The Mauryas

Inscriptions of Ashoka

Minor Pillar Edict (MPE) I or The Schism Edict

Original text of the Sarnath Pillar text by Meena Talim

1. देवानंपिये पियदसि लाजा
2. ए ल ……………
3. पाट (लिपुते) ……… ये केनपि संघे भेतवे | ए चुं खो
4. भिक्खु वा भिखुनि वा संघं भारवति से ओदातनि दुसानि संनंधापयिया अनावाससि
5. आवासयिवे | हेवं इयं सासने भिक्खुसंघासि च भिक्खुनि संघसि च विनयपयितविये
6. हेवं देवानंपिये आहा | हेदिसा च इका लिपि तुफाकंतिकं हुवाति संसलनसि निखिता |
7. इकं च लिपिं हेदिसमेव उपासकानंतिकं निखिपाथ | ते पि च उपासका अनुपोसथं यावु
8. एतमेव सासनं विस्वंससयितवे  अनुपोसथं धुवाये इकिके महामाते पोसथाये
9. याति एतमेव सासनं  विस्वंससयितवे आजानितवे च |  आवते च तुफाकं आहाले
10. सवत विवाययाथ तुफे एतेन वियंजनेन | हेमेव सवेसु कोटविषयेसु एतेन
11. वियंजनेन विवासापयाथ |

English translation of the above text by Meena Talim

1. The beloved of the God king Piyadassi
2. Thus ……
3. In Pataliputta …… those who disunite Samgha;
4. And those monks or nuns who cause division )dispute) in the Sangha, they should be purified (or advised) those who have cause defilement should be united. They should be given residence at an uninhabitated place.
5. Thus, Bhikkhu-Samgha and Bhikkhuni-Samgha should be purified (payata) according to Vinaya (discipline).
6. Thus said the beloved of the God. One of (the copies) of inscriptions be an agreement (deposited) with you, for it laid down for transmitting.
7. Similarly, one such inscription (a copy) is laid-down for Upasaka-class and Upasakas should follow it.
8. This instruction should be trusted and followed regularly. One by one, (each) Mahamatta should nourish (protect) it so.
9. In this way should proceed, keeping trust in the teaching, (and) understanding it; I have brought (handed over) to you.
10. These letters should be carried wherever you go for touring. This is also (meant for) the extreme parts of the regions of the subject.
11. These letters should be taken away from the dwelling places (while touring).

English translation of the various pillar texts by V A Smith

Sarnath pillar text

[Thus saith] His Sacred [and Gracious] Majesty [the King] :
[Both] at Pataliputra and in the provinces, His Sacred Majesty instructs the High Officers that] the Church may not be rent in twain by any person Whosoever, be it monk or be it nun, shall  mislead [lit. "deflect "] the Church shall be vested in white garments and compelled to dwell in an external residence.  Thus should this order be made known, both in the congregation of the monks and in the congregation of the nuns.
Thus saith His Sacred Majesty : ‘ One copy of this order (sasane) accessible to you has been posted in the samsarana.  See that you have another copy posted so as to be accessible to the lay-disciples. Those lay-disciples, too, on every fast-day must make themselves acquainted with  this ordinance (sasane). On every fast-day throughout the year the High Officers must attend the fast-day service in order to make themselves acquainted and familiar with the order. And so far as your jurisdiction extends you must, in accordance with this text, everywhere carry  out the expulsion.  Similarly, in all  fortified towns and Districts you must see that the expulsion is effected according to the text.

Sanchi pillar text

.   .    . ‘path is prescribed both for the monks and the nuns. As long as (my) sons and great-grandsons (shall reign and) as long as the sun and moon (shall shine), the monk or nun who shall cause divisions  in the Samgha should be caused to put on white robes and to reside in a non-residence. For what is my desire ? That the Samgha may be united and of long duration.’

Allahabad pillar text

The first line clearly reads that ‘ His Sacred Majesty, [Devanampiye], commands the High Officers of Kosambi.’ The second line contains the word samgha. The third and fourth lines enact that ‘Whosoever, be it monk or be it nun, shall mislead the Church, shall be vested in white garments and compelled to dwell in an external residence.’

English translation of the Sarnath Pillar text by D R Bhandarkar

Thus orders King Priyadarsin, Beloved of the gods: …………………. Pataliputra ………………… the Samgha may not be divided by any one. But whosoever breaks the Samgha, be it monk or nun, shall be clad in white raiment, and compelled to live in what is not a residence (of the clergy). Thus should this order be announced to the congregation of the monks and the congregation of the nuns.
Thus saith Beloved of the gods: One such document has been put up in the place of assembly in order that it may be accessible to you. And put up just another document so as to be accessible to the laity. And the laity should come every fast day and assure themselves of that same order. And certainly on all fast days as each Mahamatra comes in his turn (to the head-quarters) for the fast day, he should assure himself of that same order and understand it. And so far your jurisdiction goes, you must set out on tour with this word (of command). So too in all fortified towns and (the) district sub-divisions, you must cause others to go out on tour with this word (of command).

