Page:A Brief History of the Indian Peoples.djvu/83

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THE WORK OF ASOKA. 79 Southern Asia practically dates from Asoka's Council. In a number of edicts, both before and after that Council, he pub- lished throughout his empire the grand principles of the faith. Forty of these royal sermons are still found graven upon pillars, caves, and rocks throughout India. Asoka also founded a State department, with a Minister of Justice and Religion at its head, to watch over the purity, and to direct the spread, of the faith. Wells were to be dug and trees planted along the roads for the wearied wayfarers. Hospitals were established for man and beast. Officers were appointed to watch over family life and the morals of the people, and to promote instruction among the women as well as the youth. Asoka thought it his duty to con- vert all mankind to Buddhism. His rock inscriptions record how he sent forth missionaries ' to the utmost limits of the bar- barian countries,' to ' intermingle among all unbelievers ' for the spread of religion. They were to mix equally with soldiers, Brahmans, and beggars, with the dreaded and the despised, both within the kingdom ' and in foreign countries, teaching better things.' But conversion was to be effected by persuasion, not by the sword. Buddhism was at once the most intensely missionary religion in the world, and the most tolerant. Asoka, however, not only laboured to spread his religion — he also took steps to keep its doctrines pure. He collected the Buddhist sacred books into an authoritative version, in the Magadhi language of his central kingdom in Behar, — a version which for two thousand years has formed the Southern Canon of the Bud- dhist Scriptures. Kanishka. — The fourth and last of the great Buddhist Councils was held under the Scythian King Kanishka, who ruled in North- Western India about 40 a.d. He again revised the sacred books, and his version has supplied the Northern Canon to the Buddhists of Tibet, Tartary, and China. Mean- while Buddhist missionaries were preaching all over Asia. About 244 b.c, Asoka's son is said to have carried his father's Southern Canon of the sacred books to Ceylon, whence it spread in later times to Burma and the Eastern Archipelago. The Northern Canon of Buddhism, as laid down at the Council of Kanishka, became one of the State religions of China in 65 a.d. ;