I have been planning to write on Buddhism and Jainism, the two Great Religions of India apart from Hinduism.
To begin with let me share information about the propagation of Buddhism around the world.
Ashoka Maurya (/əˈʃoʊkə/; Sanskrit: अशोक मौर्य; 304–232 BCE), commonly known as Ashoka and also as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from circa 269 BCE to 232 BCE. One of India’s greatest emperors, Ashoka reigned over a realm that stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains in the west to Bengal in the East and covered the entire Indian subcontinent except parts of present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The empire’s capital wasPataliputra (in Magadha, present-day Bihar), with provincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain.
Asoka took to Buddhism with great zest and propagated it around the world by sending out preachers.
He had recorded this in his edicts.
The Ashoka inscriptions represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history. According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created.
The inscriptions proclaim Asoka’s beliefs in the Buddhist concept of dhamma and his efforts to develop “dhamma” throughout his kingdom. Although Buddhism and the Buddha are mentioned, the edicts of Asoka tend to focus on social and moral precepts rather than religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism.
The inscriptions revolve around a few repetitive themes: Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism, the description of his efforts to spread Buddhism, his moral and religious precepts, and his social and animal welfare program.
Ashoka explains that he converted to Buddhism out of remorse for his conquest of the Kalingas around 264 B.C.E. in eastern India (near the present-day state of Orissa):
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas (Rock Edict Nb13, S. Dhammika).
Following his conversion, Ashoka traveled throughout India and visited sacred Buddhist locations, where he would typically erect a pillar bearing his inscriptions:
Twenty years after his coronation, Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, visited this place and worshipped because here the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyans, was born. He had a stone figure and a pillar set up and because the Lord was born here, the village of Lumbini was exempted from tax and required to pay only one eighth of the produce (Minor Pillar Edict Nb1, S. Dhammika).
Ashoka’s concept of “Dhamma” seems to be synonymous with righteousness. In order to propagate the Buddhist faith, Ashoka explains he sent emissaries to the Hellenistic kings as far as the Mediterranean, and to the peoples throughout India, claiming they were all converted to the Dharma as a result. He names the Greek rulers of the time, inheritors of the conquest of Alexander the Great, from Bactria to as far as Greece and North Africa, displaying an amazingly clear grasp of the political situation at the time.
Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest. And it (conquest by Dhamma) has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni (Rock Edict Nb13, S. Dhammika).
The distance of 600 yojanas (a yojanas being about 7 miles), corresponds to the distance between the center of India and Greece (roughly 4,000 miles).
- Antiochos refers to Antiochus II Theos of Syria (261-246 B.C.E.), who controlled the Seleucid Empire from Syria to Bactria, in the east from 305 to 250 B.C.E., and was therefore a direct neighbor of Ashoka.
- Ptolemy refers to Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt (285-247 B.C.E.), king of the dynasty founded by Ptolemy I, a former general of Alexander the Great, in Egypt.
- Antigonos refers to Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedon (278-239 B.C.E.)
- Magas refers to Magas of Cyrene (300-258 B.C.E.)
- Alexander refers to Alexander II of Epirus (272-258 B.C.E.)