Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Asokan Edicts on animal welfare

by Rohan L. Jayetilleke

The Buddha elaborating the fifth Nobel Truth of the Eightfold Noble Path says, “There are five trades that a lay follower should not be engaged in for his livelihood. They are trading in weapons, living beings, meat, liquor and poisons.” (Anguttara Nikaya 5 : 177). If one does not kill animals there is no market for meat. So is liquor.

In ancient India, people believed that their departed ancestors are born as spirits in huge trees and green groves. In order to gain boons and also to tide over the vicissitudes of life, they made offerings, food, and even animal sacrifices to appease their departed ancestors.

Such places of sacrifices and offerings were called ‘cetiyas’. Cetiya means, one’s wish. There were innumerable such cetiyas in India even during the time of the Buddha. The Buddha in his last walk from Rajagaha to Kusinara (Kasi) for the final Nibbana, of 310 miles, walking in stages through his last year at the age of 80, stayed at such cetiyas, like Udena cetiya, Gotamaka cetiya, Sattamba cetiya, Bahuputta cetiya, Sarananda cetiya, Capala cetiya in Vesali (Vaishali). (Digha Nikaya 16; of Anguttara Nikaya (4 : 1). This term cetiya was later adopted by the Buddhists too as cetiya or chaitya, to name stupas, enshrining the sacred relics of the Buddha and Arahants.

The ancient kings of India had a ritual called ‘Asvamedha’ which was sanctioned in the Rig Veda. This was the horse sacrifice. A sturdy horse was set free to roam at will for a year, followed by royal band of warriors. The chieftains of the places where the horse wandered had to honour the horse or fight to capture it. In case the horse returned unscaphed, it was brought to capital and in the presence of the king it was killed as a sacrifice to the Vedic gods. Thus animal sacrifice was a part and parcel of the royal traditions and also drinking of ‘soma’ a certain kind of liquor, believed to be sanctioned by the gods.

However, King Asoka, (274 - 237 B.C.) too would have celebrated this asvamedha ritual on being consecrated. Asoka, in his eight regnal year invaded the neighbouring kingdom of Kalinga (modern State of Orissa, where the State langauge is Oriya) and massacred millions of people. More than this number were deported and many more maimed in his genocidal war. Having conquered Kalinga, he became remorseful of his murderous activities, and having met Ven. Upagupta (Maha Moggaliputta Tissa Mahathera) who later chaired the Third Great Buddhist Council held at Pataliputra (modern Patna, Capital of Bihar State) and had embraced Buddhism.

King Asoka in his Rupanath Minor Rock Edict No. 1 (also a version of it at Maski) says in the 2nd and 3rd statements of seven statements: (2) Two and a half years (and somewhat more have passed) since I am Buddha-Sakya; (3) (A year and) somewhat more (has passed) since I have visited the Sangha and have shown zeal. The fact that King Asoka had studied the Dhamma is borne by his minor Rock Edict 11, also called Bhabru Edict having been found at Bairat in the Jaipur State of Rajasthan, the 5th, the 6th and the 7th statement Asoka says, “(5) The following expositions of the Dharma, Sirs, viz., (1) the Vinaya-samuksa, (2) the Aliyavasa, (3) the Anagathabhayas, (4) the Muni-gathas, (5) the moneya-sutta, (6) the upatisapasina, and (7) the Laghulovada, which were spoken by the Blessed Buddha concerning falsehood, - I desire, Sirs, that many groups of monks and many (nuns) may repeatedly listen to these expositions of the Dharma and may reflect (on them). (6) In the same way both laymen and laywomen (should act) and (7) For the following purpose, Sir, I am causing this to be written, (viz) in order that they may know my intentions.

Recently Shrimathi Manekha Gandhi, member of Parliament of India (Lok Sabha) writing to me from New Delhi, makes a very bold statement, “Emperor Asoka is truly the first royal environmental visionary in Asia and perhaps the world. His edicts are both compassionate, insightful and beautifully worded”. This statement, is evidenced by the edicts of King Asoka as regards animal welfare. He showed his compassion to animals and then decreed the subjects too should follow suit. The entire eco-system is composed of man, animals and the greenery. If animals are killed and trees devastated the entire eco-system falls apart and the man has to face consequences due to his own indiscriminate actions.

