Monday, 26 January 2015

Lectures on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata Philosophy: Some Common Misrepresentations concerning the Cārvāka/Lokāyata Examined

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

a. Did the Carvakas Refuse to Admit Inference?

In the Indian philosophical context, besides the issues of rebirth, after-life and other-world, the instruments of cognition (pramana) are considered to be of seminal importance. The Carvaka/Lokayata is generally branded as a philosophical school which accepted perception as the only means of knowledge. But there is enough evidence to show that, in addition to perception, the Carvkas also admitted inference as a valid means of cognition insofar as it was based on perception and hence verifiable by perception. As to verbal testimony, analogy and other instruments of cognition accepted by various schools, the Carvakas refused to accept them. We shall now delineate on this issue.

All college textbooks and most of the popular digests and handbooks of Indian philosophy describe the Cārvākas as pramāṇaikavādin, i.e., they recognize no other instrument of cognition except one, viz., perception. Vācaspatimiśra (ninth/tenth century), a non-dualist Vedāntin, satirizes the Cārvāka in the following way:

Moreover, even beasts, with a view to obtaining the beneficial and avoiding the harmful, move towards a field green with soft, fresh grass and leave one full of dried grass and thorns. The Nāstika, not knowing what would lead to his own good or what would lead him into harm, is more beastly than a beast. In this matter (of determining a thing as desirable and undesirable), which is the basis of an effort for obtainment (pravṛtti) or an effort for avoidance (nivṛtti), and can only be known by inference; perception is not capable of doing anything. (Bhāmatī, sub-commentary on the Brahmasūtra (3.3.53). See Debiprasad Chattopadhayaya and Mrinal Kanti Gangopadhyaya ed. Cārvāka/ Lokāyata. 1990. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research. p. 243).
Many other Brahminical and Jain philosophers have similarly condemned the Cārvākas as pramāṇaikavādin. But such a branding is not only wrong but betrays some design as well. Let us take the following instance. 

To prove that the Cārvākas declined to admit inference as a valid means of knowledge Śāntarakṣita and Jayantabhaṭṭa cite several verses. All of them, however, are taken from Bhartṛhari’s Vākyapadīya. Śīlāṅka, Vācaspatimiśra and Vādidevasūri too follow them. Now Bhartṛhari was a staunch Vedist. He did not believe in any other means of knowledge except verbal testimony. Both perception and inference were unacceptable to him. Yet the opponents of the Cārvāka prefer to cite his view as if it corresponds to the Lokāyatikas’. If there were any aphorism denying the validity of inference in the Cārvākas’ base text, why did the antagonists all quote Bhartṛhari and then set out to refute the Cārvākas? One has the impression that Śāntarakṣita and others simply use the Cārvāka as their Śikhaṇḍin: the butt of their attack was really Bhartṛhari or the school of grammarians, although they never declared it in so many words (For details see Ramkrishna Bhattacharya. 2009/2011. Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Firenze: Società Editriche Fiorentina, London: Anthem Press, Chapter 8 pp. 109ff).   If any school of Indian philosophy is to be branded as pramāṇaikavādin, it is the school of grammarians, not the Cārvāka. 

The fact is that the Cārvākas did admit inference along with perception as an instrument of cognition. Let us have a look at the evidence. 

Kamalaśīla in his commentary on Tattvasaṅgraha, verses 1481-82, quotes a line: “Purandara however says, ‘The Cārvākas too admit of such an inference as is well-known in the world, but that which is called inference [by some], transgressing the worldly way, is prohibited [by them]’.” Soon after the publication of this work (1926) Satkari Mookerjee (The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux. 1935. Calcutta:  Calcutta University. pp. 368-69) referred to this sentence as did Surendranath Dasgupta (A History of Indian Philosophy. 1940. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Vol. 3, pp. 536, 539). 

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (In Defence of Materialism in Ancient India. 1989. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House. pp. 52-54), too, devotes a section on “The Evidence of Purandara”. 

Dasgupta also refers to Vādidevasūri, who says that, according to the Cārvākas, “Since in the supposed supra-sensuous transcendent world no case of the hetu [reason] agreeing with the presence of its sādhya [inferable property] can be observed, no inductive generalization or law of concomitance can be made relating to this sphere.” 

M. Hiriyanna too notes that the opponents of the Cārvāka may even have misrepresented its tenets:

Thus it is commonly assumed by the critics that the Cārvākas denounce reasoning as a pramāṇa; but to judge from the reference to it in one Nyāya treatise, they seem to have rejected only such reasoning as was ordinarily thought sufficient by others for establishing the existence of God, of a future life, etc. (Outlines of Indian Philosophy. 1932. Bombay: George Allen & Unwin (India). 1973 reprint. p. 188)

Hiriyanna observes: “Such a discrimination in using reason alters the whole complexion of the Cārvāka view. But this is only a stray hint we get about the truth. What we generally have is a caricature.” 

