|Ashoka the Great|
Yet, it is possible. Every so often throughout history an “enlightened” leader arises or emerges. In our recent history we can think of leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi or Vaclav Havel.
Further back in history there have been other examples. Here is a brief story of just one, from well over two thousand years ago.
Ashoka Maurya was born in 304 BCE in India and inherited the leadership of the Maurya Dynasty which at that time included most of the Indian subcontinent as well as parts of what are now Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Initially Ashoka ruled with an iron fist becoming known as Ashoka the Fierce. However, Ashoka had a change of heart. There are a number of stories as to what exactly prompted his conversion, with the most common one being that after a particularly brutal battle Ashoka was surveying the battleground and noticed a Buddhist monk serenely walking along a nearby road. The story goes that seeing the serenity of the monk alongside the carnage and suffering that Ashoka had caused moved him to sorrow and remorse. He was moved to exclaim
“What have I done? If this is a victory, what's a defeat then?“From that day forth Ashoka converted to Buddhism and became one of the most enlightened leaders the world has ever seen. Amongst his edicts and accomplishments the following are remarkable (remember, this is over 2200 years ago!):
- encouragement of nonviolence in personal life and statehood,
- respect for all religions and cultures,
- he had wells dug and trees planted alongside roads in order to give shelter and respite to all,
- banned the killing of “all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible,” as well as numerous birds, fish and bulls,1
- got rid of the “Royal Hunt,”
- provided for medical care for humans and animals as of right,
- treated animals as citizens with rights,
- brought fairness to the justice system, often pardoning prisoners,
- banned slavery,
- stopped deforestation
- advocated gender equality in education and religion,
- assisted students, poor, orphans and the elderly,
- advocated and promoted generosity.
Enlightened Leadership? Yes, it is possible. Ashoka the Great (as he became known) is but one example from history.
1. e.g. parrots, pigeons, geese, ducks, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, and others.