Sunday, 30 November 2014

Indian Philosophy – Melody and Millstone: PART II

 G Ramakrishna

A total rejection of idealism means the acceptance of a secular, rational and scientific approach, while idealism has religion-orientation, faith in the scriptures, and superstitions in most of its major forms, for its accessories (p 234). The other major contribution of the anti-idealist schools of thought consists of the defence of practice as the real criterion of truth (p 235). There is a whole subsection in Chattopadhyay's book entitled "Practice, the Criterion of Truth" (chapter 7, Section 8, pp 354ff) which highlights the 'supreme verdict of experience' as the effective means of establishing truth of knowledge. The most outspoken champions of this doctrine in the range of Indian philosophy are the Nyaya-Vaiseshikas whose basic conclusion is that "after a knowledge is proved true in practice, there remains no doubt about the proof; hence the question of proving the proof does not arise" (p 239). In fact, the insistence of the Nyaya-Vaiseshikas on practice is their sharpest weapon against idealism, and in their struggle against idealism they “brilliantly anticipate an epistemological position which contains the potential for the rejection of idealism, making room for science and materialism” (p 363).

Contrarily, idealism subsists on “a complete separation between theory and practice – between wisdom and action – for the ultimate defence of the idealist outlook” (p 101) and this separation is sought to be sublimated through the philosophical quibble of the ultimately real and the partially real, or what is referred to as paramarthika satya and vyavaharika satya respectively. The Indian idealist philosophers constitute a united front on the basis of an ‘essentially negative attitude’, the unreality of the objects of knowledge (bahyartha-sunyatva), as Kumarila, a purva-mimamsa philosopher, has put it. This characterization of the objects of knowledge as unreal is, as Debiprasad puts it, “the real pivot of idealism throughout its Indian career” (p 46).

The crux of Indian philosophy lied in the confrontation between idealism and its antithesis in the specifically Indian context. The procedure almost universally adopted by the Indian philosophers in their treatises is to counterpose an antithesis to a thesis and arrive at a judgement. Without two opposing views on a given philosophical question, any discussion is simply unthinkable. “Contradiction thus constitutes the essential precondition of philosophical activity” (p 7), which itself leads on to newer issues and resolutions.

At what stage of Indian history and under what conditions does Indian idealism emerge? It is obviously not the product of any subjective fancy, pure reason, or mere mental speculation. Philosophy, like social life, has been and is susceptible to historical limitations. The difference between Vedic and Upanishadic philosophy, for example, is quite revealing in this connection. In the reckoning of the Vedic poet, composing the Vedic song is the equivalent of the carpenter making chariot. It simply means that the Vedas do not decry manual labour. Rigveda (1.130.6) conceives the chariot-maker as a wise man. The indication is that contemplation alone does not make for wisdom. For the ancient poets, manual skill is itself a mark of wisdom (p 142). It is only at a later stage that “secret wisdom” begins to parade itself in glowing colours by trampling on the more honest wisdom of skilful artisanship and the like. Illustrating it with copious references from the Upanishadic texts, Chattopadhyaya concludes that “the ruling ideas of the Upanishads are not unconnected with the ruling powers of the Upanishadic age” (p 115). The renowned Yajnavalkya and his fellow-speculators could not have gone about philosophizing without the patronage of the nobles (p 124), which in turn would be impossible in the absence of the production of a surplus in society through improved techniques of production. The contrast between the early Vedic period and the later Upanishadic period is precisely this. In the early Vedic period, “the devotion of a selected few of the community to the cultivation of pure speculation is not yet objectively possible, for the community does not produce enough surplus to meet their material requirements” (p 126). With the production of surplus and its aggrandizement by a few also develops the tendency towards idealism. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya has put it in a nutshell in his introduction to Lokayata (p axxii): “… so long as human consciousness retains its moorings in manual labour, it remains instinctively materialist. Fore there is a sense of objective coercion about the labour process itself … This is negatively substantiated by the fact that the emergence of the idealistic outlook in the human consciousness presupposes a separation of thought from action - mental labour from manual labour – along with a sense of degradation socially attached to the latter. The result is an exhalation of the spirit of consciousness – of pure thought or pure reason – to the status of a delusional omnipotence having, as it were, the power to dictate terms to reality. And this is the essence of the idealistic outlook”.

It may be interesting to note here the discussion concerning Vedic ritual or Yajna which “must have originally been something like the magic rites still to be observed among some present-day primitive peoples surviving in certain pockets of the modern world” (p 111). In their original form, magic rites are a source of greater confidence in themselves for the performers. The rites did not bring about (as they do not and cannot bring about now) any change in objective reality. Early man grappling with nature came to believe that he could exercise his authority on nature and control her through the magic rites. The genuine role of magic rites is most aptly summarized by George Thomson: “It changes their (performers) subjective attributed to reality, and so indirectly it changes reality”. With the production of surplus, the rituals also assumed a new class character; they became their opposites. “These become tools for a new technique – that of man’s struggle against man” (p 111). “The new norm is that of a split society in which the powers and privileges belong to the kings and nobles, though secondarily also to their ideological apologists – the priests” (p 112). The tragedy is that this philosophy and social division still persist, even as a good number of our “scientists” still remain wedded to the outlook of the early performers of magic rites, insofar as they have greater belief in  the soothing effect of a pseudo saint or ‘god-incarnate’ than in the prowess of science itself. But the redeeming factor is that the source-books of Indian idealism, namely the Upanishads, also present the pioneering scientific tradition of Indian philosophy which could act as an inspiring beacon of light for science-orientation today” (p 118).

