The Legend of King Asoka

The Legend of King Asoka: A Study and Translation of the Asokavadana

Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    The Legend of King Asoka
    Book Description:

    An English translation of the Asokavadana text, the Sanskrit version of the legend of King Asoka, first written in the second century A.D. Emperor of India during the third century B.C. and one of the most important rulers in the history of Buddhism, Asoka has hitherto been studied in the West primarily from his edicts and rock inscriptions in many parts of the Indian subcontinent. Through an extensive critical essay and a fluid translation, John Strong examines the importance of the Asoka of the legends for our overall understanding of Buddhism.

    Originally published in 1989.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5709-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)

    • CHAPTER ONE The Legend and Its Background
      (pp. 3-37)

      When King Aśoka acceded to the Mauryan throne circa 270 b.c., he inherited an empire that extended from Bengal in the East to Afghanistan in the Northwest. His grandfather Candragupta had founded the dynasty, conquering the whole of the Gangetic plain and successfully pushing back the satraps of Alexander the Great. His father Bindusāra had campaigned in the Deccan Plateau, expanding the empire’s frontiers as far south as Mysore. It was Aśoka, however, who brought the Mauryan dynasty to its apogee. After conquering the land of the Kalingas in the Southeast, he settled down to almost forty years of rule,...

    • CHAPTER TWO Dirt and Dharma: Kingship in the Aśokāvadāna
      (pp. 38-70)

      The study of Buddhist conceptions of kingship has come a long way since Max Weber, in 1916, declared that early Buddhism was a classic example of other worldly mysticism divorced from any real involvement in political rule or in worldly economic activities.¹ Today, this Weberian viewpoint has been fundamentally undermined, and a number of important works have established a new context for discussing a genuinely Buddhist polity and theory of kingship.² Paul Mus, culminating a trend in French buddhology, has stressed the prime importance of royal symbolism and cosmology in the development of Buddhist ideology and iconography.³ Balkrishna Gokhale and...

    • CHAPTER THREE King and Layman: Aśoka’s Relationship to the Buddhist Community
      (pp. 71-100)

      The question of kingship in theAśokāvadānais intimately bound up with the equally important matter of Aśoka’s relationship to the Buddhist community of monks, the sangha. Students of Buddhism have long been fascinated by this topic. They have quite rightly seen in Aśoka and his dealings with the sangha a model that later Buddhist kings in Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere sought to emulate. The model is often described in terms of the “Two Wheels” of Buddhism. On the one hand, there is the “Wheel of Dharma” (dharmacakra; Pali,dhammacakka), also called theśāsanacakra(Pali,sāsanacakka), that refers...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Aśoka and the Buddha
      (pp. 101-133)

      It should be clear from the discussion in the last chapter that the question of Aśoka’s relationship to the Buddhist community is intimately tied up with that of Aśoka’s relationship to the person of the Buddha.

      Any attempt to deal with this issue immediately encounters an obvious major difficulty; apart from the episode of the gift of dirt, the Buddha is never actually said to be present in the text. The time frame of the story simply does not allow it; Aśoka is born “one hundred years after the Buddha’s parinirvāna” and so cannot possibly meet him face to face...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Aśoka: Master of Good Means and Merit Maker
      (pp. 134-161)

      In an interesting story preserved in the last chapter of theA-yü wang chuan, but not in the Sanskrit text of theAśokāvadāna, we read of Aśoka’s visit to a soothsayer attached to his royal court. The diviner tells him that he bears on his body certain inauspicious marks that can only be erased if he performs great deeds of merit. Aśoka therefore sets about building the eighty-four thousand stūpas. When he finishes, he returns to the diviner, but the inauspicious marks are still there. At a loss as to what to do next, Aśoka consults Yaśas, the abbot of...

    • Conspectus
      (pp. 162-166)

      The study of any religious text is as much an exploration of a world of meaning as it is a dissection of the meaning of words. We have in the first part of this book, tried to examine certain aspects of the world of meaning¹ of theAśokāvadāna.

      In Chapter One, we have seen how this world differs from that of the Sinhalese chronicles, and how it is rooted in the concerns of the Buddhist community of Mathurā and the Northwest. In Chapter Two, we have examined how its view of kingship modifies the full-blown mythic ideal of the cakravartin...


    • Introduction to the Translation
      (pp. 169-172)

      The following translation of the Sanskrit text of theAśokāvadānais, as far as I know, the first one to be available in the English language. It is based on Sujitkumar Mukhopadhyaya’s annotated edition of the text,The Aśokāvadāna(New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1963). The most generally cited edition of theAśokāvadānaused to be that found in E. B. Cowell and R. A. Neil, eds.,The Divyāvadāna(Cambridge: University Press, 1886), where it occupies chapters 26-29 (pp. 348-434). This, in turn, was reedited indevanāgarīscript in P. L. Vaidya, ed.,Divyāvadānam, Buddhist Sanskrit Texts, no. 20 (Darbhanga [Bihar],...

    • The Legend of Aśoka
      (pp. 173-294)

      [The Buddha] made sacrifices with the flesh of his own body,¹ and out of compassion practiced austerities for the well-being of the world. Good people, listen devotedly now to what is being said, so that his exertions may bear fruit.

      “Thus have I heard. Once, when the Blessed One was dwelling in Śrāvastī …”² Thus a sūtra is to be spoken.

      In the presence of our teachers for whom the mud-piles of passion, hatred, delusion, intoxication, arrogance, duplicity, and rascality have all been washed away by the flowing rain showers of the words of the Blessed Tathāgata, issued forth from...

  6. APPENDIX. Sanskrit Legends about Aśoka Not Appearing in the Aśokāvadāna
    (pp. 295-304)
  7. Glossary
    (pp. 305-312)
  8. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 313-328)
  9. Index
    (pp. 329-336)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 337-337)