Achintya Bheda Abheda
Achintya Bheda Abheda
Shastras and Sutras
Other Indian philosophies
Ajivika (IAST: Ājīvika) was one of the nāstika or "heterodox"
schools of ancient Indian philosophy, and the ancient school of
Indian fatalism. Purportedly founded in the 5th century BCE by
Makkhali Gosala, it was a
Śramaṇa movement and a major rival of
Buddhism and Jainism. Ājīvikas were organised renunciates
who formed discrete communities.
Original scriptures of the
Ājīvika school of philosophy may once
have existed, but these are currently unavailable and probably lost.
Their theories are extracted from mentions of Ajivikas in the
secondary sources of ancient Indian literature. Scholars question
Ājīvika philosophy has been fairly and completely summarized
in these secondary sources, as they were written by groups (such as
the Buddhists and Jains) competing with and adversarial to the
philosophy and religious practices of the Ajivikas. It is therefore
likely that much of the information available about the Ājīvikas is
inaccurate to some degree, and characterisations of them should be
regarded carefully and critically.
Ājīvika school is known for its Niyati ("Fate") doctrine of
absolute determinism, the premise that there is no free will, that
everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is entirely
preordained and a function of cosmic principles. Ājīvikas
considered the karma doctrine as a fallacy. Ajivika metaphysics
included a theory of atoms similar to the
Vaisheshika school, where
everything was composed of atoms, qualities emerged from aggregates of
atoms, but the aggregation and nature of these atoms was predetermined
by cosmic forces. Ājīvikas were atheists and rejected the
authority of the Vedas, but they believed that in every living being
is an ātman – a central premise of
Founded in what is now the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh,
Ājīvika philosophy reached the height of its popularity during the
rule of the Mauryan emperor Bindusara, around the 4th century BCE.
This school of thought thereafter declined, but survived for nearly
2,000 years through the 14th century CE in the southern Indian states
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The
Ājīvika philosophy, along
Cārvāka philosophy, appealed most to the warrior,
industrial and mercantile classes of ancient Indian society.
1 Etymology and meaning
2.1.1 Classification in
2.2 Biography of Makkhali Gosala
2.3 Inscriptions and caves
2.4 Reliability of sources
3.1 Absolute determinism and no free will
3.2 Ajivikas and theism
3.4 Antinomian ethics
6 Conflict between Ajivikas, Buddhists and Jaina
7 See also
10 External links
Etymology and meaning
Ajivika (Ājīvika, Sanskrit: आजीविक) is derived from the
root Ajiva (Ājīva, आजीव) which literally means "livelihood,
lifelong, mode of life". The term Ajivika means "those
following special rules with regard to Iivelihood", sometimes
connoting "religious mendicants" in ancient Sanskrit and Pali
The name Ajivika for an entire philosophy resonates with its core
belief in "no free will" and complete niyati, literally "inner order
of things, self-command, predeterminism", leading to the premise that
good simple living is not a means to salvation or moksha, just a means
to true livelihood, predetermined profession and way of life.
The name came to imply that school of
Indian philosophy which lived a
good simple mendicant-like livelihood for its own sake and as part of
its predeterministic beliefs, rather than for the sake of after-life
or motivated by any soteriological reasons.
Some scholars spell Ajivika as Ajivaka.
The views of six samaṇa in the Pāli Canon
(based on the Buddhist text Sāmaññaphala Sutta1)
Amoralism: denies any reward or
punishment for either good or bad deeds.
Niyativāda (Fatalism): we are powerless;
suffering is pre-destined.
Materialism: live happily;
with death, all is annihilated.
Matter, pleasure, pain and the soul are eternal and
do not interact.
Restraint: be endowed with, cleansed by
and suffused with the avoidance of all evil.2
Agnosticism: "I don't think so. I don't think in that
way or otherwise. I don't think not or not not."
Suspension of judgement.
1. DN 2 (Thanissaro, 1997; Walshe, 1995, pp. 91-109).
2. DN-a (Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 1995, pp. 1258-59, n. 585).
Ājīvika philosophy is credited in ancient texts of
Jainism to Makkhali Gosala, a contemporary of the Buddha and
Mahavira. Exact origins of
Ājīvika is unknown, but generally
accepted to be the 5th century BCE.
Primary sources and literature of the Ājīvikas is lost, or yet to be
found. Everything that is known about
Ājīvika history and its
philosophy is from secondary sources, such as the ancient and medieval
texts of India. Inconsistent fragments of
Ājīvika history is
found mostly in Jain texts such as the Bhagvati
Sutra and Buddhist
texts such as the Samaññaphala Sutta, and Buddhaghosa's commentary
on Sammannaphala Sutta, with a few mentions in
Hindu texts such
as Vayu Purana.
