Saturday, 29 December 2012

Investigating Acts of Terror: Adopting Unbiased Approach

Ram Puniyani

Hidden in the back pages of some major dailies, there was news that the third Samjhauta bomber was held in MP (16, Dec 2012). National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Rajender Choudhary, near Ujjain in MP. He has been named as one of the bombers in the supplementary charge sheet submitted by the agency. One recalls that in the blast in Samjhauta Express, way back in 2007, resulted in the death of 68 persons, including 43 Pakistanis. The investigation showed that there were four brief-case bomb planters, who allegedly acted on the instructions from RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi, Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra. Of these Sunil Joshi was later murdered. Many others’ from this camp, who are cooling their heels behind the bars in jails, are Swami Aseemanand and company. This series of blasts like Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer etc. were planned at times when religious conglomeration of Muslims at major festivals was there, so that the casualty is large.

The first striking point of this news is the under projection of the arrest. If we remember in earlier phase, when for the same incidents of blasts the innocent Muslim youth were arrested, there were banner headlines in all the news papers and anchors of TV channels were screaming to the highest pitch. In this projection the language press added all the necessary spices to highlight the religion of the arrested culprits. This was followed by the under reporting of the judgments, which found these Muslim youth innocent and then these youth were let off. Such news was again hidden in the back pages as small news items if at all. The pattern of media reporting showed a clear-cut bias in the nature of reporting.  Unfortunately the media pundits have also ignored this major phenomenon of the pattern of reporting in case of communal violence and terrorist violence. In case of communal violence the large section of media accepted the version from police or dominant prevalent versions in an uncritical manner. In case of terrorist violence the media reported events with the underlying theme as if all terrorists are Muslims.

Courtesy: The Hindu

The attitude of police also was on these patterns in both communal and terrorist types of violence. In terrorist violence the arrest of Muslim youth was done with striking regularity, till the motorcycle of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, an ex ABVP worker, was discovered by Hemant Karkare. Till that time the earlier chiefs of ATS in Maharashtra and other states where blasts took place, were playing it cool. In most these cases the involvement of those associated with RSS ideology was not given a serious thought. When in April 2006 the blast took place in Nanded in the house of RSS activist Rajkondavar. In front of the house there was a board of Bajrang Dal and the saffron flag was fluttering. There was enough evidence to take the investigation further, which might have led to arrest way back of those who are currently in jails. Since large section of police preferred to be guided by biases rather than professionalism, the investigation remained half way and the series of blasts kept taking place. To arrest the Hindus for acts of terror was an ‘unthinkable thought’ for most investigating officers. To highlight this in media was not might not have been thought appropriate by the media. The police and media, both, focused on the ‘thinkable thought’ and projected Muslims as the culprits. This thinkable thought was product of the US propaganda duly taken up by the National media. As per this ‘All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims’.

When Hemant Karkare decided to go ahead in a professional way, the path was not easy for him. He soon faced the political pressure from some sections. Bal Thackeray in his paper Saamna wrote, that we ‘spit on the face of Hemant Karkare, while Narendra Modi said that Hemant Karkare is Deshdrohi (Anti National). The death of Hemant Karkare was a big setback to the investigation of blast cases. But the path was paved for thinking on these lines which were unthinkable earlier. With confession of Swami Aseemanand in presence of a magistrate, which he later retracted, the evidence cam forth clearly on which Rajasthan ATS and now NIA and other police agencies may be working meticulously to bring out the truth of these blasts.

While the arrest of Muslim youth was going on recklessly, some social activists tried, in vain, to draw the attention of the state and investigating agencies, about the arrest of innocents. That the real culprits are being overlooked was the underlying statement. These social activists were ignored  till the people’s tribunal “Scapegoats and Holy Cows’ held in Hyderabad (August 2008) brought forward the truth for public and states’ attention to the tragic reality of blasts and the reality about the culprits who were getting away and the innocents were being arrested. Needless to say that due to such arrests, the social life and careers of those innocents who were arrested was ruined. Even now lot of questions persist; about Batla encounter and the alleged role of Azamgarh youth in the acts of terror. Some political leaders have been raising the issue but state so far has been very apathetic to the plight of Muslim youths and their families who have been implicated in this incident. Now some hope is being rekindled that these innocents may get justice as on one hand the professional attitude of NIA is nabbing the real culprits and hopefully will ensure that the guilty are punished by the court of law.

At the same time, though painfully late, the delegation led by Ram Vilas Paswan met the Prime Minister and submitted the memorandum on the issue. The Prime minister has promised that “The government will soon constitute a mechanism to stop arresting innocent youth, providing justice to them and their rehabilitation.” Dr. Singh also assured that he will talk to the Home Minister in this regard. One does not know how the state is planning to compensate the innocent youth, who have suffered immensely at the hands of the insensitive state machinery. Will Government gather courage to institute an inquiry into Batla encounter and bring forth the truth?

One presumes after the Nanded blast (April 2006), which was an accident in which the Bajrang Dal activists making the bombs were killed, had the investigation been taken to its logical conclusion many a blasts might have been prevented and many an innocent lives saved. That’s a conjecture, which sounds to be a strong possibility in the hindsight. Will this be a lesson to our concerned authorities to learn from and a pointer to adopt a more professional attitude in future?    

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

What is Meant by Svabhava: Chattopadhyaya and Needham

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya’s Science and Society in Ancient India (1977) impressed Joseph Needham very much as had his Lokayata (1959). But there was one point on which Needham had some reservations. A series of letters relating to the doctrine of svabhava (lit. own being) and further discussions in person (when Chattoapdhyaya visited Needham in Cambridge) are of seminal importance to the student of Indian philosophy and more particularly of the philosophy of science.

Chattopadhyaya (1977) has made much of the doctrine of svabhava in relation to the CS, although he does not associate it specifically with the Carvaka, but with materialism of another sort. He knew that, unlike the Carvakas, the CS (1.26.10) speaks of five elements instead of four, and the physician-philosophers’ views concerning the rise of consciousness are quite different from the Carvakas’ (Chattopadhyaya 1992, 41-43). Chattopadhyaya proceeds from the notion: svabhavavada = “the laws of nature” = causality, and then equates causality with materialism which is = scientific temper or science consciousness. It is difficult to accept this series of equations in view of the basic complexity around the word, svabhava. What does it really mean: causality or accident?

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (left) and Joseph Needham

Svabhava is said to be one of the rival claimants for the title of the first cause (Jagatkarana) along with kala (time), yadriccha (chance or accident), niyati (detiny) etc. in the SvUp 1.2 (c. sixth century BCE). Here the distinction between svabhava and yadriccha is clearly made. However, in course of time, we find svabhava becoming a synonym for yadricch in Asvaghosha’s BC (9.58-62) and Sau (16.17). At the same time svabhavavada came to entail inactivism, akriyavada and total denial of the efficacy of human endeavour. The typical example of what svabhava means was the sharpness of the thought. In the Nyayasutra (4.1.22-24), this very idea is set to imply animittata (absence of any efficient cause). It is in this very sense that svabhava is used in the Mbh, Mokshadharma Parvadhyaya, Santiparvan (12.172.10-11, 12.224.50, 12.230.4). So it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that svabhava could mean both hetu and ahetu, causality and accident. In any case the implication of svabhava is more problematic than it appears at first glance. It is quite impossible to employ a single word or even a single phrase to convey the complexity inhering in the world.

