By M.S.N. Menon
Kill those who join other gods with Prophet?says Islam.
There is no salvation except through Jesus Christ?says Christianity.
A person should not make an exhibition of reverence to his own sect and condemn another'swithout good reason. On the contrary, the other sect should be shown reverence?says Ashoka.
There is no higher work than the welfare of the whole world?adds Ashoka.
Three different religions, three different advices. And yet it is claimed that all religions teach the same truth. They do not. They teach different things. It is time to say so, for what we are is what we are taught to be. One becomes a killer, the other a server. And that is at the root of the crisis of civilisation.
Ashoka was the greatest emperor in human history; he was an ardent Buddhist missionary. He has been compared to Constantine the Great, to Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor. But he is beyond comparison. H.G. Wells says of him that ?Ashoka shines and shines alone?a star.? The great histo-rian Toynbee agrees with it.
He did not go out and conquer and convert. He was committed to peace and non-violence. So he exhorted other kings to follow Dharma ?for my sake?.
Ashoka is the greatest exemplar of India'shistory. India owes him the Dharma Chakra on its flag and the State emblem.
We know him intimately through his edicts. They were written on rocks because he wanted them to last for ever. ?All men are my children,? he proclaimed. He thought of humanity as his family. (Compare this with the Christian treatment of ?pagans? and Muslim treatment of ?infidels?.)
He says he is never satisfied with his exertion. ?There is no higher work than the welfare of the whole world,? he proclaims. He did not go out and conquer and convert. He was committed to peace and non-violence. So he exhorted other kings to follow Dharma ?for my sake?. He never claimed that Buddhism was pre-eminent.
At the time he lived, the religion that prevailed in India was called Brahminism. But Ashoka respected the Brahmins. They were his first disciples.
In Edict 12, Ashoka says that a person should show reverence to other sects. ?By doing so, a person exalts his own sect.?
Ashoka was keen on justice. He says in one of his edicts that just as a person feels confident in handing over his child to the care of a clever and good nurse, he (Ashoka) has handed over his people to the care of his officials who are just. (Justice was the main subject of discussion in Plato'sRepublic.)
Ashoka'swas a caring State. He instructs his officials to release prisoners if they are aged, to look after the families of prisoners, to maintain orphans, the aged, the infirm, the afflicted and helpless.
Dharma was a favourite subject with him. Many of the edicts proclaimed his commitment to Dharma. What did it consist of? The following: ?Little sinfulness, much good, mercy, truthfulness, purity of life, gentleness.? These are to be realised through ahimsa, hearkening to father, mother, elders, reverence to teachers, liberality to friends and relatives, frugality and non-acquisitiveness to Brahmins and ascetics and seemly behaviour to slaves and servants.
Ashoka recommends concourse (dialogue?) amongst different religions so that they are in ?possession of much information and knowledge?. These, he believed, would lead to more understanding and less conflict. He was more interested in the ethical aspects of religion, not its theological parts, for while there can be disputes over theology, there can be none over ethics, he says.
Ashoka was the first ecologist of the world. He says in his edict that he planted banyan trees to provide shade to man and beast and mango orchards for their fruit. He got wells dug and built rest-houses. And he forbade animal sacrifice and destruction of forests. Such has been Ashoka'slegacy to India and mankind. That is the best commonwealth which shows the way to a most virtuous and happy life, says Aristotle. Ashoka proved that it can be achieved.