This page is part of the section: Animal Rights: A History
ca 273-232 BCE
King Ashoka, 268-223 BC, popularly known as Ashoka the Great, a monarch of India become Buddhist after witnessing first hand the huge number of casualties caused by one of his military campaigns. At this time be was sincerely grieved and as a result he converted to Buddhism, after which this once ruthless, cruel and bloody leader became transformed into a kind and gentle person. He bought about a number of changes and established some of the first animal rights laws. In his edicts King Ashoka expresses his concern about the number of animals killed to provide him with a meal and his intentions to end such killing. He therefore stopped the royal hunting parties and ended the killing of animals for the royal kitchen and abstained from eating meat. He outlawed the sacrifice of animals and made it illegal to kill many species such as parrots, ducks, geese, bats, turtles, squirrels, monkeys and rhinos.
Non human animals were included with humans as beneficiaries of his programs for obtaining medicinal plants, planting trees and digging wells. In his fifth pillar edit King Ashoka decreed protection from slaughter for young animals and mothers still feeding their young , prohibited forests from being burned to protect the creatures living in them along with the banning of a number of hunting practices harmful to animals. He decreed that certain days were "non-killing days," and on these days fish could not be caught, nor any other animals killed. He established wells and watering holes, places of rest and hospitals for humans and animals alike.
In Addition Ashoka taught his people to have compassion for animals and to refrain from harming or killing them. In one of his famous pillar edits he declares:
"I have enforced the law against killing certain animals. The greatest progress of Righteousness among men comes from the exhortation in favour of non-injury to life and abstention from killing living beings."
Furthermore he sent missionaries to other Kingdoms to spread the Buddhist message of compassion and nonviolence to all beings. Buddhism was spread over the Indian sub continent because of the patronage of King Ashoka.
Edicts of Ashoka
Please note: The author of the text refers to himself as "Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi" rather than Asoka but they are the same person
The Fourteen Rock Edicts
1. 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 Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, sees much to object to in such festivals, although there are some festivals that Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does approve of.
Formerly, in the kitchen of Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, hundreds of thousands of animals were killed every day to make curry. But now with the writing of this Dhamma edict only three creatures, two peacocks and a deer are killed, and the deer not always. And in time, not even these three creatures will be killed.
2 …Everywhere has Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals 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. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals.
4. In the past, for many hundreds of years, killing or harming living beings and improper behavior towards relatives, and improper behavior towards Brahmans and ascetics has increased. But now due to Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi's Dhamma practice, the sound of the drum has been replaced by the sound of the Dhamma. The sighting of heavenly cars, auspicious elephants, bodies of fire and other divine sightings has not happened for many hundreds of years. But now because Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi promotes restraint in the killing and harming of living beings, proper behavior towards relatives, Brahmans and ascetics, and respect for mother, father and elders, such sightings have increased.
8. In the past kings used to go out on pleasure tours during which there was hunting and other entertainment. But ten years after Beloved-of-the-Gods had been coronated, he went on a tour to Sambodhi and thus instituted Dhamma tours. During these tours, the following things took place: visits and gifts to Brahmans and ascetics, visits and gifts of gold to the aged, visits to people in the countryside, instructing them in Dhamma, and discussing Dhamma with them as is suitable. It is this that delights Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, and is, as it were, another type of revenue.
9. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus:…many vulgar and worthless ceremonies [are] performed…but they bear little fruit. What does bear great fruit, however, is the ceremony of the Dhamma. This involves proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for teachers, restraint towards living beings, and generosity towards ascetics and Brahmans.
11. Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: Father and mother should be respected and so should elders, kindness to living beings should be made strong and the truth should be spoken. In these ways, the Dhamma should be promoted.
Minor Rock Edict
2. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: There is no gift like the gift of the Dhamma…And it consists of this: proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for mother and father, generosity to friends, companions, relations, Brahmans and ascetics, and not killing living beings. Therefore a father, a son, a brother, a master, a friend, a companion or a neighbor should say: "This is good, this should be done." One benefits in this world and gains great merit in the next by giving the gift of the Dhamma.
The Seven Pillar Edicts
2. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Dhamma is good, but what constitutes Dhamma? (It includes) little evil, much good, kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity. I have given the gift of sight in various ways. To two-footed and four-footed beings, to birds and aquatic animals, I have given various things including the gift of life. And many other good deeds have been done by me. This Dhamma edict has been written that people might follow it and it might endure for a long time. And the one who follows it properly will do something good.
3. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: People see only their good deeds saying, "I have done this good deed." But they do not see their evil deeds saying, "I have done this evil deed" or "This is called evil." But this (tendency) is difficult to see. One should think like this: "It is these things that lead to evil, to violence, to cruelty, anger, pride and jealousy. Let me not ruin myself with these things." And further, one should think: "This leads to happiness in this world and the next."
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected -- parrots, mainas, ruddy geese, wild ducks, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible. Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another. On the three Caturmasis, the three days of Tisa and during the fourteenth and fifteenth of the Uposatha, fish are protected and not to be sold. During these days animals are not to be killed in the elephant reserves or the fish reserves either. On the eighth of every fortnight, on the fourteenth and fifteenth, on Tisa, Punarvasu, the three Caturmasis and other auspicious days, bulls are not to be castrated, billy goats, rams, boars and other animals that are usually castrated are not to be. On Tisa, Punarvasu, Caturmasis and the fortnight of Caturmasis, horses and bullocks are not be branded.
7. …Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, says: Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men…I have had wells dug, rest-houses built, and in various places, I have had watering-places made for the use of animals and men. But these are but minor achievements. Such things to make the people happy have been done by former kings. I have done these things for this purpose, that the people might practice the Dhamma.…
…Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: This progress among the people through Dhamma has been done by two means, by Dhamma regulations and by persuasion. Of these, Dhamma regulation is of little effect, while persuasion has much more effect. The Dhamma regulations I have given are that various animals must be protected. And I have given many other Dhamma regulations also. But it is by persuasion that progress among the people through Dhamma has had a greater effect in respect of harmlessness to living beings and non-killing of living beings.
King Ashoka, Fourteen Rock Edicts, Minor Rock Edicts and The Seven Pillar Edicts in The Edicts of King Ashoka; An English Rendering by Ven. S. Dhammika (Buddhist Publication Society: Sri Lanka, 1993; DharmaNet Edition, 1994).
Important please note:
I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.
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