In a personal communication to Chattopadhyaya (dt. 15. 12. 1978, as yet unpublished) Joseph Needham emphasized the relation between svabhava and the Chinese concept of Tao, and mildly objected to the phrase “laws of nature” in translating svabhava:

“On the other hand, I am not at all sure that the translation of "laws" of Nature for svabhava will meet the case. I suspect that one should not go beyond some expression like "innate thus-ness" or the "essential nature of things". As you will remember, in Volume 2 of "Science and Civilisation in China", we made a rather thorough investigation of the question of whether the conception of laws of Nature had ever arisen in Chinese civilisation, and we decided in the negative. This was on pp. 518 ff. Later we revised the presentation somewhat for a lecture at the Hatfield College of Technology in 1961... I now suspect that the rather silly metaphor of “Laws of Nature” could have arisen only in the monotheistic civilisation of the "People of the Book", i.e. the Hebrews, Christians and Moslems. We also suspect that it may have had considerable heuristic value at the time of the scientific revolution, but we doubt whether it played more than a minor part in that context. For us, the over-riding factors which gave rise to the scientific revolution in Europe and not in the Asian civilisations, were the concrete social and economic conditions and structures of these respective societies; and not so much intellectual factors - though we would never want to deny the importance of these. I haven't consulted any Sanskritists here about the best translation of svabhava but I can't help wondering whether it did not imply something like the Tao in Chinese thinking, i.e. the indwelling naturalness which makes things to be as they really are. At one time I thought that this might have something to do with Indian Rita, a word which I don't find in your index.”

Chattopadhyaya himself in his Lokayata (1959) had often spoken of the Vedic concept of rita and the Chinese concept of Tao (See the general index of Lokayata). In his study of the philosophical background of the ancient Indian medical texts (1977) he, for reasons best known to him, omitted all references to both rita and Tao, and concentrated wholly on svabhava as “laws of nature”. Needham was of the opinion that such a concept could only develop in monotheistic civilisations. Chattopadhyaya, however, was reluctant to admit this view (Chattopadhyaya 1987, 144-45).

Referring again to Chattopadhyaya’s work (1977) Needham later (1980) writes:

“A key word in the ancient Indian literature is svabhava, which could be translated “inherent nature”, “innate thus-ness”, or “the essential nature of things”. It must have had close relations with rita and even dharma in some senses, meaning “the Order of Nature” or the way in which Nature works – all recalling Tao in Chinese. The physicians were seeking the pattern-principles in Nature, the ultimate reasons (ultimately of course inscrutable) why things are as they are and behave as they do” (Needham 1980, 25)
Needham in this context makes another significant observation regarding the Chinese rendering of svabhava:

“It is interesting to see how these Sanskrit words came out when the Buddhists philosophers needed to translate them into Chinese. Svabhava was rendered as hsing, and defined as embodied cause, the unchanging, independent, self-dependent, fundamental “nature” behind the manifestation or expression of anything. Sometimes this was amplified as tzu hsing, “the primary germ [verb. sap.] out of which all material appearances are evolved, the first source of the material world of phenomena....” Other more curious locutions were ssu-pho-pho and tzu-thi-thi, “own state”, essential or inherent property, innate or peculiar disposition, natural state or constitution...”(Needham 1980, 25).

It is rather surprising that Needham seems to have agreed later (1986) with Chattopadhyaya’s view of svabhava as “laws of nature”, although the eminent Sinologist preferred to use the phrase, “the Order of Nature” along with it (see above). Referring to Chattopadhyaya’s treatment of rita in History of Science and Technology in Ancient India (vol. 1), Needham writes in his Preface to this work:

“Again, all that has been written here about rita, that ancient Indian concept of the Order of Nature, its pattern and organisation, self-originating and underlying all that happens, is well worth reading. The concept is somewhat analogous with what in Chinese we call the Tao, or li, also self-originating, tzu-jan. Apparently it was not characteristic of the Indus Valley civilisation but rather to be found in the Rigveda and such works. As a recognition of the regularity and uniformity of Nature it was certainly wisdom, but it had to be fleshed out with specific theories about natural phenomena, and these to a large extent arose out of technological practice. Of course it was the ancestor too of what today we call “laws of Nature”, those laws which Westerners once thought of as due to the will of a transcendent creator deity, but which are now regarded as descriptive rather than prescriptive” (Needham 1986, vii).

Chattopadhyaya was highly gratified to see that, after a long discussion with him in Cambridge (when he visited Needham, as he says, to learn from him something about history of science and technology), Needham had “constructively reconsidered” his views (Chattopadhyaya 1987, 145-46).

Two points are to be noted here: (a) acting upon Needham’s comment in his personal communication, Chattopadhyaya brought back rita to the interpretation of svabhava in the second volume of his history of science and technology in ancient India (1991) and (b) Needham, having heard from him the evidence of Indian philosophical literature, modified his views on svabhava insofar as it was a concept related to rita. Strangely enough, none of them refers to the Buddhist idea of pratitya-samutpada in this connection.

In his later work (1991) Chattopadhyaya discusses in detail the place of svabhava in Lokayata, Samkhya and Nyaya-Vaisesika, and comes to the following conclusion:

“We have seen that it (sc. svabhava) formed an important feature of the new intellectual climate ushered in the Second Urbanization and further, notwithstanding differences among the modern and medieval scholars of looking back at it, the concept itself at least foreshadowed what came to be known in later times as the Laws of Nature” (Chattopadhyaya 1991, II:69-70) (Emphasis added).

All these qualifications and modifications in the statement betray how tenuous Chattopadhyaya’s conclusion is. Svabhava-as-accident is as much a part of ancient classical Sanskrit works (such as the BC) as svabhava-as-causality. It is no use blaming some modern and medieval scholars. For one thing, in Indian literature two apparently unrelated ideas, one cosmological and the other ethical, inhere in the changing concept of svabhava. If it stands for causality, the ethical corollary would be activism; if, on the other hand, it stands for accident or lawlessness, the corollary would be akriyavada, inactivism. Svabhava has no room in the major epistemological and metaphysical questions that form the greatest part of the philosophical debates in ancient and medieval India. Add to this the problem of relating svabhava (whether as chance or as causality) to the Carvaka/Lokayata materialism, the confusion becomes worse confounded. And if one cares to bring in the issue of svabhava vis-à-vis Samkhya in this connection, the result will be a perfect mess (see Johnston 1937, 68-70; Chakravarti 1951, 43, 234; Bedekar 1957, 146-47).

Needham (1980, 25) tells us that svabhava in the Chinese tradition invariably stands for causality alone, not ahetu. Yet right from the first century CE the word svabhava in Sanskrit literature, both medical and non-medical, is used more often than not as a synonym for accidentalism or something not subject to cause-effect relations and hence leading to inactivism.

Apparently neither Chattopadhyaya nor Needham noticed (or refused to consider) that outside the medical tradition (and even inside it, cf. CS, 1.1.25), svabhava did have a meaning, not only different from causality but diametrically opposite to it. Such a meaning is encountered both earlier and later than the time of the compilation of the CS and the SS. Chattopadhyaya summarily dismisses the evidence of so many writers speaking of svabhava as synonymous with chance or accident: “There was a tendency in medieval India to interpret svabhava-vada as simple denial of the causal law and some of the modern scholars follow suit” (Chattopadhyaya 1991, 55-56. The sources he mentions are Santarakshita, the Naiyayikas, Louis de La Vallée-Poussin and Gopinath Kaviraj).