The Nyāya treatise Hiriyanna mentions is Jayantabhaṭṭa’s Nyāyamañjarī, the first printed edition of which appeared as early as 1895. None before Hiriyanna, however, noticed this hint. (Hiriyanna in his turn also failed to notice the passages in the works of Kamalaśīla and Vādidevasūri which provide categorical assertions – not mere stray hints – regarding the limited validity of inference admitted by the Cārvākas). 

Besides Kamalaśila, Jayanta and Vādidevasūrī, Sarvamata-saṅgraha, an anonymous and undated digest, presents the Cārvāka view more elaborately:

This rice, because of its riceness (annatva) satisfies hunger as it did yesterday – such an inference as this is included there (sc. in the Lokāyata Śāstra), due to its being rooted in perception. The fruits of worldly goods (abhyudaya) and summum bonum (niḥśreyasa), the matter of religion and brahman as well as the Veda are devoted to the pretersensual, hence are not (to be admitted as) means of knowledge – this is the conclusion. (Sarvamatasaṅgraha. 1915. T. Ganapati Sastri ed. Trivandram. p. 15)

Ratnaprabhā a Jain philosopher, too, seems to echo Purandara when he writes:

The Cārvākas, however, contend that they admit inferences which are of practical utility, such as the inference of fire from smoke, and deny only those which deal with such supernatural matters as the heaven, the unseen power (apūrva) which generates in a next birth fruits of acts done in a present life, etc. etc. (Commentary on Vādidevasūrī’s Pramāṇa-naya-tattvālokālaṃkara. 1967. Hari Satya Bhattacharya’s trans. Bombay: Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal. p. 504)
Guṇaratna, another Jain philosopher, repeats the same view:

The Cārvākas admit the validity of inference which tend to facilitate the daily activities of ordinary people (loka-yātrā-nirvahaṇa-pravaṇaṃ), such as the inference of fire from smoke, etc., but they never admit the validity of extraordinary inferences which seek to establish the heaven, merit and demerit, etc. (Tarka-rahasya-dīpikā, commentary on Haribhadra’s Ṣaḍ-darśana-samuccaya. 1914. Luigi Suali ed. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society. p. 306; Cārvāka/Lokāyata p. 273)

Last but not least, Sukhlalji Sanghvi, the eminent Jain scholar of our times, prefers to follow this view. The Cārvāka, according to him, belongs to the side which accepts the dominance of the senses (indriyādhipatya-pakṣa) as opposed to those who reject the senses (in favour of the mind or the self), those who admit the dominance of both the senses and the mind (or the self), and those who admit only the dominance of the Vedas. (Sukhlalji Sanghvi. 1941. ‘Tattvopaplavasiṃha, Cārvāka Darśana kī eka Apūrva Grantha’ in Tattvopaplavasiṃha of Jayarāśi Bhaṭṭa. 1987. Varanasi: Bauddha Bharati. pp. 23-24. The article first appeared in Bhāratīya Vidyā, 2 (1) and included in Sanghvi’s Darśana evaṃ Cintana. Vadodora: Gujarāta Vidyāsabhā) 

In fact, the distinction made between two kinds of inference – one confined to the ways of the world (laukika), and the other relying on the scriptures or the supra-sensual (śāstrasiddha) – is the lasting contribution of the Cārvākas to Indian Logic. It is a sad commentary on the state of scholarship that the true Cārvāka view regarding inference has all along been distorted and wilfully misrepresented. Is it too much to expect that the writers of the twenty-first century will take note of these discoveries (not all of them very recent) and put an end to caricaturing the Cārvāka position? They should realize what S. Radhakrishnan, no friend of materialism, said long ago in relation to the verses at the end of Sarva-darśaba-saṃgraha, ch. 1: “A philosophy professed seriously for centuries could not have been of the coarse kind that it is here reported to be.” (S. Radhakrishnan. 1929. Indian Philosophy. London: George Allen & Unwin. Vol, 1. p. 283)

b. Were the Cārvākas Sensualists?

All that has been said above is enough, I hope, to dispel the notion that the Cārvākas were a happy-go-lucky lot and their sole aim in life was sensual gratification. Had it been so, all their opponents would not have dealt with them so seriously. The Cārvākas, of course, did not believe in the other-world and were not credulous enough to believe in the existence of two separate places called heaven and hell. So the opponents of the Cārvāka have portrayed them as immoral people preaching “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. But none of the opponents quotes a single sūtra in support of such representation. Serious scholars like Richard Garbe and M. Hiriyanna noted long ago that such a (mis)representation has all the characteristics of a caricature.

