HOME WRITE TO ME... REFERENCES

Neil's Website | Ajit's Website

CHARVAKA / LOKAYATA
The Hindu Marxists


Among the Hindu thought is also the Materialistic Philosophy, which most people tend to discard as non-existent. However in as much as there were Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Duties) there existed within it and side by side of it the Carvaka, and their doctrine that this world is all that exists. This doctrine is called Lokayata. It is thought that Carvarka comes from the root caru (beautiful) vak (talk). Majority of common populance were not really concerned with the mukthi - which was a long shot after many a births anyway - but were concerned about the here and now. Pragmaticaly the name Lokayata (the way of the world) came to mean the existential realism. Carvaka school of Materialists flourished from the 6th century BC until medieval times in India.

Like the modern day Rationalists, the Hindu rationalists were simply empiricists and refused to believe anything beyond the sense perception. They were the scientists of the era and were the most persecuted at all times. They were social reformers and human right activists of their period. Although this school is widely acknowledged to have been influential in the development of Indian thought over a considerable period, Lokayata is now extinct. The original texts of this school are also lost to us, and the knowledge that we possess of this philosophy is derived from the writings of its Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical opponents.

These materialists refused to accept anything beyond the sense perception since they are the only source of human knowledge. Human kind can generalize and produce all sorts of mental constructs to explain what is perceived by these senses. But their validity is constrained within the experience of the person. They therefore focused on the senses. Like the Greek and all other ancients scientists they defined the four traditional elements of earth, water, fire, and air. These are the only realities. Consciousness is only a modification of these elements in their relationships with each other and arises out of the motion of matter. There exist no soul outside of the body. Soul, which experience pleasure and pain, are simply the organized qualitative aspect of matter in its position and movement. Has anyone seen a soul apart from the body? It is because they are the property of the body in the particular organizational form.

Compare these thoughts with the modernday Marxism.

The principal features of the Marxist dialectical method are as follows:
a) Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard nature as an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of, each other, but as a connected and integral whole, in which things, phenomena are organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by, each other.

The dialectical method therefore holds that no phenomenon in nature can be understood if taken by itself, isolated from surrounding phenomena, inasmuch as any phenomenon in any realm of nature may become meaningless to us if it is not considered in connection with the surrounding conditions, but divorced from them; and that, vice versa, any phenomenon can be understood and explained if considered in its inseparable connection with surrounding phenomena, as one conditioned by surrounding phenomena.

b) Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that nature is not a state of rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of continuous movement and change, of continuous renewal and development, where something is always arising and developing, and something always disintegrating and dying away.

The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their movement, their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being.

c) Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard the process of development as a simple process of growth, where quantitative changes do not lead to qualitative changes, but as a development which passes from insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes to open' fundamental changes' to qualitative changes; a development in which the qualitative changes occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, taking the form of a leap from one state to another; they occur not accidentally but as the natural result of an accumulation of imperceptible and gradual quantitative changes.

The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development should be understood not as movement in a circle, not as a simple repetition of what has already occurred, but as an onward and upward movement, as a transition from an old qualitative state to a new qualitative state, as a development from the simple to the complex, from the lower to the higher:

Dialectical and Historical Materialism :Joseph Stalin (September 1938)

This approach brings us to the social ethics. There are no absolutes in morality or behavior. These are constructs of the society in order to maintain the function of the society determined by the dominant group and persons. They have no eternal validity and are a mere social convention. There is no after life, heaven or hell. Moksha is a myth - an ideal developed by man. These are constructs of the exploiters to exploit those who are gullible. Hell and heaven are here and now. Moksha is liberation from the pain and suffering of now. But in pragmatic level pleasure may be maximized and pain minimized by vairagya (detachment). Enjoy your life now for they are the only truth. Immortality is the fame one leaves behind when the posterity remembers you and your contribution to the society.

The Carvaka therefore refuted any karmic transference beyond the grave. Life comes to an end when the body dissolves as consciousness is the function of the brain and sense perceptions are the function of the senses. They argued that there is no Dharma beyond the self-existence. The Carvakas rejected absolutely the concept of an afterlife in any shape or form, and that there was no karmic law of reward and retribution that could influence the destiny of a human being whatsoever.

There are no gains beyond the temporal attainment of pleasure, power and prosperity." This is why Carvakas are often termed as Rakshashas. They laughed at the foolishness of those that accepted the Vedas and put themselves in subjugation to the exploiters of the period.

The Vedic proponents destroyed most of the literary works of the Carvaka philosophy. But from the few that we have received we could reconstruct their stand. Prabodha-candrodaya (Rise of Wisdom) which survived is a drama. In this play Passion is personified and speaks to a materialist and one of his pupils. Passion laughs at ignorant fools, who imagine that spirit is different from the body and reaps a reward in a future existence. This he says is like expecting trees to grow in air and produce fruit. Has anyone seen the soul separate from the body? Does not life come from the configuration of the body? Those who believe otherwise deceive themselves and others.

