Heretics, Rebels, Reformers And Revolutionaries: IV
In this article, we will study how three heterodox rebels put forward their own theories to counter the Law of Karma, which was the basis of decadence of Brahmanism.
Pakuda Katyayana: We Are All Made Up Of Atoms
Pakuda Katyayana was one of the seven well-known heterodox thinkers of 6th century B. C. He put forward a theory known as Anuvada (Atomism). Very little is known of this man’s personal life or his overall philosophy. Apparently he was obsessed with getting to “the root of things.” He theorized that man is made up of seven eternal elements, which are nothing but atoms (“that which cannot be split”): four basic elements, namely fire, air, earth, water, (which Charvakas also believed made up the body), pleasure and pain (Dwandwam, which Upanishadist considered as the main function of mind -likes and dislikes, pleasure and pain, gain and loss), and the soul (which Brahmins and Upanishadists called Atman). Buddhist text Samannaphala Suttanta describes Katyayana’s, response to the question put to him by king Ajatashatru: “What is the fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now?”
Pakuda Katyayana said to king Ajatashatru:
The following seven things are neither made nor commanded to be made, neither created nor caused to be created, they are barren, steadfast as a mountain peak, as a pillar firmly fixed. They move not, neither do they vary, they trench not one upon another nor avail aught as to ease (pleasure) or pain or both. And what are the seven? The four elements: earth, water, fire, and air; and ease (pleasure) and pain, and the soul as a seventh. So there is neither slayer nor causer of slaying, hearer or speaker, knower or explainer. When one with a sharp sword cleaves a head in twain no one thereby deprives any one of life, a sword has only penetrated into the interval between seven elementary substances.
Anuvada Countered The Law Of Karma
Even though Katyayana admitted to existence of soul, he claimed that the soul was not affected by the action of the body as claimed by Brahmanism. This being the case, performing “good works” such as Yajna to obtain heaven after death and pleasure and power in the next life, or fearing hell for not performing one’s Varna-designated duty, was utter fraud. Nor was it necessary to indulge in Upanishadists’ Yoga to avoid Dwandwam (BG: 2: 44-45) since experiencing pain and pleasure was an essential part of being a human. Nor was it necessary to perform action without Dwandwam (of gain and loss) to avoid earning Karmaphalam (BG: 2:38), as neither gain nor loss of Karmaphalam affected the soul. The problem with Katyayana’s theory was that it did not address the issue the consequences -Karmaphalam – of one’s action here on earth. If he did, the literature on his thinking on this is lost.
Because of Katyayana’s claim that the seven elements making up man are eternal and they survive in the form of atoms after one’s death, Buddhists referred to his teaching as Eternalism. The Buddha who was present at this discussion was put off by the irrelevance of Katyayana’s answer to the question:
“Thus, when asked about a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, Pakudha Kaccayana answered with non-relatedness (irrelevance). Just as if a person, when asked about a mango, were to answer with a breadfruit; or, when asked about a breadfruit, were to answer with a mango. In the same way, when asked about a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, Pakudha Kaccayana answered with non-relatedness. The thought occurred to me: ‘How can anyone like me think of disparaging a priest or contemplative living in his realm?’ Yet I neither delighted in Pakudha Kaccayana’s words nor did I protest against them. Neither delighting nor protesting, I was dissatisfied. Without expressing dissatisfaction, without accepting his teaching, without adopting it, I got up from my seat and left.”
Brahmanism Makes Anuvadism Obsolete
Like they did the Aajivikas, Brahmins and Upanishadists neutralized most of Anuvada by incorporating its basic tenets or countering them in the Bhagavad Gita, or offering more attractive alternatives. Basically what they said to Pakuda Katyayana was that there was nothing special about his theory.
Regarding the seven elements Pakuda mentioned, they said their system has them all and more. Upanishadists used modified Sankhya as the weapon against Anuvada:
BG: 13: 5-6: The (five) great elements (fire, water, air, wind and ether), Ahamkara (egoism, the sense of self), Buddhi (intellect), the un-manifested (soul), the ten senses (five sensory organs and five organs of action), five objects of senses (heat, sound, light, etc.), desire and hatred, pleasure and pain, the aggregate, intelligence and firmness -the Kshetra (Field) has been thus briefly described with its modifications.
Regarding the indestructible nature of seven elements, they said that the Atman was indestructible and eternal, but the body, though made up of various elements, was destructible. Obviously, to simple-minded people, this seemed obvious:
BG: 2:17: Know that to be verily indestructible by which all this is pervaded. None can effect the destruction of the Immutable.
