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May 17, 2009

Page: 11/35

Home > 2009 Issues > May 17, 2009

Think It Over

From affirmation to negation
Limits of Hindu tolerance

By MSN Menon

Kautilya hailed Charvaka philosophy as one of the three most important doctrines, the other being Sankhya and Uoga. The Mahabharata speaks highly of Charvakas as ?venerable sages.?

?Doubt is the beginning of wisdom,? says Betrand Russell, the Philosopher.

The Rig Veda begins with doubts. A hymn says:
Who is there who truly knows
And who can say whence this
Unfathomed world, and
From what cause?
Or, do even the gods not know?

Thus, the Vedas affirm as also deny the existence of God. They mark the limits of Hindu tolerance.

Doubt generates enquiry. Enquiry led to freedom of thought. And freedom of thought led to diversity of beliefs. And diversity of beliefs led to tolerance. There is no parallel to this in the world. The world knows Hinduism by its freedom and tolerance.

Vedic worship began with sacrifices. It turned to rituals. Rituals dominated everything till doubts came to be expressed on their efficacy.

It was Kapila, author of Sankhya (6th c BC) who first challenged the Vedic way of life. The Sankhya is the oldest system of philosophy in the world. Kapila says: The world had always existed. It was never created by a god. Sankhya believed in an evolutionary theory, which is pre-determined by svabhava (or swadharma), not by karma. In this sense, he was anticipating Daring?s theory. And Aurobindo?s theory of super-consciousness. Sankhya influenced both Mahavira as also the Buddha. And we know he had significant influence among the Greek philosophers.

Atheism was respected before the Buddha. It is respected even today. We have the story of Jabali in Valmiki Ramayana. Valmiki says Jabali, an atheist, was ?the greatest of all Brahmins?. He was also one of the greatest scholars of his time. He could argue a cause like a logician. Which is why Bharata sought his help to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya. In the event, Rama refused to be influenced by Jabali.

Charvaka stood out as the most important person among the materialists of his time. He accepted only the evidence of the senses, and considered death as final. Sensual enjoyment (hedonism) is the end of life and pain is but an unavoidable accompaniment of pleasure, he says. There is no paradise and no ?other? world. The Hindu philosopher accepted Charvaka doctrine of Kama (desire for material things) as one of the objectives of life.

Charvaka make several other points. For example, he did not believer in a soul. He pitied those who took the trouble to accumulate worldly wealth. He condemned the Shradha ceremony. He said the dead needed no food. It is in the nature of things to happen. He called this the svabhava (or swadharma ) of things. It denied the principle of causality. A sugarcane yields sugar because it is its nature. The only law is the law of svabhava. Thus svabhava vada is the cornerstone of Charvaka philosophy. But this philosophy leads to automatism, to pre-determination. The Charvakas deny freewill. A particle is not conscious. Only when they are arranged in a particular manner and proportion, they become conscious. Charvakas identify the self with prana or the mind. Nature is indifferent to good and evil, they say.

Virtue and vice are conventions. The only goal is the pursuit of pleasure. The Jains and Buddhists had the greatest objection to this hedonistic philosophy. The Charvakas refused to be swayed by Vedanta. They did not believer in Karma. Kautilya hailed Charvaka philosophy as one of the three most important doctrines, the other being Sankhya and Uoga. The Mahabharata speaks highly of Charvakas as ?venerable sages.?

Lokayata, popular atheism, came out of the Charvaka philosophy. But the Lokayatas followed a moderate policy. With the advent of the Puranic Age, we come full circle. Remember, the Vedas began with belief in god. The Charvakas denied God. And the Upanishads were for and against God, while the Puranas brought God and man very close to each other.

Dear Reader, no other people had gone through such a diverse experience as the Hindus. They have much to give to the world.

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