left biblioblography: PROFILES IN ATHEISM - GOSALA

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Another fragmentary gem from the Indus Valley. The Ajivika was "a religious sect of medieval India, once of major importance. The Ajivikas were an ascetic, atheistic, anti-Brahmanical community whose pessimistic doctrines are related to those of Jainism.

"Its founder, Gosala (d. c.484 B.C.), was, it is said, a friend of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. Gosala denied that a man's actions could influence the process of transmigration, which proceeded according to a rigid pattern, controlled in the smallest detail by an impersonal cosmic principle, Niyati, or destiny. After a period of prosperity under Asoka, the sect rapidly declined and only retained local importance in SE India, where it survived until the 14th century."

"Ajivika is an anti-caste philosophy, which literally translates to "following an ascetic way of life". The Ajivikas were contemporaries of the early Buddhists and historical Jains; the Ajivika movement may have preceded both of these groups. The Ajivakas may have been a more loosely organized group of wandering ascetics (samanas 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 fate) 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.

"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 B.C.) 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 founder of Jainism."

For the interested reader, there's some extra material in this article - and while it cites some wildly apocryphal tales, it also says,

"It is very possible that the Jains and Buddhists distorted Ajivika doctrine. Lucas thinks that "it seems doubtful whether a doctrine which genuinely advocated the lack of efficacy of individual effort could have formed the basis of a renunciatory path to spiritual liberation."

Fascinating stuff.

Till the next post, then.

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Chris Bradley said...

I have long been semi-confused by all the mysticism that gets attributed to India. I suspect it's because of Hegel's Philosophy of History that pains India as being in a state of permanently arrested development in a juvenile stage. This sort of attitude would be adopted wholesale by the British Empire's orientalism which treated brown people like they were morons. But as a middling student of ancient philosophy, the Indian guys . . . really knew their stuff. I might not agree with a lot of it, but this isn't mystical claptrap. They had a large number of very serious philosophers who were cold and frosty logicians and materialists.

Krystalline Apostate said...

chris - most of the 'arrested development' jive stems from proponents of the pro-Aryan invasion (not to be confused w/the 'brudderhood' in prison'). It was good old fashioned Eurocentrism. The Greeks would send their philosophers up there to study, & there was plenty of interplay between cultures.
I was taught as a child that Marco Polo was the 1st European to go to the far east (Cathay aka China).
Technologically, India's still somewhat backwards - I understand that they have problems w/plumbing.
India is 1 of the birthplaces of the martial arts (at least the more sophisticated kind).

beepbeepitsme said...

The transmigration concept seems like its origin is in animism or animatism.


People believe that both living and non-living things have an innate power or "personality".

People believe that humans have an innate power of personality called "the soul" or the "lifeforce" or whatever which can exist outside of the physical body.

Say a person in the family dies. The immediate family is looking for signs that the soul, power, lifeforce of the person still exists.

The family member who died, had a favourite red sweater. They also disliked getting out of bed early.

If the tribe was in Indonesia, for example, and they came across an especially hairy red orangutan, it would be possible for them to believe that the soul of their tribal member had departed into that of the orangutan.

This would be confirmed by them if the oranggutan displayed characteristics which they decided emulated the characteristics of the tribal member in his life.

So much of this "religious thinking" seems to be based upon a very dodgy, nonprescriptive and ill-defined process of correlating 2 or more unrelated events.

Krystalline Apostate said...

BBIM - Transmigration? Hmmmm...perhaps a supposed correlation between birds migrating & large groups of deaths? The whippoorwills were considered psychopomps - carriers of souls.

Chris Bradley said...


I bet you'll be shocked that I know a fair bit about the Aryans (not the brudderhood in prison, no, hehe). My favorite Aryan bit? That Ireland and Iran translate to the same thing: the land of the Aryans. :)

I could also go on a fair bit about technology in India. Er, my education, such as it is, is in the history and philosophy of science, which doesn't mean that you should believe me on those grounds but to suggest that I've done at least a casual persual of the subject matter. I mean, as a writer, I have no problem talking out of my ass, but if you're interested I'd be happy to post a bit about Indian technology relative to the West from a historical perspective, including a bit about why things are as they currently are. ;)

Krystalline Apostate said...

chris - no, I'd not be shocked. I think I saw something over at your blog about Max Mueller - 19th CE Orientalist, 1 of the propounders of said theory.
I mean, as a writer, I have no problem talking out of my ass, but if you're interested I'd be happy to post a bit about Indian technology relative to the West from a historical perspective, including a bit about why things are as they currently are.
Oh, hey, it gets the creative juices going? Go to, my man, go to!
I'm more the sinophile myself - I can go on about China & Japan for hours.

2ndlook said...

There are 3 very interesting things developments.

One - the clay tablets of Boghazkoi
second - DNA mapping done to verify the invasion theory
3rd the Amarna letters. The amount of crap we have been fed is awesome. For second look at some of this stuff go to http://2ndrelook.blogspot.com/