Let us re-examine the sources onthe basis of which the Cārvākas have been branded as unrestrained hedonists. The only “evidence” that is cited is a verse found in Sarva-darśaba-saṃgraha.

yāvajjīvet sukhaṃ jīved ṛṇaṃ kṛtvā ghṛtaṃ pibet |
bhasmībhūtasya dehasya punar āgamanaṃ kutaḥ ||

While life remains, let a man live happily; let him feed on ghee even though he runs in debts; when once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again?
The same verse, however, is quoted in no fewer than thirteen sources both before and after the Sarva-darśaba-saṃgraha and almost everywhere the second hemistich reads nāsti mṛtyor agocaraḥ (nothing is beyond the scope of death). (For details see Ramkrishna Bhattacharya. Studies etc. Chs. 19 and 20) Whatever other variants there may be, nowhere does the second hemistich reads ṛṇaṃ kṛtvā ghṛtaṃ pibet, excepting in the Sarva-darśaba-saṃgraha. More interesting is the fact that Sāyaṇa-Mādhava himself quotes this verse twice in the same chapter, once at the beginning and again at the end. In the first instance he too quotes the second hemistich as nāsti mṛtyor agocaraḥ 

There is no proof to show that the verse under discussion originated from among the Cārvākas. It is first found in the Viṣṇudharmottara Mahāpurāṇa (108. 18-19). Here, too, the second hemistich reads nāsti mṛtyor agocaraḥ. The verse is attributed to King Beṇa who, both in this Purāṇa and elsewhere, is represented as a king who did not believe in the other-world. So he never cared to conform to the traditional duties of a devout person. There is no mention of any such term as Bārhaspatya or Cārvāka or Lokāyata in this context. In fact, most of the verses that are attributed to Bṛhaspati by Sāyaṇa-Mādhava and others are of doubtful authenticity.

 Whatever be the authenticity of the yāvajjīvet verse, the fact remains that this very verse has been generally taken to be the quintessence of the Cārvāka philosophy. But what the verse says in its original form is pretty simple. The message is quite clear: Since there is no rebirth, there is no use of practising austerity; death will overpower everyone anyway.

Let us look at the matter from another angle. Jayantabhaṭṭa has no soft spot for the Cārvākas. He controverts at some length the Cārvākas regarding the acceptance of inference as an instrument of cognition both in his philosophical work, Nyāyamañjarī and his allegorical play, Āgamaḍambara. He, however, refuses to accept the view that the Cārvākas prescribed any hedonistic doctrine. He rather believes that the Lokāyata “is only the assertion of the vaitaṇḍika (representing merely the destructive criticism of others); it is not really a body of precepts.” (Jayantabhaṭṭa. Nyāyamañjarī.  1982. Gaurinatha Sastri ed. Varanasi: Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya. Āhnika 4. Part I. p. 388) 

A putative opponent is said to object: “But then there it has been (positively) prescribed: ‘Live in pleasure as long as you live’.” Jayanta brushes aside this objection. “No,” he says, “the fact being naturally established, a prescription in this regard becomes useless.” (Ibid.) In other words, the verse, according to Jayanta, does not contain any prescription at all.

It is also to be noted that other philosophers who have crossed swords with the Cārvākas have concentrated solely on epistemological questions. We may mention the names of Śaṅkarācārya, Śāntarakṣita and Prabhācandra who find fault with the Cārvāka doctrine on both epistemological and metaphysical grounds, but they never call it hedonistic or anything of that sort. There is no denying the fact that the Cārvākas did not abide by the Vedas, nor did they believe in the doctrine of rebirth and karman; they also refused to accept any statement based on inference unless it was supported by or based on perception. All these objections have been raised and contested from the Brahminical, Buddhist and Jain points of view. But in the philosophical works no charge has been levelled against them that involves moral depravity. It seems that a facile equation was made by the custodians of orthodoxy between the denial of the other-world and indulgence in sensual gratification. 

Such an equation is also met with in ancient Greece. Epicurus (341-270 bce) lived an austere life, as did Ajita Kesakambala (For details see Ramkrishna Bhattacharya. Studies etc. Ch. 3). Yet Epicurus was maligned as a glutton in subsequent Greek and Roman literature. Two modern English words, ‘Epicure’ and ‘Epicurean’, stand for “a person who takes particular pleasure in fine food and drink” (as given in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2011). 

But did Epicurus not preach that pleasure was the highest good? Most certainly he did. But by “pleasure” he meant intellectual pleasure. In a letter to Menoeceus he made his position amply clear:
So when we say that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasures of the dissipated and those that consist in having a good time, as some out of ignorance and disagreement or refusal to understand suppose we do, but freedom from pain in the body and from disturbance in the soul. For what produces the pleasant life is not continuous drinking and parties or pederasty or womanizing or the enjoyment of fish and the other dishes of an expensive table, but sober reasoning which tracks down the causes of every choice and avoidance and which banishes the opinions that beset souls with the greatest confusion. (Trans. A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley. 1987. The Hellenistic Philosophers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Vol 1, p. 114.)
If, in spite of, such crystal clear exposition, the Epicurean view of pleasure could be so much distorted, what could the poor Cārvākas do? Not a single fragment of the Cārvāka sources contains any reference to pleasure or what the founders of that system meant by pleasure. Yet, thanks to some poets and playwrights and the writers of popular digests of philosophy (both ancient and modern), the word, cārvāka, has become synonymous with sensualism. Generations of men and women have been victims of this malign campaign. It is high time that we get rid of such a misconception.

This is the second of the three lectures delivered by Dr Ramkrishna Bhattacharya at the School of Habitat Studies, Tata Inst of Social Sciences, Mumbai delivered on December 2, 3 & 5, 2014.
Click here for Part I and Part II of the lectures.

Dr 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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