The chapter on the social function of Indian idealism (ch 5) is from this point of view a highly remarkable portion of the book. Idealist philosophy is the whip with which the ruling exploiting class regiments thinking. Those who accuse socialist societies, based on the laws of dialectical materialisms, of regimentation had better understand this correctly. The law-givers of ancient India (and unfortunately our modern law-givers and dispenser are not always exception to this) professing unbounded adherence to the idealistic faith recorded their utter detest for ‘free thinking’ in the most unambiguous language (p 171). Search for truth and quest after perfection under such conditions must remain elusive. The idealist philosophers who meekly submitted to the dictates of the law-givers had only the scholastic duty of adducing arguments in favour of the conclusions and social values stipulated by the law-givers. The rigidity of the caste system uncompromisingly nullified all seemingly lofty enunciations of the idealist philosophers. The profound monist philosopher, Sankara, and a host of others, declaring the universality of all souls nevertheless scrupulously differentiated the ‘Brahmin Soul’ from ‘Sudra Soul’! Some of the revolting prescriptions of the law-givers spearheaded by Manu send a shiver down the spine of any reasonably human individual. Attempts have been made by quite a few embarrassed historians and philosophers of modern Indian to explain away the treachery perpetrated on people of the lower castes in ancient Indian by pointing out that the system of caste division was no more than a mere rational social arrangement defining the division of labour among the members of society. They argue that labour-mobility was also there. To crow it all, they quote with a flourish the lines from Bhagavadgita (4.13) where caste distinction is said to be based on characteristics and action of the individual. These scolars do no even by chance refer to the multiples of statements of the law-givers on the issue. This is frankly unacademic and unethical, considering the fact that the law-givers ruled the roost and philosophers appeared on the scene only later to justify the ways of the law-givers to the populace. The law-givers with no hesitation or reservation proclaim the view that caste is congenital and hence also the discrimination of the caste hierarchy. For example, Apastamba in his Dharmasutra state: “There are four castes and each preceding group is superior to the subsequent group by virtue of the birth itself. The non-sudras are to perform holy duties like studying the Veda, offering oblations in sacrifices, etc. The duty of the sudra is to serve those of the other upper castes. The higher the caste of the person chosen by the sudra to serve, the greater the reward accruing to him” (Catvaro varnah brahmana kshatriya vaisya sudraah. Tesham purvatah purve janmatah sreyan. Asudranam adustakarmanam samupayanam vedahyayanamagnyadheyam phalavanti ca karmani. Susrusha sudrasyetaresam varnanam. Purvasmin purvasmin varne nihsreyasam bhuyah). The great Manu ordain that the expiation for killing of a sudra is identical with that for killing of a cat, frog, lizard, owl, or crow (chapter 11 of Manusmriti). Gautama says that a sudra adulterer shall have his organ cut; his Brahmin counterpart shall, however, only pay a fine! What dothe Indian idealist philosophers do in the face of such ordinances? – Recapitulate, strengthen the hold of the law-givers by giving a philosophical foundation to the prescriptions of these law-givers, and thereby perpetuate the misery that the evil system gives rise to (pp 195-201). This is not done unconsciously either.  Nor is it a peculiarly Indian phenomenon. The Indian law-givers and idealist philosophers have their monstrous and cunning counterparts in other countries and civilizations. Debiprasad gives us a succinct view of these others in a memorable section of the book (ch 5 section 4) entitled “Social Function of Superstition” (pp 178-85). This chapter is, indeed, a must for everyone who wants to understand the ramifications of idealist philosophy, of which superstition is an inseparable part. Socrates, Plato, Plybius, Strabo, Kautilya, Manu and Medatithi have all one thing in common and that is to defend the fortress of oppressors through forceful pleas in favor of idealism and superstition.

This is Part I of the essay first published in  Marxist Miscellany, No.7, March 1977.
It also appears in The Living Marx, Ma-Le Prakashana, Bangalore, 1983 (Page 9 - 28)

Dr. G Ramkrishna is the Chief Editor of Hosatu, a progressive periodical in Kannada. He was Professor of English at National College, Bangalore and a Visiting Professor at Kannada University, Hampi. He is the author a number of books in Kannada and English including The Strange Culture of M.S. Golvalkar,  The Living Marx, and Philosophy in China (in English), The features of the Anti-Fascist Movement, RSS – A Poisonous Tree, On Hindutva (Kannda)

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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Asoka and the Basic Values in Indian Culture

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

To deliver the key-note address in a seminar with such a majestic title1 is an uphill task. The topic touches so many areas of such vast dimension that it call for a person of encyclopedic erudition, which I do not possess. So, instead of addressing each and every aspect of this grandiose title, I prefer to deal with the first only, namely, basic values. The two other aspects, 'Indian culture' and 'national reconstruction', may at best for the backdrop.


In the third century BCE India witnessed an emperor with a difference, Asoka. Following his change of heart after the Kalinga war, and his conversion to Buddhism as an Upasaka (a lay follower of the Enlightened One) he overhauled the whole system of his empire. He made his intention clear: he would not be like other emperors who extorted as revenue one-sixth of the products of the fields from his subjects but did nothing in return for their well-being. Asoka acknowledged the debt an emperor owed to his subjects by providing public works, such as, planting trees and groves along the roads, digging wells at regular intervals and building sheds for providing drinking water to men and animals. Asoka viewed all his subjects, irrespective of the sect or community they might belong to, as his children. He introduced the system of dispatching people’s business at all times and places. Although a Buddhist himself, he did not promote his own faith only. He rather urged the members of all sects to respect one another’s creed. Only in one of the edicts he uses the term dhamma in the sense of the Buddhist doctrine. In all other edicts dhamma stands for a set of moral lessons. This is why in the Greek edict dhamma, in the absence of an exact equivalent, is translated as eusebeia, ‘piety’, and in the Aramaic edict as qsyt, ‘truth’. Non-injury, self-restraint and obedience to the superiors constitute the basic elements of his concept of dhamma. That this dhamma is universal in import is shown by the fact that Asoka does not propagate Buddhism either in its philosophical or in its theological aspects. It is to be noted that no edict ever refers to the concept of Salvation (nirvana), the Four Noble Truths (aryasatyas), the Eightfold Path (ashtangika-marga) or even the Middle Way (majjhima patipada). The only theological aspect mentioned is the attainment of heaven and happiness in the next world as the highest goal of human existence. Although he often speaks of the Buddhist Sangha and its inmates, the Bhikkhus or Sramanas, he confines himself to the performance of dhamma in social life alone. Fear of sin and love of dhamma as well as self-examination were required for reaching the goal.

