(Last Updated on : 23/07/2015)
The Sanskrit word Shramana is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root gram to exert, effort, labor or to carry out austerity. Shramana thus means, "one who strives" in Sanskrit. A traditional Sanskrit definition is ?ramati tapasyat?ti Shramana or it is he who exerts himself and performs religious austerities. One of the earliest uses of the word is in Taittiriya Aranyaka (2-7-1) that means 'performer of austerities' A Shramana is a wandering monk in certain austere traditions of ancient India, including Jainism, Buddhism, and ajvika religion. Famous Shramana include religious leaders like Mahavira and Gautama Buddha.
Traditionally it is said that Shramana is one who performs acts of mortification or austerity, though Buddhism is not characterized by these practices. According to typical Shramana outlooks, this kind of monk is responsible for their own deeds. Salvation therefore is possible to be achieved by anybody irrespective of caste, creed, color or culture. Their beliefs stood in contradistinction to certain historical caste-based traditions.
The cycle of rebirth to which every individual is subject to is thought to be the cause and substratum of depression. The goal of every person is to escape from the cycle of rebirth and some of the ways are by discounting ritual as a means of liberation and establishing from the misery of samsara, through spiritual activities.
Several Shramana movements are known to have existed before the 6th century BC, where they reached the zenith of success during the times of Mahavira and Buddha. The Shramanas adopted a path that is alternate to the Vedic rituals to achieve salvation, while renouncing domestic life. They typically engaged three types of activities like austerities, meditation, and associated theories. As spiritual authorities, at times Shramana were at disagreement with traditional Brahmin authority, and they often recruited members from Brahmin communities, such as C?nakya and ??riputra.
Mah?v?ra, the 24th Jina, and Gautama Buddha were the prominent leaders of their Shramana orders. According to Jain literature and the Buddhist Pali Canon, there were also some other Shramana leaders at that time. Gautama Buddha regarded rigorous asceticism to reach enlightenment. Accordingly, Buddha rejected ascetic methods, and adopted the "middle way." Devadatta, a cousin of Gautama, caused a split in the Buddhist sangha by demanding more rigorous practices. The disciples of Mah?v?ra also continued to practice asceticism.
The Shramana idea of wandering began to alter early in Buddhism. The bhikku started living in monasteries only during the rainy seasons, but eventually they resided there permanently. In medieval Jainism also, the tradition of wandering was followd, but it got revived in the 19th century. Similar changes have frequently occurred in Buddhism.
Indian philosophy is a confluence of Shramanic and Vedic streams that co-existed and complimentarily influenced each other. Shramanas held a pessimistic worldview of samsara as full of suffering. They firmly believed in Ahimsa and rigorous ascetic practices and believed in Karma and Moksha, thus re-birth being undesirable. Contrarily, Vedics held an optimistic worldview of the richness in worldly life.
The Sramanic ideal of mendicancy and abandonment, that the worldly life was full of anguish and that liberation urgently required giving up of all kinds of desires and withdrawal into a lonely and contemplative life.
The basis beliefs of Shramana philosophy are as follows -
" Belief in Karma and rebirth, and Samsara and transmigration of Soul
" Denunciation of creator and omnipotent God
" Rejection of Vedas as revealed texts
" Belief in purification of soul to attain moksa through Ahimsa, renunciation and austerities
" Rejection of caste system
" Denial of efficacy of sacrifices and rituals for purification
The Shramana philosophical concepts like ahimsa; re-incarnation, karma, renunciation, samsara and moksa were widely accepted and incorporated by the Brahamanas in their beliefs and practices. The two main schools of Sramana Philosophy are the Jain philosophy and Buddhism philosophy.
Jainism has derived its philosophy from the teachings and lives of the twenty-four Tirthankaras, of whom Mahavira was the last. The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy has its belief in the independent survival of soul and matter, the denial of a creative and omnipotent God, faith in an eternal and uncreated space, a strong prominence on non-violence, an inflection on relativity and multiple facets of truth, and morality and ethics based on liberation of the soul. All the above said beliefs strongly emerged from the Shramana philosophy. Similarly, the Buddhist philosophy is a system of beliefs focused on the teachings of Gautama Buddha. Lord Buddha abandoned all concepts of metaphysical being and non-being.
In Jainism the monks and ascetics are known as Shramanas, while the Jain laymen are called as Sravakas. The religion or code of conduct of the monks is known as ?hramana Dharma. Jain scriptures like ?c?ranga S?tra and other later texts contain a huge amount of references to Sramanas.