Ashoka – The Great
Essay No. 01
- Buddhist stories of his youth.
- His war with Kolinga and his remorse at the suffering caused thereby.
- His devotion and services to Buddhism.
- Ashoka’s teachings and the missions he sent forth.
Ashoka was viceroy of Ujjain at the time of his father’s death, if Buddhist tradition may be believed. The Buddhist monks pretend that in his youth he was cruel and wicked, attaining the throne by the murder of ninety-eight out of ninety-nine brothers. But there does not seem to be any truth in these tales for Ashoka’s inscriptions prove that, long after his accession, he had brothers and sisters living, for whose welfare he took anxious, care. I its inscriptions, which are numerous, are the best authority for the events of his reign.
Some eight years after his coronation, Ashoka went to war with Kalinga. After hard fighting he overcame all resistance and conquered that kingdom. But he was horrified at the suffering caused by his ambition, and has recorded his “remorse on account of the conquest of the Kalingas, because, during the subjugation of a previously unconquered country, slaughter, death and taking away captive of the people necessarily occur; whereof His Majesty feels profound sorrow and regret.” Ashoka’s first war was his last; and for the rest of his life he devoted himself to winning “the chiefest conquest, the conquest by the Law of Piety.”
This sudden change in his feelings seems to have been due to his acceptance of the teachings of Buddhism, to which, as the years went on, he became more and more devoted, even to the extent of assuming the robes and vows of a monk.
Ashoka is said to have convened at his capital a council of Buddhist monks to reform the church and revise the scriptures. He engraved a series of edicts on rocks and stone pillars throughout his dominions, which have been deciphered by European scholars during the last seventy years. These records, which are found in Orissa, Karnatka, the Punjab, on the Maharashtra coast, and in other places, prove that Ashoka ruled all India, except the extreme south below the fourteenth parallel of latitude.
One of these inscriptions gives a summary of his moral teaching. It runs: “Father and mother must be obeyed; respect for living creatures must be enforced; truth must be spoken; the teacher must be revered by the pupil, and proper courtesy shown to relations.” Censors were appointed to enforce obedience to these rules with all the power of the government. Ashoka organized a system of missions to carry his teaching to all the protected states on the frontiers of the empire, including the Himalayan regions, the South, Ceylon, Egypt and Macedonia. In this way, Buddhism became one of the chief religions of the world. This result is the work of Ashoka alone, and entitles him to rank for all time in that small body of men who may be said to have changed the faiths of the world.
Essay No. 02
Ashoka – The Great
One of the greatest rulers of India’s history is Ashoka (Asoka). Ruling for thirty-eight years (274 B.C.-232 B.C.), he was generally mentioned in his inscriptions as Devanampiya Piyadasi (“Beloved of the gods”). As the third emperor of the Mauryan dynasty, he was born in the year 304 B.C. His greatest achievements were spreading Buddhism throughout his empire and beyond.
He set up an ideal government for his people and conquered many lands, expanding his kingdom. The knowledge of Ashoka’s early reign is limited because little information was found. His edicts and inscriptions allowed us to understand his reign and empire, and have an insight into the events that took place during this remarkable period of history. Eight years after he took his throne, Ashoka’s powerful armies attacked and conquered Kalinga (present day Orissa). Although he had conquered many other places, this violent war was the last war he ever fought and a turning point of his career. He was disgusted by the extreme deaths of numerous civilians, especially the Brahmans.
All these misfortunes brought Ashoka to turn into a religious ruler compared to a military ruler. As he turned to Buddhism, he emphasized dharma (law of piety) and ahimsa (nonviolence). He realized he could not spread Buddhism all by himself and therefore appointed officers to help promote the teachings. These officers were called Dhamma Mahamattas or “Officers of Righteousness” They were in charge of providing welfare and happiness among the servants and masters.
Preventing wrongful doings and ensuring special consideration was also their duty. Emphasizing his role as king, he paid close attention to welfare, the building of roads and rest houses, planting medicinal trees, and setting up healing centers. In order to pursue ahimsa, Ashoka gave up his favorite hobby of hunting and forbade the killing of animals, spreading vegetarianism throughout India. Furthermore, his soldiers were taught the golden rule- to behave to others the way you want them to behave to you, which is the basic law of life.
In the nineteenth century, a large number of edicts written in Brahmi script carved on rocks and stone pillars were discovered in India, proving the existence of Ashoka. These edicts, found scattered in more than 30 places throughout India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, are mainly concerned with moral principles Ashoka recommended, his conversion to Buddhism, his personality and his success as a king. Ashoka died in the thirty-eighth year of his reign, 232 B.C. The Buddhist ideas no longer inspire the government and at the same time, his descendants quarrel over the success-ions. In addition, the army, having become less warlike, was no longer able to defend the empire from invasion. In less than fifty years after his death, the Maurya Empire collapsed and fell into pieces.