This view is palpably inadmissible. Even if we accept that that svabhava stands for a naturalistic approach to disease and medicine (as Chattopadhyaya, I think rightly, shows), the fact remains that both inside and outside the medical literature very often it represents pure accidentalism, although atheistic and pessimistic in intent (as for example, in CS,1.25.22-25). Daiva, adrishta, karman, and niyati, it should not be overlooked, all have a strong basis in causality: an as-you-sow-so-you-reap kind of inexorable and inevitable relation between one’s action and its consequence. Yadriccha and hatha, pure accident or chance (hatha is used to suggest accident in the Mbh and to denote chance-finding or serendipity in both the Mbh and YTC), on the other hand, should have no room in the list of jagatkaranas inasmuch as both of them imply denial of any causal relation between two events, as both consider it impossible to establish any such relation at all. Both in the cosmological and the ethical domains, svabhava-as causality is, however, different from all other “first causes” in one vital respect: it does not operate like an agency outside the material world but inheres in every material object, sentient or non-sentient, organic or inorganic. Kala, Time, on the other hand, operates from outside in accordance with nothing but its own course.

Works Cited

BC. Asvaghosha. Buddhacarita. Ed. and trans. E. H. Johnston. Delhi : MLBD, 1978.

Bedekar, V.M. (1958). Studies in Samkhya: Pancasikha and Caraka. ABORI, 38, 140-47.

Chakravarti, Pulinbihari. (1951/1975). Origin and Development of the Samkhya System of Thought. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. (1959). Lokayata. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1959.

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. (1977/1979). Science and Society in Ancient India, Calcutta: Research India Publication.

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. (1986, 1991, 2001). History of Science and Technology in Ancient India, Calcutta: Firma KLM, vols. 1-3.

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. (1987). Bharate Vastuvada Prasange (in Bangla). Kalkata: Anushtup.

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. (1992). Pracina Bharate Cikitsavijnana (in Bangla), Kalkata: Pasachimbanga Bangla Academy.

CS. Caraka Samhita. Jamnagar: Gulab Kunberva Ayurvedic Society, 1949.

Ed. Vaidya Jadavji Trika¿ji Acarya. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, 1984.

Johnston, E. H. (1937/1974). Early Samkhya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Mbh. The Mahabharata. Critically edited by Vishnu S. Sukthankar and others. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1933-66. Vulgate edition, Ed. Pancanan Tarkaratna, Kalikata, 1826 †aka.

Needham, Joseph. Unpublished letters to D. Chattopadhyaya. (Permission to quote secured from Aditi Chatterjee).

Needham, Joseph. (1980). China and the Origins of Immunology. Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong.

Needham, Joseph. Introduction to D. Chattopadhyaya (1986).

NS Nyayasutra with Vatsyayana’s Bhashya, Uddyotakara’s Varttika, Vacaspatimisra’s Tatparyatika and Udayana’s Parisuddhi. Ed. Anantalal Thakur. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1996-97.

Sau. Asvaghosha. Saundarananda. Ed. And trans. E. H. Johnston (1928). Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1975.

SS. Sushruta. Sushrutasamhita. Ed. Vaidya Jadavji Trkanji Acharya. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Orientalia, [1980].

SvUp. Svetasvatara Upanishad with the commentaries of [Pseudo] Sankara, Sankarananda, Narayana, and Vijnana-Bhagavat. Poona: Anandasrama, 1905.

YTC. Somadevasuri. Yasastilakacampu. Ed. M. N. Pandit Sivadatta and V. L. Panasikar. Bombay: Nirnay Sagar Prakashan, 1916.

Acknowledgements: Amitava Bhattacharyya, Aditi Chatterjee


This paper was first published in Psyche and Society (Kolkata), vol. 10 No. 2.
December 2012, pp. 16-20.

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of Pavlov Institute, Kolkata.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Materialism in Indian Philosophy – Part I

M N Roy

In India also, the dissatisfaction with the Vedic Natural Religion gave rise to speculations about the origin of things. Some of the earlier Upanishads are fragmentary records of those speculations. But for reasons stated in a preceding chapter, early Indian speculations about the origin of things developed directly into metaphysics and a precarious form of monotheistic religion. Yet, towards the close of the misty Vedic era, approximately about the 7th or 8th century B.C., there rose thinkers who represented distinct materialist tendencies. The teachings of those early speculative rebels are almost completely lost. Only the general drift of the currents of their thought can be approximately inferred from the works of their orthodox opponents. There is, however, ample evidence to conclude that the two earlier systems of Hindu philosophy - Vaisheshik and Sankhya - were the positive outcome of the speculations recorded fragmentarily and rather enigmatically in the earlier Upanishads. The Vedic society was in the process of dissolution. The pastoral tribal organization, under priestly domination, was buttressed ideologically on the natural religion of the Vedas. The ideology of the forces making for its dissolution was expressed by the philosophers who challenged the authority of the gods by trying to explain the being and becoming of the world in a rationalist and materialist way.

MN Roy
All the existing schools of philosophy mention earlier thinkers as “heretics” or “nihilists”. The former had denied the authority of the Vedas; the latter doubted if anything existed at all. According to the Sankhyas, the “nihilists” held: “Since nothing really exists, except thought, neither does bondage exist; just as the things of a dream have no real existence. Therefore, it (bondage) has no cause; for it is absolutely false. The reality is a void. What is, perishes, because to perish is the habit of things. The void alone is the reality. Since everything that exists, perishes, and that which is perishable is false, as in a dream, bondage has merely a momentary existence, is phenomenal, and not real. Therefore, who can be bound by that? Nothing continues after quitting its own nature; therefore, nothing could continue in existence, if it ceased to perish (that is, ceased to have its nature)”.

From such fragmentary records, it is very difficult to reconstruct the whole system. But to do so obviously is essential for the composition of a complete history of ancient Indian thought. For the moment, the fragment­ary evidence clearly proves that the speculative efforts made to outgrow the childishness of the Vedic Natural Religion did not directly develop into the metaphysical conceptions recorded in the existing Upanishads. There was a distinct tendency of development in the opposite direction. Not only was the authority of the Vedas boldly challenged, but the earlier forms of metaphysical thought were subjected to ridicule, and the denial of the Gods or supernatural agencies was stretched to the logical conclusion of denying the existence of everything since this latter depended on the existence of imaginary metaphysical entities.

The Upanishads record not only strands of rationalist, naturalist and agnostic thought, but also out-and-out atheism and materialism. At least one of the main eighteen books is entirely devoted to an exposition of rationalist and naturalist thinking and the most outspoken heretical views. It denies the existence of God and soul; it holds that nothing but matter exists, and that there is no other world beyond this world. Its thesis can be summarized as follows:

“There is no incarnation, no God, no heaven, no hell; all traditional religious literature is the work of conceited fools; nature, the originator, and time, the destroyer, are the rulers of things, and take no account of  virtue or vice, in awarding happiness or misery to men; people deluded by flowery speeches cling to God's temples and priests when, in reality, there is no difference between "Vishnu and a dog." (Swasanved Upanishad, Sutra II).

The origin of the naturalist and sceptic thought, developed in some of the major Upanishads, indeed, can be traced even in the Rig Veda; for instance, the Creation Hymn which concludes the dialogue between the parents of mankind - the twin brother and sister, Yama and Yami.

