Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Life

December 14, 2013

GLOBAL FAITHS: Buddhism didn't last in India

India saw the rise of a great emperor of the Maurya dynasty about 269 B.C.E. At his birth his queen mother named him Ashoka, meaning “free from sorrow,” to indicate her freedom from sorrow at now having borne the king a son.

At his father’s death, Ashoka killed or otherwise eliminated rival contenders for the throne. Then, having established himself in power, he launched a bloody war of conquest against a reputedly democratic Kalinga people in Eastern India. The conquest left 100,000 people dead and 150,000 deported. At the end of his conquests Ashoka is said to have ruled all of India from Afghanistan to Assam.

Surveying the battlefield after the war, Ashoka is reputed to have felt sorrow over the suffering caused by this war. In one of his inscriptions he says, “His Majesty feels remorse on account of the conquest of Kalinga because, during the subjugation of a previously unconquered country, slaughter, death, and taking away captive of the people necessarily occur, whereat his Majesty feels profound sorrow and regret.” Ashoka did not, however, give back the Kalinga people their independence, indicating that his public statements likely contained the kind of spin government statements all too often use.

Historians say that after this conquest and about six years into his reign, Ashoka began to convert to Buddhism. It was some two and a half centuries after the time of the Buddha, and it may well be that Buddhist monastic communities impressed him with their alternative ethic. And so Ashoka began supporting monasteries and building monuments over relics of the Buddha. He sent a daughter and son to establish Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He helped organize the Third Buddhist Council around 250 B.C.E. Maybe most important, he set up pillar and rock inscriptions across his empire, 33 of which have been found and deciphered.

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