Ājīvika (also written "Ajivika" or "Ajivaka") was an ancient philosophical and ascetic movement of the Indian subcontinent. The Ajivikas were contemporaries of the early Buddhists and historical Jains; the Ajivika movement may have preceded both of these groups. The Ajivikas may have been a more loosely organized group of wandering ascetics (sramanas or sanyasins). The Ajivikas believed that transmigration of the human soul was determined by a precise and non-personal cosmic principle called Niyati (destiny or ) and was completely independent of the person's actions. They are believed to have been strict fatalists, who did not believe in karma or the possibility of free will.

Several rock-cut caves belonging to this sect, built during the times of Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka (r. 273 BC to 232 BC), have been found at Barabar Caves, Jehanabad District, Bihar. [http://www.collectbritain.co.uk/personalisation/object.cfm?uid=019PHO000001003U0045A000 Entrance to one of the Barabar Hill caves] "British Library".]


Very little concrete information is known about the Ajivikas. Their scriptures and history were not preserved directly — instead, fragments of Ajivika doctrine were preserved in Buddhist and Jain sources, and they are mentioned in several inscriptions from the Mauryan empire. As a result, it is unknown to what degree the available sources reflect the actual beliefs and practices of the Ajivikas. Because most of what is known about them was recorded in the literature of rival groups, it is quite possible that accidental distortions or intentional criticism was introduced into the records. Even the name 'Ajivika' may have only been used by observers from outside the tradition.

Some regard Makkhali Gosala (Pali; Sanskrit: Goshala Maskariputra)(c. 484 BCE) as the founder of the Ajivika faith; other sources state that Gosala was a leader of a large Ajivika congregation, but not himself the founder of the movement. Purana Kassapa was another leader of the Ajivikas. Gosala is believed to have been a friend of Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. The Jain Bhagavati Sutra depicts Gosala as having been a disciple of Mahavira's for a period of six years, after which the two had a falling out and parted ways.

The emperor Ashoka's father, Bindusara, was a believer of this philosophy, that reached its peak of popularity during Asoka's lifetime, and then declined into obscurity. The Ajivikasa may have continued to exist in India until as late as the 14th Century CE, but the extent to which the tradition survived is unclear. Inscriptions from southern India make reference to the 'Ajivikas' as late as the 13th Century CE, but by this point in history the term Ajivika may have been used to refer to ascetics from other traditions rather than followers of the Ajivika tradition that existed during earlier centuries.

It is interesting that not only Chanakya the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty but also the preceptor of Asoka's mother (or Bindusara's chief queen) Subhadrângî was an Ajivika. [ "Asokâvadânamâlâ" ]

Beliefs and practices

As with the history of the Ajivika movement, the practices and beliefs of the Ajivikas are difficult to reconstruct, as they were only preserved in external, often hostile sources. Ajivikas seem to have been exponents of a philosophy of absolute determinism, in which human actions and choices were unable to overcome the forces of fate. Ajivika adherents followed a strict regimen of asceticism, similar in many ways to the practices undertaken by the Jains — extreme fasting, indifference to physical discomfort and living exposed to the elements. Makkhala Gosala was often described as having lived without clothing, as are some other senior Ajivika adherents. It is not clear if all Ajivikas lived as naked wanderers, or if this was a practice that was only undertaken by the extremely devout. They were also strongly against the caste system and, much like their Jain and Buddhist counterparts, were mainly non-theistic. Ajivika leaders were sometimes depicted as ending their lives voluntarily when they felt that their bodies or minds were beginning to decline — either by fasting to death, or, in the case of Purana Kassapa, by drowning.

Ajivikas and Theism

Although most of the Ajivikas were atheistic there were many important theistic figures as well. For example, Goshala Mahakali was a devotee of ShivaFact|date=February 2008 and Chanakya (a.k.a. Vishnu Gupt) was a devotee of Vishnu. Only Shiva and Vishnu however appear to the be gods of the Ajivikas. Bhattotpala, in 950 A.D. identified them with the "Ekandandins" ("One-staff men" [ P. 266 "Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 1" By James Hastings] ) writes that they are devotees of Narayana (Vishnu), although Shilanka speaking of the Ekandandins on another connection identifies them with Shiva. [ P. 266 "Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 1" By James Hastings ] Scholar James Hastings identifies the name "Mankhaliputta" or "Mankhali" with the "bamboo staff". [ P. 266 "Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 1" By James Hastings ] Scholar Jitendra N. Banerjea compares them to the Pasupatas Shaivas. [ P. 92 "Paurānic and Tāntric Religion: Early Phase" By Jitendra Nath Banerjea ]

It is believed by scholar Charpentier that the Ajivikas before Makkhali Goshala worshiped Shiva. [ P. 212 "Age of the Nandas and Mauryas" By K. A. Nilakanta Sastri ]

Chanakya wrote in his text "Chanakya Niti", "Humbly bowing down before the almighty Lord Sri Vishnu, the Lord of the three worlds, I recite maxims of the science of political ethics (niti) selected from the various satras (scriptures)" [ [http://www.hinduism.co.za/chanakya.htm Chanakya at Hinduism.co.za] ]


The Ajivika are believed to have possessed a collection of scripture, based on references made to such a collection in Jaina sources. [Basham:214] Of these scriptures, the only portions possibly surviving are scattered selections of verse in Buddhist and Jain sources that seem to represent quotations from the Ajivika scriptures. [Basham:216] The Ajivika scriptures are not known to have ever been committed to writing, and their contents are unknown outside of these fragmentary quotations and a few hints provided by lists of titles recorded in non-Ajivika sources.

One such list collected by a Jaina commentator identifies the eight primary collections of texts as being grouped as follows:
* Divyam (of the divine)
* Autpātam (of portents)
* Bhaumam (of the earth)
* Āngam (of the body)
* Svāram (of sound)
* Lākşanam (of characteristics)
* Vyāñjanam (of indications) [Basham:213]

An alternative listing substitutes Suvine (dreams) for Divyam, and indicates that all of these collections were used for purposes of fortune telling, an activity in which Ajivika mendicants are described as engaging in several sources. [Basham:214]

ee also

* Bhikkhu
* Brahmana
* Cārvāka
* Chanakya
* Shramana




External links

* [http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/hindu/ascetic/ajiv.html Doctrines and History of the Ajivikas]

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