Ancient Indian Secular Philosophy

This is a summary of Cārvāka philosophy, a system of Indian philosophy on skepticism and religious indifference.  It is also known as Lokāyata, named after the founder Cārvāka, author of the Bārhaspatya-sūtras.[2]

Wikipedia document:


In overviews of Indian philosophy, Cārvāka is classified as a "heterodox" (nāstika) system, the same classification as is given to Buddhism and Jainism.[3][4] It is characterized as a materialistic and atheistic school of thought. While this branch of Indian philosophy is not considered to be part of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, it is noteworthy as evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism.[5][6]



Name and origins

The name Lokāyata can be traced to Kautilya's Arthashastra, which refers to three ānvīkṣikīs (logical philosophies), Yoga, Samkhya and Lokayata. Lokayata here still refers to logical debate (disputatio, "criticism") in general and not to a materialist doctrine in particular. Similarly, Saddaniti and Buddhaghosa in the 5th century connect the "Lokayatas" with the Vitandas (sophists).

Only from about the 6th century is the term restricted to the school of the Lokyātikas. The name Cārvāka is first used in the 7th century by the philosopher Purandara, who refers to his fellow materialists as "the Cārvākas", and it is used by the 8th century philosophers Kamalaśīla and Haribhadra. Shankara, on the other hand, always uses Lokāyata, not Cārvāka.[7] The etymological meaning of the word Cārvāka is 'a person who is clever in speech and is extremely fond of wrangling (debate)'.

E. W. Hopkins, in his The Ethics of India (1924) assumes that Cārvāka philosophy is co-eval with Buddhism, mentioning "the old Cārvāka or materialist of the 6th century BC"; Rhys Davids assumes that lokayata in ca. 500 BC came to mean "skepticism" in general without yet being organized as a philosophical school, and that the name of a villain of the Mahabharata, Cārvāka, was attached to the position in order to disparage it. The earliest positive statement of skepticism is preserved from the epic period, in the Ramayana.

regard only that which is an object of perception, and cast behind your back whatever is beyond the reach of your senses (2.108)

The Cārvāka school thus appears to have gradually grown out of generic skepticism in the Mauryan period, but its existence as an organized body cannot be ascertained for times predating the 6th century. The Barhaspatya sutras were likely also composed in Mauryan times, predating 150 BC, based on a reference in the Mahabhasya of Patanjali (7.3.45).[8]

Loss of original works

Main article: Barhaspatya sutras

Chatterjee and Datta explain that our understanding of Cārvāka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and that it is not a living tradition:

"Though materialism in some form or other has always been present in India, and occasional references are found in the Vedas, the Buddhistic literature, the Epics, as well as in the later philosophical works we do not find any systematic work on materialism, nor any organised school of followers as the other philosophical schools possess. But almost every work of the other schools states, for refutation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these."[9]

Available evidence suggests that Cārvāka philosophy was set out in the Barhaspatya sutras, probably in Mauryan times. Neither this text nor any other original text of the Cārvāka school of philosophy has been preserved. Its principal works are known only from fragments cited by its Hindu and Buddhist opponents. Cārvāka philosophy appears to have died out some time in the 15th century.

Countering the argument that the Cārvākas opposed all that was good in the Vedic tradition, Dale Riepe says, "It may be said from the available material that Cārvākas hold truth, integrity, consistency, and freedom of thought in the highest esteem."[10]

Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayaraasi Bhatta

Main article: Jayarashi Bhatta

The Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayarashi Bhatta (ca. 8th century) is often cited as the only extant authentic Cārvāka text, but which also shows Madhyamaka influence. It is, in any case, among the most important documents for the study of the Cārvāka school.


The Cārvāka school of philosophy had a variety of atheistic, materialistic, and naturalistic beliefs.

No life after death

The Carvaka believed there was no afterlife, no life after death

Springing forth from these elements itself
solid knowledge is destroyed
when they are destroyed—
after death no intelligence remains. [11]


The Carvaka believed in a form of naturalism, that is that all things happen by nature, and come from nature (not from any deity or Supreme Being).

Fire is hot, water cold,
refreshingly cool is the breeze of morning;
By whom came this variety?
They were born of their own nature.[11]

Sensual Indulgence

Unlike many of the Indian philosophies of the time, The Carvaka believed there was nothing wrong with sensual indulgence, and that it was the only enjoyment to be pursued.

