Gregory Schopen, Professor of Asian Languages and
Cultures and one of the world's leading authorities on Buddhism, has
shattered many myths, notably the notion that Buddhist monks in ancient
India renounced money and property. Well-versed in Sanskrit, Prakrit,
Pali and Tibetan, Schopen probably knows more about classical Buddhism
than the entire line of reincarnated Dalai Lamas, and it's no wonder
that his work has significantly altered the way other religions are
Partly because of popular culture, it's hard to imagine the Buddha as
anything other than a great sage, "seated in what appears to be
serene and deep meditation," or surrounded by students craving
enlightenment, said Schopen. Neither image suggests that the Buddha,
who taught that "all things are impermanent," might, in fact,
be "pondering how to avoid paying custom duties and taxes"
— or that he might well be teaching his followers "how to
write a loan contract and not make unsecured loans."
In his talk, Schopen illuminates a little-known aspect of Buddhism:
the fact that it was one of the earliest social organizations in India
to develop what might be called a corporation. "In terms of Indian
history, the Buddhists were the first to do this," said Schopen.
"And they had to work out all sorts of problems that have a lot
in common with modern corporate law." Ancient Indian Buddhists,
for example, dealt with such issues as how they could own property and
whether an order of monks was a legal entity, added Schopen, pointing
out that Wall Street has much to learn from the Buddha.
By any measure, Schopen is an iconoclast. A Taiwanese newspaper once
described him as an "exceptionally rare species – an academic
who writes not only lucidly but also eloquently, charmingly, and very
often wittily." The fact that Schopen won the esteemed MacArthur
Award in 1985 has surely cemented his reputation as an outstanding scholar
any university would be proud of.
From Ajay Singh, UCLA Today