English translation by R K Mookerji

(Thus ordains) His Sacred (and Gracious) Majesty ……. Pata(liputra) ….. the Samgha cannot be torn asunder by any one whatsoever. Whoever, monk or nun, breaks up the Samgha must be made to wear white garments and take up abode in a place other than a monastery.
Thus should this order be made known in the Samghas of Bhiksus as well as of Bhiksunis.
Thus directs His Sacred Majesty: Let one such Edict be with you, deposited in the cloister of the vihara; deposit ye another self-same Edict with the Upasakas (lay-worshippers).
Those Upasakas may come on each fast day in order to acquaint themselves with this very Edict. And on every fast day regularly (will) each Mahamatra go for the fast-day service in order to acquaint himself with this edict and understand it fully. And as far as your jurisdiction extends, you are to get dispatched everywhere (an order) to this effect. In this manner, also, in all fortified towns, and districts, have this order sent out to this effect.

English  translation of various pillar texts by D C Sircar

Allahabad pillar text

This is the order of the Beloved of the Gods.
The Mahamatras stationed at Kausambi are to be addressed in the following words.
I have made both sangha of the monks and Sangha of the nuns united. No heretical monks should be admitted into the Sangha, whosoever be it a monk or be it a nun, shall break up the unity of Sangha should be made to wear white robes unworthy of the order and to reside in what is not fit for the residence of a recluse.

Sanchi pillar text

You should act in such a way that the Sangha cannot be divide by any heretical monk. Both the Sangha of the monks and the Sangha of nuns have each been made by me a united whole to last as long as my sons and great-grandsons shall reign and the moon and the sun shall shine.
The monk or  nun who shall break up the Sangha should be made to put on white robes and to reside in what is not fit for the residence of a recluse.
For my desire is that the Sangha may remain united and flourish for a long time.

Sarnath pillar text

Thus saith the Beloved of the Gods.
One copy of the above document has been deposited in your office, so that it would be accessible to you. And deposit yet another copy of this very document so as to make it accessible to the lay followers of the Buddha. Now, the lay followers should assemble near the document every fast day in order to be inspired with faith on account of this very edict. Thus invariably on every fast day, every Mahamatra should go to the place for the fast-day service in order to be inspired with faith on account of this very edict and also to understand it.
Further, you should set out on tour throughout the district under you with the implication of this edict in your minds. So too your subordinates must be sent to tours to all the tracts around fortified towns with implications of this edict in their minds.

English translation of Allahabad Pillar text by S Dhammika

Beloved-of-the-Gods commands: The Mahamatras at Kosambi (are to be told: Whoever splits the Sangha) which is now united, is not to be admitted into the Sangha. Whoever, whether monk or nun, splits the Sangha is to be made to wear white clothes and to reside somewhere other than in a monastery.


Pataliputra – R K Mookerji tells that this edict was probably addressed to the Mahamatras of Pataliputra.

Odatani Dusani – ‘Odatani’ is translated as white and ‘Dusani’ is translated as ‘cloths’ by many scholars. Meena Talim suggests that odatani is very similar to the Pali word ‘Ovadatani’ (advised) and it could be a slight mistake from scribe here. Dusani is derived from Pali word ‘Dusana’ which means defiling or spoiling.

Talim tells that it seems unreasonable that Ashoka asked the defilers to wear white cloths. This color cloths were worn by Jain monks. As Ashoka respected all the religions therefore it would be unfair that he lowers down the position of Jain sect. She further claims that Vinaya laws tells the monks should not wear emblems of householders and white cloths are one of those.

R K Mookerji tells there is no canonical sanction for the white robes prescription for the defilers. He also gives reference of Mahavamsa where it is mentioned that once Ashoka expelled few heretical monks providing them white robes. Thus legends confirm to the white robe penalty imposed by Ashoka.

On Ashoka’s asking the defilers to move to uninhabitated residential place, Talim tells that it sounds contrary to the practices of Buddhism. In Buddhism, the idea was not to separate out the defilers but to bring them back to Samgha or to the right path. Schism was not new in Ashoka’s time, but it was there in Samgha since its advent. It happened during the lifetime of Buddha and Buddha instead of discarding the defilers asked Sariputta to bring back those to the right path and unite with Samgha. Therefore the usual practice was how to unite the Samgha rather than discarding the defilers.

On contrary to the points put down by Talim, R K Mookerji refers to Mahavagga and tells that the extreme penalty for schism is ‘nasanam’ or permanent expulsion from samgha. This should be distinguished from temporary suspension laid down in Chullavamsa & Mahavamsa. This temporary suspension can be revoked on repentance.

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