Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

2
Asoka and Moggaliputta Tissa

a. ASOKA IN BUDDHIST LEGENDS

WITH the concept of a Buddhist India, Rhys Davids' well-known monograph, first published in 1903, but still a vade mecum for students of early Buddhism, has made us familiar. But, if the expression, 'Buddhist India', connotes an India with Buddhism as a widespread or prevailing faith in it, its application to the country before Asoka's time would perhaps be unhistorical.

From the region called Puratthima, the spread of Buddhism was due mainly to two events of history--first, the rise of Magadha from a petty kingdom to the seat of Maurya imperial power, and secondly, the adoption of the Buddhist faith by a great Maurya emperor.

The Maurya capital at Pāṭaliputra in Magadha rose at a time when Buddhism was a Magadhan religion, scarcely two centuries old and known but little outside the Puratthima. It is said that the Buddha had already prophesied its rise from a petty village to a 'Chief Town' (Agga-nagara).1 Ruling from here, the Maurya dynasts acquired a far-flung empire in three generations, stretching north-to- south from Gāndhāra (now merged in Afganistan) to Mysore, and east-to-west from Bihar to Sourāshtra. It was the largest empire ever established in India, including the British.

Candragupta, the founder of the dynasty, had seen India's north- west shaken to fragments by Alexander's abortive invasion in 325 BC. Integrating small territories under one rule, sometimes by conquest, but mainly by diplomacy, he built upon the wreckage a sizable and integrated empire. It was added to by further conquests by his son Bindusāra whose suggestive nickname, 'Slayer of Foes', has been handed down to us by Greek historians and the Sanskrit grammarian, Puṣyamitra's priest ( second century BC), Patañjali.2 Asoka, the next heir to the throne, made only a single conquest by force of arms--of the Kaliṇga country on the eastern seaboard-- extending thereby the empire from sea to sea.

The terrible massacre, the ruthless displacement of population and the widespread suffering of survivors, involved in this war, drove him

____________________
1
Mahāparinibbāna Suttanta, I, 28.
2
See Hultzseh Inscriptions of Asoka ( Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. I), p. xxxiv, and Patañjali on Pāṇini, III, 2, 97.

-107-

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