Yet Asoka was not a social revolutionary. He did not call for the abolition of economic disparity, or equal rights for both free persons and slaves – leave alone abolition of slavery. Even then, within the limits of the circumstances prevailing in Magadha of his times, what he preached and practised himself did have beneficial effects then and even afterwards. He was the first and so far the last ruler in India or anywhere else who believed in a value-based system of administration. More importantly, he devised the plan of disseminating right ideas among the masses rather than subjecting them to superstitious beliefs and ruling over them by extolling the supposed divine right of the king.

These are the basic values, thoroughly anti-Machiavellian in spirit, which Asoka upheld so many centuries before. In India today, torn in all conceivable sorts of conflict, particularly religious, and threatened by the dark clouds of market economy, consumerism, and cut-throat competition, we can do no better than to follow that great emperor who advised moderation in regard to expenditure and accumulation of wealth. He promoted courtesy in social life and set up the model of amity. Let it be remembered that he condemned gatherings called samaja in which people indulged in drinking and orgies, resulting in crimes and excesses. National reconstruction can never be completed without fostering these values and focussing on plain and honest living.

Asoka’s greatest contribution, in the words of D.D. Kosambi, the historian who understood him so well, was to provide the first Bill of Rights for the citizens. His idea of ‘rule by equity’, suitably amended to correspond to the present circumstances in India, I do believe, will still produce the best possible guideline for national reconstruction. ‘It is altogether fitting,’ said Kosambi, ‘that the present Indian national symbol is derived from what remains of the Asokan lion-capital at Sarnath.’ Obviously he means the Asokan wheel (asoka-chakra) that is placed in the middle of our national flag. Surely this cannot be enough. Asoka’s concept of dhamma needs to be translated into practice.

1 This is the Keynote Address delivered in a seminar on 20 November 2014, World Philosophy Day at Bankura Christian College (West Bengal). The topic of the seminar (Basic Values Embedded in Indian Culture and Its Relevance to National Reconstruction) was proposed by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Indian Philosophy – Melody and Millstone: PART I

G Ramakrishna

Indian Philosophy, especially the school of Vedanta with its source in the Upanishads, has been the subject of endless panegyric on the part of writers on the subject. Here are a few choice examples of their exuberance:

"The Upanishads contain a scientific search for the substratum underlying the phenomenal forces of nature". "In the Upanishads we have more or less the coolness of intellectual argument exhibiting itself in a systematic search after the ultimate Reality".. The thriteen principal Upanishads belong to the period between 1200 and 600 BC "and the later Upanishads of the above canon may be seen to be dovetailed into that next period of Indian thought, when Buddhism was germinating in India, when the Samkhya and Yoga were being systematized, and when the Bhagavadgita was being composed to finally hush the voice of the materialist and the atheist by synthesizing the pints of theistic significance in the Samkhya and the Yoga,  and by gathering together the red-letter pieces of Upanishadic philosophy and welding them all up together into a theistic-mystic poem- the pattern of many similar imitations in days to come”. “…With the single exception of the system of Lokayatas which insists that all moral conventions ethical theories have been invented by clever weaklings, no other philosopher would seriously support the view that the preservation of one’s earthly existence at all costs is the summum bonum of our life.” “It would be a wrong reading of history if one were to take the grihya sutras, srauta sutras and dharma shastras the reply of the Hindus to the liberalism that was in the air at the time. The first thing that Hinduism did was to acknowledge the right of free thinking in all matters, not excluding the Vedas; this alone can explain why in the sixth century BC so may heretical systems could simultaneously come into being.”

The above quotations are all taken from different t authors writing on Indian philosophy in various issues of a journal called Philosophical Quarterly. The bewildering style in them is unmistakable. They indicate by and large the usual tenor of a host of modern interpreters of Indian philosophy. This is more or les the general trend among our philosophers who strenuously justify the tenets of philosophical idealism to the struggling millions of the contemporary epoch, unmindful of the implications of the doctrine to the life of these teeming millions who work for their livelihood unlike those who lead parasitical lives. The reactionary content of the doctrine is many times sought to be submerged in a brilliant pool of seemingly astounding qualities of clarify, perfection, and invincible logic. The blatantly a-historical method followed by them is never an embarrassment to them, as in their case it might truly be said that the end justified the means. The unexpressed end, of course, is the perpetuation of the socioeconomic status quo. The partial mutilation of the Indian philosophical texts that they unhesitatingly resort to, the aversion to a scientific analysis of the texts by placing them in their proper historical perspective, and the totally baffling formulation that they arrive at, apparently reflecting the view adumbrated in the texts, are only some of the unfortunate and incorrect practices of these diehard conservative traditionalist in the sphere of Indian philosophy.

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya is as different from them as ivory is from jet. He is always cool, refreshing, invigorating and pulsating with analyses and deductions which make one confident of the strength of one’s traditions, and approach to struggles. His earlier works like Lokayata, Popular Introduction to Indian Philosophy, Indian Atheism and numerous articles on a variety of topics have been an incontrovertible testimony to this. The present work[i] establishes this claim even more authentically and vividly by laying bare the truth about Indian philosophy and its traditions through copious textual references which are analyzed and discussed with the utmost competence. The best thing about the book is that it is pleasantly free from any vague and romantic panegyrics to Indian philosophy for its own sake and that no statement goes unsubstantiated. The whole book is a pointer to the fact that no inflated claims regarding Indian philosophy are valid unnecessary and that there is enough positive content in it to enthuse us. Armed with the most magnificent and scientific methodology that we know of, namely Marxism, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya unravels before us in the book both the diabolical and the dynamic in Indian philosophy and thereby performs a unique and yeoman service to the inheritors of that philosophy facing new challenges today.

