Tại Khu Đá Xoài
The Exhortation to Rāhula at Mango Stone
Ambalaṭṭhika Rāhulovāda Sutta (MN 61)
Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
The edicts of King Asoka are a remarkable record of one of the most remarkable events in human history: One man's efforts to rule an empire with a policy based on Dhamma. Asoka's policy had three prongs: administration based on Dhamma, instruction in Dhamma for the populace, and personal practice of Dhamma by the ruler.
The edicts are direct evidence of the second prong, and for the most part present Dhamma as a series of moral principles and rational behavior that should be common to all religions. However, a few of them are addressed to Buddhists in particular, and one of them — the Bhabru Rock Edict — deals with themes that are of interest not only to historians, but also to Buddhists of all times and places. It deals with what may be done to keep the True Dhamma alive for a long time, and Asoka's recommendation is a list of passages from the Buddhist Canon that he says all Buddhists — ordained or not — should listen to and reflect on frequently. Here is the text of the edict:
"His Gracious Majesty, King of Magadha, bows down to the Sangha and — hoping that they are free from disease and living in peace — addresses them as follows: You know well the extent of my reverence and faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Whatever has been said by the Buddha has of course been well-said. But may I be permitted to point out the passages of scripture I have selected that the True Dhamma might last a long time: Vinaya-samukasa, Aliya-vasani, Anagata-bhayani, Muni-gatha, Mauneya-sute, Upatisa-pasine, and the Instructions to Rahula beginning with (the topic of) falsehood, as taught by the Blessed One.
"Reverend Sirs, I would like the reverend bhikkhus and bhikkhunis — as well as the laymen and laywomen — to listen to these passages frequently and to ponder on them.
"For this reason, Reverend Sirs, I am having this enscribed so that they may know of my intention."
As might be imagined, this passage has given rise to a great deal of conjecture ever since it was deciphered in 1840. Not the least of the questions is precisely which passages from the Canon Asoka is referring to, or indeed if he was referring to a Canon anything like what we have today.
Scholars have spilt a fair amount of ink sparring over the answer and have managed to reach a consensus on the identity of four of the passages: the Aliya-vasani is the Discourse on the Traditions of the Noble Ones (ariya-vamsa) (AN 4.28); the Anagata-bhayani are the four discourses on Future Dangers (AN 5.77-80); the Muni-gatha is the Discourse on the Sage (Muni Sutta) in the Sutta Nipata (Sn.I.12); and the Instructions to Rahula are the Cula-Rahulovada Sutta (MN 61).
The other three passages have proven more intractable. A number of scholars have favored the Nalaka Sutta as the Mauneya-sute — this, in spite of the fact that there is a Moneyya (Sagacity) Sutta in the Anguttara Nikaya (AN 3.23). The Upatisa-pasine (Question of Upatissa=Sariputta) is problematic because there is no one passage of that name and because Sariputta asks so many questions in the Canon. Some scholars have proposed the Sariputta Sutta in the Sutta Nipata, but archaeological evidence — votive tablets produced beginning with the time of Asoka and originating in the Buddhist pilgrim sites — show that Ven. Assaji's answer to Sariputta's first question about the doctrine, the answer that sparked a vision of the Dhamma in Sariputta when he heard it, has long been regarded as the ideal epitome of the Buddha's teachings. This tradition may have connections with this very edict. Ask any knowledgeable Buddhists today what Sariputta's most famous question was, and they will in all likelihood answer with this one.
As for the Vinaya-samukase, this has sparked the most fanciful conjectures, because the single reference to this word in the Canon is buried in a book hardly anyone reads: the Parivara (VI.4). The reference itself says nothing more than that there are four "vinaya-samukkamsa" — innate principles of the Vinaya — but the Commentary identifies them as the four Great Standards — most likely the four mentioned in the Mahavagga, dealing specifically with Vinaya, rather than the four in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, which deal with Dhamma and Vinaya together.
This seems to settle the question of which passages Asoka was recommending, but it raises another one: Why these? And why in this order?
Perhaps the best approach to answering these questions would be to read the passages and ponder on them, as Asoka suggested. So here they are. Most of them are self-explanatory, except for the first, on the innate principles of Vinaya, and the poem on the sage, which — being a poem — occasionally makes use of imagery that might be unfamiliar to a modern reader. Thus I include in the translation of The Sage a set of notes, drawing mostly from the Commentary, but also from other parts of the Canon and from works on ancient culture in general.
As for the Innate Principles of the Vinaya, the passage itself contains nothing unremarkable, and it seems so obvious on first reading that one might wonder why anyone would call attention to it. Actually, it is a fine example of the Buddha's farsightedness in setting up a system of teachings and rules. There are bound to be a number of things not touched on in the rules, and this number is bound to grow as culture and technology change. An unenlightened approach to these changes would say either that anything not allowed is forbidden, or that anything not explicitly forbidden is allowed. The Innate Principles of the Vinaya set forth a system of interpretation that avoids both of these extremes, helping to ensure the long life of the Buddha’s doctrine and discipline by setting guidelines for expanding the rules to cover new objects and situations as they arise. Otherwise, as Cv.VII.5.2 states, disagreements over what is and is not allowable can become grounds for a schism in the Sangha. And as AN 5.156 states, schism within the Sangha is a major cause for the True Dhamma’s decline and disappearance.
The Commentaries tell us that the Sangha became split during Asoka’s reign, and his Sarnath edict gives detailed instructions on how to deal with potential schismatics in the Sangha. Given that Asoka — or his monastic advisers — saw schism as an immediate and present danger, it is small wonder that he would begin his list of recommended passages with a pragmatic guide immediately applicable to promoting harmony in the Sangha and, through that harmony, to the long life of the True Dhamma.