The Ājīvikas reached the height of their prominence in the late 1st
millennium BCE, then declined, yet continued to exist in south India
until the 14th Century CE, as evidenced by inscriptions found in
southern India. Ancient texts of
Jainism mention a
city in the 1st millennium BCE named
Savatthi (Sanskrit Śravasti) as
the hub of the Ājīvikas; it was located near
Ayodhya in what is now
the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. In later part of the common
era, inscriptions suggests that the Ājīvikas had a significant
presence in the South Indian state of Karnataka, prominently in Kolar
district and some places of Tamil Nadu.
Ājīvika philosophy spread rapidly in ancient South Asia, with a
Sangha Geham (community center) for Ājīvikas on the island now known
Sri Lanka and also extending into the western state of
the 4th century BCE, the era of the Maurya Empire.
Riepe refers to Ājīvikas as a distinct heterodox school of Indian
tradition. Raju states that "Ājīvikas and Cārvākas can be
called Hindus", and adds that "the word
Hinduism has no definite
meaning". Epigraphical evidence suggests that emperor Ashoka, in
the 3rd century BCE, considered Ājīvikas to be more closely related
to the schools of
Hinduism than to Buddhists, Jainas or other Indian
schools of thought.
Biography of Makkhali Gosala
Makkhali Gosala (Pali; Sanskrit Gośala Maskariputra, c. 484 BCE) is
generally considered as the founder of the
Some sources state that Gosala was only a leader of a large Ājīvika
congregation of ascetics, but not the founder of the movement
himself. The Swiss Indologist Jarl Charpentier and
others suggest the
Ājīvika tradition existed in India well before
the birth of Makkhali Gosala, citing a variety of ancient Indian
Gosala was born in
Magadha and was the son of Mankha, a professional
mendicant. His mother was Bhaddā. His name Gosala "cowshed"
refers to his humble birthplace.
While Bhaddā was pregnant, she and her husband Mankhali, the mankha,
came to the village ... of Saravaṇa, where dwelt a wealthy
householder Gobahula. Mankhali left his wife and his luggage ... in
Gobahula’s cowshed (gosālā) ... Since he could find no shelter
elsewhere the couple continued to live in a corner of the cowshed, and
it was there that Bhaddā gave birth her child."
Ashoka's Seventh Pillar Edict mentions Ajivikas. Above in the
second column is the seventh edict in the
Brahmi script (3rd century
The 3rd century BCE mendicant caves of the Ājīvikas (Barabar, near
Gosala is described in ancient texts as a contemporary of Mahavira,
Tirthankara of Jainism, and of Gautama Buddha. The Jain
Sutra refers to him as Gosala Mankhaliputta ("son of
Mankhali"). The text 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. According to the Bhagvati Sutra,
Makkhali Gosala met with Mahāvīra again later in life, but Gosala
Mahavira that he was not the same person. Makkhali Gosala
referred to the example of a sesame plant which “had been pulled up,
and had temporarily died, but it had been replanted and thus
reanimated, becoming once more living, while the seven pods had
developed”. Gosāla declared that the original Gosāla who was
Mahavira's companion once was dead, and that the soul now inhabiting
the apparent Gosāla in front of him was a reanimated, completely
different Gosala. This argument was declared a form of
sophistry by Mahavira, and this led to a significant break in the
relations between the two.
Inscriptions and caves
Several rock-cut caves belonging to Ājīvikas are dated to the times
of the Mauryan emperor
Ashoka (r. 273 BC to 232 BC). These are the
oldest surviving cave temples of ancient India, and are called the
Barabar Caves in Jehanabad district of Bihar. The Barabar caves
were carved out of granite, has a highly polished internal cave
surfaces, and each consists of two chambers, the first is a large
rectangular hall, the second is a small, circular, domed chamber.
These were probably used for meditation.
Reliability of sources
Ājīvikas competed and debated the scholars of Buddhism,
Ājīvika movement is primarily from historical
references left behind in Jain and Buddhist sources, that may
therefore be hostile to it. It is unknown to what degree the
Ājīvika sources reflect the actual beliefs and
practices of the Ājīvikas. Most of what is known about them was
recorded in the literature of rival groups, modern scholars question
the reliability of the secondary sources, and whether intentional
distortions for dehumanization and criticism was introduced into the
More recent work by scholars suggests that the
Ājīvika were perhaps
misrepresented by Jain and Buddhist sources.
