Religions and Religious Diversity in India
India's spiritual tradition is diverse in religious beliefs and practices. It is a birthplace of world’s major religions; Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. However, Islam and Christianity are, respectively, second and third largest religions in India after Hinduism.
Despite, India is a place of theistic religions, it was a place of various atheistic philosophies such as; Charvaka, Ajivika, Agnyana, Jainism, Buddhism and non-believer of God or a creator; Samkhya, Yoga and Mimamsa. Among them, Charvaka is the most prominent and popular school of philosophy, a contemporary of Jainism and Buddhism in the 6th century BC, which was believed to be survived for seven centuries. However, no original text of Charvaka are preserved, though the idea of its popularity comes as a result of its criticisms mentioned, in the literature of other religious texts; Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
Charvaka, an Atheist and Materialist Philosophy
The ‘Charvaka’ movement was belived to be initiated by Brihaspati and Ajita Kesakambali was a forerunner of this movement. The fundamental text of Charvakas, The BÄrhaspatya-sÅ«tras which was also known as LokÄyata sutras has been lost and not any original texts do exist.
The Charvaka’s movement reflects in Sarvasiddhanta Samgraha’s Verse 8 as follows:
“There is no other world other than this;
There is no Heaven and no Hell;
The realm of Shiva and like regions,
They are invented by stupid imposters.
Charvaka was known as Lokayata, means materialist. Materialism, as opposed to spiritualism, is a philosophy which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature and that all phenomena are its outcome. It has rejected the existence of God, Creator, Soul or Spirit as well as Hell and Heaven.
Charvaka, an Alternative to Vedic Religion
Charvaka was direct perceptionist. They believed that Perception is the only valid way to knowledge and other means of knowledges are invalid.
For them, Human body is a product of only four elements; earth, water, fire and air. They rejected a soul in the body and also any existence of spirit, distinct to matter. After the death of person all bodily elements would be dissolved to their original forms.
Charvaka didn't believe in any metaphysical concept of God, Karma, Soul, reincarnation, Hell, and Heaven. Charvaka propagated its philosophy on a strong foundation of materialism. Sarvasiddhanta Samgraha writes Charaka’s view about this life as follows;
“The enjoyment of heaven lies in eating delicious food, keeping the company of young women, using fine clothes, perfumes, garlands, sandal paste... while Moksha is death, whichceases life breath... the wise therefore ought not to take pains on account of moksha. A fool wears himself out by penances and fasts. Chastity and other such ordinances are laid down by clever weaklings.” Verses 9-12
Charvaka's Contributions to the World
There was a huge impact of Charvaka philosophy in other non=theist movement as well as development of an idea of Atom. Their idea of Atom is prior or contemporary to Leucippus and Democritus in the West in 5th century BC. Charvaka’s philosophical thoughts were modern and radical. Charvaka’s atomism further developed in ancient India as philosophy as well as theology, and concived as a part of religious belief. For Charvaka, the purpose of life is enjoyment and freedom . For them, there is no pain of death or afterwards, because there is no life breath at cessation.
Charvaka's atheism further developed in other philosophies. However, no Charvaka's philosophical tradition is left in India. However, Charvaka's atomism further developed in Hinduism as Nyaya, for the systematic development of the theory of logic, and its treatises on epistemology. Materialism and atheism re-emerged elsewhere outside India, i.e., Epicurus (341-270 BC), Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), Karl Marx (1818-1883) and his followers across the world.