Thursday, 7 March 2013

Lokāyata and Its Derivatives in the Sad-dharma-puṇḍarīka-sūtra

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

If one sets upon oneself the task of translating the Sad-dharma-puṇḍarīka-sūtra (SDPS), a first-century CE Sanskrit Mahāyānī Buddhist text, into a modern Indian language, one will face no problem with the word lokāyata. It is current in all and can be retained in translation without bothering to explain what lokāyata means.[1] But translating it into a European language would prove to be difficult, for the reader would not know the word and so some equivalent would have to be provided. But what would be the right equivalent in the context of the SDPS? The word lokāyata and its derivatives occur thrice in this work. Burnouf and Kern in their French and English translations respectively, somewhat differ in their understanding. Let us look at the passages one by one.

  1. anyeu sūtreu na kāci cintā lokāyatair anyataraiś ca śāstrai | bālāna etādśa bhonti gocarās tāstva vivarjitva prakāśayer idam ||

(Tokyo ed., p. 94; Calcutta ed., p. 72; Darbhanga ed., p. 70; v.l. in line 1: na kadāpi cintā).

Burnouf (1852 : 142): «Il ne faut jamais penser à d’autres Sūtras, ni à d’autres livres d’une science vulgaire, car ce sont là des objets bons pour les ignorants, évite de tels livres et explique ce Sūtra».

Kern (1884: 96-97): «Never mind other Sūtras nor the books in which a profane philosophy is taught; such books are fit for the foolish, avoid them and preach this Sūtra».

  1. yadā ca mañjuśrīr bodhisattvo mahāsattvo […] na ca lokāyatamantradhārakān na lokāyatikān sevate na bhajate na paryupāste na ca taisārdha sastava karoti | (Tokyo ed., p. 236; Calcutta ed., pp. 180-81; Darbhanga ed., p. 166; v.l. in line 1: lokāyatamantrapāragān).

Burnouf (1852: 168): «[…] un Bodhisattva Mahāsattva […] ne recherché pas les Lokāyatikas qui lisent les Tantras de leur secte. qu’il ne les honore pas, qu’il n’entratient aucun commerce avec eux […]».
Kern (1884: 262-263): «A Bodhisattva Mahāsattva […] is firm in his conduct and proper sphere […] when he does not serve, nor court, nor wait upon […] adepts at worldly spells, and votaries of a worldly philosophy, nor keep any intercourse with them […]».

  1. […] na ca teā (kulaputrānā) lokāyate rucir bhaviyati na kāvyapras sattvās teām abhirucitā bhaviyanti na nttakā na mallā nartakā na śauṇḍikaur […]

(Tokyo ed., p. 389; Calcutta ed., pp. 311-12; Darbhanga ed., pp. 266-67).

Burnouf (1852: 280): «Ils [scil. les fils ou les filles de familles qui retiendront le nom du Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Samantabhadra] n’éprouveront pas de plaisir, dans la doctrine des Lokāyatas; les hommes livrés à la poesie ne leur plairont pas; les danseurs, les musiciens, les lutteurs le vendeurs de viande […]».

Kern (1884: 437-438): «They [scil. the young men of good family who shall cherish the name of the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Samantabhadra] will have no pleasure in worldly philosophy; no persons fondly addicted to poetry will please them; no dancers, athletes, vendors of meat […]».

As regards 1., Burnouf takes lokāyatai śāstrai to mean «books of a vulgar (popular) science»; Kern, «books in which a profane philosophy is taught». Apparently neither of them attached any technical sense to the lokāyataśāstra-s (in plural), so the first occurrence of this word is not noted in their Indexes.

Regarding 2., however, Burnouf (1852: 409) in a note says that the Lokāyatikas refer to the followers of the «doctrine athéiste des Tchārvākas», that is, the atheistic doctrine of the Cārvākas. He adds that in Pali lokāyata signifies «histoire fabuleuse, roman» and cites Moggalāna’s Abhidhānappadīpikā (as edited by Clough) as his source.

This drew a retort from Rhys Davids (1899.I: 169-170, note 4):

Burnouf (p. 168) reads tantras (instead of mantras), no doubt wrongly, and has a curious blunder in his note on the passage (p. 409). He says Lokāyata means in Pali «fabulous history, romance»: and quotes as its authority, the passage […] from the Abhidhāna Padīpikā in which Lokāyata is simply explained as vitaṇḍasattha. This last expression cannot possibly mean anything of that sort.

Rhys Davids is right. But Rev. Benjamin Clough is to be blamed for misleading Burnouf. Clough, in his notes on the line in the Abhidhānappadīpikā 112: (vitaṇḍasattha viññeya yan ta) lokāyata (iti), glosses lokāyata as «Fabulous Story» (marginal notes on p. 13). Burnouf did not notice that Clough and Tolfrey (who translated Pali Grammar and Pali Vocabulary in Clough, 1824), had mistaken «Fabulous Story» and elsewhere «Fabulous History» as English equivalents for lokāyata (instead of vitaṇḍasattha, «science of disputation »), perhaps because ākhyāyika and kathā soon follow in the dictionary (Abhidhānappadīpikā 113ab). What is more to be regretted is that Burnouf, misled by Clough and Tolfrey, in his turn misled Böhtlingk and Roth who in their Sanskrit Wörterbuch gave these two meanings of lokāyata (in Pali): «eine erfundene Geschichte, Roman» (rendered into German from Burnouf’s French version).[2]

Burnouf proposed (1852: 409) that «les Lokāyatikas de notre Lotus» may suggest «les auteurs ou les lecteurs de pareils ouvrages, dans lequels les passions et les affaires du monde forment le sujet principal». Apparently he had in his mind the wrong meaning given in Clough. Kern steered clear of Clough but called the Lokāyatikas «the Sadducees or Epicureans of India» (1884: 263, note 4; see also 438, note 1), equating them with the Cārvākas who appeared much later. D.D. Shastri (1981: 19) too glosses lokāyata as cārvākaśāstra although Moggalāna mentions nothing of this sort.

The fact is that in the Pali commentaries and dictionaries, lokāyata is always glossed as vitaṇḍasattha, the science of disputation. In other Buddhist Sanskrit works (e.g., the Lakāvatārasūtra), it means «points (or issues) of dispute».[3] The Buddha, as is well-known, did not approve of the sophists. So it is no wonder that both in 2. and 3., the Lokāyatikas are looked down upon and viewed on a par with those who followed despicable professions (according to the Buddha). In all the three instances lokāyataśāstra-s and lokāyatika-s mean, respectively, books of logical disputation (vitaṇḍā) and masters of this art, not the Bārhaspatya/Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophical system and its adherents. The ways Burnouf and Kern render these words are beside the mark.

But a crux still remains in case of 2. What could lokāyatamantradhārakān mean? Burnouf’s rendering (tantra in place of mantra) is not supported by other manuscripts. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (1969: 110) strongly objected to Kern’s rendering of lokāyatamantra as «worldly spells» as also to Rhys Davids’s (1899.I: 169) rendering as «mystic verses». Vaidya (1960: 296) explains lokāyata as «a popular philosophy» which leaves the basic question unanswered: Is lokāyata to be taken to mean «the science of disputation» or a materialist philosophical system?

The Abhidhanappadīpikā places lokāyata in the Girāvaggo, along with ī, vākya, ameṇḍita, vedo, vedagas, itihāso, nighaṇḍu, keubha, kathā, vuttanto, paivākya, etc. Each of these words refers to a subject of study, not to any philosophical system. The SDPS creates another problem by placing the word °mantra after lokāyata° and separately mentioning lokāyatikān immediately after it. The word mantra is invariably associated with magic and religious practices (sacrificial or otherwise). On the other hand, lokāyata, whether taken to mean disputatio, a subject of study, or materialism, is secular and has nothing to do with magic or religion.

How to solve this problem?

The word lokāyata both in Pali and Buddhist Sanskrit is generally used as substantive to mean disputatio. It is attested by the Suttas in the Tipiaka as well as the Śārdūlakarāvadānasūtra (in Divyāvadāna). The emendations made by Cowell and Neil, Mukhopadhyaya, and Vaidya in the latter text clearly show that in all cases of its occurrence lokāyata is to be taken as a Brahminical subject of study along with the Vedas, Upaniads, vyākaraa, kaiabha, padamīmā, mahāpurualakaa, bhāyapravacana, etc.[4] Such lists of subjects both for Brahmins and princes are often mentioned in the Upaniads and Pali, Prakrit and Buddhist Sanskrit works.[5] To cite one example in the Divyāvadāna: chandasi vā vyākarae vā lokāyate vā padamīmāsāyā(Darbhanga ed., p. 330. Cf. also pp. 318, 319, 328).

In view of this, I think the only solution is to emend the text, not on the basis of further manuscript evidence but by such evidences as are found in other Pali and Buddhist Sanskrit texts. Since lokāyata in all available sources stands for the science for disputation, there is no reason why it should mean something else in this instance. In the Milindapañha (Trenkner, 1880: 4), the king is described as «fond of wordy disputation and eager for discussion with casuists, sophists, and gentry of that sort» (so rājā bhassappavādako lokāyata-vitaṇḍa-janasallāpappavattakotūhalo). Similarly, Milinda is (Trenkner, 1880: 10) «skilled alike in casuistry and in the knowledge of the bodily marks that foreshadow the greatness of a man» (lokāyata-mahāpurisalakkhanesu anavayo ahosi. As Rhys Davids (1890: 17, note 3) has noted: «The above are the stock phrases for the learning of a scholarly Brahman […]».

