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Observations placeholder

Gosala, Makkali - The nature of Halla and the doctrine of Niyati



Type of Spiritual Experience


Makkhali Gosala or Manthaliputra Goshalak was an ascetic teacher of ancient India. He was a contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, and of Mahavira, the last and 24th Tirthankara of Jainism.  Alain Danielou goes so far as to say that both were his ‘disciples’.

He was also born during the time of the Shaiva Revival, an age when the historical and religious texts of Shaivism were published.  He was not an Aryan, thus his credentials and motives for being involved in this were genuine, but he was at one time preoccupied with extremist sects like the Skull bearers and the Black Faces, whose magical practises were somewhat unpleasant. 

His importance, according to Danielou was in presenting a different version of the old culture, until then ignored and rejected by the incoming Aryans/Scythians, such that others took up the baton and attempted to contest orthodox Hinduism and start a philosophic and religious discussion and revival.  Mahavira is supposed to have travelled with Gosala for 6 years and Gautama joined them for 3 to 4 years.  The commentary on the Avashyaka Sutra by Jina Dasa provides a picture of the life of Mahavira and his travels in the company of Gosala.  According to Danielou he died in 484 BC a year before the Buddha.

We have not included any of the texts of Gosala because Danielou states that the doctrine of Gosala is known only through “his Jaina and Buddhist opponents and must therefore be read with caution”.

But Danielou himself provides a simple summary of the doctrine he espoused.

A description of the experience

While the Gods Play – Alain Danielou

During his last years, Gosala observed a vow of silence (vacam pahaya) and lived in a state of trance. He practiced dance and drunkenness. A few moments before his death, one of his disciples asked him,

"What is the nature of Halla [the principle of the world]?"

to which he answered with the mysterious phrase,

"The form of Halla is as the root of bamboo. Play the vina, Friend."

Halla is a mysterious term used by certain Shaiva sects to invoke the Supreme Being during ecstatic dances.

The essential element of the teaching of Gosala is the doctrine of Niyati (determinism), which envisages a pre-established universal order by which the world evolves, at all levels, as do living beings, according to a plan contained in its seed. Progress and change are strictly determined by the "law of the process of development" (parinama-krama-niyama ), which forms ruts or molds inside which individuals develop.

Gunaratna, the commentator of the Shaddarshana-Samucchaya (condensed from the six systems) of Haribhadra, cites Gosala:

"What makes thorns pointed and determines the innumerable forms of the animals and birds? All this originates from their nature (svabhava). Nothing is born of its own will or its actions. All beings develop according to the plan (niyati), to their nature (svabhava) and chance (sangati),"

Evil and suffering, attributed by others to the actions (karma) of living beings, are, according to Gosala, determined by fate [destiny].

"Just as a dropped spool of thread unwinds to its end, so will the madman, like the sage, follow his destiny and reach the end of suffering (dukhanta)."

"Human efforts are ineffective"

The source of the experience


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