Heresy, heterodoxy and nonconformism in early India

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Heresy, heterodoxy and nonconformism in early India

Krishna Mohan Shrimali


Quote:The issue of heterodoxy arises when an orthodoxy is established. Even by the Buddha’s time a large number of variant views existed. Even the Ṛksaṃhita contained hymns with contrary beliefs and opposing gods. In time the Cārvākas or materialists contested the whole fabric of beliefs represented by the Vedas. In the Buddhist case a similar deviant was found in Devadatta who is represented as opposing Gautama Buddha’s doctrines. One can also trace elements of dissent from the theologically recognised dharma in texts such as Arthaśāstra and Kāmasutra. In early mediaeval times the Jainas could be identified as the major ideological critics of Brahmanism. In today’s India, where all dissent with the official dogma is being denounced as anti-national, it is time to project history from the point of view of the so-called heretics or dissidents as well.

Quote:...Even a casual reading of the Ṛksaṃhitā would clearly show that not everyone was convinced about numerous deities invoked therein, including Indra, the most exalted one in that text. There are pronounced indications of the existence of sceptics and free thinkers in the Ṛksaṃhitā, who denied Indra’s very existence, did not believe in his divinity and mocked at him (I.4.4–6; I.164.6; VIII.89.3; X.129.6–7) and mention his fear of Vṛtra (I.32.12,14). ‘Viśvakarman’ defines these sceptics as nīharena prāvṛta (‘enwrapt in misty cloud’) and jalpya (‘with lips that stammer’)...

Quote:The Cārvākas or Materialists represent the sect whose name is almost synonymous with heresy in India. It is guilty of no offensive behaviour, for it is simply a philosophical movement; but this philosophy condemns the Vedas as ‘a pious fraud’ (Bhandarkar 1929, 4). It is rather surprising that much against this long held view, some scholars have doubted if the Cārvākas existed at all except as an imagined straw man through whom people could express anti-dharmic ideas without being accountable for them.3 The classic expression of the Cārvāka point of view is summarised thus in the Sarva-darśana-saṁgraha: ‘The Veda is tainted by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction and tautology; the imposters who call themselves Vedic scholars are mutually destructive; and the three Vedas themselves are simply the means of livelihood for those devoid of wit and virility’.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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