Ashoka: The convert and the missionary

by Shantanu Dutta, Merinews, December 22, 2007

At a time when people convert for political or economic benefit so often that every act of conversion is looked upon with suspicion, Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism was a monumental act that turned traditional norms of empire building on its head.

New Delhi, India -- WHILE RESEARCHING the Ashoka Foundation and to answer my question - namely why did an American, Bill Drayton name his foundation identifying and promoting social entrepreneurship after the great Mauryan emperor, I came across several articles which convinced me that the Emperor himself was worth researching and writing about and not just the modern day foundation named after him. After all, how many today know much about him except that the lions on the National Emblem and the wheel on the National Flag are Ashokan in lineage?

At a time when conversion is a dirty word and people convert for political or economic benefit so often that every act of conversion is looked upon with an eye of suspicion, Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism under the guidance of his teacher Upagupta was a monumental act because his philosophy of governance guided by the law of piety turned traditional norms of empire building on its head. Guided by the Buddhist doctrine of the sacredness of all life, he redefined the concept of empire.

The greatness of an empire was to be determined not by the size of the empire, nor by the size of the standing army, nor by the number of people conquered in battle. Rather it was to be measured by the manner in which the subjects of the kingdom were looked after - their welfare, their happiness, their prosperity was the yardstick of the Ashokan empire. Most conventional emperors of that time, notably Alexander the Great, lived by the sword, sacking cities and extending the boundaries of their empire. But Ashoka was different.

Ashoka is a living example of the sweeping changes that can occur when the highest levels of polity are guided by moral rather than political imperatives and motives and will always underscore the huge difference it makes when those to whom power has been given experience a genuine conversion.

One of the most interesting and perhaps even unlikely tributes comes from the journal of the International Committee of the Red Cross in an extremely erudite essay; the journal hails Ashoka as the forerunner of the humanitarian conduct of war that would be, millennia later, codified as the Geneva Conventions.

It is another matter though that after the famous war of Kalinga in 256 BC till the end of his reign in 232 BC, he never fought another war and focused instead on ruling his kingdom based on the principle “‘All men are my children’; and, just as I desire for my children that they may enjoy every kind of prosperity and happiness both in this world and in the next, so also I desire the same for all men.”

Ashoka was not just a convert; he was a missionary too. In his efforts to propagate Buddhism, Ashoka built shrines and monasteries and inscribed Buddhist teachings on rocks and pillars in many places. He sent missionaries to countries as remote as Greece and Egypt; his own son, a monk, carried Buddhism to Sri Lanka, where it is still the major religion. Despite Ashoka’s vigorous exertions of faith, he was tolerant of other religions.

The empire enjoyed remarkable prosperity during his reign. The life and conversion of Emperor Ashoka, one of India’s greatest emperors looks like the stuff of myth and legend. But it is actually the story of a convert and his journey and because in this case, the conversion of a king, the conversion also marks the transformational journey of a kingdom and its people.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: