Ashok to the System

I’ve been so busy I’ve been neglecting you: these days of sunshine and roses, I want to be buzzing around and gathering figurative pollen from everywhere and everyone, so as well as going to Oxfordshire I’ve been starting philosophy again (subject this term: self-determination and identity) and generally getting out in the garden and Doing Stuff.  The front garden is now filled with prunings; there’s several garden bins’ worth of branches there, and we haven’t even signed up to the garden bin scheme yet.

I have firmly decided to become a Quaker and I’ve accordingly applied to my local Meeting for membership.  Membership of a Meeting is not exactly the same as becoming a Quaker: membership is more to do with taking part in running the Meeting, whereas becoming a Quaker is more of an internal process.  Once I’d sent in my request people were absolutely lovely and welcoming to me – apart from one woman who chose to address me in, shall we say, a less than helpful manner, which was a bit of a shock to the system.

I had rather a social weekend; seeing Peter on Saturday and having dinner there on Sunday with Andy and Lynne.  They brought their photos of New Zealand and I have to say it looks amazing.  Green forests, clear lakes, clear skies and glaciers; it looks utterly beautiful and I want to go.

But since I’ve been back I’ve been thinking about the man you might call the Anti-Machiavelli.  Everyone’s heard of Machiavelli: everyone knows the adjective Machiavellian means ‘ruthless, without principle, dedicated to individual power and advancement no matter what’.  We have Machiavellian heroes – or anti-heroes – in our culture who, from Edmund in King Lear to Edmund Blackadder, seek only what benefits them.

Far less well-known is King Ashoka of India.  He ruled in a region roughly equivalent to the modern-day Orissa and after a rather bloody war of conquest in his youth, he converted to Buddhism, totally changed his ideas and tried to rule for the good of his people.  He left behind a number of edicts carved on pillars: Buddhists seem to go in for these huge monuments and now that I think about it, there was an enormous Buddha on one of Andy and Lynne’s slides (in Hong Kong though, not in NZ).  He’s a really good Egg and ought to be at least as well-known as Machiavelli.

Here he is:

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