Buddha smiled and accepted it with the same graciousness he accepted the giftsof wealthy admirers. That boy, it is said, was reborn as the Emperor Ashoka. Ashoka sent missionaries all over India and beyond. Some went as far as Egypt,Palestine, and Greece. St.Origen even mentions them as having reached Britain. The Greeks of one of the Alexandrian kingdoms of northern India adopted Buddhism, after their KingMenandros (Pali: Milinda) was convinced by a monk named Nagasena theconversation immortalized in the Milinda Pañha. A Kushan king of north Indianamed Kanishka was also converted, and a council was held in Kashmir in about 100 ad. Greek Buddhists there recorded the Sutras on copper sheets which,unfortunately, were never recovered.It is interesting to note that there is a saint in Orthodox Christianity named Josaphat, an Indian king whose story is essentially that of the Buddha. Josaphat isthought to be a distortion of the word bodhisattva.
Sri Lanka and Theravada
Emperor Ashoka sent one of his sons, Mahinda, and one of his daughters,Sanghamitta, a monk and a nun, to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) around the year 240 bc.The king of Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa, welcomed them and wasconverted. One of the gifts they brought with them was a branch of the bodhi tree,which was successfully transplanted. The descendants of this branch can still be found on the island.The fourth council was held in Sri Lanka, in the Aloka Cave, in the first century bc. During this time as well, and for the first time, the entire set of Sutras wererecorded in the Pali language on palm leaves. This became Theravada's PaliCanon, from which so much of our knowledge of Buddhism stems. It is also called the Tripitaka (Pali: Tipitaka), or three baskets: The three sections of the canonare the Vinaya Pitaka (the monastic law), the Sutta Pitaka (words of the Buddha),and the Abhidamma Pitaka (the philosophical commentaries).In a very real sense, Sri Lanka's monks may be credited with saving theTheravada tradition: Although it had spread once from India all over southeast Asia, it had nearly died out due to competition from Hinduism and Islam, as well as war and colonialism. Theravada monks spread their tradition from Sri Lankato Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos, and from these lands toEurope and the west generally.
Mahayana began in the first century bc, as a development of the Mahasangharebellion. Their more liberal attitudes toward monastic tradition allowed the lay community to have a greater voice in the nature of Buddhism. For better or worse, the simpler needs of the common folk were easier for the Mahayanists to