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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 81 a nonviolent way of life. The Oxford History of India characterized Ashoka’s bloody conquest, his remorse, and con- version to a new ethos as “one of the deci- sive moments in the history of the world.” Rich’s journey with Ashoka begins at the battle site of Dhauli in Orissa, India, where, as the Dalai Lama says, “Ashoka changed his mind.” Rich, an attorney and author widely known for his work on global environmental and development issues, explains that when the British deciphered the Ashokan rock inscriptions found there, “they were astounded to find that they commemorate not a victory but the king’s conversion to a state policy of nonviolence and the protection of all liv- ing things. The king declares his ‘debt to all beings,’ announces a halt to almost all killing of animals on his part for rituals and food, and proclaims the establish- ment of hospitals for both humans and animals. He declares religious tolerance for all sects and sets forth principles of good governance.” What is the relevance of this ancient king for our own time? Rich notes that “after September 11, 2001, more thought- ful observers began to link the violent eruption of fundamentalist terror with growing disjunctures in the global sys- tem.” Philanthropist George Soros calls our attention to “an overarching mes- sage from 9/11 that world politicians still are mostly ignoring.” Here is Soros’ suc- cinct geopolitical diagnosis and cure: “We have global markets but we do not have a global society. And we cannot build a global society without taking into account moral considerations.” Ashoka faced a similar dilemma. On the one hand, there were advo- cates for an amoral, ruthlessly effi- cient political economy; on the other hand, there was the clear necessity for a humanely ethical basis for society. Rich is critically realistic in his assess- ments yet unwaveringly optimistic about the enduring value of Ashoka’s reconciling aspiration: Ashoka’s shorter-term goal of a unify- ing ethic for his empire was perhaps foreordained to eventual failure. But like all the great ethical teachers of human- ity, he consciously left a message for all times, and here paradoxically he has succeeded. Certainly Ashoka’s attempt to put into practice over a huge empire an ethos of nonviolence and pacifism— imperfect in practice, and not always applied though it was—is one of the most astonishing events in history... The beauty and simplicity of the Ashokan Dhamma is that the princi- ples of protection of human rights and environmental protection all flow from a secular application of the Buddhist/ Jain principles of nonviolence, ahimsa, and respect for all sentient beings. When Ashoka heard the Buddha’s teachings on compassion, says the Dalai Lama in his afterword to Rich’s book, he became convinced that nonviolence and service to others was the path to a mean- ingful life. “It is my hope and prayer,” the Dalai Lama says, “that readers today may be inspired by this tale of a powerful ruler, who was such a force for good throughout ancient India, to find ways to contribute to making the world in which we live a more just and peaceful place.” All Things Shining and To Uphold the World look back to two ancient visions of a good life—Homeric Greek and Ashokan Indian—and shed light on how we can move forward in our own perilously chal- lenged times. As always, it’s up to us. Once again we are called by these cultural diag- noses to mindfully engage the challenges of personal and communal, national and global transformation. ♦