Enlightened Revolutionary How King Asoka Entrenched Buddhism Into Indian Culture Research Paper


Enlightened Revolutionary Asoka was the Indian royal leader of the Maurya dynasty founded by his grandfather, Chandragupta. He is considered as one of the greatest monarch of ancient India. It was under his reign that almost the whole India as well as Baluchistan and Afghanistan were brought together under one control for the very first time in Indian history. As legends state, Asoka was regretful and sorry for all the suffering he had imposed during his conquest of the state of Kalinga. Thus, to get back his peace of mind and spiritual satisfaction, he accepted Buddhism and abandoned all bloody wars and brutal conquests. His belief in ahimsa or nonviolence is declared in the inscriptions that provide knowledge of Asoka's rule. He was a firm advocate who clearly stated his credence in tolerance of all faiths. It was also under Asoka's period of influence that India prospered and art flourished. Other than his several majestic accomplishments, Asoka is most renowned for his undertakings to bring Buddhism to the fore from a simple Indian sect to a world religion ("Asoka").

Asoka erected many Buddhist monasteries and stupas. The slaughter of animals was also regulated in his reign. Influenced by the preaching of Buddha, the unsympathetic and cruel laws of his predecessors were mitigated under his rule. Buddhist missionaries were sent throughout India as ordered by him. The missionaries also went to the adjacent lands of India as far as Syria, Egypt, and Greece. He sent his son/brother to Sri Lanka as the head of the mission. According to the historical texts, a great Buddhist convocation was held at Asoka's capital, Pataliputra, under his own patronage. The purpose of the convocation was to suppress heretical doctrines of all forms and to authenticate the principles of Buddhism ("Asoka").

Understanding Buddhism -- Basic Beliefs and Practices

Siddhartha Gautama, popularly recognized as The Buddha, founded the religion and philosophy of Buddhism in India in 525 BC ("Buddhism"). The fundamental principles of Buddhism include the "four noble truths" whisc are as follows:

1. Dukhka which means that existence is suffering.

2. Trishna which means that suffering has a basis.

3. Nirvana which means that suffering has an end.

4. There is a pathway to the termination of suffering known as the "eightfold path." This path is composed of right way of living, right mindfulness, right awareness, right analysis, right decisions, right communication, right deeds and right endeavors. In Buddhism, reality is not described in terms of being or material but in terms of progression and relation ("Buddhism").

Buddhism commands its followers to abstain from killing, stealing, avoid immoral deeds, speaking wrongly, and consuming intoxicants ("Buddhism").

King Asoka and Buddhism

King Asoka was the 3rd emperor of the Mauryan dynasty in the third century B.C. He was also the 1st monarch of a united India and is also regarded as one of the greatest unparalleled politicians. He altered his polity from one of armed invasions to Dharmavijaya (victory by uprightness and legitimacy) after holding on to the teachings of Buddha. Later he was successful in achieving the most difficult milestone of all -- the conquest of himself. This he achieved through the awareness of human anguish and self-conviction (Seneviratna).

It all started in about 264 B.C.E. when the state of Kalinga, the most dominant realm in India, was conquered by Asoka. However, this conquest changed Asoka's life completely. He became so disgusted by the terror his forces had inflicted on the Kalingans. Consequently, he found spiritual satisfaction by embracing Buddhism and its teachings of nonviolence and compassion (Swearer).

Asoka described the impact of Kalinga War on himself as, "Now that the country of the Kalingans has been conquered, the Beloved of the Gods is devoted to an intense practice of the duties relating to the Dharma, [or, according to other versions of the Edict, zealous discussion of Dharma], to a longing for Dharma and to the inculcation of Dharma among the people. This is due to the repentance of the Beloved of the Gods on having conquered the country of the Kalingas" (as qtd. In Seneviratna, 53).

Thus, after realizing his inflicted atrocities on Kalingans, Asoka was certain that the only true conquest can be achieved by the force of the teachings of religion and not by armed conquests. He instructed his heirs to "take pleasure in patience and gentleness, and regard as (the only true) conquest the conquest won by piety" (as qtd. In Swearer). He declared openly that no one should be destroyed...


