Is Materialism A Correct Philosophy?

Srivaishnavism, Srivaishnavam  Parambaryam, Traditions &  The Culture that stands Class apart from others.


Being daily under the bombardment of materialistic ideas, as long as one does not have higher taste for spiritual life or Krishna consciousness, what else can be of help and guidance then transcendental knowledge? When the intelligence and the mind are strengthened by transcendental knowledge in the association of spiritually minded devotees, then even in the midst of this misguiding materialistic society, one can peacefully, precede toward the ultimate goal, love of Krishna. So, let see the nastiest ideas of the materialists and how should we understand them in the light of spiritual knowledge.

First, we would like to mention, that according to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thaakura there are three major types of atheism that exist at all the times during the history: 1. materialism, or the worship of material nature, 2. Idealism, and 3. Skepticism. Among these, the skepticism is questioning why the Supreme Lord has created the material world, which is full of miseries like birth, death, disease etc. In other words, if God would exist He would not create miserable world where the living entities have to suffer and therefore, He do not exist. Generally, all other kinds of atheism are included within these three types of above-mentioned philosophies.

So as mentioned before, already in the ancient times, in many countries, people have taken shelter of the ideas of materialism and even written books for the sake of propagating them. In India, the most famous atheistic philosopher was Carvaka, in China Yangchoo, in Greece the atheist Leucippus and in Rome Lucretious.

In this way, we can see that the varieties of modern forms of atheistic philosophies are, just the continuation of the previously existing similar ideas that existed under different names and in somewhat different forms, and people who were not spiritually inclined always took shelter of them as a way to adjust their life style.

The philosophy of Charvaka from India contains more-less all the materialistic ideas of other materialistic philosophers from all over the world. Therefore, let us see briefly, what are his main ideas about the self, the ultimate goal of life and the Vedas.

It is a fact, that at one point in the history of India – the land of the Vedic wisdom – many people were influenced by the philosophy of Charvaka Muni who propagated absolute atheism. He said that conscious life does not exist before inert matter. The self and the consciousness refer only to certain aspects of matter. Or, in other words, by interaction of certain material elements consciousness is created. To illustrate this Charvaka gave the following example. Just as the mixture of rice and molasses produce alcoholic beverage so, the mixture of different elements of earth, water, fire, air and sky produce the conscious living being. Further, in the expressions, “I am fatty”, “I am skinny”, “I am dark skinned” the word ‘I’ that refers to nothing else then the temporary, material body and not the soul, since the soul does not exist. Ultimately, when the material elements are decomposed the self and the consciousness are again merged into matter.

Concerning the existence of God, he says that since there is only matter, to propagate or to study the teachings about God is a useless waste of time. If any God exists one should search for a higher God that controls that God. Ultimately, however, God’s existence was never proven.

As there is neither God nor the self is spiritual, there is also no rebirth, wanderings of the soul into different life forms. Moreover, attainment of liberation is also imaginary concepts. In this way, because the whole existence is only a variety of aspects of matter, and because one will not get reactions for ones good or bad activities after this life, everybody should take full opportunity of this one life’s facilities to enjoy to the max.

Thus, despite the Vedas and similar books all over the world, clearly teach theism, Charvaka argued that in all the countries books that describe God, the spiritual world, the hell, and the existence of the soul are only imaginations of some primitive people or so-called sages. They do not describe anything that truly exists. He didn’t accept the Vedas because of seeming contradictions in them and he didn’t follow and perform the prescribed rituals either since they do not give immediate, obvious enjoyable results.

The best things, which are, as he say, blessings for the soul are sexual enjoyment, relishing palatable dishes – everything cocked on ghee (purified butter), – decorating the body with ornaments like pearls, rubies, diamonds, wearing extravagant cloths etc. And what if suffering comes? ‘That doesn’t matter’, he says – ‘although tears will follow the smiles and misery will follow pleasures; still one should just strive for enjoying the life’.

I think you recognize the exactly same ideas of nowadays materialists in the philosophy of Charvaka. Of course, even without knowing him and his philosophy people are materialistic people are inclined to the same type of life-style.

Generally, an every day life, we can see that there are two philosophies of attaining material pleasures: 1. the philosophy of selfish material pleasures, and 2. the philosophy of unselfish material pleasures.

The first type of the philosophy is that the only endeavor one should make is to get tangible results for sense pleasures not considering any material obstacles, the different desires of other people, and not wasting time on useless religious activities. The second philosophy, the unselfish materialism although carrying for the welfare of others is still self-centered, because one’s goal is to get the trust of others for the sake of easily attaining materialistic goals. E.g. out of many philosophers in the west Von Holback said that one should perform philanthropic activities just to increase personal happiness. By working to make others happy, one increases one’s own happiness, and that is good. Conclusively therefore, this unselfish materialism is merely another way to attain one’s own happiness and freedom from troubles.

