Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Wolf’s Footprints: Indian Materialism in Perspective - PART II

An Annotated Conversation with Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Krishna Del Toso

Krishna Del Toso:

Indeed, we meet with materialistic perspectives in texts belonging to quite different fields: Āyurveda, Mahābhārata, Upaniṣads... I would also add Ṛgveda and Atharvaveda just to stress antiquity of Indian Materialism in general. In this respect, one of the aspects that first impressed me when I read your book, is the incredible number and variety of sources you have checked. The first time I skimmed through the vast bibliography of primary sources of your book I felt the need of reflecting upon that which could be called a methodological sieve. In other terms, when one has to work on such an amount of sources, I think that the preliminary and essential consideration that s/he must keep in mind is to be deeply aware of the difference existing between real quotations and spurious quotations, namely, between fragments of Cārvāka/Lokāyata, and fragments on Cārvāka/Lokāyata. To make a simple example, the presence for instance of the Sanskrit particle iti after a quotation cannot be considered always discriminating: we cannot in fact be sure that when we come across an iti we are undoubtedly in front of an actual citation. Such an awareness is extremely important, since the real import of Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophy can be restored or defined only or primarily on the basis of the fragments of Cārvāka/Lokāyata, because the fragments on Cārvāka/Lokāyata present the risk to be mixed up with interpretations that could occasionally be misleading. According to your experience, hence, which are the principal misunderstandings that we have or we have had on Indian Materialism? In other words, what am I asking you is to tell us, on the one hand, which are the aspects of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophy that have been wrongly (intentionally or unintentionally) interpreted by Indian philosophers of the past and, on the other hand, which errors of evaluation in the modern understanding of Cārvāka/Lokāyata are due to a wrong or, better said, an inaccurate reading of these past misinterpretations.

RB: Two aspects of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata perspectives have been wrongly interpreted by Indian philosophers. First, the Cārvāka has been portrayed as pramāṇaikavādin, admitting one and only one instrument of cognition, namely, perception. This is not correct. One of the earliest commentators of the Cārvākasūtras known to us is Purandara. Like Bhāvivikta he too was apparently a cirantana cārvāka, adhering to the exact meaning of the words of the aphorisms. One Cārvāka aphorism says that perception indeed is the instrument of cognition. It is from his commentary, as quoted by Kamalaśīla, that we find him declaring that the Cārvākas did not consider anumāna (inference) as such to be invalid, but admitted only such inferences as were current in the world. Aviddhakarṇa and Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa followed suit in dividing inference into two categories: the first limited to the everyday world, the other following from the scriptures. Thus the Cārvākas with different inclinations and opinions in other respects were unanimous in accepting limited validity of inference, ‘limited’ in the sense that only such inferences as were based on, or verifiable by perception are to be admitted as an extension of perception. They drew the line there.
In this connection I would like to quote a few words from an article by Stephen H. Phillips that provides the background of the Indian philosophers’ preoccupation with the issue of inference. Speaking of the Indian views of knowledge he says: «Buddhist and some others appear to be motivated to deny pramāṇa status to testimony because appeal to testimony is used to justify what they see as objectionable religious theses. Similarly, the Cārvāka materialist denies inference, apparently out of fear of its power to prove the existence of spiritual entities such as God or the soul».[1]
It may also be noted in passing that the position of the Nyāyasūtras is not different. Inference is to be preceded by perception.[2] Vātsyāyana smuggles scripture (āgama, the Vedas) in his commentary as something on a par with perception. He writes: «The inference that is not contradicted by perception and scripture is called anvīkṣā».[3] Earlier too he states: «The inference which is contradicted by perception and scripture is pseudo-nyāya».[4] The inclusion of ‘scripture’ takes the bottom out of the Nyāya definition of perception and inference. At the same time, Vātsyāyana admits indirectly, there is such a thing called pseudo-nyāya. The Cārvākas wanted to guard their position by rejecting all such pseudo-nyāyas based on scripture and verbal testimony of any so-called authoritative person. Their position differs from Nyāya and others who admitted several instruments of cognition in that, unlike them, the Carvakas did not accept inference or word as an independent and primary instrument but as secondary, dependent on perception.

