Friday, August 30, 2013

Emperor Ashoka and the Bhagavad Gita

Emperor Ashoka's Edict
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. The Mahabharata (and with it the Gita) forms the main source of Dharma and apart from the interpolations, it must substantially have been compiled at least before c. 500 B.C. Holtzmann, Lassen, Schroeder, Hopkins, Wintemitz, Meyer and others who have tried to analyse the Mahabharata saw only successive reactions and failed to account for the fundamental plan underlying the whole work, Prof. Pisani remarks : "'Who has told these Western critics that the didactic parts have been added to the epic ones?”

Sylvian Levi
The Gita in its place is an indissoluble part of the poem according to Sylvain Levi. According to Levi, the Gita is the ideal centre - the poet of the Gita is that of the Mahabharata, with religious and practical aims." Even when the Bhrguization of the original text took place in the first and second centuries A.D. as evident from the mention of Roma in the Sabha Parva, Kaserumant (Caesars, according to Weber and Levi), Dinara etc. the spirit of the ancient text was preserved in its entirety as sacrosanct and the Mahabharata verses in Baudhayana, Vasistha, Manu, Vishnu, Yajnavalkya, Narada and other smrtis, the Maha Bhashya, Apastamba and other Dharma Sutras show that the epic formed the primary source for Dharma.

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