Ashoka was the third Emperor of the Maurya dynasty of ancient India. His name Ashoka means “without sorrow” in Sanskrit. His grandfather, Chandragupta Maurya, was the founder of the dynasty.
In 273 BCE, when Ashoka’s father, Bindusara, passed away, the prince and princesses went into brutal civil wars in a fight for the throne, the most intense of which was the ones between Ashoka and his older brothers. In the process, Ashoka killed 99 of his own siblings before ascending the throne; four years after, he was officially enthroned as the Emperor of Maurya dynasty.
Ever since he took the throne, Ashoka had been aggressively expanding the boundaries of his dynasty and conquering many neighboring countries. After concluding the wars, Ashoka received many teachings from the respected Buddhist abbot, Upagupta, and he became a devout Buddhist not long after. The brutality of his conquest led him to adopt Buddhism. He later used his position to propagate the relatively new religion to new heights.
Under the reign of Ashoka, the law was based on the Buddhist ethics, emphasizing the practice of benevolent and pious thoughts. In his opinion, the importance of Buddhism lies in the ability to put the phiosophy into practice, he believed that: Whether a person is able to carry out good deeds does not depend on how many times he participates in the Buddhist rituals, but rather on whether his activities are performed in accordance with the Dharma.
He made Buddhism the state religion of India and ordered this royal decree be inscribed on rocks and pillars to be placed everywhere in the palaces and all over India. He also gathered a great number of revered Buddhist monks to restore and edit the Buddhist Canon, as well as building innumerable monasteries, temples and pagodas.
In the effort to spread the teachings of Buddha, Ashoka dispatched a number of missionaries, including qualified monks and his own children to different regions within India and the neighboring countries. When his daughter, Princess Sanghamitra, established Buddhism in Ceylon (or Sri Lanka), she brought with her not only many monks and scriptures, but also a branch of the holy Bodhi tree, which she personally planted there. Until today, this Bodhi tree remains to be an object of veneration. After a series of propangada and friendly exchanges within different regions of India and with the neighboring countries, Buddhism became a wide-spread belief not only at home, but also in Egypt, Syria, Myammar, China and many corners of the world.
During Ashoka’s 40 years reigning the Maurya Dynasty, he was highly respected in India and abroad. He is known as “Ashoka The Great” in the history of India and of many other countries. In this way, under the leadership of Ashoka, the Maurya Dynasty became the first unified empire in the history of India. Even in Ningbo, China, the fact that there was a temple named after Ashoka tells that he was also a very influential figure in historical China.
While Buddhism was founded by Buddha Shakyamuni, its wide spreading dissemination was attributed to Ashoka The Great.