Oksanen, Reijo

Ashoka the Great and the Enneagram

Ashoka 304 BC – 232 BC, popularly known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. 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 Pakistan, Afghanistan in the west, to the present-day Bnagladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra.

In a ZDF German TV channel in a program about King Ashoka shown on the 15th of May 2010 Agi (Agnes Hidveghy) saw the Enneagram. She informed me and I was just as astounded as she was when I investigated the matter and (as the program can be seen online) found out that indeed the Enneagram was in it! (Program link: www.zdf.de.)

King Ashoka left behind stone tablets and pillars in the northern, the area described above. These were placed so that most people would come to see them. However, for a long time after they were “discovered” the tablets could not be read – they were written in a forgotten type of language script. As “recently” as in 1837 a coin with this writing with Greek writing on its other side was found. This gave James Prinsep, an archaeologist, philologist, and official of the British East India Company the possibility to decipher the tablets. Prinsep did this with the help of Captain Edward Smith and George Turnour. They determined that the script referred to King Piyadasi which was also the epithet of an Indian ruler known as Ashoka who came to the throne 218 years after Buddha's enlightenment. However, it was not until 1915, when another edict actually mentioning the name Asoka was discovered, that the identification was confirmed. Having been forgotten for nearly 700 years, one of the greatest men in history became known to the world once again.

Scholars have since found 150 of Ashoka's inscriptions, carved into the face of rocks or on stone pillars marking out a domain that stretched across northern India and south below the central plateau of the Deccan. These pillars were placed in strategic sites near border cities and trade routes.

This script is in our days known as the Brāhmī, of which Wikipedia writes: “Brāhmī is the modern name given to the oldest members of the Brahmic family of scripts. The best known inscriptions in Brāhmī are the rock-cut edicts of Ashoka in north-central India, dated to the 3rd century BCE. ”

It turned out that the writings on the tablets were by King Ashoka himself and that they do not talk about his victories, but instead give an idea that the writer is a man who has remorse of conscience due to all the misery he caused with his warfare. His victories had become losses for him. An article on the edits on the tablets and pillars can be found here: www.cs.colostate.edu/ .

King Asoka turned to Buddhism and he is known to be the first non-violent ruler of India (over 2200 years before Mahatma Gandhi). He is today also recognized as the king who caused Buddhism to spread in a large area during and after his own time. He did not consider his mission to be only within the national borders, but that it is important for everybody to know about Buddha and his teachings. This is why he then spent large amount of money and efforts to spread the word of Buddhism sending teaching monks to spread the word and designing the mentioned tablets and pillars.

Larger Picture

Above: a fragment of a pillar and a lion capital (Deer Park at Sarnath)

Larger Picture

Larger Picture

Above left: a stone tablet by King Ashoka Right: study of the strange writing with the Enneagram in the middle.

What I have called the Enneagram is this small graphic in the above text:

What is the Enneagram?

Strictly speaking the above is no drawing of nine points and it is not a full Enneagram, but only part of it; Enneagram means “a graphic of nine” and there are three points missing in the above little symbol: these three form a triangle and stand for the law of three, or trinity. The six points showed this way stand for the law of the octave, the movement of life, which is also evident in the musical octave. The Enneagram Gurdjieff introduced to us looks like this:

There are many books on the Enneagram and also many articles on the internet. From my point of view the only worth while book to read is Tony Blake’s “The Intelligent Enneagram”. Reading the articles on the internet can be confusing: they repeat the same truths and lies from one site to another.

I am not interested in the use of the Enneagram as a tool for the analysis of personality, but from the point of view of its help in understanding cosmology. Five years ago I wrote an article on the various aspects; the article can be found here: www.gurdjieff-internet.com/article.

Agnes Hidveghy has studied the Enneagram apart from life also in great works of art (Leonardo da Vinci, Matthias Grünewald and others). Her articles can be found here: www.arssacra.org/articles under the heading The Altar of Isenheim (also in German).

The Sufi circles have used the Enneagram about 800 years, but in a slightly different format from the one Gurdjieff introduced to the West. An interesting view is presented by Dr. Laleh Baktiar; it focuses on what she calls “moral healing”. Link: http://www.sufienneagram.com/.

There are references in the form of similar graphic presentations of the Enneagram as a cosmogram in the middle ages in the works of Raymon Lull (133h – 14th century) and Athanasius Kircher (17th century).

When Gurdjieff started introducing the Enneagram in around 1915 in Russia to a small circle of pupils he said that it is an ancient and very old symbol. Earlier references that I have found about it were indeed, as already mentioned above, less than a thousand years old. This new discovery, if it is true and can be verified gives a much older origin to it and dates the Enneagram much further than the Sufi “claim of the origin of the Enneagram”, which was around 1200, by about 1500 years.

It is clear that we do not know enough, but the matter is worth further investigation. What needs to be done?

First of all it is important to find the original King Ashoka’s stone tablet, or tablets, where the graphic has been sculptured.

Secondly it would be good to know more about the language in the tablets and the relationship of the graphic to the whole.

If anyone reading this article has additional information relating to King Ashoka, the language used, and the Enneagram graphic please get in contact with us so that the information can be shared with others.