Charvaka Darshana (चार्वाकदर्शनम्)

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परिचयः || Introduction

Charvaka, also called Lokayata (Sanskrit: Worldly Ones), a quasi-philosophical Bharat's school of materialists who rejected the notion of an afterworld, karma, liberation (moksha), the authority of the sacred scriptures, the Vedas, and the immortality of the self. Of the recognized means of knowledge (pramana), the Charvaka recognized only direct perception (anubhava). Sources critical of the school depict its followers as hedonists advocating a policy of total opportunism; they are often described as addressing princes, whom they urged to act exclusively in their own self-interest, thus providing the intellectual climate in which a text such as Kautilya’s Arthashastra(The Science of Material Gain) could be written.

Although Charvaka doctrine had disappeared by the end of the medieval period, its onetime importance is confirmed by the lengthy attempts to refute it found in Dharmic philosophical texts, which also constitute the main sources for knowledge of the doctrine.

Charvaka (IAST: Cārvāka), originally known as Lokāyata and Bṛhaspatya, is the ancient school of Bharat's materialism. The School of Charvaka (those of sweet-talk) or Lokayata (those of the world) 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 Bharat's thought.

  • Charvaka holds direct perception as proper sources of knowledge hence they rule out ‘inference’ and ‘testimony’ as the source and criterion of knowledge.
  • Its philosophy embraces philosophical skepticism and rejects Vedas, Vedic ritualism and supernaturalism.
  • Charvakas hold that Matter is the only reality and believe that matter has always existed and will always exist.  Matter is both the material and efficient cause of the universe
  • This philosophy rejects the concept of gods and souls, as they are beyond perceptual experience. They also regard heaven and hell as non-existent as they are not perceivable. 
  • Charvakas, believe that truth can be known only through the sense organs.

Founder - Brhaspati

Brihaspati is usually referred to as the founder of Charvaka or Lokāyata philosophy, while Ajita Kesakambali is credited as the forerunner of the Charvakas,

Unfortunately, the basic sources if this system are not available today, destroyed due to lack of royal patronage and due to influence of other philosophers. Much of the primary literature the Brhaspatya sutras (ca. 600 BCE), are missing or lost. Most references available in the present day is obtained through cross references scattered in Sanskrit literature.

The Sütra-krtañga is one of the oldest and most important works of the Jain Agama Prakrt literature, Sílãnka, the oldest commentator of the Sutra - krtänga , has used four terms for Cãrvãka, viz. ( 1 ) Bärhaspatya ( 2 ) Lokãyata ( 3 ) Bhütavädin ( 4 ) Vãmamãrgin.

Etymology of Charvaka

The etymology of Charvaka (Sanskrit: चार्वाक) is uncertain. The term " Lokãyata » is made of two Sanskrit words, viz. loka and äyata i.e. " world view" or " life view " or " view prevalent among people ". Lokãyata was also known as Cãrvãka who was a disciple of Brhaspati.

Bhattacharya notes that the word Charvaka is of irregular construction, as cara as an adjective means "agreeable, pleasant", but as a noun is another name of Brihaspati, and both derivations are plausible.

The most prominent member of this school during the time of the Buddha was a man named Ajita Kesakambali (Ajita of the Hair Blanket), whose ideas are summarized in a Buddhist Pali text known as Samannaphala Sutta, where he denies the doctrine of transmigration of the soul.

According to D. Chattopadhyaya, from about 10th century B. C. to the beginning of Christian era, when slave system was developing, Bharat's materialistic philosophy including Lokãyata very much developed as a popular system of philosophy and did exert great iufluence among the traders, craftsmen and other lower castes of the then Bharat's society.

The dictionary meaning of Lokāyata (लोकायत) signifies "directed towards, aiming at the world, worldly".

In early to mid 20th century literature, the etymology of Lokayata has been given different interpretations, in part because the primary sources are unavailable, and the meaning has been deduced from divergent secondary literature. The name Lokāyata, for example, is found in Chanakya's Arthashastra, which refers to three ānvīkṣikīs (अन्वीक्षिकी, literally, examining by reason, logical philosophies) – Yoga, Samkhya and Lokāyata.

In 8th century CE Jaina literature, Saddarsanasamuccaya by Haribhadra, Lokayata is stated to be the Hindu school where there is "no God, no samsara (rebirth), no karma, no duty, no fruits of merit, no papa." The Buddhist Sanskrit work Divyavadana (ca. 200–350 CE) mentions Lokayata, where it is listed among subjects of study, and with the sense of "technical logical science". Shantarakshita and Adi Shankara use the word lokayata to mean materialism, with the latter using the term Lokāyata, not Charvaka. The terms Lokayata and Brhaspatya have been used interchangeably for the Charvaka philosophy of materialism.

Origin of Lokayata or Charvakas

The tenets of the Charvaka atheistic doctrines can be traced to the relatively later composed layers of the Rigveda, while substantial discussions on the Charvaka is found in post-Vedic literature.

The primary literature of Charvaka, such as the Brhaspati Sutra is missing or lost. Its theories and development has been compiled from historic secondary literature such as those found in the shastras (such as the Arthashastra), sutras and the epics (the Mahabharata and Ramayana) of Hinduism as well as from the dialogues of Gautama Buddha and Jain literature. These sutras predate 150 BC, because they are mentioned in the Mahābhāṣya (7.3.45).

Lokãyata was the oldest heterodox system in India and certainly pre-Jain and pre-Buddhistic. Several references to Lokãyata are available in the oldest texts of Jain and Buddhist literature. The Sütra-krtanga and the Bhagavati Sütra ( V Section ) of Jain literature, and the Samanna-phala-sutra , the Mahãvibhãsã-sãstra , the Mahâyâna-nirvâna sutra and the Lankävatära-sütra of Buddhist literature contain valuable information regarding Lokãyata.

The Upãnga literature is equally important in Jainism. In the Räyapasenaiya-sütra, Mahãvlra narrates a story of an ancient king Paesi ( Pradesï ) of Kekaya Pradesa who was unrighteousness personified. The discussion between Paesi and Kesisramana, a follower of Parsvanatha, testifies that even before Mahavira, during the period of Parsvanatha, the materialistic philosophy of Lokayata (Nastika vada) was popular in ancient India. Lokayata in Ancient India and China a paper by Rasik Vihari Joshi outlines the three other references to prove that Buddhist literature was also fully familar with Lokäyata.

The earliest documented Charvaka scholar in India is Ajita Kesakambali. Although materialist schools existed before Charvaka, it was the only school which systematised materialist philosophy by setting them down in the form of aphorisms in the 6th century BC. There was a base text, a collection sūtras or aphorisms and several commentaries were written to explicate the aphorisms.

Its methodology of skepticism is included in the Ramayana, Ayodhya kanda, chapter 108, where Jabāli tries to persuade Rāma to accept the kingdom by using nāstika arguments (Rāma refutes him in chapter 109):

"O, the highly wise! Arrive at a conclusion, therefore, that there is nothing beyond this Universe. Give precedence to that which meets the eye and turn your back on what is beyond our knowledge. (2.108.17)"

Profuse references are preserved in the Chinese versions of Buddhist writings. The Chinese Buddhist Dictionary entitled Yi-Qie-Jin-Yin-yi by Hui Lin translates M Lu-kã-ye-ti-kã " i.e. Lokäyatika as wicked doctrine. It is interesting to note that Dasa-bhumi-vibhãsã-sãstra translated into Chinese in the latter half of Chin Dynasty during 384-417 A. D. refers to Lokäyatika as Lu-ka- ye-jin " i. e. Lokãyata Sütra. This seems to be none else but Brhaspati Sütra. References to Lokãyata have been preserved in several Chinese writings also.

Charvaka was a living philosophy up to the 12th century in India's historical timeline, after which this system seems to have disappeared without leaving any trace.

Charvaka Siddhantam

  1. The Charvaka school considers perception as the only reliable source of knowledge. Sensory experience is the only valid source of knowledge.
  2. It is declared that motion in matter (i.e. atom) is due to the inherent potentiality of matter itself and thus denied the necessity of accepting any super-natural agency such as God to account for creation. Matter itself is the basis of consciousness. C
  3. Consciousness is produced by the combination of elements. Mind and body are unified. There is no eternal soul apart from body. Since consciousness is connected only with body, body itself is soul. So long there is body, there is soul; when body is destroyed soul is also destroyed. Consciousness becomes stronger by rich food and exercise.
  4. 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.
  5. Since memory, feelings, senses and life exist only in body, and not outside the body, they are simply attributes of body.
  6. The theory of action cannot be proved. There is no result of good or bad actions. Who knows for certain that next birth and next world exist ? Who knows that good and bad actions result in happiness and unhappiness ? We daily experience that papi (पापी) persons prosper and enjoy in this world.
  7. Nature alone is responsible for all happenings without any God. World is self -existent. savabhavamjagathahkaaranamaahu – 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).
  8. Only this perceptible world is real, rest is unreal. Body is life. There is no other life after the death of body. As regards Moksha, it remarked that death is the only liberation- Maranameva mokshaha.
  9. All beings are created by male and female sexes.
  10. All men are equal. There is no purity or superiority of caste. Social equality is the supreme philosophy. Lokãyata declared that there was no milk in the veins of a Brahmin and blood only in a Südra. Hence all are equal.

This epistemological proposition of Charvakas was influential among various schools of in Bharat's philosophies, by demonstrating a new way of thinking and re-evaluation of past doctrines. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain scholars extensively deployed Charvaka insights on inference in rational re-examination of their own theories.

Comparison with other schools of Hinduism

Pramanas : Charvaka epistemology represents minimalist pramāṇas in Hindu philosophy. The other schools of Hinduism developed and accepted multiple valid forms of pramāṇas. To Charvakas, Pratyakṣa (perception) was the one valid way to knowledge and other means of knowledge were either always conditional or invalid.

Advaita Vedanta scholars considered six means of valid knowledge and to truths: Pratyakṣa (perception), Anumāṇa (inference), Upamāṇa (comparison and analogy), Arthāpatti (postulation), Anupalabdi (non-perception, cognitive proof) and Śabda (word, testimony of past or present reliable experts).

Metaphysics : Since none of the means of knowing were found to be worthy to establish the invariable connection between middle term and predicate, Charvakas concluded that the inference could not be used to ascertain metaphysical truths. Thus, to Charvakas, the step which the mind takes from the knowledge of something to infer the knowledge of something else could be accounted for by its being based on a former perception or by its being in error. Cases where inference was justified by the result were seen only to be mere coincidences.

Therefore, Charvakas denied metaphysical concepts like reincarnation, an extracorporeal soul, the efficacy of religious rites, other worlds (heaven and hell), fate and accumulation of merit or demerit through the performance of certain actions.

Supernatural Causes : Charvakas also rejected the use of supernatural causes to describe natural phenomena. To them all natural phenomena was produced spontaneously from the inherent nature of things.

Religion : Charvakas rejected many of the standard religious conceptions of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, such as afterlife, reincarnation, samsara, karma and religious rites. They were critical of the Vedas, as well as Buddhist scriptures.

Critics of Vedas : The Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha with commentaries by Madhavacharya describes the Charvakas as critical of Vedas, materialists without morals and ethics. To Charvakas, the text states, the Vedas suffered from several faults – errors in transmission across generations, untruth, self-contradiction and tautology. The Charvakas pointed out the disagreements, debates and mutual rejection by karmakanda Vedic priests and jñānakanda Vedic priests, as proof that either one of them is wrong or both are wrong, as both cannot be right.

