Friday, February 1, 2013

Charvaka, Indian Materialist Philosophy

Charvaka is an ancient Indian philosophical system which propounded materialism and rejected the notions of an afterlife. According to the Charvaka school of thought, all religious observance and morality were useless. The school encouraged making most of the life and seeking after the happiness that can be found in life.

As long as he lives a man should live happily

And drink ghee, though he run into debt,

For when the body is turned to ashes

How can there be any return to life?”

Ajita Kesakambalin (“Ajita of the Hair-blanket), a contemporary of the Buddha, is the earliest known proponent of complete materialism.  He taught that pleasure is the chief end of life. According to him, “When the body dies both fool and wise alike are cut-off and perish. They don’t survive after death.”

According to Buddhist sources, Ajita founded a sect of monks. It is not possible to pinpoint the exact influence of the tenets of Carvaka or Lokayata, as the materialist schools were called. However, they have been condemned in no uncertain terms in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina literature of the period.  Sometimes these references contain an undertone of fear. This goes to show that Ajita was certainly one of the chief rivals to these sects for the allegiance of the adherents of this period.



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