An ancient Jain attempt to assimilate the Buddha

In a previous post I was describing some arguments how the first Jhana could have been an assimilation from Jain meditation practice (similar to how the arupas were assimilated).

Now I want to show an example for the opposite - which as far as I see has not been noticed before. In the old Jain text Uttaradhyayana Sutra 23 a suspiciously impartial Gautama is introduced as a wise interpreter of different Jain traditions.

Now at that time there lived the Prophet of the Dhamma, the Jina, who in the whole world is known as the venerable Vardhamana (the given name of Nataputta/Mahavira). And there was a famous disciple of this Light of the World, the venerable Gautama by name, who had completely mastered the sciences and right conduct. He knew the twelve Angas, was enlightened, and was surrounded by a crowd of disciples.

In spite of this introduction in the ensuing Q&A Gautama is quite dispassionate about his explanations, peaking at times in quite Buddhist terminology:

Self is the one invincible foe, (together with the four) cardinal passions (viz. anger, pride, deceit, and greed, they are five) and the (five) senses (make ten). These (foes), O great sage, I have regularly vanquished.

Having cut off all fetters, and having destroyed them by the right means, I have got rid of my fetters and am set free, O sage.

I have thoroughly clipped that plant, and torn it out altogether with its roots ; thus I have got rid of the poisonous fruit.

Love of existence is that dreadful plant which brings forth dreadful fruit ; having regularly torn it out, I live pleasantly.

The mind is that unruly, dreadful, bad horse; I govern it by the discipline of the Law

There is a large, great island in the midst of water, which is not inundated by the great flood of water. […] The flood is old age and death, which carry away living beings; Dhamma is the island, the firm ground, the refuge, the most excellent shelter.

As far as I see this character Gautama is quite unusual in the early Jain texts, and it could well be that he at times or in certain sects was regarded as knowege master equal to the Jain saints…


Thanks for this. Is there any dating of the text?

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Fantastic! Thank you for this…you have uncovered a treasure. :smiley:

(“Thus I have heard” Vs “Thus I say” … that difference itself between the Buddhist and Jain sutras is worthy of a PhD tome!)


Isn’t he the same one as Indrabhuti Gautama, the seniormost chief disciple (ganadhara) of Nigantha Nataputta/ Mahavira?

According to Svetambara texts, Gautama had a meeting with Keśī (ganadhara of Parshvanatha).
Gautama Swami - Wikipedia

I am not sure what the OP means by ‘the assimilation of Buddha’ since Gautama here is referred to Mahavira’s disciple. Rather ‘assimilation of Buddhist terminology’ or even some doctrinal points seems more plausible. One probability of similarities with Buddhist metaphors might be (to quote a paper):

But it also has been argued that motifs common to Brahmanical and Pali texts only show that some Brahmins and Buddhists drew from a common fund of ideas and figures of speech
(Chandra, 1971; Bronkhorst, 2007), that is to say from what Patton (2008) has
called “an early Indian imaginaire”. - On the Buddha’s Use of Some Brahmanical Motifs in Pali Texts (Brett Shults ).

Although the example here is of Brahmins and Buddhists, is there any reason to think that this borrowing of ideas and metaphor common to other sects didn’t extend to the Jains as well?
(I’m not ruling out the possibility of direct Buddhist impact on Jain thought! )


I was just going to post this. I highly doubt that this is the Buddha Gautama. Gautama is a pretty common name and this Ganadhara Gautama is like the Jain Ananda. He is believed to have remembered all the teachings of Mahavira and to have passed them down.


We have to look at the sources here. Just like in Buddhism later commentarial sense-making shouldn’t make us accept these claims automatically. So is the Gautama from the sutra Indrabhuti Gautama or a disciple of Nataputta?

