One of six eminent teachers, contemporary with the Buddha; he is described as a heretic (aññatitthiya, E.g., S.i.66).
He was leader of a sect known as the Niganthā, and a summary of his teachings is found in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta (D.i.57; DA.i.166).
A Nigantha is restrained with a fourfold restraint (cātuyāma samvara)
And, because of this fourfold restraint,
The meaning of this fourfold restraint is not clear; for a discussion of this cātuyāma samvara, see Barua: Pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy, pp. 378f. The first in evidently the well known rule of the Jains against drinking cold water, as it contains "souls" (cp. Mil.259ff). The Buddha taught a corresponding fourfold restraint, which consisted of observing the four precepts against injury, stealing, unchastity and lying (D.iii.48f.)
Nātaputta is also stated (*1) to have claimed omniscience - to be all-knowing, all seeing, to have all comprising (aparisesa) knowledge and vision. "Whether I walk or stand or sleep or wake," he is mentioned as saying, "my knowledge and vision are always, and without a break, present before me."
(*1) E.g., M.ii.31; A.i.220; M.i.92f.;also M.ii.214ff. It is curious, in view of this statement of Nātaputta's doctrine of inaction, that the main ground on which he is stated to have objected to Siha's visit to the Buddha, was that the Buddha was an akīriyavādī (A.iv.180).
He taught that past deeds should be extirpated by severe austerities, fresh deeds should be avoided by inaction. By expelling through penance all past misdeeds and by not committing fresh misdeeds, the future became cleared. From the destruction of deeds results the destruction of dukkha; this leads to the destruction of vedanā. Thus all dukkha is exhausted and one passes beyond (the round of existence). It is said* that Nātaputta did not employ the term kamma in his teaching; he used, instead, the word danda; and that, according to him, the danda of deed was far more criminal than the dandas of word and mind.
* M.i.371. Danda probably means sins or hurtful acts. Buddhaghosa says (MA.ii.595ff.) that the Jain idea was that citta (the manodanda) did not come into bodily acts or into words which were irresponsible and mechanical, like the stirring and sighing of boughs in the wind.
He is said to have shown no hesitation in declaring the destinies of his disciples after death (S.iv.398); but Sakuludāyi says (M.ii.31; also ibid., i.93; and ii.214f.; the Niganthas admit they did not know of the past) that when asked a question as to the past, he skipped from one matter to another and dismissed the question, evincing irritation, bad temper and resentment.
Only one discussion is recorded between Nātaputta and a follower of the Buddha, and that was with Citta gahapati at Macchikā Sanda (S.iv.298ff). He praises Citta at the outset of the discussion, holding him up as an example to his own flock, and agreeing with Citta that knowledge is more excellent than faith. But later, when Citta claims knowledge of the four jhānas, Nātaputta is represented as condemning him for a deceitful man. Citta, thereupon, asks him ten questions and, getting no answer, leaves him. The Commentary (SA.iii.99) explains that the questions Citta asked were the same as the Kumārapañhā.
The Devadaha Sutta (M.ii.214; cp. Cūlla Dukkhakkhandha Sutta; M.i.91ff.; also A.v.150; D.iii.119), contains a detailed analysis and attributed to the Buddha, of the beliefs and teachings of the Niganthas. He there selects for his condemnation ten of their operative utterances, major and minor, and proves that the efforts and strivings of the Niganthas are fruitless.
Nātaputta is said (DhA.iii.201) to have claimed miraculous powers, but he did not, in fact, possess them. When, for instance, the Rājagaha-setthi offered his bowl of red sandal wood to anybody who could remove it from its perch, Nātaputta tried to obtain it by a ruse, but was unable to deceive the setthi.
The books contain the names of several disciples of Nātaputta, among them a deva called Ninka (S.i.66; the Buddha's own paternal uncle, Vappa, was a follower of the Niganthas). Nātaputta is so convinced of the truth and the irrefutableness of his own doctrines, that he actually encourages his disciples to hold discussions with the Buddha. Some, like Dīgha Tapassī, come away unscathed, without having carried the discussion to any conclusion; others are mentioned as being convinced by the Buddha in the end and as becoming his disciples. Such, for instance, are Asibandhakaputta (S.iv.317ff) and Abhayarājakumāra (M.i.392ff). Nātaputta tries, without success, to dissuade Sīha, general of the Licchavis, from visiting the Buddha (A.iv.180ff). Sīha goes and is converted. The next day he holds an almsgiving, on a grand scale, to the Buddha and his monks, at which flesh is served. It is said that Nātaputta went about Vesāli, sneering at the Buddha for encouraging slaughter. The Buddha, hearing of this, relates the Telovāda Jātaka (J.ii.262f.; Vin.i.233ff), to show that in the past, too, Nātaputta had sneered at him for a similar reason. Nātaputta is identified with the rich man of the Jātaka. In the Bāveru Jātaka (J.iii.126f) he is identified with the crow who lost all his honour and glory when approached by the peacock, who was the Bodhisatta.
But the greatest blow to Nātaputta was when Upāli-gahapati (M.i.373ff) joined the Buddha. Nātaputta had allowed Upāli to visit him in spite of the warning of Dīgha-Tapassī as to the Buddha's arresting personality. But Nātaputta thought Upāli would be proof against it, and, on hearing that he had renounced his allegiance to the Niganthas, refused to believe it until he could verify the information himself. The discovery of the apostasy of Upāli prostrated him with grief; he vomited hot blood and had to be carried away on a litter from Bālaka, where he was then living, to Pāvā. There, soon after, he died, and immediately great dissensions arose among his followers. When the Buddha heard of the quarrels, he remarked that it was only to be expected.
(Ibid., ii.243f.; D.iii.117, 210; it is stated that the quarrel was deliberately fostered by Nātaputta before his death. See Niganthā).
Nigantha Nātaputta is the name by which the Jaina teacher, Mahāvīra, was known to his contemporaries. He was also called Vardhamāna. Nāta (or Nāya) was the name of his clan (SNA. (ii.423) says Nāta was the name of his father), which belonged to Vesāli. According to Jaina tradition, his father's personal name was Siddhatha, and he was a Ksatriya, his mother being Trisālā. (For an account of Mahivira's life and philosophy, see Barua: op. cit., pp.372ff).