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Lokāyata, in for example SN 12.48 and AN 9.38 - apparently referring not to 'cosmology' but rather 'disputation'


#1

I have just been reading a recent (2017) article. Here is an extract:

Relying exclusively on Pāli sources, we may say that lokāyata originally had one and only one sense, namely, disputatio, the art and science of disputation (see Bhattacharya 2009, 187-92). Rhys Davids, who had proposed a different meaning first, viz., Nature-lore, and/or popular philosophy, also admitted this meaning in case of the Milindapañha in the PTS Dictionary (s.v. “lokāyata”). It has been shown that this meaning holds true for the two Mahāyānī Buddhist Sanskrit works, Śārdūlakarṇāvadāna-sūtra (Divyāvadāna) and the Sad-dharma-puṇḍarīkasūtra (See Bhattacharya 2009, 193-6 and 2012).

Now to other, non-Pāli sources. The first occurrence of ānvīkṣikī and lokāyata in Sanskrit is met with in the Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra 1.2.1 and 10. Ānvīkṣikī is one of the subjects of learning, vidyās; and includes sāṃkhya, yoga, and lokāyata (1.2.10). There is no unanimity of opinion concerning the meaning of ānvīkṣikī in this particular context – the science of reasoning, philosophy, or logical philosophy or what (see note 3 above). Although later commentators wrongly identify this lokāyata with the Cārvāka/ Lokāyata system, the earliest commentary in Malayalam glosses it as the Nyāyaśāstra propounded by Brahmagārgya (or Brahman and Gārgya), lokāyataṃ nyāyaśastaṃ brahmagārgyoktam (adapted in KA, Ganapati Shastri 1924, 27). This evidently was a pre-Gautama system of logic. So the connection of lokāyata with arguments is presumable. Lokāyata(-śāstra) is mentioned along with the Vedas, grammar, and the study of the marks of a superman (mahāpurisalakṣaṇa) in several Suttas in the Nikāyas (see the chart above).

[…]

Secondly, comparison with Sanskrit texts, however, has led to happy results: for example, the syllabus for studies of Brāhmaṇa boys found in the Upaniṣads (particularly the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chāndogya) has shed welcome light on the meaning of the Pāli word, lokāyataṃ (Jayatilleke [1963] 1980, 47). The parallel columns of subjects found in the Chāndogya list, Śaṅkara’s commentary thereon and the Pāli equivalents occurring in the Dīgha Nikāya are illuminating. It is almost certain that lokāyataṃ was nothing but vākovākyaṃ (Chāndogya), explained by Śaṅkara as tarkaśāstraṃ.

A Sanskrit dictionary tells me that ‘tarkaśāstra’ means ’ science of reasoning

He continues:

It so happens that there is a mention of the lokāyatika brāhmaṇas in the Rāmāyaṇa, Ayodhyākāṇḍa (critical ed. (1960-75) vol. 2, 94.32; vulgate (1983) 100.28), which throws light on the issue. John Muir (see Cārvāka/Lokāyata 1990, 354-8) and T.W. Rhys Davids (see Cārvāka/ Lokāyata 1990, 372) and others had already noticed the passage, but no one paid it the attention it deserves. Chattopadhyaya (1975, 150-1) was convinced that the whole passage was an interpolation. In fact, the passage, although found in all recensions, is almost certainly a later addition. 15 In spite of its dubious authenticity, two verses (crit. ed. 1960-75, 2, 94.3233, vulgate 1983, 100.28-29), even though interpolated after the fourth century, still contain an indication of what the lokāyatika brāhmaṇas meant in the early centuries of the Common Era, long after they were first mentioned in the Pāli Suttas. It may be noted that the word lokāyatika occurs only once, not just in the Ayodhyākāṇḍa, but in the whole of the Rām. The passage indicates another characteristic of the lokāyatika brāhmaṇas: in addition to their fondness for disputation, they did not care for the religious law books, i.e., the Gṛhya-sūtras and the Smṛti texts.

There are more points in the article which I attach here:
Who_Are_the_lokayatika_brahmaas.pdf (267.4 KB)


#2

This is interesting, @brahmali, any thoughts?


#3

Thoughts, sure, but I am not sure how useful they are. :frowning_face:

The article is a bit short on specifics, mostly referring to other published work. For instance:

Relying exclusively on Pāli sources, we may say that lokāyata originally had one and only one sense, namely, disputatio, the art and science of disputation (see Bhattacharya 2009, 187-92).

and

Secondly, comparison with Sanskrit texts, however, has led to happy results: for example, the syllabus for studies of Brāhmaṇa boys found in the Upaniṣads (particularly the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chāndogya) has shed welcome light on the meaning of the Pāli word, lokāyataṃ (Jayatilleke [1963] 1980, 47).

Without looking up the sources it is hard to know what to make of this. The latter of these is particularly dubious since Jayatilleke concludes that lokāyata means cosmology. Bhattacharya says more about this later in his article, but nothing I find really convincing. Moreover, all the Sanskrit sources mentioned by Bhattacharya, apart from the Upanishadic ones, are centuries later than the Pali Canon and as such are only of secondary interest. In fact we know, as Bhattacharya points out, that lokāyata came to mean materialism, which is not the meaning in the Pali Canon.

Then we have:

It is almost certain that lokāyataṃ was nothing but vākovākyaṃ (Chāndogya), explained by Śaṅkara as tarkaśāstraṃ.

But tarkaśāstra, “the art of reasoning”, does not necessarily mean “the art of disputation”. It could equally refer to the art of philosophising, or merely thinking straight. In fact the latter seems more likely to me.

