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the dharma of ashoka and the gita

'The Dharma of Ashoka and the Gita' by Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri

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Published in "Karnataka Dharshana" - Volume presented to Sri R. R. Diwakar - 1955.

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'The Dharma of Ashoka and the Gita' by Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri

Many scholars have hailed Ashoka as the earliest monarch in the world to emphasise the importance of satya (truth) and non-violence (ahimsa) and eschew war as a means to settling national and international disputes. The greatness of Ashoka has been attributed to his exclusively Buddhist leanings, but this theory has been challenged. The advocates of the Jaina theory have attempted to show that the entire Maurya dynasty followed Jainism and that Ashoka followed the religion of his predecessors as he himself asserts in his inscriptions. Non-violence is no doubt more important in Jainism than in Buddhism. But truth and non-violence are ethical principles of remote antiquity in Bharata Dharma. Therefore some scholars have argued that Ashoka was neither a Buddhist nor a Jaina but a follower of Sanatana Dharma or "Porana Pakiti' as he himself says. His regard for all sects is more in conformity with the tenets of the Brahmanical religion than Buddhism or Jainism, which at this period were small monastic sects, intolerant towards tirthikas pasandas and heretics. 


Ashoka Pillar

The Buddhist accounts of the conversion of Ashoka by Upagupta or Tissa or Nigrodha etc., are flatly contradicted by Ashoka’s own statement that it was the Kalinga war that produced a moral revolution in him. Nowhere in the Jaina or Buddhist texts do we find mention of the Kalinga war, nor does Ashoka acknowledge anywhere that his missionary effort was inspired by Moggaliputta Tissa. Ashoka claimed great success throughout Jambu Dvipa but there is little evidence that Greece, Macedon, Cyrene, Corinth, Epirus, Syria, etc. were all converted to the particular dogmas of Thera vada Buddhism, which Ashoka is said to have endorsed after the refutation of the eighteen heretical sects in the Pataliputra council. 

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