Like most people who enjoy sensual pleasures, Asoka’s brother craved power, because power enables you to follow your desires, whatever they may be. He had always hoped that one day he would take over from his brother and become the emperor. But the emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, saw that his brother neither understood nor took an interest in the Dhamma, and he decided to teach him a lesson. One day when he was taking a bath, he left all his regalia outside the bathhouse.
He had arranged for one of his ministers to walk his brother past the robes and regalia. As they went past the bathhouse, the minister said to Asoka’s brother, “Look, the emperor’s robes—he must be bathing. you’re going to be the emperor one day—why don’t you try them on?” Asoka’s brother replied, “I can’t; it’s against the law and would be a capital offense.”
The minister urged him on: “No, no, it’s alright, you can try them on; no one will know.” So he did, and because it was a setup, Asoka came straight out of the bathhouse and said, “What are you doing? That’s a capital offense! Even though you are my brother, I have to apply the law fairly. I’m sorry, brother, but you will have to be executed.”
Asoka then continued, “But since you want to be the emperor so much, and because you are my brother, you can be the emperor for seven days.
you can enjoy all the pleasures of the harem, all the food from my kitchens, all the musicians in my court, and anything else you desire. But
you can’t commute your own sentence, and in seven days I’ll execute you.”
At the end of those seven days, he had his brother brought to him with the executioner waiting.
Asoka asked his brother, “Did you enjoy yourself during those seven days?”
His brother replied, “How could I enjoy myself when I knew I was going to die in a few days? I couldn’t even sleep, let alone enjoy myself.”
Before setting his brother free, Emperor Asoka drove the lesson home: “Whether it’s seven days, seven months, seven years, or twenty-seven years, how can you thoughtlessly immerse yourself in sensual pleasures when you know that death is waiting for you?”