Biography of Ashokavadana

Next, the text describes one of Ashoka’s previous births, when he was named Jaya. It states that Jaya met Gautama Buddha as a young boy, and gave him a bowl of dirt, dreaming that the dirt is food. The Buddha then predicted that several years after his parinirvana, the boy would be born as a Chakravarti king ruling from Pataliputra The text then moves to Ashoka’s present life as a son of king Bindusara. 

In the text, Ashoka’s father dislikes him because of his ugliness, although a fortune-teller predicts that Ashoka would become the next king  Indeed, Ashoka kills his step-brother – the legitimate heir – by tricking him into entering a pit with live coals, and becomes the king. He turns out to be an oppressive and cruel ruler, becoming notorious as “Ashoka the Fierce”.  He has 500 of his ministers killed, because he believes them to be not loyal enough, and has 500 women in his harem burnt to death because some of them insult him.  He builds Ashoka’s Hell, where people are randomly tortured and killed. One day, he encounters a Buddhist monk, who is not troubled by any of the sufferings, and can perform magical feats. Impressed by the monk, Ashoka converts to Buddhism, becomes a pious man and builds 84,000 stupas, becoming famous as “Ashoka the Righteous” (Dharma-Ashoka). 

Ashoka’s Buddhist kingship 

The text describes in detail the efforts of Ashoka towards expanding Buddhism: Ashoka first converted his brother Vitashoka to Buddhism and taught his minister Yashas to honor the Buddhist monks. Next, he meets Upagupta and goes on a pilgrimage to the holy places associated with the Gautama Buddha’s life, accompanied by Upagupta. He then visits the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha was enlightened. Every five years, he holds a great festival to entertain Buddhist monks. During the festival, he meets Pindola Bharadvaja, an arhat (enlightened saint) who personally knew the Buddha and had extended his lifespan using supernatural powers to propagate Buddha’s teachings. 

Story of Kunala 

The text then narrates the story of Ashoka’s son Kunala: the prince is a handsome and righteous man loved by his father. As a result of a plot hatched by his step-mother Tisyaraksita, Kunala is blinded while away from the royal capital. He attains enlightenment, and wanders as a beggar, earning a living by singing and playing veena. He eventually returns to the capital and meets his father

Ashoka’s last days 

The text describes Ashoka’s last days as follows: Ashoka becomes terminally ill, and starts making generous donations to Buddhist monks using state funds. To prevent him from emptying the royal treasury, his ministers deny him access to the state funds. Ashoka then starts donating his wealth but is similarly restricted from doing so. On his deathbed, his only possession is half of a myrobalan fruit, which he offers to the Buddhist sangha (monastic community) as his final donation. He then dies with no possessions left to his name. 

Finally, the text narrates the story of king Pushyamitra, whom it describes as a descendant of Ashoka. Pushyamitra persecutes Buddhist monks, thus trying to undo Ashoka’s legacy. 


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