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The Goods that Cannot Be Stolen: Mercantile Faith in Kumāralāta's Garland of Examples Adorned by Poetic Fancy


This dissertation examines the affinity between the urban mercantile classes of ancient India and contemporary Buddhist faith through an examination of the narrative collection Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā Dṛṣṭāntapaṅkti (“Garland of Examples,” henceforth Kumāralāta’s Garland) by the 3rd Century CE Gandhāran monk Kumāralāta. The collection features realistic narratives that portray the religious sensibility of those social classes. I contend that as Kumāralāta’s 3rd Century was one of crisis for cities and for trade in the Indian world, his work reflects an urgent statement of the core values of Buddhist urban businesspeople. Kumāralāta’s stories emphasize both religious piety and the pursuit of wealth, a concern for social respectability, a strong work ethic, and an emphasis on rational decision-making. These values inform Kumāralāta’s religious vision of poverty and wealth. His vision of religious giving conjugates economic behavior and religious doctrine, and the outcome is a model that confers religious legitimation to the pursuit of wealth but also an economic outlet for religious fervor and a solid financial basis for the monastic establishment, depicted by Kumāralāta in close interdependence with the laity and, most importantly, within the same social class.

These thematic findings have required that Kumāralāta’s Garland be examined in the context of the Indian society of his time by considering the broader genre of Buddhist narrative literature but also the archeological, literary, and epigraphic material that tells us about the competing social groups depicted in the stories. Such competing currents include the orthodox brahmanical establishment, the military aristocracy, and the hedonistic urban upper class depicted in the Kāmasūtra.

My examination also required that I reconsider Kumāralāta’s text in its extant versions in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Tangut and Chinese, all except one in Chinese being fragmentary. This philological survey has provided a number of discoveries. I have edited a number of already known but unedited fragments of one of the Sanskrit manuscripts and identified four previously unknown Sanskrit manuscripts from Bāmiyān. I have also assessed the Tangut version and proposed a new translator for the main Chinese version.

There was great interest in Kumāralāta’s work in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it has since dwindled. An ancillary aim of my dissertation is bringing Kumāralāta and his work back into the scholarly conversation.

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