The Vedas themselves also furnish the evidence of heretical naturalist thought growing already in the Vedic time. There are Vedic hymns which refer to heretics and unbelievers. They evidently were the pioneers of the revolt against the natural religion and as such forefathers of Indian philosophy. As in ancient Greece, so in India also, the first attempts of human intellect to explain nature in natural terms gave birth to philosophy; that means, in India also originally philosophy was materialism. The Vedas and the early Upanishads refer to the - Swabhavadins (naturalists) and their doctrines. They dis­puted the reality of the gods of natural religion and scoff­ed at the pretensions of the priests. From the scant references made only to refute them, it can be inferred that those early pioneers of Indian philosophy were empiricists;  they held that perception was the only source of knowledge as well as the only reliable evidence. There­fore they were called darsanikas, and the term subsequently came to mean philosopher. The Sanskrit word darsana means perception. The authorship of the lokayata dar­sana, the earliest Indian philosophy, is traditionally ascribed to the legendary figure of Brihaspati - the preceptor of the gods. The legend indicates that in the olden days the naturalist rebels against blind faith and orthodoxy were held in high esteem, The fact that Brihaspati has gone down in history also as the founder of the Charvak system developed in a later period as the culmination of the materialist thought in ancient India, proves that until the fall of Buddhism, that is, for more than a thousand years, materialism was a continuous current of thought in ancient India.  The fundamental principles of the lokayata drsana (Indian materialism), s it developed over this long period, ere recorded as follows by Krishna Misra, who was a younger contemporary of Buddha:

“In it only perceptual evidence is authority. The elements are earth, water, fire and air. Wealth and enjoyment are the objects of human existence. Matter can think. There is no other world. Death is the end of all”.

The Ramayana records the story of Javali -the sceeptic and sophist who questioned faith and scriptural laws. The Mahabharata also denounces “doubters and atheists who deny the reality of soul”. They “wander over the whole earth”; they were rationalists, critics of the Vedas, revilers of the Brahmans”. The Gita also refers to heretics who deny the existence of God.

Nihilism was the ideology of the dissolution of antique society in India. It was revolutionary in the sense that it was a mighty revolt against Vedic priest-craft; but as a school of philosophical thought, it was sterile. Neverthe­less, It very greatly influenced Buddhist philosophy. The need to dispute the nihilist doctrine promoted the rise of materialistic tendency. Indian materialism rose as reaction to nihilism. The materialist schools of Indian philosophy represented currents of thought evidently stimulated by nihilism.  In order to dispute the doctrine that nothing existed, it was necessary to rely upon the existence of the material world which no sensible person could possibly dispute. The connection between nihilism and the outspokenly materialistic Vaisheshik system still remains a matter of investigation. But its connection with the quasi-materialist Sankhya system is quite evident. In their fight against the nihilists, the Sankhyas were driven very close to out and out materialism. In order to prove the reality of some existence, Kapila had to fall back upon the material world. The existence of thought by itself, or that of disembodied spirits, could not be proved to the satisfaction of the sceptics who expounded their nihilist doctrines as the logical deductions from the early spiritualist cult which was being set up in order to drug the victims of social chaos, so that they might ignore the miseries of this world as bad dreams. Therefore, more tangible evidence for the reality of existence had to be produced. The rebels and revolutionaries of ancient India thus made the rise of a philosophy possible. In order to prove the existence of thought, Kapila, for example, had to refer the reality of thought to the reality of the external world. His highly materialistic theory of cognition was also developed under the powerful impact of nihilism.

Even in the major Upanishads, which have come to ­be regarded as the foundation of the Vedantist metaphysi­cal system, the discerning student finds unmistakable evidence of materialism. That is only natural; because the speculations of men, whose spiritual thirst is no longer satisfied with the moonshine of natural religion, inevitably tends towards a physical explanation of natural pheno­mena. Ancient Indian speculation could not be free from this general psychological rule. Fragmentary evidence only proves that records of the early materialistic thought were destroyed in course of time. Until those lost chapters of the spiritual history of India are recovered or re­written, Indian philosophy will hang in the air. Pending the accomplishment of that outstanding task, for the present purpose it will be sufficient to reproduce some well known passages from the more important Upanishads:

“What is the origin of the world? Ether (akaska), for all these beings take their rise from ether only, and return into ether. Ether is their rest”.
Again, "That which is called ether, is the revealer of all forms and names.”*

If the conception of akaska is devoid of all content, then, the argument of the nihilists becomes unanswerable, and everything must be reduced to nothing, as non-existent. Moreover, in the same Upanishad, Brahman is also mentioned as the cause of everything-If akaska was a metaphysical conception, identical with Brahman, it would not be necessary for its being specified as the reveler of all forms and names, in addition to Brahman. Obviously, the function of revealing forms and names does not belong to Brahman. If things are supposed to have another cause, over and above the metaphysical Final Cause, then, the former must logically be conceived as a mental cause. There must have been dispute on this Point. Because Sankaracharya found it necessary to insist that “the word ether must here be taken to denote Brahman”. But it is equally, or perhaps more, logical to assume that the obvious meaning of the passage is more sensible and, in that case, the fact that Brahman also was mentioned as the cause of all is to be set to the credit of prevailing prejudice. The assumption of the material cause, named ether, is sufficient for explaining the origin of the world. Yet, the venerable conception of Brahman is retained as a matter of form. The entire history of scientific thought, almost down to our days, suffers from this fallacy.

In the Katha Upanishad, the world is visualized as evolving out of a primal material condition. Kapila takes that as his point of departure for the doctrine of the Pra­dhan and Avyakta (undeveloped or potential).

In Svetasvatara Upanishad, Aga (fire) is assumed as “the one unborn from which everything springs". Aga is not, however, identified with Brahman. So, it must have been conceived as a cause other than the spiritual First Cause. Here again, the physical world is traced to a material origin. The materialistic tendency in the Svetasvatara Upanishad is so very pronounced that even Sankaracharya finds it very difficult to explain it away. It will be shown later on that, in order to combat Bud­dhism which was the ultimate outcome of all the materialist tendencies in ancient India, Sankaracharya was compelled to take up a very thinly veiled materialistic position.

The vedanta has come to be accepted as the most representative and authoritative school of ancient Indian philosophy. As its name implies, it claims to contain all the wisdom of the Vedas. But being based on the authority of the Scriptures, it can hardly be accorded the distinction of philosophy. As a matter of fact, Vedanta is a very highly metaphysical system of theology. As such, it goes beyond the limits of a theistic religion, and represents a very highly developed form of pantheism. Pantheism is only inverted materialism. No other logical conclusion can be drawn from any consistent system of monism. The Vedantist metaphysical speculation completely destroys the idea of a god, and consequently liquidates religion. The materialist implication of the Vedantist pantheism becomes evident in its masterly exposition by Sankaracharya. The metaphysical monism of the Vedanta system was constructed by the Brahmm intellectuals in order to combat the materialist schools of philosophy which had logically resulted from the earlier speculation of thinkers no longer satisfied with the fantasies and fairy-tales of the primitive Vedic religion.

* Chandogya Upanishad

This essay is Chapter III of MN Roy’s Materialism: an Outline of the History of Scientific Thought (First Edition: July, 1940; Second Revised Edition: February, 1951)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Survey on International Atheist Community

Dr. Tom Arcaro, Professor of Sociology, Elon University, US and his team are conducting an online survey on international community of atheists.  It is an exercise in understanding the community of non-believers the world over. Though it is designed to be an international survey, so far it has elicited responses mostly from US and Canada

Since we think it worthwhile to participate in this exercise to understand ourselves, we reproduce the letter from Prof Arcaro.

