Charvaka Darshanam

By Dr. Korada Subrahmanyam


Cārvākadarśanam, or Lokāyatam, do not believe in the existence of Īśvara (God) or in the authority of the Veda. Only two Puruṣārthas (purposes of life)—Artha (wealth) and Kāma (sexual enjoyment)—exist. Sukha (comfort) and Duḥkha (misery) have no bearing on Dharma and Adharma. Everything is natural. Enjoy your life, and body—a body which turns into dust, and does not come back. There is no controller called Īśvara. The Vedas and other sacred works are created by false teachers for their own gain, or livelihood. Pratyakṣam is the only Pramāṇam; this is what the Cārvākas hold.

A Cārvāka (one who speaks pleasantly: cāru + vāk), or Nāstika (atheist), or Lokāyatika (follower of a Darśanam that had spread across the world; lokāyatam) is one who does not believe in either Veda, or Paraloka (another world like heaven) or Īśvara. Followers of Cārvākadarśanam argue that there are only four elements: Pṛthivī (earth), Ap (water), Tejas (fire), and Vāyu (air). When the four elements come together and form a Deha (body), Caitanyam (cognition/consciousness) is born—just like intoxication from Kiṇva (a kind of gum used in the preparation of wine). The Caitanyam also dies when the body is dead. Ātmā is nothing but a Deha with Caitanyam. Since there is no other Pramāṇam (means of knowledge), except Pratyakṣam (perception), it is accepted that there is no room for further discussion. Here is Veda:

विज्ञानघन एवैतेभ्यो भूतेभ्यः समुत्थाय तान्येवानुविनश्यति, न प्रेत्य संज्ञास्ति (बृ॰ उ॰ २.४.१२)
vijñānaghana evaitebhyo bhūtebhyaḥ samutthāya tānyevānuvinaśyati, na pretya saṃjñāsti (Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣat 2.4.12)

A thing called Caitanyam is born out of the elements and dies along with them, so there cannot be cognition after death.

Comfort, such as that which exists when a male and female embrace, called Sukham, is the very Puruṣārtha (purpose of life of a human being). It may be associated with Duḥkham (misery), but, just like one who takes the fish after removing the bones, and one who removes the husk and takes the rice, people may try to find a solution to Duḥkham, and take the Sukham. Here is Bṛhaspati:

यावज्जीवं सुखं जीवेन्नास्ति मृत्योरगोचरः। भस्मीभूतस्य देहस्य पुनरागमनं कुतः॥
yāvajjīvaṃ sukhaṃ jīvennāsti mṛtyoragocaraḥ ।
bhasmībhūtasya dehasya punarāgamanaṃ kutaḥ ॥

As long as you live, live comfortably. Nobody can escape death. From where does the body spring up again after it turned into ashes?

Why do even well-educated people perform Agnihotram (worship of fire), and other rituals which require a lot of expenditure and physical labor, if there is no comfort in another world?


Those cheats who think themselves as Vaidikas (Vedic scholars) engage in a duel: “Karmakāṇḍa (Veda that deals with rites) is not an authority” say supporters of Jñānakāṇḍa (supporters of Upaniṣats). “Jñānakāṇḍa is not an authority”, say supporters of Karmakāṇḍa, “because Veda is full of lies, self-contradictory statements and repetitions.”

ओषधे त्रायस्वैनम् (तैत्तिरीयसंहिता १.२.१)
स्वधिते मैनं हिंसीः (तैत्तिरीयसंहिता १.२.१)
शृणोत ग्रावाणः (तैत्तिरीयसंहिता १.३.१३)
oṣadhe trāyasvainam (taittirīyasaṃhitā 1.2.1)
svadhite mainaṃ hiṃsīḥ (taittirīyasaṃhitā 1.2.1)
śṛṇota grāvāṇaḥ (taittirīyasaṃhitā 1.3.13)

O! herb! protect me.
O! barber’s blade, do not hurt this man.
O! stones! listen.

The above sentences wherein lifeless things are addressed are not authentic.

एक एव रुद्रो न द्वितीयाय तस्थे (तैत्तिरीयसंहिता १.८.६.१)
सहस्राणि सहस्रसशो ये रुद्रा अधिभूम्याम् (तैत्तिरीयसंहिता ४.५.११.१)
eka eva rudro na dvitīyāya tasthe (taittirīyasaṃhitā
sahasrāṇi sahasrasaśo ye rudrā adhibhūmyām (taittirīyasaṃhitā

There is only one Rudra (Śiva), and no second one.
Which Rudras are there in the thousands on earth.

There is conflict between the above mantras. Such are the defects of Karmakāṇḍa.

