This is a curious story which dates back more than 2,000 years.
The great king of India, Ashoka (ruled 268 to 232 B.C.) expanded the empire left to him by his father Bindusara and his grandfather, Chandragupta. By 260, Ashoka ruled over most of modern India and Pakistan – but not including the southern quarter. He famously converted to Buddhism and his court became, in the eyes of later Buddhist priests, the most perfect realm in the history of the world.
Like most other Buddhist kings, Ashoka’s realm disintegrated soon after his death as Buddhist kings are rarely effective at real state-craft. Another example would include Xiao Yan, King Wu of Liang.
However, during Ashoka’s thirty years of peace and relative harmony, he became famous for his wisdom, and the brilliance of the artists and thinkers who came to his court.
The Nine Unknown Men
The legend in India, is that Ashoka decided that some of the knowledge he had gained was simply too powerful to be widely known. The Indians are fond of the idea that there exists some fundamental truths which are so powerful that a man who knows them can control or even kill anyone else. To make sure Ashoka’s knowledge did not die with him or his state, he secretly passed on his knowledge to a group of nine men. Because of the danger of the wisdom these men were given, Ashoka swore the men to secrecy and their identities were known only to fellow members of the group.
Since Ashoka’s day, the legend holds that the nine unknown men select a single person to whom they passed on their knowledge. Additionally, each of the nine wrote a book and every master was supposed to add to this book based on their continued research. According to the fiction writer Talbot Mundy (a man now almost forgotten but quite a well known writer in the years 1910 to 1940) the nine uknown men were experts in: propaganda (telling artful lies which will sway the hearts of those who hear the words); human physiology (which is where chakras and acupuncture come from, supposedly); biology; alchemy; long-distance communication; physics (supposedly the master of this book could manipulate gravity); cosmology; light; and the last was the master of social systems.
The people who believe the legend also believe the nine unknown men have been acting and, to a large extent, controlling, the country of India ever since Ashoka’s reign. If you study the history of India, the idea that India has been well-run over the last 2,000 years is belied by the facts. But I suppose some people can see order in any human society. After all, no matter how bad things went in India, it could have been worse.
Here is a short essay on the topic of the nine unknown men. I was amused to discover the Jewish religion has a belief which mirrors this as well, the Jewish theologians believe in guardian angels who guide people. There is more to that story but I can’t find it right now.