AJIVIKA (Sanscrit — taking up a [defined] mode of life, a professional) — one of the schools of Indian philosophy and a sect in Indian religion, popularly called the school of fatalists.

The name of school is unclear, but because the name comes from its opponents, we may surmise that it has an intentionally negative connotation and designates those who take up asceticism (begging, vagrancy and nudity) as a way of life or profession (ajiva) rather than as a means of attaining release (moksa), or those who beside asceticism (living on alms) also practice worldly professions (ajiva) to sustain themselves. A later Hindu interpretation (11th century) tells of their doctrine: as long as the soul exists (a-jivat) and does not pass through the entire possible cycle of existences, incarnation will continue.

Makkhali Gosala supposedly was the founder of the school (Pali — Makkhali Gosaliputta, Makkhaliputta Gosala; Prakrit — Gosala Mankhaliputta; Sanskrit — Goshala Maskarin, Maskariputra; cc. 541–498 or 536–493 BC). He was a man of lowly origin, and according to the Jainist interpretation he was the son of Mankhali, a professional mendicant (mankha); according to Pannini, the name Maskarin supposedly comes from the ascetical practice of possessing only a bamboo staff for support (maskara), a begging bowl and a band worn on the hips. According to Patanjali, the name supposedly comes from the practice of a superior group of wandering naked ascetics, and they were deprived even on these things and held their only support to be renunciation (maskariputra — a man of the maskarin order). The other name is a familiar title associated with his place of birth: a cowshed (goshala). According to Buddhist sources, Gosala belonged to a lower class of wandering ascetics (maskarin) who led an easy and lazy life by way of begging. He was the third leader of the sect (or even the twenty-fourth); his predecessors were Kissa Sankicca and Nanda Vaccha.

According to Jainist tradition, in his youth he became a disciple of Mahavira in Nalanda; under this influence, the master supposedly also rejected clothing and thus departed from the customs of Parshvanatha's order of followers of Niggantha. This could have led to a split in Jainism into shvetambari (those dressed in white) and digambari (those dressed in air). Yet Gosala was not frank and did not want to submit to the rules of the order of the followers of Niggantha, especially those concerning sexual abstinence, and so after six years he had a violent break with his master and founded his own group of naked ascetic beggars in the city of Shravasti, in a widow's home by a potter's shop. Sixteen years later he is said to have met again with Mahavira. Gosala had been defeated in dispute (in a physical fight with the followers of Nigantha). He broke down and gave himself over to debauchery, only to acknowledge the superiority of Mahavira and his own faults six months later while he was dying. Gosala's disciples were supposedly unaware of these facts and continued in the doctrine and practice of their master.

The canon of the eight books of the Ajivikas have been lost (among them were eight works called Mahanimitta, or The Great Principles, and works called Puvva — Original [doctrines], which may predate Gosala — the title corresponds to the title of the canonical books of Jainism). We know the doctrines of these works only from texts of other religions that were fighting against competing doctrines: mainly from the Jainist Bhagavatisutra and the Buddhist Samannaphalasutta.

The Ajivikas proclaimed a specific form of the theory of akriyavada: they did not recognize any value in human actions, efforts or any power to approach release. While the results of human actions are subject to the law of karman (repayment for good and evil deeds), karman is subject to universal fate (niyati), which causes everything to be established from above. There is no other cause, and so some beings are pure and moral, while others are evil and impure. It is impossible to diminish or increase the quantity of one kind of karman or to attain release while producing karman or in the results of karman. In this universal determinism, man is deprived of freedom (freedom is an illusion). There is no moral responsibility for actions and "human effort [to change something] is without purpose"; for this reason not only Mahavira and Buddha, but also later Hindu philosophers up to the end of the thirteenth century fought vigorously against this doctrine.

The ajivikas held a doctrine of animism that was widespread in their times (held also by the Jainists). Not only do humans and invisible beings (devas) possess an eternal unchanging soul (jiva, but animals, plants and minerals also possess a soul. Every conscious being must pass through as many lives as possible before arriving at release. The Ajivikas had a very complicated classification of the genera and species of living things, classes of men and other higher beings, types of karman, types of faculties, abilities, senses, styles of life, types of asceticism and so forth. As a result, the ajivikas established that number of lives was around 3.3 x 102103 incarnations in regularly repeating spheres, which would last 8,400,000 eons (mahakalpa), after which every man would automatically achieve release from suffering. Gosala's classification of beings (in which the number 7 plays a large role) reminds one of Mahavira's classification: this is based on the number of senses that a man possesses. According to the Buddhist canon, the four other rivals of the Buddha also professed this classification. These rivals of the Buddha were considered to be ascetic materialists (lokayata) and agnostics: Ajita Kesakambali, Pakhadha Kaccayana, Purana Kassapa and Sannaya Belatthiputta. While the ajivikas accepts the existence of superhuman beings (devas), they did not accept a Creator God nor an absolute. Like the Jainists, Buddhists and materialists, the ajivikas are atheists (nirishvaravadas) and reject the authority of the Vedas (they are nastikas).

