An acharya is any spiritual guide or teacher. In ancient times the term referred specifically to the one who initiated a student and taught him the complete VEDA or sacred literature. In later times it became a general honorific indicating great learning and/or spiritual accomplishment. The term was, for example, appended to the names of all the great VEDANTA teachers: SHANKARA, RAMANUJA, MADHVA, and NIMBARKA, become Shan-karacharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, and Nimbarkacharya.
   This practice is followed in the JAIN tradition as well; for example, GUNABHADRA will be called Gunabhadracharya. Furthermore, Jains honor acha-ryas in the panchanamaskara MANTRA, the central mantra of the Jain faith, immediately after the ARHATS and SIDDHAS; this indicates their exalted status.
   Further reading: Brian K. Smith, “Ritual, Knowledge and Being: Initiation and Veda Study in Ancient India,” Numen 33, no. 1 (1986): 65–89.

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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