Righteous") (304 BC – 232 BC) was an Indian emperor, of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled from
273 BC to 232 BC. Often cited as one of India's greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over most
of present-day India after a number of military conquests. His empire stretched from
present-day Afghanistan and parts of Persia in the west, to the present-day Bengal and Assam
states of India in the east, and as far south as the Mysore state. His reign was
headquartered in Magadha (present-day Bihar state of India). He embraced Buddhism from the prevalent Vedic tradition after witnessing the mass deaths of the war of Kalinga, which he
himself had waged out of a desire for conquest. He was later dedicated in the propagation of
Buddhism across Asia and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life
of Gautama Buddha.
His name "aśoka" means "without sorrow" in Sanskrit. In his edicts, he is referred to as
Devānāmpriya (Devanāgarī: देवानांप्रिय)/Devānaṃpiya or "The Beloved Of The Gods", and
Priyadarśin (Devanāgarī: प्रियदर्शी)/Piyadassī or "He who regards everyone amiably".
Science fiction novelist H. G. Wells wrote of Ashoka:
In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called
themselves 'their highnesses,' 'their majesties,' and 'their exalted majesties' and so on.
They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines
brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.
Along with the Edicts of Ashoka, his legend is related in the later 2nd century Aśokāvadāna
("Narrative of Ashoka") and Divyāvadāna ("Divine narrative"), and in the Sinhalese text
Mahavamsa. An emblem excavated from his empire is today the national emblem of India.
An early account of his life was the biography by Sima Qian which seemed incoherent to some scholars but can not be disproved.
In legends, he was conceived when his mother gazed upon a falling star. It is said that he stayed in the womb and matured for sixty-two years. He was born when his mother leaned against a plum tree. He emerged a grown man with a full grey beard and long earlobes, which are a sign of wisdom and long life.
According to popular biographies, he worked as the Keeper of the Archives for the royal court of Chou. This allowed him broad access to the works of the Yellow Emperor and other classics of the time. Laozi never opened a formal school. Nonetheless, he attracted a large number of students and loyal disciples. There are numerous variations of a story depicting Confucius consulting Laozi about rituals.
Laozi is said to have married and had a son named Tsung, who was a celebrated soldier. A large number of people trace their lineage back to Laozi, as the T'ang Dynasty did. Many, or all, of the lineages may be inaccurate. However, they are a testament to the impact of Laozi on Chinese culture.
Political theorists influenced by Laozi have advocated humility in leadership and a restrained approach to statecraft, either for ethical and pacifist reasons, or for tactical ends. In a different context, various anti-authoritarian movements have embraced the Laozi teachings on the power of the weak.
The economist Murray N. Rothbard suggests that Laozi was the first libertarian, likening Laozi's ideas on government to F.A. Hayek's theory of spontaneous order. Similarly, the Cato Institute's David Boaz includes passages from the Tao Te Ching in his 1997 book The Libertarian Reader.
(Additional articles were posted on Januray 14, 2008.)