The book does not purport to be an academic exercise merely and the author in his Preface pronounces the purpose, which in turn prescribes the procedure adopted. It is “an analysis of our philosophical traditions from the standpoint of our present philosophical requirements. These requirements, as understood there, are secularism, rationalism and science-orientation.” The role of philosophy in the past and present needs to be clearly grasped for understanding the task the author has chosen to perform. “Blessed-are-the-poor-for-theirs-is-the-kingdom-of-heaven” philosophy has through the centuries preached that mortal man must abandon mundane pursuits and pleasures and turn heavenward, for there is bliss and fulfillment in that alone. To shun the here and to glorify the hereafter is one sure way of imposing shackles on the working and struggling people. In the name of ultimate emancipation, the people are made perpetual slaves to some abhorring ideas; and they ensure the willing physical slavery of the oppressed, much to the relief and joy of the ruling classes. A dangerous reactionary idea, as much as a vigorous progressive idea, becomes a material force when it grips the minds of the people. One is an impediment to progress, while the other is an instrument of progress. Idealist philosophy, proclaims to understand the world (or reality) and emancipate the people, does neither ultimately, and becomes a millstone round the neck of man. In the evolution of society, therefore, there is a specific point of time when both philosophy and science as the redeemers of making as a whole are denied. That is the stage where the working hand has receded and the thinking mind has come forward, with the result that the philosophy beneficial to the working man is undermined and the philosophy supporting the ruling class is branded the all-embracing philosophy. As Benjamin Farrington put it, “the emergence of a leisured class gives opportunity for reflection and elaboration of theory. It is also gives opportunity for reflection and elaboration of theory. It also gives opportunity for theorizing without relation to facts. Furthermore, with the development of classes, the need for a new kind of ‘science’ arises which might be defined as ‘the system of behavior by which man acquires mastery over man. When the task of  mastering man becomes the preoccupation of the ruling class and the task of mastering nature becomes the forced labour of another class, science takes a new and dangerous turn” (Greek Science, Vol. I, p 15). What is true of science is true of philosophy also and both become tools in the hands of the ruling class to supplicate the working people.

But this is not an absolute situation in favour of the ruling obscurantist and idealist thinkers. In the course of history, there have been many battles wages by the oppressed against the oppressors. If the oppressors developed a philosophy and reinforced it with the sanction and sanctity of law (called ‘dharmasastra’ in our context), the oppressed also developed a world outlook and worked out a scheme of things. Quite naturally, the oppressing class in its own interest suppressed this philosophy and even twisted it to suit its taste and design. This thick and gloomy cloud of darkness which has haunted philosophy, Indian philosophy included, needs to be wafted away before the cool fragrant breeze of philosophy can enliven the spirit of the working man. The deadweight in Indian philosophy must be discarded as dead and the sustaining values in it nourished as living. Vivisecting Indian philosophy from this crucial point of view is what Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya ably attempts and that is what makes What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy so relevant to our needs, and for the fulfillment of our cherished aspirations – the goal of shaping society in such a way that there is no possibility of man being exploited by man.

The usual practice is to consider the different systems of Indian philosophy as theistic (astika) and atheistic (nastika) respectively. The atheistic systems are supposed to be those which do not recognize the validity of the Veda as the ultimate and infallible source of knowledge. The prime consideration of idealism and materialism as the distinguishing features of all systems of philosophy, including the Indian variety, is thus overlooked. So much so, quite an extraneous and irrelevant criterion, namely the authority of the Veda, has come to play the key role in the analysis of the characteristics and tenets of Indian philosophical systems. Chattopadhyaya, however, argues that the dichotomy between idealism and materialism is as much integral to Indian philosophy as to the philosophical thought of other countries. The recognition of the authority of the Veda by philosophers in Indian was not unoften the result of the powerful hold the law-givers had. Independent philosophical activity could not be carried on in an unstifled manner, thanks to the stranglehold of the law-givers. Even the classification of systems of philosophy as astika and nastika is the prescription of Manu, the supreme among law-givers. One of the remarkable success of Debiprasa’s book likes in the analysis he has provided of the role of the law givers in ancient Indian society. This he has for the first time brough out vividly by focusing attention on the fact that idealist philosophy was no more than a handmaid of the law-givers, many anti-idealist philosophers had to find their own ways of camouflaging. Al Biruni’s evidence in the context of Varahamihira and Brahmagupta, two eminent ancient Indian astronomers, extensively cited by Chattopadhyaya, brings out the rigours which the seekers after truth in ancient Indian had to face (pp. 257 ff). It might here be noted in passing that our own scientists are not under as much duress as their ancient counterparts were. And yet paradoxically enough they are more servile to orthodoxy and conservatism than, say, Brahmagupta. Even Kanda, the exponent of Vaisehika philosophy, had to hoodwink the orthodox bigots by his tricks before expounding his theory of atomism. The profuse lip sympathy he pays to Vedic orthodoxy and the occasional glorification of the priests and their privileges is what saves his theory from being crushed (pp. 262-63). Gotama, the author of the Nyaya Sutras, also cunningly does the same by allegedly repudiating the doubts concerning Vedic injunctions, while all the time suggesting the impossibility of Vedic authority being final (p.264). For these philosophers, truth is the product of observation and inference. Interrogation, analysis and reason are for them the genuine avenues leading to the knowledge of reality. They do not even remotely concern themselves with the doctrine propounded by the Upanishads which are usually regarded as the fountain of philosophical wisdom (p. 272). The idealist positions are thus thoroughly rejected by them. The contempt for the material world and logic is only one step behind social contempt for the toiling masses, and the Indian idealist philosophers reach that position very soon. Logic is wretched according to Mahabharata and Ramayana (pp 193-94), not to speak of Manu. Reason is dubious to Sankara (p 203). From this to the philosophy of denial of the world and rationalization of social parasitism is not a long way (p 135). Instead of encouraging the processes of knowledge as an answer to the real and puzzling problems of man, idealist philosophy only fosters faith as the lone solution. Fideism and irrationalism are, therefore, almost consciously nurtured by idealism (p 212). This approach has yet another significant impact. It leads to the decrying of manual labour and dissociation from nature. The latter in turn puts an end to interrogation and the attempt to understand nature. The class basis of philosophy thus gets shifted. This is best illustrated in the evolution of Buddhism, which began as a virile thrust against the priest-cult and ended up as the most rabid idealist philosophy (p 169).

