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Charvaka, or Lokāyata, is one of the earliest materialistic schools of Indian philosophy. The doctrinal texts for the Lokāyata are not available currently. They are believed to have been destroyed along with many other materialistic philosophies.
The source of information about this school of thought is the reference in the works of prominent people like Bhaskaracharya and Kautilya. Kautilya mentions Lokāyata in his work, ‘Arthashastra’ as an important part of Indian Darshanas. Kautilya calls Sankhya, Yoga and Lokaya together as Anvikshiki. Information about Lokāyata was also obtained from orthodox texts, as they quoted Lokāyata principles in order to criticize them.
The name Charvaka is traced back to one of the great teachers of the school. The other name, Lokāyata, means “the view held by the common people”. Lokāyatas are considered the first philosophical pragmatists. They considered achieving and enjoying worldly pleasures as the ultimate aim of life. This was often the point of greatest criticism used by opponents. Because it was a period when the attainment of Moksha was believed to be the goal of a man’s life.
The Lokāyatas recognized Perception (Pratyaksha) alone as the reliable source of knowledge. They denied the validity of inferences that were made based upon the truth claims that were not empirically verifiable.
There was also no doctrine of the Creation (Srishti) in the Lokāyata. The principles of action (Karma) and fate (Niyati) were rejected. They denied the idea of good deeds (Punya) and bad deeds (Paap). They rejected the idea of body and soul as separate entities. They argued that death puts an end to the existence of a body, so there is no question of rebirth.
According to Lokāyata, the only original components of being are the four elements- Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. All other forms are products of their composition. They denied the existence of God. And they declared all the ideas put forth by Vedic age priests as absurd.
And for the same reason, like other Nastika schools, Lokāyatas were also reviled by the priest class and orthodox philosophers as ignorant and misguided. They used every opportunity to degrade the Lokāyatas.
According to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, our philosopher president, the voice of Lokāyatas was that of the protest against the age-old superstitions and marginalization. It advocated people to enjoy the real beauty of life. Lokāyatas had influence among common people as well as intellectuals of that time.
But at the same time, we must observe that the Lokāyata philosophy was not completely based on scientific thoughts. And hence they could not succeed in defeating the arguments of the opponents.
Nevertheless, Lokāyata was a progressive philosophy which contributed to Indian philosophy to a great extent. It also helped the growth of science and different kinds of art forms.
To be Continued….