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"Alexander": He Was Great, But He Could Have Been Greater
By Shian (NamoAmitofuo), The Daily Enlightenment, Published on the Buddhist Channel, Dec 9, 2004
Tagline: Fortune favors the bold
Singapore -- Used as the movie's tagline, it was the Roman epic poet Virgil who said that, "Fortune favours the bold." But to that we have to ask: What form of fortune is most worth seeking?
With what some consider the reckless arrogance of youth and others the unprecedented courage of vision, the historical King Alexander of Macedonia, (played by Colin Farell) conquered 90% of his known world by the age of 25, within merely 8 years, pushing his armies across jungles, mountains and deserts, venturing into the uncharted depths of the mysterious East.
Though filled with much bloodiness, the rapid forging of his empire was more than an egoistic quest for gold and glory, but for the much more difficult mission of creating a unified world where the Greeks reconcile their differences with the "Barbarians." He was an idealist dreaming of one world without boundaries of tribal or racial discrimination. A pseudo-Pureland vision of universal equanimity? This ideal he personally demonstrated by marrying foreign wives, treating conquered royalty with respect and returning kingdoms to defeated kings, much to the chagrin of his Greek-chauvinistic followers.
The warrior king with almost mythical invinciblity on the battlefield ironically died of illness at 32. His end was not a blaze of glory. While mortal men can fight other men, who can win the grim reaper, other than realising deathless Nirvana! Was he a tyrant king? Or a peerless leader ahead of his times, who played a huge role in shaping the world to the way it is today? Would the world be better with or without him? It is hard to tell - but the world deserved the weight of his presence there and then, in the name of its collective karma.
Likewise, perhaps we do not deserve in our times, the presence of a Dharma Wheel-Turning King or Universal Monarch, who Buddhists believe to be a world leader, capable of unifying the world not by the sword, but by truth and virtue, compassion and wisdom. Yes, a truly great king, as described in the sutras, even having the physical appearance of a Buddha. What makes a Buddha then? He is the "King of Kings", by virtue of His renunciation of kingdoms, which he could have easily conquered, for the sake of Enlightenment. He was a spiritual king to whom worldly kings bowed to. If Alexander was "Great" and glorious in his victories, the Buddha was simply "Unsurpassable" in His conquest of self for others.
King Asoka, the Buddhist king who repented his killing of the masses by practice and promotion of the Dharma, is arguably the greatest yet least recognised king ever, winning almost all of India in his time. As repeatedly shown in the annals of history, an empire, as easily forged by the sword, is as easily fragmented by the sword. Of worldly conquests, "all men reach and fall" eventually. This is the nature of the worldly conditions, of alternating gain and loss. The world after Alexander's demise did not evolve into paradise. Savage wars continue in today's larger known world, which has also become much smaller, as we realise interdependence in our international connectedness.
Alexander may have conquered much of the known world, but had he fully conquered his inner world, his mind? Fortune favours the bold. The most precious fortune we can seek is spiritual and immeasurable - of compassion and wisdom - nothing material. And bold diligence is what we need in pursuit of these twin peaks of perfection. Alexander was great, but he could have been so much greater, like all of us can - if only we strive to conquer our inner demons more than countless external enemies we encounter.
For the Buddha taught, "To conquer oneself is greater than to conquer thousands in battle." Be the true hero then. Try. Even if it takes more than this lifetime. In the words of Alexander the Great, "There is nothing impossible to him who will try."