Now, the defects in Jñānakāṇḍa:

अन्नं ब्रह्मेति व्यजानात् (तैत्तिरीयोपनिषत् ३.२)
प्राणो ब्रह्मेति व्यजानात् (तैत्तिरीयोपनिषत् ३.३)
annaṃ brahmeti vyajānāt (taittirīyopaniṣat 3.2)
prāṇo brahmeti vyajānāt (taittirīyopaniṣat 3.3)

Bhṛgu, son of Varuṇa, after Tapas (ascetic life with some conditions), realized
that Annam (food) is Brahman.
Bhṛgu, after Tapas, realized that Prāṇa (life-giving air) is Brahman.

Here, neither Annam not Prāṇa is Brahman, and therefore both the statements are lies.

एकमेवाद्वितीयम् (छान्दोग्योपनिषत् ६.२.१)
ऋतं पिबन्तौ (कठोपनिषत् ३.१)
ekamevādvitīyam (Chāndogyopaniṣat 6.2.1)
ṛtaṃ pibantau (Kaṭhopaniṣat 3.1)

Ātmā is one.
There are two Ātmas, which enjoy the result of Karma (action).

The above are contradictory.

पृथिव्या ओषधयः, ओषधीभ्योऽन्नम् (तैत्तिरीयोपनिषत् २.१.१)
pṛthivyā oṣadhayaḥ, oṣadhībhyo’nnam (taittirīyopaniṣat 2.1.1)

The plants are born on earth, rice is from plants.

The above things are known to even a lay man.

By and large, it is proved that neither Karmakāṇḍa nor Jñānakāṇḍa is authentic.

Duḥkham (misery) is nothing but the pain due to things such as thorns. The king or ruler is Parameśvara. Mokṣa is nothing but death. Unless one accepts the theory of Dehātmā— that the body itself is Ātmā—the Sāmānādhikaraṇya (where both words express the same thing) in the following sentences is not possible:

स्थूलोऽहम्, कृशोऽहम्, कृष्णोऽहम्
sthūlo’ham, kṛśo’ham, kṛṣṇo’ham

I am fat, I am lean, I am black.

In the case of the usage, “मम शरीरम्”, “mama śarīram”, (my body), it is an aupacārika (where the secondary, rather than primary meaning is taken), just like the case of राहोः शिरः, rāhoḥ śiraḥ, (the head of Rāhu). When the demon was beheaded by Viṣṇu, in the form of Jaganmohinī, during the distribution of Amṛtam (nectar), the head became Rāhu, and the body became Ketu. So, there is abheda (no difference) between the head, and Rāhu. Nevertheless, people use “rāhoḥ śiraḥ” (the head of Rāhu) which suggests that there is Bheda (a difference) between Rāhu and śiras. In such cases, the usage is called aupacārika. The ṣaṣṭhīvibhakti (possessive case) which denotes “bheda” should not be taken as important. Cārvāka opines that deha (body) only is called Ātmā (soul), and the usage “mama śarīram” is due to superimposition of bheda (difference) where it does not exist. Such a usage is called aupacārikaprayoga: a usage whereby a meaning that is not there is imposed. The following verses offer a summary of the above concepts of Cārvāka:

अङ्गनालिङ्गनाज्जन्यसुखमेव पुमर्थता।
कण्टकादिव्यथाजन्यं दुःखं निरय उच्यते॥
लोकसिद्धो भवेद्राजा परेशो नापरः स्मृतः।
देहस्य नाशो मुक्तिस्तु न ज्ञानान्मुक्तिरिष्यते॥
अत्र चत्वारि भूतानि भूमिवार्यनलानिलाः।
चतुर्भ्यः खलु भूतेभ्यश्चैतन्यमुपजायते॥
किण्वादिभ्यः समेतेभ्यो द्रव्येभ्यो मदशक्तिवत्।
अहं स्थूलः कृशोऽस्मीति सामानाधिकरण्यतः॥
देहः स्थौल्यादियोगाच्च स एवात्मा न चापरः।
मम देहोऽयमित्युक्तिः सम्भवेदौपचारिकी॥
aṅganāliṅganājjanyasukhameva pumarthatā।
kaṇṭakādivyathājanyaṃ duḥkhaṃ niraya ucyate॥
lokasiddho bhavedrājā pareśo nāparaḥ smṛtaḥ।
dehasya nāśo muktistu na jñānānmuktiriṣyate॥
atra catvāri bhūtāni bhūmivāryanalānilāḥ।
caturbhyaḥ khalu bhūtebhyaścaitanyamupajāyate॥
kiṇvādibhyaḥ sametebhyo dravyebhyo madaśaktivat।
ahaṃ sthūlaḥ kṛśo’smīti sāmānādhikaraṇyataḥ॥
dehaḥ sthaulyādiyogācca sa evātmā na cāparaḥ।
mama deho’yamityuktiḥ sambhavedaupacārikī॥

