Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Jayarāśi Question [A History of Materialism From Ajita to Udbhaṭa - Part IV]

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya   

The Jayarāśi Question

The Lion Assailing the Verities (Tattvopaplavasiṃha), written by Jayarāśi probably in the ninth century, has been claimed by some scholars to be the only surviving Cārvāka work. Others have challenged this view[i]. Since there is no external evidence to settle the question, the debate continues solely on the basis of internal evidence and intrinsic probability. No near-unanimous conclusion has been reached to date. Instead of summarizing the whole debate, a few issues are raised here. They go against branding Jayarāśi a Cārvāka, but identify him rather as a founder/follower of a totally new doctrine, which is quite distinct from both materialism on the one hand and any form of illusionism (māyāvāda) or nihilism (śūnyavāda) on the other. His is “the doctrine of assailing the verities,” tattvopaplava-vāda. This is the name used by Jayarāśi’s critics; nowhere is he called a Cārvāka or “one belonging to a section of the Cārvāka” (Cārvākaikadeśīya)[ii]. Although Jayarāśi is sometimes called a skeptic, there is little room for such a thing as doubt in his work. He is convinced that there can be no verities, tattvas, because there is no such thing as means of knowing, pramāṇa.

Now, Vātsyāyana in the exordium of his commentary to the Nyāya-sūtra, states that one has to admit not only the means of knowing, pramāṇa, but also knower (pramātṛ), the object rightly known (prameya), and knowledge of the object (pramiti): “With these four, tattva reaches its fulfillment.” Gangopadhyaya suggests that, in contrast with “the doctrine of assailing the verities,” Vātsyāyana’s view may be called “the doctrine of establishing the verities” (tattva-vyavasthāpanavāda)[iii]. It seems Vātsyāyana had a predecessor of Jayarāśi in mind, and against such an opponent he felt it necessary to assert all the four factors stated above, for this assertion can be understood only against the backdrop of an opponent who denies pramāṇa as such.

There is indeed a Cārvāka introduced at the very beginning of the The Lion Assailing the Verities. He is not Jayarāśi, but someone who is presented as a Cārvāka out to challenge Jayarāśi’s doctrine of upsetting principles as such. This objector has to be a Cārvāka, for who but a Cārvāka would refer to the basic premises of materialism and stand upon them? The presence of this objector and the way Jayarāśi gets into controversy with him clearly indicate that Jayarāśi himself was not a Cārvāka. He prided himself in claiming that he could understand Bṛhaspati’s sūtras better than the Cārvākas themselves, Jayarāśi referring to Bṛhaspati, the mythical guru of the gods, never to real-life philosophers like Purandara or Aviddhakarṇa, as Kamalaśīla, Karṇakagomin, Anantavīrya, Cakradhara, and Vādidevasūri do. Thus Jayarāśi supports the purāṇic story of the origin of materialism. At the end of his work he claims that 
Even those (questions) which could not become the object of knowledge of even the preceptor of the gods have been raised by Bhaṭṭa Śri Jayarāśi, for the sake of removing the pride of the infidels.[iv]

On the basis of this declaration, and the Cārvāka aphorisms quoted at the beginning of the work, he has been called a Bārhaspatya (follower of Bṛhaspati, the legendary founder of materialism) or a Cārvāka or Lokāyata. To this identification D. Chattopadhyaya objects that “[A]ccording to the Indian philosophical tradition no real representative of a system would ever dream of boasting intellectual superiority to the founder of the system itself. Jayarāśi, who claims to be intellectually
superior to Bṛhaspati, could thus hardly be a follower of Bṛhaspati himself, i.e., could hardly be the leader of any imaginary offshoot of the Cārvāka or Bārhaspatya system.”[v] Gangopadhyaya endorses this view and adds that “[t]he way Jayarāśi uses the honorific plural in mentioning his own name along with Bṛhaspati, bhaṭṭaśrījayarāśi-devagurubhiḥ …, places him in the seat of the preceptor of the gods, which goes against the Indian tradition. Jayarāśi further claims that all his opponents will be defeated by his arguments. This too is not the style of the explicators of Indian philosophy. The way of writing of later writers, even if they express views of their own, is suave and modest, as if they mean to suggest that this significance was inherent in the text itself.”[vi]

So, in conclusion, we have seen that materialism in India is not one homogeneous school. On the contrary, there have been several materialist schools through the ages. The Cārvākas (fl. c. eighth century) are the last school known to us. As with older materialisms, this new materialism too, after a long and turbulent period with refutation and counter-refutation stretching from the eighth century to the twelfth or thereabouts, seems to vanish. Like the extinction of species, both the pre-Cārvākas and the Cārvākas, with all their primary and secondary works once current from Kashmir to the regions beyond the Vindhya hills, disappear without trace. Even the oft-used doxographical work, Mādhava’s Compendium of All Philosophies, marked by profuse quotations in its exposition of all other philosophical systems, offers no direct quote from any commentary, nor does it even name any adherent of the Cārvāka in its terse summary of the system. The authors of other doxographical works appear to have no access to any primary or even secondary source; they merely echo or refer to those earlier opponents of the materialist system in whose works their views are quoted or paraphrased. The doxographers merely reproduce a few aphorisms and verses of dubious origin that have been quoted and re-quoted many times before. The pundits of north India who in the sixteenth century provided Abūl Fażl with the material concerning some of the philosophical systems fare no better. None of the other compendia refers to a single author or work, although we have several such names and even extracts quoted from their works written before the twelfth century.