Ethics and Morals : Charvakas rejected the need for ethics or morals, and suggested that "while life remains, let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee even though he runs in debt". Vedic tenets lay down dharma as applicable to a different people in different walks of life.

Charvaka Literature

No independent works on Charvaka philosophy can be found except for a few sūtras composed by Brihaspati. The 8th century Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayarāśi Bhaṭṭa with Madhyamaka influence is a significant source of Charvaka philosophy. Shatdarshan Samuchay and Sarvadarśanasaṅ̇graha of Vidyaranya are a few other works which elucidate Charvaka thought.

The Brahma- Jäla-Sütra and the Mätangi-Sütra give ample evidence that the followers of Lokãyata contributed a lot to the development of secular sciences such as medicine, astronomy and agronomy.

In the epic Mahabharata, Book 12 Chapter 39, a villain who dresses up like a scholar, self appoints himself as spokesperson for all scholars, and who then advises Yudhishthira to act unethically, is named Charvaka.

One of the widely studied references to the Charvaka philosophy is the Sarva-darśana-saṅgraha (etymologically all-philosophy-collection), a famous work of 14th century Advaita Vedanta philosopher Mādhava Vidyāraṇya from South India, which starts with a chapter on the Charvaka system. After invoking, in the Prologue of the book, the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu ("by whom the earth and rest were produced"), Vidyāraṇya asks, in the first chapter:

""but how can we attribute to the Divine Being the giving of supreme felicity, when such a notion has been utterly abolished by Charvaka, the crest-gem of the atheistic school, the follower of the doctrine of Brihaspati? The efforts of Charvaka are indeed hard to be eradicated, for the majority of living beings hold by the current refrain:

While life is yours, live joyously; None can escape Death's searching eye: When once this frame of ours they burn,

How shall it e'er again return?"

Ain-i-Akbari, a record of the Mughal Emperor Akbar's court, mentions a symposium of philosophers of all faiths held in 1578 at Akbar's insistence. In the text, the Mughal historian Abu'l-Fazl Mubarak summarizes Charvaka philosophy as "unenlightened" and that their literature as "lasting memorials to their ignorance". He notes that Charvakas considered paradise as "the state in which man lives as he chooses, without control of another", while hell as "the state in which he lives subject to another's rule". On state craft, Charvakas believe, states Mubarak, that it is best when "knowledge of just administration and benevolent government" is practiced.

Sanskrit poems and plays like the Naiṣadha-carita, Prabodha-candrodaya, Āgama-dambara, Vidvanmoda-taraṅgiṇī and Kādambarī contain representations of the Charvaka thought. However, the authors of these works were thoroughly opposed to materialism and tried to portray the Charvaka in unfavourable light. Therefore, their works should only be accepted critically.

Controversy on reliability of sources

Bhattacharya states that the claims against Charvaka of hedonism, lack of any morality and ethics and disregard for adhyatmikity is from texts of competing religious philosophies (Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism), Its primary sources, along with commentaries by Charvaka scholars is missing or lost. This reliance on indirect sources raises the question of reliability and whether there was a bias and exaggeration in representing the views of Charvakas. Bhattacharya points out that multiple manuscripts are inconsistent, with key passages alleging hedonism and immorality missing in many manuscripts of the same text.

Buddhists, Jains, Advaita Vedantins and Nyāya philosophers considered the Charvakas as one of their opponents and tried to refute their views. These refutations are indirect sources of Charvaka philosophy. The arguments and reasoning approach Charvakas deployed were significant that they continued to be referred to, even after all the authentic Charvaka/Lokāyata texts had been lost. However, the representation of the Charvaka thought in these works is not always firmly grounded in first-hand knowledge of Charvaka texts and should be viewed critically.


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