Adapted from 

Sarva Darshana Sangraha

by Madhava Vidyaranya,

Chief Of Sringeri Math and Author Of Panchadasi

14th Century AD.


A compendium of all thought and belief – systems that men have lived with over extended period,

that they chose over others for obtaining a life and values perspective to guide themselves through …


 Chapter I : The Charvaka School

Historically, the Charvaka or Lokayata belief system is of a later age than the Vedic period, which coincided with the Sindhu – Sarasvati civilisation. Their earliest references are contemporaneous with the great Buddha, who the Puranas place about 18th Century BC. It was a time of great chaos and uprootedness, just after the River Sarasvati had dried up and life was displaced from its settled origins in the River valley in present day Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana. People moved North into Punjab and towards East along the the course of rivers Ganga and Jamuna. 

These eastern regions in Kosala and Magadha were already populated and the massive migrations from the West led to much social conflict and churn through survival pressures, power quests and aspirations to affluence. It was a melting pot of gigantic proportions, which threw up several alternate life-views while people picked up their lives with severe ethical and moral questions on the social and personal perspectives they all had largely subscribed to before, through the millennium after the Kurukshetra War that had laid to waste millions of lives and ushered in a new world order. The drying up of the River Sarasvati was no less catastrophic, concomitant as it was with a number of frequent famine cycles. 

In those interesting times, the Buddha’s way was a great call for moderation. It was universally heard, appreciated and adopted. But life could be trusted to throw up the extreme alternates as well. Charvaka’s was one among them. 

In introducing the Charvaka way, the venerable author points to his own salutations to Gods for grant of supreme felicity, and wonders : “ … 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 atheist school, the follower of the doctrine of Brihaspati ?” 

Indeed, the life-view of Charvaka school was hard to ignore, for the majority have actually held it in all eras, and most at least once during their lifetime. The Charvaka philosophy was a wrecking ball of utter disbelief with non-acceptance of anything that was not in our perception, much like the effect David Hume had on the prevailing values system of 18th Century Europe and the materialists have in current times. Notice however that our author, Madhava Vidyaranya, still accords the esteem due to the popular Charwaka life-view and addresses it as “the crest-gem of atheist school.” 

The Charwakas did not believe in God or gods, soul, karma or afterlife. They famously exhorted, “Go ahead, enjoy the good life, even if you have to beg, borrow or steal…” And “While alive, live joyously; none will escape death. Once this body of ours is cremated, how shall it ever return ?” 

The masses anyway regard wealth and pleasure as the only worthwhile ends and, denying afterlife and rebirth, they in fact follow the doctrine of Charvaka whether they know it or not. Hence its other name : Lokayata, that is, a thing of or for the world. 

This school acknowledges the elements as the only original principles; from these alone, when formed into human body, intelligence is produced, just as the power to inebriate or intoxicate is obtained from a mix of elemental ingredients, in the absence or with the destruction of which the power (intelligence) also perishes or disappears. They quote the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad ( ii. 4, 12 ) for support : “Sprung forth from these elements, the mind or intellect is destroyed when they are destroyed and after death no intelligence remains.” 

Therefore the soul is only the body distinguished by the attribute of intelligence, since there is no evidence for any soul distinct from the body. And no, nothing would convince them otherwise since they hold that perception is the only valid means of knowledge, not inference, etc. 

Human nature instinctively recognises pleasure as congenial; hence the Charvaka recommends enjoyment produced by sensual pleasures. That such pleasures are invariably mixed with pain during, before or after, is not a reason for men to deny themselves of pleasure, such as a Buddhist or yoga renunciate would. If any one were so timid as to forsake a visible pleasure, he would indeed be foolish like a beast, as has been said by the poet : 

The pleasure which arises in men from contact with sensible objects is to be relinquished as it is accompanied by pain, such is the reasoning of fools. What man, seeking his true interest, would fling away the laden stalks of paddy, rich with the finest white grains, because they are covered with husk and dust.” 

If one desires fish, we mush accept it with scales and bones; and we shall take as many or as much as we want before desisting. It is not for us to reject the pleasure through fear of pain since men do not refrain from sowing rice forsooth there are wild animals to devour it, nor do they refuse to set the cooking-pots on the fire because there are needy others to pester us for a share of the contents. 