In his Rock Edicts 1 to 16, at Girnar, Kalsi, Dhauli, Jaugadah and Manshers, Asoka says. “No living being should be slaughtered here for sacrifice. Nor, too, any samaj he held, King Devanampriya Priyadarshin ses much evil in samaja.

There is however, a certain kind of samaja which is approved by King Devanampriya Priyadarshin. In the past many hundred thousands of animals were slaughtered daily in the kitchen of King Devanampriya Priyadarshin. But, now when this Dharma documents was written, only three animals are killed. Two peacocks and one deer, but the deer not regularly. In future they will not slaughter these three living beings also”.

“Everywhere in the dominion of King Devanampriya Priyadarshin and likewise in the frontier regions such as Coda, Pamdiya, Satyapura and Keralaputra unto Tamaraparni and all over where the Greek King Amtiyoka as well as his neighbouring kings (reign)”. As regards the promotion of Ayurvedic medical system and veterinary sciences, Asoka says, “King Devanampriya Priyadarshin installed two kinds of medical treatment for man and medical treatment for animals. Medicinal herbs beneficial to man and beneficial to beast were brought and planted wherever they were not found. Wherever they did not exist, roots and fruit were brought and planted and, along roads, wells were dug and trees planted for the use of animals and man”.

He further says, “By me who was consecrated twelve years, this was ordered. everywhere in my dominion, uktas, Rajjukas and Pradeshikas should set out on inspection every five years for the purpose of their Dharma admonition as for other duties ....... Commendable is abstention from killing living beings”.

Asoka further elaborates, “In the past for many years, slaughter of and cruelty to living creatures, disrespect to relatives and disrespect to Brahamanas and recluses increased indeed. Today due to the diffusion or practice of Dharma by King Devanampriya Priyadarshin, the sound of drums has become the sound of Dharma.

In the Pillar Edicts V and V1 Asoka says, Twenty six years after being consecrated, these species were declared exempt from slaughter, parrots, mainas, ruddy geese, swans, comb-ducks, mountain-ducks, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless-fish, hoodless snakes, Gangetic dolphins, skate, tortises, and porcupines, tree squirrels, twelve-antler stags, bulls set at liberty, household pets, rhinoceroses, white doves, domestic doves, quadrupeds who are neither utilized nor eaten. She goats, ewes and savs, that are pregnant or suckling the young ones not to be killed, nor should their off-springs upto six months. Cocks not to be caponised. Husks with living creatures should not be burnt. Forests should not be burnt without a purpose or to harm. The living should not be nourished with the living. On the three Caturmasas and the full-moon day of Tisya, for three days namely the fourteenth, the fifteenth and the next day and always on every fasting day, no fish should be killed or sold. On these very days in the elephant forests and the fishermen’s reserves, other kinds of living creatures also not to be killed. On the eighth of each fortnight the fourteenth, the fifteenth, Tisya and Punarvasu days, the three Caturmase day and auspicious days, bulls are not to be castrated. On Tisya and Punarvasu days, Caturmasi days and fortnight of Caturmasi horses and bulls are not to be branded”.

As regards wanton destruction of forests by setting them ablaze, as is evidenced in the Kandy Hantana ranges periodically, and the present elephant-man conflict, which is a resultant to man invading the elephants reserves and even Buddhist monks, in their entirety are not vegetarians, and children being forced by the parents to eat various meat and chicken based sausages, and extensive beef and chicken eating, pose the question whether Sri Lanka is the leading Buddhist country in the world. Even at the well publicized ‘bhavana sessions’ the devotees are not inspired to be vegetarians. These so called, ‘paths to Nibbana’ through money-spinning meditation sessions in public halls on poya days, directly contribute to the distancing the villager from the village vihara. This needs to be stopped as it now becoming a fashion with the Buddhist to recognize only certain personality cult vegetating monks, in order to gain wider popularity calling upon Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Islamic ‘gnatis’ (relatives) being not aware that on entering the Order he has divested himself of all household ties and there are no ‘gnatis’ for him. These are just gimmicks to showcase oneself as the universal epitome of metta, karuna, muditha and upekkha (However, all these devotees who become followers of this new breed of meditation gurus, are not aware of the reality that when they die, the pansakula will be held by the village vihara monks and not by their meditation leader.

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