Asceticism in Ancient India: In Brahmanical Buddhist Jaina and Ajibika Societies (From the earliest times to the period of Sankaracarya) (A Rare Book)

Item Code: NAH007
Author: Haripada Chakrabarty
Publisher: Punthi Pustak
Language: English
Edition: 1993
ISBN: 8185094641
Pages: 555
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 660 gm
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About The Book

“Asceticism is derived from a Greek work meaning training. The athelete was one trained and one might be an athelete in Virtue. So very early the ascetic became the spiritual athelete of Church History.” “Two quite different conceptions mingle in the history of asceticism. One of these preserves the original meaning of discipline of the body for some ultimate purpose, as when William James urges sacrifice to God and duty as a means of training the Will. The other conception distrusts the body altogether. Asceticism has then as its function not the training but the destroying of the body or the negation of its importance.” “The word montasticism is derived from the Greek work ‘povos’, ‘alone’, ‘solitary’ from which a whole family of words has been formed: monks, monastic, nun, monasticism and monarchism.” Hence asceticism should be taken to mean “the form of religious life led by those who having separated themselves entirely from the world live in solitude.”



India is a land of spiritualism, asceticism and religion Not only the Vedas and allied literature, even what we call ‘profane’ literature-they are unmistakable proof of this unique character of India. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that a detailed and critical study of all these facets of Indian culture should be undertaken. Fortunately spiritualism has been studied by a galaxy of intellectuals. Religion also has engaged the attention of a band of sadhakas and devotees. It is, therefore, very much encouraging that a scholar of reputation has focused his attention on the study of ascetic life in ancient India. The present work which is divided into four sections attempts to discuss the following : Section I : Brahmanical asceticism, Section II: Buddhist asceticism, Section III: Jaina asceticism, Section IV: Ajivika asceticism. From this it will appear that the writer has covered a very exhaustive field to give us a complete picture of ascetic life of both the orthodox and heterodox schools. I have no hesitation in saying that the data collected are very rich and they enable the reader to judge the conclusions drawn by the writer. One would only wish a wide publicity of this very useful and important work of Dr. Haripada Chakraborti.



India is the homeland of saints and sages who took to asceticism to repress their lower impulses and rise to greater heights of their nature from very early times; and frankly speaking, India owes largely to them all that is most precious and enduring in her cultural and spiritual life. This book professes to present in separate sections an interesting picture of asceticism, as believed to be practiced in different societies, Brahmanical, Buddhist, Jaina and Ajivika from the earliest times to the period of Sankaracharya.

In the first chapter an attempt has been made to show the possibility of the practice of asceticism in the early Vedic society, if not earlier as reflected in the Mahenjodaro seal, of course in the shape of seeds which “blossomed out as fragrant flowers” in the subsequent period of the Upanisads. The theory of Varnasramadharma seems to have crystallized into a regular system in the period of the earlier Upanisads, i.e. before Buddha and Mahavira. This theory dictates that every man in the Brahmanical fold is expected to devote the third and fourth stages of life of spiritual pursuits leading ultimately to complete renunciation and final emancipation. The third stage is that of a hermit who practiced qualified asceticism by observing penances, sometimes with his wife in a forest and in the fourth stage he took to full-fledged Sannyasa and wandered about quite alone as a mendicant, entirely absorbed in bodily mortification and spiritual contemplation.

The ascetic ideal became more distinctly reflected in the later works of the Dharmasutras, the Dharmasastras, Epics and Puranas and so these sources have been exhaustively dealt with. It is generally believed that Brahmanical asceticism was prescribed for and practiced by the members called “dvija” but this treatise tries to establish that it was open to women and Sudras as well. From about the time of Yajnavalkya who is generally ascribed to the Gupta period sectarian Hinduism raised its head and so the asceticism, practiced by the people of different sects has not been neglected here. The first regular system of the monastic organization dates from about the period of Sankaracharya and hence the life of Sankaracharya with its aims and achievements has been treated here in detail. The problem of Sankara’s date has also been historically analysed in the last chapter of this section.

The second section deals minutely with Buddhist asceticism, as practiced by the Buddhists of different schools of both the Hinayana and the Mahayana. The origin and development of the Buddhist Sanghas in gradual course of evolution in different stages by which the Hinayana gave rise to the Mahayana are treated here in detail to exhibit the ideals and practices of monks or nuns of various schools of this society. Buddhism may be called a religion mainly “for the monkhood” and so some of its salient features are mentioned here. The reports and memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India are utilized here for tracing the history of Buddhism and the Buddhist caves and monasteries.