That there is no afterlife might be objected to from the fact that wise men performed agnihotra and other sacrifices, which require much expense and effort; but the objection is not accompanied with any proof of afterlife and is hence inadmissible. All such Vedic practices are only a means of livelihood. And the Vedas are tainted by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction, and tautology. Then again, the impostors who call themselves Vedic pundits are mutually destructive, as the authority of the jaimin-kanda is overthrown by those who maintain that of the karma-kanda, while those who maintain the authority of the jnana-kanda reject that of the karma-kanda ; and lastly, the three Vedas themselves are only incoherent rhapsodies of knaves, and to this effect runs the popular saying : 

The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic s three staves, and smearing oneself with ashes,

Brihaspati says, these are but means of livelihood for those who have no manliness nor sense. 

Hence it follows that there is no other hell than mundane pain produced by purely mundane causes, as thorns, etc; the only Supreme is the earthly monarch whose existence is there for all to see; and the only Liberation is the dissolution of the body. By holding the doctrine that the soul is identical with the body, such phrases as ” I am thin,” ” I am black,” etc are at once intelligible, as the attributes of thinness, etc and self-consciousness reside in the same subject – the body. 

” Be it so,” says the opponent ; ” your wish would be gained if inference, etc had no force of proof ; but then they have this force ; else, if they had not, then how, on perceiving smoke, should the thoughts of the intelligent immediately proceed to fire ; or why, on hearing another say, “There are fruits on the bank of the river,” do those who desire fruit proceed at once to the shore ? “ 

All this however is only the inflation of the world of fancy, says the Charvaka. Man does not possess any means for substantiating any universal proposition. Even perception can produce the knowledge of the particular object brought in contact with the senses, yet as there can never be such contact in the case of the past or the future. Hence knowledge of the universal proposition, which was to embrace the continuity in every case, becomes impossible. Nor is internal perception the means, for the mind is dependent on the senses for knowledge of external objects. Nor can inference be the means of the knowledge of the universal proposition, since we should also require another inference to establish it, and so on, and hence would arise the fallacy of an ad infinitum retrogression. 

The testimony of others can also not be relied upon. The case is no different than that encountered with inference. Moreover, there is no more reason for our believing on another’s word that smoke and fire are invariably connected, than for our receiving the ipse dixit of Manu, etc, which of course we Charvakas reject. Equally comparison, etc must be utterly rejected as the means of the knowledge of the universal proposition, since it is impossible that they can produce the knowledge of the unconditioned connection [i.e. the universal proposition] because their end is to produce the knowledge of quite another connection, viz. the relation of a name to something so named. 

From this, it follows that fate, etc. do not exist, since these can only be proved by inference. But an opponent will say, if you thus do not allow adrishta, the various phenomena of the world become destitute of any cause. But we cannot accept this objection as valid, since these phenomena can all be produced spontaneously from the inherent nature of things. Thus it has been said : 

The fire is hot, the water cold, refreshing cool the breeze of morn;

By whom came this variety ? Of their own nature are they formed. 

And all this has been also said by Brihaspati : 

There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world,

Nor do the actions of the four castes, orders, etc. produce any real effect.  

The Agnihotra, the three Yedas, the ascetic’s three staves, and smearing oneself with ashes,

Were made by Nature as the livelihood of those destitute of knowledge and manliness. 

If a beast slain in the Jyotishtoma rite will itself go to heaven,

Why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father ? l 

If the Sraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead,

Then here, too, in the case of travellers when they start,

it is needless to give provisions for the journey. 

If beings in heaven are gratified by our offering the Sraddha here,

Then why not give the food down below to those who are standing on the housetop ? 

While life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee even though he runs in debt ;

When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again ? 

If he who departs from the body goes to another world,

How is it that he comes not back again, restless for love of his kindred ? 

Hence it is only as a means of livelihood that Brahmans have established here.

All these ceremonies for the dead, there is no other fruit anywhere. 

The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves, and demons.

All the well-known formulae of the pandits, jarphari, turphari, etc. 

And all the obscene rites for the queen during the Ashwamedha,

These were invented by buffoons, and so all the various kinds of presents to the priests. 

While the eating of flesh was similarly commanded by night-prowling demons.

Hence in kindness to the mass of living beings must we fly for refuge to the doctrine of Charvaka.

Such is the pleasant consummation.  

Though we do not hear of practising Charvakas after the 12th Century, it remarkable how the world has embraced it progressively, more completely, en masse in modern times ! Materialism is only effective philosophy that honestly corresponds with the current ways in our world, characterised with profiteering and consumerism. 




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