These Non-Buddhist Nastika (heterodox) schools can be labeled “sramana,” which means “ascetic” or “seeker.” These schools did not acknowledge the authority of the Vedas, unlike the Astika (orthodox) schools. Founders and followers of these schools often exerted extreme effort to attain truth and escape samsara. Self-denial verging on self-punishment was not unusual. However, there was a variety of philosophical approaches to the nature of suffering and the escape from suffering.
The Charvakas (also called Lokayatas), like the Greek Atomists (e.g., Democritus, Epicurus), reduced all of existence to the mere interaction of physical substances. Charvakas were strict materialists who affirmed the reality of perceptible matter and nothing else. They rejected the eternal self and the divine ground of being Brahman. They sought pleasure and avoided pain. Sensory experiences were valid and authoritative. They asserted absolute free will.1
The Ajivikas, mysterious as they were, advocated for absolute determinism, in contrast to the Charvakas. Their origins and details are poorly documented. What is clear is that the Ajivikas rejected the karma doctrine in favor of a belief in fate. The abandonment of karma meant the abandonment of consequences. Absolute determinism governed human actions and circumstances. The term Ajiva refers to the non-living forms of matter.2 The Ajivikas believed all beings would enter a final peace after having been reborn into every possible kind of life.3
The Ajñanas, under the tutelage of Sanjaya Bellatthiputta, were consummate skeptics. The word Jnana in Sanskrit referred to wisdom. Ajñana, following a prefix pattern familiar to Indo-European languages, means non-wisdom. The Ajñanas were skeptics. They doubted whether wisdom could be achieved. They deprecated the concept of argumentation and favored friendship above all else.4
The Jains, surviving today, are shining examples of the value of non-harm. Like Buddhism and many other Indian philosophical systems, Jainism was seeded by earlier Vedic texts. The word “Jain” is rooted in the word “Jina,” which translates to “conqueror.” “Conqueror” in this context does not refer to a warlord or king. The conquering is of the self and its passions and desires. The Jain philosophical system embraces 24 Tirthankaras, or prophets,5 the final of which is Mahavira. The Jains strictly adhere to a substance dualist construct of reality. They assert the existence of a type of self called the Jiva. The Jiva, to Jains, is distinct from the body. Each person has a Jiva which has transmigrated from body to body through time, beginning as a lower life form and (perhaps) ending as a person. Like Buddhists, the Jains draw from the rich details of the cycle samsara provided by Astika philosophers and clerics.
1Warder, 2000, 39.
2Padhi and Padhi, 1950, 82.
3Warder, 2000, 38.
4Warder, 2000, 41.
5Padhi and Padhi, 63.