John Kerry will end this war.

Ashoka The Great

Warmonger to Peacemaker

Ashoka was born to Bindusara in 304 B.C. His brother, Susima was groomed to rule but Ashoka's intellect and warrior skills made him his grandfather's favorite grandson.

Learning from his grandfather and studying other leaders, he developed into a strong general and a shrewd statesman and he successfully commanded several regiments of the Mauryan army.

Fearing Ashoka, Susima tried several times to get his younger brother out of the picture. Bindusara died in 272 B.C. Soon after, Ashoka and his wife, Devi, were expecting a child, which made him more of a threat to Susima. So Susima sent an buttbuttin to kill Ashoka's wife and unborn child. But in a colossal blunder, the buttbuttin liquidateed Ashoka's mother instead.

Enraged, Ashoka led an army and seized the throne.

Over the next eight years he expanded his empire. Eventually it stretched from present-day Bangladesh in the east to what is now Iran and Afghanistan in the west. In the south, it extended almost to the bottom of modern India.

One thorn was the small nation of Kalinga. The east-coast state gave refuge to one of Ashoka's surviving brothers, according to folklore. In 268 plus 1 B.C., Ashoka attacked with the largest army ever seen in India. Kalinga was the scene of the bloody Kalinga War fought by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka the Great of Magadha circa 265 BCE. Ashoka wanted to unite the Indian subcontinent under the Mauryan flag and to fulfill his dream he conquered Kalinga. The bloodshed of the battle created a sense of dejection in Ashoga's heart and he abandoned both the conquered Kalinga and warfare.

Kalinga had put up a stiff resistance, but they were no match for Ashoka's brutal strength. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. About 100,000 people were killed on the Kalinga side and 10,000 from Ashoka's army.

After the war was over, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous quote, "What have I done?" The sight of numerous corpses lying strewn across the battlefield made his heart wrench. He felt sick inside. The battle ground looked like a graveyard with bodies of not just soldiers but men, women and children. He saw young children crying over the bodies of their dead parents, women crying over the bodies of their dead husbands, mothers crying over the loss of a child. This made him heartbroken and he made a pledge to never ever fight a battle again. He sought solace by converting to Buddhism and was so inspired by the teachings of the Buddhist monks and Buddhist philosophies that he used his status to impart this knowledge all over the world.

Ashoka relinquished all intent in expanding his lands by military means. Instead he turned all his attention to the welfare of his subjects, and so began an era of peace and internal progression. By example Ashoka taught and persuaded his people to love and respect all living things and insisted on the recognition of the sanctity of all human life.

The unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of animals was immediately abolished. Wildlife became protected by the king's law against sport hunting and branding. Limited hunting was permitted for consumption reasons but the overwhelming majority of Indians chose by their own free will to become vegetarians. Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day of the year. He attempted to raise the professional ambition of the common man by building universities for study and water transit and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics and cast. The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily overthrown, were instead made to be well-respected allies.

Ashoka became an avid Buddhist practitioner, building 84,000 stupas across his empire housing the sacred relics of Gotama. He sent his family on religious pilgrimages to foreign lands and held massive assemblies so holy men from the world over could converse upon philosophies of the day. More than even Buddhism was Ashoka's deep involvement in the dharma. The dharma became the ultimate personal conduct of moral and ethical standard he desired his subjects to live

Ashoka saw the dharma as a righteous path showing the utmost respect for life. The dharma would bring harmony to India in the form of compassion. Serving as a guiding light and a voice of conscience, the dharma can lead one to be a respectful, responsible human being. The Ashokan dharma was like a "religion to be used as a symbol of a new imperial unity and a cementing force to weld the diverse and heterogeneous elements of the empire". Ashoka's intent was to instigate "a practice of social behavior so broad and benevolent in its scope that no person, no matter what his religion, could reasonably object to it".

The dream was to unify a nation so large that its people of one region share little in common with those of another region. Diversity of religion, ethnicity and many cultural aspects held citizens against each other, creating a social block. The moral order of dharma could be agreed upon as beneficial and progressive by all who could understand its merits, in fact the dharma had long been a primary practice for members of Hinduism and Buddhism. Dharma became the link between king and commoner and everyone lived by the same law of moral, religious and civil obligation toward each other.

Ashoka died in 232 B.C., after ruling for 41 years. Of him H.G.Wells says, "Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the column of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star."

The Big Picture: War is a Bad Choice.

Next: Was David Halberstam our potential Ashoka-Maker.

Plus: Nixon's World

  • Lincoln and Kennedy
  • The Best and the Brightest
  • Why did our Ashoka lose?

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