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Hedonistic School Of Thought Before Charvaka In Hinduism – Ucchedavada

The theory of non-eternal existence of all beings is known as ucchedavada – this is the Hedonistic school of thought before the arrival of famous Charvaka. This was also the name of Indian materialism in its early age. The most authoritative and the oldest reference to Ucchedavada is found in Brahmajala Sutta (Digha Nikaya I-12-39) and Sthana Sutta (IV – 4), where Buddha and Mahavira have classified different tenets of philosophies of the time.

A similar mode of classification can be traced in several older texts, where the terms identifying particular systems of philosophy sometimes overlap.

It is difficult to identify the founder and followers of a particular school, unless the passages are studied with constant reference to those individual thinkers to whose views they actually apply.

The oldest known Buddhist and Jaina works furnish us with some stereotyped extracts relating to two materialistic thinkers, Ajitakeshakambala and Payasi.

Ajitakeshakambala was an elder contemporary of Buddha, the head of a religious order as well as the propounder of a system of philosophy. Payasi belongs to the 1st century, after Buddha’s demise, and was a royal chieftain.

The philosophical ideas of these two, especially Ajitakeshakambala, can be characterized as Ucchedavada. It seems that Ajitakeshakambala was the historical  founder of Indian materialism. His ideas were later transmuted into Charvaka System. The system was denounced as asuri or demonic, but was also popular lokayata.

The philosophical ideas and categorical assertions of the Ucchedavada school of thought are all negative in form. These can be unearthed from the fragments related to Ajitakeshakambala, sometimes mixed up with Payasi, Makkhali Gosala and further with lokayatas as recorded in Digha Nikaya (I), Majjhima Nikaya (I), Samyutta Nikaya (III), Jaina Sutra Kritanga (I-1-16) and some Brahmana texts.

Ucchedavada Important Teachings

  • There is no such thing as liberality to be shown to the priests.
  • There is no such thing as ritual.
  • There is no such thing as offering food to the dead.
  • There is no such thing as reward or retribution.
  • There is no such thing as future life.
  • There is no such thing as father or a mother after death.
  • There is no chance-born being.
  • There is no perfect saint who can instruct us about the existence of individuality after death.
  • A living body is constructed of the four elements of existence.
  • When a man dies, earth returns to earth, water to water, heat to fire, air to air, and the sense faculties pass into space.
  • The talk of existence after death is a doctrine of fools, for all alike, fools and the wise, on the dissolution of the body, are cut off, annihilated, and cease to exist after death.

There is a striking passage in Mahabodhi Jataka (Fausball’s V, 489 – 90), where the doctrine of Annihilationism is  kept separate from khatta-vijja, which means literally the militarist doctrine, according to which a man is out to seek his own advantage even by killing his parents.

Thus, whatever pertains to Ucchedavadais duly constructed by the accounts of its critics, where the negative aspects seem to be taken seriously rather than the positive. It has never been given any due recognition throughout the ages. Even Buddha has vehemently been charged as a Ucchedavadin by Brahmanas, since he was the propounder of the Middle Path, neither Eternalism nor Annihilationism.

We may infer the positive views of Ucchedavada as belief in life rather than in death, proper regard for persons when they are alive rather than honoring them after death.

Source –
  • Encyclopedia Of Hinduism Volume XI page 4 – 5 – IHRF
  • History Of Indian Philosophy (1965) S N Dasgupta – Motilal Banarsidass New Delhi
  • Lokayat (2005) Devi Prasad Chattopadhyaya – Rajkamal Prakashan New Delhi



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