Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The chArvAka system

Definition - S. N. Sastri

As is well known, this is a purely atheistic system. It is said to have been founded by bRRihaspati, the guru of the gods, in order to mislead the asura-s (demons or evil spirits).

sAyaNa mAdhavAcharya, who became a saMnyAsin with the name svami vidyAraNya, composed a work entitled 'sarva darshana saMgraha' in which he has dealt with sixteen systems of philosophy. The order in which the various systems are taken up in this work is indicative of their distance from advaita. chArvAka, Buddhism, and Jainism, being the farthest from advaita, form the first three chapters. sAMkhya and yoga which are closest to advaita, come just before advaita which forms the last chapter.

The chArvAka philosophy is also known as lokAyata, loka, meaning 'world', and Ayata, meaning 'wide-spread'. They claim that most people in the world live according to this philosophy and it is what appeals to people most.

It is interesting to note that, in spite of the fact that this system condemns and ridicules the veda-s and the priests in strong language, it has been accepted as one of the systems of philosophy and included in this work which deals with all the schools of philosophy.

The chapter on chArvAka begins with a shloka, the meaning of which is:---

As long as you live, live joyously
None can escape Death's wide net;
When once this body has been burnt,
How can it ever return?

According to this school, the acquisition of wealth and the fulfillment of desires is the ultimate end of human life. They accept only four elements: air, fire, water, and earth. When these elements combine to form a body, consciousness is produced in the body, just as betel, areca, and lime chewed together have an exhilarating property and acquire a red color, though these properties are not present in the separate substances. There is no consciousness separate from the body.

The only objective of human life is enjoyment of sensual pleasures. One should not give up enjoyments on the ground that they may be followed by suffering. Men do not stop sowing rice because animals may destroy them. People do not give up cooking for fear of being pestered by beggars.

The agnihotra [a traditional sacrifice to the Fire God] and other rituals laid down in the veda-s are only the means of livelihood for some persons. The veda-s are tainted by the faults of untruth, self-contradiction and tautology. The authority of the j~nAna kANDa is contradicted by the karma kANDa and vice versa. The veda-s are only the incoherent blabbering of knaves, and to this effect runs the popular saying:

The agnihotra, the three veda-s, the ascetic's three staves, and the smearing of the body with ash, bRRihaspati says, these are but means of livelihood for those who have no manliness or intelligence.

It is only as a means of livelihood that Brahmanas have established here all these ceremonies for the dead.

The authors of the three Vedas were buffoons, knaves and demons. If dead ancestors are satisfied by some person being fed here in a shraddhA, then when a person goes on a journey what is the need to give him packed food. His hunger should be satisfied if you feed someone here. If an animal slain in a sacrifice will go to heaven, why does the sacrificer not sacrifice his own father so that he can go to heaven?

In some other religions such ridiculing of sacred texts would be considered as blasphemous, entailing severe punishment such as excommunication. But our ancestors have given even to the chArvAka school the status of a system of philosophy like all the other systems. The concept of blasphemy is alien to the Vedic religion.

Return to the Contents page for the Terms and Definition.

Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012