Thursday, June 10, 2010

Charvaka: The Pioneer of Skepticism in World History

Charvaka is the materialistic and naturalistic school of thoughts in India Philosophy.  Charvaka, literally one who speaks sweet, founded his philosophy on the thoughts of this world rather than the mystic accounts of Vedas and supernatural god and heaven.  Charvaka denies the authenticity and holiness of Vedas and hence is termed as Nastika (nonbeliever) by the Vedic tradition.[1]  He denied the existence of supernatural God.  He denied the claims that the Vedas are created by God.  He held that they are made by human beings and so they must be open to scrutiny.  To him the Vedas were mere utterances, devoid of any meaning, meant to "confound and confuse the common people."

The central thesis of the Charvaka philosophy is worldly materialism.  This consists of at least two basic principles:  Firstly, there is nothing beyond the life except physiochemical and neuropsychological functions; and secondly, the soul and after life are stories of fantasy as the gods and demons.  Such belief were quite contrary to the chanting and rituals of the Vedic ways.  Because of propagating such beliefs, Charvakas had to confront with the Vedicas several times and the Brahmins showed the greatest cruelty to finish Charvakas several times.  In fact, we can read in Mahabharata how a Charvaka was burnt dead by the Brahmanas in the court of Yudhishthira itself.[2]

Charvaka represented one of the very first skeptic rebels in the world history and we see today that the world believe more in the philosophy of Charvaka's materialism rather than the mystic Vedicas and cunning Mimansa.  Whatever say the Vedic tradition; this is the victory of Charvakas over the Brahminical tradition of mysticism and unreality.  This marks the greatness of Charvaka over the Vedic tradition.  But the greatness of their school should not be judged based only on this victory.  Charvakas were among the first philosophers in the world history to raise question against the traditional knowledge and this gives them the unique place in the world history.  Charvaka merely stand for those skeptical rebels who has spoken out in all great civilizations now and again.

1.  Dr. A. H. Salunkhe, an eminent Sanskrit scholar and author of Aastikshiromani Charvaka argues that the term Nastika is not used honesty by the Vedic cult.  Literally, Nastika means one who does not believe in something.  Technically, this term is used for Buddhism, Jainism, and Charvaka who does not believe in the authority of Vedas.  Dr. Salunkhe states that despite of this original meaning, the term was made popular meaning as one who does not believe in existence of god or anything that is good.  He argues that Charvaka's philosophy did believe in well-being in this very world and hence should be termed as The Gem of the Aastikas as opposed to a Nastik.  Salunkhe AH (In Marathi), Aastikshiromani Charvaka (1992), Satara:  Lokayat Prakashan.

2.  When Yudhishthira enters the city of Hastinapura after the victory of Kurukshetra, Charvaka accuses him in the open of having committed the crime of murdering his kith and kin.  The Brahmins were appalled; they exposed him as a friend of Duryodhana in Brahminical guise, and condemned him to death.  Encyclopedic Dictionary of Sanskrit Literature (2004), Volume I, Delhi:  Global Vision Publishing House, pp. 283-285.

* I found two well-written posts on blog world about the same subject by
The Infidel and by Domenic Marbaniang.  I hope our readers will find them helpful.  The first one is in French, you can use Google Translate to translate it in the language of your choice. 

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