Thursday, 1 December 2011

Reasoners and Religious Law-makers: An Ancient Indian Case Study

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Authors of Dharmaśāstra-s (religious law-books of India) like Manu and Yājñavalkya lose no opportunities of condemning freethinkers. They are called dambhin, nāstika, pāsandin, haituka, etc.1 The word, haituka, is of particular interest. Literally it means ‘a reasoner’ (from hetu, ‘reason’). But Medhātithi (ninth century CE), a commentator on the Manusamhitā (Manusmrti) glosses the word as nāstika.2 Who is a nāstika? Literally it stands for ‘one who says “(It) does not exist”.’  What does not exist?  There are various opinions on this question. According to the grammarians, the word, āstika (from asti, ‘(it) exists’) means ‘one who says that the other world (paraloka) exists’ and nāstika (from nāsti, ‘(it) does not exist’), ‘one who says that the other world does not exist’.3 In this sense, the Buddhists and the Jains are as much āstika as the followers of Brahminical religious sects, for they all believe in the existence of the other world. Only the Cārvākas would be there to be called nāstika.

According to Manu., however, ‘a nāstika is a reviler of the Vedas’.4 This meaning is generally applied in the field of philosophy. The Buddhists, the Jains and the Cārvākas are all branded as nāstika-s, for they do no accept the inerrancy of the Vedas.

Nāstika has other meanings too. In the Mahābhārata, ‘one saying nāsti, in refusing a gift to a priest, is a “negator” no less than he who refuses assent to the orthodox belief. But ordinarily nāstika is used in the latter sense and connotes a dissenter from received opinion in regard either to the existence of transcendental things or to the authority of hallowed tradition.’5

In more recent times āstika and nāstika have been employed to designate ‘theist’ and ‘atheist’ respectively. Following this tradition, Ganganath Jha translates Medhātithi’s gloss on haituka as follows:

‘Logicians’—i.e., atheists, those who entertain such notion as ‘there is no other world, there is no good in charity, nor in sacrificial offerings.’6

The words enclosed within single quotation marks at the end are reminiscent of the preachings of Ajita Kesakambala (Ajita of the hair-blanket), a senior contemporary of the Buddha and one of the first known materialist philosophers of India.7 He used to say: ‘There is no (consequence to) alms-giving, sacrifice or oblation. A good or bad action produces no result. (...) All alms-giving ends in ashes. Fools prescribe alms-giving; some assert that there is such a thing as merit in alms-giving; but their words are empty, false and nonsensical.’8

Medhātithi also seems to echo a line in the Visnudharmottara Mahāpurāna: ‘There are no such things as gifts (in sacrifices), oblations, rites, nor gods nor sages.’9

Manu. 4.30 is quoted in Mitāksarā, a commentary on the Yājñavalkya Samhitā (Smrti). Apropos verse 1. 130 the commentator, Vijñāneśvara (eleventh century) explains haituka as ‘one who, by argumentation, raises doubts about everything’.10

Other commentators of Manu. have taken haituka to mean one who employs arguments against the Vedas. One commentator (Sarvajñanārāyana) mentions opposition to both the Vedas and the other world (paraloka) as the mark of the haituka. They all explain nāstika in the same sense.11

A question may arise in regard to this identification. If haituka is a synonym for nāstika, how to construe the meaning of such passages where these two words occur together (as in the Mahābhārata, Śāntiparvan, 174.45- 46)?12 They must have had two distinct meanings, haituka meaning ‘reasoner’ and nāstika, a non-Hindu or atheist or whatever.

I think the commentators of Manu. and others in their zeal to denounce the reasoner forgot the original meaning of haituka and associated it with the word they considered most damning, viz. nāstika. Hetu + ka (thak) means, as Monier Monier-Williams notes: ‘a reasoner, rationalist, sceptic, heretic, a follower of the Mīmāmsa doctrine.’13 Only the first two meanings reflect the literal sense of the word. Others are taken from the Dharmaśāstra- s and their commentaries mentioned above. They reflect nothing but prejudice on the part of orthodoxy that demands nothing but blind faith and, consequently, is averse to reasoning.

Another Sanskrit dictionary, Śabdasāra compiled by Giriśacandra Vidyāratna, once very widely used in Bengal, gives a different etymology of haituka: hetu + ka.14  The suffix, ka is normally added to a noun to express diminution, deterioration, etc. Thus an aśvaka is ‘a bad horse’, a mānavaka is ‘a little man’ (i.e. a boy). In support of this derivation Vidyāratna cites the following sentence: ‘He who doubts good deeds by adducing reason is a haituka.’15 Here, too, the original meaning is sacrificed in favour of one which is derogatory. Any reasoner, not necessarily one prompted by some evil motive, thus becomes suspect.

Reasoning, then, is thoroughly disapproved in the Dharmaśāstra tradition. Anyone, who raises the question, ‘Why?’ (which every rational being should) and refuses to accept the authority of the scripture or any verbal testimony without adequate proof or evidence to support it, is viewed with disfavour and condemned in the strongest possible terms.

Let us give two examples. In the Rāmāyana, Ayodhyākānda, Rāma advises Bharata: ‘My dear son, don’t serve any Lokāyatika Brāhmin. They are experts in doing harm, are puerile but consider themselves learned. Even though there are principal religious law-books, these dimwits, having recourse to sophistical intelligence, talk rot.’16

Here the opposition between Dharmaśāstra and reasoning is brought out clearly and unambiguously (although the word, lokāyatika in this context may not suggest a Cārvāka materialist but merely an expert in the science of disputation, vintandāśāstra).17

Similarly in the Mahābhārata we find a jackal confessing to Indra: ‘[In my previous birth] I was a pseudo-scholar, a reasoner and a reviler of the Veda. I was addicted to meaningless sophistical logic (or sophistical logic without objects). I was the spokesman of rationalism in the assembly, abused the twice-born (Brahmins), outshouted them and condemned brahma (Vedas) and sacrifice. I was a nāstika, a doubter and a fool considering myself learned. Oh Brahmin, as a result of all this, I am (re)-born as a jackal.’18

In this instance, too, we not only have an echo of Manu. 2. 11 (or Manu. may have borrowed the sentence, ‘The nāstika is a reviler of the Veda’, from the Mahābhārata) but also a restatement of the incompatibility between reasoning and scripture. A reasoner is a vile thing: from a man he is transformed to a jackal in his next birth. The message is loud and clear: ‘Never dare to be a reasoner.’

But this is not all. Elsewhere19 Manu. says that the man who desires to learn pure religion should have recourse to perception, inference as well as various scriptures. It even goes to the extent of declaring: ‘He who explores dharma (religious duty) by means of argument alone comes to know it, none else.’20

This line has been quoted with approval to prove that the authors of Dharmaśāstra-s were not opposed to reasoning as such; on the other hand, they welcomed it.21 What is, however, cleverly suppressed is the line preceding this alleged approval of argument. Manu. there warns that the argument must not be contrary to the Veda and Śāstra (=Dharmaśāstra). One who explores the noble teachings of dharma with the help of such argument (that is, argument not contrary to the Vedas and Śāstras alone is to be credited, not the man who restores to arguments that are anti-Vedic.22

Medhātithi explains this verse in the following way: ‘In fact what is set forth here is not an Injunction (vidhi), but a commendatory statement (arthavāda); and the purport of it is that what should be done in such cases is to be ascertained by the process of reasoning embodied in the Mīmāmsā;—hence it is the study of Mīmāmsā that is indirectly enjoined for the purpose of obtaining a correct knowledge of Dharma.’23
Kull ka also explains tarka, ‘the mode of reasoning’ as the Mīmāmsā of Jaimini.24

Medhātithi further cites the opinion of ‘others’ (anye) who explain tarka as referring to all philosophical schools that, unlike the Buddhists, the Jains and the Lokāyatikas, do not deny the authority of the Vedas.25

Many more examples like these can be cited to show that in the view of the epics and Dharmaśāstra-s reasoning is suspect since it leads to scepticism, atheism and denial of infallibility of all scriptures (particularly the Vedas). All this would naturally entail challenging the so-called God-ordained varna (caste) system, male supremacy, and what not. The guardians of social order wish to retain the existing political and economic system that favours the dvija (twice-born) and the blind devotees of organized religion. Any question or doubt, any challenge to authority and seeking reasons for doing (or not doing) certain things prescribed in the ‘holy’ books are therefore viewed with disfavour. Fantastic punishments in hell are predicted for the reasoners and non-believers.

Yet the fact remains that even in the hide-bound and blindly submissive ambience that prevailed in India millennia after millennia, reasoners could not be altogether eradicated. In spite of the best efforts made by the powers that be, some dissenters, admittedly small in number, have always been there to defy orthodoxy. Their views through the ages have been epitomized in the stray verses and sayings attributed to the Cārvāka / Lokāyata thinkers.26

Notes and References

1. See Śrīyājñavalkyasmrti, ed. T. Ganapati Shastri, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1982, 1.129, p. 105; Manu-smrti with Nine Commentaries, ed. J.H. Dave, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Vol. 2, 1975,on 4.30, p. 315. All subsequent references to these texts are to these editions.
2. Manu-smrti (n1 above), p.315. Another word, hetuka (derived from hetu, ‘reason’), however, does not always carry. derogatory association (see Manu. 12.111). But see Mbh, 13.147.5 (Critical Edition, eds. V. S. Sukthankar and others, Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1933-66) where a hetuka is condemned
3. See the Astādhyāyī of Pānini, ed. Śriśa Chandra Vasu, Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1980 reprint, 4.4.60, p. 824.

See also Bhattoji Dīksita’s Comment (1610) on Astādhyāyī, 4 .4. 60. Siddhāntakaumudī, ed. S. C. Vasu, Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, n.d., Vol. I, p.832. Sarvajñanārāya a, Kulluka, Nandana and Ma irāma in their commentaries on Manu. 4.163 also endorse this view of nāstika. Dave (nl
above), pp. 419-20. Medhātithi (on Manu. 8.22) identifies the nāstika with the Lokāyatikas who abuse the Veda.
4. The verse in Manu. (2.11) runs as follows:

yo’vamanyeta te m le hetuśāstrāśrayād dvija /
sa sādhubhir vahi kāryo nāstiko vedanindaka //
‘The twice-born man, who, relying on the science of reasoning, treats with contempt the two roots (of religion, viz., the Veda and Dharmaśāstra) should be driven out by virtuous men as he is a nāstika, a reviler of the Veda.’