Krishna Del Toso:

And as regards the second aspect?

RB: Well, the Cārvāka/Lokāyata is widely misrepresented as a philosophy of gross Hedonism. Hemacandra, Guṇaratna and others have maligned it in the worst conceivable manner. I have already spoken of a verse attributed to the Cārvākas: yāvaj jīvaṃ sukhaṃ jīven ṛṇaṃ kṛtvā gṛthaṃ pibet («So long as you live, live happily; eat ghee, clarified butter, even by running into debts»). The original reading of the verse was quite different: yāvaj jīvaṃ sukhaṃ jīven nāsti mṛtyor agocaraḥ («So long as you live, live happily; nothing is beyond the ken of death»).[5] Sāyaṇa-Mādhava himself quotes the original verse at the beginning of his exposition of the Cārvāka but distorts the reading at the end of the same chapter. This made me curious and I started to locate all the occurrences of this verse in other works. I found that everyone except Sāyaṇa-Mādhava has cited the original reading or, even if some have rewritten it, they have not spoken of eating ghee or anything of that sort. Yet this distorted version is generally accepted as the quintessence of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Of course the Cārvākas, unlike the Buddhists, did not believe that the world is all sorrow. Nor did they believe that people can attain happiness only after being released from the cycle of rebirth, for they did not believe in after-life or rebirth. Sāyaṇa-Mādhava himself states that the Cārvākas were conscious of both pleasure and pain in life and they chose pleasure, not pain, as some ascetics intentionally do. This is the normal way of living and does not imply unbridled search for sensual pleasure.
Moreover, those who have charged the Cārvāka/Lokāyata on this ground never refer to any authentic aphorism. All references are to this verse only. Serious philosophers like Śāntarakṣita, Śaṅkarācārya and Prabhācandra controverted the Cārvāka/Lokāyata on purely epistemological grounds, never accusing them on moral ones. Even Jayantabhaṭṭa, who had a very low opinion about the intelligence of the Cārvāka philosophers, dismissed the charge of Hedonism by saying that ‘live happily’ is not a prescription. I have mentioned it before in my book.
These are the two mistaken notions about the Cārvāka/Lokāyata that the students of Indian philosophy should be disabused of.

Krishna Del Toso:

Now, after having shed light on the principal misconceptions concerning Indian Materialism, it is interesting to note that, notwithstanding the above-mentioned scarcity of fragments, from those very fragments the fundamental doctrines of this philosophy can, however, be drawn. Moreover, as you have said, we know also five or six proper names of exponents of Cārvāka/Lokāyata, like Aviddhakarṇa, Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa, Purandara, etc., and from your study it clearly emerges that Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophy was not a monolith, rather a dynamic perspective – as all other philosophies are or should be – with internal currents of thought and doctrinal differences. For instance, you have stressed the difference between ‘ancient’ Cārvākas, as Bhāvivikta, and ‘recent’ Cārvākas, as Udbhaṭa. Would it be possible, in your opinion, to summarize the main points of Cārvāka philosophy, tracing them back to these five or six philosophers by taking into account also the fundamental differences among their perspectives?

RB: First of all, it must be made clear that the Cārvāka/Lokāyata is not the only materialist philosophy in India. There were more than one pre-Cārvāka materialist schools, as I have mentioned before.

Krishna Del Toso:


