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Charvaka ( Lokayata)


Charvaka, also known as Lokayata, is an ancient school of Indian materialism, emerged as one of the earliest materialist schools of thought, long before Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Charvaka holds direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of knowledge, embraces philosophical skepticism and rejects ritualism, and supernaturalism. Lokayata, as the name infers, is the ‘philosophy of the real world’. The Charvakas denied the existence of God, or rather the existence of anything that was unverifiable. Charvaka epistemology emphasized on perception/evidence and observation of the real, material world and to subject the speculation so emerging of doubt is natural. Charvaka ethics was one of hedonism. Hedonism is a school of thought that argues pleasure and suffering are the only components of well-being. Ethical hedonism is the view that combines hedonism with welfarist ethics, which claim that what we should do depends exclusively on what affects the well-being individuals have.

Charvaka's philosophy denied any obligations for an after-life, or karma. There was, however, a sense of subjective moral principle of avoiding pain and suffering in the process of pleasure. Death was considered an eventuality and therefore, to live one’s life to the fullest was the only wise act. Brihaspati is usually referred to as the founder of Charvaka or Lokayata philosophy. During the Hindu reformation period in the 600 BCE, when Buddhism and Jainism arose, the philosophy was well documented and refuted by the new religions. Much of the primary literature of Charvaka, the Barhaspatya sutras, were lost either due to waning popularity or other unknown reasons. One of the widely studied principles of Charvaka philosophy was its rejection of inference as a means to establish valid, universal knowledge, and metaphysical truths. In other words, the Charvaka epistemology states that whenever one infers a truth from a set of observations or truths, one must acknowledge doubt; inferred knowledge is conditional. Charvaka is categorized as a heterodox school of Indian philosophy. It is considered an example of atheistic schools in the Hindu tradition.

Charvaka comparison with other school of Hindusim

Charvaka epistemology represents minimalist pramaṇas (epistemological methods) in Hindu philosophy. The other schools of Hinduism developed and accepted multiple valid forms of epistemology. To Charvakas, Pratyakṣa (perception) was the one valid way to knowledge and other means of knowledge were either always conditional or invalid. Charvaka school accepted just one, the valid means of epistemology in other schools of Hinduism

Advaita Vedanta scholars considered six means of valid knowledge and to truths:

  • Pratyakṣa (perception),
  • Anumaṇa (inference),
  • Upamaṇa (comparison and analogy),
  • Arthapatti (postulation),
  • Anupalabdhi (non-perception, cognitive proof)
  • Śabda (word, testimony of past or present reliable experts).


Since none of the means of knowing were found to be worthy to establish the invariable connection between middle term and predicate, Charvakas concluded that the inference could not be used to ascertain metaphysical truths. Thus, to Charvakas, the step which the mind takes from the knowledge of something to infer the knowledge of something else could be accounted for by its being based on a former perception or by its being in error. Cases where inference was justified by the result were seen only to be mere coincidences. Therefore, Charvakas denied metaphysical concepts like reincarnation, an extracorporeal soul, the efficacy of religious rites, other worlds (heaven and hell), fate and accumulation of merit or demerit through the performance of certain actions. Charvakas also rejected the use of supernatural causes to describe natural phenomena. To them all natural phenomena was produced spontaneously from the inherent nature of things.

Charvaka Philosophy relevance in modern times

In a world filled with hatred born out of differences in firmly established and seemingly unquestionable beliefs, the Charvakas teach us that scepticism is the way to liberation. To observe, to think, and to act only as per the rational argument is what science too has been telling us. The legacy of the Lokayata is one of a liberal approach to faith. It holds us responsible for our actions rather than comforting us with the utopia of dharma and karma.
Perhaps a saner world is possible only when people are not afraid of questioning dogmatic belief systems and instead work tirelessly to build a life that creates happiness for all. Today when world strieve to discover new place to live like Mars, moon and other scientific reserach but one of section in India talk about religious dogma, pseudo-science like Ganapti surgery etc. So we should create awareness and create habbit of questioning instead of blind acceptance.