Extent of Asoka's Empire
Asoka's inscriptions mention the southernmost kingdoms - Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras and Keralaputras - as border-states. Therefore these states remained outside the Mauryan Empire. According to Rajatarangini, Kashmir was a part of the Mauryan Empire. Nepal was also within the Mauryan empire. The northwestern frontier was already demarcated by Chandragupta Maurya.
Although Asoka embraced Buddhism and took efforts to spread Buddhism, his policy of Dhamma was a still broad concept. It was a way of life, a code of conduct and a set of principles to be adopted and practiced by the people at large. His principles of Dhamma were clearly stated in his Edicts. The main features of Asoka's Dhamma as mentioned in his various Edicts may be summed as follows:
Service to father and mother, practice of ahimsa, love of truth, reverence to teachers and good treatment of relatives.
Prohibition of animal sacrifices and festive gatherings and avoiding expensive and meaningless ceremonies and rituals.
Efficient organization of administration in the direction of social welfare and maintenance of constant contact with people through the system of Dhammayatras.
Humane treatment of servants by masters and prisoners by government officials.
Consideration and non-violence to animals and courtesy to relations and liberality to Brahmins.
Tolerance among all the religious sects.
Conquest through Dhamma instead of through war.
The concept of non-violence and other similar ideas of Asoka's Dhamma are identical with the teachings of Buddha. But he did not equate Dhamma with Buddhist teachings. Buddhism remained his personal belief. His Dhamma signifies a general code of conduct. Asoka wished that his Dhamma should spread through all social levels.
Asoka was 'the greatest of kings' surpassing Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and other renowned Emperors of the world. According to H.G. Wells 'Amidst the tens and thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, the name of Asoka shines and shines almost alone, a star'. Asoka was true to his ideals. He was not a dreamer but a man of practical genius. His Dhamma is so universal that it appeals to humanity even today. He was an example in history for his benevolent administration and also for following the policy of non-aggression even after his victory in the war. His central ideal was to promote the welfare of humanity.
Asoka's death in 232 B.C. was followed by the division of the Mauryan Empire into two parts - western and eastern. The western part was ruled by Kunala, son of Asoka and the eastern part by Dasaratha, one of the grand sons of Asoka. Due to the Bactrian invasions, the western part of the empire collapsed. The eastern part was intact under Samprati successor of Dasaratha. The last Mauryan king was Brihatratha, who was assassinated by Pushyamitra Sunga.
According some scholars, his conversion to Buddhism was gradual and not immediate. About 261 B.C. Asoka became a Sakya Upasaka (lay dsicple) and two and a half years later, a Bikshu (monk). Then he gave up hunting, visited Bodh-Gaya, and organized missions. He appointed special officers called Dharma Mahamatras to speed up the progress of Dhamma. In 241 B.C., he visited the birth place of Buddha, the Lumbini Garden, near Kapilavastu. He also visited other holy places of Buddhism like Sarnath, Sravasti and Kusinagara. He sent a mission to Sri Lanka under his son Mahendra and daughter Sangamitra who planted there the branch of the original Bodhi tree. Asoka convened the Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputra in 240 B.C. in order to strengthen the Sangha. It was presided over by Moggaliputta Tissa.