VegHist Ep 4: Ashoka. On India’s animal advocate Buddhist king and the spread of the śramanas; with Bharati Pal and Suchandra Ghosh; at the Kalinga rock edict, India
In the largest ancient Indian empire, at the height of its power, its Buddhist king advocates for animals in his edicts, and tries to change India for good.
Episode 4: Ashoka
In the fourth century BCE, the śramaṇa movement (anti-violence anti-ritual ascetics) has produced three religions: the vegetarian Jains, the freegan(ish) Buddhists, and the mysterious (and now vanished) Ājīvikas. The Mauryan Empire is absorbing almost all of the subcontinent, from present-day Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal.
At its height in the middle of the third century BCE, the king – Ashoka – has edicts carved in stones and columns across the realm. Alongside the rulings and propaganda you might expect, his edicts oppose the slaughter and abuse of animals.
Ian travels to the Indian Museum in Calcutta to speak with historian Dr Suchandra Ghosh. And he visits a hillside that looks down on the battlefield that – King Ashoka says – turned him way from violence forever, and where Ashoka erected an edict that still stands today.
Prof Hugh Bowden talking with Ian in the British Museum.
VegHist Ep 3: Pythagoreans. On the Cults of Orpheus and Pythagoras in Ancient Greece; with Hugh Bowden, Michael Beer, John Wilkins, and Armand D’Angour
In Ancient Greece, vegetarianism belongs to a secretive subculture – amongst the mystery religions of Orpheus and the musical mathematical cult of Pythagoras.
Episode 3: Pythagoreans
The Greek philosophers knew about vegetarians. But they were part of cults associated with the mythical figure of Orpheus, and the guru of harmony and number – Pythagoras. The people who introduced the concept of reincarnation into Greece.
In the British Museum, Ian talks to Hugh Bowden, the head of the classics department of King’s College London and mystery religion specialist. There, Prof Bowden examines what its artefacts of Greek life and death tell us about attitudes to animals. Including – some suspect – an Orphic pocket guide to Hades.
VegHist Ep 2: The Middle Path. On Siddharta Gautama, and Buddhism; with Rev Varasambodhi Thera, Peter Flugel, and Richard Gombrich; at Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, India
Ian travels to the tree where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment, and explores the paradox of his early followers’ attitudes to vegetarianism.
Episode 2: The Middle Path
Of the many monks of the ancient Indian kingdom of Magadha, only one has become a global household name. Buddhism will spread ahimsa to the ends of the earth, and inspires many millions of vegetarians today.
And yet the oldest Buddhist texts seem to portray the Buddha eating meat. Hear commentary from theologians from both vegetarian and meat-eating interpretations of Buddhism, the insights of world-leading historians, and a dramatisation of the moment in early texts where vegetarian Jain activists clash with Buddhist meat-eating.
VegHist Ep 1: Ahimsa. Mahavir, the Jains, and other śramaṇas; with DN Jha, James Serpell, Richard Gombrich, & GC Tripathi; at Veerayatan, Rajgir, India
In the Ganges plain in Northen India in the middle of the first millennium BCE, the idea of “ahimsa” – non violence – emerges.
Episode 1: Ahimsa
Ian visits the intellectual hub of iron age India – the Kingdom of Magadha. He discovers a subculture of vagabond philosophers that developed two world religions; and the vegetarian order of monks and nuns who became the torchbearers of ahimsa.
When the UK elected a new parliament last week, voters confounded all the pundits (including me) who had trusted the polls. Two of the three vegan MPs lost their seats. Three other other animal advocates lost seats in the collapse of the Liberal Democrats (the former minority government party). The new Conservative majority government is planning a vote to repeal the ban on foxhunting. Meanwhile, the tiny “Animal Welfare Party” expanded their profile and vote share.