Atheist friends and colleagues,
I write to ask your assistance on getting the word out about a survey designed to help us better understand the world of atheists.
I am a sociologist at Elon University and have been researching atheists and atheism for the last five years. I have amassed a team here at Elon to support me in doing this research, and we will all be quite honored to make a modest contribution to the cause of atheism. Our main goal is to serve the atheist community.
What do we know about the make-up of the atheist community both here in the United States and around the world? What are the perceptions of atheists about the state of atheism-related organizations and what these entities can or should do for them? What are the perceptions of atheists about believers? What types of atheists are there? How does being an atheist impact how one navigates in the social world? What is the demographic makeup of the atheist community both in the United States and around the world? What similarities and differences are there among atheists of different genders, ages, and geographical locations?
Though one can find answers to these questions in various books, articles, blogs and forums, having a robust, fresh set of survey data can serve to deepen, clarify, and expand on what we already know -or assume we know- about the world of atheists. The intent of this survey is to generate such a data set and thus assist atheist-oriented organizations better to understand and serve the atheist community. All relevant data (and analysis thereof) will be made available to the leadership of appropriate atheist- oriented organizations.
Getting the word out about this survey is critical so that we may hear the voices of as many atheists as is possible and, ultimately, work together to make ours a world where atheists are both understood and represented.
The url for the survey is I have also set up a web site for the survey at that will serve as a place people can go for updates, preliminary reports on the data, and also to offer comments.
Thank you in advance for your assistance.
Dr. Tom Arcaro
Professor of Sociology
Elon University
Elon, NC 27244

Commentators on the Cārvākasūtra: A Critical Survey - Part II

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya 

Reverting to the other commentators on the Cārvākasūtra, it may be said that Aviddhakarna, like Udbhata, attempted to interpret the Cārvāka aphorisms from the Nyāya-Vaiśesika point of view, perhaps without being converted to the Cārvāka. Since it is not possible at the present state of our knowledge to determine whether they were Cārvākas converted to Nyāya or Naiyāyikas converted to Lokāyata, as Eli Franco (1997, 142) says, my suggestion—they simply adopted the Cārvāka position while writing their commentaries without being converted to the Cārvāka—may be taken as a third alternative.

In this connection Franco mentions (1997, 142) the name of Bhāvivikta along with Aviddhakarna, for both of them are known to have written Cārvāka and Nyāya works. However, there is nothing to show that Bhāvivikta, like Udbhata, went for a novel line of interpreting the Cārvākasūtra. This is why Cakradhara calls him one of the ancient masters of the traditional Cārvākas, cirantanacārvākācārya (GrBh II: 257), following Jayanta’s own description. Jayanta also notes the dualist position adopted by Udbhata as against the traditional, monist one which did not believe in the independent existence of the spirit (NM II: 257).

If we care to notice the plural number employed by Kamalaśila (TSP II: 633) as well as Cakradhara (GrBh II: 257) in regard to the vrttikāras of the Cārvākasūtra (now lost), we may legitimately think of more than five commentators of the mūla text whose names so far are known to us. Apparently some followed the conventional approach and adhered to the mainstream tradition, while Udbhata and his followers proposed to advance an alternative line of dualist materialism, as borne out by GrBh: II: 257–258, 262. All of them, however, stuck to the basic premise: inference cannot be accepted as an independent instrument of cognition, although such inferences as are verified and verifiable by perception may be admitted. Solomon does not accept Mahendra Kumar Jain’s view that there were two Aviddhakarnas, one a Naiyāyika and the other a Cārvāka(1971, 23). It is possible that, like Vācaspatimiśra, both Aviddhakarn: a and Bhāvivikta composed two separate commentaries on the Cārvākasūtra without being converted to the Cārvāka. Since there is no hard fact either for accepting or for denying such a hypothesis, both the possibilities—one Aviddha­karna and one Bhāvivikta or two Aviddhakarnas and two Bhāviviktas—remain open. It is however worth noting that Aviddhakarna, like Udbhata, is admitted as a Cārvāka in NVV II: 101, not merely as an author of a Nyāya text.

Solomon is of the view that both Aviddhakarna and Udbhata belong to 
a section of thinkers who while firmly adhering to the doctrines of the Nyāya school, saw some affinity of the school with the Lokāyata school inasmuch as nothing is said in the Nyāya-sūtra about God, creation of the world, heaven [,] hell, etc. They perhaps wrote commentaries on the sūtras of the Lokāyata interpreting them in a new light and making their views more cogent and acceptable, so that the Lokāyata could have a better philosophical status. Bhāvivikta, Udbhata and perhaps even Aviddhakarna belonged to such a group and so were ridiculed as ‘Cirantana Cārvāka’ or Par[a]malokāyatammanya’ perhaps by the Cārvākas, as also by Nyāya philosophers who marched with the times and admitted the reality of heaven, etc., in their own philosophical sys­tem. This also explains why their views are hardly given any importance in the orthodox line of thinkers of the Nyāya School, whereas the Buddhists respect their clear-headedness. Even if looking to the expressions used we consider them as Cārvākas, we would have to admit that they tried to liberalise and re-interpret the orthodox Cārvāka doctrines, but remained faithful to the Nyāya doctrines in their commentaries on Nyāya works. I am inclined to regard them as primarily Nyāya thinkers (–they are referred to by Sāntaraksita and others among them–) who tried to bring the Lokāyata concepts closer [to Nyāya?], and to make them a little more philosophical (1973, 4: 11–12).
While such a possibility cannot be ruled out, I have only one comment to offer: Cakradhara clearly contrasts Bhāvivikta with Udbhata: the former alone is called a cirantanacārvāka while the latter’s innovative interpretation is noted both by Cakradhara (GrBh II: 257–258) and Vādidevasūri (SVR 764) as going against the tradition, yathāsrutārtha (GrBh I: 100). (In the last sentence quoted from Solomon, we must read Kamalaśila instead of Sāntaraksita, who alludes to Kambalāśvatara alone, while Kamalaśila refers in addition to Aviddhakarna and Purandara (TSP 521, 528–529). Bhāvivikta is mentioned by Cakradhara only once (GrBh II: 257)); no passage has been quoted from his work.

It is also to be noted that the commentators always had their rival philosophical systems in mind which sought to find fault with such materialist premises as con­sciousness can be present when and only when there is a body. Kambalāśvatara, for example, explains that the word ‘‘body’’ here is to be taken as one endowed with the five breaths, Prāna, Apāna, etc. (TS 22. 1863, II: 635). In other words, cognition is produced from the body inhabited or governed by the five breaths, i.e., a living body, not a corpse. Such a clarification may have been necessitated by some opponent’s resorting to jalpa, or chala, or vitandā in this context. Purandara and others too may have been constrained to explain their view of inference over and over again because of the same reason: to counteract the caricature so often resorted to by their opponents, such as Vācaspatimiśra (see above).

The term parināmaviśesah is found in several sources (see Bhattacharya 2009, 182, n. 20) but it is not clear whether there was an aphorism to this effect. It is probable that while explicating aphorism I.4 (‘Their combination (sc. of the four elements) is called the ‘‘body’’, ‘‘sense’’ and ‘‘object’’’), some commentator used this term to disabuse all (specially anti-materialists) of the notion (or to guard against actual or possible misinterpretation?) that any combination of the elements could give rise to consciousness in a body. He pointed out that only ‘‘a specific kind of transformation’’ could do so.

Speaking of the dominance of the senses in the materialist system, Sukhlal Sanghavi elucidates that the statement that pramāņa depends on the senses does not mean that the Cārvākas refuse such pramānas as inference or word which are used everyday and established everywhere; the Cārvāka calls itself prat­yaksamātravādin—indiryapratyaksamātravādin in the sense that inference, word, etc. are not laukika pramānas since their validity is not ascertainable without the information provided by sense perception. If, however, some jñānavyāpāra, not contradicted by sense perception, is called pramāna, the Cārvāka has no objection to it (1941/1987, 13–14). He had spoken of this before too (1939, 4 = 1961, 4) and his opinion is corroborated by Vādidevasūri (SVR 265–266), Ratnaprabhā (PNTA 640), Gunaratna (TRD 306) and the anonymous author of SMS (15). In short, acceptance of laukika anumāna or lokaprasiddha hetu or lokapratiti, according to Sukhlalji, has been a part of the Cārvāka epistemology since its very inception. Purandara was not forced to introduce it in the wake of Dharmakirti’s appearance (as some modern scholars believe).

Objection may be raised again: How do you know that? The answer is simple: This has been the view of all materialists in ancient India, even before the Cārvākas appeared in the scene. A passage in the Mbh 12.211.26-27 (crit. ed.; 218.27-28 in vulgate) makes a materialist declare: 
pratyaksam: hyetayor mūlam: krtāntaitihyayor api/
pratyakse hyāgamo ’bhinnah: krtānto vā na kimcana//
yatra tatrānumāne ’sti krtam bhāvayate’pi vā/
anyo jīvah śarīrasya nāstikānām: mate smrtah: //
The conclusion based on inference and tradition—both are rooted in percep­tion. Perception and testimony (what we are told to believe in) are identical; reasoned-out truth (= inference) too is nothing else but perception.

It is proved everywhere that the body exists. What the āstikas think—that there is a soul without the body—is not (proved).
The terminology is different: inference is called krtānta, perception, krta. The last line of the second verse is tricky: it does not mean what Nīlakantha and the early translators took it to be because of the faulty reading in the mss at their disposal. It should not be understood as ‘‘what the naāstikas think’’, but as āstikānaām mate na smrtah (Belvalkar has rightly shown this in his notes in the crit. ed.); otherwise the line would read like one of those proverbial vyāsakūtas.

Extreme brevity of the sūtras badly requires elaboration and fixing the exact collocation of technical terms employed in the mūla text. This left a very wide scope for the commentators to fix the collocation of words as they understood them or chose to mean. Udbhata in this respect surpasses all his predecessors. He anticipates Humpty-Dumpty: iti or tebhyah should mean just what he would choose them to mean, “neither more nor less” (Carroll Ch. 6, 269): iti should be taken as illustrative, not denoting the end; tebhyah (or bhūtebhyah) should mean “for them”, not “from them” (Comms. 8–10, 16). Whether Aviddhakarna, Kambalāśvatara and Purandara also followed the same line is not known. On the contrary, Bhāvivikta and others seem to have followed the traditional track without twisting the familiar and obvious meanings of the words employed in the sūtra.

Jayanta and Vādidevasūri in their polemics against the Cārvāka sometimes target the mainstream views of the old Cārvākas and at other times, the unconventional interpretations of Udbhata, not always caring to distinguish between the two. This again is not unprecedented. They wished to score points over the materialists by hook or by crook. As polemicists they have every right to do so. But we, as readers should be aware where they were targeting the sūtrakāra and where the vrttikāra. Such shifting of target, however, works as a hindrance to the proper understanding of the original Cārvāka position.

From the available evidence it is clear that these commentators of the Cārvākasūtra were unanimous in one point, namely, primacy of perception which includes admittance of such laukika inference as is preceded and hence can be tested by repeated observations. In this respect both Aviddkarna and Udbhata were in agreement with Purandara (PVSVT: 19, GrBh 265–266). As is well-known, one of the differences between the Cārvāka and other philosophical systems, whether orthodox (āstika) or heterodox (nāstika), hinges on the following point: how many instruments of cognition are to be admitted as valid. The unanimity of the three commentators seems to point out that, in spite of other differences of opinion (for example, how many principles (tattvas) are to be admitted, etc. (GrBh I: 57–58, etc.), all three commentators, Purandara, Aviddhakarna and Udbhata, were prepared to admit lokaprasiddha anumāna (inference well established in the world) (TSP II: 528. Cf. PVSVT19, SVR 265–266) and distinguished between utpannapratiti (the kind of inference in which the inferential cognition can be acquired by oneself, such as fire from smoke) and utpādyapratiti (the kind of inference in case of which the inferential cognition is to be acquired [on somebody else’s advice], such as the self, God, an omniscient being, the other world, etc.) (NM I: 184). Sukhlal Sangahvi has very pertinently described the Cārvāka as belonging to indriyādhipatya paksa (1941/1987, 23), a system in which the sense organs are dominant and inference, etc. must pass the test of being verified through perception first. The word (śabda or āptavākya) would also be acceptable when and only when it is amenable to perceptual verification.

We should also note that one point of difference in the interpretation of a basic Cārvāka aphorism was already there even before Purandara and Udbhata. While commenting on the aphorism, tebhyaś caitanyam there was already some difference of opinion: the one group supplied the missing verb (adhyāhāra) ‘‘is born’’ (utpadyate/jāyate), the other, ‘‘is manifested’’ (abhivyajyate) (TS-TSP II: 634–635). The former apparently stuck to the classical materialist position of monistic mate­rialism: no matter, no consciousness. The second group, on the other hand, was dualist, assuming that consciousness inheres in matter but in an unmanifested state. Both groups, however, apparently admitted that tebhyah is to mean ‘from them’, not ‘for them’, as Udbhata claimed (GrBh I: 257).

Although Sāntaraksita mentioned only one Cārvāka philosopher by name, Kambalāśvatara (TS 22. 1863, II: 635), he was aware of these two schools of interpretation of the Cārvākasūtra as is evident from TS 22.1858 (II: 634). Kamalaśila names two more commentators: Aviddhakarna and Purandara, and refers to the two aforesaid approaches by opaque words, ‘‘some commentators’’, kecit vrttikārāh and “some others”, anye (TSP II: 633–634). Unfortunately there is no way of knowing as yet whether he refers to two individual commentators or several ones belonging to two commentary traditions. Even though we know the views of Aviddhakarna and Udbhata concerning other issues, no fragment relating to this particular aphorism has come down to us.


In spite of the meagre material available, it is evident that (1) not unlike the other systems, there is a lack of uniformity in the commentary tradition of the Cārvākasūtra, (2) not all commentators were committed monistic materialists, at least one, namely, Udbhata, was a dualist, and (3) in course of time Nyāya-Vaiśesika terminology, such as gamya, gamaka, etc., quite foreign to the traditional Cārvāka, has been introduced into the Cārvāka system.

The third observation requires some elucidation. After explaining utpannapratiti and utpādyapratiti, Jayanta makes the “better learned ones” (euphemism used ironically to suggest some Cārvākas) say:

Indeed, who will deny the validity of inference when one infers fire from smoke and so on; for even ordinary people ascertain the probandum by such inferences, though they may not be pestered by the logicians.

Simple minded people cannot derive the knowledge of the probandum by such inferences, so long as their mind is not vitiated by cunning logicians (NM I: 184. Emphasis added)

If “the better learned ones” refer to Udbhata and his followers (as do the other two bantering terms, “the cunning Cārvāka” and “the well-learned Cārvākas”) we are faced with a problem. Udbhata himself was prone to employ many technical terms of Nyāya logic. Yet he cavils against cunning logicians (vitatārkikas)! Apparently Jayanta is not quoting verbatim from any commentary on the Cārvākasūtra. He is merely paraphrasing (in verse) the view of a section of the Cārvākas. This would mean that “the better learned ones” were opposed to the logic-chopping of other philosophical systems, presumably non-materialistic, who would admit all sorts of inference, laukika as well as alaukika (derived from scripture or āpti) as valid instruments of cognition, on a par with perception. Thus “the better learned ones”, I presume, should refer to some commentators other than Udbhata or Aviddhakarna, most probably to Purandara who admitted limited validity of inference insofar as it was based directly on perception. The contrast made between the old Cārvākas and the new seems to have to do with the monistic and dualistic position regarding the existence of the spirit.

