Mar 5, 2008

ASHOK - THE KING IN THE HERMIT’S DRESS

Many people wondered: “How can a nation be defended if its people adopt nonviolence?” It is a rather difficult and hypothetical question. However, an emperor by the name of Ashok ruled India with nonviolence and compassion in the third century, BC. Ashok was the emperor of peace and social justice; he did not rule by force or accumulating material goods and wealth. Rather, he ruled by treating all his subjects equally and justly. His example can guide us in establishing peace and justice in the today’s world.

Ashok was the grandson of the famous Chandragupta Maurya, a stringent follower Jainism (A Shraman). Ashok succeeded his father, Bindusara, in 270 BC, and subsequently inherited a kingdom that ranged from Afghanistan to Madras.

In the first year of his regime, he decided to annex a few small states to his empire, beginning with Orissa (Kaling). However, he was touched by the cruelties, horrors, and evils of warfare. Upon seeing the human suffering and bloodshed, he renounced war and developed an attitude of kindness and humanity.

As his father and grandfather followed Jainism, Ashok rose above religious intolerance and communalism. Many historians say that Ashok was neither a Jain nor a Buddhist, rather a kind ruler who presented a compromising, noncommunal practical religious way to morally uplift and rule his people. Ashok stopped expanding his kingdom and instead followed the principle of Ahimsa.

He spent his days in the moral, social, and economic pursuit of the happiness of his subjects. He treated all people as his children, and built schools and hospitals for men and animals. He had trees planted along the roads and erected rest areas for travelers. He established institutions for medical, religious, and philosophical education. Ashok sent missionaries to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and the Far East. Although he favored Buddhism, he was tolerant of all other religions. One of his edicts reads, “All religions deserve reverence for some reason or another.”

Thus, a man exalts his own religion, and at the same time, does service to the religion of other people. To learn here, the foremost is that even an Emperor can be content and follow Ahimsa (Non-violence) to rule Kingdom. We see religious tolerance for others, devotion, and kindness, all these from a man who was the Emperor.

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