śramaṇa (P. samaṇa; T. dge sbyong དགེ་སྦྱོང་; C. shamen ) — a religious mendicant dependent on alms. At the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, there were a variety of different śramaṇa groups in existence.
Rupert Gethin states:
- This term means literally ‘one who strives’ and belongs to the technical vocabulary of Indian religion, referring as it does to ‘one who strives’ religiously or spiritually. It points towards a particular tradition that in one way or another has been of great significance in Indian religious history, be it Buddhist, Jain, or Hindu. Any quest for the historical Buddha must begin with the śramaṇa tradition...
- The tradition is sometimes called the ‘renouncer (saṃnyāsin) tradition’. What we are concerned with here is the phenomenon of individuals’ renouncing their normal role in society as a member of an extended ‘household’ in order to devote themselves to some form of religious or spiritual life. The ‘renouncer’ abandons conventional means of livelihood, such as farming or trade, and adopts instead the religious life as a means of livelihood. That is, he becomes a religious mendicant dependent on alms. What our sources make clear is that by the fifth century BCE this phenomenon was both widespread and varied. Thus while ‘renouncers’ had in common the fact that they had ‘gone forth from the household life into homelessness’ (to use a phrase common in Buddhist sources), the kind of lifestyle they then adopted was not necessarily the same. This is suggested by some of the terms that we find in the texts: in addition to ‘one who strives’ and ‘renouncer’, we fiṇd ‘wanderer’ (parivrajāka/paribbājaka),‘one who begs his share [of alms]’ (bhikṣu/bhikkhu), ‘naked ascetic’ (acelaka), ‘matted-hair ascetic’ (jaṭila), as well as a number of other terms. Some of these wanderers and ascetics seem to have been loners, while others seem to have organized themselves into groups and lived under a teacher. Early renouncers seem to have been for the most part male, although with the growth of Buddhism and Jainism it is certainly the case that women too began to be numbered among their ranks.
Gethin identifies three types of activities that the śramaṇas engaged in: the practice of austerities, the cultivation of meditative states, and the development of philosophical views.
The term śramaṇa became one of the epithets of the Buddha, who was referred to as 'the Great Shramana' (Skt. Mahāśramaṇa).
The Sanskrit term śramaṇa literally means means "one who labours, toils, or exerts themselves (for some higher or religious purpose)" or "seeker, one who performs acts of austerity, ascetic".
- Gethin 1998, s.v. Chapter 1.
- Dhirasekera, Jotiya. Buddhist monastic discipline. Buddhist Cultural Centre, 2007.
- Shults, Brett. "A Note on Śramaṇa in Vedic Texts." Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 10 (2016).
- Monier Monier-Williams, श्रमण śramaṇa, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, p. 1096