Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Who were the Naked Ascetics?

In many of the Buddhist Sutras, there are mentioned of a group of people called "the naked ascetics". Sometimes they are refered to as "thirtikars". The Sanghata Sutra and the Golden Light Sutra are two sutras that mentions the existence of these naked practitioners. So who were these people? Do they exist now?

I found out that they do still exist in today's society. They are still found mostly in India and are very likely referring to the Jains or the Hindu Naga Sadhus. Yes, they walk about stark naked, especially one particular sect of the Jain monks, not wearing even a piece of loin cloth. To these people there is no such thing as shame. You can say that their view is similar to the naturalist who believes that the human body is born naked and hence alright to be naked. To these people, it is completely in line with nature. There is nothing to be shy. However nakednenss is not in line with how the modern so-called civil world behaves. To modern people, humans had to wear clothes. There are 2 sects of Jain believers. One has since adopted some clothes on their body but the other is still consevertive and the monks do not wear anything on their body. They endure the harsh weather - hot or cold or windy or rainy seasons. They believe this is the form of complete detachment. They do not possess anything. Not even a begging bowl. Before our Buddha found the Middle Path, he was said to be practising these extreme asceticism too. After all, naked asceticism is very much popular during his time. The most popular avatar of Jain, Mahavira, was said to be the Buddha's contemporary and was senior to the Buddha in terms of age. Mahavira went about in India stark naked from place to place teaching his method to achieve enlightenment. He established a Sangha (order of monks) earlier than the Buddha. Even to this day, the statue of Mahavira is portrayed as completely naked even though Mahavira's statues do have some resemblance to the Buddha statues.

So, the teachings of Gautama Buddha as contained in the Buddhist Sutras are actually to refute and contradict some of these teachings in Jain and Hindusim held at that time. Of course, to the Jains and Hindus, these are not correct. They think our Buddhist concept of "pure meat" is ridiculous. And they don't really get our concept of emptiness, as against their concept of an eternal soul. If you check the internet, the Jain saints were referred to as "tirthankaras". In the Theravada Buddhist texts, Mahavira was referred to as Nigantha Nattaputta (the Non-possessor Natta's son) and was mentioned in texts such as the Majjima Nikaya. A picture extracted from flickr.com in the internet show these naked ascetics.  So, in this blog I have explored who these people that are mentioned in our Buddhist texts are.

3. http://www.dlshq.org/saints/mahavira.htm
4. photo is from flickr.com by searching "naked ascetics".

No comments: