1.1. Rationalism is generally understood as that “where reason has precedence over other means of acquiring knowledge”. Materialism, in its simplest form, is the belief that all that exists is physical; there is no higher reality independent of the physical world. The two concepts are in proximity; and, one could easily be mistaken for the other. The distinction between the two is delicate; and it also depends on what we mean by the term ‘material’. Let’s say; in case material is taken to signify anything that interacts with the observable world in a predictable way, allowing us to rationalize and predict its behavior, then, in such a case, photons (not considered ‘material’) are certainly a part of the material world. In the same vein; Science is the study of matter; yet science, in its normal mode, is only remotely material.
1.2. But, in case the scope of rationalism is restricted merely to what is directly experienced by human senses, then, it would no longer remain ‘rationalism’, because the essential element of reason is not present. There appears to be a mistaken notion that denying everything that is not seen is’ rationalism’; and it is ‘scientific’. But, the scientific approach, as I understand, is, basically, free-thinking .It is not about taking a static position; but, is about giving a chance to reason and to shades of opinions. I, therefore, reckon, to equate science with the descriptions of a particular mode is fundamentally incorrect. It would do well not to lose sight of the uncomfortable fact that ‘…a scientific theory is one which can in principle be falsified’. Our Teacher summed it up well when he said, ‘clinging to ideas is an obstruction to right –understanding; the best of states for right- understanding is non-attachment; and let-go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts’ (Dhammapada).
1.3. Quite often we find that even rational knowledge cannot answer all the questions in every field of life and in every sphere of human experience. In fact, critical questions on life cannot be solved through the rational knowledge that we possess. That might be because the knowledge we possess, in its present state, is rather inadequate to explain the integrated nature or the totality of a human individual in his world. Therefore, whenever a new challenge confronts us , springing forth from an unknown source, the ‘ scientific ‘ way of dealing with it would be to understand the structure or the style in which the new concepts are built, by applying ‘scientific’ methods, as we know it . But, just disowning, altogether, the yet-unknown would surely lead us nowhere.
2.1. It is in that context that I tend to regard the life-sciences and innovative fields of research, such as Genopsych that Shri DMR Sekhar is attempting to explore, as the more enterprising frontiers of science and mankind. They strive to understand the manipulation of certain entities in order to understand the manipulation of certain others. Many of the properties they deal with are interrelated, each holding the key to the other; and, yet, it is dreadfully difficult to bind them into any theory that makes sense . And at times the traditional view of science based on representative studies might just not work here.
B. Unorthodox views in orthodox texts
3.1. The schools of rationalism as also of materialism are very ancient in the history of Indian thought. In every age there have been sceptics, agnostics and atheists, though technically not labelled as such. A streak of atheism had always been there in Vedic texts as also in pre-Vedic traditions such as the Vratyas.
The skeptical or agnostic attitudes can be noticed even in the traditional texts. For instance, Rishi Dirghatamas (Asyavamiya Sukta – RV- 1.164) exclaims in an agnostic vein: “What thing I truly am I know not clearly: mysterious, fettered” . Again , hymn 10.129 of Rig Veda speculates whether the sun shining in the heavens was not a later development in the process of evolution; and wonders whether the sun himself knows the genesis of the cosmos (veda yadi vaa na veda)..!! Dirgatamas again exclaims ‘ Who has seen him? Who is self-born?Was he there even before creation? ‘ (ko dadarśa prathamaṃ jāyamānam asthanvantaṃ yad anasthā bibharti |RV_1,164.04 |
Kathopanishad too doubts about the possibilities of future existence of man . Similarly, the passages in Kenopanishad have a ring of skepticism.
The other ancient traditions: Samkhya, Lokayata, Charvaka and Sramanas et al, all based in the Eastern part of India, rejected the idea of a god; stated that universe was run by its natural laws and not by a god; viewed universe as a system (not an entity) propelled by conditioned causes and effects; rejected authority of texts; appealed only to ones experience; and, all of them aimed to remove human suffering. Among the Sramanas the wandering monks there were, according to Dr. Benimadhab Barua, famed debaters who were “clever, subtle, and experienced in projecting controversies, hair-splitters who ruthlessly splintered into pieces the arguments of their adversaries”.
The discussions on related subjects find place in traditional texts such as Upanishads, Mahabharata and other ancient texts. For instance, Svetasvatara Upanishad mentions about six types of heretical views. The better known among these are the two streams of explanations: One, the Yadrccha-vada (everything is by accident or chance) or Animitta-vada (there is no agent causing creation); and the other, Svabhava-vada (the world is run by its inherent nature or by its own natural laws).
kālaḥ svabhāvo niyatir yadṛcchā bhūtāni yoniḥ puruṣeti cintyam / saṃyoga eṣāṃ na tv ātmabhāvād ātmā hy anīśaḥ sukhaduḥkhahetoḥ // SvetUp_1.2 //
3.2. The former (Yadrccha-vada), sports a rather dismissive view. It states; what we call creation came about by sheer accident or by chance (Yadrccha); there is neither reason nor rhyme in this world; it is all chaos. It is the chance that governs the world. Whatever order you happen to see in the world is purely by chance. Surely there is no design here; and, do not go looking for one. It is futile to craft other explanations; or to search for a cause to the world – be it either natural or supernatural- because there is no cause as such (a-nimitta).
3.3. The latter, (the Svabhava-vada) too rules out the role of super-natural in the process of creation or in maintenance of the world order. There is no doctrine of Creation . The principles of karma (action) and Nyati (fate) are also rejected. To speculate as to why the universe exists would be an exercise in futility. It argues (in contrast to Yadrccha-vada) that the world in which we all live is not a lawless world; the order in the world is run by its own inherent laws. The world determines its own mode of origin, patterns of growth and maintenance according to its inherent laws. Svabhava-vada recognizes the need for governance of the world. But, at the same time, Svabhava-vada, just as the Yadrccha-vada, dismisses the need for an external agency or a supernatural being – a god or a creator –either to create, control or maintain the world. Both doctrines deny a soul that takes re-birth: ‘death is the end of all beings’.
3.4. Of the two, Svabhava-vada is regarded more positive; and is believed to have derived its inspiration from the Samkhya ideology. It is interesting to see in the older texts, the orthodox (aastika*) and the heterodox (nastika*) existing side by side. Prof. Hiriyanna in his ‘Outline of Indian philosophy’ remarks “this alliance of a heretical doctrine with orthodoxy gave rise to a new stream of tradition in ancient India which can be described as neither quite orthodox nor as quite heterodox. The old heterodoxy, like the old orthodoxy, continued to develop on its own lines. That may be represented as the ‘extreme left/ while the new became a middling doctrine with leanings more towards orthodoxy than towards heterodoxy”.
3.5. The Svabhava-vada in turn inspired emergence of materialistic school of thought: Lokayata-darsana or Charvaka-darsana or Brahaspatya (of the followers of Brihaspathi, the teacher). This school too is ancient; and its views are mentioned in the older texts and in Mahabharata.
[** Note: some explanation about the terms astika and nastika appears necessary here.
In the ordinary sense, astika and nastika are translated into English as: theism and atheism.
In the older texts, astika does not mean theistic; nor does nastika mean atheistic. Panini (a grammarian of 5th century BCE) explains astika as term that denotes one who believes in the ‘other-world’ (asti paralokah). And, nastika, accordingly,is one who does not believe in the existence of the ‘other – world ‘.
The other explanations of the terms that were commonly meant in the ancient contexts were: astika is one who accepts the authority of Vedas; and, nastika is one who rejects the authority of Vedas.
And, interestingly, among the astika (who accepted Vedas) not all of them were theists. And, even in case they outwardly accepted a god, they did not assign, in their scheme of things, much importance to the concept of God .For instance; the Samkhya system does not involve a faith in existence of God. Yoga, which largely follows Samkhya theories, made room for a God, perhaps, to round-off its argument. As regards, the Nyaya and Vasheshika schools, the God in their system, do not create the Universe, its building-blocks (atoms) or the individual souls. Yet, all these schools are classified under the orthodox astika systems (darshanas).
But, what is surprising is that Purva–Mimamsa championed by Jaimini (which is also grouped under the orthodox philosophical systems of Indian philosophy) gives much importance to conduct of Vedic rituals; but, somehow, side-steps the question of the existence of God.
The Advaita Vedanta of Sri Sankara does, of course, reject atheism; and, asserts that the whole of existence originated from the conscious, spiritual being called Ishvara. Yet, in the ultimate analysis, Ishvara is but a relative (qualified) concept as compared to Absolute Reality that is Brahman.
( David B. Zilberman (May 25, 1938 – July 25, 1977) an unusual sort of philosopher gifted with amazingly sharp analytical skills, who (sadly died very young) wrote not merely about Indian philosophies but also about ‘the methodology of how they are to be studied’, in his ‘The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought’ (page 4), said: It is a mistake to believe that typical Hindu philosophies are bound to what is called as ‘religion’ and ‘theology’ in the West. ..This must sound quite daring and contrary to the prevailing opinion which considers Indian philosophy religious through and through. But, Indian speculative thought is not strictly speaking a kind of religious philosophy , perhaps, not even a religious philosophy at all… I do not mean that Indian philosophers are for most not religious at all – they certainly are. The point is, their philosophical work and their personal religious devotion are not interlocked by necessity.)
It was the later schools of non – Advaita – Vedanta (Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shaktha and others) that strongly projected the theistic conception of a Supreme God who pervades, creates and protects, and who is the ultimate refuge of all souls. At the centre of these systems is a personal god who answers the devotees’ prayers. The heart of their faith is in devotion (bhakthi)and the sense of absolute surrender (prapatthi) to a personified god dearest to one’s heart (ishta-devata). It is this theistic system that dominates what is now called Hinduism as it is practised today.]
[ Dakshinaranjan Shastri, in his A Short History of Indian Materialism, Sensationalism and Hedonism, (Calcutta: Book-land Private LTD, 1930) writes that Indian materialism has passed through four logical stages of development.
In its first stage it was a mere tendency to oppose the established beliefs/faiths. It questioned the then accepted methods of cognition – immediate as well as inference. It denied the authority of the Vedas. In that period, its name was Barhaspatya.
In Its second stage, it was known as Svabhava-vada, which essentially was the recognition of perception as a source of knowledge; and, the acceptance of the theory that identified the body with the soul. In that stage, it took the form of a system of philosophy; however low was its position. The prominent materialist- philosophers of that stage were Ajita Kes’a-kambalin, Kambalas’vatara and Purana Kashyapa. In that stage, it came to be known as Lokayata.
Its third stage was marked by an extreme form of hedonism, which was due, perhaps, to the corrupted free- thought – social, religious and political. Gross sensual pleasure took precedence over philosophical contemplation. At this stage it was called Charuvaka, which preached – ‘Eat, Drink and be Merry, for, to-morrow we may die’. This extreme form of licentiousness was appalling; and, the Charuvaka lost its acceptance among the general people. And that led to sapping away the very vitality of this school. . The literature of this school is now entirely lost, except what has reached us through fragments quoted by the rival Schools.
From then on the Charuvaka form of materialism leaned towards moderation in its stand. It even began to accept inference and probability as the sources of true knowledge. Philosophers, like Purandara, were the advocates of this form of materialism.
In its fourth stage, the materialists aligned with the Buddhists and the Jains in opposing the Vedas and Vedic practices. They all shared the common designation Nastika- the one who condemns the Vedas – Nastiko Veda-nindakah.]
C. The Charvaka
4.1. The School of Charvaka (those of sweet-talk) or Lokayata (those of the world) pre-dates the Buddha and Mahavira; and has a history of nearly about three thousand years. Thus, the various schools of materialism or rationalism which denied a surviving soul and refused to believe in its transmigration existed in ancient India even prior to the times of the Buddha. The Charvaka was prominent among the materialist schools of the sixth century BCE. The influence of this heterodox doctrine is seen in other spheres of Indian thought.
4.2. It has been argued that Charvaka far from being anti-Vedic, were originally a Brahmanical school of thought, but one that denied life after death. They denied ‘another world’ (para loka). In doing so, they came into conflict with the Buddhist, the Jainas and also, of course, with most other Brahmanical schools, all of which had accepted the belief in rebirth and karmic retribution; and, therefore in ‘another world’. It was perhaps only the ritualistic Mimamsa School that dragged its feet. Sabara Bhashya, one of the earliest commentaries on the Mimamsa Sutra, ignores the issues concerning rebirth and karmic retribution altogether. It even avoids issues concerning heaven, presumably a place where sacrificers end up after death, by denying existence of such a place. In fact, Kumarila Bhatta, a commentator of the Sabara bhashya, who lived a few centuries later ( say 7-8th century) , complains that Mimamsa was on its way to become indistinguishable from Lokayata.
4.3. Sabara’s Bhashya on Mimamsa Sutra contains a lengthy passage that is commonly known as Vrttikara-grantha, attributed to an unknown author referred to as Vrttikara. The view of the Vrttikara (identified as that of a Charvaka) , presented here as the opposing view (purva paksha) argues against the existence of a soul. It avers that use of the words such as: ‘self’ (atman), and ‘I’ (aham) does not in any manner prove existence of an enduring soul. Similarly, is the position with regard to statements such as: ‘he knows ‘(janati) or ‘I saw’. The Charvakas did not only denied the existence of the soul, they also denied life after death.
4.4. The texts of the Charvaka Darshana are lost to us. The doctrines and beliefs of that School have come down to us mainly in the form of references made in the texts of the rival schools for the purpose of rebuttal (as purva-paksha, meaning the stand of the opponent).The Sarva-darshanasamgraha, a fourteen century text (written by Sri Madhava Acharya who became Sri Vidyaranya, the Acharya of Sri Sringeri Mutt, around 1331 AD ), contains a chapter on Charvaka. But, it is brief and adds little to what could be gathered from other sources. The purpose of The Sarva-darfanasamgraha, was to review the sixteen philosophical systems that were current in the fourteenth century in the South of India, and to present them from the Vedanta point of view. And, therefore Prof Hiriyanna opines that “in all probability it exaggerates the weak points of the Charvaka doctrine; and might even misrepresent its tenets”.
4.5. The only surviving treatise of the Charvaka School is the Tattvopaplava-simha (‘The Upsetting of All Principles) by Jayarasi Bhatta (6th Century CE).But, its treatment of the subject is said to be rather disappointing.
5.1. The term pramana signifies the essential means of arriving at valid knowledge or prama; while the object known is described as prameya; and the knower as pramata. Broadly, the pramanas are three: pratyaksa (direct perception), anumana (inference) and sabda (verbal testimony). The value of the first two of these as pramanas is well recognized by most schools. But the third (tradition or verbal statements), is often treated with suspicion or disdain. The Vedanta of Sri Sankara introduced insight or intuition as the additional means of cognition. He decaled that intuition, the ability to see the underlying reasons behind everything, is not opposed to intellect. Since then, the Indian schools of thought are usually classified under three heads: (i) those that recognize only perception and inference, (ii) those that recognize intuition in addition, and (iii) those that substitute revelation for intuition.
5.2. Charvaka accepted the direct perception (pratyaksa-pramana) through the sense organs as the only means of valid knowledge; and as the only type of knowledge that could be verified by all others (prathyaksha – mevaikam pramanam; indriya-jnanam, jnanam pratyaksham): “Regard only that which is an object of direct perception, and cast behind your back whatever is beyond the reach of your senses “
5.3. It, however, totally rejected verbal testimony, tradition or texts; calling it mere hearsay. Charvaka was severe on Vedas, and particularly on the Mimamsa, which it threw out with contempt and ridicule: “Veda is tainted by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction, and tautology. Then again, the impostors who call themselves Vedic scholars are mutually destructive; as the authority of the jnana kanda is overthrown by those who maintain that of the karma-kanda, while those who maintain the authority of the jnana-kanda reject that of the karma-kanda; and lastly, the three Vedas themselves are only the incoherent rhapsodies of knaves, and to this effect runs the popular saying: these are but means of livelihood for those who have neither manliness nor sense.”
5.4. As regards inference (anumana), the Charvaka adopted a rather selective approach. It was prepared to exercise inference in matters that were in the realm of the physical world and that were already in the common knowledge. This type of inference was termed Utpanna pratiti (that which is experienced). For instance, in the case of smoke being the evidence of fire, the Charvaka pointed out that the properties of both factors are in common knowledge; everyone knows the relation (vyapti) that smoke (hetu) has with fire (sadhya); and therefore we have no difficulty in exercising anumana, inference, in such cases.
In other cases where the equation involved unknown quantities about which reliable prior knowledge did not exist, the Charvaka refused to accept inference as the means of valid knowledge. This type of inference was termed Utpadya pratiti (that which is yet to be experienced). For instance, when it came to discussion on the reality of issues such as the soul or the other worlds or the god , the Charvaka questioned whether anyone has had direct perception or experience of these; does anyone has reliable knowledge of the nature of these so that their reality could be verified objectively . In the absence of such reliable means of knowledge (pramana), the Charvaka said, we cannot accept either the soul or the god or even the other world as real. In other words, how could we establish a relation when the factors on either side of the equation happen to be unknown quantities? :” since in the case of such inference we would require another inference to establish it, and so on, and hence would arise the fallacy of an ad infinitum retrogression“.
The idea of a soul
6.1. Since the Charvaka admitted only the immediate evidence of the senses, it accepted only four elements (bhutas) – earth, water, fire, air; and denied the fifth the akasha, space .It also refused to accept the idea of a soul or an atman as a surviving entity, for the reason their existence cannot be perceived.
6.2. The Charvaka said there is no soul apart from the body (tam Jivam tam sariram), which is composed of the four elements (bhuta). The body is material; consciousness is a by-product of material (bhutebyah – chaitanyaha); and, consciousness is a property of the body. There is no evidence for any soul distinct from the body. The soul is not different from the body distinguished by the attribute of consciousness.
7.1. In an argument titled ‘ bhuta – caitanya – vada ’ the Charvaka argued that soul or consciousness is just a concoction of the physical elements of the body; and it perishes when the body withers away or when body is no longer supportive. They put forward the analogy of intoxication produced by the liquor .They said; liquor is produced by combination of various ingredients; but, each of which, by itself, does not possess the property of inducing intoxication. Even the liquor , by it self , does not intoxicate ; they argued : one does not get intoxicated by pouring a jug of liquor over one’s head . It is only when all those ingredients that go to produce liquor are mixed in a judicious proportion; and they together come in contact with the relevant body cells, it produces feelings of happiness, delusion or intoxication. Thus, consciousness, pleasure pain etc.. are mere body functions; a set of feelings; and is not part of body as such.
7.2. In addition, the Charvaka put forward the following arguments for not accepting consciousness as a part o f body:
(i). If consciousness is a property of the body, it should then be essential to it; and, in which case it should never be separate from the body. But, it is not always so; for, in a swoon or in a dreamless sleep the body is ‘un-conscious’.
(ii). In case consciousness is incidental or accidental, it indicates that another agency is at work producing consciousness; and it uses the body. And, therefore consciousness cannot be ascribed to the body.
(iii). Let’s say a person experiences a dream in which he was a tiger. On waking up he says ‘yes, I had a dream”; but, he does not continue to behave as if he were a tiger. The Charvaka argue that the person owns the dream, but not the dream-body (tiger). If the dream is a property of the body, then, one should be tiger in dream as also in real life , after the dream. Consciousness, they argued, just as the dream, is a fantasy created by the body cells and is related with the body-function. Body merely provides a stage for the play called dream. But, that play (consciousness) is not part of the body.
(iv). In case one argues that consciousness is truly a part of the body, they said, the outsiders who come into contact with that body should be able to experience its consciousness. The outsider sees the body complexion, size etc but remains ignorant of the other person’s person’s thoughts, feelings, dreams and memories .Charvaka gave the analogy of a philosopher’s experience of his toothache; and said that ache is perceived differently by the patient and by the dentist who treats toothache. The two persons have different perceptions of the same ache or sensation. The argument elaborately suggests that consciousness is not a property of the physical body, but of something else which only finds its expression in the body. It is not ultimate or independent (Refer back to the analogy of liquor).
No need for a god
8.1. As said earlier, the Charvaka did not find the need for a God; and, said- savabhavam jagathah kaaranam aahu – the evolution is caused by natural laws (svabhava – inherent nature); and there is no need to look for a cause beyond nature (nimtta-tara-nirapeksha). The question they posed was why is it necessary to assume a super–natural cause, over and above the natural laws, merely to explain changes and modifications that take place in nature following their own accord? For instance, they pointed out that milk flows from the udders of the mother cow naturally (svabhavena eva) to nourish its infant; the grass, herbs, water etc in turn transform themselves into milk (nimitta antara nirapeksa )according to their own natural laws and that of the cow (svabhavat eva) . Why do you bring in a god here? Neither God nor any other explanation is needed. Na parameshwara asti kaschith – Surely, there is no god.
8.2. They also denied the concept of god as the creator. They said; God as a creator is only an assumption; and a bad assumption. They argued that if the creation came about because of the desire of the creator, he must then be wanting and inadequate in several aspects. “How could anyone be a god if his deficiencies are indeed countless?”
8.3. It is said; that Brhaspathya or Charvaka adopted the svabhava-vada, perhaps at its later stage, to lend itself a metaphysical framework. Else, it would have been difficult for Charvaka to explain their stand on creation and governance of the world, in absence of a ‘god’.
Suffering in life
9.1. The Charvaka took an interesting position on pain or suffering in life. They admitted that pain is a fact of life. But, remarked “so be it; yes, there surely is pain; but, what is more important is, there is pleasure too in life; and that is what matters. Go after pleasure. And, in case that pursuit involves pain, takes that as a part of the process”.
