Here’s why the great Mauryan King Ashoka adopted Buddhism

Ashoka Maurya, commonly known as Ashoka and also as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian Emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost the entire Indian subcontinent. Emperor Ashoka began his reign by working to expand the empire his grandfather had established. He was very successful and soon he ruled a sizeable portion of India.

His empire stretched from the Hindu Kush Mountains in the west to Bengal in the East and covered the entire Indian subcontinent except parts of present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The empire’s capital was Pataliputra (in Magadha, present-day Bihar), with provincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain.

But one thing that surrounds the king Ashoka is mysterious and still not understandable to anyone i.e the conversion of king to Buddhism.

There are many theories regarding the adoption of Buddhism by king Ashoka. While Buddhist tradition mentions that he converted to Buddhism, Basham signifies, the Dharma officially propagated by Ashoka was not Buddhism at all.

The story of Kalinga War

It is said that this war completely transformed the king Ashoka. According to the prominent Indologist, A. L. Basham, Ashoka’s personal religion became Buddhism, if not before, then certainly after the Kalinga war.
It is said that after the destruction of Kainga the king Ashoka got so much delved into remorse that he adopted Buddhism.Edict 13 on the Ashoka Rock Inscriptions reflects the great remorse the king felt after observing the destruction of Kalinga. “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”. The edict goes on to address the even greater degree of sorrow and regret resulting from Ashoka’s understanding that the friends and families of deceased would suffer greatly too.

Legend says that one day after the war was over, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous monologue, what have I done? If this is a victory, what’s a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women?

The king wandered that in his quest for widening the empire for prosperity he has destroyed lives of all others. He have destroyed someone else kingdom. Because of him people are suffering and are separated from their near and dear ones. He questioned himself what’s this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?

Whether the king converted into Buddhism or not is still a mystery. But one thing that is sure is his patronage led to the expansion of Buddhism in the Mauryan empire and other kingdoms during his rule, and worldwide from about 250 BCE. Prominent in this cause were his son Mahinda (Mahendra) and daughter Sanghamitra (whose name means “friend of the Sangha”), who established Buddhism in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Credits : SpeakingTree