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Title: Samanean
Original Title: Samanéen
Volume and Page: Vol. 14 (1765), pp. 590–592
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: E.M. Langille [St. Francis Xavier University,]
Subject terms:
History of oriental religions
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Samanean." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by E.M. Langille. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2012. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Samanéen," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 14. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Samanean." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by E.M. Langille. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2012. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Samanéen," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 14:590–592 (Paris, 1765).

Samanæi were Indian philosophers who formed a separate class from that of the Brachmanes, which is the other principal sect of the Indian religion. The Samanæi were not unknown to Europeans. Strabo and Saint Clement of Alexandria both mention them. Megasthenes, who wrote on the peoples of India, refers to them as Germanés (Garmanes); Saint Clement of Alexandria calls them Semna or Sarman , and he relates the origin of that name to the Greek σεμνὸς, signifying ‘venerable’. Porphyry calls them Samanæi , a name similar to schamman ( shraman ), which is still used in India today to refer to these philosophers.

According to Saint Clement of Alexandria and Saint Jerome, the Samanæi embraced the doctrine of a certain Butta (Buddha) ranked by his followers among the gods, and who, it is believed, was born of a virgin.

The Brachmanes were originally an exclusive tribe or caste, whereas, in principle, anyone could become a Samanean . Those wishing to join this class of philosophers were obliged to declare in the presence of their ruler that they renounced all property—even wife and children—they therefore made the same vow of chastity as the Brachmanes or Gymnosophists. They dwelt outside of the cities, and lived in monasteries in the countryside that the king had specially built. There, embracing the contemplative life, they took no food but fruit and vegetables, and ate separately out of a special dish, presented by persons paid to serve them.

Both the Brachmanes and Samanæi were so highly esteemed among the people of India that kings often consulted them on matters of state, and urged them to implore the gods in their favor.

They did not fear death; indeed, some had the courage to commit suicide by throwing themselves on a burning pyre to clean their souls of all impurities, and hasten knowledge of the bliss of eternal life. They were thought to have the gift of predicting the future; Saint Clement of Alexandria writes that they had great regard for a pyramid which held the bones of a god.

There were several branches of these philosophers, among which the hylobii , so called because they lived in forests and deserted places, subsisting on leaves and wild fruit, abstaining from wine and intercourse with women, and wearing little more than tree bark. As for women, they too had the right to aspire to the same degree of perfection, and could also embrace the same austere life.

What we have just reported, according to Greek and Latin writers, is that there was little difference between the Samanæi and the Brachmanes. Indeed they appear as two sects of the same religion, and many Brachmanes in India today adhere to the doctrine we have outlined, and live in the same way as the ancient Samanæi . Those closest to their spirit today, however, are the Buddhist monks of Siam who live in rich monasteries, and yet have no personal possessions. Some enjoy great influence at court, whereas others lead a more austere existence, and live only in the woods and the forests. There are also women who emulate their austerity.

The doctrine of the Samanæi is widespread in the kingdoms of Siam (Thailand), Pegu (Burma), and in other neighboring places where priests are called talapoins . More common is the name of bonze , under which they are known in China and Japan; whereas in Tibet they are called lamas .

According to the inhabitants of all countries where this religion has since spread, India is its cradle. It has apparently even reached the barbarians of Siberia, where we find certain schamane who are the priests of Tongooses. It is not, however, uniformly practiced in all these different countries. The more the Samanæi moved away from the land of their origin, the more they seem to have strayed from the true doctrine of their founder. The way of life of the peoples to whom they taught their religion naturally made certain changes inevitable, as the Samanæi focused more particularly on those dogmas and religious practices they considered appropriate to the character of the peoples amongst whom they lived. Still, in every country where it has spread, the essence of the Indian religion is easily recognizable.

M. de la Crose, who has written at length about the Samanæi , claims that there remains no trace of their presence on the coast of Malabar and Coromandel, and that the influence of the Brachmanes succeeded that of the Samanæi , who, according to the testimony of the former, were destroyed by the god Vishnu in his sixth incarnation, known as Vegouddova avatarum . This god punished the Samanæi because they openly challenged his teaching. For example, they considered all men as equal, allowing no difference in rank between the various tribes or castes. Further, they detested the Brachmanes’ theological books. And, finally, they wished to place everyone under their law. M. de la Croze believes that this event happened more than six hundred years ago. But, according to M. de la Croze’s own account, these Malabar legends are sharply contradicted by the testimony of the Greek writers, who mention that the Brachmanes established themselves from time immemorial in all India, and that their doctrine was similar to that of the Samanæi :

If the name Samanean longer exists in this part of India, we note that various sects of Brachmanes, and namely the joghis , the vanaprasthas , the sanjassis , and the avadoutas , admit no difference between castes and tribes, and still follow the precepts of Buddha, the founder of Samanæi . Several Arab historians who had knowledge of this teacher call him Boudasp Boudasf . Beidawi, the famous Persian historian, refers to him as Schekmouniberkan or simply Schekmouni ; the Chinese call him Chih-chia or Chekia-meounes , (which is the same name as Schekemouni), and also give him the name or Foteou Foto , which is an alteration of phutta or butta . But the name by which he is best known in all the works of the Chinese is that of For , short for Foto . The Siamese call it Prahpoudi-Chao , in other words, the saint of high origin, or Sammana-khutama , the man without passion, and, finally, phutta . Mr. Hyde’s name derives from the Persian word butt meaning idol. M. Leibnitz believed that the legislator was the same as the god Wodin, common among the peoples of the north. In the language of the Indians, Buddha or Butta means Mercury.

