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[Essay] Rationalism, Freethinking and Prospects of Mukto-mona

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  • Avijit Roy
    Rationalism, Freethinking and Prospects of Mukto-mona. [Part - I] By : Avijit Roy E-mail: avijitroy1@yahoo.com Rationalism and freethinking are totally
    Message 1 of 3 , Jan 28, 2002

      Rationalism, Freethinking and Prospects of Mukto-mona.

      [Part - I]

      By : Avijit Roy

      E-mail: avijitroy1@... 


      "Rationalism and freethinking are totally western concepts and we, the oriental people brought those philosophies from western civilization" � this erroneous idea is firmly established among the common people. We also erroneously believe that the humanistic revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning that originated in Italy in the 14th century, and more specifically a philosophical movement (that emphasized the use of reason to scrutinize previously accepted doctrines and traditions) of the 18th century called �Enlightenment� is the main stairway of freethinking, rationalism and many other humanitarian reforms. The western philosophers try to portray that the starting point of radical socioeconomic changes, took place in the late 18th century, and before that the whole world was the era of repression and unenlightenment and there was no cultivation freethinking in any part of the world. This  undoubtedly, is  just a (western ~) superstition. The fact is man has been cultivating his free-thoughts since Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon) evolved about 50 thousand years ago from now. The chronological processes of  freethinking and rational thoughts are one of those remarkable specialties that  have established mankind today as superior to all creatures [1]

      There are hundreds of evidence of rational thoughts in our ancient purans. The counter part term of theism in Indian Philosophy  is Nastikata or Nastibad (disbelieving in God, the creator). This is also identical with Karmanam - denying the consequences of work. Nastikata or atheism, as a philosophy was developed by Dhisan before Gautam Budha [2] . According to him the Universe exists, but not God, the creator; only eternal entity is the matter, and matter consists of four elements: earth, water, energy and air. The creation of life is a specific process of nature and it evolves out of the composite composition of four elements. With death all ends. Perception is the only direct proof of existence. In Indian mythology and purans,   Brihospoti is considered as the preceptor of all gods (Devguru) . He was one of the prominent authors of Rikvedas and the first Rational Atheist among the Aryans. Some scholars think that he was, most probably, the first Atheist in the world [3]. Brihoshopti is considered as the spiritual master (guru) of the charvaka philosophy. The alternative  name of this philosophy is  Lokayat Darshan (the secular philosophy of common folks) which is thought to be developed at 6th century B.C. and influenced the common people for the next couple of centuries [4]. It is quite astonishing that even Aryan ideologists  who were thoroughly acquainted with G�del sastras (scriptures)  could not disavow the strength of rationalism of common folks. Though in  Gita it is mentioned -

      "Tasmaat shastraang pramanaang kaarjaakaarjobosthitou"
      (Only scripture will determine which task is forbidden and which is not )

      But common people could not accept such divine words whole-heartedly. We find mild form of apostasy depicted in Brihospoti shonghitaa, though not rejecting the acceptance of god-

      "Kebolong shastromasrtto no kortobbo binirnoyo |  Yuktiheen bicharen dhormohani: projayotey"
      (You should reject an illogical task like a straw even if the order comes from Bhrahma.)

      Rig-Veda is considered as the most ancient collection of Hindu sacred verses written during the period of 5th century BC to eleventh century [5]. It is quite astonishing that there are several verses in Rig-Vedas where the author(s) clearly expressed skepticism and doubt in existence of god(s).   One clear form of apostasy is observed while people are asked to recite hymn towards Indra, the sovereign of the hindu gods, Nem Rishi boldly pronounced (8|100|3)-

      "Pro shu stomong bhorot bojoyonto Indrayo shottong jodi shotto-mosti |  Nendro osthiti nem u tbo aah ko ing dodorsho komobhi stobaam"
      (There is NONE named Indra; who have seen him ?)

      There are some other examples -

      Rishi Donochoy said, "kbo shyo beero: ko oposhodindrom" [Rig-Veda 5|30|1]
      (Where is Indra ? Any hero did see him?)

      Rishi Atreyo asked - "kutra chidoshyo shomritou ronbya nrishodoney" [Rig-Veda 5|7|2]
      ("Where does that Agni(-dev) live who flourishes devouts' heart by blazing light ?")

      "Ka to upetimronso boray bhubo dogney shongtomaa kaa monishaa" [Rig-Veda 1|76|1]
      (Who is that worshiper, O Agni,  got benefited by performing sacrificial rites for you ?)

      "Katha srinoti humaanmindro: kotha srinonnboboshamoddo bed" [Rig-Veda 4|23|3]
      (How do indra listen to the recital of a praise (hymn) ? How does he protect his followers ?)

      Rishi Goutam utters - "Koishmye debaa aabaahunasho home ko manghshote bitihotro: sudebo:" [Rig-Veda 1|84|18]
      (Who can confirm that our  oblation goes to Indra, the supreme god ? )

      There were definitely a lot of mukto-monas (freethinkers) in Vedic period like Nem Vergob who dared to show doubt on the existence of Indra and other gods/goddesses. But it is ought to mention that their ideas of skepticism have not been considered as Rationalism, or not even Atheism at that period.

      "This skepticism is 'about the existence of god', even the king of gods (Indra), and the emergence of impersonal conceptions of the ultimate ground of the universe is not  yet atheism. Such arguments have yet to advance arguments that belief in god is a false belief. Such arguments begin to appear where emerging theistic conceptions of God and conceptions of the absolute source and ruler of the world confront one another as philosophical questions over an extended period of time " [6]

      So we can say that Atheism as a philosophy was not very much clear in Rig-Veda; the philosophical development was in later ages, but the ground of freethinking and skepticism was clearly founded in Rig-Veda [5]. We get the solid foundation of rationalism in Lokayat (folk-lore) or Charvaka Philosophy. Charvaka philosophy was greatly influenced by Hetu-shastra (science of logic). They used their strong common sense, art of logic and emphasized to exercise of reason, rather than the acceptance of empiricism.  According to Surendranath Dasgupta:

      "It is difficult, however,  to say how and when this older science of sophistical logic or art of disputation became associated with materialistic theories and revolutionary doctrines of morality, and came to be hated by Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism alike" [11]

      Not surprisingly, Charvaka followers were intentionally being called 'sophists' by Hindu Brahmins at that time. Apologists tried to mock  and ridicule the Charvakas by every means. As, the Brahmins could not refute them logically,   their main approach to win the battle was making personal attack similar to today's technique of apologists in NFB who love to term the free-thinkers as "Hate-mongers", "Islam-bashers", "Crypto-Islamists", "pseudo- freethinkers" etc.  Let's see what Manu thought about those Charvakas -

      Manu says that the Brahmin who, through a greater confidence in the science of logic (hetu-sastra) disregards the authority of the Vedas and the smriti, are but nastikas who should be driven out by good men...Again in Manu IV. 30, it is said that one should not even speak with the heretics (pasandino) transgressors of caste disciplines (vikramasthan), hypocrites (vaidal-vratika) double-dealers and sophists (haituka). [7]

      It is quite natural that Hindu Brahmins were quite afraid of that materialistic philosophy. Being agitated by it's popularity among the common folks, the apologists tried to portray this concept as "monstrous" and "demonic". According to Rhys Devis ( the great litterateur of Pali), the name of this materialistic philosophy  came from an immoral monster - "Charvaka" of Mahabarat.  The intention was quite clear. The ancient ideologists and philosophers named this philosophy by the name of a abominable monstrous mythological character to spread their hatred towards this philosophy among the common people [8]. We get the same mean intention in other Hindu purans also. In Vishnu Puran it is said that the dangerous philosophy was spread intentionally among the oshurs (demons in Hindu puran) to delude them so that the oshurs got degraded in character. Thus it was easier for the Hindu gods to win over the demons. The same myth is also described in Moitri Upanishad (the Vedanta philosophy - theological and philosophical portion of the Vedas) where Devguru Brihoshpoti taught this degraded philosophy to oshur community in disguise of oshurguru Shukra,  to ruin their moral character. All he did is to protect Indra, the supreme god and other Vedic deities  [7]. Here we observe the same wicked intention of spreading the myth by the apologists that the rational philosophy was totally degraded, morally offensive and  indecent so that  it ruined the demons by making them immoral, unethical and unscrupulous. Not only in Purans, we find the similar tone in the speach of Shakaracharja and other known ideologists who explained that the philosophy was called as "Lokayat" cause it was the philosophy of "Eetor lok" (vulgar fellow) [8] .

