7.10: The Sramana Movement
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- Understand the Sramana movement
- Sramana was an ancient Indian religious movement with origins in the Vedic religion. However, it took a divergent path, rejecting Vedic Hindu ritualism and the authority of the Brahmins—the traditional priests of the Hindu religion.
- Sramanas were those who practiced an ascetic, or strict and self-denying, lifestyle in pursuit of spiritual liberation. They are commonly known as monks.
- The Sramana movement gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism.
An ancient Indian religious movement that began as an offshoot of the Vedic religion and focused on ascetic lifestyle and principles.
A member of a caste in Vedic Hinduism, consisting of priests and teachers who are held as intermediaries between deities and followers, and who are considered the protectors of the sacred learning found in the Vedas.
Sramana followers who renounced married and domestic life, and adopted an ascetic path. The Sramanas rejected the authority of the Brahmins.
The historical predecessor of modern Hinduism. The Vedas are the oldest scriptures in the Hindu religion.
A person who practices severe self-discipline and abstention from worldly pleasures as a way of seeking spiritual enlightenment and freedom.
Sramana was an ancient Indian religious movement that began as an offshoot of the Vedic religion and gave rise to other similar but varying movements, including Buddhism and Jainism. Sramana, meaning “seeker,” was a tradition that began around 800-600 BCE when new philosophical groups, who believed in a more austere path to spiritual freedom, rejected the authority of the Brahmins (the priests of Vedic Hinduism). Modern Hinduism can be regarded as a combination of Vedic and Sramana traditions; it is substantially influenced by both.
The Vedic Religion was the historical predecessor of modern Hinduism. The Vedic Period refers to the time period from approximately 1750-500 BCE, during which Indo-Aryans settled into northern India, bringing with them specific religious traditions. Most history of this period is derived from the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in the Hindu religion. Vedas, meaning “knowledge,” were composed by the Aryans in Vedic Sanskrit between 1500 and 500 BCE, in the northwestern region the Indian subcontinent.
There are four Indo-Aryan Vedas: the Rig Veda contains hymns about their mythology; the Sama Veda consists mainly of hymns about religious rituals; the Yajur Veda contains instructions for religious rituals; and the Atharva Veda consists of spells against enemies, sorcerers, and diseases. (Depending on the source consulted, these are spelled, for example, either Rig Veda or Rigveda.)
Several Sramana movements are known to have existed in India before the 6th century BCE. Sramana existed in parallel to, but separate from, Vedic Hinduism. The dominant Vedic ritualism contrasted with the beliefs of the Sramanas followers who renounced married and domestic life and adopted an ascetic path, one of severe self-discipline and abstention from all indulgence, in order to achieve spiritual liberation. The Sramanas rejected the authority of the Brahmins, who were considered the protectors of the sacred learning found in the Vedas.
Brahmin is a caste, or social group, in Vedic Hinduism consisting of priests and teachers who are held as intermediaries between deities and followers. Brahmins are traditionally responsible for religious rituals in temples, and for reciting hymns and prayers during rite of passage rituals, such as weddings.
In India, Sramana originally referred to any ascetic, recluse, or religious practitioner who renounced secular life and society in order to focus solely on finding religious truth. Sramana evolved in India over two phases: the Paccekabuddha, the tradition of the individual ascetic, the “lone Buddha” who leaves the world behind; and the Savaka, the phase of disciples, or those who gather together as a community, such as a sect of monks.
A “tradition” is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society, with symbolic meaning or special significance. Sramana traditions drew upon established Brahmin concepts to formulate their own doctrines.
The Sramana traditions subscribe to diverse philosophies, and at times significantly disagree with each other, as well as with orthodox Hinduism and its six schools of Hindu philosophy. The differences range from a belief that every individual has a soul, to the assertion that there is no soul. In terms of lifestyle, Sramana traditions include a wide range of beliefs that can vary, from vegetarianism to meat eating, and from family life to extreme asceticism denying all worldly pleasures.
The varied Sramana movements arose in the same circles of ancient India that led to the development of Yogic practices, which include the Hindu philosophy of following a course of physical and mental discipline in order to attain liberation from the material world, and a union between the self and a supreme being or principle.
The Sramana traditions drove the so-called Hindu synthesis after the Vedic period, which spread to southern Indian and parts of Southeast Asia. As it spread, this new Hinduism assimilated popular non-Vedic gods and other traditions from local cultures, as well as the integrated societal divisions, called the caste system.
Sramaṇa traditions later gave rise to Yoga, Jainism, Buddhism, and some schools of Hinduism. They also led to popular concepts in all major Indian religions, such as saṃsāra, the cycle of birth and death, and moksha, liberation from that cycle.
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