BG: 2:23: Weapons do not cleave the Atman, fire burns It not, water wets It not, wind dries It not.
However, they claimed that the body, made up of various elements suffers death:
BG: 2:18: The bodies into which the eternal, indestructible and immeasurable Atman resides are said to have an end.
They agreed with Katyayana that:
BG: 2:19: He who holds Atman as slayer and he who considers It as the slain, both of them are ignorant. It slays not, nor is It slain. Atman is neither born nor does it die. Coming to being and ceasing to be do not take in It. Unborn, eternal, constant and ancient. It is not killed when the body is slain.
However, they declared that Atman carries with it the Karmaphalam to its next birth (BG: 6: 41-44).
Regarding pleasure and pain, Upanishadists declared them as impermanent, and they are caused by the mind’s attachment to sense objects, and hence they are the cause of loss of steadiness of mind. Hence one must avoid them by resorting to Yoga.
BG: 2:14-15: The contacts of the Senses with their objects create feelings of heat and cold, of pain and pleasure (Dwandwam). They come and go and are impermanent. Bear with them patiently. That man is fitted for immortality, whom Dwandwam do not torment (when he acts), who is balanced in pain and pleasure, and is steadfast.
Upanishadists kept hammering this theme throughout the Upanishadic part of the Bhagavad Gita (BG: 2:45; 3:34; 5:3). They even declared that the Supreme Purusha (Brahman) was even smaller than the atom (anor aneeyaamsam) and yet made up of inconceivable form (BG: 8:9). Thus using Sankhya and Yoga, Upanishadists smashed the Katyayana’s theory of Atomism to smithereens.
Poorana Kashyapa: Man Who Invented Law Of Akarma!
Poorana Kashyapa, a contemporary of the Buddha, was an ascetic who was obviously outraged by the negative consequences of the Law of Karma here on earth. His real goal was to show that the Brahmanism’s obsession with sacrificial rites based on the Law of Karma was just a fraud. Since Brahmanism claimed two types of Karma -good deeds and bad- Kashyapa decided to reject both. However, he reacted in the extreme and developed a theory known as Akriyavada -Theory of Inaction. He might as well have called it Law of Akarma. He said that there is no such thing as gaining Punyam (merit) by good works such as Yajna (sacrificial rites) and Dana (charity, gift giving), nor incurring Papam (sin) by indulging in evil acts as claimed by Brahmanism. Furthermore, he declared that moral values, noble virtues and control of common human weaknesses such as greed do not earn one merit. However, in the process, he came across as a person who did not believe in morality whatsoever. Therefore, his opponents labeled Akriyavada as Amoralism. Here is his rhetorical response to the question put to him by Ajatashatru, “What is the fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now?” Samannaphala Suttanta:
Purana Kassapa said to King Ajatasattu:
To him who acts, O King, or causes another- to act, to him who mutilates or causes another to mutilate, to him who punishes or causes another to punish, to him who causes grief or torment, to him who trembles or causes others to tremble, to him who kills a living creature, who takes what is not given, who breaks into houses, who commits robbery or highway robbery, or adultery, or who speaks lies, to him thus acting there is no guilt (sin). If with a discus with an edge sharp as a razor he should make all the living creatures on the earth one heap, one mass, of flesh, there would be no guilt (sin) thence resulting, no increase of guilt (sin) would ensue. Were he to go along the south bank of the Ganges striking and slaying, mutilating and having men mutilated, oppressing and having men oppressed, there would be no guilt (sin) thence resulting, no increase of guilt (sin) would ensue. Were he to go along the north bank of the Ganges giving alms, and ordering gifts to be given, offering sacrifices or causing them to be offered, there would be no merit (Punyam) thence resulting, no increase of merit. In generosity, in self-mastery, in control of the senses, in speaking truth there is neither merit, nor increase of merit.
Note here that he refers to sacrifices performed along the north bank of the Ganges and atrocities perpetrated by people along its south bank. Obviously Kashyapa was referring to Brahmanic people and non-Brahmanic people. If Kashyapa truly believed in Amoralism, he would not have become outraged by Brahmins’ immoral behavior in the matter of Kamya Karma and animal sacrifices. Obviously, his goal was to prove that the Law of Karma was a fraud. Poorana Kashyapa’s obsession to prove that actions did not earn one Papam or Punyam (which affected one’s afterlife) blinded him to the fact that there are serious negative consequences to one’s immoral actions here on earth. Perhaps the only person who listened with delight to this outrageous philosophy was king Ajatashatru who came to power in 491 B. C. by murdering his father Bimbisara in cold blood. Nothing could have been more soothing to his ears than these reassuring words of Poorana Kashyapa that he would not go to hell for parricide!
