And then there are the Hindu materialists…

In rather sharp contrast to the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Jews and Persians, this, which reminds me of something that several of us might have heard in Ray Linn’s 12th grade philosophy class:

Out of the aphorisms of Brihaspati came a whole school of Hindu materialists, named after one of them, Charvakas. They laughed at the notion that the Vedas were divinely revealed truth; truth, they argued, can never be known, except through the senses. Even reason is not to be trusted, for every inference depends for its validity not only upon accurate observation and correct reasoning, but also upon the assumption that the future will behave like the past; and of this, as Hume was to say, there can be no certainty. What is not perceived by the senses, said the Charvakas, does not exist; therefore the soul is a delusion, and Atman is humbug. We do not observe, in experience or history, any interposition of supernatural forces in the world. All phenomenon are natural; only simpletons trace them to demons or gods. Matter is the one reality; the body is a combination of atoms; the mind is merely matter thinking; the body, not the soul, feels, sees, hears, thinks. “Who has seen the soul existing in a state separate from the body?” There is no immortality, no re-birth. Religion is an aberration, a disease, or a chicanery; the hypothesis of a god is useless for explaining or understanding the world. Men think religion is necessary only because, being accustomed to it, they feel a sense of loss, and an uncomfortable void, when the growth of knowledge destroys this faith. Morality, too, is natural; it is a social convention and convenience, not a divine command. Nature is indifferent to good and bad, virtue and vice, and lets the sun shine indiscriminately upon knaves and saints; if nature has any ethical quality at all it is that of transcendent immortality. There is no need to control instinct and passion, for these are the instructions of nature to men. Virtue is a mistake; the purpose of life is living, and the only wisdom is happiness.
Our Oriental Heritage, pp. 418-19

Looking back on it, I’m surprised that we didn’t cover this. Maybe I just don’t remember.


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