How did Ashoka’s conversion impact others beyond India?

By Sunil Kumar

Ashoka is one of the most revered figures in Indian history; but everything is not always black and white. As per many historians including Sanjeev Sanyal; Ashoka was not as noble as he is made out to be. His much vaunted change of heart after the Kalinga war can also be construed as poetic imagination if you believe these writers.

According to them; Ashoka had converted to Buddhism before the Kalinga war and a brutal fratricidal struggle in which he killed most of his brothers is also believed to be true. Now to the main point of this question; how did his conversion impact others beyond India?

In simple words; very profoundly. He is one of the most important and influential thought leaders of the ancient world. According to legend; at the request of King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka; Ashoka sent his daughter Sanghamitta and son Mahinda to spread the religion there and beyond.

Theravada Buddhism later spread to countries like Burma(Myanmar), Thailand, China, Japan, Korea among others. This was a profound impact on the art, culture and mindscape of a large swathe of the ancient world. Some people have mentioned Afghanistan; which was at the time part of the ancient Indic civilizational stream; and part of ancient India(Gandhara).

Buddhism also spread via the Silk Routes into Central Asia and influenced already existing religions such as Zoroastrianism and the Mithra cult. According to some Western Researchers; Jesus belonged to a sect called the Essenes who were also in turn influenced by Buddhist thought from India. Early Christianity with its Gnosticism and mystical undercurrent resembled more of ancient Indian parables and ideas rather than the bloodthirsty stories from Judaic lore in the Biblical Old Testament.

So; in short Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism had a profound impact on the ancient world and in a round-about way has influenced modern civilization.

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