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LNKS- 23 - 1 of 2

From: sudarshan madabushi (
Date: Fri Jul 09 1999 - 12:28:02 PDT

Dear bhAgavatOttamA-s,

Sankara's "open" encounters with anti-Vedantins, especially the 
"chAruvakA-s" (epicurean atheists), were indeed many and …some of them quite 
memorable too.

There is one apocryphal and particularly engrossing story (I have heard 
SrimAn.U.Ve. Mukkur Lakshminarasimhachariar of Kakinada often narrate parts 
of it to his audience) of how Sankara was once invited to engage in 
philosophical debate with a staunch "chAruvakA-s". Sankara, they say, was at 
first rather bemused by the idea.

"You invite me to engage in a philosophical debate, but why?", the 
bhagavathpAdA was said to have asked, "The tenets of my philosophy are 
grounded in the "pramANa" of Vedic first principles. You have neither 
intellectual tradition nor philosophical premise. What then are you and I to 
debate about?!"

"Who says our school has no "pramANa"?", the "chAruvAka" is said to have 
countered. "Of course, we have a philosophical tradition! It is called 
"chAruvAka-darsanam" (the atheistic manifesto) and it is more than a match 
for your Vedas".

"Oh, really!" asked Sankara sarcastically, "I was not aware, Sire, that your 
school was rooted in philosophy! Perhaps you would deign to expound this 
great "chAruvAka-darsanam" to me!"

The anti-Vedantin, being quite insensitive to Sankara's half-serious and 
half-mocking tone, gravely began to tutor the bhagavatpAdA in the mysteries 
of the "chAruvAka-darsanam". The venerable Sankara too played along, it is 
said, just to humour the poor, ridiculous fellow who was unaware his leg was 
being not just pulled, but quietly yanked! (Whether this account is 
legendary or factual, it is certainly one of the most hilarious events to 
have happened in Sankara's life. A little diversion to enjoy it here, I 
feel, will do us all no harm.)

"Our great philosophy can be summed up in one epigrammatic verse", boasted 
the anti-Vedantin and recited to Sankara the following lines:

"yAvad jeevate sukham jeevate;
  RNam kritvA ghritam pibate;
  Bhasmee-bhutasya dehasya
   punarAgamanam kutaha- "

Sankara heard the verse in thoughtful silence for a moment, shook his head 
and then pretending as though the profundity of the verse was thoroughly 
lost on him, he queried the "chAruvAka", "Sire, the verse you quote no doubt 
sounds brilliant. But please enlighten me as to what it purports to truly 

"The verse states what according to our "chAruvakA-darsana" is the ultimate 
purpose of existence", replied the anti-Vedantin.

"And, Sire, what is the great purpose of existence?"

"kAma-Eka-Eva purushArtAha!", replied the atheist. "The sole purpose of all 
life is to sate the appetites, big and small, of existential desire. To seek 
purpose in life is the passion of all living beings; and the pleasure of 
Passion is surely the Purpose. Where passion is unfulfilled, purpose too 
remains unconsummated."

Sankara bhagavatpAdA patiently listened to this wondrous nugget of 
philosophical wisdom and, for a moment, he could hardly conceal a chuckle. 
"If this man's absurd philosophy were true indeed", the bhagavathpAdA might 
well have said to himself, "what a monumental impostor I must seem to people 

"Sire, how wonderfully you state your philosophical case!" said the 
bhagavatpAdA continuing the rather burlesque dialogue. "Sire, do you mean 
each man must seek out his respective desire in life and utterly devote 
himself to its complete satiation?"

"Indeed, that is the sole and true purpose of all existence," replied the 
'chAruvAka'. "Take away the pleasure of passion from life and what is really 
there in it? Deduct the pangs of hunger and the passion of desire from the 
net aggregate of living… what remains? Nothing… nothing but endless null, 
infinite void. A world without pleasure is of no use to us. It negates our 
very existence. Pleasure, on the other hand, fulfils it. Hence, it is 
pleasure that is The Principle of Life… As long as one is alive one must 
seek out pleasure…"yAvad jeevate sukham jeevate!"

"How insightful!" Sankara roundly applauded. "Sir, pray tell me now, if 
eating be the sole pleasure of a certain man, what then shall be his earthly 

"Eating and evermore eating is such a man's goal!" was the reply from the 

"And if his spirit be sated by endless eating, what might he do then with 
the rest of his life?"

To this question from Sankara, the anti-Vedantin replied simply, "ghritam 
"Let him, who by mere eating, has finished sating his spirit, let him then 
look to sating his body. Let him in the days he remains on earth take to 
gorging down quantities of pure "ghee"". (In Sanskrit "ghritam" means 
"clarified butter").

Now it must be remembered that in southern parts of India the people are 
predominantly rice eaters. When they sit down to a meal, rice is served 
first. Then a few teaspoons of "ghee" are generally served to lace the rice. 
This is done firstly, to lend a mild but delicious aroma to the steamed rice 
and secondly, to add a bit of the vital nutrient of fat to the otherwise 
utterly fat-free diet of South Indians. The culinary custom is to usually 
add nothing more than a few dollops (or splash) of this "ghee" to the meal; 
anything more would only be adding an unhealthy and dangerous amount of fat 
to the diet! Nowadays those who are diet-conscious, in fact, often 
completely decline it if "ghee" is served with their meal.

In Tamil it is referred to as "ney kutthikaNam" i.e. "ghee" is to be just 
"sprinkled", not "poured" or "dished out", over the rice that is served. But 
we find here instead, in the Sankara episode, the "chAruvAka" actually 
advocating not just "sprinkling" of "ghee" but shamelessly "gorging" it! He 
specifically uses the Sanskrit phrase "ghritam pibate". Literally, it means 
"quaffing down ghee" as if it were so much lemonade in a large pitcher that 
an awfully thirsty man or exceptionally greedy child would easily empty in 
two massive gulps and one resounding, disgusting belch!

What the anti-Vedantin, of course, meant to tell Sankara bhagavatpAdA was 
this: that there were no limits to seeking earthly pleasure. If man's 
appetite were to become jaded by indulgence, it could also be whetted by 
wanton excess. So for them who had exhausted the gourmet delights of life, 
there was still the promised salvation of unbridled gluttony!

(continued in the immediately following post # 23- 2of 2

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