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Asoka Pillar

Thoughts of Emperor Asoka

By Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge

Continued from Last week

What one sees in this exercise is the wisdom of a pragmatic man whose experience in handling men and matters of diverse origin and character has given him a rare insight into the intellectual and spiritual needs of the humankind.

Not once does he, in whatever he had said or done, given even the slightest impression that he was motivated by anything other than the purest intentions of serving humanity. His beliefs and his ideals are so unequivocally worded and matched with action that his sincerity of purpose is crystal clear. It calls for an inordinately high level of scepticism and lack of faith in human nature for one to construe Asoka's actions in the promotion of Dharma as politically or materially inspired strategies to facilitate his tasks as the ruler of a mighty empire. If he embraced Buddhism from a political motive as some recent scholars assume, he could have simply preached Buddhism in all its philosophical and doctrinal details and gained the approbation of the Sangha and his co-religionists. But he did not do so. Not only did he assiduously avoid any sectarian bias in formulating his Dharma but deliberately adopted a multi-sectarian standpoint as regards the values to be upheld and goals to be achieved.

That such a set of moral standards and principles is both universal and perennial is obvious. Nearly two thousands three hundred years after they were enunciated, the merit reiteration and compliance because the fundamental premises on which they are based continue to be valid: All life is sacred and its preservation is indispensable to individual and collective well-being.

Peace and non-violence, compassion and understanding develop not in abstraction but in the context of person-to-person and people-to-people relations and courtesy and obedience, respect and care within the family and the community alone would create the necessary climate for other moral qualities to flourish.

Restraint, truthfulness, compassion, tenderness, goodness, purity of heart and generosity as well as frugality and contentment serve as antidotes to ruthlessness, cruelty, hatred, arrogance and jealousy and are conducive to reducing evil and promoting righteousness.

Righteous conduct has its rewards not only in this life but also in the next and hence spiritual development merits equal attention as amenities for comfort and happiness here and now.

Leading one's family members, friends, acquaintances, etc. to a righteous way of living through precept and example is the fundamental duty of everybody.

On the macro-plane, death and deprivation, damage and devastation and such other horrors of war spell the futility of conquest by arms. Armed conflict and violence only debase humanity.

The role of religion is to ennoble humankind through the development of inner spiritual essence. Neither animal sacrifice and feasts nor rites and ceremonies serve this purpose. Nor should religion be a cause of disunity and dissension.

Religions must co-exist and be equally respected and studied. So should the clergies of different religions be uniformly respected and cared for.

Religious tolerance presupposes the avoidance of undue criticism of another's religion particularly with the faulty notion that one's own religion is thus glorified.

Righteousness can be propagated through restrictive legislation as well as through exhortation appealing to reason and conviction. It is the latter that is really effective.

Everyone in authority is under a debt to serve his or her fellow-beings. Diligence and impartiality are as indispensable for the performance of one's duties as much as freedom from jealousy, anger, cruelty, haste, want of perseverance, laziness and fatigue.

Embodied in these ten fundamental premises is the Way of Life which Asoka, through his vision and wisdom, wished that humanity would cherish as long as the sun and the moon last. With the growing interest in Asoka-Dhamma in the world today his wish may yet be fulfilled. Could anyone, therefore, dismiss Asoka as a failure simply because the world took two millennia to catch up with his nobble ideals?

In this closing Section of the final Chapter, our attention has been focused on what Asoka has left behind as his legacy to humanity. Over and above his magnificent contribution of providing the climate as well as patronage and amenities for Buddhism to evolve into the World Religion that it is today, his insights and deeds, as perpetuated in his own words engraved on rock, have enable Asoka to re-emerge in the twentieth century as a role model for conscientious rulers and a teacher of humane conduct to humankind. The following conclusions are drawn from this analysis:

If the earlier admirers of Asoka's mature and sensitive approach to problems of a not-so-gentle society upheld Asoka's gospel as valid for India at the beginning of this century, the universal validity of his example to humanity was soon recognized by the next generation. But the reaction of Indian scholars proved less friendly. Perhaps conditioned by the humiliation of being long under foreign yoke, they chastise Asoka as the perpetrator of actions and propagator of values which weaned India from nationhood and world domination.

The re-emergence as a model worthy of emulation stands to the credit of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and their collaborators in India's struggle for Independence through Non-violence.

Once India had thus re-owned Asoka, the growing consensus in his favour - marred, of course, occasionally by a dissenting voice - has been twofold:

First, his message of peace and non-violence, truth and tolerance, compassion and commitment is not only universal and perennial but the world today is sorely, in need of it.

Second, the example he set through the abhorrence of war and devotion to righteousness; the methods he adopted to implement his policy and programme of Dharmavijaya and his perfect understanding that exhortation appealing to reason and individual responsibility supersedes restrictive legislation remains valid for all times and climes. Not only has Asoka despite how his empire crumbled after his death and he himself remained forgotten and unhonoured in his homeland for over a millennia secured for himself a permanent place in the history of humanity, but also shall his words and deeds, concerns and insights inspire generations to come as long as civilization lasts. Asoka's own aspiration was that they last as long as his sons and grandsons, great-grandsons and their progeny or as long as the sun and the moon shine.

His wish may yet be fulfilled for humankind could never again relegate him to oblivion; nor bypass him when inspiration and courage has to be sought from history in combating recurrent scourges of violence and war, intolerance and bigotry, greed and apathy and the nonchalant devastation of the biosphere.

This article was published in Daily News , June 20, 1997 .

පොසොන් අව අටවක පෝය

ජූනි 26 වන දා බ්‍රහස්පතින්දා
පූර්ව භාග 06.10 ට ලබයි. 27 වන දා සිකුරාදා පූර්ව භාග
05.00 දක්වා පෝය පවතී.
සිල් සමාදන්වීම ජූනි 26 වන දා
බ්‍රහස්පතින්දා ය.

මීළඟ පෝය ජූලි 2 වන දා බදාදාය.

පොහෝ දින දර්ශනය

Second Quarterඅව අටවක

ජූනි 26

New Moonඅමාවක

ජූලි 02

First Quarterපුර අටවක

ජූලි 10

Full Moonපසෙලාස්වක

ජූලි 17

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