The dozen or so commentators of the Brahmasūtra were all intent on expounding their widely different systems of philosophy, both idealist and realist, monist and dualist, by using the same mūla-text. The Cārvāka commentators too held different opinions concerning the number of tattvas and pramānas, and the nature of con­sciousness (whether it inheres in the four elements or arises out of them), but all used the same mūla-text to further their views. Not unlike the Vedāntins, the latter too had to resort to weird and fanciful interpretations (kastakalpanā), preferring the far-fetched to the familiar, and made optimum exploitation of the brevity of the sūtras. It is a pity that the commentary of Bhāvivikta, the ancient (traditional) Cārvāka, is lost. In the absence of his work, the Cārvāka system is now understood in the light of the views of some late commentators who had blatantly deviated from the mainstream view in some, though not all, vital respects.


Esther A. Solomon writes: ‘Looking to the attractive names of the other ācāryas (e.g. Uddyotakara, Bhāsarvanja, Bhāvivikta and the like), one can confidently say that “Aviddhakarna” is a nickname signifying “one whose ears are not pierced (or split)”’ (1970: 35). She proceeds to identify Aviddhakarna as a kānphātā yogin, a “junior contemporary and the direct disciple of Jālandharapā, and to have lived in the later part of the sixth century or in the early part of the seventh century” (1970: 38). In a subsequent article Solomon modified her view, for piercing the ears was not an exclusive rite of the Nātha community, it was a part of the religious cere­mony for initiation among the Buddhists and the Jains too. She admits: “Muttering some select mantra in the ears of the disciple who is to be initiated is also a practice found in many religious sects” (1971: 24). Hence she concludes, ‘‘Aviddhakarna would thus mean one whose ears were not pierced, or assaulted with right and wrong words of any guru or philosopher; that is to say, a self-made man” (1971: 24). The alternative suggestion is intriguing, reminiscent of Diogenes Laertius’ interpretation of a saying of Heraclitus, edizêsamên emeôuton, “I searched by myself” (Fr. 101 (Bywater, Diels)). Diogenes took it to mean: “He (sc. Heraclitus) studied under no one but searched, as he says, for himself, and he learned everything from himself” (qutd. in Barnes xviii). This may not be what Heraclitus himself meant, but such an interpretation was current. Solomon, however, prefers the literal meaning of the name and asserts: “[S]ince our Aviddhakarna belongs to the Nyāya school we feel that he was one of the direct pupils of Jālandharpā who did not observe this practice of having the ears split’” (1971: 24).

Such a hypothesis is strengthened by what is said of the Naiyāyika and the Vaiśesika by Gunaratna the former is a devotee of Siva; the latter, a Pāśupata (TRD 51.5-6). One Nyāya-Vaiśesika philosopher, Bhāsarvajna (fl. 860–920) of Kashmir, was a member of the Pāśupata sect. D. R. Sarma informs us that the prefix bhā-is common to the names of the members of this sect (163–165). Bhāsarvajna is said to have held certain views “characteristic of the Pāśupata despite their evident divergence from Nyāya’’ (Potter 2: 399).

Frankly, I do not know what to make out of all this. The use of nicknames, not in creative writing but in philosophical literature, must be rare. Moreover it inevitably raises the question: why should philosophers themselves adopt nicknames? Yet several names related to light, beginning with bhā-, must have some significance. Then there is the name Kambalāśvatara, which makes no sense at all, as Franco (1997, 103) notes in despair. All of them cannot be real names such as Udayana, Kumārila, Śālikana¯tha, and the like.

Acknowledgements: Amitava Bhattacharyya, Siddhartha Dutta, Karin Preisendanz. The usual disclaimers apply.

Abbreviations and References

Barnes, J. (1986). The presocratic philosophers. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Bhattacharya, R. (2002). Cārvāka fragments: A new collection. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 30, 597–640. [Reprinted with revision in Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Firenze: Societa Editrice Fiorentina, 2009 (Indian edition: New Delhi: Manohar, 2010)].
Bhattacharyya, A. K. (1365, Bengali Year). Cārvāka Darśana. Darśana, 6, 3–4. (Reprinted in translation in Chattopadhyaya and Gangopadhyaya, 452–473).
Carroll, L. (1970). Through the looking-glass. In M. Gardner (Ed.), The annotated Alice. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Chattopadhyaya, & Gangopadhyaya. (1990). Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya in collaboration with Mrinalkanti Gangopadhyaya. Cārvāka/Lokāyata. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research.
Franco, E. (1997). Dharmakirti on compassion and rebirth. Wien: Arbeitkreis fur tibetische und buddhistische Studien, Universita¨t Wien.
Franco, E., & Preisendanz, K. (1998). Materialism, Indian school of. In: E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy (Vol. 6, pp. 178–181). London: Routledge.
GrBh. Cakradhara. Granthibhanga. In NM. Jayantabhatta. Nyāyamañjari (in three parts), ed. Gourinatha Sastri. Varanasi: Sampurnanand Sanskrit Visvavidyalaya, 1982–1984.
Gune, P. D. (1923). In C. D. Dalal & P. D. Gune Bhavisayatthakahā. Baroda: Oriental Institute.
Hardy, C. (1958). “Preface” to Humphrey House. In Aristotle’s Poetics. London: Rupert Hart-Davis.
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NCC. New Catalogus Catalogorum, Vol. 2. Ed. Dr. V. Raghavan. Madras: University of Madras, 1966.
NM. Jayantabhatta. Nyāyamañjari (in three parts), ed. Gourinatha Sastri. Varanasi: Sampurnanand Sanskrit Visvavidyalaya, 1982–1984.
PNTA.Vādidevasūri. Pramānanayatattvalokālamkāra with Ratnaprabhā’s commentary, English trans. Dr. Hari Satya Bhattacharya, Bombay: Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal, 1967.
Potter, K. H. (Ed.). (1995). Encyclopedia of Indian philosophies (Vol. 2). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Preisendanz, K. (2008). Text, commentary, annotation: Some reflections on the philosophical genre. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 36, 599–618.
Pupphadanta (Puspadanta). Mahāpurāna (Tisatthimahāpurisagunālankāra), vol. I, ed. P. L. Vaidya. Bombay: Manikchand Digambara Jain Granthamala Samiti, 1973.
PVSVT:  Karnakagomin. Pramāna-vārttika-svopajña-vrtti-tikā, ed. Rahula Samkrityayana. Ilahabad: Kitab Mahal, 1943.
Sanghavi, S. (Ed.). (1939). Hemacandra. Pramānamimāmsā. Ahmedabad: Singhi Jain Series.
Sanghavi, S. (Ed.). (1941). Tattvoplavasimha: Cārvāka darsanākā eka apūrva grantha. (Reprinted in Jayarāśibhatta. Tattvopaplavasimha. Varanasi: Bauddhabharati, 1987).
Sanghavi, S. (1961). Advanced studies in Indian logic and metaphysics. Calcutta: Indian Studies Past & Present.
Sarma, D. R. (1934). Name of the author of the Nyāyasāra. Indian Historical Quarterly, 10, 163–165.
SMS. Sarvamatasamgraha, ed. T. Ganapati Sastri, Trivandram, 1918.
Solomon, E. A. (1970). Aviddhakarna—a forgotten Naiyāyika. Vidya, 13, 18–40.
Solomon, E. A. (1971). A further note on Aviddhakarna. Vidya, 14, 21–24.
Solomon, E. A. (1977–1978). Bhatta Udbhata. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 58–59, 986–987.
Sukla.B. (1984;vikramasamvat 2040). Nyāyaśāstriyavicārapaddhatyā dehātmavādasya sambhābhanā. Sarasvati Susamā,38, 121–134.
SVR. Vādidevasūri. Syādvādaratnākara, ed. Motilal Ladhaji Osval. Delhi: Bhartiya Book Corporation, 1988.
TRD. Gunaratna. Tarkarahasyadipikā, in Haribhadra. Saddarśanasamuccaya, ed. Luigi Suali. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1905–1914.
TS. Śāntaraksita. Tattvasangraha (in two parts), ed. Dwarikdas Shastri. Varanasi: Bauddhabharati, 1968.
TSP. Kamalaśila. Tattvasangrahapañjikā. In TS Sāntaraksita. Tattvasangraha (in two parts), ed. Dwarikdas Shastri. Varanasi: Bauddhabharati, 1968.
YS.      Hemacandra. Yogaśāstra with auto-commentary. Bhavnagar: Srijainadharma Pracharaka Sabha, 1926.

