Buddhism - Buddhist King scribes first ever gospel of world peace
by Ashok Raj
After the war of Kalinga, Emperor Asoka was no more the same man as he was - the head of a powerful military regime, relentlessly in pursuit of territorial expansion of his state. Deeply affected and conscious-stricken by his experiences of what were in those days the familiar horrors of war, he transformed his feelings of irreparable repentance into a powerful spiritual movement never undertaken by any ruler in world history. This mission not only carved for the first time the design of a spiritually inspired ‘welfare state’, but also profoundly affected great multitudes of men and in this way influenced the history of the Eastern world in many ways.
In the dissemination of his spiritual messages, the Buddhist King emerged as a great innovator in mass communication. He wrote and published his great edicts inscribed on rocks and pillars, to inform his people about his faith, his life and his purposes so as to mobilise and govern human endeavour for a world freed finally of violence, hate and mindless aggression. Written with much compassion and sincerity, the King in these edicts painstakingly unfolds his religious principles and the code of conduct for both the state and the people and thus makes his place in human history of a great preacher of righteousness and piety.
In the rock edict located at Shahbazgarhi in the Peshawar district in Pakistan, Asoka denounces war and all other forms of violence and writes his famous gospel on peace and tolerance. The text of the edict runs as follows:
“Kalinga was conquered by his Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King when he had been consecrated eight years. One hundred and fifty thousand persons were thence carried away captive, one hundred thousand were there slain, and many times that number died.”
“Directly after the annexation of Kalinga, began His Sacred Majesty’s zealous protection of the Law of Piety (or of Duty), his love of that Law, and his giving instruction in that Law (Dhamma). Thus arose His Majesty’s remorse for having conquered Kalinga, because the conquest of a country previously unconquered involves the slaughter, death and carrying away captive of the people. This is a matter of profound sorrow and regret to his Sacred Majesty.”
“There is, however, another reason for his Sacred Majesty feeling still more regret, inasmuch as in such a country dwell Brahmans or ascetics, or men of various denominations or householders, upon whom is laid this duty of hearkening to superiors, hearkening to teachers, and proper treatment of friends, acquaintances, comrades, relatives, slaves and servants, with fidelity of attachment. To such people in such a country befalls violence, or slaughter, or separation from their loved ones. Or misfortune befalls the friends, acquaintances, comrades and relatives of those who are themselves well protected, while their affection is undiminished. Thus for them also this is a mode of violence. And the share of this that falls on all men is matter of regret to His Sacred Majesty.”
“Thus of all the people who were slain, done to death or carried away captive in Kalinga, if the hundredth or the thousandth part were to suffer the same fate, it would now be matter of regret to his Sacred Majesty. Moreover, should any one do him wrong, that too, must be borne with by His Sacred Majesty, if it can possibly be borne with… His Sacred Majesty desires that all animate things should have security, self-control peace of mind and joyousness.”
“And this is the chiefest conquest, in the opinion of His Sacred Majesty, the conquest by the Law of Piety - and this, again, has been won by His Sacred Majesty both in his own dominions and in all the neighboring realms as far as six hundred leagues - where the Greek (Yona) King named Antiochos dwells, and north of Antiochos to where dwell the four kings severally named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas, and Alexander; and in the south the (realms of the) Cholas and Pandyas, as far as (the) Tamraparni (river) likewise - and here, too in the King’s dominions, among the Greeks, and Kambojas, the Nabhapantis of Nabhakas; among the Bhoojas, and Pitinikas, among the Andhras and Pulindas - everywhere men follow His Sacred Majesty’s instruction in the Law of Piety...”
“And again, the conquest thereby won everywhere is everywhere a conquest full of delight. Delight is found in the conquests made by the Law. That delight, however, is only a small matter. His Sacred Majesty regards as bearing much fruit only that which concerns the other world.”
“And for this purpose has this pious Edict been written in order that my sons and grandsons, who may be, should not regard it as their duty to conquer a new conquest. If, perchance, conquest should please them, they should take pleasure in patience and gentleness, and regard as (the only true) conquest the conquest won by piety. Let all joy be in effort, because that avails for both this world and the next.”
Historians have compared the greatness of Asoka with other fellow monarchs – Emperor Constantine, King Alfred, King Omar Khaliff-I and King Charlemagne. Among them, the Arabian King Omar Khaliff, like Asoka, gave up territorial expansion of his kingdom and strove with much energy to develop an ideal for his Arab nation, to become a humble host of the Lord and where every citizen was His soldier. He, in fact, began his reign by proclaiming a principle: “By God he that is weakest among you shall be in my sight the strongest, until I have vindicated for him his rights; but him that is strongest will I treat as the weakest, until he complies with the laws.”
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