RB: In spite of other differences, some of the basic materialist tenets are common to all of them, such as: the world has no creator, it consists only of natural elements, there is no after-life (that is, heaven and hell), matter precedes consciousness which is but a special effect of a particular combination of the elements, there is no soul without the body, and, what is more relevant in the Indian context, there is no rebirth. The Cārvāka aphorisms that are quoted and re-quoted state these fundamentals quite unambiguously. Then there are aphorisms concerning epistemology which declare perception to be the only instrument of cognition, excluding thereby inference drawn from testimony and declaring inference itself as secondary, not on a par with perception. But right from the eighth century we read of difference of opinions: for example, is consciousness ‘born’ or ‘manifested’ out of the four elements forming the body? Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa proposed to interpret some Cārvāka aphorisms in so untraditional a way that Cakradhara had to contrast him with Bhāvivikta, the old commentator. So did Vādidevasūri notice the novelty of Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa’s interpretations. These differences are quite prominent and cannot be explained away. As to the non-Cārvāka materialists, the major difference lies in determining the number of natural elements, four or five.
In regard to the social philosophy of the Cārvākas, we have no primary source to go by. Kṛṣṇamiśra and Śrīharṣa have made the Cārvākas appear as defenders of women’s rights and opposed to caste distinction. But there is no aphorism to support such representation. But as we have to reconstruct the whole system solely on the basis of its representation by its opponents, we may very well accept this charge as reflecting the true view of the Cārvākas.
Aviddhakarṇa and Udbhaṭa introduced a number of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika terms in their commentaries. It is not improbable that they composed their commentaries from their own Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika point of view, without being converted to the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Udbhaṭa in particular comes closer to idealism in his explanation of an aphorism. This is not altogether unexpected. In our own times Pandit Ananta Kumar Bhattacharyya wrote an exposition of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata in 1365 Bengali era (1958-59 CE). An English translation of his essay has been provided in the Cārvāka/Lokāyata.[6] More recently Acarya Badarinatha Sukla, former Vice-Chancellor of the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Varanasi, has tried (in Sanskrit) to defend dehātmavāda by following the method of Nyāya.[7] He has extolled the Cārvāka/Lokāyata as an appropriate philosophy for contemporary life.
These developments are of course quite interesting but whether they signify any ‘growth’ is, I am afraid, a matter of opinion. They do not help us reconstruct the original Cārvāka/Lokāyata or any other materialist doctrine that had flourished right from the Buddha’s time or even before. We need more hard facts. Exploration of Tibetan sources is a desideratum. I know that you are working in that field and would urge you and other scholars to search for new material that may throw more light on Indian Materialism through the ages.

Krishna Del Toso:

Indeed, to make just an example, I know that some interesting material on Lokāyata can be found in Avalokitavrata’s Ṭīkā on Bhāviveka’s Prajñāpradīpa, which remains only in its Tibetan translation. But let us come back to the various subjects towards which you are directing our attention. Among all the topics mentioned here, I think that the most important and, in some way, the ‘superordinated’ one, is the non-acceptance of those inferences (anumāna) that are not supported by (or grounded on) perception. It is easy to understand, indeed, how also other materialistic theories like, for instance, the denial of the self (ātman), or of the other-world (paraloka), depend on this particular interpretation of anumāna. This, again, makes the Cārvāka/Lokāyata be more a sort of ‘positivist’ or ‘scientific’ perspective – in the sense of a philosophy open to a real verification-modality –, than a philosophy of extreme Hedonism, as some ancient thinkers loved to describe it (of course some hedonistic fringe might also have existed among Cārvākas, as the yāvaj jīvaṃ sukhaṃ jīven… verse mentioned above seems in some way to hint at; in any case, hedonistic inclinations seem to have been implicitly accepted even in Vaidik traditions, as for instance the Manusmṛti passage na māṃsabhakṣaṇe doṣo na madye na ca maithune | pravṛttireṣā bhūtānāṃ, «There is no sin in eating meat, in liquor and in sexual intercourse, for this is the natural way of creatures», bears witness to).[8] You have explained very well why Hedonism cannot be considered in se an inclination proper, or connaturated, to the Cārvāka viewpoint. Now, in Chapter IV of your book[9] you deal with all these arguments but, exactly because this is a crucial point, and even if you have partially discussed this in a previous answer, I ask you if you can explain more in detail in what the materialistic perspective on perception and inference does consist and how the, as it were, ‘positivist’ attitude just referred can be described. To develop a bit further this subject will be useful for my next question.