What seems to have happened is this: the scribe has mistakenly written the word lokāyatamantradhārakān in place of lokāyatayajñamantradhārakān (or °pāragān), and without noticing his own error went on copying.[6]

What is the basis of this emendation? It is as follows: lokayāta, yajñamantra, and mahāpurualakaa are found mentioned in Buddhist literature while enumerating the curriculum for a Brahmin or a prince, as in the Divyāvadāna (Śārdūlakarāvadānasūtra): lokāyate yajñamantre mahāpurualakae niṣṇāto niko (Darbhanga ed., p. 318), lokāyatayajñamantramahāpurualakae-u pāraga (ibid., p. 319).

In Pali too we have hetu and mantaa («causation» and «spells») side by side in the Milindapañha (Trenkner, 1880: 3) as well as lokāyata and mahāpurisalakkhaa similarly juxtaposed (Trenkner, 1880: 10). Neither Burnouf, nor Kern, nor Rhys Davids remembered all this at the time of studying the passage in the SDPS and readily accepted the association of °mantra with lokāyata°, apparently forgetting the stock formula, lokāyata-yajñamantramahāpurualakaa. Unfortunately the copy that contained this faulty reading (omission of yajña° before °mantra) was copied and recopied over and over again and thus the scribal error remained undetected, even unsuspected, and consequently the reading continued to confuse generations of scholars and readers.

The sentence in the SDPS under discussion would thus mean: «A Bodhisattva Mahāsattva [is firm in his conduct and proper sphere] when he does not serve, nor court, nor wait upon […] [adepts at] the science of disputation (lokāyata) and those who retain in their memory the sacrificial spells [or incantations] (yajñamantra) as well as disputants (lokāyatikān) nor keep any intercourse with them». The Lokāyatikas are mentioned separately, presumably because they had not only studied the Lokāyataśāstra but used to practise it as well.

Acknowledgement: Amitava Bhattacharyya. The usual disclaimers apply.


a)      Primary sources (texts and translations)

        Rhys Davids, T.W. (tr.), Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. I, Oxford University Press, London 1899.

        Cowell, E.B. and R.A. Neil (eds.), The Divyāvadāna. A Collection of Early Buddhist Legends Now First Edited from the Nepalese Sanskrit mss. in Cambridge and Paris, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1886.
         Vaidya, P.L. (ed.), Divyāvadāna, Mithila Institute, Darbhanga 1959.

        Rhys Davids, T.W. (tr.), The Questions of King Milinda, SBE vol. XXXV, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1890.
        Trenckner, V. (ed.), The Milindapañho, The Pali Text Society, London 1880

Moggallāna, Abhidhānappadīpikā:
        Śāstrī, D. (ed.), Abhidhānappadīpikā, Bauddhabhāratī, Vārāasī 1981. Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra:
        Burnouf, E. (tr.), Le Lotus de la Bonne Loi, Imprimerie Nationale, Paris 1852.
        Dutt, N. and N.D. Mironov (eds.), Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, The Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1953.
        Kern, H. (tr.) The Lotus of the True Law, SBE vol. XXI, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1884.
        Vaidya, P.L. (ed.), Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtram, Mithila Institute, Darbhanga 1960.
        Wogihara, U. and C. Tsuchida (eds.), Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtram, The Seigo-Kenkyūkai, Tokyo 1934.

        Mukhopādhyāya, S. (ed.), The Śārdūlakarāvadānasūtra, Viśvabhāratī Publishing Department, Śāntiniketan 1954.

b)      Secondary sources:

2009 Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, Società Editrice Fiorentina, Firenze.
1969 Lokāyata Darśana (in Bangla), part I, New Age Publishers, Kolkata (second ed.).
1824 Compendious Pali Grammar With a Copious Vocabulary in the Same Language,
Wesleyan Mission Press, Colombo.
1999 Jaina System of Education, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.
1940 A History of Indian Philosophy, vol. III, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
2010 The Stanzas on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata in the Skhalitapramathanayuktihetusiddhi, «Journal of Indian Philosophy», 38, pp. 543-552.
1980 Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.

[1] I have seen only the Hindi and Nepali translations of the SDPS. Both retain lokāyata on all occasions.
[2] For further details see Bhattacharya (2009: 187-200, chapters 16-18).
[3] Jayatilleke (1980: 51-54) has discussed the matter in detail, pointing out Suzuki’s error in translating lokāyata in the Lakāvatārasūtra as «materialism». It may also be mentioned that a modern dictionary of classical Sanskrit, the Śabdakalpadruma, glosses lokāyata, besides Cārvākaśāstra, as tarkabheda.
[4] For a fuller discussion, see Bhattacharya (2009: 193-196, chapter 17).
[5] For a comparison of the curriculums found in the Chāndogya Upaniad and the Tipiaka, see Jayatilleke (1980: 47-48). See also Rhys Davids (1890.I: 7, note 1) that mentions other sources. For Jain works referring to such curriculums, see D.C. Dasgupta (1999: 5, 27, 67).
[6] For a probable, alternative interpretation of the compound lokāyatamantra, see Del Toso (2010: 545-547).

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.

This paper first appeared in Esercizi Filosofici 7, 2012, pp. 98-103.


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