[Johannes Bronkhorst's] claim is that, whereas the Jains teach that
one can both stop the influx of new karma and rid oneself of old karma
through ascetic practice, Gosāla taught that one could only stop the
influx of new karma. [...] Ascetic practice can be effective in
preventing further karmic influx, which helps to explain the otherwise
inexplicable fact that the Ājīvikas did practice asceticism. [...]
[T]he popularity of the
Ājīvika doctrine in ancient times, such that
it could rival that of both
Jainism and Buddhism, also make sense if
this doctrine was really not so radically different from these
traditions as its presentation in Jain and Buddhist sources
Paul Dundas states that the Jain and
Buddhist texts cannot be
considered reliable source of
Ājīvika history and philosophy,
because "it seems doubtful whether a doctrine [of Ajivikas] which
genuinely advocated the lack of efficacy of individual effort could
have formed the basis of a renunciatory path to spiritual liberation",
and that "the suspicion must be that the Jains and Buddhists
deliberately distorted Ajivika doctrine for their own polemical
purposes". In contrast, other scholars suggest that at least
the common elements found about Ājīvikas in Jain and Buddhist
literature may be considered, because
Buddhism were two
different, competing and conflicting philosophies in ancient India.
Absolute determinism and no free will
The problems of time and change was one of the main interests of the
Ajivikas. Their views on this subject may have been influenced by
Vedic sources, such as the hymn to Kala (Time) in Atharvaveda.
Both Jaina and
Buddhist texts state that Ājīvikas believed in
absolute determinism, absence of free will, and called this
niyati. Everything in human life and universe, according to
Ajivikas, was pre-determined, operating out of cosmic principles, and
true choice did not exist. The Buddhist and Jaina sources
describe them as strict fatalists, who did not believe in karma.
The Ajivikas philosophy held that all things are preordained, and
therefore religious or ethical practice has no effect on one’s
future, and people do things because cosmic principles make them do
so, and all that will happen or will exist in future is already
predetermined to be that way. No human effort could change this niyati
and the karma ethical theory was a fallacy. James Lochtefeld
summarizes this aspect of Ajivika belief as, "life and the universe is
like a ball of pre-wrapped up string, which unrolls until it was done
and then goes no further".
Riepe states that the Ajivikas belief in predeterminism does not mean
that they were pessimistic. Rather, just like Calvinists belief in
predeterminism in Europe, the Ajivikas were optimists. The
Ajivikas simply did not believe in the moral force of action, or in
merits or demerits, or in after-life affected because of what one does
or does not do. Actions had immediate effects in one's current life
but without any moral traces, and both the action and the effect was
predetermined, according to the Ajivikas.
Makkali Gosala seems to have combined the ideas of older schools of
thought into an eclectic doctrine. He appears to have believed in
niyati (destiny), svabhava (nature), and sangati (change), and
possibly parinama, which may have prompted other philosophical schools
to label him variously as ahetuvadin, vainayikavadin, ajnanavadin, and
issarakaranavadin. According to him all beings undergo development
(parinama). This culminates in the course of time (samsarasuddhi) in
final salvation to which all beings are destined under the impact of
the factors of niyati (destiny), bhava (nature), and sangati
(change). As such destiny does not appear as the only player, but
rather chance or indeterminism plays equal part in his doctrine. He
thus subscribed to niyativada (fatalism) only in the sense that he
thought that some future events like salvation for all were strictly
Ajivikas and theism
Ajivikas were an atheistic philosophy. They did not presume any
deity as the creator of the universe, or as prime mover, or that some
unseen mystical end was the final resting place of the cosmos.
In later texts, the Tamil Nīlakēci, a story of two divinities,
Okkali and Ōkali, relates the Ājīvikas instructed men in the
Ajivikas believed that in every being there is a soul (Atman).
However, unlike Jains and various orthodox schools of
held that soul is formless, Ajivikas asserted that soul has a material
form, one that helps meditation. They also believed that the soul
passes through many births and ultimately progresses unto its
pre-destined nirvana (salvation). Basham states, that some texts
suggest evidence of Vaishnavism-type devotional practices among some
Ajivikas developed a theory of elements and atoms similar to the
Vaisheshika school of Hinduism. Everything was composed of minuscule
atoms, according to Ajivikas, and qualities of things are derived from
aggregates of atoms, but the aggregation and nature of these atoms was
predetermined by cosmic forces.
