before, has reached the highest perfection.”

47. Thinking thus, he again spoke thus: “Well prepared seats are spread; sit down on the seat which is worthy of an ascetic; I grant thee whichsoever thou desirest.”

48. After hearing the speech of the king, he took (the king’s) right hand (?) and mounted the throne. Fearlessly he sat down on the most excellent seat, just as Sakka, king of the gods, seats himself on the Paṇḍukambala.

49. The king thought: “This most excellent boy is certainly immovable and fearless; him …

50. The king, recognizing that excellent tender boy who observed the customs of the Saints, (to be) well instructed and expert in Dhamma and Vinaya, again spoke thus, full of delight:

51. “Teach me the Faith which thou hast learnt; thou alone shalt be my teacher; I will obey the words which thou teachest me, o great Sage. Instruct me, I listen to thy preaching.”

52. Having heard this exceedingly acute speech of the king, be who was well versed in the analytical distinctions of the nine-fold doctrine, thought over the precious Tipiṭaka and found the excellent sermon on Earnestness:

53. Dhammapada v. 21. [Ed. note: Appamādo amatapadaṁ, pamādo maccuno padaṁ, | appamattā na mīyanti, ye pamattā yathā matā.] “Earnestness is the way to immortality, indifference is the way to death; the earnest do not die, the indifferent are like the dead.”

54. When wise Nigrodha had pronounced this gladdening sentence, the king understood that highest motive [151] (viz. earnestness): “This is the foundation of all doctrines whatsoever that have been preached by the omniscient Buddha.

55. To-day I choose as my refuge thee and Buddha with the Dhamma and the Saṅgha; together with my children and wives, with the number of my relatives I announce to thee my having become a lay-disciple.

56. Abiding together with children and wives in the refuge (of the Faith), in consequence of the arrival of Nigrodha, my spiritual guide, I offer four lacs of silver and eight (daily) portions of rice to the Thera.”

57. (The king having asked, whether there are many ascetics like Nigrodha, he replied:) “There are many disciples of Buddha, versed in the three-fold science, possessed of (magical) power, well acquainted with the exposition of the qualities of mind, who have subdued their passions and reached Arahatship.”

58. The king again spoke to the Thera: “I desire to meet with that precious Assembly; I will pay my respect to all (Bhikkhus) who come to the Assembly; I will listen to the Dhamma.”

59. Sixty thousand ascetics assembled, and the messengers announced to the king: “A large congregation which is full of great joy, has assembled; go thou to see the congregation, as thou desiredst (to do).”

60. Asokadhamma, the ruler of the earth, having heard what the messenger said, thus addressed the circle of his relations, his friends and counsellors and his kinsmen:

61. “We will offer presents on the occasion of the assembling of the great Saṅgha; we will show them attention as much as we can, as much as we are able.

62. Let them quickly make ready for me a hall, seats, water, attendants, gifts, and food, such as are worthy of being offered, and suitable.

63. Let the makers of curry and rice quickly make ready for me well cooked rice-milk, sweet, pure dishes.

64. I will bestow a great donation on the congregation of the Bhikkhus, the most excellent community. Let them beat the drums in the city, let them sweep the roads, let them scatter white sand and flowers of the five colours; –

65. let them place here and there garlands and triumphal [152] arches, plantain trees, auspicious brimming jars, and let them place here and there ..., –

66. and let them make flags of cloth and fasten them here and there; let the people, adorned with flower garlands, make this city resplendent.

67. Khattiyas, Brahmans, and Vessas, Suddas, and people of different extraction, adorned with various ornaments, shall take clothes, ornaments, flowers, burning torches, and shall proceed to meet the Congregation.

68. All kinds of bands of music, well trained musicians of various schools who are pleasant to hear and sweet-voiced, shall play (various melodies) … and proceed to meet the Congregation, (a) most meritorious (act).

69. … dancers and acrobats in auspicious attitudes (?), all shall go to meet the Congregation and shall amuse them, when they have assembled.

70. And let them worship (the Assembly) with large heaps of flowers of different kinds, (aromatic) powder of various descriptions, and unguents.

