Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part V, by Ven, Mahasi Sayadaw

(80) The Story of King Siridhammasoka

About 218 years after the Parinibbana of the Lord Buddha (about 270 BC), there came to the throne of India, a famous King by the name of Asoka. It was stated that his fame and glory had spread all over the Continent of India (Jambudipa) which was founded by him as an Empire. According to what is contained in the rocks and stone pillars on which his edicts were carved and where writings were inscribed as directed by this great monarch, the country then called ‘Jambudipa’ is to be understood as the Indian Continent as is known today. It is because in these rock and pillar inscriptions, mention had been made of the places at the periphery of his vast Empire where his dynamic power was felt. In those days, it was considered to be a vast domain. He was one of the greatest of India’s kings. According to the Commentaries, Asoka was said to be a powerful sovereign of a large empire, its area stretching even up to one Yojana right up to the sky above. Although he was a benevolent dictator and an Emperor with absolute powers possessing immense treasures, at the time of his approaching death, only a remnant of his vast dominion remained under his sway and it was stated to have been reduced to an area equal to about half of the size of a white plum fruit. So says the Visuddhimagga as mentioned below.

          “Sakalam medinim bhutva,
           datva kotisatam sukhi.
           ante issaratam gato.

Sukhi – Extremely rich and well-endowed with prosperity and immense wealth, Asoka – a king by the name of Asoka, sakalam medinim – the entire earth surface of Jambudipa, bhutva – having ruled and owned, kotisatam datva – and after giving away in charity numerous properties and all his wealth worth billions, ante – at last, addamalakanattassa – only about half the size of a stony plum fruit, issaratam – had remained in his dominion, gato – and had gone down, or rather, lost his eminent position to that extent. The gist of it is that fabulously rich and powerful King Asoka who had dominated over the whole continent of India, after offering all his properties and wealth in his possession, eventually had been reduced to the status of a sovereign with dominion over only a patch of territory about the size of the diameter of the round plum fruit.

In the earlier part of his life, he was extolled as an extremely powerful monarch with sovereignty over the entire length and breadth of India (Jambudipa). He had accumulated riches and properties to such an extent that he offered in donation ninety-six (96) crores of kyats in a single day. Eventually, however, in the last days before his death,’ his health had deteriorated. It seemed that his Ministers, Generals, and other officers appeared to treat him with scant respect. These facts were disclosed in what is called the Text of Dibyavadana. A fairly comprehensive account of it is described in the Burmese version of the Visuddhimagga. Now I would have to give you only a brief account of it.

At the time when the great King Asoka was on his sick-bed, he was served with food put in a tray made of pure gold as usual. After taking his meals, the King donated the gold trays, plates and cups to Kukkutarama monastery. Later, he was served with silver plates. This silverware was also sent to the Kukkutarama monastery to be given away in charity. These offerings of gifts were stated to have been made to fulfil his main objective to reach to the value of his gifts up to a total of one hundred crores, as the total value of gifts was then short of four crores i.e. only 96 crores. Thereafter, his State Ministers were said to have served-the food and meals for their King with only earthen pots. Thereupon, the King was dismayed and alarmed since only half of the plum fruit which was presented to him had reached his hands. He therefore ordered that a meeting of State Ministers and courtiers be convened. At the convention, King Asoka asked, “Who is ruling this country?” The Chief Minister replied, “Your Majesty is the Sovereign who governs this country.”

Then, King Asoka remarked, “What the Chief Minister has said falls short of the truth now. Presently, I own and govern only half of this white plum fruit,” and proceeded to tell his Chief Minister that “All kinds of accomplishments only end. in utter destruction,” as preached by the Buddha is perfectly true. If further amplification is desired to be known, reference may be made to the Visuddhimagga, Volume II of the Burmese version (page 217 etc.). Hence, the statement that “beings have no personal property of their own, and when death occurs, everything will have to be abandoned” is really true, and accurate. All that have been considered as one’s own possessions with great attachment, had to be abandoned or left behind at the time when death seizes. Even the corporeal body with all clothes, etc., which is dressed up, will invariably have to be forsaken. Having seen all beings in this pitiable plight, feelings of compassion had arisen in the Buddha. Let us devote our mind to such beings, and develop karuna.

Beings, seeking worldly possessions as their own and keeping all these in their personal custody though not actually belong to them are in misery both in body and mind, and are therefore pitiable. Hence, all beings may be liberated from such misery. The Motto is couched referring to this state of condition, as:

          “There is: “no personal private property. Oh, all things have got to be abandoned eventually!”