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People’s philosophy of ancient India
It is believed in the West that Indian philosophy is predominantly spiritual or religion-based. It is not widely known that India had other philosophies that are not religion-based or spiritual in the religious sense. They are in existence up to this day. The ancient philosophy of Charvaka called Lokayata, Nyaya, and Vaisesika philosophies are not religion-based. All these three are materialistic.
Lokayata (meaning ‘a philosophy prevalent among the people’)that appeared in or near 6th century BCE, does not believe in-
4.heaven and hell and
5. re-birth and karmic retribution.
According to it, the human body is composed of earth, water, air, and fire. Consciousness in the human brain is a product of these elements chemically mixed in the body. With the death of a human being, his consciousness also dies. There is no soul attached to the human body which survives his death.
The Vedics and Vedantins were-have been-extreme opponents of the Lokayata. They distorted and totally destroyed the original books on Lokayata. The Lokayata is now available in fragments in the book of Madhavacharya, the Vedic author titled Sarvadarshanasangraha, a philosophical digest.
But Johannes Blonkherst in his book, Who Were the Charvakas? quotes Ramakrishna Bhattacharya:
‘this digest rarely quotes any Charvaka aphorism that can be taken as genuine,’
Some popular Lokayata aphorisms are:
‘While life is yours, live joyously,
None can escape Death’s searching eye.
When once this frame of ours they burn,
How shall it ever again return?
There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world,’
‘If a beast slain in the Jyotistoma rite will itself go to heaven,
why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father?’ -Sarvadarshanasangraha.
‘While life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee even though he runs in debt;
When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again?
If he who departs from the body goes to another world,
How is it that he comes not back again, restless for the love of his kindred?
Hence as a means of livelihood, that Brahmins have established here, all these ceremonies for the dead, — there is no other world for fruit anywhere.
The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves, and demons.’ –Sarvadarshanasangraha.
(Brahmins are upper-caste Hindus in India.)
Scholars like Ramakrishna Bhattacharya feel that the few aphorisms attributed to Charvaka may be altered ones. We have no complete view of the structure of the Charvaka philosophy in the absence of their original works. In their works, Lokayatics might have advocated and lived a rich ethical and cultural life. It is our misfortune that their original works are not extant.
Lokayata was the people’s world outlook liked by all. It was the expression of their simple approach to life and their hopes, aspirations, goals, and joys. Its hedonism is not abnormal.
Lokayata is a rational philosophy and was revolutionary and popular in those ancient times. It is a philosophy of action, of active practice of life. It is not like a speculative philosophy of religion.
You may have already observed that, in substantial aspects, it is like Epicureanism.
Conservative religious forces not only obstructed the influence of Lokayata but also destroyed all Lokayata works!
An irrecoverable intellectual property loss to humankind caused by Hinduism.