When it comes to the Pali sources, again I do not find his arguments particularly convincing. His best argument is perhaps the commentarial definition, which supports disputatiousness. This needs to be taken seriously, but we also know that the commentaries are often wrong about Indian culture.

As for the Canonical, some of our best evidence is from the Lokāyatikasutta, SN 12.48:

‘‘Kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, sabbamatthī’’ti? ‘‘‘Sabbamatthī’ti kho, brāhmaṇa, jeṭṭhametaṃ lokāyataṃ’’.

‘‘Kiṃ pana, bho gotama, sabbaṃ natthī’’ti? ‘‘‘Sabbaṃ natthī’ti kho, brāhmaṇa, dutiyametaṃ lokāyataṃ’’.

‘‘Kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, sabbamekatta’’nti? ‘‘‘Sabbamekatta’nti kho, brāhmaṇa, tatiyametaṃ lokāyataṃ’’.

‘‘Kiṃ pana, bho gotama, sabbaṃ puthutta’’nti? ‘‘‘Sabbaṃ puthutta’nti kho, brāhmaṇa, catutthametaṃ lokāyataṃ’’.

Does this refer to disputation or cosmology? If the former, we get: “All exists, this is the oldest disputation.” In this case lokāyata would mean something like “position of argument”. But isn’t that exactly what a philosophy or cosmology is? It seems to me that we are on safer ground if we assume that this refers to cosmology/philosophy. It is not at all clear to me why Bhattacharya prefers to understand this as disputation.

So far as I can see, none of the other sutta occurrences shed any definitive light on the meaning.

I wonder, however, whether philosophy is preferable to cosmology. Cosmology makes it seem as if we are dealing with a modern science, which is obviously not the case. The cosmology of the time, although probably based on some degree of observation of nature, including perhaps meditative experiences, would have included a fair amount of speculation. “All exists” must be, as least in part, a speculative position. If this is so, isn’t this better captured by “philosophy”?

My reading of this is fairly superficial, and so I welcome your further disputatiousness. :grinning:


#4

Ontological philosphy?


#5

I don’t know the context, but by itself, that seems to make sense. The oldest position of argument is likely to be that everything exists. Most people assume that. I think you might even have to get agriculture going before you can have enough abstract thought in society to start speculating that things don’t exist!

And I would not think of that as a cosmology. For there need not be any thought of the cosmos. Cosmology seems to be thought about things perhaps including but necessarily beyond this planet, no? But we can consider if things exist or not without having to even conceive of phenomena beyond those we encounter every day I think, no? So I do not see how this gets transferred from philosophical discussion to cosmological discussion.

[Edit: Ah I see now that you also feel some problems with ‘cosmology’.]

Would ‘philosophical disputation’ make any more sense?
I’m reminded of the debating tradition of Nalanda monastic university, so I heard through the lineage anyway. Could they have basically been similar to the modern debators of the Gelug monasteries? (Of course the other schools have joined in in the last centuries also, in need of competing for monastery funds, while in the past I think debating was rare in Kagyu and Nyingma if practiced at all).


#6

I agree, the article is not hugely persuasive.

Another piece of the puzzle is that lokāyata in DN 1 etc. is listed, along with accounting and poetry, as a kind of livelihood. Here is appears alongside saṅkha, as it does in the Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra. In this case it would seem to be something of a craft or learned intellectual skill.

With due acknowledgement of the unreliability of etymology, the root of the word clearly supports “cosmology”. Loka is world or cosmos, āyata is “extent”. The obvious meaning would be “extent or measure of the world(s)/cosmos”. I’m thinking of such passages as enumerate the scope of the world, the number of lakes, and so on. Such things could easily have been a traditional lore, and due to their speculative nature, they would have become the subject of arguments. Further, their focus on the material world could have led to the later sense of “materialist”.


#7

Ah, yes. I really don’t have much to contribute to this topic at all, just wanted to pass on the article in case it was useful. Just one note though - the PED gives this in its definition of loka:

world, primarily “visible world,”

This idea of the ‘visible world’ gives me a very very different sense than the word ‘cosmos’. I said a bit about cosmos above, so don’t want to sound repetitive. And I don’t know which is closer to the Pāli. Just to say that in English at least, philosophical speculation about the visible world could be a lot more ‘down to earth’ than ‘cosmology’. Indeed cosmology I think by most people is thought of as ‘a branch of astronomy’, as google so generously tells me. But I will stay quiet now because I don’t know which better describes what they were up to.


#8

Perhaps. It seems to me that philosophy and some degree of dispute tend to go hand in hand. If a philosophy is metaphysical, even if only in part, then argument seems unavoidable. On the other hand, most dispute is presumably based to some degree on the observation of the world. The problem with disputation is that it is broader than philosophy. It is not obvious that people will think of positions such as “nothing exists” when they hear the word disputation. My sense is that “philosophy” covers it adequately.


#9

Yes sounds fair enough. I guess I pondering the possibility of the debating aspect being a specific characteristic. Perhaps related to:

Debating is a learned intellectual skill.
Perhaps an example to illustrate that is that Theravada has plenty of philosophy. But Gelugpas specifically train in philosophical debate. And have public ‘matches’ in it. And apparently this was done in Ancient India also.

Personally I do not have the word ‘disputation’ in my general vocabulary. But I wonder if they were perhaps learning the art of ‘philosophical debate’. Rather than broader, this term is more specific than just ‘philosophy’.