[i] What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, June 1976, pp xv + 656, price: Rs.55

This is Part I of the essay first published in  Marxist Miscellany, No.7, March 1977.
It also appears in The Living Marx, Ma-Le Prakashana, Bangalore, 1983 (Page 9 - 28)

Dr. G Ramkrishna is the Chief Editor of Hosatu, a progressive periodical in Kannada. He was Professor of English at National College, Bangalore and a Visiting Professor at Kannada University, Hampi. He is the author a number of books in Kannada and English including The Strange Culture of M.S. Golvalkar,  The Living Marx, and Philosophy in China (in English), The features of the Anti-Fascist Movement, RSS – A Poisonous Tree, On Hindutva (Kannda)

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Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Cārvākas and The Jains: An Overview

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya


The Cārvākas, the Buddhists and the Jains share a common platform in the Indian philosophical scene in as much as they all refused to accept the Vedas as an instrument of cognition on a par with perception and inference. Hence the Brahminical philosophical schools call all of them nastika, that is, negativists, on believers in the Vedas. Curiously enough, the Jains and the Buddhists in their turn brand the Carvakas as nastika for an altogether different reason, viz. the Cārvākas deny the existence of the after-world and the concept of rebirth.1

Ambiguity in the use of the two terms, āstika and nāstika is a pointer to the antagonistic relations between the pro-Vedic (Brahminical or orthodox) philosophical schools, such as the six traditional systems of philosophy, namely Mimamsa, Nyaya, etc on the one hand, and the non-Vedic (anti-Brahminical or heterodox) systems on the other. At the same time all the three heterodox systems had very little in common to them. In their acceptance of after-life, the Jains were akin to the Brahminical school, but in their opposition to animal sacrifice in ritual performances and post-mortem rites (śrāddha), their views tally with that of the Buddhists.

This leads us to an interesting question: what was the attitude of the Cārvākas towards non-violence? Being uncompromising materialists, quite naturally they had nothing to do with the Vedic sacrificial act (yajna) or performance of post-mortem rites. In a number of verses attributed to the Cārvākas, satirical references are made to the futility of such senseless acts. 2 One of these verses cited in Sāyana-Mādhava’s SDS reads as follows

               mrtānām api jantunām śrāddham cet trptikāranam /
               nirvānasya pradipasya snehah samvardhayec chikhām //.3

Sāyanā-Mādhava most probably got the verse from the PC (2.21), where Cārvāka himself is made to speak these words. Yet Hemacandra too quotes this couplet in denouncing Vedic sacrifices in the auto-commentary on his YS (2.43), with a minor variant in b. Similarly Mallisena quotes the verse in his commentary on Hemacandra’s AYVD. There is only a minor variant in c. In all other respects the verse quoted is similar to the reading found in the PC.

It is difficult to believe that Hemacandra would borrow the verse from the Cārvākas, although he preferred to have a pronounced nāstika like Cārvāka rather than Jaimini, whom he calls “a demon, in the disguise of an ascetic, mouthing the words of the Vedas.”
Moreover it is worth noting that both Hemacandra and Mallisena have quoted from the Manusmriti. (3.268) in the same context in which the mrtānām api verse is quoted. Manu enjoins which kinds of animals are to be offered as food for the ancestors: fish for two months, deer for three months, sheep for four months and foul for five months. Hemacandra does not attribute the authorship of the mrtānām api verse to anyone in particular. Mallisena however refers rather vaguely to some “great rsi” (paramarsah). It is therefore conceivable that both Hemacandra and Mallisena knew the verse to be of Jain origin and unhesitatingly employed it against the Vedic ritualists in general. Krsnamisra apparently made no distinction between the Cārvākas and the Jains insofar as both were anti-Vedic; hence he could make his Cārvāka echo the Jain view vis-à-vis non-violence, or rather opposition to violence as such, even if it was violence sanctioned by the Vedas.


Like all other philosophical systems of India the Cārvāka-s too had a sūtra work and several commentaries thereon. Unfortunately none of them has survived. Attempts have been made to reconstruct the basic tenets of the system by assiduously collecting all fragments that lie scattered in the works of other philosophical schools. Jain authors right from Jinabhadra down to Gunaratna and others provide us with an invaluable source of information. No fewer than seventeen authors of original philosophical works, commentators of Jain canonical texts and compilers of digests/compendia have quoted almost verbatim both from the now-lost Cārvākasutra and its commentaries.4 Not that Jain philosophical works alone refer to them but the readings of the aphorisms are confirmed by comparing them with other Brahminical and Buddhist books of the same nature. The names of Anantavīrya, Haribhadra, Hemacandra, Prabhācandra, Siddharsi, Vādidevasūri, and Vādirājasūri deserve special mention.
As regards the commentators of the Cārvākasūtra, three of them have been mentioned and quoted more or less extensively by the Jain savants. Without their help we would have no supporting evidence about the commentaries of Aviddhakarna, Purandara and Udbhatabhatta. Vādidevasuri refers to Udbhata as jarad-dvijanmā-mahānubhāvah, “respectable veteran twice-born”.5 This also proves that the Cārvāka-s were taken as serious philosophers and not merely as propounders of an eat-drink-and-be-merry attitude to life. The logical acumen of Aviddhakarna and Udbhata is clear from the extracts quoted in Jain philosophical works.
Similarly at least six verses attributed to the Cārvāka-s also occur in the works of Jain writers. They also help us to determine the original reading of the couplets.


More importantly, Jain works, both philosophical and non-philosophical, make us aware of the existence of two materialist schools in India: pre-Cārvāka and Cārvāka / Lokayata. The basic difference lies not so much in the doctrine itself but in the number of elements to be admitted. The earlier school noted in the SkS was bhūtapancakavādin, who professed their belief in five gross elements, viz. earth, water, fire, air, and space. The Vasu. and the SKa too refer to this proto-materialist school.6 The existence of such a school is corroborated by the Mbh and Manimekalāi. The Cārvāka-s on the other hand were bhūtacatustayavādin-s, who did not consider space as a separate element, presumably because space was not susceptible to any sense-organ.
Thus, in the task of reconstructing the history of materialism in India the service rendered by the Jain authors and commentators is invaluable. Earlier scholars like D. R. Shastri and Mamorn Namai utilized several Jain sources, but many more Jain works have been published in the recent past. Farther exploration will certainly yield fruit.7

1For different meanings of āstika and nāstika, see, besides the standard Sanskrit dictionaries, Hopkins, 86- 
2 For a collection of such verses see R. Bhattacharya, 2002 d.
3 For a detailed discussion of the variant readings of this verse, see R. Bhattacharya, 2003 b.
4 See n2. All sources are to be found here.
5 SVR, 764, lines 24-25.
6 For sources etc., see R. Bhattacharya, 2004 a.
7 I have tried to incorporate some sources in my article (2002 d).

