Shantanu Garg, CMC: an essay on a leader he admires

Shantanu chose somebody who has largely been ignored by popular culture but has had a massive influence on the way the world works. Through this essay, he has shown that he greatly respects and hopes to embody the qualities of Ashoka, who was a brilliant statesman, humanitarian, reformer, secularist, philosopher, and much more. The fact that Shantanu has chosen to highlight the aspects of Ashoka’s personality in great detail speaks well for his personality: he’s sure to be a brilliant and sensitive leader.

Shantanu Garg, Claremont McKenna College

Please enter your analytical essay on the essay page provided. There is no minimum or maximum length requirement, but the Admission Committee expects a thoughtful and analytical response to the following: Leadership is a constant theme and emphasis at CMC. In fact, one of the ways we describe CMC students is “Leaders in the Making.” Identify and discuss a person, fictional or nonfictional, who has helped shape culture and thought. You may select someone from any field: literature, the arts, science, politics, history, athletics, business, education, etc.

"This world and the other are hard to gain without great love of righteousness, great self- examination, great obedience, great circumspection, great effort .... For this is my rule, to govern by righteousness, to administer by righteousness, to please my subjects by righteousness, and to protect them by righteousness." First pillar edict of Ashoka To simply put, if there is one period in history, I want to witness or one historical figure whose personality traits I want to inculcate, then it has to be that of Ashoka’s (who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC). In my books Ashoka has always been the quintessential leader; an inspiring visionary who had the courage to lead by example and to vigorously pursue his dreams with righteousness and compassion for even the most subjugated beings. But what has always astounded me and in my eyes has truly elevated him to the podium of greatness, as noted by Princep and Balsham (two historians), is his surprising humility and blatantly simple philosophy of life. At a time when kings claimed to be autocratic god like creatures, who ravished kingdoms and accumulated wealth, here was an extraordinary monarch who patiently worked for the welfare of his people and publicly confessed to his mistakes. No wonder that even after 2000 years, when the ‘exalted majesties’ cease to exist, the powerful presence of an emperor monk still seems to reverberate through his edicts. Ashoka, who was able to combine in himself the complexity of a king and the simplicity of a Buddhist monk, has had a most profound impact on human thought and culture. Since childhood, Ashoka was an adroit warrior with an exemplary intellect, a favorite of his grandfather’s; Chandragupta Maurya. Developing into a merciless general and an astute statesman, his rise to power was relentless. He even earned the title of ‘Chanda Ashok’ (heartless or cruel Ashok) when he killed his own brothers to inherit the throne. Soon the pitiless warrior started invading other kingdoms. But just as he reached the pinnacle of his glory as a conqueror, the destructive Kalinga war made Ashoka realize the vanity of warfare and made him embrace the philosophy of ahimsa (non violence). According to legend it was his inability to give life to a dead child that invoked compassion in the warrior king and transformed him into history’s most enlightened ruler. He started a new campaign to win the fight for goodness, kindness, tolerance and gentle living. He was now called ‘Dhamma-Ashok’, the righteous Ashoka, as he started laying the foundation of a welfare state. Ashoka’s vision was pioneering. He wanted to build an egalitarian society on the foundation of righteousness. He expected his people to live by the rules of virtue and understand moral behavior, so that they could enjoy the blessings of ‘non-injury, self control, equable conduct and gentleness’. These principles he called Dhamma – the laws of good conduct and moral living drawing inspiration from Buddhism. But like many others he wasn’t just an otherworldly dreamer, but every inch a philanthropist pragmatic administrator who was able to organize an efficient and humane government unmatched in history. Instead of conquering other smaller kingdoms, Ashoka made them respected allies. He also reformed the judicial system making it just and giving amnesty wherever possible He created the world’s first large class of civil servants, built India’s Grand Trunk Road, established work and land settlement programs among other things. Furthermore he rubbished the notion of divine kingship and sought to seek the approval of the Buddhist Sangh (council) thus introducing accountability for his actions and establishing a reign where welfare was given utmost priority. A man who recognized the sanctity of life, Ashoka sought welfare for even the most deprived. A staunch advocate of vegetarianism, he banned poaching, established protected forest areas and planted trees. In an act of enlightened governance – unmatched by modern states- Ashoka provided free health care not only to his subjects but also to animals. Furthermore he provided his weak neighbors with humanitarian help including doctors, engineers, hospitals and medicinal herbs, an altruistic foreign policy atypical of that time. Ashoka also led by example. Propagating vegetarian he banned the killing of animals in his own palace. Now instead of hunting or pleasure trips, he went on religious tours, visiting various parts of the empire to spread the words of Dhamma among his people. His astuteness as a leader is substantiated by his rock edicts which are the first written documents that have survived from ancient India to elucidate his thought process. Ashoka’s impact on world religion is also marked. Buddhism became widespread under his reign. It was Ashoka who through his magnanimous acts made sure that the sound of Dhamma would never die down. Ashoka’s edicts testify the pains that the great king took to spread the ‘Gift of Dhamma’. He sent monks, including his own children all over the world to spread Buddhism. Soon the Buddhist King was propelled to a position only second to Buddha, in the hierarchy of Buddhism. However what stands out is the tolerance Ashoka displayed towards other religions, a thinking so advanced of his time. He appointed ‘Dhamma Mahamantras’ to instill Dhamma as a positive moral force, unbiased in its outlook and approach, which ensured harmony among all religions. Ashoka, in spite of being a Buddhist king, never made Buddhism his state religion. These acts establish him as a staunch secularist and mark a golden era where no civil mutiny or religious discord was ever recorded. But perhaps the most enduring and relevant aspect of his legacy that inspires me is his idealism. Ashoka had a choice. A choice between what was easy and what was right. And by choosing what was right Ashoka has shown that not only can a state be defended, but it can also thrive through a legacy of peace, tolerance and ahimsa (non-violence). This legacy was later replicated by the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Two thousand years ago Ashoka was able to transform from a bloodthirsty warrior to an enlightened teacher. A man who put down the sword after winning the battle, Ashoka’s greatness lies in the fact that he made the most difficult conquest of all- conquest of the self. Something that made him advanced not only in his time, but in all times.