On Charvakas and debating schools of thought

It’s very interesting to debate folks who are thoughtful. One such is Shri Prithvi whom I have had the pleasure of interacting with earlier on such a plane.

Shri Prithvi recently shared two links that contained information on the ancient Materialistic school of the Charvakas. This school is often cited as Hindu *Atheism*. Those links are here and here.  

Now, I’m not an atheist by far. I have strong reasons why I believe in God/s existence. More to the point, there are currently very intelligent, learned and skilled people on both sides of the divide that are debating this subject. So Shri Prithvi’s email to me/and group made me think of other things that were related. I wrote him my thoughts:

– Namaste


Dear Shri Prithvi,

Thanks for sharing these! All of this is very stimulating and rich. I have some peripheral thoughts wrt such debates. I will not now touch upon their content –

All through its history, Hindusthan has debated it’s politics and it’s “religions”.

There have been intellectual defeats and victories. Sometimes “religious” victories have taken political wings like when Ashoka adapted Buddhist precepts to guide his politics. Such have been rare occurrences in this country. A veritable “State religion” so to speak. Mostly our Republics and Monarchies have been content to encourage debate amongst teachers of various schools. This tradition was somewhat revived by Akbar, in his reign but it could not be carried on
after him. Dara Shikoh was probably of similar nature but he was killed.

My thinking is two fold;

1.  Have such debates ended ? If not, who is taking part in them?

2. How has our modern polity influenced the conduct and nature of such debates?

I would be interested in the group’s thoughts  on these.

Thanks again!

Shri Prithvi responded –

Dear Palahalli,

1. Yes I think these debates are dead and need to be resurrected. If these debates are taking place then I don’t know of them and haven’t heard of them. In fact it is very sad that I knew about Epicureanism and Stoicism but didn’t know we had parallels to these in our own culture and history. I didn’t know about the Carvaka school of thought till a few days ago. Thinking in retrospect though it totally makes sense to me that we would have these different philosophies within Hinduism itself but I just didn’t connect the dots.

My question is why aren’t we taught about these in school, why didn’t my history books teach me about these schools of thought, why wasn’t I told about these at home and why aren’t such debates encouraged? Are we too caught up in our own little material worlds to care anymore? All I knew was about the existence of the Vedas, have the vedas gained so much importance over the ages that the other schools have just been ignored? Why isn’t the common man made aware of these schools and their texts? Who hides them from the common man and how do we make this information available to the masses?

2. Our modern polity has done nothing to encourage such debates or at least I don’t think so. Maybe it is because they are more worried about their votes and keeping the different religious groups happy, again so that they will get votes. You and I both know that most politicians are corrupt and selfish, maybe not all but most of them are. All they care about is about themselves and being in power. How would you change this? I am not sure maybe we start by electing more educated leaders but for that the people need to be educated first. Root of the problem – illiteracy! Empower women and educate kids and hopefully in a couple of decades we will not have these problems. Poverty is another root cause but there is bound to be poverty in a democratic, capitalist environment with 1.2 Billion people in it. Again maybe with education the population growth can be brought under control and in a couple of decades things will improve.

– Prithvi

I replied today with an email –

Thank you Shri Prithvi and as always you have touched upon a number of interesting thoughts.
In my opinion, these debates have not ended. They have diversified and spread out across all levels and sections of our people – although mostly at an interpretative level of discourse. Technology has also helped us to access information and discuss what we find at next to no cost just like how we are doing now.
There are as always, pluses and minuses to this. The general quality of debate has deteriorated even though more numbers are participating and observing. When I was in school the only times we got to read about and discuss such subjects, if at all, was out of sheer personal interest largely as a fall out of what we learned or were exposed to at home. Curricula at school left out much of what we should have been exposed to; except to cursorily touch upon them a few times. It’s not very different today.
It is difficult to agree about such debates being *suppressed* at home. Families are repositories of tradition. They are not libraries. So if some of us practice Charvakas then we may not pass on alternative teachings to our children. That’s society’s job. There were debating groups and mandalis that used to bring all sorts of new thoughts and learnings to people. These were part of society’s infrastructure once upon a time and were highly valued.
On the other hand and with respect to our polity, it’s all about *mass*. Politicians and institutions cater to masses of people. The Internet caters to masses of people. Public libraries are meant to cater to masses of people. Masses of people means cash flow. The promise of cash flow would lead to catering to those tastes that assure such cash flows. Simply put, the age of patronage that insured talented and learned people against the vagaries of market pulls and pressures, no longer exists. All this further gets complicated with the fact that States today are driven by ideologies. They no longer believe in letting society be itself and decide for itself its own best course. The State (Big Government) wants a say in what it’s citizens think and do. Very little seems to be sacrosanct and free of interference.
The Hindu conception of the State is not secular. In fact it was actively involved in encouraging various schools of thought. This did not mean all schools were equally good for the State but only that schools were to debate their worth and accept defeat if defeated.
Imagine if the Prime Minister of Hindusthan were to ask scholars from Christianity, Islam, schools of Sanatana Dharma etc to debate their thoughts on National television and urge losers in the debate to accept defeat. What a fantastic thought!
So it’s not so much illiteracy or population or the myriad other factors that we have come to place our curses upon; that cause this. It’s the polity we have chosen to support and sustain.
A polity that encourages us not to think only because that makes it so much more easier for the powers that be to practice their experiments upon us.
Do you see flaws in my argument?
Palahalli S

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