From Tyrant to bearer of the national symbol of modern India: Emperor Ashoka the great.
About 250 years after the time of the Buddha, there lived a minor prince named Ashoka who had to destroy 99 of his brothers to become emperor. So he had a rough start and he turned out to be very cunning and greedy for the expansion of his empire. However each successive war or expansion of his kingdom did not make him happy. After one particularly terrible war at Kalinga, modern day Orissa, Ashoka went into Kalinga’s capital to survey the damage. The amount of death and destruction was said to have sickened the emperor. Inspired, Ashoka declared:
“Eight years after becoming king, I conquered Kalinga.
More than 100,000 people were captured and that many were killed. This filled me with sorrow. Why?”
Just then he noticed a monk, walking across the battlefield, looking radiant with peace and happiness. Ashoka asked his attendants, why is that I have everything in the world but I am miserable. But this monk who has nothing but the robe he wears and the bowl he carries, seem serene in the midst of such misery. He pursued the monk who introduced to the emperor the dharmachakra, or “Wheel of the Dharma”- Gautama Buddha’s teaching of the path to Nirvana. As a consequence, he renounced his violent ways and embraced the teachings. Thus became the only king in the history who gave up conquest after winning a war. He came to believe that winning people over through dharma/teachings is much better than conquering them through force. He inscribed this message on pillars: “I am doing so for the future, so that my son and grandson after me should not think about war”. Indeed Ahsoka’s son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamitra were responsible for the spread of Buddha’s teachings across Sri Lanka. A fragment of one of Ashoka’s Pillars can be found in the British Museum, and declares the emperor’s benevolence towards all under his rule,
“I consider how I may bring happiness to the people, not only to relatives of mine or residents of my capital city, but also to those who are far removed from me. I act in the same manner with respect to all. I am concerned similarly with all classes. Moreover, I have honored all religious sects with various offerings. But I consider it my principal duty to visit the people personally.”
He created the Ashoka Chakra (wheel) which implies a “cycle” – which signifies the movement of time or life and how the entire world changes with time. The Ashoka Chakra has been adopted as India’s national symbol and is at the center of the Flag. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue, ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag.
In this day in age, when hatred seems to be an acceptable way of dealing with other people, the ability to love seems to be a lost art. So how do we bring about more loving-kindness in our lives? To start, we have to to have the right intentions. In this week’ theme of Loving-kindness (metta in Pali), we extend metta towards a loved one, a neutral person (a neighbor – someone you don’t really know), someone with whom you have a difficult relationship and all beings everywhere.
– May you be safe and protected, free from internal demons and external threats.
– may you experience moments of peace and happiness.
– may you live your life with ease.
– may you be healthy and strong – and if that is not possible, may you accept your limitations with grace.