The third section enquires into the Jaina asceticism. The rise, spread and development of Jainism in various stages throughout India and the history of the Jaina Sangha, its rise and development and subsequent split into various units, specially the Svetambaras and the Digambaras are carefully investigated to show the principles and practices of Jaina monks or nuns in the period of our review.

The last section discusses the asceticism of a third heretical sect known as the Ajivikism whose relationship with the Buddhist and the Jainas was not at all cordial. Gosala was its founder who preached the doctrine of determinism (Niyati) in a novel way so as to gather round him a number of followers who formed a new Sangha and who practiced asceticism of a serve type, which ended sometimes, like that of the Jainas, in death by starvation. In “Conclusion” I have attempted a comparative study of asceticism, as practiced in different societies.

In tracing this interesting history of asceticism in our ancient India, I have utilized almost all the available sources, Indian and foreign, literary and archaeological and have always avoided the tendency of theorizing. I may claim to assert that I have not stated anything which is not warranted by suitable evidences. The Tamil sources, the Chinese and Tibetan records have also been carefully tapped. In determining the dates of different works I have mainly followed Winternitz, Keith, Aiyangar and other savants. While analyzing the different trends of thought I have humbly attempted to show both points of similarities and peculiarities in the ascetic ideals and practices of different societies and their sects and subsects. I shall deem my labour amply rewarded if this treatise can satisfy the scholars who are interested in the comparative study of asceticism, practiced by monks and nuns in different places and periods of India under review.

First of all, let me pay my tribute of respect to Svami Satyananda of Sri Sri Ramkrishna Sevayatan of Baranagar, Calcutta, who encouraged me all through in my research work and who was kind enough to go through my manuscript and help me with necessary suggestions. But alas! he is no more to see it in its published form. However, I am confident, his blessings will ever be showered from above upon us all and particularly on this work in which he was so keenly interested. Next my deep respect goes to Acharya Dr. Gaurinath Sastri, M.A., D. Litt., the retired Principal of Sanskrit College, Calcutta and the ex-Vice-Chancellor of Varanaseya Sanskrita Vishva-vidyalaya who, in spite of his preoccupations, has been kind enough to take the trouble of perusing this work and has enhanced its value by writings its “Foreword” and whose heartful blessings, I am sure, are of immense help to me. Equally indebted I am to Dr. Satkari Mookerjee, M.A., Ph.D., once the Asutosh Professor of Sanskrit, Calcutta University and Director of Nava-Nalanda Vihar and Vaisali Research Institute, who has also favoured me with his note of “Blessings” on this work.

I feel pleasure to record here the much-valued advice and encouragement I received from my respected teachers: Dr. Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya, M.A., P.R.S., Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Visva-Bharati University and Dr. Krishnagopal Goswami, M.A., P.R.S., D.Phil., Asutosh Professor of Sanskrit, Calcutta University. No word of gratitude can express my indebtedness to Dr. Govindagopal Mukhopadhyaya, M.a., Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Sanskrit, Burdwan University who was also kind enough to read my thesis and encourage me with necessary suggestions.

Sincere thanks are due to Dr. P. Jash, once my student and fortunately now my colleague who has prepared the index. Lastly Sri Sankar Kumar Bhattacharya of Punthi-Pustak of Calcutta who has already earned a good reputation as a publisher of Indological books must be specially thanked for taking keen interest in bringing this book to light.



“Asceticism is derived from a Greek word meaning training. The athelete was one trained and one might be an athelete in virtue. So very early the ascetic became the spiritual athelete of Church History.” “Two quite different conceptions mingle in the history of asceticism. One of these preserves the original meaning of discipline of the body for some ultimate purpose, as when William James urges sacrifice to God and duty as a means of training the will. The other conception distrusts the body altogether. Asceticism has then as its function not the training but the destroying of the body or the negation of its importance.” (E.R.E., II, p. 63). “The word monasticism is derived from the Greek word “movos”, “alone”, “solitary” from which a whole family of words has been formed : monks, monastic, nun, monasticism and monarchism”. Hence asceticism should be taken to mean “the form of religious life led by those who having separated themselves entirely from the world live in solitude.”

