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Dharmasoka and Economics of Dhamma

By Miran Perera

Emperor Dharmasoka has no parallel in the history of rulers who held sway over the destinies of mankind to a minor or major degree. In the impressive array of world leaders, Emperor Asoka, the righteous occupies a unique position as the one monarch who spread the soothing message of peace, harmony and tolerance as the main staple of his imperial policy.

Disillusioned and dismayed by the vast carnage he caused in his war against the Kingdom of Kalinga, he totally discarded militarism. Converted to the compassionate teachings of the Buddha, Emperor Asoka the righteous launched upon a peace campaign. Instead of marching aggressively on the kingdom of other rulers, he launched an imperial army for excursions of righteousness or Dhamma Yatra.

Development plans

Unlike an imperial perspective, but from a Buddhist perspective development is a holistic process which should be directed to meeting the material, social spiritual needs of human beings. A feasible plan of development should also recognize that human society exists in essential dependence on the broader environment and development should not be pursued in ways which threaten the sustaining capabilities of the ecosystem.

Today the current dominant economic model based on unregulated market economics and rampant consumerism model has led to massive human suffering, the degradation of society and the unrelenting exploitation of nature. Today's model, unlike in the times of Emperor Asoka, has encouraged narrow fixation on short term economic gains for a privileged few at the expense of long term welfare of humanity as a whole.

At that time, Emperor Asoka set up edicts in pillars, rocks and slabs of stone to make the masses follow a path of peace, compassion and economic tolerance according to the Dhamma. Emperor Asoka taught Buddhists of moralist, economic self sufficiency, virtuous living and understanding the Dhamma.

Emperor Dharmasoka's realm was an empire of peace and economic stability. Had it not been for his pilgrim zeal, most Buddhists sites in India would very well have disappeared altogether and lost forever to the whole of mankind. According to the Dhamma, it is very important to distinguish between consumable objects and craving. Craving is a phenomenon appearing in one's mind.

These consumable objects are impermanent. With that arise desire or displeasure and the want to have desirable things permanently in that status for enjoyment. Desired things change their status against the wishes of the person and he becomes unhappy.

Buddhist message

Emperor Asoka sent out missionaries with the message of Buddhism. In rock edict 2, Emperor Asoka states: 'Wherever plants suitable for humans and animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever roots or fruits not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals."

Emperor Asoka would have exerted deft statesmanship to spread the teachings of the Buddha without provoking unrest among religions in the complex religious economic environment of his day. Buddhism is against the type of consumerism followed by our modern societies, but not against people's enjoyment of wealth and improvement of happiness. The permanent happiness is Nibbana. That is what all Buddhists strive to achieve. That is supramundane and in economics what has to be determined is mundane objectives short of this ultimate objective.

Western economic reasoning will perpetrate the problems by creating a large number of new problems. Once a solution is found to one problem in view of the Buddha's discourse that there is no limit to craving of human beings, and according to Ratthapala Sutta, craving is an insatiable phenomenon. Asoka, the imperial pilgrim transformed the Buddha to an eternal spiritual voice making the sites associated with him centres of pilgrimage for the whole of humanity.

He said: 'Let my reporters apprise me of my subjects,' conditions everywhere and at any time. The king was always economically conscious. As H G Wells the writer observed: 'Who else but Emperor Asoka had vowed to give up warfare soon after a famous victory? To the benefit and welfare of his people! Thus giving up war, Dharmasoka dwelled on the economics of Dhamma, peace and development. 

Source: Daily News (Sri Lanka)

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