Home page Up (parent) Next (right) Previous (left) Abbreviations

Page last updated on 8 October, 2020

Association for Insight Meditation Home Page

Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta

One of six eminent teachers, contemporary with the Buddha; he is described as a heretic (aññatitthiya), e.g., S.i.66.

He was leader of a sect known as the Nigaṇṭha, and a summary of his teachings is found in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta (D.i.57; DA.i.166).

A Nigaṇṭha is restrained with a fourfold restraint (cātuyāma saṃvara): he is restrained as regards all water, restrained as regards all evil, all evil has he washed away, and he lives suffused with the sense of evil held at bay. Further, because of this fourfold restraint, he is called Nigaṇṭha (free from bonds), gatatta (one whose heart is set on his goal), yattala (one whose heart is under command) and ṭhitatta (one whose heart is fixed).¹ Nāṭaputta is also stated ² to have claimed Omniscience — to be all-knowing, all seeing, to have all comprising (aparisesa) knowledge and vision. “Whether I walk or stand or sleep or wake,” he is mentioned as saying, “my knowledge and vision are always, and without a break, present before me.“

He taught that past deeds should be extirpated by severe austerities, fresh deeds should be avoided by inaction. By expelling through penance all past misdeeds and by not committing fresh misdeeds, the future became cleared. From the destruction of deeds results the destruction of suffering; this leads to the destruction of feeling. Thus all suffering is exhausted and one passes beyond (the round of existence). It is said ³ that Nāṭaputta did not employ the term kamma in his teaching; he used, instead, the word punishment (daṇḍa); and that, according to him, the punishment of deed was far more weighty than the punishments of speech and thought.

He is said to have shown no hesitation in declaring the destinies of his disciples after death (S.iv.398); but Sakuludāyi says (M.ii.31; also ibid., i.93; and ii.214 f; the Nigaṇṭhā admit they did not know of the past) that when asked a question as to the past, he skipped from one matter to another and dismissed the question, evincing irritation, bad temper and resentment.

Only one discussion is recorded between Nāṭaputta and a follower of the Buddha, and that was with Citta-gahapati at Macchikāsaṇḍa (S.iv.298 ff). He praises Citta at the outset of the discussion, holding him up as an example to his own flock, and agreeing with Citta that knowledge is more excellent than faith. However, later, when Citta claims knowledge of the four absorptions (jhāna), Nāṭaputta is represented as condemning him for a deceitful man. Citta, thereupon, asks him ten quesitons ⁴ and, getting no answer, leaves him.

However, the greatest blow to Nāṭaputta was when Upāli-gahapati (M.i.373 ff) joined the Buddha. Nāṭaputta had allowed Upāli to visit him in spite of the warning of Dīghatapassī as to the Buddha’s arresting personality. However, Nāṭaputta thought Upāli would be proof against it, and, on hearing that he had renounced his allegiance to the Nigaṇṭhā, refused to believe it until he could verify the information himself. The discovery of the apostasy of Upāli prostrated him with grief; he vomited hot blood and had to be carried away on a litter from Bālaka, where he was then living, to Pāvā. There, soon after, he died, and immediately great dissensions arose among his followers. When the Buddha heard of the quarrels, he remarked that it was only to be expected.⁵

The Devadaha Sutta (M.ii.214; cp. Cūḷadukkhakkhandha Sutta; M.i.91 ff; also A.v.150; D.iii.119), contains a detailed analysis and attributed to the Buddha, of the beliefs and teachings of the Nigaṇṭhā. He there selects for his condemnation ten of their operative utterances, major and minor, and proves that the efforts and strivings of the Nigaṇṭhā are fruitless.

Nāṭaputta is said (DhA.iii.201) to have claimed miraculous powers, but he did not, in fact, possess them. When, for instance, the treasurer of Rājagaha offered his bowl of red sandalwood to anybody who could remove it from its perch, Nāṭaputta tried to obtain it by a ruse, but was unable to deceive the treasurer (seṭṭhi).

The books contain the names of several disciples of Nāṭaputta, among them a deva called Niṅka (S.i.66; the Buddha’s own paternal uncle, Vappa, was a follower of the Nigaṇṭhā). Nāṭaputta is so convinced of the truth and the irrefutability of his own doctrines, that he actually encourages his disciples to hold discussions with the Buddha. Some, like Dīghatapassī, come away unscathed, without having carried the discussion to any conclusion; others are mentioned as being convinced by the Buddha in the end and as becoming his disciples. Such, for instance, are Asibandhakaputta (S.iv.317 ff) and Abhayarājakumāra (M.i.392 ff). Nāṭaputta tries, without success, to dissuade Sīha, general of the Licchavī, from visiting the Buddha (A.iv.180 ff). Sīha goes and is converted. The next day he holds an almsgiving, on a grand scale, for the Buddha and his monks, at which flesh is served. It is said that Nāṭaputta went about Vesāli, sneering at the Buddha for encouraging slaughter. The Buddha, hearing of this, relates the Bālovāda Jātaka (J.ii.262 f; Vin.i.233 ff), to show that in the past, too, Nāṭaputta had sneered at him for a similar reason. Nāṭaputta is identified with the rich man of the Jātaka. In the Bāveru Jātaka (J.iii.126 f) he is identified with the crow who lost all his honour and glory when approached by the peacock, who was the Bodhisatta.

Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta is the name by which the Jaina teacher, Mahāvīra, was known to his contemporaries. He was also called Vardhamāna. Nāṭa (or Nāya) was the name of his clan (SNA.ii.423) says Nāṭa was the name of his father), which belonged to Vesāli. According to Jaina tradition, his father’s personal name was Siddhatha, and he was a Ksatriya, his mother being Trisālā. (For an account of Mahāvīra’s life and philosophy, see Barua: op.cit., pp.372 ff).

¹ The meaning of this fourfold restraint is not clear; for a discussion see Barua: Pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy, pp.378 f. The first is evidently the well-known rule of the Jains against drinking cold water, as it contains “souls” (cp. Mil.259 ff). The Buddha taught a corresponding fourfold restraint, which consisted of observing the four precepts against injury, stealing, unchastity, and lying (D.iii.48 f )

² e.g., M.ii.31; A.i.220; M.i.92 f; also M.ii.214 ff. It is curious, in view of this statement of Nāṭaputta’s doctrine of inaction, that the main grounds on which he is stated to have objected to Siha’s visit to the Buddha, was that the Buddha was an advocate of inaction (akīriyavādī) (A.iv.180).

³ M.i.371. Daṇḍa probably means sins or hurtful acts. Buddhaghosa says (MA.ii.595 ff.) that the Jain idea was that thought (citta) or

 punishment (mano-daṇḍa) was not involved in bodily acts or speech that were unintentional and mechanical, like the stirring and sighing of boughs in the wind.

The Commentary (SA.iii.99) explains that the questions Citta asked were the same as the Kumārapañhā.

Ibid., ii.243 f; D.iii.117, 210; it is stated that the quarrel was deliberately fostered by Nāṭaputta before his death. See s.v. Nigaṇṭhā).