Apart from the chapter I quoted a Gautama appears in

  • Acaranga Sutra 2.15.29 in an unspecified way
  • Uttaradhayayana (Utt) 10 as a disciple of an unnamed Buddha (possibly Vardhamana)
  • And in Sutrakrtanga 2.7

These are all the ancient references, and nowhere is he qualified as a ‘Jain Ananda’. Rather than anachronistic attributions I think we should look at the teachings. And in Utt 23 Gautama sees the Self (atman) as a foe/obstacle. This is against the teaching of Vardhamana who sees a self.

It could be that the ‘Dhamma as an island’ was part of commonly used imagery. But it was chosen as a representative image for the Buddha’s teaching early on, which makes it more probable to be Buddhist, no?

It does appear, however, in a few other Jain contexts - which, still, could be of Buddhist origin:
Acaranga 1.6.3: “As an island which is never covered with water, so is the law taught by the noble ones”
Acaranga 1.6.5: “But a great sage, neither injuring nor injured, becomes a shelter for all sorts of afflicted creatures, even as an island, which is never covered with water.”
Sutrakrtanga 1.11.23: “A pious man shows an island to the beings which are carried away and suffer for their deeds. This place of safety has been proclaimed”

Notoriously difficult to say. It belongs to the second layer of ancient texts - maybe first or second century BCE.


Hmmm I’m curious if this indicated that Gotama Buddha was actually former Jains/Nigantha disciple. From the early Buddhist texts, we know that Gotama exercised form of self-mortification (tapas) similiar to Jains’ tapa before his enlightenment. And in somewhere else I have read that in Jains tradition have an account of the Buddha was a disciple of Nigantha :thinking:

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I mean, you could say it’s anachronistic, but both Jain traditions maintain this Gautama figure, so it’s quite an old idea.

Also, like I said, Gautama is pretty common name (it’s a family name too right, not a first name). So I definitely think you need stronger evidence for your claims here.

After all, a disciple breaking off and making their own (very successful) sect is a major event (indeed, both Jain and Buddhist literature make much of these kinds of figures). I suspect that if this was the case with this Jain Gautama, you’d have much more evidence than a few passages here and there that don’t mention anything about their successful career as the founder of a competing religion.


Okay, but when is this recognition from?

It’s not a strong claim, but a think-piece :slight_smile: And my strongest argument was not the name but the teaching of not-self and the Dhamma as an island.


According to Roy’s History of the Jainas (1984), there is a list in the Svetambara Kalpa sutra and there is a Digambara inscription from 600 CE. He also states (p. 100):

Indrabhuti who was a Gautama by gotra is the person mentioned in the Digambara list as the first successor of Mahavira. Both the sects are in agreement in asserting that Indrabhuti Gautama was a kevalin, but the Svetambaras deny that he ever headed the Church, or left any disciples.

Ok, but IDK if that’s very strong. The word Dharma is not unique to Buddhism, and metaphors like that can easily be borrowed by either side without indicating some unique author. There’s really no evidence that the Buddha made up the metaphor to begin with.


Is there any religious contemporary beside the Buddha in ancient India who also teach not-self-like doctrine resemble of the Buddha’s?

These would have been materialists who rejected a jiva, like Ajita Kesakambali (sometimes called Charvaka or Lokāyata philosophy). Other than that nothing comes to mind.


Perhaps, this Gautama’s teaching is assimilated from other Sramana sects who teach no soulness (nihilism) like Ajita’s sect too, not particularly Buddhist one :thinking:

That is not in line with the general arguments of this Gotama. Indian materialists are easy to recognize - there is no liberation, no afterlife, no soul, need for respecting parents…


Gauthama Ganadhar the chief disciple of Mahavira was a digamber monk, who are required to renunciate everything even clothes.His name was Gautam Indrabhuti. Buddha is never known by that name. Name of his parents are also different.
Where as the Buddha wore clothes. Its highly unlikely both were the same , as Buddha would not have established a new religion .

Another reference of Nigantha Nathaputta who is considered same as Mahavira by many texts is doubtful.
Refer the link

Niganth Nathaputta may have been the founder of Ajjivika sect a part of Sramana movement like Buddhism and Jainism , known as Makkhali Goskala which does not exist now and where rivals of Jain and Buddhists. Both Mahavira and Buddha may have never met each other.