9.2. They explained; there may be pain in life; but that is no good reason to deny ourselves the pleasure. Nobody casts away the grain because of the husk: “ The berries of paddy, rich with the finest white grains, What man, seeking his true interest, would fling away because covered with husk and dust…!! “
9.3. The Charvaka did not try to secure freedom from pain; but strived to manage with it. It said; every man must make the best of a bad bargain and ‘enjoy himself as long as he lives- “While life is yours, live joyously; none can escape Death’s searching eye: When once this frame of ours they burn, how shall it ever again return?”
Pleasure in life
10.1. The elimination of human misery and the attainment of happiness was the declared goal of almost all the systems of Indian philosophy. All the ancient philosophers agreed that there was no happiness in the existing society torn by greed, egoism and cruelty. But, they heatedly argued and emphatically differed on the nature of happiness; and, on the means to attain it.
In the Charvaka scheme of things, the pleasure in itself and for itself is the only good thing in life (sukha-vada). Pleasure took precedence over every other priorities of life. “The wise man should squeeze the maximum pleasure out of life. He should not let go a present pleasure in the hope of a future gain”.
The well-known verse attributed to Chárvákas is: ‘-
Yaváj jivam sukham jived runam krtva ghrtam pibet / bhasmibhutasya dehasya punar agamanam kutah? II
(While he is alive, let a man live happily; let him feed on ghee even if he has to borrow. How could a body burnt to ashes ever come back?)
10.2. Furthermore, it rejected a utilitarian approach to pleasure. It adopted the perspective that an individual’s ends take priority over the ends of others .The Charvaka seemed to suggest that an individual had no obligation to promote the welfare of society; and, would only tend to do so if it were to benefit them as well. Nothing is recognized by this school as a duty. And, anything done for sake of pleasure is justified.
10.3. The Charvaka, predictably, chose Artha and Kama (pursuit of pleasure and wealth) as the major goals. It said, Dharma would become significant only in case it is interpreted in context of the physical world. As regards Moksha, it remarked that death is the only liberation- Maranam eva moksha ha.
11.1. As the Charvaka dismissed belief in a supernatural or transcendental being; it also did away with everything that constitutes subject-matter of religion. Charvaka denied: existence of after-life, rebirth (na- punarjanmaha), liberation (na- moksha ha), heaven, hell, soul or gods or goddess. Because, those are not amenable to sense perception.
11.2. Charvaka believed that the material Universe did exist. World is matter (butatmakam jagath). The matter consisted of four elements: earth, water, energy and air. The creation of life is a specific process of nature and it evolved out of the composite composition of four elements. With death everything ends.
11.3. The Charvaka did not deny the difference between the dead and the living; and they recognized both the states as realities. A person lives, the same person dies: that is a perceived fact, and hence it is the only provable, fact.
“Hence it follows: There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world; there is no other hell than mundane pain produced by purely mundane causes, as thorn, etc; the fate does not exist; the only Supreme is the earthly monarch whose existence is proved by all the world’s eyesight; and the only Liberation is the dissolution of the body”.
Attack on Mimamsakas
12.1. The Materialism of the Charvaka stood out because of the theism of the Vedic religion and the moral teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira. But, it was basically anti-Vedic and opposing its scriptural authority. Charvaka were particularly ruthless against the Mimamsa School. They went after Mimamsa with vehemence. They ridiculed and lampooned almost every doctrine of the Mimamsakas: their epistemology, metaphysics, beliefs and way of life.
:- If a beast slain in the Jyotishtoma rite wills itself go to heaven, why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father?
:-If the Shraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead and are in other world, Then, in that case why do the travellers have to carry lunch – bags when the set out on long travel? Those at home can very well feed the distant travellers just in the way they feed their dead.
:-Whoever has heard that feeding one body would quench the hunger of another? All these ceremonies for the dead are but a means of livelihood that priests have set up here.
:-When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again? If he who departs from the body goes to another world, how is it that he comes not back again, restless for love of his kindred?
:- All the obscene rites for the queen commanded in the Aswarnedha, were invented by clowns s, and for all the various kinds of gifts to the priests.
12.2. “Hence in kindness to the mass of living beings must fly for refuge to the doctrine of Charvaka”.
There were various schools of materialism in ancient India. They all shared certain beliefs; such as: the intense faith in this-worldliness; denial of all religious and moral values; denial of any god or any supernatural power; denial of the independent existence of consciousness or soul and of a life after death. They all vehemently opposed the theories of karma which assigned happiness or misery according to the merits or demerits acquired in previous births; the notion of moksa; and the transmigration of the soul. They strongly condemned Vedic scarifies and offerings. There was an intense desire to enjoy the pleasures of life. They all seemed to be fired by a desire to free humans from the bonds of religious dogmas and superstitions.
All those Schools of materialism were opposed to everything traditionally regarded as virtuous .They insisted on developing their own notions of truth, virtue and integrity. The only test of truth, according to them, was direct perception; and, not by inference. One should be guided by one’s own direct experience, sense –perception, which is verifiable. They all rejected the authority of texts (sabda-pramana)
[Materialism in ancient South India
13.1. Smt. N. Vanamamalai in her scholarly essay ‘Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature’ published during Nov 1973 mentions that around the first century AD many schools of materialist philosophy thrived in South India; and they flourished alongside the other un-orthodox religions: Buddhism and Jainism. It was only by about the sixth century after the Vedic religion came back strongly that all the three non-Vedic religions receded into background.