They are also akin to the Jainists in their division of people into six basic classes (abhijati). Six colors of an energetic body correspond to these classes: black (killers, hunters, butchers, thieves, evil-doers), blue (the followers of the "wide road", or bhiksu — Buddhist monks), red (followers of Niggantha "who avoid the easy task", but who still wear a band on their hips, namely Jainist monks), gold (the acelaka, namely the naked Jainist ascetics or the secular followers of the ajivikas), white ("professional" naked ajivika ascetics of both genders) and luminous white (ajivika masters: Nanda Vaccha, Kissa Sankicca and Gosaala). Buddhaghosa also attributes a similar schematization to Purana Kassapa.

The ajivikas hold that asceticism or the ability of self-discipline is not a means to moral perfection, but rather a symptom that indicates that the ascetic has already achieved a high stage of development already during his past lives and is close to release. According to accounts in Buddhist texts in China and Japan, the ashibika already practiced asceticism because they held that since the effects of evil actions must sooner or later bear fruit, it is better that they bear fruit sooner rather than later, so that later lives may be a delight as a certain nirvana (thought this is not the ultimate nirvana, since niyati continues to operate). They accepted the four vows of the nigganthas of Parshva: not to do harm (ahimsa), to speak the truth, to avoid theft and to accept poverty. Consequently, marriage was prohibited, but they rejected the fifth vow of sexual purity, which was introduced by Mahavira. They held that an ascetic cannot commit any sin by sexual relations (perhaps they also possessed certain esoteric sexual practices). Their interpretation of exceptions to the principle that one should abstain from activity aimed at keeping the body alive (eating, wearing clothes) differed from Mahavira's. They also differed concerning the voluntary ending of life. Since there was no way to hasten or delay release, the ajivikas practiced magic and the acquisition of superhuman (yogic) powers, as well as complicated kinds of suicide "to know new and interesting experiences of death".

In the account of Abhayadeva (c. 1050), the ajivikas were also called terasiya (Sanskrit — trairashika — "those who recognize three aspects") on account of their philosophical practice of examining everything under three aspects: assertion (truth, being — sat), negation (falsehood, non-being — asat) and duality (partially truth and partially falsehood, "maybe", being and non-being, sadasat). This practice somewhat differed from the four aspects in the Jainist epistemological doctrine of syadvada. From this point of view, as Shilanka explains (c. 876), apart from the two states of the soul that Mahavira accepted — he was associated with samsara and was ultimately released — they held that there was a middle state of those who had renounced the world (e.g., Mahavira), but who because of their spiritual arrogance had not yet attained freedom from karman and had to pass through innumerable incarnations before attaining release.

After Gosala's death, the doctrine of the ajivikas began to be mixed with the doctrines of the four above-mentioned teachers of lokayata. While Gosala had opposed the existence of an organized religious community (sangha), there arose confederations of loose groups (Nanda and Kissa were the leaders of two other groups), and after his death these groups were organized into orders following the example of the Jainists (nigganthas) and Buddhists. According to some testimonies (inscriptions of King Ashoka in 257–250 BC), these groups were influential in certain regions of India — the authorities of the Mauryan dynasty (Ashoka and Dasharatha) granted them caves in the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills. They remained there until the fourteenth century, when in Bengal to the north they accepted the doctrine of bhakti and became followers of Vishnuism (the sects of pancaratra), and in the south in Mysore and Madras they accepted the doctrine of maya ("all change is illusion, the world remains in unchanging rest") and they came close at first to mahayana, then to monistic Shivaism (Gosala was recognized as an incarnation of the Buddha Aksobhya, and later as an incarnation of Shiva). Some of their doctrines (e.g., that serious sins do not harm ascetics) became part of the doctrine of left-hand Tantrism.

A. F. R. Hoerule, ERE I 259–268; A. L. Basham, History and Doctrine of the Ajivikas, Lo 1951; idem, The Wonder that was India, Lo 1954, 1673 (Indie, Wwa 1964, 20003, 165-167); E. Frauwallner, Geschichte der indischen Philosophie, Sa 1953 (Historia filozofii indyskiej, Wwa 1990, ( 267-269); M. Eliade, Le Yoga. Immortalité et liberté P 1954, 19722 (Joga. Nieśmiertelność i wolność, Wwa 1984, 19972, 200-205); Orędzia króla Asioki [Proclamations of King Ashoka], Wwa 1964; F. Tokarz, Z filozofii indyjskiej kwestie wybrane [Selected questions from Indian philosophy], Lb 1985, 19902, II 30.

Maciej St. Zięba

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