It is not easy to dispel the darkness obscuring the history of the founder of the Indian religion. The people of India tend toward the supernatural, and express themselves in obscure fables that require us to resort to foreign historians for the basic facts. These, however, do not provide enough detail for us to know precisely when and where the philosopher was born.

This being the case, we can affirm that Fo or Bodha married at 17, and that he had a son of this marriage, whereupon he retired to the wilderness, led by five philosophers. He remained there until the age of 30, when he began publishing his teaching. He preached the worship of idols, and the transmigration of souls. He died aged 79. To explain his death, it was reported that he passed through the Nipon or nircupan . In other words, he died and became like a god. In dying he declared to those of his disciples most attached to him that up until that point he had relied on parables to express his teachings, and that his true meaning lie hidden in figurative expressions and metaphors. His ultimate testimony, however, was that there was no other principle than vacuum and nothingness; everything was out of nothing, and to nothing everything would ultimately return.

Fo’s last words produced two different sects. Many embraced what is called the external doctrine or worship of idols, while others chose the inner doctrine, that is to say, they came to revere the concept void and nothingness which Fo had described in his dying breath.

The followers of the external doctrine are those that we know more commonly as the Brachmanes, bonzes , lamas and the talapoin , who prostrate themselves at the feet of their gods, whose greatest happiness consists in holding the tail of a cow, who worship Brahma, Vishnu, Eswara, and three hundred and thirty million inferior gods, who build temples in their honor, who have a singular veneration for the water of the Ganges, and who think that after death their souls will receive either punishment in hell for their crimes, or, conversely, the heavenly reward for their virtues, who believe that after death the soul migrates from one body to the bodies of other men, animals, and even plants, and that this reincarnation of the soul is, accordingly, either punishment or reward. The goal toward which all these different transmigrations lead imperceptibly is the highest level of purity and perfection. For it is only once the soul has inhabited the bodies of several people that it finally reappears in that of a Samanean . These philosophers look upon other men as so many unfortunate people, unworthy of their own blissful status, since their souls have already passed through all degrees of metempsychosis.

Thus, the true Samanean , or follower of the interior doctrine, is thought to be born in the most perfect state. He is no longer required to atone for sin, for all his past sins have been cleansed by previous transmigrations. He is consequently not obliged to worship in a temple or to pray to the gods that other people worship. For it is believed that these gods are but the ministers of the Great God of the Universe. Relieved of all passion, unsullied by sin, the Samanean rejoins in death the One Divinity, of which his soul was but a detached part. It is also believed that the One Supreme is formed of the union of all souls; they exist in Him from all eternity, and proceed from Him, but they can only rejoin Him once they have been made as pure as they were when first they were separated.

Accordingly, the Supreme Being is eternity, he has no form, is invisible, incomprehensible, and yet everything has its origin in Him. He is power, wisdom, knowledge, holiness, and truth itself. He is infinitely good, just and merciful. He created all beings, and he retains all. He can be represented by idols, but we cannot represent His attributes. He does not however disapprove of idol worship for the obvious reason that He is above all worship. That is why the Samanean in his meditation gives no outward signs of worship. Still, the Samanæi are not atheists as claimed by certain missionaries. They seek only to stifle all passion in order to better commune with God. The vacuum and nothingness they embrace does not therefore imply the destruction of the soul. In destroying the senses, the Samanean destroys himself and loses himself, somehow, in the bosom of the divinity, which has drawn all things from nothing, and which itself is without matter.

According to the philosophers of India, the Supreme Being is the origin of all beings. He contains within Himself the principles of all things. When He wanted to create matter, as a pure spirit, with no relation to a body, he gave himself as a sign of his omnipotence, a material form, and separate male and female attributes, which, until then, had been concentrated in Him. The meeting of these two principles made the creation of the universe is possible. The lingam (phallus), highly respected in India, is the symbol of this first act of divinity. All together five principles (represented by gods) form the Supreme Being. Through their ministry the Supreme Being governs the world. There will come a time, however, when they too will return to His bosom.

These are the Samanæi principles of Godhead. Space does not allow us to consider the worship of the first emanations of the Supreme Being. The Hindu religion, which derives from this source, is no longer that of Samaneans . It is, rather, that of the mass, which is incapable of entertaining the great ideas, and profound meditations taken up by the followers of Buddha. Nor can we enter into the details regarding the various sects that have risen among them. We end by suggesting that there are revealing similarities between the doctrine of Samanæi and that of the Manichaean.