"There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world, nor do the actions of the four castes, orders, etc., produce any real effect.
The Agnihotra [fire sacrifice], the three Vedas, the ascetics three staves and smearing oneself with ashes were made by nature as the livelihood of those destitute of knowledge and manliness. If a beast slain in the Jyotishtoma rite will itself go to heaven, why then does the sacrificer not offer his own father immediately?…While life remains let a man live happily, let him eat ghee [clarified butter] even if he runs into debt. When the body turns into ashes, how can it ever return again? If he who departs from the body goes to another world, how is it that he does not come back again, restless because of his love for his kindred? Hence it is a means of livelihood that the Brahmin priests have established all these ceremonies for the dead- there is no fruit anywhere. The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves and demons"
(Quoted by Advaita Vedanta theologian Sayana Madhava in 'Sarvadarsanasamgraha', 14th century AD),


A second teacher, Ajita Kesambala, represented the following view: "There is no gift in charity, there is no sacrifice, there are no offerings. There is no fruit and ripening of good and bad actions. There is not this world or that. There is no mother nor father. There are no suddenly-born beings. In the world, there are no ascetics and Brahmanas who have gone along the right path of conduct and follow the right conduct, who have seen this world and that world out of independent knowledge and proclaimed it. A man consists of four Elements. When he dies, earth goes into the mass of earth (prithivikayah), water into the mass of water, fire into the mass of fire, breath into the mass of air, and the sense-organs enter into space (akasah). Four men, with the bier as the fifth, carry forth the dead person, and they carry on their talk until they come into the place of cremation. Then there remain only white bones and all sacrifices end in ashes. The gift of charity is, therefore, the doctrine of a buffoon; it is empty and false talk when anybody asserts that there is something beyond. Fools and wise men are destroyed and disappear when the body falls to pieces. There are no more after death.
D Chattopadhyaya, Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism

In the great epic Mahabharata there is a description of a Carvaka being burned to death for preaching against the bloodshed of the Great War and condemning Yudhishthira for killing thousands for his greed. They condemned the practices of sacrifices and penance. They stood against the Brahminic and Kshtariya domination of the period.

When the Brahmins were now once again standing silent, Carvaka the Rakshasa in the disguise of a Brahmin, addressed the King. This friend of Duryodhana, concealed under the garb of a mendicant with a rosary, a lock of hair on his crown, and a triple staff, impudent and fearless, surrounded by all the Brahmins exceeding a thousand in number, who were anxious to utter their benedictions - men who practised austerity and self-restraint - this wretch, wishing evil to the magnanimous Pandavas, without saluting those Brahmins, thus addressed the King: "All these Brahmins, falsely imputing the malediction to me, themselves exclaim, woe to you, wicked king, the son of Kunti? Since you have slaughtered your kinsmen and elders, death is desirable for you, and not life." Hearing this speech of the wicked Raxasa the Brahmins were pained and indignant, being maligned by his words. But they, as well as King Yudhishtira, all remained silent, being ashamed and cut to the heart. Then Yudhishtira said: "Let all your reverences be reconciled to me, who bows down and supplicates you: you ought not to curse me who has recently undergone such great misfortunes." All the Brahmins then exclaimed: "We never uttered the words imputed to us; may your Majesty enjoy prosperity." Then these noble-minded Brahmins, versed in the Vedas and purified by austerities, recognised (the pretend mendicant) by the eye of knowledge, and exclaimed: "This Rakshasa called Carvaka, friend of Duryodhana; in the garb of a vagrant he seeks to accomplish the purposes of your enemy; we speak not so, righteous King; let all such fears be dissipated; may prosperity attend you and your brothers." Then all these Brahmins, infuriated with anger, uttering menaces, slew with, with muttered curses, the wicked Raxasa; who fell down consumed by the might of of utterers of Vedic incantations, burnt up by the bolt of Indra, like a tree covered with leaves. Mahabharata 12. 1. 414

Carvakas met their doom as exemplified by the Mahabaharata Story on the onslaught of the Aryan thrust. They were neither organized nor powerful to withstand the gods of the other world. A few Dalits who have taken up the fight at other level today tell the story.

Brahmana-Kshatriya hegemony was an ongoing process. These two -The Priests and the State - worked hand in hand to keep the others in subjugation. That does not mean there were no literature, thought or leaders in that group. Only that we did not get them. If they tried they were destroyed. We should note that the Rakshasas were as powerful as the Asuras if not more. They had probably greater science including Vimana. However because they repudiated any tradition, they failed to form a system of teaching their philosophy and died out. Rationalism hence appear and reappear in history. Other forms of Hindu Philosphy survived not because of their intrinsic merit but because of the rigorous method of parampara and insistence on this as a dharma.