This cannot be, since Gosala is named in the EBTs as separate individual.

I think that essay points out some small issues, but really, the best explanation still remains that Nataputta is Mahavira. This is what the majority of scholars hold, for example, Bronkhorst.


If it’s of any help, the Wikipedia article on Jiva (soul/self) of Jainism mentions this -

The two states of soul substance are mentioned in the Jain texts. These are — Svābhva (pure or natural) and Vibhāva (impure or unnatural state). Souls in transmigration are in impure state and liberated ones are said to be in natural or pure state.


According to the Jain text, Samayasāra:
Know that the Jiva (soul) which rests on pure faith, knowledge, and conduct, alone is the Real Self. The one which is conditioned by the karmic matter is to be known as the impure self.
(emphasis mine)
Jīva (Jainism) - Wikipedia

If I remember correctly, Jain view of the Self is that it is eternal, but changeable i.e. it can be modified. Perhaps, that view is alluded to here when Gautama (whoever that may be ) speaks of having vanquished his (imperfect) Self ?!
I know it’s just speculation, but it seems highly improbable that an allegedly enlightened disciple of Mahavira would speak of something directly counter to the basic tenets of his teacher, and the Jain community at large (and still be considered enlightened!) and that the monastics wouldn’t try to erase that out from their sacred texts.

I’m inclined to agree, but Jainism already existed before Buddhism was born (or maybe even before Buddha was born, if the 23rd tirthankara Parshvanatha is considered a historical figure). And with most of the Jain literature lost, and the extant texts composed long after the death of their founder, one cannot say for sure whether Jainism incorporated such imagery from Buddhism (which the Buddhist in me wants :laughing:) or if it was the precursor to it!

You could be right about the Jain assimilation of Buddha but with such scant knowledge available, I thought it might be good to keep these points in mind.
It’s possible the Jains might have deliberately withheld the full name of Gautama to keep his identity obscure, to tease the Buddhists, while at the same time, avoid drawing the ire of Buddhist rulers (Ashoka, according to a story, reportedly executed many Jains and even Ajivikas for insulting the Buddha. We don’t know if this text was written before or after this infamous incident, if it happened at all). And complemented his teachings with terms and metaphors common to Buddhists but with a Jain twist to it.
But this is leaning towards pure speculation so I’ll just leave it there!
I hope I contributed something helpful , rather than muddying the issue even more. :smile:

Sigh, does wikipedia have secret access to truth? The source texts are everything there is…

The author Kundakunda is placed by scholars like Dundas (in contrast to wikipedia) anywhere between the 3-8 century CE, so it’s hardly a relevant source for the earliest Jain view on Jiva

Source please

There are arguments for the opposite as well. Inconsistencies as a criterium for old age (as sometimes mentioned by B.Sujato for example). Remember also examples of the Buddha saying to take the atman as an island / the dhamma as an island - that line is still there for everyone to see.

Things were not that clear-cut back then. There was no ‘Jainism’, Mahavira was not called Mahavira. Jain texts use ‘Buddha’ for a liberated person, and Buddhist suttas use tirthankara for a ‘liberated’ person - including the Buddha himself and the opposing secterians.

Not every interpretation is possible, and I don’t insist on my impromptu theory, but I have not seen good source-based refutations - and I keep in mind that a positive proof is also out of reach. The question is: is it possible?


There is a mention of Sramana sect called Gotamaka in AN 5.301 among other sects like Nigantha and Ajivaka. Perhaps, the Gautama in Jain texts is the founder of this Gotamaka sect, which we don’t have their teaching in the Pali canon.


In case anyone needs a link to that text, here you go:

It is a very summarised text in itself. The listed affiliations are:

  • nigaṇṭho
  • muṇḍasāvako
  • jaṭilako
  • paribbājako
  • māgaṇḍiko
  • tedaṇḍiko
  • āruddhako
  • gotamako
  • devadhammiko
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