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.


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