Epistemology

A clear understanding of Lokâyata would be impossible without an awareness of Indian epistemology and its crucial role in the evolution of various Darśana-s.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It addressed two main questions –

  1. What are valid sources of knowledge?
  2. What makes these sources valid?

During the 2nd Century CE, Gautama’s Nyâya doctrine – for the first time – developed a formal definition for epistemology and identified four Pramânas (sources of valid knowledge). Before this time, sources of knowledge were not quite important and focus was almost entirely on the content of the doctrine itself. It may well be said that the Nyâya school gave birth to Indian Epistemology, which went on to become an integral part of defining, developing and defending a doctrine. It was no longer sufficient to simply state a position. For a position to have any value, it was now a necessary condition to prove it originated from one or more valid sources of knowledge. In time, all doctrines developed their own sets of Pramânas. Though Mimâmsa\Vedânta first claimed the Veda to be the only valid means of knowledge, they later modified their stance to accept six valid Pramânas.

During the 4th Century CE, the brilliant Buddhist Dignâga elevated the role of epistemology to a whole other level. Contrary to the position of his predecessors who primarily focused on doctrine with epistemology secondary in importance, he reversed the order of things, arguing that it was first necessary to establish valid sources of knowledge. A doctrine’s validity is dependent on the validity of its sources of knowledge and hence, establishing valid epistemology was a prerequisite to claim validity of a doctrine.His revolutionary work led to a reassessment of epistemology among all the active doctrines of the time and became the standard for several centuries – primarily among Buddhists and Nyâyaikas. Epistemology rose to the forefront of polemics and the main content of debates was about epistemology.

During early days, skeptics (Lokâyata) found it sufficient to question the validity of religious practices by pointing out inconsistencies and lack of evidence. It had no religious/philosophical position of itself, no alternate paradigm, purely remaining skeptical. Vedic practices were criticized as futile as there was no tangible benefit associated with rituals and the existence of other worlds (pitru-loka) was rejected for lack of evidence. They argued that there was no basis for introducing the concept of a transmigrating soul as consciousness rose from the body itself.

After epistemology invaded the scene and became integral to polemics, it was necessary for skeptics to take a position on epistemology – not to defend their doctrines as they had none, but to adapt to a changing polemic field. Accordingly, different scholars took different positions on epistemology, so they could engage opponents on their own terms. This was possible because they did not belong to a formal group or tradition. There were at least three different types –

  1. Some scholars took the position that pratyakşa was the only valid means of knowledge.
  2. Some others like Purandara accepted inference (anumâna) in limited cases, along with pratyakşa.
  3. Others like Jayarâśi Bhaṭṭa challenged the concept of epistemology and as during his time, all doctrines were inextricably contingent on their Pramânas, he argued that none of them were valid as the foundation of epistemology itself was invalid. The only recourse therefore was to go the Bṛhaspati way – which was to seek happiness in this world and in this life (not in an afterlife in a different world).

Tattvopaplavasimha

The Tattvopaplavasimha (lion devouring all doctrines) is a text on polemics authored by Jayarâśi Bhaṭṭa during the 8th Century CE. This work criticizes all the prominent philosophies of its time on the grounds of the invalidity of their epistemological positions. This text is relevant here because the author is a skeptic who does not seek to replace other doctrines with one of his own and also only quotes and reveres Bṛhaspati (though he does not claim to be a follower). He never quotes Bṛhaspati as an authority, but only to show he is in agreement with Bṛhaspati’s position. Jayarâśi does not call himself a Lokâyata or Cârvâka. Jayarâśi criticizes means of valid cognition among Sânkhyas, Mimâmsakas, Kanadas, Vaiseśikas, Nyayikas, Baudhas (under various names) and Digambara Jains. While he refers to a view that appears to be Vedânta, nothing is mentioned about the Advaita flavor of Vedânta. There are only two individual references to people and works – Bṛhaspati and a lost work named Lakśanasâra.

As mentioned earlier, the Tattvopaplavasimha is important for its ideological affiliation with Bṛhaspati. The introduction describes the purport of the text as overthrowing all principles. The opponent raises the question – “if all principles are annihilated, then does it not contradict Bṛhaspati (sūtra) as he says prithivyâpastejovâyuriti tattvâni [Earth, water, fire and air are the principles]”? The author responds saying the purpose of Bṛhaspati making that statement is to prove that the reality of fundamental principles cannot be established by Pramânas – What to speak of others?

When discussing paraloka, Jayarâśi quotes paralokinobhâvât paralokâbhâvah and elsewhere, he quotes śarîrâd eva. In concluding the text, he claims he has accounted for possible loopholes in other positions that were not explicated by Bṛhaspati himself and has ably vanquished his opponents. All of this makes it clear that Jayarâśi sees himself as affiliated to Bṛhaspati – not as a disciple who received instructions in traditional fashion, but as one who had the same skeptical outlook about philosophical doctrines. He refers to Bṛhaspati as sura-guru, the mythical perceptor of Gods.