Works Cited

AYVD. Hemchandra. Anyayoga-vyavaccheda-dvātrimsikā with Mallisena’s Syādvādamanjari. Ed.
A.B.Dhruba, Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), 1933.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. “Cārvāka Fragments: A New Collection”. Journal of Indian Philosophy
            (Dordrecht), 30:6, Dec. 2002 (2002 d)
———. “ A Probable Jain Source for a Verse in Sarva-Darśana-Samgraha, Chapter 1”, Jain Journal
            (Kolkata), 38:1, July 2003 (2003 b)

———. “Jain Sources for the Study of Pre-Carvaka Materialist Ideas in India”. Jain Journal (Kolkata),
            38:3, Janu.2004 (2004 a)
Hopkins, E. Washburn. The Great Epic of India (1910). Delhi: MLBD, 1993.
Manimekalai/Silappattihasam by Ilanko Adigal and Sattanar. Retold by Laksmi Holmstörm. Hyderabad:
            Orient Longman, 1996.
Manu. Manusmriti. Ed. J.H. Dave. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1972-84.
PC. Krsnamisra. Probodhacandrodaya. Ed. Sita Krishna Nambiar. Delhi: Matilal Banarsidass, 1971.
SDS. Sayana-Madhava, Sarvadarsanasamgraha. Ed. Vasudeva Sastri Abhyankar. Poona: Bhandarkar
            Oriental Research Institute, 1978.
SKa. Haribhadra. Samaraicca Kaha. Ed. Hermann Jacobi. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1926.
SKS and SKSVr. Silanka. Sutrakrtanga sutra-vrtti. Re-ed. Muni Jambuvijaya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass
            Indological Trust, 1979. 
SVR. Vadidevasuri. Syadvadaratnakara. Ed. Matilal Ladhaji Osval (Delhi: Bharatiya Book Corporation,  
Vasu. Vasudevahindi, Part 1, Sanghadasaganivacaha. Ed. Caturvijaya and Punyavijaya (1930-31).
            Gandhinagar: Gujarat Sahitya Academi, 1989.
YS. Hemacandra. Yogasastram (with auto-commentary). Bhavnagar: Srijainadharma Pracarasabha, 1926.

This essay was first published in Jain Journal, Vol. 42 No. 4, April 2008a, pp. 178-83.

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.

Transplanting Elephant Head on Human Body - The Magic of Mythological Fiction

Ram Puniyani

One of the best parts of childhood for me was to enjoy the mythological tales and become aware of the world where Lord Hanuman could fly, as the emergency herbal treatment is to be delivered to his master’s brother; Laxman. Lord Ram travelling by Pushpak Viman (aero plane), Lord Ganesha being planted with the head of elephant as his human head was chopped off by his father, all this was uncritically digested. Karna is born from the ear of his mother; Kauravas are born from the mass delivered by Gandhari, the mass being divided into 100 pieces and being preserved. Such fanciful imaginations were so engrossing that questioning them never came to my mind. With growing up years, some exposure to science and then rigorous training for close to decade in a medical school forced one to revisit the childhood fantasies built around mythological fictions. Realization gradually dawned as to how to distinguish between fact and fiction, history and mythology. The beauty of imagination; fiction of the pre-Historic times, does still remain etched somewhere but is not a guiding principle for understanding of social phenomenon and processes.
While going through the tough medical discipline, one came to see the complexity of human body, histopathology, immune systems, blood groups, bio-compatibility and what have you. A mere thought that Lord Ganesha could carry an elephant head if taken logically will lead you to so many questions. If the head is severed from the body; for how many minutes one can survive? The head houses the brain with higher centers for control of breathing and heart pumping amongst others, so how long can one remain alive to be a recipient for other’s organs, and that too the head of an elephant? What is the difference in the immune system of human body and elephant? Even while transplanting kidney to one human being to another there are battery of tests carried on meticulously to assess the compatibility between recipient and the donor. So there was all this paraphernalia, if Mr. Modi is to be believed?

A mass delivered from uterus; can it be divided into 100 pieces? What type of micro surgery is required for splitting the fertilized ovum? Can uterus be located near ear? I am sure all these questions must have cropped up in the minds of the doctors, who had the privilege of listening to their Prime Minister in person when he was inaugurating their hospital. They heard, “We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realize that Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb… We worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time, which got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery”.

Hope the hospital he inaugurated is not planning to undertake such miraculous surgeries and splitting of the ovum in to hundred pieces! Many in the country surely must be feeling happy that their PM has given glory to ‘our’ past achievements! By all accounts it was a pastoral society or might have been the beginning of agricultural times, with hunting stage still lurking somewhere. The facts are very different from the utterances of the PM.

The practical impossibility of these fictional tales being true cannot be overemphasized. As understood with great pain and scientific enterprise the fictions of mythology of Mahabharata or Ramayana do not stand even a chance of being actualized. All this requires a huge infrastructure, body of scientific knowledge of human body, physics, astronomy, and myriad other components of knowledge which have been growing from the past but have taken definitive contours in last few centuries only. With all this progress in scientific enterprise today none of these ‘glorious achievements’ can even be dreamt of even today. The World of science has taken giant strides and built up on the cumulative knowledge of human society as a whole. Surely there are many contributions which came up in ancient India, and they need to be underlined, and their wisdom and logical method highlighted. Some of these are the ones related to Charak Samhita (Medical science), Sushrut (Surgical techniques); contributions of Aryabhatt in astronomy and discovery of zero. What is important is to build a method of thinking and logic which can take us to the next step of the knowledge, ultimately leading to techniques and applications, which in turn can be used to enhance and enrich existing scientific knowledge.