This was the "cool" revolution by Asoka (Thurman, 95). Thus, he adopted the 'cool' revolution practiced by Buddha and in conjunction with the societal sphere of bondage formed a new sphere of freedom. Asoka's cool revolution did not mean to revolutionize the existing customs and traditions by force. Instead he tried to change the ways of life of the Indian society through the spread of Buddha's teachings in the most modest and unaggressive way. However, Asoka also heated up the cool revolution for some time to impose the truthiness of Buddhism by royal actions and authority. Yet he did not conduct any religious war in this regard. All aspects of the Indian people's lives were affected by the introduction of enlightenment ideal by Asoka. Under his rule, several monuments were built. Not only this, he expanded the educational institutions, broadened the state's welfare functions and improved the system of justice. Despite of the resistance by some sects, Asoka firmly believed that his policy of truth-conquest was by every mean better than the previous policy of brutality, aggression and violence (Thurman, 113).
The inscriptions suggest that Asoka was not a practicing Buddhist and had little curiosity to know and understand the advanced points of Buddhism. He never talked about the Buddhist truth of Nirvana. However, he has frequently talked of heaven. He also believed that the gods have become visible on earth as a consequence of the intensification of morality through the reforms he has introduced in India. Buddhism for Asoka was a system based on moral values that could lead an individual to harmony and fellowship in this temporary life and heaven in the next (Basham 55).

King Asoka's Kingly Revolution

It is evident that Asoka was not a practicing Buddhist himself but it is certain that he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Buddhist faith. He generously supported the monastic order by providing financial aids. Not only this, he also did so much to spread Buddhism throughout India and in the neighboring lands (Swearer). Asoka's 'kingly' revolution transformed India both socially and politically as he adopted the basic Buddhist principles. Asoka was a sensible and humanitarian ruler and was tolerant of other faiths ubiquitous in Indian society. He carved edicts on rocks and pillars that eulogized moral behavior. He also praised specific Buddhist texts in his edicts and persuaded his people to visit the Buddha's birthplace, the Bodh-Gaya whenever they could (Swearer).

Before Asoka, kings were used to of ruling India as if it was their divine right. The king was not only the commander of all the armies; he also had the right to punish anyone by using any method. If displeased by people, the king could order to kill the whole communities or provinces. Conversely, Asoka's kingly revolution changed the outlook of the Indian society tremendously. He used every method, following the path of Buddha's enlightenment, to ingrain Buddhism during his reign. For his people, Asoka was a father. In his reign, everyone had the right to equal consideration, empathy and concern. Instead of punishing the wrongdoer, Asoka used to handle the guilty with compassion and sympathy. He believed that the life of every individual holds supreme value as it could aid in the development of an autonomous and enlightened society. He knew that what proves good for an individual is best for the whole society. Thus, he won the hearts of his people by rendering valuable services. Wherever he went, he used to go around giving gifts. All the queens and ministers under him were also ordered to do the same whenever they travelled. He took every step that could benefit his people from planting trees along the roads to building rest-houses. He took care of the poor and the sick by making hospitals and patronizing medicines. Not only this, he also brought in doctors and herbs from faraway lands like Greece. He looked after the offenders and their families. He was also used to of freeing prisoners on special occasions. Special ministers were sent out to investigate cases of judicial austerity or fraud. Thus, he was a truly altruistic monarch who considered his people as his chief concern. He put the good of his people ahead of his own good. He tried to channelize the energies of the whole Indian society towards the welfare of each individual among his subjects. After accepting the teachings of Buddha and following his enlightenment path, Asoka stopped thinking of himself as…

Sources Used in Documents:


"Asoka." The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2009. Questia. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=117004134#>.

Basham, A.L. "III History: Ancient and Medieval Empires." The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent before the Coming of the Muslims. New York: Grove Press, 1954. 44-78. Questia. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. < http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=6357199# >.

"Buddhism." The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2009. Questia. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. < http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=117008599#>.

Dhammika, V.S. The Edicts of King Asoka. DharmaNet Edition 1994. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1993. Print.
Swearer, Donald K. "The Worldliness of Buddhism." The Wilson Quarterly Spring 1997: 81+. Questia. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. < http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000435025#>.

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