Piotr Balcerowicz, Early Asceticism in India

Posted: 12.03.2016

Piotr Balcerowicz, Early Asceticism in India. Ājīvikism and Jainism. 362p., 20 figures, 1 table. London: Routledge, 2015 and New York, 2016. Hardbound. £ 90; $ 95.

After many preliminary studies the Warsaw Indologist herewith has given us a proper successor to Arthur Basham’s up to now standard work on the Ājīvikas which to a greater extent uses data from Buddhist than from Jinist sources. The disparity seems to have been dispelled with this new book in which the author (hereinafter: PB) wishes to re-examine the relation between Pāsa ([U]pāśva[sena][1]; “Pārśva”), Vardhamāna Mahāvīra and Gosāla Mankhaliputta, the older leaders known of the religious traditions in question. In the absence of Ājīvika scriptures we depend for their doctrines on Jain and Buddhist references. Gosāla’s father may have been an itinerant bard who stayed for some time in a cow stall of the Brahman Gobahula where Gosàla is said to have been born.[2]

In a table (p. 36) PB clearly pictures the complex relations between Gosàla and Mahàvãra, in which the former in the early Jain community was an important teacher, even considered a tãrthakara by his followers. Originally a disciple of Pàsa and wearing cloths and using an alms bowl Mahàvãra after meeting Gosàla adopted nudity and eating from his cupped hands. Further, the Jains probably borrowed the idea of social classes (in the form of le÷yàs), and astrology and fortune telling from the Ājãvikas with whom in the beginning they may have shared a corpus of authoritative texts, the Puvvas, of which tradition the non-canonical Isibhàsiyàiṃ perhaps became an offshoot (p. 78). These Puvvas may have contained the Mahànimittas of the Ājãvikas nad were therefore probably forgotten deliberately.

PB also discusses several other beliefs and practices such as sallekhaõà, determinism, syàd-vàda/anekànta-vàda, the tripartite pattern of jãva, a-jãva and jivâjãva, and the art of the Ājãvikas with many of his own photographs, and is certainly right in his last sentence: “Jainism and its contributions to Indian religious, ascetic and philosophical traditions would look quite different, had there not been Gosàla Mankhaliputta and the Ājãvikas.”

The book stands out by precise analysis, is very readable despite its many learned excursions, and has an extensive bibliography and a good index. An early Indian edition is a must for Jains with real interest in the history and contents of their religion.

W. Bollée
D-96047 Bamberg,

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