In Indian religions and society, an acharya (IAST: ācārya; Sanskrit: आचार्य; Pali: acariya) is a guide or instructor in religious matters; founder, or leader of a sect; or a title affixed to the names of learned men. The designation has different meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and secular contexts.
Acharya is also used to address a teacher or a scholar in any discipline, e.g.: Bhaskaracharya, the mathematician.It is also a common suffix in Brahmin names, e.g.: Krishnamacharya, Bhattacharya. In South India, this suffix is sometimes shortened to Achar, e.g.: TKV Desikachar. In the social order of some parts of India, acharyas are considered as the highest amongst the brahmin community often described as the "shrestha brahman" i.e best in brahmins.
The term "Acharya" is most often said to include the root "char" or "charya" (conduct). Thus it literally connotes "one who teaches by conduct (example)," i.e. an exemplar.
In the Hinduism, an acharya (आचार्य) is a Divine personality (महापुरुश) who is believed to have descended (अवतार) to teach and establish bhakti in the world and write on the philosophy (िसद्धांत) of devotion to God (भगवान्).
Examples of acharyas in the Hindu tradition are:
In Jainism, an Acharya is a monk who is one of the five revered panch-paremeshtis, and thus worthy of worship. The word "Suri" is equivalent to Acharya.
An Acharya is the highest leader of a Jain order. He is the final authority in his monastic order and has the authority to ordain new monks and nuns. He is also authorized to consecrete new idols, although this authority is sometimes delegated to scholars designated by him.
Some of the famous Jain Acharyas in approximate chronological order, are:
Modern Jain Acharyas include Digambar Acharyas Vidyasagar, and Vidyanand and Svetambar Padma Sagar Suri, Subodhsagar Suri, Yashodev Suri, and Jayantsain Suri. In the Terapantha sub-sect Acharya Bhiksu, Acharya Tulsi & Acharya Mahaprajna, and in the Sthanakvasi sub-sect Acharya Sushil Kumar have been the leading Acharyas.
Some sects, for example the Terapanthi Svetambaras, have a single Acharya. Others have multiple independent Acharyas.
An Acharya, like any other Jain monk, is expected to wander except for the four months of the monsoon (varsha-vas). The Bhattarakas, who head institutions, are technically junior monks, who are permitted to stay in the same place.
In Buddhism, the Pali variant acariya, lit. "teacher", is one of the two teachers of a novice monk, the other being the upādhyāya. In Mahayana traditions the epithet Acharya was more widely used as an honorific indicating great scholastic renown.
In Sanskrit institution Acharya is a Post Graduate Degree.