Major philosophical thinkers and schools: Ajivika and Charvaka School

Major philosophical thinkers and schools: Ajivika and Charvaka School

Ajivika Sects:

  • Ajivika is one of the nastika or “heterodox” schools of Indian philosophy. Founded in the 5th century BCE by Makkhali Gosala, it was a sramaṇa movement and a major rival of early Buddhism and Jainism.
  • The Ajivika school is known for its Niyati doctrine of absolute determinism, the premise that there is no free will, that everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is entirely preordained and a function of cosmic principles. Ajivika considered the karma doctrine as a fallacy.
  • Whereas other groups believed that an individual can better his or her lot in the course of transmigration of soul, the Ajivikas supposedly held that the affairs of the entire universe were ordered by a cosmic force called Niyati (destiny) that determined all events, including an individual’s fate, to the last detail and that barred personal efforts to change or accelerate improvement toward one’s spiritual destiny. As a result of this static and melancholy view of the human condition, the Ajivikas practiced austerities rather than pursue any purposeful goal.
  • Ajivika metaphysics included a theory of atoms similar to the Vaisheshika school, where everything was composed of atoms, qualities emerged from aggregates of atoms, but the aggregation and nature of these atoms was predetermined by cosmic forces.
  • Ajivika were atheists and rejected the authority of the Vedas, but they believed that in every living being is an atman – a central premise of Hinduism and Jainism.
  • Ajivika reached the height of its popularity during the rule of the Mauryan emperor Bindusara around the 4th century BCE. This school of philosophy thereafter declined, but survived for nearly 2,000 years through the 14th century CE in the southern Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
  • The Ajivika philosophy, along with the Charvaka philosophy, appealed most to the warrior, industrial and mercantile classes of ancient Indian society.

Charvaka Philosophy of Materialism:

  • The Charvaka school was a philosophical movement in India that rejected the traditional religious order by challenging the authority of the Vedas as well as the hegemony the Brahman priests. Contrary to the view that India has always been an entirely religious and spiritual land, the Charvaka school is one of the most irreligious and skeptical systems of thought ever devised. This school is considered part of the heterodox systems of Indian philosophy, and it is also known as Lokayata, a term which in Sanskrit and Pali means “Naturalist” or “Worldly”.
  • The Charvaka school started to develop around the 7th century BCE, during the time when the culture of world renunciation emerged in India. Buddhist scriptures occasionally mention the Charvaka as part of the wandering religious groups known as sramanas. Before the time of the Charvaka school there were other materialistic schools in India, but none of them managed to systematize their teachings like the Charvaka did.
  • The most prominent member of this school during the time of the Buddha was a man named Ajita Kesakambali, whose ideas are summarized in a Buddhist Pali text known as Samannaphala Sutta, where he denies the doctrine of transmigration of the soul.
  • The earliest texts of the Charvaka were written around the 6th century BCE, but unfortunately they have been lost. From what we can piece together, mainly through later works, these thinkers believed in a rigid materialistic perspective in which only things that could be perceived directly were thought to exist. Some of the key principles of this doctrine of materialism were:
    1. All things are made of earth, air, fire and water.
    2. That which cannot be perceived does not exist; to exist implies to be perceivable.
    3. Heaven and hell are nothing but inventions. The only goal of humans is to enjoy pleasures and avoid pain.
    4. Providing a good living for the priests is a sufficient explanation for the practice of religion.
  • The members of this school did not believe in ideas such as the soul, reincarnation, spirits, or gods. Religion, they said, is nothing but a fraud devised by clever men who want to take advantage of others. Soul or consciousness can be explained in natural terms as a side effect of having a healthy body: When the body dies, consciousness simply disappears. No existence other than the physical body exists for the Charvaka.
  • The attitude towards human conduct in the Charvaka school was a very flexible one: Right or wrong were seen as merely human conventions. The cosmos, they believed, was indifferent to human behaviour

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