Sculpture of the two Jain tirthankaras Rishabh...
Sculpture of the two Jain tirthankaras Rishabha (left) and Mahavira (right). Photographed at the British Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carvaka is a branch of ancient Indian philosophy marked by extreme materialism, making it a curious alternative to Indian philosophy’s mostly transcendental bias.

In direct opposition to the claims of so many Indian gurus and holy persons, Carvaka does not believe in any form of transcendental reality, be it a soul or God. According to Carvaka, life is finite and its proper aim is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. In short, nothing exists that cannot be perceived beyond the senses, so the worldly life is where it’s at.

The only surviving written accounts concerning Carvaka come to us second-hand through 8thC Buddhist and Jain commentaries. All the original texts have disappeared in the sands of time or, perhaps, never really existed.

Along these lines, some scholars suggest the school may have never existed, except as a mock philosophy created by rival, transcendentally-based thinkers so as to demonstrate their apparent superiority. That being said, the general consensus is that Carvaka’s roots stem back to the 6th century BCE.¹

¹ S. G. F. Brandon, ed., Dictionary of Comparative Religion (1970: 175).


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