source: "The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna" By John S. Strong, pp. 231-33Asokavadana wrote:
Upon leaving the capital, Vitasoka (1) set out for the border-lands, where he established a seat and a bed for meditation.
Soon, however, he became very ill. King Asoka, learning of his condition, sent him some medicine and some servants to
look after him. Now prior to his illness, Vitasoka had kept his head tonsured, but by the time he recovered, his hair had
grown long. He no longer needed the servants who were skilled in the art of healing and sent them back, but he continued to
take medicinal food such as cow's milk, frequenting a cattle station on his alms rounds.
ln the meantime, in the city of Pundavardhana, a lay follower of Nirgrantha Jnatiputra (2) drew a picture showing the
Buddha bowing down at the feet of his master. A Buddhist devotee reported this to King Asoka, who then ordered the
the man arrested and brought to him immediately. The order was heard by the nagas as far as a yojana underground, and by
the yaksas a yoiana up in the air, and the latter instantly brought the heretic before the king. Upon seeing him, Asoka
flew into a fury and proclaimed: “All of the Ajivikas (3)" in the whole of Pundavardhana are to be put to death at once!” And
on that day, eighteen thousand of them were executed.
Sometime later, in Pataliputra, a different devotee of Nirgrantha drew yet another picture of the Buddha bowing down
in front of his master. When Asoka heard about this, he was without mercy. He forced the man and his whole family to
enter their home and burnt it to the ground. He then issued a proclamation that whoever brought him the head of
a Nirgrantha heretic would be given a reward of one dinara (4).
Now around that time, the Venerable Vitasoka decided to spend the night in the house of a cowherd. Because of his
illness, his clothes had become tattered and his nails, hair and beard had grown long; and the cowherd’s wife thought it was
a Nirgrantha who had come to spend a night in their house. So she said to her husband: “My lord, that dinara is as good
as ours; let's kill this Nirgrantha and present his head to King Asoka." The cowherd, unsheathed his sword and approached
the venerable monk. Vitasoka just sat there. He accepted the facts of karma, and calling upon his knowledge of his past
lives, he realized that the time had come for him to reap the fruit of some of his own previous misdeeds. The cowherd then
cut off his head, took it to King Asoka and asked for his dinara reward.
Asoka did not immediately realize whose head it was for the unusual amount of hair prevented him from recognizing
his brother. But the servants who had attended Vitasoka were called in and upon seeing it, they proclaimed: “Your majesty,
this is Vitasoka’s head!" And hearing this, the king collapsed in a faint. He was revived by his ministers who splashed some water in his face.
“Your majesty,” they declared, “this is an example of the suffering that is being inﬂicted even on those who are free
from desire; you should guarantee the security of all beings!”
Asoka followed their advice, and thenceforth, no one was ever condemned to death again.
(1) Vitasoka - king Asoka's brother, who was a buddhist monk
(2) Nirgrantha Jnatiputra, one of the six heretic masters often listed in Buddhist texts, whose followers were jains. He is moat probably identical with
(3) Interestingly, the text here confuses the Aiivikas with the Jains.
(4) The reference to this gold coin, first minted during the period of the Kusanas, has been used to date the text as posterior to the first century A.D.
Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
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a story with a twist