Medhātithi explains the term, ‘science of reasoning’ as ‘the argumentative science (tarkaśāstra) of the nāstika-s, Buddhists, Cārvākas, etc. in which it is repeatedly proclaimed that the Veda is conducive to sin.’ See Manu-smrti. The Laws of Manu, trans. with notes, explanations, etc. by Ganganatha Jha, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1920, Vol.I, Part I, p. 216; Part II, 1924, pp. 41-42.
5. E. Washburn Hopkins, The Great Epic of India (1901), Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1993, p. 86.
6. Manu-smrti (n4 above), 1921, Vol. II, Part II, p.336, G. Bühler, however, translated haituka as ‘logicians (arguing against the Vedas)’. The Laws of Manu (Sacred Books of the East, Vol.25), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886 (often reprinted), p. 133.
7. For details about Ajita Kesakambala, see Ramkrishna Bhattacharya, ‘Origin of Materialism in India: Patrician or Plebian?’ Bharatiya Samajik Chintan, Vol.XX, Nos.(1-2), March-June, 1997, pp. 12-23, and ‘Ajita Kesakambala: Nihilist or Materialist?’ The Journal of the Asiatic Society (Kolkata), Vol.XLI, No. I, 1999, pp. 74-83 (both included in Studies on the Cārvāka / Lokāyata, Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentia, 2009, pp.21-32 and 45-54).
8. ‘Sāmañña-phala-sutta’, Dīgha Nikāya, ed. J. Kashyap, Patna: Pali Publication Board, Bihar Govt., 1958, Part 1, p. 48. The translation is quoted from Ten Suttas from Dīgha Nikāya, Rangoon: Burma Pitaka Association, 1984 (reprinted by the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, 1987), p. 83.
9. Visnudharmottara Mahāpurāna (in pothi form), Bombay: Ksemarāja Śrīkrsnadāsa, Śaka 1834, I.108.19 (nāsti dattam hutam cestam na devā rsayo na ca), f.70a.
10. Mitāksarā, ed. Narayana Rama Acarya, Bombay: Nirnay Sagar Prakashan, 1949, p.44. See Manu-smrti (n4 above), 1924, Notes. Part II, p. 280. Rāmacandra, a commentator on Manu., also says the same: yuktivalena sarvatra sa śayakaro haituka (Dave (n1 above), p. 316).
11. See Dave (n1 above), pp. 315-16.
12. A jackal here tells of his previous birth to Indra (his words will be quoted in the text later). See also n18 below.
13. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1899 (often reprinted), s.v. haituka.
14. Śabdasāra. A Sanskrit-Bengali Dictionary, compiled by Giriśacandra Vidyāratna, Kalikata: Hariścandra Kaviratna, 1918, s.v. haituka.
15. sandehakrt hetubhir yah satkarmmasu sa haituka . I have not yet been able to trace the source of this citation.
16. The Vālmīki Rāmāya a, Ayodhyākā a, 94.32-33 (Critical Edition, ed. P. L. Vaidya, Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1962; in Vulgate editions, 100.38-39).
Interestingly enough both Medhātithi and Bharuci quote the first of these verses in their commentaries on Manu. 12.106. See Dave (n1 above), 1984, Vol. 6, pp. 317-18.
17. See Ramkrishna Bhattacharya, ‘The Significance of Lokāyata in Pali’, Journal of the Department of Pali, University of Calcutta, Vol.10, 2000, pp. 39-46 (included in Studies on the Cārvāka / Lokāyata, Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentia, 2009, pp.187-91).
18. Śāntiparvan, 174.45-47. For other translations based on the Vulgate Edition see The Mahābhārata, trans. K. M. Ganguli, Calcutta: Bharat Press, Santiparva, 1891, Vol. 2, Ch. 180, pp. 29-30 and E. W. Hopkins (n5 above), p. 89. Hopkins refers to Anuśāsanaparvan, 37.12-14, in which the ‘telling phrase’, tarkavidyām ...nirarthikām, is repeated. In fact the same set of works, namely, vedanindakah, ānvīksikī, hetuvāda, panditaka, etc., as occurring in the Śāntiparvan passage, is echoed in the three Anuśāsanaparvan verses. This is one of the many instances of “self-quotation” in the Mbh.
19. Manu. 12.105. Dave (n1 above), 1984, Vol. 6, pp. 315.
20. Ibid, 12.106cd, Dave, ibid, p. 317.
21. For example, Bimal Krishna Matilal, an eminent Sanskritist, in his Nīti Yukti O Dharma—Kāhinī Sāhitye Rām O Krsna (in Bengali), Kalkata: Ananda Publishers, 1395 BS, p. 123, claimed so.
22. Manu. 12.106ab. The text of the verse runs as follows:
ārsya dharmopadeśañca vedaśāstrāvirodhinā /
yastarkenānusandhatte sa dharmam veda netarah //
23. Dave (n1 above), Vol. 6, p. 3 17. I have quoted from the translation by Jha (n6 above), 1926, Vol. 5, p. 636.
24. See Dave (n1 above), p. 318.
25. Ibid., p. 317. See also Bühler’s trans. (n6 above), p. 509.
26. See Sāya a-Mādhava’s Sarva-darśana-samgraha (text and English trans. by E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough). Ahmedabad: Parimal Publications, 1981, Ch.1, verses cited at the end. All of them may not have originated from the Cārvāka / Lokāyata circle, but from the Buddhists and the Jains as well .
Acknowledgements: Amitava Bhattacharyya and Rinku Chowdhury

(Ramkrishna Bhattacharya is a Fellow of PAVLOV Institute, Kolkata.
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