Plato, the Greek philosopher, said that only philosophers should be Kings. There are two great examples in history of Kings who were philosophers; one was Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, who was not only a wise, merciful, just and conscientious ruler, but also a Stoic philosopher, who left his philosophical principles on record in his famous book called “The Meditations”; and the other was the great Buddhist King of India. Ashoka Vardhana, the third ruler of the Mauryan Empire, reigned from 272 to 221 B.C.
The Mauryan Empire was founded by Chandragupta, and when Ashoka ascended the throne it extended over most of Northern India. Ashoka’s predecessors had been warriors and conquerors, but Ashoka waged only one war early in his reign, and he was so disgusted and horrified by the slaughter and misery it entailed, that he vowed he would never wage another. He kept his vow, and his reign was a reign of peace, and he devoted all his time and energy to the happiness and prosperity of his subjects. He was a wise and righteous ruler and was truly the father of his people.
Ashoka was early inclined to Buddhism, and a few years after he became King he became a convert to that religion.
All the rest of his life he was an earnest Buddhist and sent out many bands of missionaries to all parts of his dominions to preach the Buddhist faith. He is famous for the pillars he set up in all parts of his kingdom, inscribed with his edicts and the teachings of the Buddhist religion. His passion was to establish in the hearts of his subjects Dharma, or Righteousness. The chief principles of this Righteousness were reverence to superiors, parents, and priests; kindness to all living creatures, including animals, and truthfulness in thought, word, and deed.
He abolished cruel sports and animal sacrifices and discouraged meat-eating. He did not leave the government to subordinate officials but encouraged the people to bring their complaints directly to him, by day and night. He did all he could to promote morality and pure religion in his land. In one of his inscriptions he said: “With various blessings have former kings blessed the world, even as I have done; but in my case, it has been done solely with the intent that men may yield obedience to the Law of Piety.”
Yet Ashoka was no religious bigot; he was tolerant to all religions while striving to make men see the superiority of Buddhism.
Altogether, Ashoka was one of the most enlightened sincere, and conscientious rulers the world has seen.