      I think readers now get interested to know what actually was the main theme of Charvaka/Lokayat philosophy so that  the apologists became so furious against them. The main reason of irritation for the apologists was that the Charvakas  rejected to believe upon the infallibility of Vedic scriptures.  According to them all scriptures like Vedas consist of three major flaws - fallacy, self-contradiction and tautology [9]. Charvakas denied to accept the existence of after-life, rebirth, heaven, hell, soul or god/goddess as those cannot be pursued through direct (perceivable) knowledge. Charvakas believed that the Universe did exist, but perhaps not God - the creator; only eternal entity was the matter, and matter consisted of four elements: earth, water, energy and air. The creation of life is a specific process of nature and it evolved out of the composite composition of four elements. With death all ends.  That life originated from inanimate substance ( "Joro shobhab bhuto-chotustoy hotey praaner utpotti" ) was the main essence of Charvaka philosophy, which, most astonishingly similar to the primary conclusion of today's modern science [9].

      Charvakas boldly uttered that rebirth, attainment of salvation and heavenly bliss in afterlife depicted in Vedic scripture were bull-shit and cock and bull stories;  filthy tricks of Brahmins -  just to deceive the common & poor people  [3] -

      Charvakas criticized Brahmin pundits harshly and accused them for exploiting and cheating poor people  as a means of earning livelihood by creating unnecessary rituals using the name of god -



      Charvakas rejected the existence of soul and logically concluded that offering of obsequial or funeral cake to the deceased soul was simply unnecessary as 'soul' did not have any stomach to digest it.



      Charvakas also argued that if funeral rites could gratify the dead person, then it would also be possible to kindle a extinguished lamp just pouring oil into it.



      Charvakas asked the Brahmins -" If a sacrificed animal directly goes to heaven, then why don't you sacrifice your father to send him heaven by performing same sacrificial rites ?"



      Charvaks concluded that Brahmin-frauds want to eat the meat; that's why they created the customs of sacrificial rituals in the name of god.   


      The only constructive criticism of Charvaka philosophy  could be that they believed in hedonistic theory  of holding that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good. They clearly expressed their purpose of life   "Eat drink and be merry, tomorrow we die", long before Omar Khayy�m came into the earth . Motivated by the desire for pleasure, Charvakas  advised people to live a happy and hedonistic life; to take ghee, no matter even if it is necessary to incur debt for this.


      But the main philosophy of Charvaka was not only about Hedonism which some of the critics partially try to portray; it will be distortion of truth to ignore the rational attitude which emphasizes on perceivable knowledge. Not that they had rejected the importance of inference, comparison or  testimonial evidences. What the Charvaka actually rejects, says Jayanta, is the interference of God, soul and other world, i.e, inference supposed to have no relation at all to previous empirical evidence [10].

      Not surprisingly, "Charvaka" - the blasphemous and  materialistic philosophy made a great impact on common people at that time. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru  said -

      "There can be no doubt, however, that the materialist  philosophy was professed in India for centuries and had, at that time a powerful influence on the people" [3]

      Professor Surendra Aznnat expressed the influence and necessity of Charvaka philosophy quite clearly -  

      ''Mankind has been punished, long and heavily created its gods; nothing but pain and persecution have been man's lot since gods began. There is but one way out of this blunder. Man must break his fetters which have chained him to the gates of heaven and hell, so that he can begin to fashion, out of his reawakened and illuminated consciousness, a new world upon earth. Lokayata in its negation of gods is at the same time the strongest affirmation of man" [10]


      It is very unfortunate that Brahmin pandas were so furious by the popularity and and influence of Charvaka that they destroyed all the books of this materialist philosophy. Bhogoban Manu used to hate Charvakas by calling them despicable haitukas. Charvakas were severely attacked by Ideologists like  Krishnamisra, Kumaril Vatta, Haribhadran Suri, Gunaratna, Shankaracharja,  Shankaracharja, Jayrashi Vatta, Madhabacharja, Patanjali, Arjadeva, Vashakaracharja, Chandrakirti. Being incapable of refuting the logic of Charvaka,  in most of the cases, their attack were limited to personal bickering.  [It is quite similar to the attack that Abul Kasem, fatemolla, Aparthib, Syed K. Mirza, Jaffor Ullahs are facing today in NFB and other forums by mullahs, peti-mullahs, pseudo-neutralists and crypto-feminists]. In Mahabharat we find one incident of burning alive rationalist charvaka. Jawaharlal Nehru  said -