Human life has somewhere been depicted as “a dew-drop dangling on the top of the blade of Kusa grass.” Western scholars think that “By the Indian life has ever been regarded as essentially evil and relief from the burden and sorrow of existence as the chief and final aim”. But the Indian approach to life was not merely pessimistic but according to them this life, full of trials and tribulations is a mere passing phase leading ultimately to the highest stage when one becomes free from this chain of cycle of births and deaths as a result of the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality. This idea of liberation together with the transitoriness of this worldly life is at the root of the ascetic life, led by the Brahmanical saints, which Gautama Buddha and Mahavira also gladly embraced. Jaina literature is rich with historical references like the cases of Jayanti, aunt of the King Udayana of Kausambi, Khema, wife of Bimbisara who realized the futility of her beauty and youth and took to the life of a nun. Paumavati, queen of Champa became nun owing to her separation from her husband, Dahivahana. The sight of a man being led for execution and the piteous cry of animals to be killed for a marriage ceremony had induced many souls to leave this worldly life and take to asceticism.

Now to enquire into the nature of Liberation from different standpoints of the Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jaina Schools.

The Upanisads speak of “amrta” (vidyayamrtam-asnute) which may be associated with the idea of liberation (moksa), though the term ‘moksa’ is conspicuously absent in the Vedic literature. “Anandam Brahmano vidvan na vibheti kutascana” –One who knows the joy of the Absolute Self needs not be afraid of anything. The Sankhyas speak of mukti as equated with the realization of Prakrti and Purusa (“Prakrti-purusa-viveko muktih”); while the Advaitists think of it as the removal of avidya (ignorance).

In the words of Sariputta Nibbana is the total annihilation of greed (ragakkhayo), hatred (dvesa) and infatuation (moha), that means the end of desires (tanha) for which Buddha had to struggle hard with Mara and his three daughters (tanha, arati and raga). The knowledge of Fourfold Noble truths (Arya-satya-s) is the means for the realization of the theory of dependent causation (Pratitya-samutpada) which leads men to the end of all cravings (tanha) and ultimately to the nibbana. Thus nibbana has two aspects, positive and negative.

It is not only destruction of all desires but also the attainment of enlightenment (bodhi) and peace (santi).

The Jaina conception of moksa is also associated with two ideas, removal of all bondage of the soul and the attainment of perfection. The Soul is inherently perfect but owing to Karman it is associated with matter (pudgala) and it loses its pure nature. The passions causing bondage of the Soul are anger (krodha), pride (mana), infatuation (maya) and greed (lobha). The flow of such Karma-pudgala into the Soul is the influx (asrava) of Karman; and moksa lies in the stoppage of such influx (samvara) and the destruction of Karman (nirjara). The Tattvartha sutra (10.2-3) states “krtsna-karma-ksayo moksah”. The purity of the soul may be attained by right faith (samyak-darsana), right knowledge (samyak-jnana) and right faith (samyak-darsana), right knowledge (samyak-jnana) and right conduct (samyak-caritra).

Thus the survey of the theories of three schools on Liberation shows agreement in its positive aspect how the soul gets rid of all obstacles and sees its real nature. Each school sets up an ethical standard of a man in the society and the four asramas of the Brahmanical society are evolved on a preplanned scheme so as to give ample opportunity for the development of the different aspects of human activity and for the gradual making of man fit for the highest end of self-realisation. The Uvasaga-dasao speaks of Padimas, “the standards that a layman (upasaka) is expected to observe”….The object in practising these pratimas seems to be to gradually attain the state of a monk as the name of the last pratima (samanabhuyapadima) suggests.

“In the east the dominating principle of monarchism was its strongly marked individualism, the protest of the individual against a collectivism which tended to lose sight of his value.”

One could live alone in the forest or with other co-ascetics. This individualism gave rise to various orders which “have been for the most part loosely organized.”

West monarchism is not the product of any planned scheme of life where one may either marry or be a monk. The married man may be a monk only if his wife is lost or his wife has become a nun. Christian monarchism depicts moksa as the gift of the grace of God. One householder may attain God’s grace by his pious life even without embracing monastic life. “In the west monarchism very soon ceased to be the monarchism of a lonely monk.” Life in a monastery became compulsory for the recognition of a monk there ‘and there the monks must have had to pray to the Lord jointly for His grace.