It’s not that it’s only in our country that such mythological fantasies developed. All old civilizations have such interesting myths. In Egypt, in prehistoric times the tales of Cleopatra tell us that she had belief, like probably many other Egyptians, in the supreme power of many gods who had animal’s heads, like Baboon God head Hedj-Wer and Annubis the jackal headed God. Had the likes of Modi known about this Egyptian belief, the claim of ‘export of our knowledge’ claim would have been registered by now. What a coincidence with our own Lord Ganesh? Is it again a case of plastic surgery or flight of imagination? In Greek mythology, Chinese mythology and many other traditions such fictional characters do merrily abound.

The hope and prayer is that in order to prove the point, those in seats of power do not divert and waste social funds for investigations of these fantasies. While an average person can believe in Lord Ram’s travel in Pushpak Viman or someone else travelling on a flying mat, if those in power believe in these things; the danger of public money and state funds being diverted for ‘research’ in these fantasies is very frightening. One recalls that during Zia Ul Haq’s regime in one of the conferences was on ‘how to solve the power shortage’. Encouraged by the atmosphere where it is supposed that all knowledge is already there in our holy books, one ‘scientist’ presented a ‘research paper’ which argued that jinns are an infinite source of energy and that should be harnessed to solve the power crisis in Pakistan! Mercifully, one hopes that state did not allocate funds for such a research! Any way science is a universal knowledge not owing allegiance to any country or religion. There cannot be anything like a Hindu science or a Muslim science!

While individuals can harbor the reality of mythology, the matters will be difficult if the chief of state has belief in these fictions being part of History. That will be a big set back to the progress of scientific, rational thinking and enterprise. This combination of mythology, religion and politics will make the matters worse. Many competing mythologies will be struggling with each other for their acceptance and being encouraged by such utterances. And the fantasies of power of jinn’s and plastic surgery for Lord Ganesha will a have field day.

Targeting Nehruvian Legacy?

Ram Puniyani

The debates about India's partition, Gandhi murder and politics of Nehru have been a matter of ceaseless debates. Each political tendency has their own interpretation of these events, which in a way are landmarks of sorts in modern Indian History. As such the phenomenon of Partition of India and assassination of Gandhi are interwoven in the sense that Godse held Gandhi responsible for appeasement of Muslims. Godse constructed his story around warped understandings of the events of the time to create the ground for murder of the Mahatma. These views are shared by many Hindu nationalists, who are in and around RSS-BJP. Now with the ascendance of BJP to the seat of power many of its leaders are coming out more boldly with Hindu nationalist interpretation of the events, but a twist is being added. This twist is apparent in the article by a BJP leader from Kerala in the RSS mouth piece Kesari. This article indirectly suggests that Nathuram Godse should have killed Jawaharlal Nehru instead of Mahatma Gandhi, as according to him the real culprit was Nehru and not Gandhi. 

The BJP leader who wrote this is B Gopalkrishnan. He says "If history students feel Godse aimed at the wrong target, they cannot be blamed. Nehru was solely responsible for the partition of the country.” What does one make of it? Is it the official RSS line? To be on the safe side RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya has distanced the RSS from the statement of its leader. Still it is not difficult to guess that there may be prevalence of such thinking within the RSS circles on the lines of the author of RSS mouthpiece article. This Kesari article is significant as it is trying to shift the blame from Gandhi to Nehru. It may not be too difficult to understand the reason for the same. Before we have a look at who was responsible for partition, let’s try to understand why the blame is being shifted from the Mahatma to Nehru. Recently Narendra Modi launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign) on 2nd October as a tribute to the father of the nation, Gandhi. This move has two shrewd aims. One is to appropriate Gandhi for the politics of Hindu nationalism; two is to reduce Gandhi’s contribution to mere cleanliness and hygiene. This over projection of cleanliness associated with Gandhi as such dwarfs the major contribution of Gandhi, Hindu Muslim unity and national integration in the deepest possible sense.

Nehru’s staunch and principled commitment to Indian nationalism, pluralism, secularism and scientific temper make him a figure totally unacceptable to Hindu nationalists, as Hindu nationalism stands for the values totally opposed to these. So the attempts like this article are planned attempts for tasting of waters by throwing up Nehru’s name as the culprit for the partition tragedy.

As such Gandhi, Nehru and Patel were the most prominent leaders of the anti colonial freedom movement. Gandhi was the central pillar, who built up the anti-British-Indian nationalist mass movement, gave it solid foundations and then gradually became the moral guide for the same. He passed the major mantle of his responsibilities to Nehru and Patel. Most of the times Hindu nationalists, Hindu Mahasabha-RSS, were critical of Gandhi’s efforts for Hindu Muslim unity. The Muslim communal stream, Muslim League looked at Congress as a party representing Hindus alone. The truth is that majority of people from all religions were with the Gandhi led movement for Indian nationalism. It is only after 1940s that more Muslims started shifting to Muslim League due to the rise of communalism.

Gandhi was criticized by both communal streams, Hindu communal stream criticized him for appeasing Muslims, and Muslim communalists called him a Hindu representative. Partition was due to multiple factors. The first and foremost of these was the machination of British policy of ‘divide and rule’ which strengthened the communal streams-Muslim and Hindu both. Secondly British had an agenda of colonial masters. They perceived that a united India will be a power in its own right, more likely to ally with Soviet Union in global bipolar world. Their perception was due to the presence of a significant Left wing in the Indian National Congress led by Nehru himself.

Partition tragedy was multi layered phenomenon, which cannot be reduced to a single incident. Many such incidents had their own impact on the totality of the phenomenon of course. We need to see the deeper differences between the Indian nationalists on one hand and Religious nationalists (Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabha) on the other and the clever role of British in partitioning the nation. That should be central to understanding the process, rather than putting the blame on any single individual.

