Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Materialism

Erich Frauwallner
(December 28, 1898 – January 5, 1974)
It is advantageous to join the nature-philosophical schools with the description of Materialism, as the latter stands nearer to them than all other schools. By the way the Indians them­selves, as a rule, speak not of Materialism but they characterize its adherents usually as deniers or negativists (nastikah). And it has its good ground. For the Indian Materialism the essential thing is not the denial of the soul and the exclusive restriction to matter as the cause for the explanation of the world. The decisive thing, on the contrary, is its purely negative interest. Its aim is to dispute and deny the continuance of life after death, the retribution of good and bad work and the moral claims derived out of them. It is interested in philosophical questions only so far as they serve this aim. Concerning the rest, it is indifferent to them. That distinguishes it from all others and also from Nature-philosophical schools. Naturally Materialism could reach its aim most quickly, if it denied the existence of the soul. But so far as the assumption of a soul served only the explanation of the phenomenal world, as was the case in the old Nature-philosophy, before it was connected up with belief in God and with the doctrine of Deliverance, it was also acceptable to the Materialism. As a matter' of fact, there are also found given materialistic directions which recog­nize a soul in this sense and which have established a connec­tion, therethrough, with the Nature-philosophical schools. But while these nature-philosophical schools were governed by the striving towards the understanding of the phenomenal world and their attempts at explanation gradually formed into the full-fledged philosophical system, the materialists satisfied them­selves all the while with their positing of a purely negative aim. Therefore the Indian characterization of them as 'deniers or negativists' is appropriate. But in my presentation I will follow the usual practice for the sake of simplicity and speak of Mate­rialism by which a man should not lose sight of the right under­standing of what has been said.

Erich Frauwallner
Materialistic directions of the above-mentioned kind are already found in India since early times. The old maxim, that materialism is as old as philosophy, holds good also here. And just as we hear, in the recorded oldest Vedic monuments, of believers in god, also of god-deniers, there is also information about materialistic directions standing side by side with the oldest recorded monuments of philosophical doctrine. In India, there early emerges a characteristic feature which also holds good for the later period-a close connection of materialism with political theory. The Indians had early developed a syste­matic doctrine of state-craft which made light of all moral scruples in the positing of its aim and of the choice of means, which, therefore, corresponds to what for us is associated with the name of Machiavelli. The embodiment of this statecraft is the legendary Minister of the King Candragupta of the Maurya family, who founded for the first time an indigenous empire on the Indian soil at the end of the fourth century B.C. The Indian tradition ascribes the merit for the success of Candragupta to this Brahmana named Canakya or Kautilya and has always seen in him an unsurpassed master of the art of statecraft. The most famous Indian literary work about the science of state­craft is handed down under his name. This Canakya, as is shown by tradition, is the prototype of the unscrupulous Real-politiker who avoids no means, if it only leads him to his goal. And his ideal as well as his theory has been much esteemed in the circles of practical Politikers or politicians.

It is now easy to understand that such a Politiker from the point of world-view supported himself on a doctrine which put out of the way or removed all moral scruples that were hin­drances to his action. One such doctrine was Materialism. Its positing of the aim, as we have described above, corresponds entirely with its purpose. It was created for this circle, whether it may acknowledge it openly or secretly. It is, therefore, certainly no accident that the first materialist, whom tradition has handed down to us in living vivid colours, is a King.

King Paesi: We find, in the canon of the Jaina, as also of the Buddhists, the account of a conversation which one of their teachers had with a King who adhered to a gross materialism. The conversation ends, as it is to be expected according to the origin of the report, with the conversion of the King. But the narration is carried out in such a lively way and gives such a graphic picture of the materialistic views in the period of the Jaina and the Buddha that I cite a few pieces out of them.1

In the City of Seyaviya, there rules a bad King Paesi (the Buddhists call him Payasi) who believes in no God and no be­yond. One day, the holy man Kesi arrives in this city. Now the King has a charioteer named Citta who was won over earlier by Kesi as an adherent and who longingly wishes that the King also should be converted. He knows how to arrange it skillfully so that the King, during his morning drive, alights down in the park in which Kesi is staying and it comes to a conversation between the King and the holy man. The King has heard that Kesi believes in a soul which is different from the body and reproaches him as follows:

"If you have the conviction that the soul is different from the body and not the same, I have, on the other hand, to cite the following. I had a godless, wicked grandfather who did not administer his Kingdom well and who, after his death must, have reached hell on account of his bad actions. If now he would come to me who am ever his beloved grandson-his joy and care-and warn me against living as godlessly as he did, in order that I should not go to hell, then I would believe that the soul is different from the body. But as he has not come to warn me, I am convinced that the soul and the body are the same."

Thereupon Kesi replied: "If you notice, oh King, that your wife has given herself up to another man, what punishment would you inflict on this man ?"

"I would get him executed in any way."

"If the man were to request you that he should be given some time before his execution in order to warn his relatives and acquaintances against a similar offence, would you grant him also at least only one moment?"

"No, why should I?"

"Entirely in the same way, thy godless grandfather, who according to our doctrine, is in hell, has not come; he has, no doubt, the wish to come to thee his beloved grandson-his joy and care-in order to warn thee. But he cannot. Because there are the most diverse grounds that a being tarrying in the hell, however much he would like to come to men, cannot come. Therefore, believe, Paesi, that the soul is different from the body."

And again the King says: "What you say is merely a com­parison and does not apply to the following. I had a very pious grandmother, who according to your doctrine, must have got, after her death, into a world of the gods, for her pious acts. If she would come to me who was her most beloved grandson - her joy and care - and admonish me to live piously like her in order that 1 should attain the world of the gods, then I would believe that the soul is different from the body. But she has not come to admonish me and I am convinced that the soul and the body are the same."

Upon this, Kesi knew how to reply. But Paesi has also made an experiment. He reports for example: "1 was once in my reception-hall surrounded by the distinguished elite of my kingdom. There the city watchman brought a thief whom they had caught. 1 got him thrown alive into a brazen pot, with a brass lid strongly soldered laid over it, with the coppersmith watching over him. After some time, I got the lid opened and found the man dead, though there was no opening in the pot, through which the soul could have escaped. Had there been an opening in the jar through which the soul could have escaped 1 would believe that the soul is different from the body. But it was not the case. So I am convinced that the soul and the body are not the same."

And another experiment: Paesi had first executed one offender and then got him locked up in a jar and when it was opened after some time, the corpse was full of worms. The jar, however, had no opening through which the souls of these worms could have reached the inside. Another offender was got weighed by Paesi. Then he was killed, except that his skin only was injured and he was again weighed. But the weight was the same. Therefore, no soul could have escaped. Another offender he got hacked to pieces in order to search the soul but it was not to be found. Such other like experiments were made by Paesi. Kesi knew appropriate answers to all these arguments and finally Paesi gives himself over as beaten and converted.

This account gives a lively picture of an old Indian Materialist on the King's throne. And Paesi was certainly not the only one of his kind. But however interesting and character­istic such accounts are, they can rarely claim a place of the same kind in a history of Indian philosophy. The Materialism gains for it an importance from the moment only when it emerged in the form of a regular doctrine and took up arms against the remaining philosophical schools. That occurred also very early. The old writings of the Buddhistic canons report that, in the time of the Buddha, a large number of teachers stalked the land and gathered students around themselves. Among them are found such as represent the materialistic doctrines.2

The oldest Materialistic doctrines: We hear of a certain Purana Kasyapa who taught the following; "Anybody may do or allow to do anything, mutilate or allow somebody to be muti­lated, roast or allow somebody to be roasted, persecute, plague, harass or get somebody persecuted, plagued or harassed, may rob life, steal, break into a house, drag away the loot, plunder a sequestered house, carry on highwaymanship or brigandage, commit adultery or lie; but he, with all this, does nothing bad. If anyone, with a razor-sharp quoit, reduces a living creature on the earth to a heap of flesh, transforms him into a single lump of flesh, he would thereby prove himself as nothing bad; it would not appear as anything bad. If any body would go to the southern bank of the Ganga,3 murdering and allowing somebody to murder, mutilating and allowing somebody to mutilate, roasting and allowing somebody to roast, he would prove himself as nothing bad; it would not appear bad. And if he would go to the northern bank of the Ganga,3 giving gifts and causing them to be given, sacrificing and causing sacrifices to be offered, it would thereupon prove in no way meritorious; it would not appear as merit. Through presents, self-discipline, self-mastery and veracity, there arises or appears no merit."

A second teacher Ajita Kdakambala 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.4 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 (prthivikayah), the water into the mass of water, the fire into the mass of fire, the breath into the mass of air, and the sense-organs enter into the space (akasah). Four men with the bier as the fifth carry forth the dead person, and they carryon their talk until they come into the place of cremation. Then there remain only white bones and all the sacrifices end in ashes. The gift of charity is, therefore, the doctrine of a buffoon; it is an empty and false talk when anybody asserts that there is something. Fools and wise men are destroyed and disappear when the body falls to pieces. They are no more after death."

A third teacher finally Kakuda Katyayana teaches the following:

"There are seven masses (kayah) which are neither crea­ted nor brought forth. They are unfruitful, unchangeable, and are firm like a pillar. They move not, nor do they change, they do not disturb each other, nor are they able to procure joy, grief or joy and grief. Which are these seven masses? The earth-mass, the water-mass, the fire-mass, the air-mass, pleasure, pain and the souls (jivah) as the seventh. These seven masses are neither created nor produced, they are unfruitful, unchangeable, and firm like a pillar. They do not move nor do they change, they do not disturb one another and they are not able to procure pleasure, pain or pleasure and pain. There is no murderer, nor one who allows to murder, nor anyone who hears or allows to hear, no knower or one who allows to know. When anybody with a sharp sword strikes off a head, nobody robs nobody of life. The sword passes, on the contrary, through the empty space, between the seven masses."

Of these three doctrines, the first exhausts itself in mere denial of all moral obligations. The second seeks to prove it with a gross materialism. The third finally represents an ancient Nature-philosophy which explains all occurrences through the inter-play of a number of permanent factors. The souls also occur among these factors. But this doctrine also denies every­thing transcendent. And all the three are unanimous in the fact that they deny continuance after death and the moral conse­quences arising therefrom, and are, in this sense, genuine materialistic doctrines.

The old writings of the Jaina also describe similar mate­rialistic doctrines. We, therefore, see that Materialism arose early in the form of a regular theory. But the development, thereby, does not remain stationary. It led to the creation of a fully formed materialistic system which was handed down like all other systems, in the form of a School-that of the Lokayata.

The Lokayata System: The Lokayata, i.e. the doctrine which concerns this world, arose in the pre-Christian period. As a founder is regarded one Carvaka about whom nothing further is known.5 It is characteristic for this system that it is clothed in the same form like the remaining systems. Like these, its doc­trines are written down in aphorisms which were orally handed down.6 Further one took care to refer his doctrines to a holy seer of antiquity in the Brahmanical circles. In a similar way, the Lokayata derived its doctrine from a higher authority. As we have already heard, the Materialism was connected most closely with the circles which taught the art of Statecraft. But as the highest teacher of the art of Statecraft and as its legen­dary proclaimer was co.1Sidered Brhaspati, the teacher of the gods and besides him, there was Usanas, the teachers of the Asuras, the demon,. Accordingly, the Lokayata traced back their aphorisms to Brhaspati. Besides we also hear of a school which refers itself to Usanas.

Like the aphorisms of the Vaisesika and other systems,7 the aphorisms of the Lokayata also begin with the words: "Now we shall explain the truth." Now the chief maxims of the system follow sharply and trenchantly.8 "Earth, water, fire, air: these are the entities." "One designates their connection or com­bination as body, sense-organs and objects." "Out of them develops the mind or spirit itself." "The knowledge arises like a force of fermenting intoxicant out of a yeast, etc." "The ex­pressions of life (jivah) resemble bubbles in water." "And be­cause there is nothing that continues in the world beyond, there is, therefore, no world beyond."

With this has been said what is essential of the Lokayata. The man consists only of four elements; there is no soul. Therefore, there is no beyond and no retribution of good and bad actions.

These short maxims or aphorisms were explained and further set forth, first in oral and, later on, in written elucida­tions. For example, the question was raised by the opponents' side, why, when as a matter of fact, everything consists of the elements; the sentiency emerges only in the human body and not in inanimate things like a pot or a vessel. Thereupon, the reply was: "The sentiency does not .emerge into appearance in vessels etc., because the remaining causes are missing, just as in sand, the force of intoxication or intoxicant does not appear forth."9Again, the force of intoxication, when it is to appear forth, presupposes not only the presence of necessary things­ - flour, water and molasses and the remaining ingredients but also the fact that these must be in a particular condition of mixture. So also the elements only may produce the sentiency when they appear in a particular state i.e. in the form of the body as skin, bones, flesh and blood. In the corpse already, this condition is not preserved unchanged and therefore sentiency has vanished from it." In order to derive all the psychical processes out of the Elements, one took hold of the doctrine of the three juices in the body--phlegm, bile and wind.10 It was taught that through phlegm, there arises desire, through bile, hatred and through wind, delusion. The manifoldness of life-forces, that one ex­periences in incalculable alternation-now joy, now grief-was traced by the opponents of the Lokayata to the power of good and bad actions which, according to the rigorous law of retribution, lead to joy and grief. This law was denied by the re­presentatives of the Lokayata and they appealed to the incal­culable accidental rise of bubbles in water for explaining the ac­cidentality of joy and grief. They also asserted that natural feelings or experiences ascribe all these life-forces to no soul. .Because, for example, when a man says : "I know" or when a man also says, "I am lean; I am fat", he speaks of no soul but only of a body. Because there is no soul.

The Buddhist teachings demanded a special comment, as they assumed no soul but only a stream of consciousness i.e. a connected series of knowledge-moments.11 What was concerned here was not the contesting of the belief in a soul-which was also denied by the opponent-but of the proof that the series of knowledge-moments does not endure uninterrupted and does not continue from one existence to another. Because that was the proof of these schools in asserting in support of a continu­ance after death and of a retribution of good and bad actions. Accordingly, the representatives of the Lokayata emphasized that the coming into existence of knowledge was bound up with a body and with entirely definite prerequisites. Therefore no know­ledge comes into existence in the embryo, because the sense-organs are not still developed an6 there is no object (for them). So also knowledge is suspended in a state like that of swoon. The know­ledge in an alleged rebirth depends, however, on an entirely another body and is exactly different, like the body, from an earlier knowledge. There is, therefore, as little connection as that in the knowledge of two different beings who live simulta­neously near each other. It is not also right to trace back, as one does, the expression of passions and instinctive behaviour of small children to experiences in earlier births. For, then, a man must be able to remember earlier (former) births, not only in Isolated cases asserted by the opponent, but in general, Just as all people who were together in one village would re­member about it in a similar way .

There is, therefore, no soul, no survival after death and no retribution of good and bad deeds. When one speaks of such things, it is only a misuse of words, which originally implied something quite different.12 The 'other world' (paraloka) which word in India denotes a peculiar meaning, is nothing else than another place, another time and another condition.13 Hell is nothing else than grief full of agony. Deliverance is the destruction of the body. The highest god is an almighty King.

The adherents of the Lokayata developed and proved their doctrines like this. But there were not only systematic explanations or proofs with which they met their opponents. They also knew to use especially effectually the weapon of derision and knew how to make the opponent a laughing stock. Their derision, in the first place, was directed against the sacri­ficial cult of the Brahmanas. They said, for example,14 "If a man after leaving the body enters into a world beyond, why does he not again come back, driven by the impulse of love or affection to his relatives?" But the belief in the other world is meaningless. Because, if "a sacrificer would reap the reward of heaven, after the sacrificer himself, the sacrificial act and the implements of sacrifice are long gone (into the limbo of the past), the trees which were consumed by a forest conflagration would as well bear fruit." Equally meaningless it is to offer an ancestral sacrifice to the dead. "If the ancestral offering of worship would be the source of gratification to the dead, then one could as well feed the flame of a lamp which is extinguished." "Fine, indeed, would be any such effect on the things which are distant. Then a man need not provide provisions (of food etc.) to the people who go on a journey. Because, then, nothing would prevent one from satisfying him (his hunger and thirst) by an ancestral offering of worship performed at home. ! But it is all a swindle! The ceremonies for the dead which the Brahmanas performed have been performed to provide them­selves with means of maintenance. There is nothing else in that." Generally, "the fire-sacrifice, the three Vedas, the bundle of three sticks which the Brahmanas carry, and the besmearing with ashes serves only as a means of livelihood for men who lack intelligence and energy for any other occu­pation." "The mortifications, the different self-torments, the self-discipline, the deceits for the sense-satisfaction and the sacrificial acts like the fire-sacrifice are regarded as childish play" by reasonable men. If really that would have been true, "if", really as the Brahmanas assert, "the animal slaughtered in the sacrifice would go to heaven, why does not, then, the sacrificer kill his father in order to despatch him to heaven?" But "the authors of the Vedas are none else than the three categories of the crackers of jests, rogues, and nigh t-sneakers, when they utter their unintelligible gossip, their 'jarbhari' and 'turbhari' "15 passing it for the words of wise men. That is why one should not believe in anything of this kind but should live happily, so long as life lasts. There is nothing which does not expire after death. Once the body becomes ashes, then there is no recurrence”.

Thus represents itself in broad features the doctrine of the Lokayata in the older period. Its thought-processes are simple and have rarely interfered in the philosophical development. But they have continually found adherents and their school has maintained its ground through the whole centuries. Its situation becomes more difficult at the end of the classical period of Indian philosophy, when logical and epistemological questions moved to the forefront of interest and when every system was compelled to take them into consideration, on which their systems were founded. The adherents of the Lokayata also could not escape this demand. Originally they made light of the fact. In the sutras of Brhaspati16 it is said: "The inference is not the means of right knowledge." One, therefore, appealed only to sense­-experience and simply dismissed the further assertions of the opponent. One could do it so long as inferences which were arri­ved at by the antagonistic schools were simple inferences by analogy. It was enough to show the faultiness of every conclusion, in order to decline every inference as unreliable. Things, how­ever, were different, as the opponent developed the firmly grounded scientific doctrines forming conclusions. One had to discuss these, nay, one was compelled to establish his own doctrine differently as from what he had done hitherto and to defend it. Partly one tried to hold fast to the old line, as, for instance, when one explained:17 "The aphorisms of Brhaspati have only this aim, viz. to refute the opponent". But in the majority of cases one decided to discuss the doctrine of inference and to take it over at least in parts. This desertion of the original attitude led, in no way, to the consequence of the decline of the system. The tak­ing up of foreign thoughts and occupation with them led, on the contrary, to a regular activity and to a blossoming up of a literature richer than hitherto. We have, however, reached with it a turning point, in the development, at which we must provi­sionally halt.

Also among the other systems with which we have dealt, we have seen that at the end of the classical period of Indian philosophy about the middle of the first post-Christian millen­nium, the system-building in essentials had come to a close and had been at a stand-still. In its place there stepped in the fore­front the theory of knowledge and there developed a lively and fruitful activity in this sphere for several more ·centuries. The presentation of this development, which appears to a certain extent as a second blossoming of the classical period, we have hitherto put in the background, in order to handle it separately as an independent section of Indian philosophy. Now we see that the Lokayata also came round to the same path about the same time. But before we can go over to the presentation of these sections of development, there remains for us a group of systems to handle, which later sprang forth and to which we have referred up to this time, but which developed themselves to so great importance and scrambled for the lead through several centu­ries-namely the systems of the Buddhists.


Hillebrandt, A.: Zur Kenntnis der indischen Materialis­ten. Aufsatze zur Kultur und Sprachageschichte vornehmlich des Orients, Ernst Kuhn gewidmet, Miinchen 1916, p. 24-26.

Tucci, G.: Linee di una Storia del materia1ismo Indiano. Memorie della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Serie V, Vol. 17-Fasc. 7/1923 and Serie VI. Vol. 2, Fasc. 10/1929.

Ruben, W. : Materialismus im Leben des alten Indien, Acta Orientalia XIII, Leiden 1935, p. 128-162 and 177-225.

Dakshina Ranjan Shastri : Short History of Indian Materialism, Calcutta 1930.

Translations are not mentioned; apart from a few concise works recently found, in later times, the literature of the system is lost. Nothing much is to be remarked about my presentation. In a history of Indian Philosophy, the systematic materialism of the Lokayata must naturally stand at the middle point or centre. A grouping of scattered utterances of materialistic views has no value, because therethrough no essentially new features come forth. For the systematic Lokayata, the most important thing is the assembling and making use of the available fragments. It is still, up to this time, not performed in a satisfactory form hut is not difficult for the older times. Difficulties present themselves only in the post-classical times, where the thought-processes be­come complicated and isolated authors and works become available for consideration. But it falls already out of the limits of the present volume.


  1. This deals with the second Uvangam of the Jaina, the Rayapasenaijam, to whichh from the Buddhistic Side Dlgha­nikaya XXIII (Payasisuttanam) = Dirghagamah 7 corresponds. Of both the versions, the Jinistic one is, according .to all appearances, the original one. Compare E. Leumann, Beziehungen der Jaina-Literatur zu andern Literaturkreisen Indiens. Actes du sixieme Congres Internatinal, des Orientalistes tenu en 1883 a Leide, Troisieme Partie, Section 2, Leiden 1885, p. 467-564.  I closely follow, in the following, the translation by E.Leumann, though in doing so, I have made it more smooth and short.

  1. Compare Dighanikaya II (Samannaphalasuttam) = Dirghagamah 27

  1. The northern bank of the Ganga was considered at that time as an old Brahmanical holy land in contrast to the southern bank.

  1. The beings in the hell and the world of the gods are not produced but they originate suddenly and directly The belief in such suddenly originated beings is, therefore, of importance for the doctrine of the re­birth and of the retribution of good and bad actions in the world beyond.

  1. The word Carvaka holds good partly as the name of the founder of the system but is also explained in a different way.

  1. The aphorisms of Brhaspati are not preserved to us but are only known from quotations. And as the remaining literature of the system is lost and besides, the works and the authors, about whom we hear, belong to a later time, I have not further gone in this place into the literature of the Lokayata.

  1. The beginning of the Vaisesika-Sutras runs origi­nally: Yad iha bhavarupam tat sarvam abhidhasyami (compare Vyomasiva, Vyomavati p.47, 13 f and 492, 25)

  1. The quoted Sutras are often quoted in an isolated manner. In the cited order, they appear in Prabhacandra, Nyayakumudacandra, Manikacandra Digambara Jaina Gran­thamala Vols. 38-39, Bombay 1938-41, p. 341, 17 ff. I follow it here.

  1. Prabhacandra, Nyayakumudacandra p. 343, 9 f.

  1.  Compare p. (27) f.

  1.  For the following, compare Santiraksita, Tattvasamgrahah, Gaekwad's Oriental Series No. 30-31, Baroda 1926, v. 1857 ff.

  1.  Compare Sayanamadhava, Sarvadarsanasamgrahah, Anandasrama Sanskrit Series No. 51, Poona 1928, p. 2, 23 f. and 3, 1-4.

  1.  Santiraksita, Tattvasamgrahah v. 1874.

  1.  The verses employed for the following are found in their largest number in Sayanamadhava's Sarvadarsanasamgra­hah, p. 5, 1 ff.

  1.  jarbhari and turphari are antiquated obsolete Vedic words which become unintelligible in later times and appear to the sceptics as a senseless Abrakadabra.

  1.  Pratyaksam eva pramanam anumanam apramanam. Compare Abhayadevasuri, Tattvabodhavidhayini on Si­dhasenadivakara's Sammatitarkaprakaranam, Puratattvamandl­ra Granthavali No. 10, 16, 18, 19 and 21, Ahmedabad 1923-30, p. 70, 18 f and 73, 14 ff.

  1.  Sarvatra paryanuyogapararni eva sutrani Brhaspateh. Compare Abhayadevasuri in his above referred-to work, p. 69, 39. 

This essay is Chapter 9 (The Materialism) of Erich Frauwallner’s History of Indian Philosophy, translated from German to English by V.M.Bedekar


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