Ajita Kesakambali

Ajita Kesakambali(n), was an ancient Indian philosopher in the 6th century BC. He is considered to be the first known proponent of Indian materialism. He was probably a contemporary of Buddha and Mahavira. It has frequently been noted that the doctrines of the Lokayata school were considerably drawn from Ajita's teachings. Like those of Lokayatins, nothing survives of his teachings in script, except some scattered references made by his opponents for the sake of refutation. Thus, due to the nature of these references, the basic framework of Ajita's philosophy has to be derived by filtering out obscure legends associated with him. For instance, according to a Buddhist legend, he wore a blanket of human hair ("Kesakambali" in Sanskrit means "with the hair blanket"), "which is described as being the most miserable garment. It was cold in cold weather, and hot in the hot, foul smelling and uncouth". [Bhaskar (1972)page number]

Renowned historian DD Kosambi, who elsewhere [DD Kosambi (1956)page number] calls Ajita a proto-materialist, notes [DD Kosambi (1965)page number] that he "preached a thoroughgoing materialist doctrine: good deeds and charity gained a man nothing in the end. His body dissolved into the primary elements at death, no matter what he had or had not done. Nothing remained. Good and evil, charity and compassion were all irrelevant to a man's fate." According to an early Buddhist source, Ajita Kesakambali argued that:

There is no such thing as alms or sacrifice or offering. There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds...A human being is built up of four elements. When he dies the earthly in him returns and relaapses to the earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the wind to the air, and his faculties pass into space. The four bearers, on the bier as a fifth, take his dead body away; till they reach the burning, ground men utter forth eulogies, but there his bones are bleached, and his offerings end in ashes. It is a doctrine of fools, this talk of gifts. It is an empty lie, mere idle talk, when men say there is profit herein. Fools and wise alike, on the dissolution of the body, are cut off, annihilated, and after death they are not. [See: Rhys-Davids.T.W: "Dialogues of the Buddha", 1899 quoted in Chattopadhyaya (1964/1993) pp.194]

According to Brahmajala Sutta, Ajita propounded "Ucchedavada" (the Doctrine of Annihilation after death) and "Tam-Jivam-tam-sariram-vada" (the doctrine of identity of the soul and body), which denied the separate existence of eternal soul. [Bhaskar (1972)page number] . The extent to which these doctrines, which were evidently inherited by Lokayata, were found contemptible and necessary to be refuted in the idealist, theist and religious literature of the time is a possible evidence of their popularity and, perhaps also, their philosophical sophistication.



Bhaskar, Bhagchandra Jain, "Jainism in Buddhist Literature" (Alok Prakashan, Nagpur, 1972)

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad, "Indian Philosophy" (People's Publishing House, New Delhi, 1964, 7th Edition: 1993)

Kosambi, DD, "An Introduction to the Study of Indian History" (Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, India, 1956)

Kosambi, DD, "The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline" (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1965)

Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu (trans.) and Bodhi, Bhikkhu (ed.), "The Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya" (Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2001) ISBN 0-86171-072-X.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) "Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life" (DN 2) (1997) Available on-line at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.02.0.than.html.

Walshe, Maurice O'Connell (trans.), "The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya" (Wisdom Publications, Somerville, MA, 1995) ISBN 0-86171-103-3.

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