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Ashoka and the spread of buddhism

The reign of King Ashoka is one of the principal contributing factors in the spread of Buddhism from India to the rest of Asia and subsequent world.

Although Buddhism was characteristically a missionary religion from its inception[1], it was the through the royal patronage and efforts of King Ashoka the Buddhism really crossed Indian frontiers.

It is generally agreed that Ashoka converted to Buddhism in the fourth year after his coronation in 268 BC[2].

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It was preceded by a period of violent wars and years of bloodshed that finally transformed Ashoka and illuminated him towards the ideals of peace and co-existence of Buddhism.

Ashoka, at the time of his transformation, was ruling the largest Indian empire that was matched only by British Rule almost 2000 years later on[3]. The absolute control over this vast dominion by a Buddhist King was instrumental in the rapid growth of the religion.

Ashoka took many steps in encouraging the spread of Buddhism, through direct patronage to sending missions and ambassadors to other countries. He sent missions to courts and rulers of Near East and Macedonia and to countries of South East Asia[4] .

Each mission was headed by an elder who went with five monks to preach the tenets and philosophy of Buddhism[5]. The commitment of the Emperor was evident by the fact that he ordered his own son Mahindra and daughter Sanghmitra to head separate Buddhist Missions in South-East Asia, especially modern day Sri Lanka.

The prestige and command that Ashoka commanded played  a large part in successful acceptance of his missions and conversion of people to Buddhism[6].

[1] Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 1996. 70
[2] Ananda W.P.Guruge: Emperor Asoka and Buddhism. http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/king_asoka.pdf. accessed 11.1.2006.
[3] Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 1996. 70

[4] Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 1996. 70

[5] Richard Gombrich: Asoka: The great Upasaka. http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/king_asoka.pdf. accessed  11.1.2006
[6] John C. Powers. Buddhism, An Introduction. http://www.anu.edu.au/asianstudies/buddhism/spread.html accessed. 11.1.2006.