Śrāvaka (Sanskrit) or Sāvaka (Pali) means "hearer" or, more generally, "disciple". This term is used in Buddhism and Jainism. In Jainism, a śrāvaka is any lay Jain so the term śrāvaka has been used for the Jain community itself (for example see Sarak and Sarawagi). Śrāvakācāras are the lay conduct outlined within the treaties by Śvetāmbara or Digambara mendicants. "In parallel to the prescriptive texts, Jain religious teachers have written a number of stories to illustrate vows in practice and produced a rich répertoire of characters.".
In Buddhism, the term is sometimes reserved for distinguished disciples of the Buddha.
It refer to those who followed in the tradition of the senior monks of the first Buddhist sangha and community. In the Pāli Canon, the term "disciple" transcends monastic-lay divisions and can refer to anyone from the following "four assemblies":
In the Pali commentaries, the term ariyasāvaka is explained as "the disciple of the Noble One (i.e. Buddha)". Accordingly, Soma Thera and Thanissaro Bhikkhu translate this term as "The disciple of the Noble Ones"
However Bhikkhu Bodhi interprets this term as "noble disciple", and according to him, in the Pali suttas, this term is used in two ways:
In principle the entire practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is open to people from any mode of life, monastic or lay, and the Buddha confirms that many among his lay followers were accomplished in the Dhamma and had attained the first three of the four stages of awakening, up to nonreturning (anāgāmi; Theravāda commentators say that lay followers can also attain the fourth stage, arahantship, but they do so either on the verge of death or after attainment immediately seek the going forth [that is, homelessness, associated with becoming a monastic]).
For each of these stages, there is a "pair" of possible disciples: one who is on the stage's path (Pāli: magga); the other who has achieved its fruit (Pāli: phala). Thus, each stage represents a "pair" of individuals: the path traveler (Pāli: maggattha) and the fruit achiever (Pāli: phalattha). Hence, the community of disciples is said to be composed of four pairs or eight types of individuals (Pāli: cattāri purisayugāni attha purisapuggalā).(Sivaraksa 1993)
In the "Etadaggavagga" ("These are the Foremost Chapter," AN 1.188-267), the Buddha identifies 80 different categories for his "foremost" (Pāli: agga) disciples: 47 categories for monks, 13 for nuns, ten for laymen and ten for laywomen.
While the disciples identified with these categories are declared to be the Buddha's "foremost" or "chief" (Pāli: agga), this is different from his "Foremost" or "Chief Disciples" (Pāli: aggasavaka) who are consistently identified solely as Sariputta and Mahamoggallana. In this article, in order to avoid confusion regarding this use of the Pāli word agga, the aggasavakas will be referred to as "Chief Disciples" while those disciples simply referred to as being agga will be called "foremost" disciples. Some of these categories and the associated disciples are identified in the table below.
In addition, in SN 17.23, SN 17.24 and AN 4.18.6, the Buddha identifies four pairs of disciples "who have no compare" and who should thus be emulated. These four pairs are a subset of the 80 foremost disciples identified in the sub-section 14 of AN 1 (i.e. AN 1.188-267). These four pairs of disciples to be most emulated are:
For an example of a traditional stock reference to the sāvaka-sangha in the Pali canon, in "The Crest of the Standard" discourse (SN 11.3), the Buddha advises his monks that, if they experience fear, they can recollect the Buddha or the Dhamma or the Sangha; and, in recollecting the Sangha they should recall:
In the 4th century abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asaṅga describes those who follow the Śrāvakayāna. These people are described as having weak faculties, following the Śrāvaka Dharma, utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, being set on their own liberation, and cultivating detachment in order to attain liberation. Those in the Pratyekabuddhayāna are portrayed as also utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, are said to have medium faculties, to follow the Pratyekabuddha Dharma, and to be set on their own personal enlightenment. Finally, those in the Mahāyāna "Great Vehicle" are portrayed as utilizing the Bodhisattva Piṭaka, as having sharp faculties, following the Bodhisattva Dharma, and set on the perfection and liberation of all beings, and the attainment of complete enlightenment.
The Sutra on the Ten Levels (Daśabhūmika Sūtra) says that those who have cultivated these ten [virtuous practices, i.e. not killing, not stealing, not lying etc.] through fear of cyclic existence and without [great] compassion, but following the words of others, will achieve the fruit of a Śrāvaka.
A śrāvaka in Jainism is a lay Jain. He is the hearer of discourses of monastics and scholars, Jain literature. In Jainism, the Jain community is made up of four sections: monks, nuns, śrāvakas (laymen) and śrāvikās (laywomen).
The term śrāvaka has also been used as a shorthand for the community itself. For example, the Sarawagi are a Jain community originating in Rajasthan, and sometimes śrāvaka is the origin of surnames for Jain families. The long-isolated Jain community in East India is known as the Sarak.
A śrāvaka rises spiritually through the eleven pratimas. After the eleventh step, he becomes a monk.
Jains follow six obligatory duties known as avashyakas: samayika (practising serenity), chaturvimshati (praising the tirthankara), vandan (respecting teachers and monks), pratikramana (introspection), kayotsarga (stillness), and pratyakhyana (renunciation).