Chapter 10: Each Moment Is the Goal
The country was poor. It was not in any way comparable to the vast empire of Ashoka. Ashoka’s empire was the biggest India has ever been - from Afghanistan, which is now a separate country, Pakistan, which is now a separate country, Sri Lanka, which is now a separate country, Burma, which is now a separate country, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh.India has never had so big a map as it had in the time of Ashoka.
Just this small country of Kalinga was independent, and they were poor. They did not have an army, nor the technology, just courage - such a courage that they had only two simple alternatives: “We will live in freedom or we will die in freedom; we don’t know any other alternative.” In fact, Ashoka had become challenged in a way - he had to see how these people for centuries had been free without an army, with just human courage and dignity and pride. It was a great challenge to the great emperor, who could have crushed them without any effort. He had already killed half of the country.
But then suddenly a turn came to his own consciousness, and he saw that this was simply being stupid: “You are destroying a beautiful, proud people and you are able to destroy because you have bigger armies, you have more weapons, you have better horses, better weapons, but you don’t have better human beings than you are destroying. Your people are simply servants who are fighting because they are being paid. These people are fighting without arms, without horses, just because they love freedom. It is ugly to destroy these people - this will be destroying a beautiful variety.”
He returned home. His generals asked, “What is the matter? We are winning.”
Ashoka said, “This is not victory, this is simply murder. And I am not a murderer. If I cannot conquer them alive, I don’t want to conquer. I don’t want to be called in history a conqueror of corpses. Forget about it.”
And the whole thing became such a nightmare in the mind of Ashoka that the moment he reached his palace he came to a transformation point: he renounced the empire. He said, “Of what use is this whole empire? Enough of it! I don’t want any conquering or anybody to conquer, anybody to invade, and I don’t want any empire.”
Ashoka became a disciple of Gautam Buddha. Gautam Buddha had died two hundred years before, but his disciples were alive, his enlightened disciples were still there. It may have been the third or fourth generation, but there were people who had the same flavor and the same charisma, the same magic.
Ashoka became a disciple, renounced the world, started living like a beggar in his own capital, begging for his food every day in his own capital. And because he became a sannyasin, this word athato would bring to his mind a totally different meaning than it could bring to the mind of a poet, or to the mind of a creative artist, or to a painter.