The description of Ajivikas atomism is inconsistent between those
described in Buddhist and
Hindu texts. According to three Tamil
texts, the Ajivikas held there exist seven kaya (Sanskrit:
काय, assemblage, collection, elemental categories): pathavi-kaya
(earth), apo-kaya (water), tejo-kaya (fire), vayo-kaya (air), sukha
(joy), dukkha (sorrow) and jiva (life). The first four relate to
matter, the last three non-matter. These elements are akata (that
which is neither created nor destroyed), vanjha (barren, that which
never multiplies or reproduces) and have an existence independent of
the other. The elements, asserts Ajivika theory in the Tamil text
Manimekalai, are made of paramanu (atoms), where atoms were defined as
that which cannot be further subdivided, that which cannot penetrate
another atom, that which is neither created nor destroyed, that which
retains its identity by never growing nor expanding nor splitting nor
changing, yet that which moves, assembles and combines to form the
The Tamil text of Ajivikas asserts that this "coming together of atoms
can take diversity of forms, such as the dense form of a diamond, or a
loose form of a hollow bamboo". Everything one perceives, states the
atomism theory of Ajivikas, was mere juxtapositions of atoms of
various types, and the combinations occur always in fixed ratios
governed by certain cosmic rules, forming skandha (molecules, building
blocks). Atoms, asserted the Ajivikas, cannot be seen by
themselves in their pure state, but only when they aggregrate and form
bhutas (objects). They further argued that properties and
tendencies are characteristics of the objects. The Ajivikas then
proceeded to justify their belief in determinism and "no free will" by
stating that everything experienced – sukha (joy), dukkha (sorrow)
and jiva (life) – is mere function of atoms operating under cosmic
Riepe states that the details of the Ajivikas theory of atomism
provided the foundations of later modified atomism theories found in
Jain, Buddhist and
Another doctrine of Ajivikas philosophy, according to Buddhist texts,
was their antinomian ethics, that is there exist "no objective moral
Buddhaghosa summarizes this view as, "There is neither
cause nor basis for the sins of living beings and they become sinful
without cause or basis. There is neither cause nor basis for the
purity of living beings and they become pure without cause or basis.
All beings, all that have breath, all that are born, all that have
life, are without power, or strength, or virtue, but are the result of
destiny, chance and nature, and they experience joy and sorrow in six
Despite this ascribed premise of antinomian ethics, both Jain and
Buddhist records note that Ājīvikas lived a simple ascetic life,
without clothes and any material possessions.
Tamil literature on Ajivikas suggests that they practiced Ahimsa
(non-violence) and a vegetarian lifestyle. Arthur Basham notes
that Buddhist and Jaina texts variously accuse Ajivikas of immorality,
unchastity and worldiness, but they also acknowledge the confusion
among Buddhists and Jainas when they observed the simple, ascetic
lifestyle of Ajivikas.
The Ajivika had a fully elaborate philosophy, produced by its scholars
and logicians, but those texts are lost. Their literature evolved
over the centuries, like other traditions of Indian philosophy,
through the medieval era. The
Pali and Prakrit texts of
Jainism suggest that Ajivika theories were codified, some of which
were quoted in commentaries produced by Buddhist and Jaina
The main texts of the Ajivikas included the ten Purvas (eight
Mahanimittas, two Maggas) and the Onpatu Katir. The Mahanimittas
of Ajivikas, claims Bhagavati Sutra, was extracted from the teachings
Gosala received from Mahavira, when he was a disciple.
The belief of Ajivikas in absolute determinism and influence of cosmic
forces led them to develop extensive sections in their Mahanimittas
texts on mapping the sun, moon, planets, stars and their role in
astrology and fortune telling.
Isaeva states that the ideas of Ajivika influenced
various schools of Hinduism. Riepe states an example of an
influential Ajivika theory was its theory on atomism. Basham
suggests Ajivikas may have possibly influenced the medieval era
Vedanta sub-school of Hinduism.
Conflict between Ajivikas, Buddhists and Jaina
According to the 2nd century CE text Ashokavadana, the Mauryan emperor
Bindusara and his chief queen Shubhadrangi were believers of this
philosophy, that reached its peak of popularity during this time.
Ashokavadana also mentions that after his conversion to Buddhism,
Ashoka issued an order to kill all the Ajivikas in
Pundravardhana, enraged at a picture that depicted
Gautama Buddha in a
negative light. Around 18,000 followers of the Ajivika sect were
executed as a result of this order.
An earlier Jaina text, the Bhagavati Sutra, similarly mentions a
debate, disagreement and then "coming to blows" between factions led
Mahavira and by Gosala.
Āstika and nāstika
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Acintya bheda abheda
Buddhist philosophy and Early Buddhist schools
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Yoga Sutras of Patanjali