Six teachers who were contemporaries of the Buddha and who were criticized by him for their false teachings, principally because of their denial of the doctrine of karma. The six are often discussed as a group, and the fullest exposition of their views is to be found in an early discourse entitled The Fruits of the Religious Life (Sāmaññaphala Sutta), the second discourse of the Dīgha Nikāya of the Pāli Canon. The text relates how the king of Magadha.Ajātaśatru, went to visit the six teachers and questioned them concerning the fruit of the religious life. After receiving unsatisfactory responses he eventually visited the Buddha and was ‘pleased and delighted’ at the Buddha's account of the religious life and its culmination in nirvāṇa.
The views of the six briefly were as follows. Pūraṇa Kassapa denied that the religious life had any purpose whatsoever, good and evil deeds being equally devoid of religious significance. Makkhali Gosāla was a determinist who taught that a person's destiny was preordained by fate, while Ajīta Kesakambala held a materialist view according to which man is utterly annihilated at death. Pakudha Kaccāyana espoused a doctrine of fatalistic pluralism, according to which human beings are a compound of elemental substances which disperse at death. All of the above four were ethical nihilists and denied the existence of moral causation. Sañjāya Belaṭṭhaputta was described as an ‘eel wriggler’ because he refused to take a stand on any position, and the Jain (see jainism) leader Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta, while accepting the doctrine of moral retribution (kiriya-vāda) reduced the religious life to physical discipline and self-mortification. In view of their failure to appreciate the true purpose of the religious life and its goal all six teachers were roundly condemned by the Buddha. Sarvāstivāda sources assign the views of the six teachers differently, and with slight variations in the accounts of the views. Since the names of the six teachers and the lists of the various views are found separately elsewhere, it is possible that originally the views were not correlated with a particular teacher.