One of six eminent teachers, contemporary with the Buddha; he is described as a heretic (ańńatitthiya, E.g., S.i.66).
He was leader of a sect known as the Niganthá, and a summary of his teachings is found in the Sámańńaphala Sutta (D.i.57; DA.i.166).
A Nigantha is restrained with a fourfold restraint (cátuyáma samvara)
And, because of this fourfold restraint,
The meaning of this fourfold restraint is not clear; for a discussion of this cátuyáma 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.)
Nátaputta 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 Nátaputta'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 akíriyavádí (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 vedaná. Thus all dukkha is exhausted and one passes beyond (the round of existence). It is said* that Nátaputta 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 Sakuludáyi 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 Nátaputta and a follower of the Buddha, and that was with Citta gahapati at Macchiká 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 jhánas, Nátaputta 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 Kumárapańhá.
The Devadaha Sutta (M.ii.214; cp. Cúlla 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.
Nátaputta is said (DhA.iii.201) to have claimed miraculous powers, but he did not, in fact, possess them. When, for instance, the Rájagaha-setthi offered his bowl of red sandal wood to anybody who could remove it from its perch, Nátaputta tried to obtain it by a ruse, but was unable to deceive the setthi.
The books contain the names of several disciples of Nátaputta, among them a deva called Ninka (S.i.66; the Buddha's own paternal uncle, Vappa, was a follower of the Niganthas). Nátaputta 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 Dígha Tapassí, 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 Abhayarájakumára (M.i.392ff). Nátaputta tries, without success, to dissuade Síha, general of the Licchavis, from visiting the Buddha (A.iv.180ff). Síha 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 Nátaputta went about Vesáli, sneering at the Buddha for encouraging slaughter. The Buddha, hearing of this, relates the Telováda Játaka (J.ii.262f.; Vin.i.233ff), to show that in the past, too, Nátaputta had sneered at him for a similar reason. Nátaputta is identified with the rich man of the Játaka. In the Báveru Játaka (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 Nátaputta was when Upáli-gahapati (M.i.373ff) joined the Buddha. Nátaputta had allowed Upáli to visit him in spite of the warning of Dígha-Tapassí as to the Buddha's arresting personality. But Nátaputta thought Upáli 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 Upáli prostrated him with grief; he vomited hot blood and had to be carried away on a litter from Bálaka, where he was then living, to Pává. 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 Nátaputta before his death. See Niganthá).
Nigantha Nátaputta is the name by which the Jaina teacher, Mahávíra, was known to his contemporaries. He was also called Vardhamána. Náta (or Náya) was the name of his clan (SNA. (ii.423) says Náta was the name of his father), which belonged to Vesáli. According to Jaina tradition, his father's personal name was Siddhatha, and he was a Ksatriya, his mother being Trisálá. (For an account of Mahivira's life and philosophy, see Barua: op. cit., pp.372ff).