Part I: King Ashoka of India

Part I: King Ashoka of India

By Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

It is beyond doubt that the past glory of Buddhism is due to its followers’ courage in seeking the true meaning beyond a material life. But we should never forget that this glory was also due to the support provided by people and nations who saw value in such pursuits. Even great kings and warlords have put aside their usual ambitions in the interest of supporting the buddhadharma. It is in these footsteps that Khyentse Foundation wishes to follow.

Buddhism has enjoyed many golden eras—the age of Ashoka’s Mauryan Empire (3rd century B.C.), the Chinese Tang Dynasty (8th century A.D.), Japan’s Tendai Dynasty (9th century A.D.), Kublai Khan’s reign (12th century A.D.), and pre-invasion Tibet. During those times, Buddhism suffused all parts of society. Just as people nowadays worship Ivy League graduates, Hollywood stars, and football players, the general public had tremendous respect for professional renunciants. They saw the value in investing in the enterprise of seeking enlightenment.

In a last few remaining places like Bhutan and Thailand, one can still find that same sort of veneration for enlightenment seekers. A renunciant can decide to do a nine-year retreat without much worry. Or a dharma student can find easy access to a monastery and a school for however long he or she wants to study. Giving is a very natural part of life in these places. Buddhism is kept alive in this way. Aside from these few examples, the modern age has lost this habit.

Buddhism has been introduced and is growing in the West, but support systems for spiritual pursuits are scarce. Only after buying a new Macintosh, going on vacation, taking out gym membership, and so forth, do we find some leftover pocket change to donate. Conversely, many western Buddhist students find retreat and renunciation difficult because of the continual need to support themselves on a material level. They lack institutions such as shedras (Buddhist colleges) and monasteries where they might simply walk in and request teachings. They must satisfy their interests individually, perhaps by going to Nepal or India to study language and scriptures on their own.

If we sincerely want to carry on the traditions of Buddhism, if we are talking about establishing Buddhism in the West, we need to think ahead to the next generation. This means creating lasting structures that foster practice and make the dharma available to anyone who is interested. We cannot sit back and wait until America or France becomes a Buddhist country. During his time, King Ashoka built many shrines and monasteries, he inscribed Buddhist teachings on rocks and pillars. He sent missionaries to countries as far as Greece and Egypt. His own son, a monk, carried Buddhism to Sri Lanka, where it is still the major religion. So we are starting small by doing things like publishing texts, sponsoring a three-year retreatant in France, feeding and housing seven hundred monks in India and Bhutan. The whole purpose of the Khyentse Foundation is to create a system of support for the continuing study and practice of the dharma.



Posted on

October 2, 2015


  1. Good and noble idea but why must the “East” financially support the study of Buddhism in the “West” considering their money exchange these days are comparably higher? In the East we sweat for every stipend earned. Is it our Kamma we have to labor to support the spread of Buddhism in the West? King Asoka spread Theravada buddhism, divided Kashimiri and Ghandhara and supported the teachings which later became known as Theravada Buddhism. The Mahayana teachings coming from the Ghandhara scripts were prohibited or shelf and mainly Theravada were taught as the “correct” teachings of the Buddha to SriLanka by Mahinda. It is important that institutions must make available ALL the teachings of the Buddha and not biased towards the Mahayana and Vajrayana of the Tibetan lineages. I was trained in the PaliCanon but I was spiritually geared more towards Vajra tantric practictice(not my fault if I have the affinity), and my meditations and visualizations were all considered wrong! Now I roughly understood what are Ngakpas and those whatever that belonged to the Buddha’s 4 fold assemblies but not ordained member of the “holy” sangha and how to form the core of what is known as Tibetan Buddhism!

  2. And, I watched the biography of King Asoka on Astro. It was a very beautiful life story of this great warlord. His cruel plundering and marauding destruction of all the villages he went through before he became a devout buddhist was over the woman he loved. This great hero was felled by a woman, so Theravada was probably the only choice to quench the thirst of this man’s hatred… giggle

    • It has been guru rinpoche who brought buddhadharma to Ashoka

  3. Thank you.
    Now, in the off chance we dare talk about enlightenment, we are looked at as truly insane people. Enlightenment is often seen as a total waste of time. In that sense we can say that these are truly degenerate times, when beings create very little merit. I am sorry it is this way. I have taught children for years, in the Waldorf tradition, where one walks the 8-year path with the same class, and it has been rewarding, but also saddening to see how karmic actions, and their results return to beings around puberty…and I felt so helpless…being of little merit myself. It is truly a vicious cycle: cyclic existence.

  4. I was a monk who applied for help from the Khyentse foundation and was turned down. I ended up having to come to a big city to teach English and, due to my lack of merit and stable practice, ended up losing my vows. All I wanted to do was practice and commit my days to the Dharma…

    • do not blamed on your merits, try cultivate and repair your vows, even if it is a lay vows of a common practitioner. I dont know if you are still a monk. If not, you can still practice as a lay person like I do. Dont force yourself to commit if you cant. The Buddha taught one should not hold too tight to the bow and not too loose to get it correct(like meditation also). I was turned away from an international buddhist college where they professed the highest gift is the gifting of Buddha Dhamma. It is sad the Buddha’s teachings are now for selected individuals only and religious politics were involved. This should not have been the case.

  5. To say or not to say…

    Firstly the original concept of a monk was a renunciant.. though monasteries were designed to support the community.. they still depended on physical labour of the community of monks.. and alms begging… thus the concept of a field of blessings ment a robe made up of salvaged cloth..

    So we are in a new industrial age. Buy your cloth and pay a tailor to sew it. Jump on a plane to attend a teaching. The nuns of the Thai forest tradition were seeking financial help to establish the air conditioned one room condos on the edge of a forest.. USA. Monasteries need finical help, that s why some of the temples in Asia demand a donation of $100 US to enter.

    Then if looking for a dharma tradition one can look at the behaviour of said monastics and find unfortunately too often they disrobe with your friends to enjoy a movie. Then just as quickly they disrobe to marry.

    Currently I can honestly say that if one dose not have the necessary attendance fee there is no tibetan dharma teaching available to me at present. Public lectures are not free. This is of course is a huge choke. I can attend any number of other faiths and refuse to make a donation at collection and no one will be too concerned.

    Then there is what i call the foolish nonsense buddhism that is sometimes promoted. No resemblance at all with the teaching of Buddha.. lots of foolish nonsense.. Magical monks and flying Buddhas.. looks or sounds more like a Chinese action movie.

    I have seen the pictures of a young Penor Rinpoche labouring in the fields of Bylakuppe. Then 40 years later they the same tradition are seeking treatment for constipation. “Too much meat, not enough exercise”. What has changed. With western affluence has come the corruption inherent in the west.

    So good luck with lasting structures.


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