Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Lokayata School


The Lokayata is a school with a very venerable ancestry, Brihaspati the preceptor of the gods being regarded as its first Founder. The doctrine is sometimes styled the Bhutavada, as well as the Lokayata, and from the numerous references to it in orthodox as well as non-­orthodox works, it would seem that the doctrine was more than mere tendency: that it had, in other words, early developed into an orderly system of thinking. It, for instance, accepted direct perception (Pratyaksha) as the only valid source of knowledge, denied Causality, and preached prudential Hedonism. And its constructive programme probably included an earnest effort, by cultivating the social and physical sciences such as they were known at the time, to ameliorate human suffering and augment the sum-total of human happiness. The School has had the mis­fortune of being known to us only through the versions of its opponents; but its great seductive charm and extensive vogue cannot be readily explained on the usual assumptions regarding the purely negative and destructive character of its tenets. The Kautilya, as is well known, assigns it quite a prominent place as a system of philosophy, and it is likely that the teacher mentioned in the Mahabharata as the friend and contemporary of Duryodhana, viz. Charvaka, must have exercised considerable influence in giving unto what was merely the natural tendency of the human mind-presenting itself at specific periods of its social evolution - a metaphysical basis and back-ground. The teaching of Ajita Kesa-kambalin, as we saw, agreed with the Lokayata in quite a number of details; and the Bhagavadgita, it may be recalled, selected this very school for a particularly virulent frontal attack (Chap. xvi). We can understand of course how it did happen that at a time when no two prophets or phi­losophers seemed quite to agree even on the most elementary of questions; and when there was no authority living or dead that dared to prove that a thing was so-and-so, or was not so-­and-so, a voice which - acting on the famous dictum that where ignorance was bliss it was folly to be wise – advised men to turn away from the giddy heights of speculation and descend to the plain normal life of sense and sensibility, was most like­ly to secure the readiest response. Its attacks on the Srauta religion and on all established institutions in fact were mark­ed by a trenchancy of style, wealth of illustrations and, a perspicacity of argumentation which rarely failed to hit where it aimed and achieved the victory, as indeed the few preserved specimens of it abundantly testify.



S.K.Belvalkar & R.D.Ranade, 1927, History of Indian Philosophy: The Creative Period (Chapter Tenth: Post-Upanishadic Thought-Ferment, Section: 9: The Lokayata School)

About the authors:

Shripad Krishna Belvalkar (1880-1967) was born at Kolhapur, Maharashtra and was educated at Bombay and Harvard universities. He was Honorary Secretary of All India Oriental Conference in1926-27. He was elected as Honorary Fellow, Royal Asiatic Society, London in 1947. He was co-founder and Honorary Secretary of Bhardarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune in 1915-18 and 1927-33. His publications include: Systems of Sanskrit Grammar (1915), Rama’s Later Hisotry (1925), Dandin’s Kavyadarsa (1924), and Bhagavadgita (1941)

Ramachandra Dattatraya Ranade (1886-1957) was born at Jamkhandi in Karnataka. He was Emiritus Professor of Philosophy and Vice-Chancellor, Allahabad University.  His important publications are: Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy (1926), Mysticism in Maharashtra (1930), Philosophical Essays (1956), and Shri Bhagavat Gita (1958)


Been a student of Indian Philosophy I have come to realize that whatever philosophy, understanding of justice, economics and polity emanated from our land centuries back are slowing getting recognition and coming into the light in today's perspective.
Credit been given to western intellectuals during the European Enlightenment in 19th century( such as Burke, Hobbes, Kant etc) have a lot of similarity in thoughts with the ancient Indian literature. Though it is west that is been associated with these thoughts, it too had there independent emergence in Ancient India centuries back.

True picture of Indian thoughts should be presented to the world and suitable appreciation should be showered on the things and ideas from the past.

In general, we agree with you. Given the extreme scarcity of source material belonging to Carvaka/Lokayata school of thought, it is a tough task to reconstruct their thought. In modern times, the likes of Debiprasad Chattopadhyay, Ramkrishna Bhattachartya,etc have made enormous contributions in this direction.

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