RB: Well, Materialism is intrinsically inductive in spirit. Any universal proposition has to be arrived at from particular instances. The methods of agreement and difference are essential to formulate a universal proposition. Even then the truth-value will at best be probable, not certain. Idealist philosophers insist on generalisations made out of deduction from scriptures, religious law books like the Manusmṛti, etc. They wished for truths beyond time, true for the past, the present and the future. Purandara and Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa, even though he was a ‘revisionist’, insist on distinguishing between inference based on perception followed in everyday life and inference deduced from scripture. This I believe, is a contribution of the materialists to logic.
Was this the original position of the Cārvākas? Frauwallner says that they had to desert their original attitude and adopt foreign thoughts which led to «a regular activity and to a blossoming up of a literature richer than hitherto».[10] Franco is of the opinion that such a desertion happened in the wake of Dharmakīrti. He even goes to the extent of saying that Dharmakīrti’s arguments «had to be urgently answered, or the Cārvāka would have been kicked out of the philosophical scene» (Franco told me that the article had been written much earlier).[11] I, on the other hand, believe that the Cārvākas right from the beginning accepted the limited validity of inference; they did not modify their position in face of Dharmakīrti. Some pre-Cārvāka materialists might have adhered to the naïve position that sensory perception alone was the only valid instrument of cognition. The Cārvākas came late and developed a more sophisticated epistemology and ontology. Karin Preisendanz has very recently complained to me (in a personal communication) that my refusal to accept Frauwallner’s and Franco’s view «has the taste of anti-Buddhist sentiment often found in contemporary Indian writings on the history and development of Indian philosophy». All I can say is that, being a confirmed atheist and hence not an orthodox Hindu, I harbour no such anti-Buddhist sentiment. On the other hand, accepting the view of Franco would mean that the Cārvāka logicians were, as Vācaspatimiśra in his Bhāmatī ironically says,[12] indeed worse than the beasts because they could not infer anything even from everyday experience. What I have tried to show is that the Cārvāka materialists were expert logicians and had a cause to uphold. They were opposed to all religious practices and refused to believe in the infallibility of any religious text, whether the Vedas or the Buddhist canonical works. Since they denied both after-life and rebirth, they developed the concept of two different kinds of pratītis, utpanna and utpādya. The first is the kind of inference in case of which the inferential cognition can be acquired by oneself (which is acceptable) and the other in which the inferential cognition is to be acquired on somebody else’s advice (which is not acceptable). There are two verses which bring out their position clearly:

yattvātmeśvara-sarvajṇā-paralokādigocaram |
anumāṇaṃ na tasyeṣṭaṃ prāmāṇyaṃ tattvadarśibhiḥ ||
(«However, inferences that seek to prove a self, God, and omniscient being, the other-world and so on are not considered valid by those who know the real nature of things»).

ṛjūnāṃ jāyate tasmānna tāvad anumeyadhīḥ |
yāvat kuṭilitaṃ ceto na teṣāṃ viṭatārkikaiḥ ||
(«Simple-minded people cannot derive the knowledge of probandum by such inferences, so long as their mind is not vitiated by cunning logicians»).[13]

Being thoroughgoing rationalists the Cārvākas could not dispense with reasoning, which involves inference. That is why all fideists, religious teachers or law-givers such as Manu find fault with the haitukas, reasoners. The Cārvākas were of course non-believers, heretics, infidels or anything the believers might call them. But they were not fools, as Vācaspatimiśra, Jayantabhaṭṭa and Hemacandra superciliously brand them. They knew the technical terms of formal logic such as sādhya, pakṣa, gamaka, etc. and used them properly in their polemics. At the same time, they were against the ‘cunning logicians’ who by jugglery with words tried to convince people of the existence of such non-existent objects as God, omniscient being, after-life, etc.