13.1. According to Smt. N. Vanamamalai, three distinct schools of materialism (a) Bhutavada, (b) Lokayata and (c) Sarvaka were practiced in South India around the first century. There were slight differences among the three schools.
The followers of the Bhutavada recognized all the five elements; whereas Lokayata and Sarvaka accepted only the four. (They did not reckon akasha- space as an element.)
Bhutavada classified the five elements into two categories: Bhutas (elements) with life – earth, water and air; and Bhutas (elements) without life- the other two elements.
This classification was not acceptable to Lokayata who held the view that consciousness arises out of the combination of all elements ; and not by combination of earth and water alone .Perhaps the Lokayata believed that separation of the elements would not adequately explain the origin of life and of consciousness
13.2. The Bhutavadin in Manimekalai states that life has the attribute of consciousness and body is devoid of that attribute: life originates from living matter and body from lifeless matter.
13.3. Smt. N. Vanamamalai quotes from the Buddhist epic Manimekalai (first century AD) passages discussing the Lokayata doctrine, presented as purva-paksha– the view of the opponent.
Manimekalai, the leading-lady of the epic, renounces the life of a courtesan and enters a Buddhist monastery. Her travels abroad are described in the epic. She meets teachers of various systems of philosophy then extant in South India, listening to expositions on Alavai Vadam (Mimamsa); Saivam; Brahma Vadam; Vaishanavam; Ajeevaka Nirkanta (Jainism) and Bhuta Vadam (Materialism- Lokayata).
While expounding the doctrine his school the narrator of the Bhuta-Vadam (Charvaka) keeps insisting that she must rely only on direct perception (katchi or sakshi or pratyaksha). Manimekalai who is a Buddhist is rather amused. She teasingly asks the narrator a mischievous question, “Were you present when your parents conceived you? … How can you be sure they are your parents, other than by inference (anumana)? …Truth cannot be known without employing forms of reasoning though not based on direct observation. Therefore, do not view such conclusions with doubt.“
You have to remember that Manimekalai was a Buddhist; and the poet of the epic was an ardent Buddhist. Buddhists rejected the ideas of materialism of whatever variety they might be. The conversation in question was perhaps just a demonstration of that attitude.]
14.1. The Samannaphala Sutta (The fruit of the Homeless life) deals with the advantages of homeless life of a recluse as described by six heretic teachers Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sanjaya Belatthiputta, and Nigantha Natputta.). Each is recognized as being well-known (nata) and successful (yasassino) founder of a sect (titthakara).Each was highly dissatisfied with the orthodox Vedic religion. But, the descriptions given by them could not satisfy the King Ajatasattu. He later approached the Buddha and all his doubts were cleared.
14.2. Among those six teachers was one ascetic named Ajita Kesa-kambalin. He was a materialist i.e. a Charvaka who preached Uccheda- vada (the doctrine of annihilation after death) or tam Jivam tam sariram (the doctrine of identity of the soul and body). He is said to have roamed about the countryside in a coat made of human hair–“’the worst of all garments, most uncomfortable, being cold in winter and warm in summer”. He held extreme radical views and expressed it sharply enough. He did not mince words; and, gave everyone a mouthful.
14.3. Ajita perhaps represented the extreme sect of the Charvaka School. The following is a summarized version of his teaching as described in the Samannaphala Sutta .
“There is no such thing, Oh King, as alms (dana) or sacrifice (huta) or offering. There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds either in this world (idhaloka) or in the other world (paraloka). The ideas like generosity are the misguided notions of a Stupid person (dattu pannatti). He who speaks for them is confused; his words are empty cry of desperation (tesam tuccham musa vilapo ye keti attikavadam vadanti).
There are no obligations or duties towards anyone. There is neither father nor mother, nor beings springing into life without them.
Only the fools believe in a god and in life after death. If there is paradise somewhere, it surely is a fools-paradise. A bunch of clowns created what they called Vedas and mislead everyone into believing in it. It is a huge fraud on mankind. There is no such thing as sacrifice or offering; do not believe in that nonsense. The yajnas, the three Vedas etc are but means of livelihood for those who have neither manliness nor sense.
A human being is built of the four elements, and when he dies the earthly in him, returns and relapses to the earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the windy to the air, and his faculties pass into space. The four, bearers of the bier take his dead body away to the burning ground. The talk of offerings, this talk of gifts is a doctrine of fools. It is an empty lie, mere idle talk. Fools and wise alike on the dissolution of the body are annihilated on death. There is no soul apart from the body attributes.”
14.4. He however seemed to have recognized the difference between the dead matter and the living cells. He said the faculties return to space (akasamm indriyani samkamanti). Ajita perhaps represented the branch of Charvaka which believed that the soul or life is pure air or breath, which is a form of matter.
To Sum up
15.1. The Charvaka School exhibited number of admirable features. It tried to be rational, clearheaded, bold and angry in putting down superstitions, meaningless rites-rituals, exploitation and intellectual dishonesty. It employed strong, forceful logic and language for bringing into fore a fairly thoroughgoing positivism. It stormed and shook the old world of dogmas, rites and sorcery; and caused serious re-thinking within the orthodox circles. It urged everyone to cleanup centuries of cobwebs that cluttered human mind; and to think free and to think bold. It shunned indulgence in excessive and needless speculative metaphysics that led nowhere. It brought the world of man’s experience into centre of life; and asserted that the world and the life in it are indeed very real; and it is not disgraceful to enjoy Worldly life. It assured there is pleasure in this life and an individual must deliberately exercise his freewill in securing pleasure.
