King Ashoka, or Ashoka the Great, as he is popularly known, was an Indian leader who unified the Indian subcontinent during the 3rd century BC. During his early days of life, Ashoka was very cruel, having killed his half brothers in order to obtain the throne. He violently invaded neighboring kingdoms as well.
These days, Ashoka is known throughout India as the great leader who not only unified the Indian subcontinent, but also dedicated his life to social welfare and the upliftment of the people. After expanding his empire through war, he renounced armed warfare, preached – and practiced – nonviolence, respectful treatment of and generosity towards all. Ashoka created the world’s first large-scale class of civil servants, who built India’s Grand Trunk Road, established watering sheds, rest houses, hospitals, food-for-work and land settlement programs.
He is renowned as the world’s earliest example of a social reformer and innovator for his creativity, global-mindedness and tolerance. Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells wrote of Ashoka,
“In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves ‘their highness’, their majesties’, and their exalted majesties’ and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.”
What was the cause of Ashoka’s greatness? According to “Vipassana in Government: an effective instrument for change and reform” by Ram Singh,
“In the remote past, as far back as the third century B.C., Ashoka, the great emperor of India used Vipassana as an instrument of reform in the governance of his vast empire. His actions in the administration and management of State reflect piety, love, magnanimity, high moral discipline and ethical conduct in his personal as well as public life. He organized a system of government, efficient, humane and responsive to public weal, unparalleled in human history.
The record of his administration chiseled on the rocks in the different parts of his empire, on the highways and hills, caves and public places enshrines the noblest sentiments of a man who loved his people like his own children, respected all sects and religious faiths and instilled confidence in the neighboring countries for peace and concord.
In one of his most renowed edicts – the Delhi Topra Pillar, Ashoka gives a comprehensive review of the measures he took during his reign. The inscription as it unfolds brings Ashoka face to face with people. He says that whereas kings and rulers prior to him cherished the same wish as his for advancement of people failed, he succeeded. He explains in the Edict – he used Nijjhatiya, differently interpreted as inner meditation, reflection, contemplation – Vipassana. He further says that let this fact be engraved on stones and pillars so that his message endures till the Sun and Moon shine on Earth!