Krishna Del Toso:

Very well! Your argument is very clear and you could not conclude it in a better way, since your words allow me to introduce the question to which I alluded before. Though the Cārvākas say that no means of knowledge can actually demonstrate the existence of the ātman, of an other-world, of karmic merits and demerits, etc., we find however that they do not deny – but how could they have done it? – the existence of a sort of principium individuationis (variously called caitanya, pudgala, etc.). In addition to that, the fact that they were not at all devoted to extreme Hedonism suggests to me that they must have had a precise and unique idea of morality/ethics, which should be completely different from other ideas of morality/ethics founded on principles somewhat spiritual (such as the Vaidikas’ sacrifice or the Buddhists’ karman, etc.). The question is: according to your opinion, which kind of morality/ethics did the Materialists develop, considering the fact that they lived without the assurance of the existence of a summum bonum (niḥśreyasa, nirvāṇa, etc.) as final aim of life? Furthermore, is it possible to gather the core aspects of this kind of morality/ethics? Can it be helpful, in order to unravel this point, to take into consideration those philosophies of ancient Greece that seem to be similar to Cārvāka/Lokāyata (I am thinking for instance to some aspects of the philosophies of Epicurus of Samos or of Zeno of Citium)?

RB: Unfortunately we have absolutely no evidence to answer your question properly. The fragments so far collected say practically nothing of the Cārvāka ethics. However, I have tried to show that the Cārvākas were as much maligned as Epicurus. Epicurus led an austere life yet the word ‘epicure’ in English (and may be in other modern European languages) is made to suggest unbridled enjoyment of food and drink, etc. It is possible that the Cārvāka ethics was akin to Epicurus’ who in a letter to Menoeceus once said:

When, therefore, we say that pleasure is a chief good…we mean the freedom of the body from pain and of the soul from confusion. For it is not…continue drinking and revels…that make life pleasant but sober contemplations which examine into the reasoning for all choice and avoidance, and which put to flight the vain opinions from which greater part of the confusion arises which troubles the soul.[14]

It is probable that the Cārvākas too believed in this view of life and held the pursuit of the real nature of things (as mentioned in a verse quoted above) to be the supreme aim of life. Incidentally, Epicurus’ words are reminiscent of the concept of heya (to be rejected) and upādeya (to be enjoyed) found in many Sanskrit works.
Franco once suggested perceptively: «…all the Lokāyatikas were fighting for… was ultimately to found social and political institutions independently of religious dogma…».[15] He might have had in his mind Frauwallner’s view that Materialism in India was created for the Realpolitikers.[16] I do not think so, as I have shown in the first chapter of my book. I would, however, heartily agree with Franco’s suggestion. The rationalism and secularism of the Cārvākas are relevant even today when irrationalism fostered by the postmodernists and fundamentalism fanned by reactionary politicians  are so rife all over the world.

Krishna Del Toso:

Good. You have shifted our argument to the present times. Let us continue on this direction. Today we are observing an increase of social frictions among the lower strata of the population, whereas the so-called intellectual élites (both religious and non-religious) are trying to find a common platform in order to develop a serious dialogue between cultures. This platform, of course, has to be based on the idea that the ‘other than me’ can represent more a richness for me, rather than a danger. And this richness of course should be handled without in any case loosing one’s own identity, otherwise it would not be an actual richness. This process should be in short described by making reference to our case: an Italian Doctor in Philosophy, me, is questioning an Indian Professor, you, on his last book on Cārvāka/Lokāyata; but this Indian Professor is also well versed in English literature and in ancient Greek philosophy, and this Italian Doctor is acquainted with the fundamental aspects of the doctrines and thoughts developed by ancient and medieval Indian thinkers. Our conversation is enriching me and, I hope, is enriching also you, without forcing the one or the other of us to abandon his own cultural identity. The point is that a real dialogue can exist only when the speakers involved in it are disposed to openly accept – of course with a proper criticism – the other’s points of view and consequently to through doubt upon, or to reconsider, one’s own ideas (without necessarily abandoning them!), when these ideas are with intelligence criticized by the other one. Of course, this is a difficult intellectual exercise, difficult to such an extent that rarely it has, or has had, a good application, and the case of Indian Materialism, which has been historically reduced to silence, is in my opinion a clear example of the failure of a philosophical dialogue. Nonetheless, I am convinced that the materialistic inclination towards life and knowledge in general could strongly contribute to the present ethical debate, by introducing new dialectical perspectives. Now, according to your opinion, in which way one should nowadays make the materialistic teachings of ancient and medieval India react with the other, mostly religious, ethical inclinations? Which are the aspects of Cārvāka/Lokāyata that can be considered still topical? Said in seriocomic words, I am giving to you the possibility to ‘avenge’ that which – at least from a Westers perspective – seems to have been a sort of historical ‘murder’ of Indian Materialism.