The Buddha, the man of moderation in everything, who was a witness to this extremist diatribe of Poorana Kashyapa, reacted exactly as he did to Pakuda Katyayana’s response as described above. Buddhist texts indicate that Kashyapa claimed he was omniscient. He is said to have committed suicide by drowning, perhaps driven to this extreme action by the futility of it all.
Upanishadists React In The Bhagavad Gita
Regarding Akriyavadin’s claim that neither good deeds nor bad earn one any Karmaphalam, Upanishadists disagreed in the Bhagavad Gita and said that all acts earn Karmaphalam with sole exception of selfless Yajna performed to propitiate Vedic gods (BG: 3:9), but one could avoid earning any Karmaphalam by developing indifference to fruits while acting:
BG: 2:50-51: The one fixed in equanimity of mind (being unconcerned with gain or loss) frees himself in this life from (Karmaphalam of) good deeds as well as bad; therefore, devote yourself to Yoga. Work done skillfully (= which avoids Karmaphalam) is verily Yoga. The wise, imbued with evenness of mind, renouncing the fruits of their actions, freed from the fetters of births, verily go to the stainless state (attain Nirvana).
Upanishadists went on to declare that to the one who is totally fixed on Atman by means of Yoga there was no need to perform any action at all (karya na vidyate), as such a person has nothing to gain by his action, nor lose anything by his inaction. And he does not have to depend on anyone (such as priests or gods) for anything. (BG: 3:17-18).
Furthermore, Upanishadists countered Kashyapa’s argument by claiming that merits of good deeds are carried to one’s next life:
BG: 6: 40-41: Neither in this world nor in the next is there is destruction for doer of good deeds. He never comes to grief. Having attained to the worlds of the righteous and having lived there for countless years, he who falls from Yoga is reborn in the house of the pure and prosperous.
Not surprisingly Bhagavatas condemned Kashyapa’s philosophy of Amoralism as demonic (BG: 16:6-8) and condemned its practitioners to rebirth in the wombs of demons (BG: 16:19-20)! Poorana Kashyapa’s extremist philosophy of Amoralism thus drowned in the ocean of Samsara.
Sanjaya Belatthaputta: The Man Who Said, “One Can Never Know For Sure”
Sanjaya Belattaputta was an agnostic philosopher. He, too, was a contemporary of the Buddha. The fundamental assertion of his philosophy was that one could never be certain about anything. In Samannaphala Suttanta the Buddha recalls his encounter with Sanjaya:
“Another time I approached Sañjaya Belatthaputta and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings and courtesies, I sat to one side. As I was sitting there I asked him: ‘Venerable Sañjaya, there are these common craftsmen… They live off the fruits of their crafts, visible in the here and now… Is it possible, venerable sir, to point out a similar fruit of the contemplative life, visible in the here and now?’
“When this was said, Sañjaya Belatthaputta said to me, ‘If you ask me if there exists another world [after death], if I thought that there exists another world, would I declare that to you? I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not. If you asked me if there isn’t another world… both is and isn’t… neither is nor isn’t… if there are beings who transmigrate… if there aren’t… both are and aren’t… neither are nor aren’t… if the Tathagata exists after death… doesn’t… both… neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death, would I declare that to you? I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not.’
Bewildered by this nonsense, the Buddha must have scratched his spinning head before he said,
“Thus, when asked about a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, Sañjaya Belatthaputta answered with evasion. Just as if a person, when asked about a mango, were to answer with a breadfruit; or, when asked about a breadfruit, were to answer with a mango: In the same way, when asked about a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, Sañjaya Belatthaputta answered with evasion. The thought occurred to me: ‘This – among these priests and contemplatives – is the most foolish and confused of all. How can he, when asked about a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, answer with evasion?’ Still the thought occurred to me: ‘How can anyone like me think of disparaging a priest or contemplative living in his realm?’ Yet I neither delighted in Sañjaya Belatthaputta’s words nor did I protest against them. Neither delighting nor protesting, I was dissatisfied. Without expressing dissatisfaction, without accepting his teaching, without adopting it, I got up from my seat and left.
Brahmanism did not think this agnostic philosophy was worth countering. They just ignored it and hoped it would die a natural death. However, two thousand and five hundred years after his death, Belatthaputta’ s philosophy is very much alive and well in modern India. The practitioners of this philosophy are known as politicians.
(To be continued)