Ungainly in appearance and not the Crown Prince, Ashoka worked hard to win acceptance and approval from his teachers, and his father the King, to become Viceroy of a province at a young age, a job he expected to do for the rest of his life. Helped by his teacher, he unexpectedly became King after his father died. Still wanting to win approval, he agreed to a war, which his forces won, but left him devastated and remorseful. Exposed earlier to Buddhism by his consort when he was a Viceroy, he gradually became an ardent follower of Buddha’s teachings and spent his life working to incorporate those values in the governance of his empire. He succeeded in ruling with non-violence while promoting tolerance of all religions and showing concern for the welfare of his subjects. His support for Buddhism helped the philosophy spread from a small following to become an international religion. After his queen died, he married a young, attractive (surprise) and impetuous woman. She took a fancy to his son, who rejected her advances so she caused him to be blinded. Incensed, reminded of his appearance, Ashoka executed her, even though his son interceded on her behalf. With that act, he undid three decades devoted to non-violence. Remorseful again, he atoned by reckless charity to all religious orders. For that, his successor and ministers sidelined him. He died a sad man, divested of power. Nevertheless, his legend as a righteous ruler influenced many kings in Asia, from India to Japan, including modern rulers of India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Cambodia.
An extended version of this ebook will be published by Bloomsbury in India in the late summer.
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