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The name given to the Jains, the followers of Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta. Unlike the naked ascetics (Acelakā), they wore one garment, a covering in front. However, when praised for their modesty, they answered that their reason for wearing a garment was to prevent dust and dirt from falling into their alms dishes. For even dust and dirt are actual individuals and endowed with the principle of life (DhA.iii.489).

The chief precepts of the Nigaṇṭhā are included in the fourfold restraint (cātuyāmasaṃvara) (for their beliefs and practices see Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta). The chief centres of the Nigaṇṭhā, in the time of the Buddha, seem to have been Vesāli (e.g., J.iii.1; M.i.228) and Nāḷandā,¹ though they had settlements in other important towns, such as Rājagaha.² The books contain several names besides that of Nāṭaputta of distinguished members of the Nigaṇṭha Order — e.g., Dīgha Tapassu, and Saccaka, and also of several women, Saccā, Lolā, Avadhārikā, and Paṭācārā (J.iii.1). The lay followers of the Nigaṇṭhā wore white garments (M.ii.244).

In the Chaḷabhijāti classification of Pūraṇa Kassapa, the Ekasāṭaka-Nigaṇṭhā occupied the third rank, the red (A.iii.384). The Buddha condemned the Nigaṇṭhā as unworthy in ten respects: they were without faith, unrighteous, without fear and shame, they chose wicked men as friends, extolled themselves and disparaged others, were greedy of present gain, obstinate, untrustworthy, sinful in their thoughts, and held wrong views (A.v.150). Their fast resembled a herdsman looking after the kine by day, which were restored to their owners at eventide (Ibid., i.205 f). The Nigaṇṭhā were so called because they claimed to be free from all bonds (amhākaṃ ganthanakileso palibujjhanakileso natthi, kilesagaṇṭhirahitā mayan ti evaṃ vāditāya laddhanāmavasena Nigaṇṭho) (e.g., MA.i.423).

The Buddhist books record (M.ii.243 f; D.iii.117, 210) that there was great dissension among the Nigaṇṭhā after the death of Nāṭaputta at Pāvā. The Commentaries state (DA.iii.906; MA.ii.831) that Nāṭaputta, realising on his death-bed the folly and futility of his teaching, wished his followers to accept the Buddha’s teaching In order to bring this about, he taught his doctrine in two different ways to two different pupils, just before his death. To the one he said that his teaching was Nihilism (uccheda), and to the other that it was Eternalism (sassata). As a result, they quarrelled violently among themselves, and the Order broke up

There is evidence in the Jātaka stories to show that the Nigaṇṭha Order was in existence prior to the life of the Buddha. Saccatapāvī, mentioned in the Kuṇāla Jātaka (J.v.427), is described as a white-robed recluse (setasamaṇī), and may well have belonged to the Order of the Śvetambaras, while in the Mahābodhi Jātaka (J.v.246) mention is made of a teacher who is identified with Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta himself.

There seems to have been a settlement of Nigaṇṭhā in Sri Lanka from very early times. When Paṇḍukābhaya laid out the city of Anurādhapura, he also built hermitages for several Nigaṇṭhā — Jotiya, Giri, and Kumbhaṇḍa (Mhv.x.97 f). These continued to be inhabited even after the establishment of Buddhism in the Island, for we hear of them in the reign of Vaṭṭagāmaṇī (circa 44 A.C.) When Vaṭṭagāmaṇī pulled down the residence of the Nigaṇṭha Giri, because of his disloyalty to the king, he built on its site the Abhayagiri-vihāra. (Ibid., xxxiii.42 f )

¹ M.i.371.The chief patrons of the Buddha’s time were: Sīha senāpati in Vesāli, Upāli-gahapati in Nāḷandā and Vappa the Sakyan in Kapilavatthu (AA.ii.751).

² e.g., at Kāḷasilā, on the slopes of Isigili (M.i.92).

³ That the Nigaṇṭhā lasted until at least the time of Nāgasena, is admitted (Mil.p.4) by the fact that Milinda was asked to consult a teacher called Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta, who, if at all historical, was probably the direct successor to the teacher of the same name, contemporary with the Buddha.