That the pleasure arising to man
from contact with sensible objects,
is to be relinquished because accompanied by pain—
such is the reasoning of fools.
The kernels of the paddy, rich with finest white grains,
What man, seeking his own true interest,
would fling them away
because of a covering of husk and dust?
While life remains, let a man live happily,
let him feed on butter though he runs in debt;
When once the body becomes ashes,
how can it ever return again?[11]

Religion is invented by man

The Carvaka believed that religion was invented and made up by men, having no divine authority.

The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves, and demons.
All the well-known formulae of the pandits, jarphari, turphari, etc.
and all the obscene rites for the queen commanded in Aswamedha,
these were invented by buffoons, and so all the various kinds of presents to the priests,
while the eating of flesh was similarly commanded by night-prowling demons.

Madhavacharya and Cārvāka

Madhavacharya, the 13th & 14th-century Vedantic philosopher from South India starts his famous work The Sarva-darsana-sangraha with a chapter on the Cārvāka system with the intention of refuting it. After invoking, in the Prologue of the book, the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu, ("by whom the earth and rest were produced"), Madhavacharya 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?

Quotations attributed to Cārvāka from Sarva-Darsana-Sangraha

The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic's three staves, and smearing oneself with ashes —
Brihaspati says, these are but means of livelihood for those who have no manliness nor sense.
In this school there are four elements, earth, water, fire and air;
and from these four elements alone is intelligence produced —
just like the intoxicating power from kinwa &c, mixed together;
since in "I am fat", "I am lean", these attributes abide in the same subject,
and since fatness, &c, reside only in the body, it alone is the soul and no other,
and such phrases as "my body" are only significant metaphorically.
If a beast slain in the Jyothishtoma rite will itself go to heaven,
why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father?
If the Sraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead,
then why not give food down below to those who are standing on the house-top?
If he who departs from the body goes to another world,
how is it that he come not back again, restless for love of his kindred?
Hence it is only as a means of livelihood that Brahmans have established here
all these ceremonies for the dead, — there is no other fruit anywhere.
The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves, and demons.
All the well-known formulae of the pandits, jarphari, turphari, etc.
and all the obscene rites for the queen commanded in Aswamedha,
these were invented by buffoons, and so all the various kinds of presents to the priests,
while the eating of flesh was similarly commanded by night-prowling demons.


Those parts which survive indicate a strong anti-clerical bias, accusing Brahmins of fostering religious beliefs only so they could obtain a livelihood. The proper aim of a Charvakan or Charvaka, according to these sources, was to live a prosperous, happy, and productive life in this world.

Astika schools, Buddhism, and Jainism versus Cārvāka

Cārvākas cultivated a philosophy wherein theology and what they called "speculative metaphysics" were to be avoided. The Cārvākas accepted direct perception as the surest method to prove the truth of anything. Though their opponents tried to caricature the Lokayatikas' arguments, the latter did not completely reject the method of inference. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya quotes S. N. Dasgupta:

"Purandara (a Lokāyata philosopher) [...] admits the usefulness of inference in determining the nature of all worldly things where perceptual experience is available; but inference cannot be employed for establishing any dogma regarding the transcendental world, or life after death or the law of karma which cannot be available to ordinary perceptual experience."[13]

While a Cārvāka's thought is characterized by an insistence on joyful living on one hand and Jainism is known to emphasize penance on the other, Buddhism is said to stand for a "middle way", avoiding indulgence in sensual pleasures and penance alike.[14] Temperance—the enjoyment of life's pleasures in a moderate manner, rather than total abstinence—was the Cārvākas' primary modus operandi. In this respect, they much resemble the Epicureans of Greece .

The Cārvākas did not deny the difference between the dead and the living and recognized both as realities. A person lives, the same person dies: that is a perceived, and hence the only provable, fact. In this regard, the Cārvākas found themselves at odds with all the other religions of the time. Of the five fundamental elements, the Panchamahaabhutas, Prithvi (earth or solidity), jal (water or liquidity), agni (fire or fieriness or brightness), vaayu (wind or movement), and aakaasha ( aether or emptiness), the Cārvākas recognised the validity of only the first four and thought that a combination of these four elements produced a certain vitality called life.

Rejection of the soul as separate from the body led the Cārvākas to confine their thinking to this world only. This does not mean that they denied the cause-effect relationship. They accepted the "like causes like result" (Karmavipaaka) rule, restricted it to this life and this world and admitted exceptions to that rule.

