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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 2.2 (2019): 217–249;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism and Business: South and East Asian Perspectives)

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The Business Model of a Buddhist Monasticism: Acquiring Productive Assets

University of California, Los Angeles

Abstract: Whatever else the Buddhist monastic community or Saṅgha was in early and medieval India, it was certainly an institution with economic interests and concerns. At least one of its monastic Codes or vinayas presents it as a legal or juristic personality that owned property—both real and movable—and as a corporation that was intended to generate wealth. The authors or redactors of that same Code invented, developed, or used a whole series of sophisticated legal and financial instruments (permanent endowments, indirect deposits, written wills, etc.) and fundraising techniques (organized and advertised fund drives, etc.). It also authorized the engagement of its monks in a wide variety of business ventures, and framed rules governing such enterprises as selling rice under market value, dealing in expensive cloth, providing hospice care, etc.). All of this will be surveyed, paying particular attention to the justification and rationalization of these practices, and how they embedded the monastery in the local economies—both agricultural and commercial—so that the monastery had vested interests in the local economy, and the economy had the same interests in the monastery.

Keywords: Vinaya, monastic property, Indian Buddhism, medieval India, monastic labour


About the Author: An eminent in the fields of Religious Studies and Asian Studies, Gregory Schopen’s (UCLA) work focuses on Indian Buddhist monastic life. By looking beyond canonical materials in favor of less commonly used sources such as Indian Buddhist stone inscriptions, his numerous scholarly works have shifted the field away from Buddhism as portrayed through its own doctrines toward a more realistic picture of the actual lives of Buddhists, lives that were (and remain) deeply intertwined with the economic sphere. In 1985 he received the MacArthur Grant for his work in the field of History of Religion. In 2015 he was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


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.