This essay was first published in the Journal of Indian Philosophy (Springer Netherlands) in 2010. Part I of the essay can be accessed here. 

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of PAVLOV Institute, Kolkata.

Signs in the Sky: The Irrationality of Astrology

With the New Year just around the corner, most people will now be taking stock of their performance in the current year and will be busy making fresh resolutions for the New Year. Anxious to perform better than in the past, they hope to foresee their future. Instead of making a rational assessment and prediction, many people fall back upon superstitions. Making an accurate assessment of this situation and exploiting the weakness of the gullible to the hilt, astrologers do a flourishing business in making horoscopes. Millions of copies horoscopes are printed and sold every year in our country. Bookstalls in railway stations and bus stands and airports display them prominently.

In our continuing effort to debunk this nonsense of astrology, we publish an essay by the eminent astrophysicist, Jayant V Narlikar. This essay was first published almost two decades back in The Times of India (January 1, 1994). We have left out the last paragraph of the original essay as it is not relevant today.

‘The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves…’ Thus wrote the Bard of Avon in his classic, Julius Caesar. William Shakespeare belonged to the 16th century and Julius Caesar pre-dated him by about 17 centuries. The statement denies any power to heavenly bodies in shaping human destiny.  In the modern age of science when the astrophysicists have solved the mystery of what the stars are made of and what makes them shine, how does the above statement sound?

Imagine the following scenario.  The time is early afternoon, yet the ever-busy city of Bombay is at a standstill, its streets empty, the BEST buses parked in rows long the pavements, shops with shutters drawn. Why? Is it one of those bandhs which have (sadly) become part of our life?  Has the plague been rampant? Have there been bombs going of everywhere? Or is the city deserted because of the threat of an imminent air attack?

Well, the scenario is not imaginary.  It actually took place but not because of any of the above causes which, though unpleasant, are at least rational.  The cause was irrational; its source, the star nearest to us – our sun. The day was February 16, 1980, when a total solar eclipse was visible from certain parts of India. For Bombay, which claims to be the most advance city in India, a partial cover of the sun was, however, enough to drive practically everyone indoors.

Science Models

Schools texts tell us how and why the solar and lunar eclipses take place. Models are made to demonstrate how the earth’s shadow (in the sun’s light) falling on the moon causes the lunar eclipse and how the moon blocking the view of the sun from the earth causes a solar eclipse.  The geometry of the earth-moon-sun system tells us that the eclipses of the sun are considerably rarer than the eclipses of the moon.  Even the Indian astronomer, Aryabhata, back in the fifth century knew all this. Yet, the spectacle of a shining ball of light disappearing, if only for a few minutes, causing momentary darkness is impressive, and can even be frightening if you do not know its case.  Thus our ancient forefathers may be excused for reacting to the phenomenon with wonder and far. It is not surprising that legends grew up around the eclipse phenomena, legends that inspired rituals. The transient darkness and the serpentine shadow bands were considered harmful.

The fear, the legends, the rituals continue to dominate the minds of many to this day, even though science has given a rational explanation for the phenomena.  This irrationality which drove even a city like Bombay behind doors, has its roots in a deeply-imagined belief that the fate of any individual here on the earth is governed by the heavenly bodies.  Let us see what hard scientific evidence has to say on this belief.  To what extent do starts govern our condition?

The existence and sustenance of life here on the earth has been possible because our planet goes around a star (the sun) at a ‘reasonable’  distance; that is not too close to be burnt out by the sun’s heat and not too far as to freeze to death.  The sun provides energy that is needed for all life forms out here.  Our own building blocks – the elements we are made of - were mostly manufacture deep in the cores of other stars through the process of thermonuclear fusion and ejected through stellar explosions. The stars are essential for our existence.  But this statement is a far cry from the claim that your birth chart of horoscope determines your future or that an eclipse or a comet will bring disaster.  Scientific temper requires that such claim be examines in the first instance by the usual techniques that scientists use to test the validity of empirical relationships. What has been the outcome of such tests?

Birth Charts

Take, for example, the belief that for a happy and sustained married life the birth charts of the couple must be compatible.  Compatibility here means a matching as per astrological criteria. To test this hypothesis studies have been conducted for couples of kinds, those whose marriages were happy and sustained and those whose marriages did not last. The birth charts of couples from both groups were given to astrologers (who were not told to which group they belonged) to sort out which coupes and compatible birth charts and which did not.  Their classification tuned out to have co correlation whatsoever with the actual groups; In other words, compatibility of birth charts has no bearing on compatibility of marriage. This is just one of the many ways in which astrological predictions have been tested by scientists using objective criteria and statistical methods of inference employed successfully in other fields for testing empirical hypotheses.  In all cases the results have been negative; that is, astrological statements have shown no scientifically predictive power.

In the ancient times of Julius Caesar, the motions of planets were known to be irregular, not fitting in the same circular pattern in which stars appeared to move. The Greek word ‘planet’ itself means ‘wanderer’.  Did the planets wander because they moved at will?  Did they possess extraordinary powers? Did they exercise them on humans here on the earth?  Affirmative replies to these questions partly, if not fully, account for belief in astrology.

The work by Kepler and Newton in the 17th century, however, has put the planets in their place, in orbits round the sun with motion, far from being irregular, but entirely calculable.  Today computer programs are available with whose help even a secondary school student can tell where Mars or Jupiter will be at any given time on any day.  Spacecrafts are launched to the moon and the planets with trajectories of split-second accuracy, thanks to the entirely predictable nature of scientific laws – the same laws that so graphically and accurately predicted the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter.

Astrology Flourishing

Why then even today we find astrology still flourishing?  For reasons one must look to that part of the human brain that is subjective, not rational.  Belief in astrology may provide solace to the frustrated and hold out hope when by all objective assessment there none.  For the stars (that is, the planets, which in astrological jargon also include the moon and the eclipse nodes) may then provide excuses for human failing and inaction and raise expectations that they will override human control.

While an individual may find mental solace in such beliefs, they are hardly beneficial to society. Think of marriage proposal between otherwise well-suited couples being turned down because their horoscopes don’t match. Or important decision like launching welfare programmes or forming cabinets put of to ‘more auspicious times’.  Or relaxing efforts in the success of an enterprise because ‘stars are favorable’.  I have hopes that in the highly competitive age of science and technology the long battle against superstitions will eventually be won.


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