      "Among the books that have been lost is the entire literature of materialism .....much of the literature of materialism in India was destroyed by the priests an other believers in the orthodox religion during subsequent periods." (The Discovery of India, Page. 100) [3]

      Despite the vicious attack towards the Charvakas (Loakaytikas) and their rational philosophy,  the Hindu Bhrahmins could not wipe out the potency of Charvakas from the world,  some scholars think that influence of the Lokayatikas are still strong in some certain sects of India -

      The influence of the Lokayatikas and the Kapalikas is still strong in India. There is a sect and a numerous one too, the followers of which believe that deha or the material human body is all that should be cared for, and their religious practices are concerned with the union of men and women and their success (Siddhi) varies according to the duration of  the union. They call themselves Vaisnavas, but they do not believe m Vishnu or Krishna or their incarnations.  They believe in deha. They have another name Sahajia, which is .the name of a sect of Buddhists which arose from Mabayana in the last four centuries of their existence in India. [7]

      It is quite interesting that Freethinkers and Rationalists are being attacked brutally by fundamentalists and apologists in every ages, yet they survive quite powerfully.   They exists today even in those hard-core religious states. Rational attitude, which is usually developed  through skepticism is a spontaneous attitude of a human being. It cannot be ignored, neither it can be suppressed by any means.  The inevitable trend of the future society, no doubt will be towards rationalism, in opposed to dogmatism.  Mukto-mona, a discussion forum to encourage rationalism and freethinking and  is a small attempt for cultivating a favorable environment  for developing a rational Bengali society in future.

      In subsequent two parts I will discuss more on the rational philosophy of Bengal (including some touch on Baul  music) and hopefully exhibit the readers a growing trend for developing a new culture of rationalism through Mukto-mona.




      [1] Mukto-buddhir chorchaa o Bangalir Loukik Oitijhyo : Jotin Sarkar

      [2] Response to "Why I remain an Atheist" by Shabnam Nadiya : Professor Ajoy K. Roy

      [3] Humanism : Shafiqur Rahman

      [4] Yuktibaad - Chetonaa muktir loraai : Mofijur Rahman Runnu

      [5] Bedeye shongshoy o nastikyo : Shukumari Bhotyacharja.

      [6] Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion, Atheism, p481

      [7] Lokayat Darshan : Debi Prasad Chottopadhay.

      [8] Olukik Noy Loukik (Part-1): Prabir Ghosh (*)

      [9] Odharmiker Dhormokotha : Bhabaniprasad Sahu

      [10] Rub�iyat-e-Omar Khayy�m: Shafiqur Rahman

      [11] Charvaka Darshan : Latika Chottopadhay.

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    • Abul Kasem
      In response to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/4304 Dear Avijit; Many thanks for wrting such an insightful, well researched and scholarly
      Message 2 of 3 , Jan 29, 2002

        In response to


        Dear Avijit;

        Many thanks for wrting such an insightful, well researched and scholarly essay.

        I am amazed to find a great similarity between the Islamists and the Hindu fudamentalists...at least in the persecution of the secualrists, freethinkers and atheists.

        It is also interesting to find the similarity between Hinduism and Islam on matters of life's enjoyment. Just like Hiduism, anything enjoyable, pleasurable, comfortable and desirable are forbidden in Islam.

        Best regards.

        Abul Kasem

      • fatemolla
        In response to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/4304 Mohaguru Aroz Ali Matubbar showed some striking similarities between Islam and Hindiuism.
        Message 3 of 3 , Jan 31, 2002
          In response to

          Mohaguru Aroz Ali Matubbar showed some striking similarities between Islam
          and Hindiuism. I remember some concepts of:-

          1. Doomsday:- Keyamot and Proloy.
          2. Judgement day :- Reward and punishment.
          3. Crossing the bridge:- Pool-Sirat ;- Boitoroni.
          4. Keeping records of good and bad deed:-Chitrogupto -
          5. Angel of death:- Azraeel, ;- Jomdoot.
          6. Heaven and hell.
          7. Numbers of heavens and hell.
          8. Description of heaven (good foods & companions)and
          hell (burning in fire).
          9. The worst hell :- Habia :- Rourobo Norok.
          10. Killing animals to satisfy god - Boli & Korbani.
          11. Fasting.
          12. Geographical limitations :- All examples/pretexts
          Revolve around India/Himalay mountain :- The Middle

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