Click here return to the Hualin main page.

Click here return to the Hualin E-Journal Vol 2.2 Table of Contents page.


Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 2.2 (2019): 106–131;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism and Business: South and East Asian Perspectives)

Download full text PDF


Monastic Investment Bootstrapping: An Economic Model for the Expansion of Early Buddhism

Trinity University

Abstract: This paper borrows from recent trends in business finance (namely venture capitalism) to begin theorizing a model for the spread of Buddhism outside of the Buddha’s homeland in ancient Magadha. During the Early Historic Period (300 BCE–300 CE) in South Asia, dozens of new Buddhist pilgrimage sites emerged centered on stūpas, the relics of the Buddha and prominent Buddhist saints. At many of these sites, donor records were etched into stone, thus creating a roster of some of the earliest financiers to the burgeoning Buddhist monastic institution. I sifted through these donor records to examine just who these early patrons were, where they came from, and potentially what their aims were in funding a new religious movement. Not only did the donative investment records exist for posterity, meaning for the sake of future investors to the Buddhist saṃgha, but they also served as markers of ongoing financial success. If the old adage holds true, that it takes money to make money, then whose money did the early saṃgha utilize to create its image of success for future investors? My research reveals that a majority of the investors to the saṃgha were the monastics themselves. Put simply, monks and nuns formed the largest and most authoritative patronage demographic from which they used their own personal wealth to, in essence, ‘pull the saṃgha up by its bootstraps’. I argue that this phenomenon aligns closely with modern business creation and growth in the United States and elsewhere since many founding members of businesses and institutions often begin their endeavors with their own personal assets, including wealth, property, and/or loans.

Keywords: monasticism, bootstrapping, patronage, venture capitalism, wealth, Sanchi


About the Author: Matthew D. Milligan researches Indian and Sri Lanka religious history from c. 500 BCE to 300 CE, focusing on the development of financial liberality via socio-economic practices. A specialist in epigraphy, Milligan reads Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit sources together with canonical and non-canonical literature. Recent publications include articles in The Indian Economic & Social History Review as well as Religions. He is currently a Lecturer of Buddhism at Georgia College & State University in the United States.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.