The Charvakas


The Charvaka system of philosophy was an extreme materialistic system of philosophy that predates Buddhism. The Charvakas rejected all indirect methods of knowledge (hearsay, holy books, inference etc.) They said that consciousness is a property of matter that comes with the body and goes away with it, nothing mystical about it. Consciousness meaning awareness, the ability to know things. When we cannot know things (an unjust nature, sickness, death etc.) and we accept explanations provided by holy books etc, we assuage our angst, but close the debate.

This was Albert Camu’s position too: that paradoxical situation between our impulse to ask ultimate questions and the impossibility of achieving any adequate answer is what Camus calls the absurd. Camus says that the consciousness of the absurdity inherent in absurd questions is to be kept alive, and not resolved by a “leap of faith onto God,” as Kierkegaard suggested, for though that gives one answers, it closes further debate. Such unanswered absurd questions lead to angst, and Camus wants to keep alive the angst of such unanswered questions, and not close the debate by accepting answers provided by the holy books: he wants to see if “thoughts can live in those deserts.”

Like the Charvakas, he appears to say that consciousness is the light that appears as friction between man and his dealing with the world. In his famous essay, “The Myth Sisyphus,” the gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain. In spite of this futile and hopeless labor, Camus says that Sisyphus is to be thought of as happy because he remains aware of his absurd toil: his consciousness, that separates him from brute nature, is not smothered. For:

When the universe comes to destroy man, man will still be nobler than that which tries to destroy him, because in his death man knows he is dying and of its victory, the universe knows absolutely nothing (Pascal.)