RB: Well, Indian Materialism might have been ‘murdered’ elsewhere, but it has always been a living presence in India, at least in Bengal. This may be true for other parts of India too. Thanks to the late Janakiballabha Bhattacharya, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Dakshinaranjan Bhattacharya Shastri, Hemanta Kumar Gangopadhyaya (Ganguly) who wrote mostly in Bangla, and others, Indian Materialism has never been absent from the philosophical scene here. Idealists of many hues, both religious and non-religious, had to reckon with Materialism both in classrooms and in their writings. I, in my own humble way, have contributed to the study of Materialism by writing more often in Bangla than in English. My Bangla book, Cārvākacarcā[17] is a collection of articles dealing with many issues not covered (or barely mentioned) in my Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. For example, a small work edited and translated by F.W. Thomas called Bṛhaspati Sūtra is no longer considered worth discussing in the West. But it has been taken more seriously in India due to the fact that scholars like Haraprasad Shastri and Dakshinaranjan Shastri referred to it. So I had to write something in Bangla to show that the work was full of self-contradictions and a forgery to boot. I have not written anything in English on the Jābāli episode in the Rāmāyaṇa (Ayodhyā Kāṇḍa) although Jābāli definitely represents pre-Cārvāka Materialism. Paraśurāma (pseudonym of Rājaśekhara Basu, a brilliant short story writer in Bangla), once wrote a classic story called Jābāli which is still enjoyed by all.[18] Thus Materialism has been made known to common readers as well. I, therefore, compared different recensions of the Rāmāyaṇa, more particularly the Gauḍīya version (it was first edited and translated into Italian by Gaspare Gorresio).[19] Similarly there is a late Sanskrit play, Vidvanmodataraṅgiṇī, a kind of a digest of all philosophies known to its author, Cirañjīva Śarmā (Bhaṭṭācārya) (to the best of my knowledge and belief, no relation of mine!). The play is not read much outside Bengal. But it has been translated more than once, both into Bangla and English. So I had to reckon with this work with a view to demonstrating that its author had mixed up all nāstikas (the Buddhists, the Jains and the Cārvākas) in his representation of Materialism. This way the study of Indian Materialism has never been dead in India, at least in Bengal.
I should add that recently there has been a resurgence of the study of Indian Materialism in Japan and the West as well, because of the new fillip given to it by Dharmakīrti studies, thanks to the works brought from Tibet by that great Marxist scholar-traveller, Rāhula Sāṃkṛtyāyana. It is absolutely necessary to know the views of those whom Dharmakīrti and his commentators refer to. One has to learn in greater detail the views of Indian materialists and others whom they sought to refute. Franco’s monograph, Dharmakīrti on Compassion and Rebirth is a case in point.[20] One whole chapter in it, the fourth, is devoted to the Cārvāka/Lokāyata.
It is now impossible to forget all about Indian Materialism or dismiss it simply as a philosophy of reckless Hedonism.

Krishna Del Toso:

What I find reassuring on this point is that, also and mostly thanks to your work, Cārvāka philosophy can now be reconsidered in a thorough manner. Now, and this is my concluding question, I would like to ask you if you are still working on Cārvāka/Lokāyata and, if yes, in which direction are moving your studies, and which are the subjects that you are investigating at the moment?

RB: I am at present engaged in studying various aspects of the doctrine of svabhāva, a ‘lost’ philosophy that can be traced back to the time of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. I have already published a few papers in some Indian journals and one in the Halbfass Memorial Volume.[21] They, I hope, will throw more light on the ‘prehistory’ of Indian Materialism. I would like to find how and from when svabhāvavāda and the Cārvāka/Lokāyata coalesced, how svabhāva came to mean both accidentalism and determinism. As usual, the amount of material is scanty, so one has to fill in the gaps with reasonable conjectures.

