Ashoka’s Conversion

by | Aug 9, 2006 | Current Events

Ashoka, Philosopher-King

King Ashoka (304 BC to 232 BC) was the Indian emperor of the Mauryan Empire from 273 to 232 BC. (The name Mauryan has been connected to the name Morya by modern theosophical researchers). He was the most successful in having ruled over the greatest expanse of land which was not equaled until the reign of the Mogul Emperor Akbar 2,000 years later.

H. G. Wells referred to Ashoka: “In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves ‘their highnesses,’ ‘their majesties,’ and ‘their exalted majesties’ and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.”

The following paragraphs are from Will Durant’s “The Story of Civilization, Vol I, Our Oriental Heritage”:

“Ashoka Vardhana mounted the throne in 273 BC. He found himself ruler of a vaster empire than any Indian monarch before him. Afghanistan, Baluchistan, and all of modern India but the extreme south Tamilakam, or Tamil Land. For a time he governed in the spirit of his grandfather Chandragupta, cruelly but well.

Yuan Chwang, a Chinese traveler who spent many years in India in the seventh century AD, tells us that the prison maintained by Ashoka north of the capital was still remembered in the Hindu tradition as “Ashoka’s Hell.” There, said his informants, all the tortures of any orthodox Inferno had been used in the punishment of criminals; to which the King added an edict that no one who entered the dungeon should ever come out alive.

But one day a Buddhist saint, imprisoned there without cause, and flung into a cauldron of hot water, refused to boil. The jailer sent word to Ashoka, who came, saw, and marveled. When the King turned to leave, the jailer reminded him that according to his own edict he must not leave the prison alive. The King admitted the force of the remark, and ordered the jailer to be thrown into the cauldron.

On returning to his palace Ashoka, we are told, underwent a profound conversion. He gave instructions that the prison should be demolished, that that the penal code should be more lenient. At the same time he learned that his troops had won a great victory over the rebellious Kalinga tribe, had slaughtered thousands of rebels, and had taken many prisoners.

Ashoka was moved to remorse at the thought of all this “violence, slaughter, and separation” of captives “from those they love.” He ordered the prisoners freed, restored their lands to the Kalingas, and sent them a message of apology which had no precedent and has had few imitations. Then he joined the Buddhist Order, wore for a time the garb of a monk, gave up hunting and the eating of meat, and entered upon the Eightfold Noble Way.

In the eleventh year of his reign he began to issue the most remarkable edicts in the history of government, and commanded that they should be carved upon rocks and pillars in simple phrase and local dialects, so that any literate Hindu might be able to understand them. The Rock Edicts have been found in almost every part of India; of the pillars ten remain in place, and the position of twenty others has been determined.

In these edicts we find the Emperor accepting the Buddhist faith completely, and applying it resolutely throughout that last sphere of human affairs in which we should have expected to find it – statesmanship. It is as if some modern empire had suddenly announced that henceforth it would practice Christianity.”

For more information on King Ashoka to go:

Mercury, God of Thieves

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