At another level, the importance of Charvaka School is that it spurred many-sided philosophical activities in ancient India and lent scope for a great deal of liberty of thought as well as for freedom of expression.
15.2. The Charvaka School had its flipside too. It seemed to lack a sense of vision and an ideal to inspire the generations to come.
According to Charvaka, the pleasure in this life and that of the individual is the most important thing that one should care about. The Charvaka, I fear, took an extreme position; and lacked a sense of balance in the totality of life. Their anger and fury was directed almost entirely at the Mimamsa School and its questionable beliefs. It was rather too simplistic and ham-handed. That perhaps worked for a while; but thereafter the Charvaka lost the initial advantage of shock, as it failed to develop and refine its scheme. They did not seem capable of evolving a sustainable long-term vision that could guide not merely the pleasure seeking individuals and recluse but also the society at large.
15.3. The problem appeared to be that the Charvaka did not seem to care for collective happiness or for the common good. In their scheme of things, Individual‘s happiness was paramount; and all the rest was secondary. In other words; the Charvaka vision lacked social consciousness. Therefore, in the world according to Charvaka, one’s pleasure and comfort took precedence over welfare of family and the community. It recognized neither duties nor obligations; and placed no responsibility on an individual who hurt others as he went after his pleasure. The school did not also suggest a sensible scheme for resolving the plausible conflict of interests as each went after his pleasure.
At another level, the Charvaka could not explain the process of human evolution, development and the unfolding chain of ever improving faculties and the genius of life to survive and adopt amidst the pressures and challenges of the ever changing environments.
It lent scope to the rival schools to argue, “Ok. Let’s concede that death is final and nothing remains afterwards. But, that does not mean that human life should be stripped of all values and sensibilities”. They cautioned against the danger of de-generating the society to a primitive level.
15.4. I wish, the Charvaka were a bit more rational, allowing some breathing-space to reason and give it a chance to flourish, rather than being ruthlessly self-centred materialists. Had their rationalism been more inclusive, taking a broader perspective of life, tempered with justice, compassion and a genuine concern for the fellow beings, I reckon Charvaka School would have lasted longer.
Charvaka was locked into itself and did not look beyond. Had it been able to develop social consciousness or a social philosophy, Charvaka would have anticipated Marx in the old world.
[ Speaking of Materialism and Marx reminds me of M N Roy (1887 – 1954) the Indian revolutionary; internationally known political theorist and activist; and, the founder of the Communist parties in Mexico and India. During the later years of life, after parting ways with Communism, M N Roy developed his own theory of Materialism which differed from the Lokayata (Charvaka) and the Materialism of Marx.
At the outset, Roy is opposed not only to speculative philosophy but also to the identification of philosophy with theology and religion. According to Roy, “Faith in the supernatural does not permit the search for the causes of natural phenomena in nature itself. Therefore, rejection of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas is the pre-condition for philosophy.”
The Materialism that Roy adopts maintains that “the origin of everything that really exits is matter, that there does not exist anything but matter, all other appearances being transformation of matter, and these transformations are governed necessarily by laws inherent in nature.”
Thus, broadly speaking, Roy’s philosophy is in the tradition of Charvaka materialism.
However, there are some important differences between the two.
According to Roy, the greatest defect of classical materialism was that its cosmology did not seem to have any place for ethics. Roy strongly asserted that without the element of ethics, human spirit, thirsting for freedom, will spurn materialism. In Roy’ view materialist ethics is not only possible but materialist morality is the noblest form of morality. Roy links morality with human being’s innate rationality. Man is moral, according to Roy, because he is rational. In Roy’s ethics, freedom, which he links with the struggle of existence is the highest value. Search for truth is a corollary to the quest for freedom.
In a similar manner, Roy’s materialism is sharply different from that of Marx. Roy recognizes the importance of ethics and gives a prominent place to it. According to Roy, Marxian materialism wrongly disowns the humanist tradition and thereby divorces materialism from ethics. Roy asserts the contention of Marx that “from the scientific point of view this appeal to morality and justice does not help us an inch farther” , was based upon a false notion of science.
According to Roy, “materialism must be dissociated from certain notions which have been rendered untenable by the latest discoveries of science.” Roy’s revision and restatement of materialism embraces both the basic tenets of materialism. He, however, revised the concept of matter as well as that of physical determinism. ]
D. The Buddha
16.1. There are some obvious similarities between the doctrine of the Charvaka and the teachings of the Buddha; and, there are many differences too. But the differences are significant than the similarities.
Both dismissed notions of a personal god, religion, rites, rituals, sacrifices, heaven and hell. Both rejected Vedas as being infallible; and refused to admit Vedas as an authority on all matters. Both did not agree with concept of a permanent soul (though for different reasons). Both did not recognize class distinctions within the society; and treated men and women as equals. Both did not indulge in or encourage needless metaphysical debates or theoretic curiosity. And, both strived to rid their concepts and ideas of the super-natural appendage.
16.2. As said earlier, the differences two are indeed more significant than similarities.
The Charvaka regard the body as matter without consciousness.
The Buddhist view the body as an ever changing configuration of five factors or five aggregates – (Pali : khandha; Skt. skandha).These relate to the physical form (rupa); the sensations or the feelings (vedana) the perception or recognition (sanna or sanjnya) of physical and mental objects; and , the fourth factor – sankhara or samskara – impulses or mental formulations or fabrications etc. And, lastly there is the faculty of vinnana or vijnana the awareness or consciousness, which encompasses mental events and what is generally called sub-conscious in the West. Consciousness is conditioned and arises out of interaction with the other factors (physical or mental) .The consciousness, according to Buddhism, is one of the body-aggregates and is interdependent with the mind-body (nama-rupa).
