Atheism In Hinduism And Ancient Indian Philosophy

Discussion in 'History' started by Hindu, Mar 5, 2015.

  1. Hindu

    Hindu Member Staff Member

    "Atheism is a necessary protest against the wickedness of the churches and the narrowness of the creeds. God uses it as stone to smash these soiled card-houses." - Sri Aurobindo

    The Charvaka are a mysterious and mythical group that has been believed to have founded the lokayata school of thought. This school of thought is very similar to the western materialism and present day rationalism. It's revolutionary way of tackling the issues of blind belief has caught the eye of modern day scholars. The lokayata has fought against the ever increasing inflexibility of the caste system or the dogma of vedic religion that is void and ritualistic. During this epic time period, it has become extremely important more so than all the other schools of thought.

    As a people, the lokayatas firmly believed in reality. They did not believe in immorality or righteousness, or in the concept of hell and heaven. If it was something of the imagination or something that was considered ideal, like a perfect world, they did not believe in it. If it was something that they could see for themselves, that they could touch and interact with, then they accepted it as part of their reality. By the nature of these beliefs, the word lokayata itself was used to define anyone who only believed in this reality and of the existence of animals and man that are on the planet earth. "Loka" simply means the world. We know that there exist the elements of water, earth, fire and wind. In the vedic scriptures, there is a fifth element called space, or ether, and the lokayatas did not believe in this fifth element. They only believed in the first four given their practical nature.

    All of the beliefs and ideas of the Charvakas have been connected to a scripture that is quite ancient called the Charvaka Dharma which is believed to have been written by a person called Charvaka. The Charvaka people did not believe in life after death or in the existence of God. The Charvakas or the Lokayatas have been mentioned in ancient scriptures and plays. These are Buddhist or Hindu scriptures. One of which is the allegorical play called Prabhodha. In it, there is a person who talks about the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics as well as the beliefs that this school has.

    In the time period of Budhha, there was a man who established that there were only four elements and that when combined, these elements would give vitality. It would give life. This man is Ajita Kesakamabali and he is one of this school's chief protagonists. His views of the elements is very much in line with the present day theories about how life on earth was created. In his words, "When the body dies both fool and wise alike are cut off and perish. They do not survive after death." In other words, when it is time for the living to die, the elements would go back to where they came from. Wind, or air would return to air, water back to water, etc. Beyond this simple concept there was no mystery to it.

    The Charvakas believed that what you experience beyond your senses was not real but instead a delusion created by oneself or just simply an illusion. Only what you perceive with your own eyes was true. When you die, you cease to exist. There is no soul. And so living life to the fullest extent was the primary goal for them. Enjoying life just as it is in their physical bodies. One's own experiences was considered real and other people's experiences were not to be considered to be real unless that one person has experienced it for themselves. The teachings of others cannot define one's belief system and the experiences of others cannot be relied upon unless one has seen it for themselves.

    The Vedas had certain vedic rites that they believed in. Some of which were the concepts of karma and sacrifice. And the Charvakas did not believe in these rites at all or that one should practice them as a religion. Why should they believe in sacrificing something right now hoping that in the future, a blessing will come upon them? No one knows for certain what the future will bring. Deriving pleasure from your life on earth was the only true and highest goal one could achieve and it shouldn't be wasted trying to achieve some ideal after life.

    If the physical was the only thing that can be experienced by the body's senses, then that was all that was real. Thoughts are also real because they are a form of matter, a product of the reformation of the four elements and they are deconstructed when these elements are recycled. Exactly the same way the body is deconstructed. The body and mind are part of a physical being and only this being, this self, is what is real.

    The Charvakas were probably very good speakers because they spoke to the senses, instantly connecting to the audience, while not blindly relying on a faith to guide them. This then makes us wonder what the word Charvaka means. There happens to be two different interpretations of it. In one, "char" is defined as charming, while "vak" is speech. The other interpretation has "charvaka" to mean one who grinds virtue and vice. The base word here being "charva" and that means to chew or to grind.

    There is another sect that shares similar beliefs to the lokayatas and they're called the kapalikas. The kapalikas believe in performing gory rituals and having sex as a way to attain spiritual powers, or siddhis. It's most likely that the school of Charvaka provided knowledge which later formed the foundation of which the schools of Trantricism came about, combining the ideas of spiritualism and materialism in Buddhism and Hinduism. It's also speculated that a person called Brihaspathi is the author of the doctrine that the Charvakas hold true. For this reason, they're also called the Brihaspatayas.

    In the following quote from the Savradarshana Samgraha, you can see the atheistic ideas and skepticism held by those of ancient India:

    "There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world,
    Nor do the actions of the four castes, etc., produce any real effect.
    The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic's three staves, and smearing one's self with ashes,
    Were made by Nature as the livelihood or those destitute of knowledge and manliness."

    In further examining the beliefs and thinking's of the Charvakas, you can see that they had many imperfections. Of these, their greatest has to be their strong belief in perceptions from the senses and anecdotal experiences. These are not very reliable vehicles of truth that one can base their wisdom upon. The Charvakas had failed to realize that individual perceptions can be deeply flawed because they are influenced by human nature. And human nature brings with it, fears, expectations, greed, prejudice, desire, and also ignorance. Ignorance is the biggest and most important. Their belief system also fails to account for why it is in human nature to seek harmony in society. We as humans are very complex. We have things we aspire to, we have needs, and we also have the problematic and complex nature of our own suffering and pain. The basic explanations given by the Charvakas to these issues are not good enough to give real working solutions to the very real problems we humans have in society. They are unable to address these problems, these aspirations, these human needs that can't simply be defined as psychological or physical but also as spiritual in nature. These are the values we have in society. These are morals we value that separates us from the animals.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 3, 2015

Share This Page