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Corporate Bodies in Early South Asian Buddhism: Some Relics and Their Sponsors According to Epigraphy

Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Liberal Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, Georgia College & State University, 231 W. Hancock St., Milledgeville, GA 31061, USA
Religions 2019, 10(1), 4;
Received: 8 November 2018 / Revised: 10 December 2018 / Accepted: 12 December 2018 / Published: 22 December 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhist Monasticism and Lay Society)
PDF [343 KB, uploaded 25 December 2018]


Some of the earliest South Asian Buddhist historical records pertain to the enshrinement of relics, some of which were linked to the Buddha and others associated with prominent monastic teachers and their pupils. Who were the people primarily responsible for these enshrinements? How did the social status of these people represent Buddhism as a burgeoning institution? This paper utilizes early Prakrit inscriptions from India and Sri Lanka to reconsider who was interested in enshrining these relics and what, if any, connection they made have had with each other. Traditional accounts of reliquary enshrinement suggest that king Aśoka began the enterprise of setting up the Buddha’s corporeal body for worship but his own inscriptions cast doubt as to the importance he may have placed in the construction of stūpa-s and the widespread distribution of relics. Instead, as evidenced in epigraphy, inclusive corporations of individuals may have instigated, or, at the very least, became the torchbearers for, reliquary enshrinement as a salvific enterprise. Such corporations comprised of monastics as well as non-monastics and seemed to increasingly become more managerial over time. Eventually, culminating at places like Sanchi, the enshrinement of the corporeal remains of regionally famous monks partially supplanted the corporeal remains of the Buddha. Those interested in funding this new endeavor were corporations of relatives, monastic brethren, and others who were likely friends and immediate acquaintances. In the end, the social and corporate collectivity of early Buddhism may have outshined some textual monastic ideals of social isolation as it pertained to the planning, carrying out, and physical enshrinement of corporeal remains for worship, thus evoking an inclusive sentiment with the monastic institution rather than disassociation. View Full-Text
Keywords: Buddhism; epigraphy; relics; corporation; patronage Buddhism; epigraphy; relics; corporation; patronage
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 (CC BY 4.0).

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Milligan, M.D. Corporate Bodies in Early South Asian Buddhism: Some Relics and Their Sponsors According to Epigraphy. Religions 2019, 10, 4.

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