3AM interview with Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

The 3AM magazine continues with its new series (1, 2, 3) of interviews of philosophers working in Indian thought, in an interview with Ramkrishna Bhattacharya (at the Pavlov Institute, Kolkata) about his work on Cārvāka. In this interview, Bhattacharya discusses the history of Cārvāka/Lokāyata and his understanding of their philosophy and its reception. For instance, he explains why Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa represents Cārvāka as a dualist system, and not a materialistic monism:

Of all the commentators so far known to us, Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa alone takes such a ‘revisionist’ stand. Other commentators apparently followed the Cārvākasūtra itself as redacted most probably by Purandara and remained staunchly monistic. So we can safely ignore Udbhaṭa’s somewhat strange reinterpretations of the aphorisms, particularly on that of matter and consciousness. Udbhaṭa exhibits his propensity towards dualism which is contradicted by the aphorism, ‘Earth, water, fire and air are the principles, nothing else’(I.2). The dissident voice of Udbhaṭa should not mislead us, given the fact that he often misinterprets words in the aphorism itself.

He also addresses why he thinks that Buddhism, unlike Cārvāka, has gained the attention of contemporary materialists:

Buddhism after all is a religion, although it has no God or gods, no sacred book like the Veda to be accepted as an inerrant guide, no caste system and yet it does not deny the Other World and rebirth. On the contrary, the Cārvāka/Lokāyata is uncompromisingly anti-religion and denier of the Other World and rebirth. Unless and until one is firmly convinced as an uncompromising materialist, the Cārvāka/Lokāyata cannot appeal to him or her.

Secondly, Buddhism offers a hope of liberation, nirvāa, getting out of the cycle of birth and rebirth, with suffering accompanying every birth. On the other hand, materialism has nothing to offer but the naked truth that consciousness dies as soon as the body is dead; therefore, there is no question of either liberation or rebirth. The hope for living forever in heaven is not there. Buddhism in this respect offers a middle way between traditional Hinduism and the Cārvāka/Lokāyata.

The entire interview is online at 3AM.

About Malcolm Keating

Malcolm Keating is Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the Humanities Division at Yale-NUS College, Singapore.

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