As per the perception of Hindu communal stream so far it was supposed to be Gandhi who was responsible for partition and for appeasement of Muslims, now this stream is trying to shift the blame on to Nehru as they need Gandhi as an icon, though freed from his core virtues of truth and non violence, reduced to mere ‘cleanliness man’. In no way they can appropriate Nehru, as Nehru lived after Independence to nurture the values of Indian nationalism, pluralism, liberalism and diversity, the principles which were the cementing factors of Indian national movement, the biggest ever mass movement in the World. So this Keasri, RSS mouthpiece article and the façade of its being disowned!

Doctoring History for Political Goals: Origin of Caste System in India

Ram Puniyani

Caste hierarchy is the major obstacle to the goal of social justice and it continues to be a major obstacle to social progress even today. There are many a theories, which have tried to understand its origin. The latest in the series is the attempt of RSS to show its genesis due to invasion of Muslim kings. Three books written by RSS ideologues argue that Islamic atrocities during medieval period resulted in emergence of untouchables and low castes.  The books are "Hindu Charmakar Jati", "Hindu Khatik Jati" and "Hindu Valmiki Jati".

The Sangh leaders claimed that these castes had come into existence due to atrocities by foreign invaders and did not exist in Hindu religion earlier. According to Bhaiyyaji Joshi, number two in RSS hierarchy, 'shudras' were never untouchables in Hindu scriptures. 'Islamic atrocities' during the medieval age resulted in the emergence of untouchables, Dalits. Joshi further elaborated, "To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders from Arab, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters, forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners."

The truth is contrary to this. The foundations of the caste system are very old and untouchability came as an accompaniment of the caste system. The Aryans considered themselves superior, they called non-Aryans krshna varnya (dark skinned), anasa (those with no nose), and since non-Aryans worshipped the phallus, they were considered non-human or amanushya. (Rig Veda: X.22.9) There are quotes in the Rig Veda and Manusmriti to show that low castes were prohibited from coming close to the high castes and they were to live outside the village. While this does not imply that a full-fledged caste system had come into being in Rig Vedic times, the four-fold division of society into varnas did exist, which became a fairly rigid caste system by the time of the Manusmriti.

Untouchability became the accompaniment of the caste system sometime around the first century ad. The Manusmriti, written in the second–third centuries ad, codifies the existing practices which show with utmost clarity the type of despicable social practices that the oppressor castes were imposing upon the oppressed castes. The first major incursions of Muslim invaders into India began around the eleventh century ad, and the European conquests of India began in the seventeenth–eighteenth centuries.

Over time, the caste system became hereditary. The rules for social intercourse as well as establishing marriage relations were laid down by the caste system. Caste hierarchies also became rigid over time. The shudras began to be excluded from caste society, and ‘upper’ castes were barred from inter-dining or inter-marrying with them. Notions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ were enforced strictly to maintain caste boundaries. Shudras became ‘untouchables’. It is this rigid social division that Manu’s Manav Dharmashastra (Human Law Code) codified.

Golwalkar, the major ideologue of RSS ideology defended it in a different way, ‘If a developed society realizes that the existing differences are due to the scientific social structure and that they indicate the different limbs of body social, the diversity (i.e. caste system, added) would not be construed as a blemish.’ (Organiser, 1 December 1952, p. 7) Deendayal Upadhyaya, another major ideologue of Sangh Parivar stated, ‘In our concept of four castes (varnas), they are thought of as different limbs of virat purush (the primeval man)… These limbs are not only complimentary to one another but even further there is individuality, unity. There is a complete identity of interests, identity, belonging… If this idea is not kept alive, the caste; instead of being complimentary can produce conflict. But then that is a distortion.’ (D. Upadhyaya, Integral Humanism, New Delhi, Bharatiya Jansangh, 1965, p. 43) 

Social struggles to oppose this system and the struggles to escape the tyrannies of caste system are presented by Ambedkar as revolution and counter-revolution. He divides the ‘pre-Muslim’ period into three stages: (a) Brahmanism (the Vedic period); (b) Buddhism, connected with rise of first Magadh-Maurya states and representing the revolutionary denial of caste inequalities; and (c) ‘Hinduism’, or the counter revolution which consolidated brahman dominance and the caste hierarchy.

Much before the invasion of Muslim kings, shudras were treated as untouchables and were the most oppressed and exploited sections of society. The rigidity and cruelty of the caste system and untouchability became very intense from the post-Vedic to Gupta period. Later, new social movements like Bhakti, directly, and Sufi, indirectly, partly reduced the intensity of the caste oppression and untouchability. This doctoring of the history by Sangh ideologues is motivated by their political agenda and tries to hide the truth.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Carvaka Darsana ki Sastriya Samiksa: Sarvananda Pathak

Published in 1965, 'Carvaka Darsana ki Sastriya Samiksa' (A Critical Study of Carvaka Philosophy) gives an overview of Carvaka philosophy. 

Though the author, Dr Sarvananda Pathak (who was a lecturer in Sanskrit, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda, when the book was written) is critical of Carvaka philosophy (the title of the sixth chapter, in fact, is 'Carvakavad ka nirakaran'), he has reproduced, in the 5th chapter, a wide collection of original writings (in Sanskrit with meaning in Hindi) of Carvaka/Lokayata philosophers selected from ancient texts still extant - ranging from the writings of Kapila, Gouthama, Jaimini, Vatsyayan, etc. The books from which he reproduced the selections include Ramayanam, Vishnupuranam, Thathvasangraha (Santharaksita), Sarvamathasangraha, Prabhodachandrodaya, Naishadhacharitam, Sarvadarsanasangraha, etc).

Dr Ramkrishna Bhattacharaya, an authority on Carvaka/Lokayata Philosophy, however says (in an email sent to us today, 2nd November 2014) that "The only plus point of Pathak's book is the assemblage of a number of primary sources that contain long or short references to materialism. As to his approach, etc. it is almost worthless (as is another book by Kar recently published by Indian Council of Philosophical Research). His collection of fragments is plagiarized from D.R. Shastri. I've mentioned all this in my 'Carvaka Fragments' included in my "Studies in Carvaka/Lokayata".

Though the book is no more available in print, it can be downloaded from the Digital Library maintained by Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Here is the link:


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