Whereas most systems of Astika philosophy advocated a caste system, the Cārvākas denounced the caste system, calling it artificial, unreal and hence unacceptable. "What is this senseless humbug about the castes and the high and low among them when the organs like the mouth, etc in the human body are the same?"[15]

Abul Fazl on Lokāyata

Ain-i-Akbari, written by Abul Fazl, the famous historian of Akbar's court, mentions a symposium of philosophers of all faiths held in 1578 at Akbar's insistence. Some Cārvāka thinkers are said to have participated in this symposium.[16]

Under the heading "Nastika," Abul Fazl has referred to the good work, judicious administration, and welfare schemes that were emphasized by the Cārvāka lawmakers. Somadeva has also mentioned the Cārvāka method of defeating the enemies of the nation. Contrary to popular opinion, these so-called "peasant religions(or opinions)"— the direct translation of the word "Lokayata"—never demanded that the practitioner give up happiness; all they said was that that the means of happiness is giving up that which contradicts Cārvāka, who claimed that (material) pleasures suffice to give happiness to the (material) body.

See also


  1. ^ Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli; and Moore, Charles A. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton University Press; 1957. Princeton paperback 12th edition, 1989. ISBN 0-691-01958-4. p. 227.
  2. ^ Monier-Williams (1899); the name literally means "speaking nicely", from cāru "agreeable" and vāk "speech"
  3. ^ Radhakrishnan and Moore, "Contents".
  4. ^ p. 224. Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  5. ^ Though this school of thoughts is not commonly considered as a part of six orthodox schools of Indian Philosophy, Haribhadra Suri, a Jain mendicant from c. seventh century, considers this school as a part of those six in his book ShaDdarshan Samucchaya. Potter, Karl H. (2007). The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Buddhist philosophy from 350 to 600 A.D.. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publications. pp. 435-436. ISBN 9788120819689. 
  6. ^ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. (Princeton University Press: 1957, Twelfth Princeton Paperback printing 1989) pp. 227-49. ISBN 0-691-01958-4.
  7. ^ Bhattacarya (2002), p. 6.
  8. ^ see Schermerhorn (1930).
  9. ^ Satischandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. Eighth Reprint Edition. (University of Calcutta: 1984). p. 55.
  10. ^ Riepe, Dale. The Naturalistic Tradition of Indian Thought (Motilal Banarasidas, Varanasi) p.75
  11. ^ a b c Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha by Madhava Acharya, translated by E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough. Kegan Paul, Trench, and Trubner, London, 1914.
  12. ^ Madhavacarya, Sarvadarsana-sangraha, English translation by E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough, 1904 quoted in Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (ed.), Carvaka/Lokayata: An Anthology of Source Materials and Some Recent Studies (New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1990)
  13. ^ Indian Philosophy, p. 188
  14. ^ "There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable." Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)
  15. ^ Prabodhachandrodaya, 2.18
  16. ^ Ain-i-Akbari, Vol. III, translated by H. S. Barrett, pp 217–218 (also see Amartya Sen [2005], pp 288–289)


  • Bhatta, Jayarashi. Tattvopapalavasimha (Charvaka Philosophy). 
  • Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1959). Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism. New Delhi: People's Pub. House. 
  • Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1964). Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction. New Delhi: People's Pub. House. 
  • Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1969). Indian Atheism: A Marxist Analysis. Kolkata: Manisha. 
  • Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1976). What Is Living and What Is Dead in Indian Philosophy. New Delhi: People's Pub. House. 
  • Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Mádhava Áchárya (1996) [1882]. The Sarva-darsana-samgraha: or Review of the Different Systems of Hindu Philosophy. trans. E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-1341-3. 
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  • Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli; and Moore, Charles A. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton University Press; 1957. Princeton paperback 12th edition, 1989. ISBN 0-691-01958-4.
  • Riepe, Dale (1964). The Naturalistic Tradition of Indian Thought (2nd ed. ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. 
  • Salunkhe, A. H. (in Marathi). Aastikashiromani Chaarvaaka. 
  • Sen, Amartya (2005). The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-9687-0. 
  • Pradeep P. Gokhale, The Cārvāka Theory of Pramāṇas: A Restatement, Philosophy East and West (1993).
  • John M. Koller, Skepticism in Early Indian Thought, Philosophy East and West (1977).
  • R. Bhattacharya, Cārvāka Fragments: A New Collection, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Volume 30, Number 6, December 2002, pp. 597-640.
  • R. A. Schermerhorn, When Did Indian Materialism Get Its Distinctive Titles?, Journal of the American Oriental Society (1930).

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