The situation is partly similar to what happened to the Presocratics. Time, and lack of continuity due to the absence of disciples, may be held responsible for the unavailability of the works of Thales and Anaximander, of Democritus and Heraclitus, although they are known to have composed an impressive number of books. The rise of Plato and Aristotle as the two most influential philosophers, each having his school and a number of brilliant students to carry on their works, may also be the reason why the works of their predecessors and contemporaries have not survived[vii]. The Cārvāka could and did withstand the onslaught of Śaṅkara and Madhva, two influential Vedāntic philosophers who had a large following even after their deaths. As to the conjecture of a deliberate destruction of all materialist works by some unknown agency, royal or brahmanical, proposed by some scholars[viii], there is no evidence to support it. On the other hand, the fate of Āryabhaṭa’s geo-kinetic theory amply bears out the fact that another way of damning any contrary opinion is not to exterminate it, but to alter the text in an extremely subtle manner and misinterpret it deliberately so as to blunt its edge[ix]. At the present state of knowledge, the disappearance of the Cārvāka is as inexplicable as the disappearance of the old Sāṃkhya and old Lokāyata as enunciated by Brahman, Gargya and others.[x]


Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Firenze: Società Editriche Fiorentina, 2009; London: Anthem Press, 2011.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. “The Social Outlook of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata: A Reconstruction.” Indologica Taurinensia 36 (2010): 37–42.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. “The Wolf’s Footprints: Indian Materialism in Perspective.” Interview with Krishna Del Toso. Annali 71 (2011): 183–204.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. “Svabhāvavāda and the Cārvāka/Lokāyata: A Historical Overview.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 40, no. 5 (2012): 593–614.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. “Verses Attributed to Bṛhaspati in the Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha: A Critical Appraisal.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 41 (2013): 615–630.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. In Defence of Materialism in Ancient India. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1989.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad, and M. K. Gangopadhyaya, eds. Cārvāka/Lokāyata. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1990.
Dixit, K. K. “The Ideological Affiliation of Jayarāśi—The Author of Tattvopaplavasiṃha.” In Cārvāka/Lokāyata, edited by D. Chattopadhyaya and M. K. Gangopadhyaya, pp. 520–530. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1990.
Franco, Eli: Perception, Knowledge and Disbelief: A Study of Jayarāśi’s Scepticism. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1994; 1st edition, Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien 35, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1987.
Jayarāśibhaṭṭa. Tattvopaplavasiṃha of Jayarāśibhaṭṭa. Tr. Esther Solomon; ed. Shuchita Mehta: Jayarāśi Bhaṭṭa’s Tattvopaplavasiṁha. An Introduction, Sanskrit Text, English Translation and Notes. Parimal Sanskrit Series 111. Delhi: Parimal Publications, 2010.
Saṁghavī, Sukhlāljī; Pārīkh, Rasiklāl C., eds. Tattvopaplavasimha of Shri Jayarasi Bhatta. Edited with an introduction and indices. Gaekwad Oriental Series 87, Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1940; reprinted, Bauddha Bharati Series 20, Varanasi: Bauddha Bharati, 1987.

[i] Eli Franco, Perception, Knowledge and Disbelief: A Study of Jayarāśi’s Scepticism (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994; first published, Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien 35, Stuttgart Franz Steiner Verlag, 1987), modifies this assertion by calling Jayarāśi a skeptic Lokāyata rather than a materialist (xii–xiii), but very few pay attention to his distinction. They call Jayarāśi a Cārvāka or a Lokāyata, apparently meaning a materialist.
[ii] For instance, Vidyānandasvāmin, Aṣṭasahasrī (Mumbapuri: Nirnayasagara Press, 1915), 37: tadime tattvopaplavavādina … ; idem,Tattvārthaślokavārttika (Mumbapuri: Nirnayasagara Press, 1918), 80, 195; Anantavīrya, Siddhiviniścayaṭīkā (Kashi: Bharatiya Jnanapith, 1959), 277–278 all treat the Cārvāka and tattvopaplava-vāda separately. For a survey of the Jayarāśi controversy, see Piotr Balcerowicz, “Jayarāśi against the Philosophers,” this volume.
[iii] “Mukhavandha” (Foreword) to D. K. Mohanta, Tattvopaplavasiha: Jayarāśibhaṭṭer Saṃśayavāda (Kolkata: Sanskrita Sahitya Bhandar, 1998), [xiii].
[iv] Sukhlāljī Saghavī and Rasiklāl C. Pārīkh, eds., Tattvopaplavasimha of Shri Jayarasi Bhatta. Edited with an introduction and indices, Gaekwad Oriental Series 87, (Oriental Institute, Baroda 1940; reprinted, Bauddha Bharati Series 20, Varanasi 1987), 124.
[v] Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad, Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1965), 223. Even earlier, in two essays in Bangla published in 1963 (see his Sagha Śaraa Gacchami ityādi agranthita racanā [Kolkata: Ababhas, 2010] 74–84) Chattopadhyaya stated the same point.
[vi] M. K. Gangopadhyaya, “Mukhavandha,” [xi].
[vii] See W. H. S. Jones, Hippocrates, vol. 1 (London: William Heinemann, 1972), 8–9; T. W. Rhys Davids, Introduction, Mahānidānasuttanta, Dialogues of the Buddha (London: Oxford University Press, 1910), 47.
[viii] D. R. Shastri, A Short History of Indian Materialism, Sensationalism and Hedonism, in Cārvāka/Lokāyata, ed. D. Chattopadhyaya and M. K. Gangopadhyaya, 423.
[ix] For details see R. Bhattacharya, “The Case of Āryabhaa and His Detractors,” Indian Historical Review 17 (1990–1991): 35–47.
[x] T. Ganapati Shastri, The Arthaśāstra of Kaualya with the Śrīmūla Commentary (Dilli: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1984), 27.

Prof Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at Unversity of Calcutta, Kolkota and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now Fellow of Pavlov Institute, Kolkota

This essay is published in four parts: Part IPart II, Part III, & Part IV


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