Sukha – Dukkha
The Charvaka placed the pursuit of pleasure (sukha) for its own sake as the prime objective or the raison d’être of human life. They viewed suffering as an uncomfortable fact of life and obstruction to pleasure. But, they did not mind dealing with suffering.
The Buddha did not, in fact, speak much about happiness. In his scheme of things happiness (sukha) is not the opposite of suffering (dukkha).Happiness was left un-defined; but was largely viewed as the absence of conflict, stress and craving. Happiness, it is said, is so delicate that mere contemplation of it would disturb it. Pursuit of happiness would bring along strife and sorrow.
But, he did recognize Dukkha, suffering and sorrow as the reality in life; and stressed that life as it is commonly led is marred by sorrow and suffering. Elimination of Dukkha was the prime objective of his teachings. All his words and deeds were centred on that objective. The Buddha in all his discourses dwelt on the reality of Dukkha and also pointed the way out of it. ‘Just this have I taught; I teach ill and the ending of ill”.
Elimination (nirodha) of suffering has the character of quiet (santi). Nirodha is explained as absence of rodha (flood) of suffering. It is cessation (attagama), detachment (virago) and freedom from craving (mutti).
Compassion and Ethics
The Charvaka brushed aside values such as morals in life, compassion for the fellow beings, common good and community welfare.
The Buddha is the very embodiment of compassion the loving kindness towards all beings. Dharmakirti (c. 600 -660 AD), a Buddhist philosopher, a pupil of Isvarasena and a teacher at Nalanda remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.
The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. The Dhamma he preached was at once the theory and the practical way of conduct in life. In his first discourse, the Buddha talked about the importance Sila-Morality: right speech, right action, right livelihood; and asked his listeners “To cease from evil, to cleanse one’s mind, to do what is good”. He stressed; Mindfulness is essentially rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state. The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity should essentially be practiced with mindfulness.
The practice of these virtues would help development of a well-focused healthy human being. It would also ensure common good and help moving toward a harmonious strife-less society.
The Buddha was averse to all theoretic curiosity. ‘Philosophy purifies none,’ he said, ‘peace alone does. He did not speculate on things beyond the sphere of perception and reason. The Buddha taught what was necessary to overcome Dukkha; that was his prime concern.
Some appear rather disturbed with the fact that the Buddha accepted the notion of re-birth; and remark that it was not pragmatic. Well, that objection seems rooted in dogma (materialism) than in reason; without appreciating the line of reasoning that Sakyamuni adopted all through his teachings. Since his concept of what now is called ‘re-birth’ is supported by the reason he evolved, I would call it rational. Let’s briefly see the reason he arrived at this notion.
The Buddha believed that nothing that we do disappears without leaving its result behind; and that the good or evil so resulting recoils upon the doer. The Buddha rationalized this belief and viewed it as an impersonal law working in according to its own inherent nature (svabhava) and by itself.
The other main feature of his belief was that everything is in a state of continuous flux (spandana). If things are not momentary, everyone and everything would be eternal. There is incessant change; but with continuity. ‘There is action, but there is no agent’. The world is a process (vritti)…“A continuing coming-to-be and passing away”.
The Buddha is regarded as the Master of Madhyama – Prathipada, the middle path. The Buddha’s concept of ceaseless movement of all things, of change with no underlying constancy is a middle path between two opposite views: One believing in Being and the other in Non-Being. According to the Buddha, the world is neither Being nor is it Non-Being, but it is the becoming. It is a continual change- to- be and passing away. He preferred a dynamic explanation to the static changeless position.
Each phase of experience, as it appears and disappears, is shaped into the next. That process of change with continuity ensures that every successive phase carries within it ‘all the potentials of its predecessors’. Hence, a man is not the same in any two moments’ and yet he is not quite different. The body which is the aggregate (skandas) of sensations, the thoughts, and the physical frame is thus not only a collective, but also a recollective unit.
The series of such births and deaths is ever current and is at every moment. What is called as ‘death’ is a mere extension of that process. Thus, transfer from one state to another takes place not merely at the end of this life but at every instant.
That process will carry on until the urge to perpetuate lasts; because, nothing that we do will disappear without leaving its result behind. The persisting momentum of one’s deeds, thoughts, urges and attachments causes another body to take shape. And, the being who is revived is not the same as the old one; he is not, on the other hand, different from the old one. This process carries on until the person in question has completely overcome his thirst, urge or craving to become.
That changeover is not transmigration or reincarnation, because there is no permanent entity. Buddhism does not also use the term re-birth. It prefers to call the process as punabbhava (Snkt. Punarbhava), becoming again. It is just as the seed through a series of dynamic changes becomes a sprout. The seed is never inactive. The difference when the seed becomes a sprout is that instead of continuing as a seed its nature alters into that of a sprout. But one series is in as much in flux as another. Finally, as the sprout steps into the next series of changes the seed would already have died; yet the sprout would not have been there without the seed.
It is not merely when one lamp is lit from another that there is a transmission of light and heat. They are transmitted every moment; only in the former case a new series of flames is started.
References and sources:
Outlines of Indian philosophy by Prof. M. Hlriyanna; Motilal Banarsidass; 1993.
The Sarva-darfanasamgraha ; Translated by ER Cowell; Turner & Co London; 1882.
Smt. N. Vanamamalai ‘Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature’ published during Nov 1973
Pictures are from Internet