MATERIALISM: The school of Materialism in India seems to be very old. References are found to it in the epics and in the early Buddhistic literature.
Garbe says ; ‘ Several vestiges show that even in the pre-Buddhistic India proclaimers of purely materialistic doctrines appeared. It must have arisen as a protest against the excessive monkdom of the Brahmana priests. The externals of ritualism which ignored the substance and emphasized the shadow, the idealism of the Upanisads unsuited to the commoners, the political and the social crises rampant in that age, the exploitation of the masses by the petty rulers, monks and the wealthy class, the lust and greed and petty dissensions in an unstable society paved the way for the rise of Materialism in India in the post-Upanisadic and pre-Buddhistic age. But Materialism in Indian Philosophy has never been a force. Born in discontent, it soon died in serious thought. Though the materialistic way of life, the way of enjoying the pleasures of the senses and the flesh is as old as humanity itself and will surely last as long as humanity lasts, yet Materialism as metaphysics has never found favour with the Indian philosophers. Jainism and Buddhism arose immediately and supplied the ethical and spiritual background which ejected Materialism.
Brhaspati, a heretical teacher, is regarded as the traditional founder of this school. His Sutra, which we have no reason to doubt, has unfortunately perished. Sometimes this Brhaspati is equated with the teacher of the gods who propagated materialism among the Asuras so that they might be ruined. Charvaka, after whose name this school is so called, is said to be the chief disciple of Brhaspati. According to another view, Charvaka is the name of the founder of this school. According to still another view, the word ‘ Charvaka is not a proper name, but a common name given to a materialist, and it signifies a person who believes in ‘eat, drink and be merry ( the root ‘charv’ means to eat ), or a person who eats up his own words, or who eats up all moral and ethical considerations, or a person who is ‘sweet-tongued ( charuvak ) and therefore whose doctrine is superficially attractive. Another synonym of Charvaka is Lokayata which means a commoner and therefore, by implication, a man of low and unrefined taste. Nastika-Shiromani or an ‘ arch-heretic is another name for a materialist. In Ramayana, they are called ‘ fools who think themselves to be wise and who are experts in leading people to doom and ruin ’. References to them are also found in Mahabharata and Manusamhita. In Majjhima Nikaya, we find a reference to Ajitakeshakambalin, a materialist, probably so called because he must be having a blanket of hair with him, who believed only in perception and in four elements. Shantaraksita also refers to him as Kambalashvatara ( the man with a blanket and a mule ) .
No original work of this school is extant with the single exception of a much later work, Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayarashi Bhatta, published by the Oriental Institute of Baroda in 1940. It is therefore very difficult to have a correct idea of it. Our chief sources of information are given in the works of the other schools. But this is done only to refute materialism. Thus we find the tenets of materialism often misrepresented. The weak points in this school are exaggerated and the strong points are omitted. So we get only a faint caricature and not a true picture. The Sarva – darshana – sangraha gives a summary of this school, but that too seems to be based on such accounts. It is indeed very difficult to believe that Materialism which is allowed the status of an independent school of Indian Philosophy should really be so crude and degenerate as it is painted. But in the absence of the original works, we have to remain satisfied with these meagre and one-sided accounts.
In the second Act of the allegorical play called Prabodhachandrodaya, Krsnapati Mishra sums up the teachings of Materialism thus : ‘ Lokayata is the only Shastra ; perception is the only authority ; earth, water, fire and air are the only elements ; enjoyment is the only end of human existence ; mind is only a product of matter. There is no other world : death means liberation. Some of the important Sutras of Brhaspati which are quoted in the various philosophical writings may be gleaned as follows :
- Earth , water, fire and air are the elements.
- Bodies , senses and objects are the results of the different combinations of elements.
- Consciousness arises from matter like the intoxicating quality of wine arising from fermented yeast.
- The soul is nothing but the conscious body.
- Enjoyment is the only end of human life.
- Death alone is liberation.
The Sarva – darshana – sangraha gives the following summary of the Charvaka position :
‘ There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world ; nor do the actions of the four castes, orders 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 of those destitute of knowledge and manliness. If a beast slain in the Jyotistoma rite will itself go to heaven, why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father ? . . . . If beings in heaven are gratified by our offering the Shrâddha here, then why not give the food down below to those who are standing on the house top ? While life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee ( clarified butter ) even though he runs in debt ; when once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return here ? . . . . ( All the ceremonies are ) a means of livelihood ( for ) Brahmarias. The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves and demons.