Whap/Napp Read and Annotate

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Empires: Mauryan and Gupta WHAP/Napp

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Buddha died in about 486 BC, when he was close to 80 years of age. His death was widely mourned in the region but his creed did not seem likely to win converts far from the banks of the Ganges. A little more than two centuries after his death, his creed received a lucky break. It so happened that King Asoka became the first ruler to govern nearly all of a land which in Buddha’s lifetime had been fragmented into many kingdoms. With the aid of his huge army, consisting of some half a million foot soldiers, 30,000 horsemen and 9,000 elephant-riders, King Asoka tightened his control of nearly all of India except the southern triangle.

Ruling from a city on the Ganges, this powerful king – perhaps the most powerful in the world – could be remarkably benign. In the 250s BC he built hospitals – at the same time as the distant city of Alexandria was building its medical school – and he favored the educating of women. Tolerant towards religions, he eventually became a devout Buddhist and even erected shrines to honor the ashes of Buddha. At a time when Buddhism might otherwise have been pushed aside by the central and versatile creed of Hinduism, the king quietly spread its religious message. A king with absolute power is the most persuasive of all missionaries, in the short term.

With the king’s help, Buddhism won a foothold in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in about the year 250 BC. According to tradition the spirit of Buddhism crossed the narrow strait by air, landed on a hill and promptly embraced and converted the King of Ceylon. The day would come when Buddhism would virtually die in its homeland but hold the loyalties of hundreds of millions living in land beyond India.” ~ A Short History of the World

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