Sunday, March 12, 2017

Ashoka the Buddha

Ashoka the Buddha

Ashoka took over throne in 268 BC. In the eighth year of his coronation of Mauryan Empire, in 260 BCE, when he was 42-44 years old, he invaded Kalinga, a feudal republic located on the coast of Bay of Bengal, the present day Odisha (Utkal) and northern parts of AP. Ashoka won the war against the strong army of Kalinga but thousands of soldiers were killed from both the sides. It was the bloodiest battle.

It is said that after the death of thousands of Kalinga soldiers and civilians in the war, the brave ladies of Kalinga wearing army uniform and holding swords in hands reached to the battlefield near the bank of river Daya, and challenged Ashoka to fight war with them. When Ashoka was touched with their bravery and listened them, what did they reply? "Your actions have taken from us our father, husband, and son. Now what will we have left to live for?" Moved by these words, it is said, that he felt deep remorse, his heart changed, he vowed to never take life again. Kalinga war has changed the heart of the victor from one of wanton cruelty to that of an exemplary piety. Ashoka decided to follow the path of 'Dharma'.

"Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas."

What was this "Dharma" of Ashoka. Was it Buddhism? Ancient history of India carry fights in individual mind as well as in groups, the fight between Dharma and Adharma, the right path and the wrong path. From the environment of wars and inequality, two religions: Jainism and Buddhism were emerged as strong alternatives to Hinduism near the seat of the power of those days Pataliputra (Patna) in 4th-3rd century BC. Greed for territory and killing innocents in war was considered Adharma. Chandragupta Maurya after winning war against Dhannanda (324 BCE) and Seleucus I Nicator (305 BCE), became Jain. As disciple of Chankya, he was Hindu, but was influenced by the principle of non violence of Jainism, accepted Jainism, abdicated his throne as part of his faith around 298 BCE and moved towards South India, where he died in Shravanbelagola (Karnataka) in 297 BCE. Bindusara, his son succeeded him, extended the Mauryan empire upto Mysore. Bindusara was succeeded by his son Ashoka the great in 268 BCE. The mother of Ashoka was said to be a beautiful Brahmin girl serving as royal barber, became the beloved wife of Bindusara.

The description of Mauryan empire, the Kings, etc, are narrated in Hindu (Purana), Jain, Buddhist and Greek literature. Pataliputra was the seat of power of a very large empire and all the three religions of India, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism were trying to influence the King with their religious thoughts. The people in general used to follow the faith of the King because King was considered the Deva, the God on earth. Devanampriya (beloved of Gods), the salutation has been used for the Mauryan Kings, therefore, primarily, they were Hindu Kings but were open to adopt new faith. Chandragupta became Jain and Ashoka became Buddh.

But was Ashoka really became Buddh? Or was he Jain like his grandfather? Jainist and Buddhist legends were written after several hundred years of their death.

The word "Dharma" has been mentioned in his inscription. Does it the same, the Dhammam of Buddhism? It is said that his wife Queen Tissarakha (married in 264 BCE) was Jain and was jealous of Ashoka's love for Buddhism. These were the days post Kalinga war. It was 4th year of their marriage life. One can imagine the religious mental trauma of Ashoka after Kalinga war and the strain in their marital relationship. To get Ashoka free from Buddhism, and out of jealousy to Buddhism, she became instrument in killing the original Bodhi Tree (Peepal tree) at Bodhgaya (under which Lord Buddha have attained enlightenment), in 267 BCE (ninth year of Ashoka's reign). The original specimen of the tree was then grown at Anuradhapura in Srilanka. What was the crime of the tree? In the meanness of the human mind, the bodhi tree was cut twice again, by Pushyamitra Shringa in 2nd century BCE and Shashanka in 600 AD.

Have you been to a Derasar of Jains? Have you observed the idols of the Tirthankars, and their symbols? The symbols are: bull, elephant, horse, monkey, kauncha (bird), lotus, swastika, crocodile, wish yielding tree, rhinoceros, buffalo, bore, falcon, thunderbolt, deer, goat, fish, waterpot, tortoise, lily, conch shell, serpent and lion.

The Lion Capital of Ashoka (Emblem of India) (from Sarnath), a sculpture showing thean elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion, separated by chakra (wheel) in the circular base on which the four Indian/Asiatic lions are standing back to back. The Chakra on the Ashokan capital may be a Wheel of Dharma, or a classic symbol of a “Chakravarti” king, who commands the wheel of time! It has 24 spokes - either representing 24 hours of the day or the 24 Tirthankars of Jainism. Buddhist chakra has 8 spokes to represent the eight-fold path of Buddha. Lion is a Hindu symbol of kingship and also identifying symbol of Mahavir the 24th Tirthankar, but not Buddha. Elephant is common animal as auspicious sign in Hindu-Jain-Buddha. Bull, horse, lion and elephant are all symbols of royalty. They denote duty, steadfastness, speed, strength, valour and vitality.

In the Indian context, Dharma means Rajdharma of a king, his credentials as the rightful, diligent, law-abiding ruler would use the title “Dharma” along with his name. Buddhist Kings list doesn't mention name Ashoka, but mention the title as Devanampriya, or Priyadarshi. The Edicts of Ashoka dispersed in the kingdom on Mauryas are a collection of 33 inscriptions describe Ashoka's earnest attempt to solve some of problems that a complex society faced. The edicts focus on social and moral precepts rather than specific religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism. The principle of non violence he propagated is more of a Jain philosophy.

However, to propagate his faith of Dharma, Ashoka sent emissaries to many countries. Sanghmitra, the eldest daughter of Ashoka and his first wife Devi and her brother Mahendra became Buddhist monks and went to Srilanka to spread teachings of Buddhism. Buddhism was spread over to many areas of Mauryan empire during their period of rule of 80 years from 261 BCE to 180 BCE. In those 80 years, Ashoka was succeeded by Dasharath, Samprati, Shalisuka, Devaverman, Shatdhanvan and Brihadrath. The last Mauryan King, Brihadarth was assassinated during army review by his Brahmin Senapati General Pushyamitra in 180 BCE. He killed many Buddhist monks and destroyed many monasteries to wiped off Buddhist doctrine.

What a great transit of history! Chand Ashoka became Dharma Ashoka. He won territories by sword but spread his moral empire across many countries winning them with love of Dharma.

2313 years ago, he was born, became one of the greatest emperors, reign over Hindu Kush in the west to Bangladesh in the east and upto Mysore in the South, still carry influence over modern India to follow his doctrine of Dharma, to maintain unity and harmony in the Country of diversity.

Ashoka the Buddha (wise).

12 March 2017


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.