The most famous of these teachers who rejected the Vedic orthodoxy were of course the Buddha and Mahavira. There were other thinkers in this period who are documented in the Buddhist and Jain literature. Makkhali Gosala and the Ajivikas, and Ajita Kesakambala

Once started the materialism took different turns. They produced the development of Art and Science including Ayrveda. They took the materialism to the extremes of hedonism - kama sastra which mixed with other systems developed Kundalini Yoga and the Sex Arts.

Now at that time the Chabbagiya Bhikkhus learnt the Lokayata system. People murmured, .., saying "Like those who still enjoy the pleasures of the world!"
The Bhikkhus heard of people thus murmuring; and those Bhikkhus told the matter to the Blessed One.
"Now can a man who holds the Lokayata as valuable reach up, O Bhikkhus, to the full advantage of, or attain full growth in, to full breadth in this doctrine and discipline?"
"This cannot be, Lord!"
"You are not, O Bhikkhus, to learn the Lokayata system. Whosoever does so shall be guilty of dukkata (a form of offence for the monk)".
Now at that time the Chabbagiya Bhikkhus taught the Lokayata system.
People murmured, .. saying, "Like those still enjoying the pleasures of the world!"
They told this matter to the Blessed One.
"You are not, O Bhikkhus, to teach the Lokayata system. Whosever does so shall be guilty of dukkata."
"You are not, O Bhikkhus, to learn - to teach, - the low arts
(Vinaya Pitaka)

The rationalistic anti-vedic thrust found better expression through Jainism and Budhism. But these again were defeated by infiltration in many fronts. They survived with inclusion of theistic elements. Over and above these communal elements, the onslaught of Islam destoryed any surviving documents.

Liberation Now

It is best to remember that the Lokayata philosphy was two pronged.
First it was a socialogical struggle of the exploited against the Brahminic-Kshatriya exploiters.
The second was the generation of an alternate philosophical system to counter the brahminic attempt of subjugation by emphasizing Karma and Dharma.

The similarity between Marxism and social struggle is obvious.

In contrast within the Judeo-Christian religion the struggle was initiated by God himself. Judaism was essentially the product of the slave liberation struggle. Yahvh God heard the cries of the slaves in Egypt and led them out into liberation and gave them freedom and a land to possesses. He also gave them more humane regulations to live by. They later rejected God and went after the ways of the world and made for themselves Kings over them. As the Kings and Priests weilded their power, Jesus came down strongly against them and presented to them a God of love. They crucified him. The followers of Jesus even experimented with a sort of communal living where "each according to their ability and to each according to their need" was the principle. It failed miserably because men and women were still Aninias and Saphras. Hence the need for a redemption.

Perception and Inference in Carvaka Philosophy

The essence of epistomological approach is summarised by Purandara a follower of Carvaka (7th Centuary) thus.

The usefulness of inference in determining the nature of all worldly things where perceptual experience is available is not questionable. However such inference cannot be employed for establishing any dogma regarding the transcendental world, or life after death or the laws of Karma for which ordinary there is no perceptual experience. The main reason for upholding such a distinction between the validity of inference in our practical life of ordinary experience, and in ascertaining transcending truths beyond experience is this. Any conclusion based on Inductive generalization by observing a large number of cases of agreement together with total absence of disagreement is true. But in the case of transcendent sphere such agreement can do not exist because; they can not be perceived by the senses (Purandara in Kamalasila's Panjika)

In the Christian reasoning too, the above argument is sound. We cannot make arbitrary assumptions based on possible inferences. This is especially true on matters that are of eternal consequence. How can we know the reality of God and his purposes. The historical verification of matters of faith had been very important to Judeo-Christian tradition. Prophets and seers were resepected and accepted not because of their logic, of their declaration power, or because of signs and wonders they performed. They were accepted based on whether their decalaration tallied with verifiable historical facts. There are two such points of contacts.

1. The Mosaic covenant ceremony where Yahvh met with 74 elders of the Israel while all Israel, a tribe of over a million watched from afar.

2. Over 150 disciples who walked and talked with Jesus of Nazareth witnessed his glory of resurrection from the dead and his ascension.

All the scriptures of Christian faith rest on these two solid verified and verifiable experience of the transcendant power of God. God entered into history so that we may be able to perceive him. We not only check for logic and reason, but also for historicity and evidence. It is not proof alone, but also evidence to see whether logic fits reality. This is carvaka - the gospel. That alone will bring liberation from bondage - not only of the body, mind and society but also of the spirit in the ages to come.