The only Puruṣārtha (purpose of life) is the comfort due to embracing a young lady. The misery caused by the pain due to such things as thorns is called Naraka (hell).
The ruler that is popular in the world is Īśvara, nobody else. Mokṣa is nothing but the death of the body, but not caused by Jñānam (cognition).
Here there are four elements: earth, water, fire and air. The Caitanyam (consciousness) is born out of the four elements, just like excitement from things that are associated with Kiṇva (a kind of gum used in preparation of wine).
Due to obesity of the body, there are usages such as “I am fat”, and “I am lean” where one finds Sāmānādhikaraṇyam (a single thing denoted by two words); the fact is that the same body is called Ātmā (soul).
“My body” is a secondary usage; the primary meaning is not to be taken, as both the words denote the same thing—body—the possessive case that suggests the existence of two things is to be ignored.

Cārvākas accept Pratyakṣam (perception) only as a valid means of knowledge. They refute even Anumāna and Śabda, without which the universe cannot simply run, and the entirety of day to day transactions would certainly come to a standstill.

Vācaspatimiśra, a great commentator on different Darśanas, passed harsh comments censuring the obstinacy of Cārvākas in terms of “Pratyakṣam only” (Bhāmatī, Brahmasūtraśāṅkarabhāṣyam, 3.3.54).

. . . पशवोऽपि हिताहितप्राप्तिपरिहारार्थिनः कोमलशष्पश्यामलायां भुवि प्रवर्तन्ते परिहरन्ति चाश्यानतृणकण्टकाकीर्णां, नास्तिकस्तु पशोरपि पशुरिष्टानिष्टसाधनमविद्वान्, न खल्वस्मिन्ननुमानगोचरप्रवृत्तिनिवृत्तिगोचरे प्रत्यक्षं प्रभवति, न च परप्रत्यायनाय शब्दं प्रयुञ्जीत, शाब्दस्यार्थस्याप्रत्यक्षत्वात्, तदेवं मा भून्नास्तिकस्य जन्मान्तरमस्मिन्नेव जन्मन्युपस्थितो मूकत्वप्रवृत्तिनिवृत्तिविरहरूपो महान्नरकः।
. . . paśavo’pi hitāhitaprāptiparihārārthinaḥ komalaśaṣpaśyāmalāyāṃ bhuvi pravartante pariharanti cāśyānatṛṇakaṇṭakākīrṇāṃ, nāstikastu paśorapi paśu-riṣṭāniṣṭasādhanamavidvān, na khalvasminnanumānagocarapravṛttinivṛtti-gocare pratyakṣaṃ prabhavati, na ca parapratyāyanāya śabdaṃ prayuñjīta, śābdasyārthasyāpratyakṣatvāt, tadevaṃ mā bhūnnāstikasya janmāntaram-asminneva janmanyupasthito mūkatvapravṛttinivṛttiviraharūpo mahānnarakaḥ.

Even animals enter a land which is black (green) with tender grass to get the desired and give up the undesired and avoid the land full of non-green grass and thorns. An atheist is an animal more than an animal, without knowing the device for the desired, and the undesired. Pratyakṣa (perception) naturally, will not do in such a thing where to do, or not to do (activity or inactivity) is known through Anumāna. One should use a Śabda (statement) for making things known to others, as the meaning of Śabda is not known through Pratyakṣam; thus, let there be not another birth for Cārvāka, as in this life itself a great hell is on the cards in the form of dumbness, and existence without activity, and inactivity.

Cārvākas hold that the strangeness of the universe (that some people are comfortable and others are suffering, and that good and evil exist, among other things) is not based on Adṛṣṭam (Karma, nemesis), rather, it is just natural:

अग्निरुष्णो जलं शीतं समस्पर्शस्तथानिलः।
केनेदं चित्रितं तस्मात् स्वभावात्तद्व्यवस्थितिः॥
agniruṣṇo jalaṃ śītaṃ samasparśastathānilaḥ।
kenedaṃ citritaṃ tasmāt svabhāvāttadvyavasthitiḥ ॥

Fire is hot, water is cool, similarly air is with equal touch. Who did all this? Therefore, everything runs due to its nature.

Bṛhaspati, a great Cārvāka explains:

न स्वर्गो नापवर्गो वा नैवात्मा पारलौकिकः।
नैव वर्णाश्रमादीनां क्रियाश्च फलदायिकाः॥
अग्निहोत्रं त्रयो वेदाः त्रिदण्डं भस्मगुण्ठनम्।
बुद्धिपौरुषहीनानां जीविका धातृनिर्मिता॥
पशुश्चेन्निहतः स्वर्गं ज्योतिष्टोमे गमिष्यति।
स्वपिता यजमानेन तत्र कस्मान्न हिंस्यते॥
मृतानामपि जन्तूनां श्राद्धं चेत्तृप्तिकारणम्।
निर्वाणस्य प्रदीपस्य स्नेहः संवर्धयेच्छिखाम्॥
गच्छतामिह जन्तूनां व्यर्थं पाथेयकल्पनम्।
गेहस्थकृतश्राद्धेन पथि तृप्तिरवारिता॥
स्वर्गस्थिता यदा तृप्तिं गच्छेयुस्तत्र दानतः।
प्रासादस्योपरिस्थानामत्र कस्मान्न दीयते॥
na svargo nāpavargo vā naivātmā pāralaukikaḥ.
naiva varṇāśramādīnāṃ kriyāśca phaladāyikāḥ॥
agnihotraṃ trayo vedāḥ tridaṇḍaṃ bhasmaguṇṭhanam.
buddhipauruṣahīnānāṃ jīvikā dhātṛnirmitā॥
paśuścennihataḥ svargaṃ jyotiṣṭome gamiṣyati।
svapitā yajamānena tatra kasmānna hiṃsyate॥
mṛtānāmapi jantūnāṃ śrāddhaṃ cettṛptikāraṇam।
nirvāṇasya pradīpasya snehaḥ saṃvardhayecchikhām॥
gacchatāmiha jantūnāṃ vyarthaṃ pātheyakalpanam।
gehasthakṛtaśrāddhena pathi tṛptiravāritā॥
svargasthitā yadā tṛptiṃ gaccheyustatra dānataḥ।
prāsādasyoparisthānāmatra kasmānna dīyate॥

There is neither heaven nor Mokṣa, nor Ātmā that travels to another world. The actions and rites associated with Varṇa (caste) and Āśrama (one of the four stages of life)—Brahmacaryam (celibacy), Gārhasthyam (household life), Vānaprastham (living in forests), and Saṃnyāsa (renouncing the world)—do not give any results.
Worship of fire, Vedic recitation, holding three sticks by a Saṃnyāsī, and application of holy ashes on forehead are created by the Creator (?) for the livelihood of those who lack intellect and manhood.
If an animal killed in the sacrifice called Jyotiṣṭoma goes to heaven, why is not the father of the sacrificer not killed in the same rite?
If the death ceremony satisfies even the dead beings, then the oil should increase an extinguished flame.
It is a waste to provide food on the way for those who travel as they can have it through the death ceremony held at the house.
If the people in heaven feel happy by the food offered, then why is food not offered on the ground floor for the people living upstairs?

Bṛhaspati further elaborates:

यावज्जीवेत् सुखं जीवेत् ऋणं कृत्वा घृतं पिबेत्।
भस्मीभूतस्य देहस्य पुनरागमनं कुतः॥
यदि गच्छेत्परं लोकं देहादेष विनिर्गतः।
कस्माद्भूयो न चायाति बन्धुस्नेहसमाकुलः॥
ततश्च जीवनोपायो ब्राह्मणैर्विहितस्त्विह।
मृतानां प्रेतकार्याणि न त्वन्यद्विद्यते क्वचित्॥
त्रयो वेदस्य कर्तारो भण्डधूर्तनिशाचराः। जर्भरीतुर्फरीत्यादि पण्डितानां वयः स्मृतम्॥
yāvajjīvet sukhaṃ jīvet ṛṇaṃ kṛtvā ghṛtaṃ pibet।
bhasmībhūtasya dehasya punarāgamanaṃ kutaḥ॥
yadi gacchetparaṃ lokaṃ dehādeṣa vinirgataḥ।
kasmādbhūyo na cāyāti bandhusnehasamākulaḥ॥
tataśca jīvanopāyo brāhmaṇairvihitastviha।
mṛtānāṃ pretakāryāṇi na tvanyadvidyate kvacit॥
trayo vedasya kartāro bhaṇḍadhūrtaniśācarāḥ।
jarbharīturpharītyādi paṇḍitānāṃ vayaḥ smṛtam॥

Live comfortably as long as you live. Enjoy food with ghee (clarified butter) by taking loans. How can a body turned into ashes come back?
If one goes to heaven after leaving this body, why does that one not return, because of the affection held for the relatives, when the relatives are sick?
Therefore, the ceremony for the dead is nothing but a device innovated by Brāhmaṇas for their livelihood.
There are three kinds of people who authored Vedas: the insane, the cheats, and demons. Jarbharī, turpharī (Ṛgveda 10.106.6) and other works are said to be the words of scholars (cheats).

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Sarvadarśanasaṅgraha, English Translation by Cowell and Gough (without Śaṃkara’s System), London, 1914.
Ṛgveda, Nag Prakashak, Delhi, 1994.
Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣat, Mahesh Research Institute, Varanasi, 1990.
Brahmasūtraśāṅkarabhāṣya with Bhāmatī, Kalpataru and Parimala, Edited by M. M. Ananatakṛṣṇaśāstrī, Nirnay Sagar, Bombay, 1938.