To help understand the transformation brought about by Buddhism, let us take the example of King Asoka. King Asoka, was the Emperor of the Maurya dynasty, who ruled over the kingdom of Magada. Asoka, was a very cruel young man and the title, “Chandashok” meaning, “Asoka, the terrible” was given to him. It is said that he assassinated most or all of his half brothers in order to ascend to the throne of the Mauryan Empire. His ambitious and successful defeat and subjugation of the Kalinga kingdom, did not bring him joy.
“Far from feeling the glorious rush of victory, Ashoka felt sick and saddened. He vowed that never again would he rain down death and destruction on other people. He would devote himself to his Buddhist faith and practice ahimsa, or nonviolence.”
“According to his own accounts, Ashoka conquered the Kalinga country (modern Orissa state) in the eighth year of his reign. The sufferings that the war inflicted on the defeated people moved him to such remorse that he renounced armed conquests. It was at this time that he came in touch with Buddhism and adopted it. Under its influence and prompted by his own dynamic temperament, he resolved to live according to, and preach, the dharma and to serve his subjects and all humanity. Ashoka repeatedly declared that he understood dharma to be the energetic practice of the sociomoral virtues of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, mercifulness, benevolence, nonviolence, considerate behaviour toward all, “little sin and many good deeds,” nonextravagance, nonacquisitiveness, and noninjury to animals. He spoke of no particular mode of religious creed or worship, nor of any philosophical doctrines.”
“Asoka, the terrible” became “Asoka, the merciful”. His change from violence to non-violence and his dedication to uphold the moral law, made him into one of the best rulers who ever lived. His changed lived manifested thus.
“In his edicts, Ashoka vows to care for his people like a father. He promises neighboring people that they need not fear him; he will use only persuasion, not violence, to win people over.Ashoka also ruled with incredible accessibility. He notes that “I consider it best to meet with people personally.” To that end, he went on frequent tours around his empire. He also advertised that he would stop whatever he was doing if a matter of imperial business needed attention – even if he was having dinner or sleeping, he urged his officials to interrupt him.In addition, Ashoka was very concerned with judicial matters. His attitude toward convicted criminals was quite merciful. .Finally, although Ashoka urged his people to practice Buddhist values, he fostered an atmosphere of respect for all religions. Within his empire people followed not only the relatively new Buddhist faith, but also Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Greek polytheism and many other belief systems. Ashoka served as an example of tolerance for his subjects, and his religious affairs officers encouraged the practice of any religion. Ashoka, the Great ruled as a just and merciful king from his epiphany in 265 until his death in 232 BCE, at the age of 72.”
The Apostle Paul in Romans 2, says that the laws of God are written in the tablet of the heart. The conscience of man, is a good proof that God has done so. Men feel guilt and remorse based on the conscience, which God gave to differentiate between good and evil.
“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:12 -16
Asoka, even though he was nicknamed “terrible” , obeyed the voice of God through his conscience, and so there is every chance that we can see him in heaven. Also, he lived before the period of Christ and accepted the rule of conscience and moral law. Buddhism taught him the moral law, especially non- violence. Buddhism does not give a basis for the moral law or why anyone should even obey the moral law. It was obvious for the Buddha that there is a moral law. He assumed the law of karma and rebirth. He assumed that desire is the root cause of all misery. He preached detachment and the four noble truths and the eight fold path. He did not answer the many philosophical questions and remained silent when such were asked. Though Asoka became a Buddhist, the non theistic system does not explain anything metaphysical substantially, ranging from origin of the universe and how it came about to origin of the moral law and why it should have consequences.
It was therefore, God working through Asoka’s conscience, convicting him and helping him to turn away from his wickedness. God is always working. He was not only active in Israel. He was active in India and other parts of the world as well, where similar transformations could be found. Before the gospel of Christ was available and in places where it has not yet reached, God worked through the conscience of men and it became a law unto them and many like Emperor Asoka, obeyed it. This explains the change in Asoka’s heart as an act of God, though it is not openly recognized.
How is this transformation different from the transformation, which Jesus brings about?
1. Asoka’s repentance is a merit for him(like old testament). He is seeking to undo his karma. Our repentance is a not a merit. Our merit comes from Christ’s life and death. We receive forgiveness of sins from a loving God because Christ paid for us. Emperor Asoka does not have his sins forgiven. He will pay for it. Even his changed life is a work of self salvation where he is seeking to undo his karma.
2. We are regenerated, when we repent and believe and enter into a love relationship with God.We become Children of God. Asoka is seeking a better reincarnation. His repentance does not lead to a relationship with God. He is trying to snuff out the self and thus prevent reincarnation and subsequent suffering which might result from a rebirth into this world of suffering.
3. Our salvation is a gift from a loving God. Asoka’s salvation is his own work which he must continue through many rebirths.
4. Christ gave salvation to the thief who repented on the cross. Buddha would not have granted salvation to that hopeless soul under any circumstance. He would have asked him to work on his karma in his next birth and if necessary many subsequent births .
5. The christian worldview explains the origin of the moral law and also teaches that everyone will be held accountable for every single word . The Buddhist world view does not explain the moral framework adequately as there is no basis for absolute morality apart from God.
6. Why is “Ahimsa” or non-violence better than violence in a non-theistic world view like Buddhism. How did they conclude that violence is bad? May be conscience and contemplation. But why does that need be true for everybody unless God gives the law, declares it to be good and also makes it binding on everybody. This is where Buddhism fails and Christianity proves to be adequate in explaining morality.
Buddhism does not offer forgiveness of sins, cleansing of the conscience, new nature and above all a relationship with God. In Christianity , all these and more are obtained by faith and life is lived in response to God and his gifts, which are freely made available to all men. Salvation in Christianity is a gift. In Buddhism, salvation has to be fully worked out by the individual, with little help from the community and elders. This may be one of the reasons, the later schools of Buddhism developed their own form of ‘salvation by faith’ in Amithaba Buddha. The teachings of Buddha, in their pure form are very taxing on the individual and the average Joe looks for a Savior, someone who can save him, who can help him, not only from his Karma, but also from impractical teachings, as that of the Buddha. This eventually lead to the inventions of the “Bodhisattva” or enlightened beings in later Mahayana schools, who would act as saviors guiding the seeker of enlightenment to reach their goals. Christ the real savior, the true mediator alone can grant them the true salvation.