Buddhist Texts · Cārvāka/Lokāyata · indica lingua · lingua tibetica

♦ Where does the reference to lokāyatikas in Bhāviveka’s Tarkajvālā lead us?

During these last days I was reading Malcolm D. Eckel’s recent publication Bhāviveka and His Buddhist Opponents, which is an edition and translation of Chaperts 4 and 5 of the Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā and of Tarkajvālā commentary. In Chapter 5 of Tarkajvālā, ad Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā 5.83ab we find a reference to lokāyatikas which is, to my knowledge, the only one occurring in the text:

de’i phyir bcom ldan ’das kyis kyang dge slon dag khyed kyis deng phyin chad ’jid rten rgyang pan pa gsang tshig sna tshogs kyi spobs pa can dang bsten par mi bya bsnyen par mi bya | bsyen bkur mi bya’o zhes gsungs pas (Eckel 2008:432).

Obviously, this is a quotation:

«This is why the Blessed One said: “O monks, henceforth, you should not rely on, associate with, or accompany the wordly ones (lokāyatika) who confidently pronounce various mantras» (Eckel 2008:282).

Unfortunately, Eckel did not specify from which text this excerpt is taken, nonetheless it seems quite similar to a passage from the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, Ch. 13, whose Sanskrit text is: na ca lokāyatamantradhārakān na lokāyatikān sevate na bhajate na paryupāste | («he does not serve, he does not cultivate, he does not approach both those who remember wordly mantras and those experienced in the worldly ways»). Or to another passage of the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, Ch 3, which runs thus: lokāyatiko vicitramantrapratibhāno na sevitavyo na bhaktavyo na paryupāsitavyaḥ | («one should not serve, nor cultivate, nor approach a lokayatika who has the eloquence of charming [also: several] mantras»).

In this case, lokāyatika does not mean «Materialist», rather it refers to someone who devotes him/herself to casuistry or disputation, as Bhattacharya (2009:187-200) has pointed out. Thus Eckel’s translation «wordly ones», which is of course correct, does not however render the actual “cultural” meaning of the word ’jid rten rgyang pan pa, which refers to «dialecticians» or something similar.

Now, from the few sources just quoted it seems that these lokāyatikas (dialecticians) were also well-versed in the art of reciting mantras as it is attested by other texts. See for instance:

1) Divyāvadāna, Ch. 33: lokāyatayajñamantramahāpuruṣalakṣaṇeṣu pāragaḥ («one conversant with disputation, with [reciting] mantras for worship and with the signs of the great persons»), and: lokāyate yajñamantre mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇe niṣṇāto («one learned in disputation, in [reciting] mantras for worship and in the signs of the great person»).

2) Kāśyapaparivartasūtra, Ch. 5: lokāyatanamantraparyeṣṭyā («by serching for disputation and mantras»); Ch 13: lokāyatiko vicitramantrapratibhānaḥ («the lokayatika has the eloquence of charming [also: several] mantras»), etc.

3) Gaṇḍavyūhasūtra, Ch. 39: lokāyatamantrābhiratānām («of those satisfied in disputation and mantras»).

Probably, the reference to mantras here means nothing but the Vedas, as we can infer from for instance the following Pāli passage: in Majjhimanikāya II, 134, the brāhmaṇa Brahmāyu is said to be lokāyatamahāpurisalakkhaṇesu anavayo («perfectly acquainted with the [knowledge in the art of] disputation and with the [knowledge of the] signs of the great person») and tiṇṇaṃ vedānaṃ pāragū («a perfect knower of the three Vedas»).

This particular characteristic of the lokāyatikas helps me to unravel an enigma expounded in my first post of this blog, in which I have considered a passage of a work attributed to Āryadeva, the Skhalita-pramathana-yukti-hetu-siddhi. In that case, we can suppose that the author – whoever he be – wrongly overlapped two doctrinal perspectives, Cārvāka Materialism and this Lokāyata, under one single point of view, probably because during his times both the words Cārvāka and Lokāyata referred already to the one and the same school. Moreover, because these two terms started to mean both “Materialism” not earlyer than the IV century CE (Bhattacharya 2009:195) , it follows that the author of the Skhalita-pramathana-yukti-hetu-siddhi was surely not Āryadeva the disciple of Nāgārjuna.


– Bhattacharya, R., Studies on the Cārvaka/Lokāyata, Società Editrice Fiorentina, Firenze 2009.

– Eckel, M.D., Bhāviveka and His Buddhist Opponents, Harvard University Press, Cambridge-London 2008.

Majjhima Nikāya (3 vols.), Treckner, V., Chalmers, R. (ed. by), Pali Text Society, Oxford rep. 1993-1994.

4 thoughts on “♦ Where does the reference to lokāyatikas in Bhāviveka’s Tarkajvālā lead us?

  1. Thanks for this interesting post. Just a minor question, from a naive outsider: Why are dialecticians connected with the usage of Vedic mantras? Does this refer to their worldly, i.e. “mainstream” attitude in using dialectical means and accept the Veda as part of everybody’s accepted lore?


    1. Ciao Elisa,
      unfortunately it is not possible to answer your question with accuracy because of the paucity of the material at our disposal on these Lokāyatikas. At the moment I am developing this subject in a little article, thus I can tell you in brief only what I have found here and there in the sources I checked. It appears that in ancient times (see Mahābhārata, Śāntiparvan 19.17, 23-24, critical ed.) there were sects of brāhmaṇas who both were well versed in the Vedas (the text has “vedavādān atikramya” and “bahuśrutāḥ”), Āraṇyakas etc., and did not believe in the existence of the ātman and final emancipation because – continues the Mbh – of their wrong interpretation of the Scriptures (“sāraṃ dadṛśire na te”). Moreover, they roamed about in assemblies for debating on several subjects. The Mbh – I think, but this is only a conjecture – is describing a sort of “deviated” brāhmiṇical group whose adherents actually believed in some strange way in the Vedas and in sacrifices and were also learned in the use of dialectical reasons, examples, etc.
      Now, the passage of the Mbh never mentions the Lokayatikas by name, but there are good reason for identifying these dialecticians with those referred to in the Buddhist sources, in particular the Laṅkāvatāra (Nanjiō, pp. 174 ff.). If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, I will surely send you my paper when ready!


  2. I surely look forward to read your paper and to understand how the connection between the two is established. I am not shocked by the idea of believing in the Veda and *not* in final liberation. it accords nicely with some Hebrew concepts of orthodoxy in this life. Rather, what disturbs me is the term “lokāyata”, but maybe this was the way these people were called by other Brahmans, in order to stress the fact that by denying mokṣa they were becoming too mundane.


  3. Ciao Elisa,
    the term “lokāyata” is in some sources derived from lokeṣu āyatam (and also Ramkrishna Bhattacharya seems to accept this derivation), that is: «widespread among the people». Unfortunately we do not know when and where “lokāyata” has been used for the first time, and in reference to what – I hope that further research will clarify this matter: after Bhattacharya’s book on Cārvaka/Lokayata we are indeed at a new starting point. In any case, your interpretation appears to be quite likely!
    🙂 k


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