Posted by: Dark Defender | January 6, 2009

The story of India and my first bleg

Try to ignore the hosts Tony Blair like uniquley English dorkyness.

Try to ignore the host's Tony Blair like uniquley English dorkyness.

A really good series on the history of India started on PBS last night.  Despite a generous helping of  the sort of biased of multiculturalism so prominent among the left today; that would be uncritically accepting all the values and norms of non-western societies while condemning the west.  For example the Indian caste system which by most any standard is pretty ugly, is examined without exploring the negative impact on individuals throughout time and indeed trying to extenuate the positive about it (everyone knows their place in society, how nice!).  Meanwhile all mentions of colonialism or the west are couched in value laden terms like “breaking the chains of slavery” or “the struggle for freedom”.  If we are good multiculturalists how can we criticize Europeans of the era for colonizing? It was just part of their culture to try to expand their power by violence, sure it may have been unpleasant for the people being conquered, but all cultures are equally valid and its wrong to make values judgements on culture.  So really how can we condemn the caste system or colonialism? Logically we cant if we believe all cultures are equally valid, of course being logical and consistent is not the point of multiculturalism for the left, attacking their own culture is. 

Anywho despite the above which frankly you ought to expect in most historical productions today..its a really well done and interesting show.  I highly recommend everyone watch it, tonight was the 2 hour premiere and over the next 2 weeks they will show the other 2, 2 hour parts.  Ive no doubt they will replay the premier at some point this week, find it! watch it!

Now for my bleg, wait do you have to give a spoiler warning when discussing history? Hmm, inspired by the ethical example of Ashoka I will give one Spoiler alert!

Ok so a part which I found especially interesting was Ashoka the Great.  In a very brief nutshell he was the grandson of the first (near) univeral Indian Emperor.  After some infighting he took the throne and set about conquering his neighbors, eventually after touring a battlefield he thinks “man slaughtering whole kingdoms isn’t nearly as fun as it sounded, its actually pretty upsetting, who knew?” and thus becomes a serious Buddhist and begins trying to convert the country and spread buddhist views. 

I should say spread Buddhist views in a pretty fraking serious way, building of pillars with humane laws all over the place, assuming the title “He who is the beloved of the Gods and who regards everyone amiably”, sending missionaries all over (even to the post Alexander Greeks).  He even set up animal hospitals and declared the first laws that protected animals from cruelty, which in a time where animal sacrifice was still practiced in most of the world, and human sacrifice in many areas..that blows me away really.

Writings commissioned by him (sadly our primary source of info on him) even claim he renounced violence.  I don’t believe this though so im not giving him credit for it.  He may have stopped his external wars but there is no way he renounced all violence.  He declared laws after all and without the use of force I just don’t see how you can enforce the law over such a large area with so many people. 

So here’s what I find interesting (and im getting to the bleg I swear).  He spread Buddhist ideas, but the means, a sort of enlightened philosopher Emperor is totally foreign to Buddhism at his time (indeed my understanding is his kingdom is basically the model for all future Buddhist kingdoms).   Also recall that the Buddha himself as well as Ashoka’s grandfather both renounced their thrones to become basically monks.  The idea of combing Indian spiritual values with secular authority just doesn’t seem to exist at the time. 

So where did he get this idea?  Its a pretty big intellectual leap from, I feel unfulfilled thus ill give up my Kingdom and become a monk to, I feel unfulfilled therefore I will spread my views on ethics and spirituality throughout my kingdom. 

Well I have a theory on this, Ashoka was Emperor shortly after Alexander’s conquests brought Greece and India into contact for the first time.  I think that Plato’s ideas on Philosopher Kings was transmitted through either Alexander’s army (Alexander’s teacher was Plato’s student, Aristotle after all)itself or the Indo-Greeks which evolved in the region.

I find this fascinating that ideas from half way across the world could travel could be so easily transmitted and adopted in such a different area so quickly. 

Which is my bleg, can anyone recommend a good book on the history of Indo-Greek cultural exchange? Im sure this isn’t the only example and there are many going both directions (Knowing there were Buddhist missionaries in the region at least (if not at the time) in the centuries prior to Jesus, I find it hard to believe he wasn’t influenced by Buddhism for example) and Id like to read more about it.  So hopefully someone has a recommendation and will be kind enough to share it.


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