This raises some interesting points – As the opponent raises the question of contradicting Bṛhaspati (and not anyone else) , it is clear that Jayarâśi is expected to not contradict Bṛhaspati and he does not. Clearly, Jayarâśi’s position on the subject (at least, according to himself) conforms with Brihaspathi’s as in, they belong to the same school of thought.

The handling of prithivyâpastejovâyuriti tattvâni shows, it does not come from a full text, but as a stray quote that requires interpretation. If the full text was available to Jayarâśi, it would have been clear that the text either allowed the reality of all principles (the commonly accepted version of Lokâyata as Materialism) or proves failure to establish these principles through Pramânas. In either case, Jayarâśi would be expected to followup and either conform with or argue against subsequent sūtras to make his case. But he does neither of the two, which can only mean these sūtras were unavailable. It is unlikely that they existed in full during his time as the Tattvopaplavasimha adequately demonstrates that he had access to a wide range of litrerature from various schools and would surely have had access to a full text of Bṛhaspati’s sūtras too – as he quotes only Bṛhaspati and is expected to conform to his teaching. In conclusion, there was no full text named Bṛhaspati-sūtras during the 8th century CE. There were just a set of isolated statements attributed to Bṛhaspati.

Lokâyata predates the birth of epistemology in India. If Bṛhaspati was one of the early skeptics who gave form to the concept of Lokâyata, then it is impossible for Lokâyata to have had any position on epistemology during its formative period. Jayarâśi’s compliance with Bṛhaspati, also proves the available fragments did not take a position on epistemology. That is, the famous sūtra pratyakşam eva pramânam which has been the basis for some modern scholars in rejecting the Tattvopaplavasimha as a Lokâyata text, was only a polemic position used by some scholars to engage opponents and was not a universally accepted position on epistemology by all skeptics during Jayarâśi’s time. If not, it would be reaonable to expect the Tattvopaplavasimha to explain this sūtra, as Jayarâśi had the objective of conforming with Bṛhaspati. But as he has not bothered to discuss this sūtra, it may be safely assumed that it was not a Bṛhaspati sūtra. If pratyakşam eva pramânam was not a common Lokâyata position during the 8th century CE, then there are no grounds for dismissing the Tattvopaplavasimha as a non-Lokâyata text. Kamalasila mentions two different lines of Cârvâkas – which correspond to the two branches of Cârvâka – Sushikshita and Dhūrta, as described by Jayanta in his Nyâya-Manjari. The difference between these two branches appears to be their position in epistemology. The Sushikshita Cârvâka accepts pratyaksha as the ony pramâna, while the Dhūrta Cârvâka rejects all pramânas. The latter was perhaps labeled Dhūrta as it was hard, if not impossible, to debate them without accepting one or more pramânas. Clearly, the Tattvopaplavasimha belongs to the Dhūrta category. It is possible that Jayanta was specifically referring to the Tattvopaplavasimha when he wrote about Dhūrta Cârvâkas.

Jayarâśi is an uncompromising skeptic, who has no teaching of his own and his Tattvopaplavasimha is only about disproving all doctrines. His stance has been another reason for some scholars to conclude the Tattvopaplavasimha cannot be a Lokâyata text as they view Lokâyata as materialism. There are multiple good reasons to argue against this conclusion.

  1. Jayarâśi’s explicit conformance with Bṛhaspati. If Bṛhaspati’s position is Lokâyata, then by association, Jayarâśi’s position is Lokâyata too.
  2. There are no grounds for not viewing Lokâyata as skepticism. Buddhaghośa (5th century CE) described Lokâyata as vitandâ-sattham vinneyam yam tam lokâyatam meaning Lokâyata was vitanda (sophistry). Vitanda is described in the Nyâya commentary as a form of argument where the individual has no thesis of his own, but is solely intent on invalidating the opponent’s position, applying tricky arguments. Jayarâśi’s Tattvopaplavasimha is perfectly in line with this description of Buddhaghośa. This is also reaffirmed by Jayanta’s description of the Dhūrta Cârvâka, who is different from the Sushikshita Cârvâka. Jayanta also adds that the Lokâyata person only discusses the opponent’s position and has no position of his own.

This text was out of circulation for a long time and was discovered in 1926, after which it was translated into english and first published in 1940 by Sanghavi and Parikh. Due to Jayarâśi’s ideological affiliation with Bṛhaspati, there was some excitement that an extant Lokâyata text had been discovered. But the excitement soon died down as modern scholarship has categorized Lokâyata as Materialism and Jayarâśi was a skeptic. There was the other issue that many people believe Lokâyata accepted pratyakşa as a valid Pramâna, while Jayarâśi rejected the concept of epistemology itself. As discussed above, neither of these reasons stand scrutiny and therefore, there is no valid case against viewing Lokâyata as skepticism and the Tattvopaplavasimha as a Lokâyata text.

http://www.lokayata.info

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