So, let’s now see few points, how the spiritually inclined devotees, can maintain and continue spiritual life despite of the different contaminating ideas of materialistic atheism. As mentioned in the introduction of this essay, proper spiritual knowledge is an important pillar for spiritual advancement. The very basic thing and the first step in spiritual life is – to understand the existence of the spirit soul as different from matter. As there are different ways to prove the existence of the soul being different from matter, here we would like to mention five interesting points of Sankhya philosophy (the analytical study of the difference of matter and spirit).

1) As it is obvious that material objects cannot enjoy themselves or other material objects, conclusively there must be a conscious enjoyer who utilizes the material objects to enjoy. That purusha or enjoyer is the self.

NOTE: This idea is supported by the Bhagavad-Gita (13.20): “The individual soul that is embodied and enjoying the activities of the body is the purusha, or the living entity.”

2) Nobody can say that the material nature is meant for itself to be enjoyed because the dull, unconscious matter cannot enjoy. Moreover, the material nature is the cause of pain and pleasure and being dull matter, again, it cannot be the enjoyer or sufferer itself. Therefore, beyond the dull material nature there must be a conscious being who is the utilizer and proprietor of worldly objects. That conscious being is the transcendental purusha or the self.

3) The objects of this material world including the mind, senses and intelligence being all unconscious, require conscious guidance and direction. That conscious element who controls the operation of the material nature is the self or purusha.

4) Non-intelligent material nature or prakrti and all its evaluates, which are by nature pleasurable, painful, or neutral, have no meaning if they are not experienced by some intelligent force. That experience is purusha.

5) Since material nature brings pain and misery if there is nothing different from it and its evaluates, then the desire, endeavor, and goal of devotion to God would be meaningless. Moreover, the sayings of the sages and the scriptures would be also meaningless. Therefore, there must be a conscious principle that strives for bhakti. That principle is the self or purusha.

The second important thing in spiritual life is to understand the existence of God. One can prove the existence of God in many different ways but the ultimate prove is attained at the time of attainment of self-realization, when we can have direct experience of Krishna. Its interesting that Srila Prabhupada said: “Jung is right when he says that God’s existence does not depend on our proof,” and still, he gave many transcendental reasons that we understand God’s existence. For example he writes: “There is no reason not to believe in God, and there is every reason to believe in Him. Man may say that he doesn’t believe in God, but who gives him the power to say this? When death comes, this speaking power ceases-so who is giving the power of speech? Has the speaking power come automatically from stone? As soon as the speaking power is withdrawn by the Supreme Authority, the body is no better than stone. The very power of speech is proof that there is a Supreme Power who is giving us everything. A Krishna conscious person knows that whatever he has is not under his control. If we do not believe in God, we must believe in some power beyond us which is controlling us at every step, call that power God or nature or whatever. There is a controlling power in the universe, and no sane man can deny it.” (The King of Knowledge 4)

In the following explanation the proof of God is given through understanding that He is the controller of nature.

Brahmananda: Death and then another body.

Prabhupada: Another body, immediately. Tatha dehantara-praptih [.Bhagavad-Gita 2.13]. That is the tangible proof that there is God. You have to die and accept another body. Just like the proof of government is that you are acting irresponsibly, you must be arrested or be punished. That’s all.

Tamala Krishna: But they say it is just a proof of nature, not a proof of God.

Prabhupada: Yes, nature is instrumental, just like jail is instrument. But the proprietor of the jail, conductor of the jail, is government. Jail is not acting independently but under the government’s direction. Similarly, the nature is working by the direction of God. Mayadhyakshena prakritih suyate sa-caracaram [Bhagavad-Gita. 9.10]. That is stated. Nature is not independent. Just like the nature is that this lump of matter will lie down here, but if God desires, it can fly on the sky. That is God’s will. Nature is not independent. Then it would have remained here. Just like Lord Ramacandra collected stones, and it was floating. (conversation April 5,1975)

So, when we see that there is a graceful and harmonious arrangement in the material nature, in the animal kingdom, the trees etc., that points to a conscious supreme creator and controller.

Until now, we gave few arguments for the existence of the eternal soul and God, and although, there are more ways to prove their existence, instead of mentioning them, we would like to encourage everybody to do some self-research. Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita says that by such inquiry and knowledge one can attain spiritual perfection.

“Even if you are considered to be the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries”.

“In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism”.

“Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of Me-and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me”.

(Bagavath Gita  4. 36, 38, 10)

Compiled by Sri Sri Avadhuta Raya Das Prabhu

TRS Iyengar

Born on Makara Uthiradam star, native of Mukkur and brought up in Ladavaram village near Arcot and now well settled in Mumbai for over five decades. Presently, at 70, trying to run this website without any commercial expectations or profit motive, just for the sake of our future generations to understand about Sanatana Dharma & Srivaishnavam sampradayam.Within my limited knowledge that I put it here, what I learnt from the world.

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