71. Let them prepare in the city every kind of pomp (?) and desirable gifts.

72. The inhabitants of the kingdom, devoted (?) to the Fraternity, shall undertake to do homage (to the Saṅgha), and shall do so during the whole day and during all the three watches (?) of the night.”

73-75. That night having elapsed, the illustrious prince, causing food of excellent flavour to be prepared in his own residence, gave the following orders to his counsellors and his attendants: “Let all people procure heaps of perfumed garlands and flowers, many flowers, parasols, flags, lamps burning in the day-time; let them procure as much as I have ordered.

76. Let all (people dwelling) in this city, the merchants from the four quarters of the horizon, and all the royal officers, with their oxen, troops, and vehicles, follow me to meet the congregation of Bhikkhus.”

77. The best of kings proceeded with great pomp; the ruler of the earth shone like Sakka (when he goes) to the Nandana garden.

78. The king in whose mind wisdom had arisen, proceeding in great haste towards the Bhikkhu congregation, saluted them, raising [153] his joined hands, and received greetings in return.

79. He spoke to the Bhikkhu congregation: “May (the Saṅgha) have compassion on me.”

80. Taking the alms-bowl of the Thera, the Saṅgha’s (spiritual) father, and paying reverence to him by (offering) various flowers, he entered the city.

81. Inviting them to enter his residence and to be seated, he offered to them with outstretched hands rice-milk and various highly precious food, hard and soft, as much as they wanted and desired.

82. When the congregation of Bhikkhus had finished their meal and removed their hands from the bowls, he offered to each Bhikkhu a suit of robes.

83. He distributed slippers (?), collyrium, oil, parasols, and also shoes, all the requisites of an ascetic, molasses and honey.

79b. 84. Introducing all the Bhikkhus, as many [as] had assembled, into his interior apartments, Asokadhamma, the ruler of the earth, sat down. Sitting down the king invited the congregation of Bhikkhus (to accept) their gifts, (saying):

85. “I give as much as the Bhikkhus desire, whatever they choose.”

86. After having gratified them with (a present of priestly) requisites and offered to them what was required (for their use), he asked them about the very profound, well propounded divisions of the Dhamma:

87. “Are there, venerable Sirs, sections taught by the kinsman of the Sun, by the indication of a certain number of divisions of the Dhamma, (according to) nouns, gender, and inflections, and also according to sections and to the composition?” –

88. “It has been taught, o king, and has been numbered by the kinsman of the Sun; it is well divided, well promulgated, well explained, well taught, –

89. accompanied by reasons and replete with sense, well spoken without a fault: fixed attention, right exertion, the (magical) powers, the (five) organs (of spiritual life), –

90. the (ten) powers, the requisites for attaining supreme knowledge, and those leading to the supreme path, all of these are well divided and well taught: these are the seven divisions of the most excellent elements of supreme knowledge.

91. The doctrine preached by the Teacher, the highest among men, [154] the supreme, transcendent Truth which has been expanded and well divided, consists of nine Aṅgas. The Aṅgas of Buddha’s doctrine are the well-known nine divisions, viz. Sutta, Geyya, Veyyākaraṇa, Gāthā, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Jātaka, Abbhūta, Vedalla.

92. Full eighty-four thousand sections of the Doctrine have been taught by the kinsman of the Sun out of compassion for created beings.

93. He has preached the highest Truth, the most excellent ambrosia, which frees from transmigration, which is the path leading to the extinction of all suffering and an ambrosia-like medicine.”

94. After hearing the speech pronounced by the Congregation of the Bhikkhus, the king, the chief of men, filled with joy and mirth, wisdom having arisen in his mind, pronounced these words to his royal court:

95. “Full and complete eighty-four thousand most precious sections of the Truth have been taught by the most excellent Buddha; –

96. I will build eighty-four thousand monasteries, honouring each single section of the Truth by one monastery.”

97. The prince expending ninety-six koṭis of treasure, he the king, gave immediately on that same day the order (for the erection of the buildings).

98. At that time there were in Jambudīpa eighty-four (thousand) towns; near each town he built one monastery.

99. And having completed the monasteries in three years’ time, (the construction of) the Ārāmas being finished, the prince held during seven days a festival of offerings.