Krishna Del Toso:

So, looking forward to reading your next book (why not a collection of essays on svabhāva?), I thank you again, dear professor, for this interesting conversation.

RB: Well, I do plan to prepare a book exactly on this subject in near future.
Dear Krishna, I too thank you for offering me an opportunity to talk about Indian Materialism and pay my homage to my predecessors. A line in the Atharvaveda runs as follows: idáṃ náma ṛṣibhyaḥ pūrvajébhyaḥ pū́rvebhyaḥ pathikṛdbhyaḥ («This is paying obeisance to the former-born, the elder, the path-maker sages»).[22] I can do no better than quoting it for the benefit of all.

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya
3, Mohanlal Street, Kolkata 700 004, West Bengal, India
Phone: 91-033-25551288

Krishna Del Toso
Università di Trieste
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici
Via Tigor 22, 34124 Trieste, Italy


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In this paper, which has the structure of an interview, Ramkrishna Bhattacharya answers questions on several aspects concerning the Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophy. Taking Bhattacharya’s 2009 book Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata as a starting point, the discussion, beginning from Bhattacharya’s personal experience in the field of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata studies, develops mainly through the ontology, epistemology and ethics of Indian materialists. Cārvāka/Lokāyata ontology accounts for only four elements (earth, water, fire and wind) as primary constituents of whatever exists; however, in later times a, so to speak, ‘reformed’ Materialism took place, according to which also other primary elements would be admitted, opening in this way the door – Bhattacharya argues – to some sort of idealism. The epistemology is of a perception-based kind: being perception the most reliable means of knowledge, inference is accordingly accepted only if and when supported by the senses (consequently, gods, the afterlife, destiny or fate are all to be denied from an epistemological point of view). Despite the criticism put forward by some ancient thinkers, according to whom the Cārvāka/Lokāyata would have professed an ethical view, rooted in an ‘eat, drink and be merry’ lifestyle, nowhere the attested primary sources at our disposal testify such a Hedonistic approach. Moreover, the problem of the paucity of direct and authentic Cārvāka/Lokāyata fragments is also dealt with, along with the explanation of why Jayarāśi’s Tattvopaplavasiṃha should not be considered a text on/of Materialism, as some scholar seems instead to suggest.

[1] Routledge Enclycopedia of Philosophy (1998: 280).
[2] Nyāyasūtra 1.1.5. See Jhā (1999: 153).
[3] Bhāṣya on Nyāyasūta 1.1.5. See Jhā (1999: 153-5).
[4] Bhāṣya on Nyāyasūta 1.1.1. See Jhā (1999: 43-50).
[5] See Bhattacharya (2009b: 201-5).
[6] See Ananta Kumar Bhattacharyya ‘Cārvāka Darśanam’, in Chattopadhyaya, Gangopadhyaya (1990: 452-73).
[7] Sukla (1984).
[8] Manusmṛti 5.56abc.
[9]Perception and Inference in the Cārvāka Philosophy’, in Bhattacharya (2009b: 55-63)
[10] Frauwallner (1956.2: 225).
[11] Franco (1991: 159).
[12] Bhāmatī on Brahmasūtra 3.3.53. See Chattopadhyaya, Gangopadhyaya (1990: 243).
[13] See Bhattacharya (2009b: 92).
[14] See Hicks (1925: 131-2).
[15] Franco (1991: 160).
[16] Frauwallner (1956.2: 216).
[17] Bhattacharya (2010a).
[18] Basu (1981). ‘Jābāli’ was first published in 1927 CE.
[19] Gorresio (1843-58).
[20] Franco (1997).
[21] See Bhattacharya (2001), (2002b), (2005b), (2006), (2007).
[22] Atharvaveda 18.2.2cd

This interview was first published in Annali, (Volume No.71), publication of Università degli studi di Napoli.

Click here for Part I  of this interview

Reproduced with the permission of Krishna Del Toso & Ramkrishna Bhattacharya


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