|It is 256 BCE. Almost three hundred years after the death of the Buddha and four since the terrible battle of Kalinga. |
Upali, a monk and an embittered survivor of the war that made the Emperor Ashoka overlord of the whole of India, hates the emperor with all his heart. Yet it is to him that Ashoka, the self-proclaimed Beloved of the Gods, entrusts the task of putting the Buddha’s life and teachings down for posterity. For the Emperor is set on a new conquest - that of Dhamma.
And so begins a search for the Buddha and a struggle over the past. What really was the Buddha’s message? Ascetic renunciation? Universal salvation? Passive disengagement? Tolerance-even of intolerance? If his message was a critique of violence, how did it come to be championed by the most successfully violent autocrats of ancient India? These are questions that begin to surface among the Buddha’s followers, fearfully and then angrily, to be viciously debated even as Dhamma rises to glorious imperial patronage, a patronage that will sustain it for over a millennium and reach it to half the world’s populace.
This is a story about the Buddha and his disciples, among them an ordinary monk, one of the questioners, and an extraordinary king, who seemed to have all the answers. It is also about how the movement called Dhamma was born, spread, changed lives and got changed itself. Alternating Upali’s chronicles-a deglorified, factual account of the life of Buddha-with that of Upali’s own life during the reign of emperor Ashoke, and imbuing both these parallel narratives with a wealth of historical detail and philosophical debate, A spoke in the Wheel is an ambitious and erudite work of historical fiction-intricate in its craftsmanship, vital in its ideas and epic in its sweep.
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