Ashoka had his personal faith in Buddhism. He had taken every step to propagate a universal Dharma or law.
He has described himself as a Buddha-Sakya in his Rock Edict shows his faith in the Buddhist Trinity, namely, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
Ashoka was free from sectarianism and religious narrow mindedness. He never tried to forcibly convert others to his religion. His universal religion or Dhamma was acceptable to the people of all creeds and faiths and this religion or Dhamma was not Buddhism. It was free from rigid doctrines and dogmas.
In fact it was like a lesson in ethics, virtues and morality. The purpose of this religion was the elevation of making to a higher level of existence. So the religion Ashoka preached, was a code of morals and contains, the essence of all the religions Dr.
Radhakumud Mookheijee has rightly remarked. “But the Dharma or religion which he preaches in his Edicts was not Buddhism or any particular creed. It was really a code of morals, the common foundations the “Sara” or essence of all religions”.
Ashoka’s inscriptions nowhere contain the Buddhist doctrines of Arya Satya. Noble Eightfold path, or Nirvana. It contained instead the laws of eternal and universals goodness.
He preached : “Obedience must be rendered to mother and father, likewise to elders ; kindness must be shown towards animals; truth must be spoken, these some moral virtues must be practised.
In the same way the pupil must show reverence to the master, and one must behave in a suitable manner towards relatives”.
Ashoka says in his Pillar Edicts, “Happiness in this world and in the other words is difficult to secure without great love of morality, careful examination, great obedience, and great fear of sin.”
In fact Ashok was a great humanitarian and aimed at the general welfare of the people. He paid his special attention at the Strength of character and purity of soul, of the people. Therefore the Dhama or law of piety preached by Ashoka was comprised of the following fundamental principles.
1. Samyam or control of senses.
2. Bhavasuhi or purity of heart.
3. Samacharanam or equal treatment to all.
4. Kritajanta or gratitude.
5. Dridh -Bhakti or stead fastness of devotion.
6. Day or Kindness.
7. Satyam or truthfulness.
8. Saucham or the inner and outer purity.
9. Sadhuta or Saintliness.
10. Sushrusa or services.
11. Sampriti Patti or support.
12. Apichiti or reverence.
“Ashoka himself practised equal treatment to all sects, religions, castes and communities that lived in his vast empire and worked for the common good of all people.
His tolerance towards the Brahminic faith even when he was a believes in Gods, calling himself as the Beloved of the Gods (Devanam-Priya). His respect for Brahmanas and Sramanas and for all ascetics is known from his Edicts”.
The spiritualisation of human character was the aim Ashoka’s universal Dhamma. He instructed to give up violence, anger, cruelty, pride and envey, and to develop gentlenes.
He did not give importance to outer ceremonies. Punya came from correct conduct. The moral values, not the material, were the true rewards of life. Prof.
Radha Kumud Mookheiji writes,” He thus ranks as the founder or the father of Universal Religion.” Thus we see that the religion propagated by Ashoka had following specialties.
1 Universalism :
The religion propagated by Ashoka was free of sectarianism and applied and appealed to all alike. His religion contained the essence of religions.
2. Tolerance :
Although a staunch follower of Buddhism Ashoka was tolerant towards other religions. The motive behind his religion was the welfare and good of the humanity.
3. Ahimsa :
Ahimsa was one of the most important fundamental principal of his religion and he himself had become a staunch follower of the principle of Ahimsa.
He had prohibited animal sacrifice. Slaughter and killing of animals or any sort of creature had been completely forbidden.
Emphasis of Ethical ideas: His religion laid emphasis on the purity of conduct and moral and ethical values in life.
As remarked by Radha Kumud Mookheijee, “The Buddha’s teaching begins and ends with enlightenment. On the whole it concentrates on moral aim and purpose.”