Thus the West does not afford any scheme of life, like the East, for the slow preparation of a man for the monasticism as reflected in the Brahmanical Asramas or in the Padimas of the Jainism. The West stresses on God’s grace and not on monk-life for liberation; whereas the East insists on individual efforts of a monk for the grace of God which ushers in liberation. Christianity offers no hopes of rebirth and hence this life alone is to be utilized for winning His grace; whereas the well-known theory of Karman as propounded in Indian philosophy offers a bright prospect to the aspirant for liberation in some future rebirth. Indian monarchism, being individualistic in character, allows a monk either to live alone or in corporations; whilst Western monarchism grows only in monasteries and so is the product of a better organization. The only point where both the East and West agree is bodily mortification. The extreme cases of Brahmanical and Jaina austerities in the shape of long-term fasts, standing with eyes fixed on the Sun etc. may be compared with the excesses of some Irish saints. “St. Finnchua is said to have spent seven years suspended by iron shackles under his armpits, ‘so that he might get a place in heaven’ in lieu of one which he had given away.”

Now about Indian monarchism it is interesting to note that all schools reveal some points of similarities, as they worked on almost the same principle of philosophy about life, as discussed before; and so they based their life on almost the same “ascetic morality” to get release from the bondage of life. that is why some think that Buddhism and Jainism are but mere off-shoots of Brahmanism. But on closer scrutiny we may point out some peculiarities of each school. “While in Brahmanism the monastic life has preserved its eremitic character, in Buddhism we find it, on the contrary, in the cenobitic form. The monks live together in monasteries, in the practice of poverty-as mendicants, in fact and celibacy.” Brahmanism is spiritually more generous to welcome hundreds of sects and sub-sects with it but it became more weakened for so many sub-divisions without a central united force of a strong organization. This spiritual generosity was, however, not, except in a few cases, extended to Sudras (the lowest varna of the society) and women who “are better and more faithful custodians of ancient traditions and culture.” This bar of sex or caste in brahmanism led to the popularity of Buddhism and of Jainism which gladly accepted them. We know that women were admitted to the Buddhist order of ascetics against the will of the Buddha and the Jains enlisted them as nuns from the very beginning. The removal of caste-bar and of sex-stimulated the powers of these two churches. But the Buddha advocated the “middle path”, avoiding the two extremes of luxury and self-mortification. The Jaina monks practiced severe penances of bodily mortification caring little for the body. Both these schools regulated the lives of monks or nuns by high ethical standards; and they show the brilliant examples of their corporate life. All the three schools took to begging for bare maintenance. The Buddha accepted invitations for meals and monasteries for his monks. The Jains, on the other hand, observed the vow of ahimsa and of a-parigraha to the extreme so much so as to practiced self-moratification and nudity. Loya, i.e. uprooting hair from the head and the beard was strictly practiced as a matter of self-control by the Jains. Though women were admitted as nuns, they were completely segregated from men. The Buddhist and Jaina monarchism were “essentially pessimistic in worldly outlook, metaphysically dualistic, if not pluralistic, animistic and ultra-humane in its ethical tenets, temperamentally ascetic, undoubtedly accepting the dogma of transmigration and Karma doctrine, owing no racial allegiance to the Vedas and Vedic rites, subscribing to the belief of individual perfection.”




  Section I : Brahmanical Society  
Chapter 1 Origin of Asceticism 1-14
Chapter 2 Jnanakarma -Samucchaya-Vada 15-44
Chapter 3 Sannyasa And the Brahmasutras 45-49
Chapter 4 Evolution of Asrama Theory 50-82
Chapter 5 Ascetic Order 83-137
Chapter 6 Yoga 138-154
Chapter 7 Asceticism Among Theistic Sects 155-170
Chapter 8 Sankaracharya 171-193
  Section II: Buddhist Society  
Chapter 9 Buddha and His Disciples 197-218
Chapter 10 Mode of Life of Nuns 219-247
Chapter 11 Meditation 248-254
Chapter 12 On Different Schools 255-283
Chapter 13 Mahayana 284-337
  Section III: Jaina Society  
Chapter 14 History of Jainism 341-350
Chapter 15 Historical Survey of The Spread of Jainism in India 351-361
Chapter 16 Jaina Order 362-418
Chapter 17 Digambara School 419-445
  Section IV: Ajivika Society  
Chapter 18 Gosala's Theory 449-472
  Conclusion 473-481
  Appendix A 485-488
  Appendix B 489-492
  Index 493-509


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