Under the reign of the Buddhist King Asoka, who reigned from about 268 to 239 B.C.E., the first Buddhist missionaries left India for Sri Lanka. From this missionary effort grew the Theravada (“Tradition of the Elders”) Buddhism that now dominates all the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia with the exception of Vietnam.
Along with the Theravada tradition came the Buddhist concept of a “righteous king,” exemplified by Asoka himself. During the history of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia, a close relationship has existed between the Buddhist samgha and Buddhist political leaders.
This relationship is evident Thailand, where Buddhist kings have played a key role in the reform and revitalization of the Buddhist samgha. It also plays a role in the work of Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent resistance to military authority in Burma.