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Carvaka Philosophy

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  • May 2006
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Carvaka, also frequently transliterated as Charvaka or Cārvāka, and also known as Lokayata or Lokyāta, is a thoroughly materialistic and atheistic school of thought with ancient roots in India.

Destruction of original works
Available evidence suggests that Carvaka philosophy was set out in the Brhaspati Sutra in India, probably about 600 BCE. Neither this text nor any other original text of the Carvaka school of philosophy has been preserved. Its principal works are known only from fragments cited by its Hindu and Buddhist opponents. Carvaka philosophy appears to have died out some time after 1400 CE.

Countering the argument that the Carvakas opposed all that was good in the Vedic tradition, Dale Riepe says, "It may be said from the available material that Carvakas hold truth, integrity, consistency, and freedom of thought in the highest esteem." 1

Madhavacharya and Carvaka system
Madhavacharya, the 14th-century Vedantic philosopher from South India starts his famous work The Sarva-darsana-sangraha with a chapter on the Carvaka system with the intention of refuting it. After invoking, in the Prologue of the book, the Hindu gods Siva and Vishnu, ("by whom the earth and rest were produced"), Madhavacharya asks, in the first chapter:

...but how can we attribute to the Divine Being the giving of supreme felicity, when such a notion has been utterly abolished by Charvaka, the crest-gem of the atheistic school, the follower of the doctrine of Brihaspati? The efforts of Charvaka are indeed hard to be eradicated, for the majority of living beings hold by the current refrain — While life is yours, live joyously;

None can escape Death's searching eye:
When once this frame of ours they burn,
How shall it e'er again return?

Some quotations (attributed to Carvaka) from Sarva-Darsana-Sangraha The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic's three staves, and smearing oneself with ashes — Brihaspati says, these are but means of livelihood...

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